Posts tagged ‘COVID-19’


Saddened to see colleagues lose their jobs as we bid, ‘Auf wiedersehen, Heinrich Bauer Verlag’

03.04.2020

I am privy to some of the inner workings at Bauer Media through friends and colleagues, but I didn’t expect them to shut up shop in New Zealand, effective April 2.
   Depending on your politics, you’re in one of two camps.
   TV3, itself part of a foreign company who has made serious cutbacks during the lockdown, said Bauer had approached the government and offered to sell the business to them at a rock-bottom price in the hope of saving the 200-plus jobs there. The government declined. I believe that’s the angle foreign-owned media are adopting here.
   Both the PM and the minister responsible for media, Kris Faafoi, have said that Bauer never applied for the wage subsidy, and never approached the government to see if it could be classified as an essential service to keep operating. Indeed, in the words of the PM, ‘Bauer contacted the minister and told him they weren’t interested in subsidies.’
   It’s murkier today as there is evidence that Bauer had, through the Magazine Publishers’ Association, lobbied for reclassification for it to be turned down, though the minister continues to say that it had never been raised with him and that Bauer had already committed to shutting up shop.
   Outside of “we said, they said”, my takes are, first, it was never likely that the government would want to be a magazine publisher. Various New Zealand governments have been pondering how to deal with state-owned media here, and there was little chance the latest inhabitants of the Beehive would add to this.
   We also know that Bauer had shut titles over the years due to poor performance, and Faafoi’s original statement expressly states that the Hamburg-based multinational had been ‘facing challenges around viability of their operations here in New Zealand.’
   With these two facts in mind, the government would not have taken on the business to turn it around, especially while knowing the owner of Bauer Media (well, 85 per cent of it) has a personal worth of US$3,000 million and the company generated milliards in revenue per annum.
   I also have to point to its own harsh decisions over the years in shutting titles. In 2018, Bauer’s own Australian CEO told Ad News: ‘There’s a really interesting view that somehow we are here to provide a social service. The reality is we’re here to make money and if we can’t make money out of our magazines, we’ll sell them or we’ll close them.
   ‘We have an obligation, whether that’s a public company or private company, to make money for shareholders. If it doesn’t make money, why would we do it?’
   That, to me, sounds like the corporate position here as well, and no doubt Bauer’s bean counters will have crunched the numbers before yesterday’s announcement.
   I’ve had my own ideas how the stable could have evolved but it’s easy to talk about this with hindsight, so I won’t. Enough people are hurting.
   But I’d have applied for whatever the government offered to see if I could keep things going for a little while longer. Even if the writing was on the wall, it would have been nice to see my colleagues have a lifeline. Get one more issue of each title out after June. Maybe I’m just not as brutal. I mean, I’ve never defamed Rebel Wilson as Bauer’s Australian publications have. Maybe it’s different for a small independent.
   If I may use a sporting analogy, Bauer hasn’t let their players on to the field and kept them in the changing room, and more’s the pity.
   One comment I received yesterday was that Bauer wouldn’t have been in a position to pay its staff even with the government subsidy, with no advertising sales being generated. I’m not so sure, with annual global revenues of over €2,000 million. New Zealand was probably too unimportant to be saved by Bauer’s bosses in Hamburg. I guess we’ll never know.

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Posted in business, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing | No Comments »


COVID-19 per capita: April 2 update

02.04.2020

I had to see how we were tracking on total COVID-19 infections alongside other countries on a per capita basis, and here’s the latest update (source also linked above). I knew Switzerland was doing badly, but not this badly. I know I haven’t been consistent with my previous post’s country selection, but I don’t want this becoming an obsession.

Spain 2,227·1
Switzerland 2,057·5
Italy 1,828
Germany 931·6
France 873·6
Netherlands 795
USA 651·7
Sweden 490·7
UK 434·8
Australia 202·2
South Korea 194·6
Singapore 171·3
New Zealand 165·7
Hong Kong 102·4
Mainland China 56·7
Saudi Arabia 49·6
Japan 18·8
Taiwan 14·2
India 1·5

   I said in a recent post that a lot of the Asian territories have done well because of a community response. Another thing Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore have in common: a lot of people descended from Chinese who fled the mainland in 1949, and have a mistrust of anything the Communist Party says. If the CCP said Dr Li Wenliang was a stirrer, then that would automatically have these places thinking: shit, there might be a pandemic coming. That could account for their numbers being on the lower half, and for their general decrease in new infection numbers. (I realize Singapore just had a big jump. Anomalous? Or were things not tracking downwards?)

