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What happens when activists are branded ‘terrorists’ 

In the news here today:

Police have asked the Solicitor General for permission to treat Tame Iti, and the 16 others arrested two weeks ago, as terrorists.
   It is the first time they have tried to wield the terrorism suppression act.

   There are plenty of comments in the MSM and blogosphere about how current laws are suitable for dealing with the 17 without branding them terrorists.
   Part of what I said at the Alliance Party national conference last week was that these arrests were engineered to sway attention from the real issues facing this country. And it has dire consequences.
   Once they are tarred with this brush, if the Solicitor-General goes with the police’s desire to use the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, then it can encourage greater folly.
   I sense the Act is a tool for the New Zealand Government to engage in the sort of surveillance and raids that the Patriot Act has allowed the US Government to do. Americans can argue about the suitability of the Patriot Act. But New Zealanders are, by my reckoning, in agreement that we don’t need an equivalent here, certainly not one that applies to political and environmental activists.
   I will be interested to hear the Crown’s evidence on the alleged terror camps in the Ureweras. Right now, the MSM has focused on those suspects who do not have guns and are puzzled why they have been arrested as part of the Tuhoe raids. (Rongomai Bailey, one of the suspects who has been released from jail after a judge found that the case was insufficiently made against him, is an excellent example.) This makes for more compelling news. To be fair, there are some who have stored firearms. Whether they were going to use them against civilians—what terrorists might do—is so far a moot point. If they were, one would also think that conspiracy charges under the Crimes Act 1961 would be suitable against the 17, in any case.
   Sadly, groups that may have been involved in peaceful protests against government policies may step up the violence if they feel it won’t make a heck of a lot of difference. ‘The government is going to call us terrorists, anyway, so why don’t we just go ahead and ape the terrorists overseas?’
   The fringe elements might just think this way and as we know, it’s the fringe looneys who cause most of the trouble in the hot spots overseas.
   The looneys, from Osama bin Laden to Timothy McVeigh, cannot be regarded as representative of their culture, creed or nation. Ten to one we have our equivalents that might not have ever been active but for recent events.
   These looneys are not people who are responsible for their own actions and are simply looking for the right excuse. The raids have provided that.
   It is a shame, because despite sex scandals and these arrests, we actually have a police force that, on the whole, serves this country’s communities well, with dignity and honour. My experience is that we have bloody good cops. And this makes life harder for those in the blue uniform, because they are being ridiculed and disrespected more.
   And if giving the government grief over its smooth running and potentially using violence against others qualifies as being a terrorist, then surely the Hon Trevor Mallard MP, the politician involved in a fight last week, is one?
   I’m pretty sure he has been to the Ureweras, too.
   Seriously, even opposition politicians should be concerned right now as to the longer-term repercussions.
   As usual (as far as I can find in Google News), the Hon John Key MP is quiet. It is another opportunity missed by National.

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Honda pledges to build hydrogen car in ’08 

Honda’s Takeo Fukui has said that he will put the world’s first hydrogen fuel-cell car on the market by next year, with a sticker price of around £50,000. The car emits water vapour as its “exhaust”.
   This is fabulous thinking: rather than hold the technology back, as all the other automakers are doing, Honda is going full steam ahead and pioneering.
   In one move, it’s overcome any slowdown in the Japanese car market and made an impact in an eco-conscious world.
   And £50,000 isn’t a lot to pay for a large sedan that’s brimming with technological advancements.
   Asked how the new Honda FCX might overcome the absence of hydrogen filling stations, Mr Fukui gave a great answer that shows the company has really considered its car in a historical context: ‘When the car was invented, countries weren’t full of petrol stations. When the demand is there it will happen.’
   It makes Red China’s copying of western automotive models seem outmoded and silly, considering that it had nearly a carte blanche with which to play in the 1980s and 1990s. That could have meant jumping ahead of the rest of the world without having the worries of old plant costs to contend with.
   It also shows that brands will only get you so far: major leaps ahead like this, without reference to what the establishment might think, can spell success when it taps in to the Zeitgeist. And Honda has detected that the world in the late-2000s is still going to be obsessed with global warming and climate change. It has detected that there is a rebellion against brands that do not help the planet. And it might have also considered that there will be a rationalization in the brands we deal with, so why not get ahead now?

