Archive for the ‘culture’ category


A brief misadventure into the Chinese internet

28.04.2021

When I was a kid and wanted to hit back at someone for being mean to me, my parents would often say that successful people, true leaders, would be 大方, which is roughly akin to saying that one should rise above it. I would say that goes with nations as well: you can tell when a country is in a good state by the way its citizenry behaves, and online behaviour is probably a proxy for that.
   As many of you know, my literacy in my mother tongue is just above the level it was at when I left Hong Kong, that is to say, it’s marginally better than a kindergartener’s. And where I come from, that means age 3, which is already in the big leagues considering I started at 2½, having passed the entrance exam, and had homework from then on. What I can write is in colloquial Cantonese, devoid of any formal structure that someone with a proper education in the old country would know. If you’re Cantonese, you’ll be able to read what I write, but if your only idea of Chinese is Mandarin, you’ll have little clue. (Bang goes the official argument in Beijing that Cantonese is a ‘dialect’. It can’t be a dialect if a speaker of one finds the other unintelligible.)
   With Meizu having essentially shut its international forum, I decided to head to the Chinese one to post about my experience with its Music app, and was met by a majority of friendly, helpful people, and some who even went the extra mile of replying to my English-language query in English.
   But there were enough dickheads answering to make you think that mainland China isn’t a clear global leader, regardless of all the social engineering and online credit scores.

   When I used Facebook, I had ventured on to a few groups where people simply posted in their own language, and those of us who wished to reply but didn’t understand it would either use the site’s built-in translator, or, before that was available, Google Translate. I still am admin on a group where people do post in their own language without much issue. There’s no insistence on ‘Speak English, I can’t understand you,’ or whatever whine I hear from some intolerant people, such as the ones sampled below.

   That makes you despair for some folks and one conclusion I can draw is that members of a country who demand such a monoculture must not see their country as a leader. Nor do they have much pride in it. For great nations, in my book, embrace, or believe they embrace (even if they fall short in practice) all tongues and creeds, all races and abilities. They revel in their richness.
   Of the negative souls on the forum, there was the crap you’d expect. ‘Write in Chinese,’ ‘Why is a Cantonese person writing in English?’ ‘Think about where you are,’ and ‘I don’t understand you’ (to a comment I wrote in Cantonese—again supporting the argument that it isn’t a dialect, but its own distinct tongue).
   Granted, these are a small minority, but it’s strange that this is a forum where people tend to help one another. And it tells me that whether you’re American or Chinese, there’s nothing in the behaviour of ordinary folks that tells me that any one place is more likely to be a centre for 21st-century leadership than another.
   I’ve had far worse responses to Tweets, by a much greater proportion of people (the UK still stands out as the worst when I responded to a Tweet about George Floyd), but it’s the context. Twitter is, as Stephen Fry once put it, analogous to a bathing pool into which too many people have urinated, but a help forum?
   It’s the globally unaware, those who engage in casual xenophobia, who are intolerant of other languages, who are the little people of our times, having missed out on an education or life experience that showed them otherwise. They reside in the old country as much as in so many other places. The leading nation of the 21st century does not look like it’s one of the obvious choices. Future historians, watch this space.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, internet, leadership, New Zealand, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


Autocade reaches 23 million page views—and it’s more satisfying than Twitter

07.04.2021


Above: The Levdeo (or Letin) i3, not exactly the ideal model with which to commemorate another Autocade milestone.

Autocade will cross the 23 million page view mark today, so we’re keeping fairly consistent with netting a million every three months, a pattern that we’ve seen since the end of 2019.
   Just to keep my record-keeping straight:

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for 10th million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for 11th million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for 12th million)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for 13th million)
September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for 14th million)
February 2019: 15,000,000 (five months for 15th million)
June 2019: 16,000,000 (four months for 16th million)
October 2019: 17,000,000 (four months for 17th million)
December 2019: 18,000,000 (just under three months for 18th million)
April 2020: 19,000,000 (just over three months for 19th million)
July 2020: 20,000,000 (just over three-and-a-half months for 20th million)
October 2020: 21,000,000 (three months for 21st million)
January 2021: 22,000,000 (three months for 22nd million)
April 2021: 23,000,000 (three months for 23rd million)