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, New Zealand, politics | No Comments »


Rather locked down than living within a controlled experiment

01.04.2020

As a dual national, I hope there’s some exaggeration or selective quoting in the Bristol Post about its report of former police officer Mike Rowland, who’s stuck in Auckland with his wife Yvonne. Apparently, New Zealand is in ‘pandemonium’ and he feels like he’s in ‘Alcatraz’.
   As we are most certainly not in pandemonium, the British Crown may have to ponder if it needs to reopen some of the cases Mr Rowland was once involved in due to unreliable witness testimony. Then again, if it can keep a foreign national like Julian Assange indefinitely and subject him to psychological torture as well as the risk of COVID-19 infection, perhaps it won’t need to ponder a thing.
   Mr Rowland’s not a fan of our breakfast television, either, saying that it makes Piers Morgan a ‘god’. There actually is some truth to the quality of our breakfast telly depending on which channel he has come across (I won’t name names), and I recommend that he switch to another. Go a bit further up the dial, and Aljazeera English has a whole variety of ex-BBC presenters speaking in RP that might make him feel less at home.

   And I’ve my own stories about the inability to get answers from the British High Commission, so I sympathize on this note.
   But given the choice between being stuck in Aotearoa and being amongst the control group that is Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where the government’s sense of British exceptionalism meant that it delayed locking things down, so much so that the PM himself has COVID-19, I would be quite happy to be in the land Down Under.
   Mr Rowland may have missed the (disputed) Murdoch Press (which usually leans right) report that suggested that Boris Johnson’s senior adviser said it was ‘too bad’ if ‘some pensioners die’, consistent with Mr Johnson’s own position that Britain would pursue a strategy of herd immunity—and consistent with what the British government initially announced, with sycophants in full agreement.
   I admit I’ve called our government ‘a bunch of Blairites’ but I’d take them over their lot, including their Mr Johnson who does less convincing prime ministerial impressions than Neville Chamberlain. Their mass U-turn had to happen as it appeared the British people figured out their lives were being put in danger and forced the government’s hand.
   I realize he misses the comforts of home and I would, too, in his shoes, though equally I’d be grateful to be alive, in a country where even he acknowledges that food is readily available and we haven’t suffered the extent of panic buying that the UK has seen. If only Alcatraz were this pleasant.

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Posted in media, New Zealand, TV, UK | No Comments »


The team approach

31.03.2020

At the end of the last century, the National Government announced its Bright Future programme. Their research had identified that one thing holding back our national competitiveness was our devotion to the team rather than the individual, when in fact there have been many times New Zealand individuals have made immeasurable contributions and had not been fêted. It compared us with the US, where someone like Bill Gates—I seem to recall he was held up as an example—could be recognized by many as an innovator, while the equivalent Kiwi wasn’t generally known. One of the first moves was to knight Angus Tait, the Christchurch entrepreneur.
   These Kiwi pioneers are still around—people like Dr Sean Simpson of LanzaTech, for instance, using bacteria to consume carbon monoxide and turning it into ethanol—but other than news programmes, they’re not part of our mainstream, and part of me wonders if they should be. They are doing work that should be rewarded and recognized.
   However, the team spirit that New Zealand exhibits all the time, and admires, such as the All Blacks, the Black Ferns, or yachting’s Team New Zealand, could help with the COVID-19 pandemic, as it’s invoked in our response. The four-week lockdown ordered by the New Zealand government has, from what I see out there, been generally accepted, even if I’ve publicly Tweeted that I’d like to see more testing, including of all those arriving back on our shores, including the asymptomatic. (I note today that the testing criteria have been loosened.) The places held up to have done well at “flattening the curve”, such as Taiwan, have managed it because, it is believed by the Financial Times and others, there is a community response, and, I would add, a largely homogeneous view when it comes to being in it together, helped in part by experience with the SARS outbreak, and possibly by the overall psyche of ‘We have an external threat, so we have to stick together.’ Each territory has a neighbour that it’s wary of: Taiwan looks across the strait at the mainland, since there hasn’t really been an armistice from 1949; Singapore has Malaysia as its rival; and South Korea has North Korea.
   Across Taiwan, there have been 13·5 cases per million population, or a total of 322 cases; New Zealand is currently sitting on 134·5 per million, or 647 cases. Singapore is on 158·7 per million, or 926 cases; South Korea, which is now seeing a fairly low daily new case increase, is on 190·9 per million, or 9,786 cases.
   I support the Level 4 approach in principle, and having the lockdown, and while we aren’t accustomed to the “external threat” as the cited Asian countries, we are blessed with the team spirit that binds Kiwis together. We are united when watching the Rugby World Cup or the America’s Cup as we root for our side, and the unity is mostly nationwide. There are some on the fringe, particularly on Facebook, based on what others have said, with ideas mostly imported from foreign countries that are more divisive than ours.
   On that note, we might have been very fortunate to have the national culture that we do to face down this threat—and not have any one person standing out as we knuckle down together. Even those who are seen regularly delivering the news—the director-general of health, for instance—do so in humble fashion, while our own prime minister goes home after we go to Level 4 and answers questions in her Facebook comment stream via live video. Even if economically we aren’t egalitarian, culturally we believe we are, and it seems to be keeping us in good stead.

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Posted in business, China, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics | 1 Comment »


Boris Johnson is hardly Churchillian

29.03.2020

I’ve heard world leaders describe the fight against COVID-19 as a war, and there are some parallels.
   As any student of history knows, there was such a thing as the Munich Agreement before World War II. I’ve managed to secure the summarized English translation below.