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Balance needed for New Zealand 

This time last week, I was speaking at the Alliance Party national conference, the second speaker after Chris Trotter did the Saturday session. I understand that the speech is now online as a Quicktime movie at the Alliance Party site, and we discussed everything from the scheduled topic—branding, innovation and full employment—to how the party could be repositioned. It all happened in a weekend when my friend Victor Billot was elected co-leader of the party (Kay Murray is the other co-leader, and Paul Piesse succeeds Victor as president). Before you ask, the Hon Jim Anderton MP left the Alliance a long, long time and something like two or three leaders ago.
   I am slightly more to the right than Victor and some of the audience members are, but we all shared the view that the technocratic way of managing economies has led, at least in New Zealand, to an ever-widening gap between rich and poor and at the cost of domestic jobs.
   I do hope to post my notes on this site soon (part of them were blogged in August), and they do differ from the delivered speech. And I have made up my mind to support Victor: he is a decent, honest man who sees a place for the Alliance. He has an ideal and a vision in mind for how this society can work, and it’s not through importing Americanized policies from Robert McNamara and the Kennedy administration.
   I am a realist: if there is a swing toward John Key and National next year, we do not want a repeat of Ruthanasia and more economic pain for New Zealanders, and Alliance policies may be the balance that this country needs. I also question whether Mr Key has a vision.
   I did suggest to Victor that he challenges other leaders in singing terms. Not too long ago, he was involved in bands in Dunedin. Now, if the Americans can have a bigger turn-out for American Idol than their presidential elections, then we could well encourage more voters in a sing-off.

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Road test for Dizzler 

[Cross-posted] A very nice chap by the name of Apollo introduced me to Dizzler, a media player that allows one to stream (legally) music, video and radio. It’s pretty good and I incorporated it into my Facebook page, after programming in a bunch of songs, two videos and one radio station (Rix FM in Sweden).
   It’s not without its faults. Monica Zetterlund, one of Sweden’s top jazz artists, isn’t even represented on Dizzler. Sacha Distel has four songs, and one of them doesn’t sound like him. KCSM-FM, the jazz station in the Bay Area, is not among the radio choices. On Facebook, I can’t see the search box words (black text on a black background is not a very good idea) and when I can see them, they’re set in Arial or Arial Rounded—two families I intentionally uninstall from all our company computers as they breach notions of good taste and common decency.
   Apollo does admit it is more geared toward pop songs and the US, however. And despite its shortcomings, it does have enough songs for me to have a wee playlist of favourites. I’d still recommend it and hope that its catalogue becomes more comprehensive. Having the complete songs on my Facebook page is a nice touch.
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Social networks are our tools, not vice versa 

Randy Thomas gives great blogging. His post on Vox a few days ago concerned the many social networks we have, as well as the internet and blogosphere in general. It was particularly prescient as the Christian Science Monitor published a related article on Facebook and MySpace afterwards.
   First, Randy wrote:

Time after time I have seen people come online full of conviction, faith or whatever and yet be totally consumed with the narcissistic projection they have created, or have been created for them, online. This false sense of self starts to take over offline and they end up confused and even more alone. …
   If there is an stereotype online that is rewarded the most, in my opinion, it is the snarky every(wo)man. Meaning you have to have the creds of just being an average person with an incredibly sarcastic wit and the ability to one-up the next blogger/commentor. If you can pull that off with video … you might get your own reality show. The problem is that this type of personality does not work very well in the real world and might even be considered anti-social.

   What I take from Randy’s post is the age-old lament that I have expressed: the internet, the blogosphere and the social networks are tools for us, not vice versa. Too many people give up their identities and selves to these websites, losing sight of their original purposes.
   Call me a romantic, but I still view the internet as that great unifying tool. I have been doing business online since the late 1980s and it was always seen as an equalizer for my first 10 years on the ’net. To some extent, it remains that for me, but I have experienced online addiction: in 2006, I felt I had an obligation to keep posting for my regular blog readers and those of you here from the beginning will remember I was, at one point, a daily blogger. It took a wake-up call around 11 months ago to say: blog when you want. This is your tool.
   The other issue I take from Randy’s post is that people have created online personas that they want to continue offline, when they should not care less about what others think of them. I closed that part of my psyche down a long time ago: as long as I had a clear conscience, then who the heck cares about what some moron thinks?
   Yes, in a civilized exchange, one should respect the other person’s opinion, but in the conversations that sometimes carry on online (a regular subject this year, and covered in the print column of this blog in Lucire) which fall short of civility, does it really matter? What are we trying to prove?
   This, in Randy’s words, ‘dovetails’ nicely into the Monitor.
   While I have friends that I only know online—Randy Thomas himself is one—many have become connected to me because of joint projects and beliefs. And the Monitor believes that when one trawls through the countless sites, one comes across ‘distinctive sameness’:

The world of online social networking is practically homogenous [sic] in one other sense, however diverse it might first appear: Its users are committed to self-exposure. The creation and conspicuous consumption of intimate details and images of one’s own and others’ lives is the main activity in the online social networking world. There is no room for reticence; there is only revelation. Quickly peruse a profile and you know more about a potential acquaintance in a moment than you might have learned about a flesh-and-blood friend in a month.