   I see on my 22 millionth page view post I mentioned there were 4,379 entries. It hasn’t increased that much since: the site is on 4,423. I notice the pace does slow a bit once the year kicks off in earnest: it’s the Christmas break that sees me spending a bit more time on the website.
   Who knows? I may spend more on it again as I’m tiring of the tribalism of Twitter, and, most recently, being tarred with the same brush as someone I follow, even though I follow people I don’t always agree with—including people with offensive views.
   On April 4, I wrote there:

Earlier today @QueenOliviaStR and I were tagged into a lengthy thread, to which I don’t think I have the right of response to the writer.
   First up, I salute her. Secondly, she may disagree with how I use Twitter but I still support her. Thirdly, she should rightly do what she needs to in order to feel safe.
   I don’t wish to single out any account but if you go through my following list, there are people on there whose views many Kiwis would disagree with.
   Some were good people who fell down rabbit holes, and some I’ve never agreed with from the start. So why do I follow them?
   As I Tweeted last week, I object to being in a social media bubble. I think it’s unhealthy, and the cause of a lot of societal angst. It’s why generally I dislike Big Tech as this is by design.
   Secondly, if I shut myself off to opposing views, even abhorrent ones, how do I know what arguments they are using in order to counter them if the opportunity arises?
   I would disagree that I am amicable with these accounts but I do agree to interacting with some of them on the bases that we originally found.
   Ian, who is long gone from Twitter after falling down the COVID conspiracy rabbit hole, was a known anti-war Tweeter. I didn’t unfollow him but I disagreed with where his thoughts were going.
   The person who tagged us today didn’t want to be exposed to certain views and that’s fair. But remember, that person she didn’t like will also be exposed to her views through me.
   I’ll let you into something that might shock you: for a few years, when the debate began, I wasn’t supportive of marriage equality, despite having many queer friends. It was more over semantics than their rights, but still, it isn’t a view I hold today.
   If this happened in social media land, I might have held on those views, but luckily I adopted the policy I do today: see what people are saying. And eventually I was convinced by people who wrote about their situations that my view was misinformed.
   And while my following an account is not an endorsement of its views, by and large I follow more people with whom I agree—which means the positive arguments that these people make could be seen by those who disagree with them.
   People should do what is right for them but I still hold that bubbling and disengagement are dangerous, and create a group who double-down on their views. Peace!

   Maybe it’s a generational thing: that some of us believe in the free flow of information, because that was the internet we joined. One that was more meritorious, and one where we felt we were more united with others.
   We see what the contrary does. And those examples are recent and severe: we’ve seen it with the US elections, with Myanmar, with COVID-19.
   This isn’t a dig at the person who took exception to my being connected to someone, and yes, even engaged them (though being ‘amicable’ is simply having good manners to everyone), because if those offensive views targeted me I wouldn’t want to see them. And it is a poor design decision of Twitter to still show that person in one’s Tweets if they have already blocked them, just because a mutual person follows them.
   It is a commentary, however, on wider trends where social media and Google have created people who double-down on their views, or opened up the rabbit hole for them to fall into—and keep them there.
   It did use to be called social networking, where we made connections, supposedly for mutual benefit, maybe even the benefit of humanity, but now it’s commonly social media, because we don’t seem to really network with anyone else while we post about ourselves.
   Unlike Alice, people don’t necessarily return from Wonderland.
   My faith—which I don’t always bring up because one risks being tarred with the evangelical homophobic stereotypes that come with it in mainstream media and elsewhere—tells me that everyone can be redeemed, even those who hold abhorrent views.
   It’s why I didn’t have a problem when Bill Clinton planned to see Kim Jong Il or when Donald Trump did see Kim Jong Un, because engagement is better than isolation. Unlike the US media, I don’t change a view depending on the occupant of the Oval Office.
   I’ve also seen some people who post awful things do incredibly kind things outside of the sphere of social media.
   Which then makes you think that social media just aren’t worth your time—something I had already concluded with Facebook, and, despite following mostly people I do agree with, including a lot of automotive enthusiasts, I am feeling more and more about Twitter. Instead of the open forum it once was, you are being judged on whom you follow, based on isolated and rare incidents.
   I don’t know if it’s generational or whether we’ve developed through technology people who prefer tribalism over openness.
   Sometimes you feel you should just leave them to it and get on with your own stuff—and for every Tweet I once sent, maybe I should get on to some old emails and tidy that inbox instead. Or put up one of the less interesting models on Autocade. Not Instagramming much—I think I was off it for nearly a month before I decided to post a couple of things on Easter Eve—has been another step in the right direction, instead of poking around on a tiny keyboard beamed up to you from a 5½-inch black mirror.
   The computer, after all, is a tool for us, and we should never lose sight of that. Let’s see if I can stick with it, and use Mastodon, which still feels more open, as my core social medium for posting.