   For those wondering why the UK initially thought herd immunity would be its official answer to COVID-19, placing millions of people in danger, I’ve located the following document, which was previously covered by the Official Secrets Act.

   The British PM confirms he’s been in contact with the virus in this video from the Murdoch Press, cited by The Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr:

   No doubt he followed it up with a rigorous hand-washing, as advised by his chief scientific officer, Sir Strangely Oddman.

   Now, of course, he has contracted COVID-19. He likes drawing comparisons to Winston Churchill, but nothing here suggests he measures up.

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Posted in culture, humour, leadership, politics, UK | 1 Comment »


Is there a type that works from home more easily?

27.03.2020

Olivia St Redfern has featured yours truly in her lockdown day 2, part 1 podcast, so I decided to record another response.
   It brings to mind something Steve McQueen once said. ‘I’m not an actor. I’m a reactor.’ As in, he could react to a line from another actor.
   Anyone who has seen McQueen in a film, certainly anything post-Blob, would dispute that—the king of cool was an excellent actor. But for now, as someone who had avoided doing a podcast for two decades, I “react” to Olivia’s episodes, and recorded a response on Anchor:

   At some point I might do an entry independently but considering the first has only had one listen (out of hundreds who might read a blog post of mine), then there’s not a huge incentive! (Update: that episode has doubled its audience to two.)
   History tells us that it took a while for Melrose Place to be seen as more than a 90210 spin-off, for instance. And Joey never managed it post-Friends.
   This second one does make one point about working from home. As mentioned before, I’ve been doing this since 1987, so the only difference with the lockdown (and the days leading up to it) is that I don’t feel as “special”. But I also know that not everyone is enjoying their work arrangements, such as this British QC:

   I posted my 12 tips for working from home, but when chatting to Amanda today, there might be a bit more to it than that. Maybe there’s something about one’s personality that makes working from home easier.
   While I have things to do each day, I don’t make lists. I’m more substantive than procedural. In the daytime, I try to answer emails or see to urgent stuff. I almost never do accounts at night: that’s another daytime pursuit. I know to reserve time to do those but I don’t religiously set it to 2 p.m., for instance. The beauty of working from home is flexibility, so why re-create a regimented schedule?
   At night I tend to do more creative things, e.g. design and art direction. My work day is extended because I enjoy my work.
   My advice to those making the shift is to do away with the lists. Know the direction and get things done as the inspiration hits you. It’s meant to be calmer than the bustle of office life.

People should find exponential growth an easy concept to grasp, at least those of us of a certain age. Heather Locklear taught all of us with Fabergé shampoo.

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Posted in business, culture, humour, interests, internet, marketing, New Zealand, TV, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Responding to Leisure Lounge

26.03.2020

During the 2011 ‘snowpocalypse’, my friend, the drag queen Olivia St Redfern, produced a series of streamed video programmes called Leisure Lounge. If I recall correctly, the intent was to give people, who had not experienced snow in our city (it’s a once-in-70-year event), some light entertainment. I called in as ‘Charlie’ (with apologies to John Forsythe) with the catchphrase, ‘Good morning, Angels.’ We didn’t have a ton of viewers—they were in the double digits—but those who did watch were loyal.
   Now we’re in a national lockdown for ‘coronapocalypse’, Olivia’s started again with Leisure Lounge, but this time as a podcast, where you can follow her progress each day. It’s quite fun to share the experience, and she welcomes responses. However, I found the Anchor recording method terrible (it messed up a five-minute response I sent to her yesterday), so I redid it for her today. You’ll need to listen to the second episode for context, and, if it’s of any interest, here is my reply.

   After all that, I may as well continue doing the odd podcast as well—something I had the opportunity to do 20 years ago. Better late than never.

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Posted in culture, humour, interests, internet, New Zealand, Wellington | 1 Comment »


A quick look at COVID-19 on a per capita basis

24.03.2020


Virusncov.com

I don’t think it’s easy for most of us to make sense of the number of COVID-19 infections, especially as we’re recording more new infections daily. This website has some useful stats, and I was interested to see how we compared per capita.
   I know others might get more utility seeing how we creep up the scale (I notice a few of these graphs) but as a snapshot, I found this useful. I’ve thrown in other countries for comparison’s sake. The numbers deal with total infections (i.e. no subtractions are made for recovered cases).

COVID-19 cases per 1,000,000
Italy 1,056·9
Spain 751·6
Germany 347·1
France 304·4
Sweden 204·3
South Korea 176·3
USA 139·7
UK 98·1
Singapore 87·2
Australia 84·1
Mainland China 56·5
Canada 55·5
Hong Kong 47·7
New Zealand 32·2
KSA 16·2
Taiwan 9

   I realize our numbers are set to rise because of Kiwis coming home and the virus incubation period, and the numbers will be reflecting our border situation and containment measures from two weeks ago rather than today. I’m looking forward to the day when the daily announcement of new infections shows a drop.

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Posted in globalization, New Zealand | 1 Comment »