There is plenty of truth there. Why did I start blogging regularly in 2005, after being a quarterly blogger in 2003? To promote my businesses. Because it was a matter of competition. But I would be lying if I said that the self-promotional aspect was absent. Anyone with a blog, a MySpace (worrying how this is becoming a conventional noun, often with an additional pronoun: my MySpace) or even a fan site for someone else is expressing part of themselves. Put it online to the public at large and it becomes promotional.
   But the phenomenon of friendship differs: people collect friends for status or to show off, when it does not matter. It goes back to people trying to prove something, demonstrating that they care about how others view them:

There is a reason that most of the MySpace profiles of famous people are fake: Celebrities don’t need legions of MySpace friends to prove their popularity. It’s the rest of the population, seeking a form of parochial celebrity, that does.

   It is the danger behind personal branding: while this phenomenon has become democratized through MySpace, Facebook and Bebo, and I am the last person who objects to people finding outlets for self-expression, they have a danger, for those who feel some level of insecurity, of absorbing the real personality of that person.
   In more innocent times, that may not have been a problem. The Duke—John Wayne—was probably one of the best self-branders of the last century, taking roles he perceived as compatible with his personal brand. He may have had some thoughts on race that don’t fly well in 2007, but I can’t imagine a John Wayne MySpace, if there ever were one, not being a patriotic, value-filled space with some down-home sense. The man even had some humility about that personal brand. The best of the west, if not the whole USA. No wonder some Japanese still love images of him when they market their ideas about American culture, Elvis and Marilyn his complements for different reasons.
   But in times when the sort of reality TV Survivor–Fear Factor arrogance is de rigueur, then ironically some antisocial personalities exist within the social networks. No one is exactly going to jump on their bandwagon: the Japanese are not going to be playing Richard Hatch clips to celebrate Americana.
   It’s not as though schools have had programmes to teach about social-networking etiquette—or even netiquette in general after all these years. Few are reminded, other than through the MSM, of the dangers of public profiles on their social networking pages, of the problems that may cause with prospective employers and how some of us Google—and have done for years—people whom we consider hiring. And how these days, if we are checking others out through the ’net, many of us have an in-built BS meter to sift through the fake personalities, just as we might with corporate brands.
   The new sites have raised (or lowered, depending on your point of view) the bar about how we might perceive others. It is not all good news, however, as the Monitor article concludes. I won’t spoil it but for those concerned about the social networks, the research cited might agree with your fears.

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Supporting literacy: recycle your magazines 

[Cross-posted] ‘Magazine publishing powerhouses and reading advocates team to inspire schools to join global magazine recycling initiative for literacy’. The press release may have a long headline, but the cause is a worthy one.
   Since 2005, Lucire has supported the initiatives of MagazineLiteracy.org, aimed at promoting literacy to children initially in the US, through the use of magazines. It makes sense to me: as a child I preferred flicking through magazines to books.
   As it is Children’s Magazine Month, among others, MagazineLiteracy.org is encouraging the recycling of magazines, not into pulp, but as things that can be passed on to needy kids in your area.
   In the press release’s words: ‘The magazines recycled by school children in their classrooms and school libraries will be given to other children and families in nearby homeless and domestic violence shelters, and to food pantries for distribution inside bags of groceries. Local organizers will create and decorate KinderHarvest bins from recycled boxes, and post stories and photographs about their magazine recycling projects online at childmagmonth.org.’
   Other organizations behind the venture include the AEP, the Magazine Publishers of America, the International Reading Association, the American Association of School Librarians, Get Caught Reading and the International Federation of the Periodical Press (FIPP). Dr Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, Auras Design, Mint Advertising, Knowledge Marketing and ThinkHost join us at Lucire as additional supporters.
   If you get a chance, please do blog about this in your spaces as the press release was not the sexiest, and literacy can take a back seat in the public’s mind sometimes. I’m hoping the ideas can grow beyond the US.