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I can finally identify with the main character in a New Zealand TV show

31.03.2021

While I care much more about when John Simm will grace our screens again (pun intended), it was hard to avoid the reality TV that gets beamed into our living rooms during prime-time. There is the disgusting Married at First Sight Australia, where I am speechless with shock that fellow Scots alumnus John Aiken appears to dispense mansplaining without conscience, but, on the other channel, the far more pleasant The Bachelor New Zealand, where, finally, for the first time on our airwaves, I see a Kiwi male that I can identify with. Apart from the times when I appeared on telly (I realize that this sentence sounds wanky, but if you can’t identify with yourself, then there’s something wrong).
   While Zac the lifeguard from a few years ago seemed like a lovely chap, he was in many ways the usual stereotype: sporty, unfazed, carefree, white, with a great smile. Moses Mackay is cultured, worldly, considered, respectful, humble, well dressed, and, surprisingly for this show, wasn’t quick to snog every contestant. It was also nice to see a bachelor who’s a person of colour on our screens for a change. He grew up poor and that’s not an unfamiliar story to many of us. He’s comfortable talking about his relationship with God. Heck, he even croons for a living.
   I’m no Matt Monro but I’ve serenaded my partner—just get us at the James Cook when the elderly gent is banging out tunes by Michel Legrand, or, as I call him, Big Mike, on the lobby piano. And yes, for some of us, this is perfectly normal. Just ask Moses.
   For all of us fellas who wanted to see an example of a cultured Kiwi gentleman on our screens—and as the fêted star, not the comic relief—our wishes were finally granted.
   I’ve no idea whom he picked, although I knew one of the contestants who didn’t make it—New Zealand is that small. I could say the same about Zac’s season as well. I’m sure not knowing the outcome also puts me in a minority. But I wish him well.

I’m reminded of my friend Frankie Stevens, since I mentioned Matt Monro above. I once did the same to Frankie and he said something along the lines of, ‘I was touring with Matt. We were in Spain, and he’d come in the morning with a glass of whisky.’ Another time I mentioned John Barry. ‘I worked with Johnny and Don Black. On The Dove. I sang the theme tune but Gregory Peck wanted someone else.’
   For my overseas readers: you don’t usually have these conversations in Aotearoa with a guy who’s not only met your musical heroes, but worked with them. All I could do was show I had the theme on my phone.
   With apologies to Lyn Paul, but Frankie would have been great (and indeed better) singing the theme to The Dove.

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Computing in 2021: Gmail’s advertorial spammers, Facebook bots, and Twitter fatigue

25.03.2021

I’m not entirely sure I need to block out the email addresses here since they’re likely to be burner Gmail accounts, but I’ll give these spammers the courtesy they don’t deserve.
   As shown below, they’ve been coming for over a year; there’s a chance I may have even received them in 2019.




The text of the latest reads:

Hello,

I hope you’re well!
   I am currently working with a number of clients in placing guest blogs/sponsored articles on high-quality sites, such as yours. I recently came across your site and, after having a quick read through some of your more recent posts and articles, I think it’d be a great fit for some of the sorts of content campaigns that we frequently work on.
   I work with a range of clients across different areas such as fashion, lifestyle, home decor, legal, travel plus loads more. Would you be interested in working together on one of our future/upcoming content campaigns?
   Looking forward to hopefully working on a campaign together soon!