Tags: literacy, magazine, publishing, media, Lucire, John Mennell
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The one China I party with 

The local 96th anniversary party for the founding of the Republic of China, held a tad early last night at the Wellington Club, was a very fun do, and probably the best diplomatic function I have had for ages.
   While HE John Chen, the Ambassador (or Representative of the Taiwan Economic Office as the Truman–Kissinger–Nixon–Red China–Labour Party view might have it) gave a very enlightening speech, I must say that the Hon Peter Dunne MP, Minister of Revenue and leader of the United Future party, gave the address of the evening.
   While being the first MP to speak gave Mr Dunne some advantages in that every later speaker referred back to him, I admired the Minister’s choice of words (very clever and both KMT and Democratic or DPP sides were satisfied) as well as his passion (which, like John Major’s, never comes through properly on telly).
   Mr Dunne referred to the Republic of China, the oldest republic in Asia, and played equally on the history and the need for the UN to recognize the self-determination of people.
   The Māori Party, National, Greens and New Zealand First all were present, speaking with varying degrees on the idea of independence. National fielded what must have been two dozen MPs. Showing its pro-Communist, anti-Tibet, anti-Republic leanings, Labour fielded one.
   So much for Labour’s beliefs: at a conference in August that I attended, the Hon Phil Goff MP, representing the government, spoke proudly of a free-trade agreement with the Reds. It is not something a room filled with members of the Chinese diaspora, who buggered off because of the Reds after 1949, wanted to hear. The local Red diplomat out from Beijing was pretty happy though.
   Moving Labour’s oppositions aside, I have to say that I support the recognition of the Republic, but not in the exact way the Chinese Republic’s President or the DPP thinks.
   I may be wrong on my history, but I always thought the notion of Taiwanese independence came not from the Taiwanese people originally, but from the Reds in Beijing.
   When faced with the prospect of so much overseas support for the Republic, as opposed to the People’s Republic, Comrades Deng Xiopeng, Cho En Lai, Deng Ying Chao, Xie Xue Gong and others thought that the best way to undermine Gen Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT government on Taiwan was to start talking about Taiwanese independence.
   This may be total bollocks and I invite others to correct me in the comments if it’s untrue. I certainly found little in Google. To those calling for Taiwanese independence today, which must amount to the millions, I do respect their views, however they were founded.
   I personally still view it was conspiratorial, based on an insider campaign to disunite Chinese and Taiwanese people in the last place the Republican government stood. On that front, it has succeeded exactly as it was planned.
   However, a trip is being planned to the island where I would like to uncover the truth behind this and maybe to share the traditional, conservative view from overseas with the locals. The Chinese diaspora, which outnumbers the population on Taiwan, and which financed the foundation of the Republic in 1911, do want to see the country properly recognized. I want to see my people’s part in this be carried through to a logical conclusion. Any UN seat, we think, must be sought under the title of the Republic of China, not Taiwan, a province.
   But for many (not all) 39 million overseas Chinese, the idea of recognition must be that of the pre-1971, pre-UN Resolution 2758 situation: that the Republic of China, a founding member of the UN, speaks for all of China. (It is a view that has been steadily eroded since military law ended in 1987 in the Republic.) That is at odds with the current situation where the People’s Republic does that, even if its own people have no self-determination: I would argue that Red China does not satisfy the requirements of a nation under the UN’s own Charter.
   And sadly, the Red ways are too entrenched in Beijing; but as part of the country enjoys prosperity and propaganda leading to the ’08 Olympics, the Politburo should have little concern over its grip on power if it were to allow a hint of democracy to creep in. (Opposition parties, constitutionally, are permitted under the Reds. Just not in practice.) I wonder then if that will lead to a one-China idea—but then we have the official name of the country to contend with.
   As a cynic, the change in ’71 only came because Tricky Dicky wanted a place to visit after figuring he could be disgraced through Watergate, and chillin’ with Mao was more fun than visiting Brezhnev. But that is another story and I have no facts to back that one up. Christopher Hitchens might.

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The No Logo of cars 

Smart will begin selling its new model in the US in early 2008, which is old news but still good news. As a fashion item, it makes a lot of sense: it expresses anti-car sentiments very well and is as good a backlash against gargantuan SUVs as the original Volkswagen Käfer was against gaudy American cars.
   I just think the trend has passed, though I could be wrong. Honda introduced its Fit to the US later than most markets and it’s doing really well as a subcompact. And the Americans won’t be too price-sensitive, something that limited the Smart City-Coupé’s (ForTwo’s) appeal when a Volkswagen Lupo sold for less at the turn of the century.
   What might work better are two other cars that have hit the media over the last few years: Tata’s Rs. 1 lakh car, for which more details have crept out since my last post on it; and Volkswagen has said it will do a city car with an engine in the back, and it sounds like it’ll be priced low to suit. The package sounds interesting and it may be an innovative little vehicle.
   Rohan has been kindly sharing reports from the Indian media about the Tata with me and I found a more recent one in the Economic Times there.
   I think both these cars are more of the moment than the Smart, or even the new Fiat 500. The nuova nuova nuova 500 is a great car, and it will do well, but it fits into the same little-car-is-fashionable sector as the Mini. Tata and VW express one added factor: they are almost social(ist) automobiles, mobilizing the masses and even flipping the bird at the idea of corporate profits. While they hail from corporations, their idea just seems that much more late-2000s, sort of the No Logo of cars. They are not just anti-car, but image-wise they appear to be against the idea of the corporation—and some customers may find appeal to that.
   The only thing that stops them from embracing the concept fully is that I understand both will remain powered by the internal combustion engine (with a diesel option). And, from what I know, neither are Federalized for US usage.

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That time I tried to save Pavement magazine 

I am getting a little bit of feedback today about Pavement magazine, which I partly expected after Herald on Sunday gossip columnist Rachel Glucina left a message for me on my answerphone. But I was worried her Mum would sue me so I didn’t call back immediately.
   Just kidding: I have had a hectic few days, with conference calls to the US at weird hours to put me out of kilter even more with daylight saving. Funny, I do have a life, and out of civility I refuse to call people too late at night. Besides, I understand Ms Glucina has grabbed bits from this blog before, so I am sure she can do the same again.
   So, what are the facts?
   I felt it was a huge shame that Pavement shut its doors after 13 years last year. With Lucire profits expected to head upwards after a restructuring, its editorial team strong, and facing the growth of potential new territories, I wanted to find a way to rescue Pavement. I could get the approval of our boards and associates domestically and abroad.
   But of the times I ran into Mr Bernard D. McDonald, its co-founder and editor, I was snubbed. I never got beyond hello. It was as though I had some communicable disease. And most people know I don’t insist on having an audience. It’s why I blog: you can read me if you want to, ignore me if you don’t.
   As many of you remember, there have been numerous articles—too many to count—on the demise of Pavement, including the first (from memory) in the Herald on Sunday. Journalists called it defunct, etc. and even a Pavement insider called it dead, all uncontested. Word has it—actually, evidence has it—that Mr McDonald said that he would write a book on his experiences, maybe do a film, but he was out of the magazine business.
   ‘The magazine is like a child. I’m too tired to keep it going. It’s too hard,’ said Barney (as best as one witness can remember).
   I hate hearing that sort of talk of abandonment. And then to read about it time and time again. He might act like a jerk but he co-created something pretty special. Never mind all that nonce talk. There were more good issues than bad.
   What if Lucire could rescue something that had been abandoned? Get everything lined up, show Barney, Glen and Amanda, and Louise that there was life in the old girl yet? If they all agreed, do it together? Let Lucire raise the dough.
   There’s no way it could have worked without them. Where the remaining folks were, I was unsure. The place had closed. Or so every article I read said.
   The first thing to do was to make sure every gap was filled, gaps that they neglected for 13 years, before proceeding.
   We were weeks away from making a public announcement to find the old Pavement team—I called it an ‘olive branch’ in internal documents going back a few months—when I realize the old company, through Barney, I gather, had sicked a lawyer on me.
   Regular readers of this blog know how I feel about the Americanization of Kiwi business. It’s not cricket.
   Apparently, trying to save jobs and operating out of sympathy is a bad thing.
   And, according to this lawyer’s letter (missing a salutation, which undermined the firm’s respect), Pavement never stopped publishing magazines.
   You can’t have it both ways.
   Meanwhile, all we did was rely on Barney’s and others’ statements, which, as implied by his lawyer, may have been bollocks.
   In good faith and total reliance on Pavement’s own words, we did everything openly, publicly and transparently—as the Intellectual Property Office system allows—winding up with a registered trade mark that was unopposed by anyone.
   [And you know what would have happened if I hadn’t acted? A foreign corporation, maybe an Australian one, would have come in, registered the trade mark, with the intent to prevent it from resurfacing.]
   If anyone from the old Pavement team was concerned, I would have shared those worries—just as I did when I heard that Barney was handing out invitations to the ‘F*** off Pavement’ party. (Sounded like a farewell to me, but I understand now that ‘F*** off’ must mean ‘We will continue publishing magazines’ in Pavement-speak.)
   As those inside Lucire will tell you, the prospects for Pavement were never firmly entrenched, but that they were biased toward its former team. We have at least two other titles under development for the US market, hence the lack of a “top priority” effort on Pavement. Any revival was dependent on its old crew and the opinions of its fan base, which I said from the start. We never even put up any linked web pages about it, at least not intentionally, though we had a placeholder earlier this year that only people within Lucire were told about.