   First up, I already know they never visited since the latest refers to Lucire as a ‘blog’ in its subject line. Just because you run Wordpress doesn’t mean it’s a blog.
   A more crazy one recently actually requested we publish something at lucire.net, which is a brochureware site with no posts on it—so I don’t think they are even hunting specifically for Wordpress-driven sites. Anything will do.
   Last year, I replied to one of them, thinking they could be a legit enquiry for advertorial. It went nowhere, since, as far as I know, they were just after backlinks, and not prepared to pay what a commercial advertorial purchaser would.
   I wouldn’t have been any the wiser if they didn’t keep repeating the messages, and it seems that during the last few weeks they’ve shifted into high gear. And when you know they’re spam, the innocent experience that you had in 2020 suddenly becomes a supreme waste of time.
   I know, all the signs are there: they run Gmail accounts and there are no signature files or details of what company they represent. Gmail, to me, has plenty of spammers, and it is not the service used by professionals. (When 200 people can share the same email address, why would you?) But there was that charitable side of me wondering if the first one was just someone who had shifted to working from home and trying to make a buck. I didn’t really think, since I’m not of this mind myself, that it was spam and that I was a mark.
   I now have common phrases from the spams fed in to my filters so these will just go into the trash folder. I’m posting this in case others have received these spams, and wish to do the same.

Here’s a recent Tweet of mine. Not altogether an accurate one, but when I wrote it I genuinely believed Facebook claimed it had 2 milliard users.

   As Don Marti says, the fact Facebook even has to claim this tells us they are fighting a losing battle.
   On one of the groups I administer there, I’d say over 99 per cent of the members’ queue are bots. Here’s a typical screen in botland, I mean, Facebook:

   These are common patterns and I see them all the time; they all use a variety of responses but they all come out of the same program. ‘I will seriously abide!’, ‘Yes bro’ and ‘OK bro’ are pretty common, and there are others.
   The thing is, I’ve seen these for years, reported each one as a fake account (since there is no option for ‘they are using automated software’), and in 99 per cent of cases (no exaggeration; in fact I may be underestimating), Facebook tells me there is no violation of their terms of service.

   This can mean only one of two things: Facebook is too stupid to realize that an account that feeds the same things into group questionnaires constantly is a bot or running some sort of software that is not permitted under its own terms; or these accounts exist with Facebook’s blessing.
   In the queues, legitimate humans are being outnumbered by over 99 to 1, and if this is a representative sample of Facebook’s current user base (I’m betting I see more accounts than the average person), then hardly anyone is on site any more. I wouldn’t know, I only check client pages and this queue for the most part.
   But if you wish to waste your money advertising to bots on the Facebook platform, then be my guest. Zuckerberg and co. are already getting enough money for doing nothing useful.

I wonder if I’m getting more Twitter fatigue after 14 years. I have built up a fun network there, especially of car people that I made a point of following over the last couple of years. But the cellphone keyboard is such a fidgety, impractical and slow device, I’ve found myself starting to respond, even writing the first few words of a Tweet, then giving up. This has had wonders on my email inbox as the number of messages drops. I’m getting through stuff.
   Fortunately for Twitter, Jack Dorsey hasn’t come across as big a dick as the Facebook and Google people, and the man has been doing some good with his money, like donating US$1 milliard to COVID-19 research. Yes, Twitter still has some major problems, especially when it comes to censorship, but when someone says, ‘I can afford to give that away because I’d still be a rich bastard with the US$2 milliard I have left,’ it’s actually a contrast to Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Unlike the latter, he also hasn’t been publicly lying and calling us ‘dumb f***s’.
   Even so, more often than not I now find myself stopping. Is Tweeting that really worth it? Who cares? So I have a different opinion to that person. I don’t need a global audience for it. If I feel strongly enough, and have the time, there’s always long-form blogging.

Finally, here’s a page explaining just why Google is corrupt.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


March 2021 gallery

05.03.2021


 

All galleries can be seen through the ‘Gallery’ link in the header, or click here (especially if you’re on a mobile device). I append to this entry through the month.

Sources
Ford Taunus by Otosan, 1992: more at Autocade.
   Tipalet advertisement, sourced from Twitter. Based on what my parents told me, this wouldn’t have appealed even then!
   Fiat Ritmo Diesel, Tweeted by Darragh McKenna.
   Emory University letter, Tweeted by Haïtian Creative.
   The Jaguar XJ-S was first marketed as the S-type in the US—more at this Tweet from the Car Factoids. More on the XJ-S here on Autocade.
   Bree Kleintop models Diff Charitable Eyewear, shared on Instagram.
   Alisia Ludwig photographed by Peter Müller, from Instagram.
   The Daily Campus, February 19, 2021, and Metropolitan Police newspaper quote, sourced from Twitter.
   Ford Cortina Mk II 1600E two-door, one of 2,563 made for export only. Source: the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   Alisia Ludwig photographed by Weniamin Schmidt, shared on Instagram.
   Ford Cortina Mk II 1600E advertisement, sourced from Twitter.
   Morris 2200 HL advertisement: more on the car at Autocade.
   More on the Dodge Charger L-body at Autocade.
   More on the Samsung XM3, also at Autocade.