   Plan A, my [pre-lawyer] ideal [as of July 2007], was to mount a rescue with Lucire LLC providing the funding and handing creative control to [the] old team. We would say, ‘Don’t abandon it. You need to carry on with it.’ We would integrate a website and a few other things into it. In its 13 years—Google will prove thisPavement failed to make a dent online. You’ll find at least three other magazines with the Pavement name (including one on paving) in the top 10. With Lucire’s help, we would have really got a Kiwi title on the virtual map as well as back on newsstands.
   What would have happened if the original post-announcement reaction was negative, especially from its founders or senior team members? If it had been what I expected of normal New Zealanders, then they could have expected a reasoned, sympathetic response. I have cultivated a reputation for 20 years and I sure as heck would not flush it down the loo over one mag. I know what it’s like to work on something and nurture it, too.
   Plan B: depending on negotiations, we may have asked for the company to foot some of our costs—a tiny amount compared to sicking lawyers on people—and handed them over our work, work that put the entire Pavement brand into a far stronger position, in whatever venture it would enter.
   In case you are wondering, yes, Lucire has helped businesses out of charity before. And our approaches aren’t mainstream. Not many people go on to a blog and defend a competitor—as I did with Lisa Phelan and Style when they became subject to some media coverage I did not agree with. (She eventually found the post and thanked me.) Or offer to help rivals get ad artwork sorted out, gratis. Pavement fell into the same category.
   Because we independent publishers are weaker individually, I believe in sticking together.
   The really sad thing is, if Barney just picked up the phone or emailed me—as many of you are capable of doing—we could have sorted it out like two men, in probably a handful of civil, pleasant conversations.
   A little diplomacy goes a long way. But the snub continues.
   When you start contacting lawyers as your first resort, I’m going to have to reconsider our position. Pavement Co. seems to want to equate itself to corporate America, not what I expected the Pavement name to stand for.
   Lucire has been very successful at sorting out IP matters through conversation, resolving things in days. Unsurprisingly for a law firm, nice does not pay the bills.
   What is happening now is that Barney’s and Pavement Co.’s legal side has backed us into a defensive position, from which we cannot be pleasant. I can fight ill-informed accusations with fact, but it surprises me that folks who claimed to have been in editing and publishing couldn’t sort theirs out.
   As I read it, the letter from their lawyer was an invitation for us to counter-sue, because it proposed some ridiculous facts and far-fetched solutions. Shame, really: is the old Pavement Co. interested more in getting things genuinely sorted or in being dickheads?
   Mind you, this will probably get them back into the media with a longer article than the ones that had been running in 2007, so maybe it was a gigantic set-up from November 2006? It looks quite calculated, timing-wise. Even this blog entry is the longest I’ve done this week.
   I spent an hour and a bit drafting a reply which took things in the direction in which I was invited to go: escalation. But I couldn’t carry the bastard act 100 per cent of the way. I left room at the end for Pavement Co. to come forward with the truth and deal honestly, like New Zealanders.
   We’re going to see if it’s Snub III from the Barney McDonald side or if they will climb down to human level. If not, then we’ll know this is a media-oriented campaign, perhaps out of tall-poppy pettiness. Heck, it might even warrant a column in Lucire.
   Speaking of legalities, I invite people to look at the case of Madison magazine. There seems to be a tinge of: it’s OK for Australians to go and register trade marks—even for magazines that are still running—just not New Zealanders. Kiwi Madison became Stella. A great story but, to my knowledge, it never rated on the radar of the MSM, when it could have warranted more digging than this story. I wouldn’t have minded knowing more about the behind-the-scenes happenings.
   Contrary to our situation, I have a hunch that their motives were not about helping the New Zealand title, even if I understand their point of view.
   On that, ladies and gentlemen, I can only sigh. I had thought we were fairer to fellow Kiwis, took them at their word, and that we got the full story. Especially if we claim to be in the media.

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Meeting Donna Loveday 

Had a great chat this morning to curator Donna Loveday from the Design Museum. Her exhibition, When Philip Met Isabella, a tribute to milliner Philip Treacy and the late Isabella Blow, is on at the New Dowse in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, after dropping by in St Petersburg and Melbourne, and I would seriously recommend it.
   It’s a bit of a pity that Donna is flying out to the UK today—literally in a few hours—because her lecture put the exhibition into context, as well as gave some good (tasteful) goss about Philip and Isabella. Even without it, however, you can marvel at Treacy’s creations.
   In our chat, when things got a bit personal, I asked, ‘Is this off the record?’ to find that it was. Naturally, I’ll respect that.
   Our chat went into subjects as unrelated as automobiles, the music of John Barry and Life on Mars (repeating on TV One on Sunday nights, but as far as I can tell, with the same butchering as when it was on prime-time)—it was a pleasure chatting to a fan of good design and its recent history. At least she didn’t think it too freaky when I went into a discussion of modernism, or it might have been that British politeness.

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Another reason to dislike MySpace 

I have not been a MySpace fan, ever, but I was interested to note that I received two messages from friends, neither of which had been sent by them. One got so worried now that she has changed her password. The other was in Milano and not near her computer when one arrived purporting to be from her.
   The messages were spam, and it may be worth reporting to the MySpace people—the Murdoch Press—if they don’t know about this. Luckily for them, I don’t fully recall the brands being advertised, but I have a funny feeling Macy’s was one (the Italian-based friend thinks so, too). I still worry, however: too many times I have signed up to sites, never gave out the email address to anyone (Excite Mail was a good example), and only ever got spammed. If it is unknown to Murdochs, then MySpace has a serious security problem.

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Judged by the company you keep 

I have been getting a few queries lately on the print magazine business from the American end and if I intend to grow it past one consumer title. The answer is: ‘Of course.’ While we do have the announcement of a special Lucire edition for Zinio (click here to download), we have been considering additional titles, including one for the 48 (US) states that we’ve begun name-dropping. Can’t say more since they are the ones doing more of the work than me(!), but it is a cooperative deal with two of our team on the west coast.
   The trick really is finding a good mixture between print and online. As with any of our ventures, I tend to go for websites first as toes in the water, use it to assemble a team and create a community.
   The proliferation of media means that we should look for ready partnerships out there—and they are likely to already exist. I don’t think every niche has been plugged, but there are enough peripheral ones that can help position a new venture as cool, conservative, cutting-edge, etc. They can even help existing ones refresh their audiences.
   Last week, I wrote on another blog about reacquainting ourselves with TopButton.com, a site that we had worked with many moons ago. TopButton.com’s site is vastly different from when it was NYSale.com, with stronger communities and fans in three centres (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco), and it felt right to say hi to co-founder Mike Feldman and see if he still felt whether his site and Lucire complemented one another.
   Once upon a time, we did this sort of thing to get links to raise our Google ranking. Nowadays, we are probably more sophisticated. It’s not the quantity of the links—because PageRank is not the be-all-and-end-all of search engine optimization—but the market positioning of those links. You are judged, not by search engine robots but by consumers, on the company you keep—it is a conscious or subconscious brand analysis—and social networking pages such as those on MySpace or Facebook are very good examples of that when they display links as badges of honour.

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I think this qualifies as social-networking spam 

Anyone been spammed on Facebook yet? I don’t mean signing up to a list or group and getting multiple emails. I do mean getting spammed with “friend” requests.
   People like Robert Scoble will be familiar with that, but some of us with only a fraction of his presence on the web aren’t quite as used to it.
   A few months back, I received a bunch of requests from strangers in the fashion industry. I won’t get more specific than that, but their timing was suspect. I did learn that most of the requests were orchestrated by one or two people and they were not actually sent by the persons named.
   I still linked a few of the people and put them on limited-profile access, giving them the benefit of the doubt, but when I realized that they were going to other team members at Lucire, as each was added to the Facebook group there, I considered them to be spammers. This may be targeted better than most spam, but it plain didn’t feel right if the campaign is hitting to each team member in turn. Lucire editors et al do not join Facebook to be spammed.
   I did not care about these people’s updates on the first page of Facebook, because whatever they added was no better than an advertisement. And there are ads on Facebook already. I didn’t need any among my friend updates.
   I’m sure they would have still got a few links from people like me, unaware that this was happening on a wider scale. But at a small company, people talk. And when we all get requested by the same strangers in an orchestrated campaign, then it doesn’t look good. I advised team members to reject those requests and broke the connections I had.
   Facebook should be a personal tool. Yes, companies are on it. Some are even signed up as people (the American edition of Marie Claire, for instance, is signed up as a person, rather than a group). Some people might have their staff update pages, but I can deal with that if that person is someone I actually know. Or if I actually sought out those companies myself. But there’s nothing personal about targeted advertising from strangers. You don’t even need to be a big corporation to annoy people on social networks.

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When fashion and beauty magazines bore 

[Cross-posted] A designer, who shall remain nameless, recently said that Lucire was the only New Zealand magazine she knew of that had any real journalism in it. I was very happy to hear that feedback, and it seems the concern of fashion magazines lacking depth is something shared by others. Stevie Wilson, Lucire’s former US bureau chief and an editor with us for many years, wrote on her LA-Story.com blog how she has been chipping away at her subscriptions’ list as each magazine, in her opinion, becomes emptier.
allure.gif   In particular, this quotation was interesting. Maybe celebs sell, but they are pissing more educated readers off: ‘I know I am busy but that never stopped me from reading magazines. well now it seems that the same celebs play a merry go round of switching covers and it’s BORING. I don’t find celebs appealing that much and with all the stuff they get, it’s not exciting.’
   I know my own life is more interesting than what these stars get up to. And I am sure I am not alone in thinking that.
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Vogue in a post-Wintour spring 

[Cross-posted] From Creative Review (“hat tip” to Flypaper): Scott King has done a series of parody Vogue covers, in a “what if?” post-Wintour scenario. Have a glance by clicking on the pic below.
   This should (hopefully) be the last Vogue post for a while.