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More TV Dregs, please

12.02.2021

I was looking through the old JY&A links’ section, which dates back to the beginning of the site in the 1990s (indeed, back to Windows 3·1, as we couldn’t use a file name with more than three letters in the suffix). The last revamp of its look was over 15 years ago, judging by its appearance, and, although I attempted to update it to the current template, I decided the result was duller. It’s not an area where too many images were used, and the old look was probably more representative of what it is: a relic of the original dot-com era. As I explain on the introductory page (which has been facelifted), one reason for keeping it is to honour link exchanges that I made with other webmasters at the time, but I doubt it’s examined particularly often. The main text column is wide on a modern screen, but it would have looked fine at 1,024 by 768 pixels 15 years ago.
   One site that I linked, at its last update (which was probably around 2003 or 2004), was the humorous TV Dregs, which is written in a documentary style, about the lesser known TV shows that aired in the UK. The catch: every entry is fictional. It got me thinking about what it could have had if it were updated, and while I’ve done these jokes before (the Game of Thrones one I have cracked ad nauseam on social media), this was an attempt to write the entries in a TV Dregs style. They’re not as good as theirs but then I’m not a professional humorist. I might have to send them a note to let them know that 18 years after their founding, they’re still getting visits from me and eliciting some laughs.

Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011)
With Changing Rooms, Restoration Home, DIY SOS, and Love Your Garden each dealing with different aspects of home renovation, HBO responded with Game of Thrones, where seven teams competed to fix toilets, to win the coveted prize of the Iron Throne. Hosted by Channel 4’s Jon Snow, it featured celebrity appearances, notably from Sean Bean in the first series. Given the locations, participants often got wet and the show became known more for the nudity as clothes had to be dried; but the ideas in the show got particularly extreme with on-set weddings, and in series 4, poisoned wine, to force players to finish their toilets in record time so they could relieve themselves. Host Snow even appeared to have died on the show, though fans knew he was all right since he appeared on Channel 4 News the next day.

The Master (BBC, 2006)
With Doctor Who revived, the BBC were keen to capitalize on its success with a spin-off centring around its recurring villain, the Master, this time played by John Simm. Who alumna Billie Piper kicked off the series with the unforgettable voiceover, ‘My name is Rose Tyler. I had an accident and woke up in 1973.’ Set in the 1970s, with the Third Doctor exiled to Earth while the Master ran rampant with his weekly schemes, it was highly acclaimed, though certain fans were up in arms with the regeneration scene at the end of series two, when the Master turns into a woman (Keeley Hawes). The show was eventually merged back into Doctor Who, placating fans who were glad that the Doctor would not suddenly change gender.


The Master even dons the Ninth Doctor’s jacket

Colombo (ITV, 2003)
With the cancellation of Columbo in the US, after a final episode with Billy Connolly, producers were keen to continue the concept but, with interest in foreign-location police dramas (Wallander, Zen), it was retooled from the US setting to one in Sri Lanka, guaranteeing support from Asian diaspora. Still starring Peter Falk in a humorous fish-out-of-water tale, the gamble didn’t really work, since, as was pointed out at the time, only the supporting characters were played by Asians while the star remained white. It was also very predictable as Patrick McGoohan played the villain, albeit with different disguises, each week.

The Unger Games (ITV, 2012)
This remake of The Odd Couple takes place in a dystopian future, with Donald Sutherland as Oscar and Stanley Tucci as Felix, taking over the lead roles. Look out for a young Jennifer Lawrence as police cadet Marie Greshler, in the role that propelled her to fame. The principal change each week from the Neil Simon original was that Oscar was always finding ways to kill Felix, albeit unsuccessfully, though the shocking and dark finalé sees now-Officer Greshler plan to kill Felix, but turns on Oscar instead. A grim ending to an otherwise humorous sitcom.

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A refreshing piece on diversity in our mainstream media

31.01.2021

Two fantastic items in my Tweetstream today, the first from journalist Jehan Casinader, a New Zealander of Sri Lankan heritage, in Stuff.
   Some highlights:

   As an ethnic person, you can only enter (and stay in) a predominantly white space – like the media, politics or corporate leadership – if you play by the rules. And really, there’s only one rule: blend in. You’re expected to assimilate into the dominant way of thinking, acting and being …
   I sound like you. I make myself relatable to you. I communicate in a way that makes sense to you. I don’t threaten you. I don’t make you uncomfortable. And I keep my most controversial opinions to myself.

And:

   Kiwis love stories about ethnic people who achieve highly: winning university scholarships, trying to cure diseases, inventing new technology or entering the political arena. These people are lauded for generating economic and social value for the country …
   We do not hear stories about ethnic people who work in thankless, low-skilled jobs – the refugees and migrants who stock our supermarket shelves, drive our taxis, pick our fruit, milk our cows, fill our petrol tanks, staff our hospitals and care for our elderly in rest homes.

   Jehan says that now he is in a position of influence, he’s prepared to bring his Sri Lankan identity to the places he gets to visit, and hopes that everyone in Aotearoa is given respect ‘not because of their ability to assimilate’.
   He was born here to new immigrants who had fled Sri Lanka, and I think there is a slight difference to those of us who came as children. Chief among this, at least for me, was my resistance to assimilation. Sure I enjoyed some of the same things other kids my age did: the Kentucky Fried Chicken rugby book, episodes of CHiPs, and playing tag, but because of various circumstances, as well as parents who calmly explained to me the importance of retaining spoken Cantonese at home, I constantly wore my Chineseness. I hadn’t chosen to leave my birthplace—this was the decision of my parents—so I hung on to whatever I could that connected me back to it.
   I could contrast this to other Chinese New Zealanders I went to school with, many of whom had lost their native language because their parents had encouraged assimilation to get ahead. I can’t fault them—many of them are my dearest friends—but I was exposed to what Jehan wrote about from a young age.
   It saddened me a lot because here were people who looked like me who I couldn’t speak to in my mother tongue, and the only other student of Chinese extraction in my primary class who did speak her native language spoke Mandarin—which to many of my generation, certainly to those who did so little schooling before we left, find unintelligible.
   At St Mark’s, I had no issue. This was a school that celebrated differences, and scholastic achievement. (I am happy to say that sports and cultural activity are very much on the cards these days, too.) But after that, at one college, I observed what Jehan said: the Chinese New Zealanders who didn’t rock the boat were safe buddies to have; those who were tall poppies were the target of the weak-minded, the future failures of our society. You just have to rise above it, and, if anything, it made me double-down on my character—so much so that when I was awarded a half-scholarship to Scots, I found myself in familiar surroundings again, where differences were championed.
   But you do indeed have to play the game. Want your company recognized? Then get yourself into the media. Issue releases just like the firms that were sending them to you as a member of the media. Don’t bring your Chineseness into that, because you won’t get coverage. Jack Yan & Associates, and Lucire for that matter, always had a very occidental outlook, with my work taking me mostly to the US and Europe, with India only coming in at the end of the 2000s—but then we were bound by the lingua franca of the old colonial power.
   Despite my insistence on my own reo at home, and chatting every day to my Dad, I played the game that Jehan did when it came to work. I didn’t as much when I ran for mayor, admittedly—I didn’t want voters to get a single-sided politician, but one who was his authentic self—but that also might explain why Stuff’s predecessor, which was at that stage owned by a foreign company, gave me next to no coverage the first time out. They weren’t prepared to back someone who didn’t fit their reader profile. The second time out, it still remained shockingly biased. Ironically the same publishing group would give me reasonably good coverage in Australia when I wasn’t doing politics. That’s the price to pay for authenticity sometimes.
   Jehan finishes his piece on a positive note and I feel he is right to. We still have issues as a nation, no doubt, but I think we embrace our differences more than we used to. There have been many instances where I have seen all New Zealanders rise up to condemn racism, regardless of their political bents. (What is interesting was I do recall one National MP still in denial, residing in fantasy-land, when I recalled a racist incident—and this was after March 15, 2019!) People from all walks of life donated to my fund-raising when a friend’s car had a swastika painted on it. We have a Race Relations’ Commissioner who bridges so many cultures effectively—a New Zealander of Taishanese extraction who speaks te reo Māori and English—who is visible, and has earned his mana among so many here. The fact that Jehan’s piece was even published, whereas in 2013 it would have been anathema to the local arm of Fairfax, is further reason to give me hope.