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The folly of geo-targeting in a world of global brands 

Armani Exchange ad on Lucire[Cross-posted] In the 1990s, the geo-targeting of advertisements on websites was not very common. If a campaign went out—such as when Condé Nast’s style.com advertised here to get its word out to fashionistas—it went out globally. We were paid, of course, for delivering campaigns to everyone.
   Somewhere this century, advertising decided to take a backward step, since much of the ad world functions regionally or nationally. For the web, campaigns would be regionally or nationally targeted. If American Company X were advertising, then it sure didn’t want its ad to be seen by German Consumer Y. The technology of tracking where a visitor came from became more widely available around this time, and ad networks obliged.
   This traditional advertising method has its appeal. If I ran X, then why would I want my brand exposed to Y, who would not buy my goods?
   Here’s my problem with it. X has a chance to generate immense goodwill. X may expand into Germany at some point, and a whole bunch of consumers will know the name, just as they would if they were to buy an American magazine or watch a news item from the States.
   When you watch TV and see X, even in the United States, do you go and buy its goods straight away? No, the brand is built ever so slightly with that exposure. In fact, I would argue that advertising online is more effective than on telly, but then no one measures TV ads by clickthroughs or any standard nearly as strict as those adopted for the web.
   It is this global attitude that saw American brands get exposure in foreign markets in the first place. Last time around it took fighting Fascism and hundreds of thousands of American lives to bring Coca-Cola’s name into the minds of people in Europe and Asia. This time we have a medium that allows exposure without waging war.
   So it was a relief, and a throwback to the 1990s, to see that Armani Exchange is advertising here at the Lucire site in a global campaign, which even we folks here in New Zealand can see. Then, it is a global brand, so the exposures here make sense because we can buy the stuff. But I wish that there was less geo-targeting: this is a globalized planet, after all.
   With one exception: the US Dancing with the Stars ads can stay there.

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Your task today: turn off Google Web History 

I discovered a few disturbing things after surfing around the Google site. First, Google was tracking my visits because it had switched on its new Web History feature without my permission. If it does switch this on by default—and I certainly don’t recall ever giving my consent for it—then I recommend you access your Google account, go to ‘My Account’, then ‘Web History’, and delete everything from within there. When you do, Google will (allegedly) pause its service. Or, better yet, go and edit the services that Google provides: you can delete the entire Web History service from your account forever.
   I also found that I was signed up to Orkut. I just don’t remember signing up. I deleted my account there as well. I probably won’t ever sign up there again.
   Finally, someone had me signed on to some Mac group under Google Groups. Apparently, you have to opt out of people (with a check box) being able to add you willy-nilly to their groups. You bet I checked that box after I saw that.
   I don’t know what the Californian company is up to: cooperating with Red Chinese authorities in 2006, and now having default preferences that go against our commonly held ideas about privacy. I do not want Web History (which should be named Web Spy), so why switch it on for me? I do not want to be signed up to miscellaneous groups, so why allow that to happen?
   I suppose all that is left is taking this blog off New Blogger, which I had said to readers I would do. Let’s see if I have free time in December. I may still change my mind because there are things I like about the basic Blogger editing. But I’ll be happy to take one more service off Google. That will leave a Google News keyword tracker, which is the only thing I actually signed up to Google for. I was on Blogger and the newsgroups long before Google came a-buyin’.
   What a change in my attitude. I used to be a huge Google fan. Now it’s just another American corporation. Pity that Yahoo! is not that much better, which, strangely enough, leaves Microsoft and heaps of independents trying to break through and beat Google as the next big dot-com to capture our collective imagination.
   At least Bill Gates is in to CSR these days, and that gives the Microsoft brand a real halo—that’s also the opposite of what I might have written a long time ago.

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Entries from 2006 to the end of 2009 were done on the Blogger service. As of January 1, 2010, this blog has shifted to a Wordpress installation, with the latest posts here.
   With Blogger ceasing to support FTP publishing on May 1, I have decided to turn these older pages in to an archive, so you will no longer be able to enter comments. However, you can comment on entries posted after January 1, 2010.

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