The second item? Have a watch of this. It’s largely in accord with my earlier post.

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Posted in business, culture, media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Like communist dictatorships, Google and Facebook threaten Australia

23.01.2021

You know the US tech giants have way too much power, unencumbered by their own government and their own country’s laws, when they think they can strong-arm another nation.
   From Reuter:

Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Friday it would block its search engine in Australia if the government proceeds with a new code that would force it and Facebook Inc to pay media companies for the right to use their content.

   Fine, then piss off. If Australia wants to enact laws that you can’t operate with, because you’re used to getting your own way and don’t like sharing the US$40,000 million you’ve made each year off the backs of others’ hard work, then just go. I’ve always said people would find alternatives to Google services in less than 24 hours, and while I appreciate its index is larger and it handles search terms well, the spying and the monopolistic tactics are not a worthwhile trade-off.
   I know Google supporters are saying that the Australian policy favours the Murdoch Press, and I agree that the bar that the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) has set for what qualifies as a media business (revenues of over A$150,000 per annum) is too high. So it isn’t perfect.
   The fact Google has made a deal in France suggests it is possible, when the giant doesn’t whine so damned much.
   Plus, Google and Facebook have been dangerous to democracy, and should have done more for years to address these issues. They’ve allowed a power imbalance for the sake of their own profits, so paying for news—effectively a licensing payment that the rest of us would have to fork out—at least puts a value on it, given how it benefits the two sites. No search? Fine, let’s have more ethical actors reap the rewards of fairer, “unbubbled” searches, because at least there would be a societal benefit from it, and since they aren’t cashing in on the media’s work, I’m happy for them to get a free licence to republish. Right now I don’t believe the likes of Duck Duck Go are dominant enough (far from it) to raise the attention of Australian regulators.
   Facebook’s reaction has been similar: they would block Australians from sharing links to news. Again, not a bad idea; maybe people will stop using a platform used to incite hate and violence to get their bubbled news items. Facebook, please go ahead and carry out your threat. If it cuts down on people using your site—or, indeed, returns them to using it for the original purpose most of us signed up for, which was to keep in touch with friends—then we all win. (Not that I’d be back for anything but the limited set of activities I do today. Zuck’s rich enough.)
   A statement provided to me and other members of the media from the Open Markets Institute’s executive director Barry Lynn reads:

Today Google and Facebook proved in dramatic fashion that they pose existential threats to the world’s democracies. The two corporations are exploiting their monopoly control over essential communications to extort, bully, and cow a free people. In doing so, Google and Facebook are acting similarly to China, which in recent months has used trade embargoes to punish Australians for standing up for democratic values and open fact-based debate. These autocratic actions show why Americans across the political spectrum must work together to break the power that Google, Facebook, and Amazon wield over our news and communications, and over our political debate. They show why citizens of all democracies must work together to build a communications infrastructure safe for all democracies in the 21st Century.

   Considering Google had worked on a search engine that would comply with Communist Chinese censorship, and Facebook has been a tool to incite genocide, then the comparison to a non-democratic country is valid.
   So, I say to these Big Tech players, pull out. This is the best tech “disruption” we can hope for. You’re both heading into irrelevance, and Australia has had the balls to do what your home country—from which you offshore a great deal of your money—cannot, for all the lobbyists you employ. You favour big firms over independents, and the once level playing field that existed on the internet has been worsened by you. The Silicon Valley spirit, of entrepreneurship, born of the counterculture, needs to return, and right now you’re both standing in the way: you are “the man”, suppressing entrepreneurial activity, reducing employment, and splitting people apart—just what dictatorial régimes do.
   As an aside, the EU is also cracking down on Big Tech as it invites the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to a February 1 hearing. They’ve bled people for long enough and it’s time for some pushback.

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Posted in business, China, culture, internet, media, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


All you need is one NewTumbl user to undo management goodwill

14.01.2021

This is a comment (with my reply, in reverse chronology) from a NewTumbl user, Thewonderfulo, who often posts about the site’s rating system. I’ve no idea if it’s official, but it certainly passes itself off as authoritative.
   I usually find myself agreeing with them but here’s a prime example where I don’t—because, first, I can’t see anything in the NewTumbl rules that confirms this (excepting one sentence below which I’ll get on to); secondly, NewTumbl has told me of some of their positions personally and I feel they’ve confirmed my position; and thirdly, if bare behinds can be seen in PG-13 films (including in their country), then a single ‘buttcheek’ is even less offensive and couldn’t possibly be M, which is where NewTumbl classifies nudity.
   There is one sentence under the O category (‘Office’, or safe for work): ‘Images that would be considered sultry or provocative qualify as O provided the people in the photo have both their tops and bottoms covered – not just hidden from view, but actually wearing clothes.’ We’d then have to argue about how much “coverage” there is, and here I’d fall back on being alive for nearly five decades and having kept my eyes open about popular culture. Swimwear, for instance, provides acceptable coverage which wouldn’t offend most of us in the occident. From memory that’s the level of skin the post in question was dealing with.
   It’s exactly as I said in my last post on NewTumbl. I love the concept, and the people who run the site, but the moderators are in some sort of Handmaid’s Tale Gilead. In fact, I’d venture to say that Tumblr wouldn’t consider a buttock to be offensive enough for removal. Given NewTumbl’s history, as a Tumblr alternative that would be more tolerant, I believe that the moderators really don’t understand the whole picture, and where the lines should be drawn.
   To think, after chatting directly to NewTumbl I was feeling a bit more chipper about the site, only to have a one-sentence comment and zero willingness to engage by a user who is, I fear, typical of the “standards” that are actually being applied by the overenthused American puritans.
   Incidentally, speaking of Americans, the sort of divisive talk that they are infamous for is all too present. Have a look at the thread from my earlier post. Frankly, if they have a problem with a buttock on a woman who is actually wearing clothes, while this sort of mudslinging is fine on a family-friendly post, then I won’t be in a hurry to return. Sorry.

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Posted in culture, internet, politics, USA | 2 Comments »


This was the natural outcome of greed, in the forms of monopoly power and sensationalist media

11.01.2021

I did indeed write in the wake of January 6, and the lengthy op–ed appears in Lucire, quoting Emily Ratajkowski, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden. I didn’t take any pleasure in what happened Stateside and Ratajkowski actually inspired the post after a Twitter contact of mine quoted her. This was after President Donald Trump was taken off Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
   The points I make there are probably familiar to any of you, my blog readers, pointing at the dangers of tech monopolies, the double standards that they’ve employed, and the likely scenario of how the pendulum could swing the other way on a whim because another group is flavour of the month. We’ve seen how the US has swung one way and the other depending on the prevailing winds, and Facebook’s and Twitter’s positions, not to mention Amazon’s and Google’s, seem reactionary and insincere when they have had their terms and conditions in place for some time.
   Today, I was interested to see Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel, referred to by not a few as the leader of the free world, concerned at the developments, as was President López Obrador of México. ‘German Chancellor Angela Merkel objected to the decisions, saying on Monday that lawmakers should set the rules governing free speech and not private technology companies,’ reported Bloomberg, adding, ‘Europe is increasingly pushing back against the growing influence of big technology companies. The EU is currently in the process of setting up regulation that could give the bloc power to split up platforms if they don’t comply with rules.’
   The former quotation wasn’t precisely my point but the latter is certainly linked. These tech giants are the creation of the US, by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and their institutions, every bit as Trump was a creation of the US media, from Fox to MSNBC.
   They are natural outcomes of where things wind up when monopoly power is allowed to gather and laws against it are circumvented or unenforced; and what happens when news networks sell spectacle over substance in order to hold your attention. One can only hope these are corrected for the sake of all, not just one side of the political spectrum, since freedom—actual freedom—depends on them, at least until we gain the civility and education to regulate ourselves, the Confucian ideal. Everything about this situation suggests we are nowhere near being capable, and I wonder if homo sapiens will get there or whether we’ll need to evolve into another species before we do.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, leadership, media, politics, technology, USA | 1 Comment »