Posts tagged ‘London’


Here’s the latest book I worked on: Panos: My Life, My Odyssey out May 26

17.05.2022


 
[Originally posted in Lucire] Toward the end of next week, Panos Papadopoulos’s autobiography, Panos: My Life, My Odyssey, comes out in London, with an event in Stockholm following. This is an intimate memoir about Panos’s rise, from childhood poverty in Greece to the ‘king of swimwear’ in Scandinavia. Not only do I have an advance copy, I collaborated with Panos on it.

I’m fascinated by autobiographies. When I was a teenager, I read Lee Iacocca’s one, written with William Novak. I presume Novak interviewed Iacocca, or he worked with some additional notes, and ghosted for him. Whatever the case, it remains an engaging read, and I replaced my well worn paperback with a hardcover one a few years ago, when I spotted it at a charity fair. More recently I bought Don Black’s autobiography, The Sanest Guy in the Room, and enjoyed that thoroughly.

Panos and I probably had a similar arrangement to Iacocca and Novak, whereby I interviewed and prompted him for some stories, and I wrote from copious notes that he gave me. There’s an entire chapter in there that’s based on his reflections about the time he bought into a football team in Sweden, that he wrote in great detail himself soon after the events took place. Somehow over 10 months of 2021—though the idea has been floating around for many years before—Panos and I created this eminently readable tale, the sort of autobiography I would like to read.

Of course we start in Greece in 1958, and how a young lad, who begins working at age five alongside his mother as she cleaned an office, finds poverty a torment, and vows to get himself out of it. He also cannot tolerate injustice, and attempts to expose pollution, workplace accidents, and corruption—only to find himself and his parents harassed. By his late teens, after taking an interrail journey to northern Europe, he finds an opportunity to study in Sweden.

It’s not “the rest is history”, as Panos works in kitchens, washing dishes and peeling potatoes. He also finds gigs as a prison guard, a parole officer, a rest home carer, and a substitute teacher.

His first taste of fame is for a postgraduate sociology paper, where he examines the importance of clothing in nighttime disco settings, which captures the imagination of major newspapers and TV networks.

Finding dissatisfaction and frustration working in health care for the city of Göteborg, he seized upon an idea one day when spying just how drab the beaches were in Sweden: beautiful bodies covered in monochrome swimwear.

Injecting colour on to the beaches through his Panos Emporio swimwear label wasn’t an overnight success, and Panos elaborates on his story with the sort of passion you would expect from a Greek native, capturing your attention and leaving you wanting more.

He reveals his secrets about how he lifted himself out of poverty, creating a company given a platinum rating in Sweden, an honour reserved only for the top 450, out of half a million limited-liability companies there.

Read about how he managed his first sales despite doubts from the entire industry, how he secured Jannike Björling—then Sweden’s most sought-after woman, photographed constantly by the paparazzi—as Panos Emporio’s model, and how he followed up with securing Victoria Silvstedt, just as she was about to become world-famous posing for Playboy.

By 1996, 10 years into his label’s journey, and with the release of the Paillot (still offered in the Panos Emporio range today), the press dubbed him ‘the king of swimwear’, but he wasn’t done yet.

More high-profile models followed, and there’s even an encounter with Whitney Houston, revealed for the first time in the book. There are royal encounters, with former King Constantine II, and Sweden’s HM King Carl XVI Gustaf and HM Queen Sofia. HSH Princess Stéphanie almost makes it into the book.

There are touching moments, too, such as his heartfelt recollection of his friendship with Jean-Louis Dumas, the chairman of Hermès, and his wife Rena.

We’ve known each other for over 20 years, and from the start he complimented me on my writing, so I have a feeling he wanted me for this task for some time. We’ve both had to start businesses from scratch, and we did them away from our countries of birth. Additionally, he knew I grew up amongst Greeks so I had more than an average insight into his culture. We’ve talked about it numerous times, maybe as far back as 2016, when Panos Emporio celebrated its 30th anniversary. I’m very grateful for that. There were obviously stories I knew, since I interviewed him about them over the years, but plenty I did not, and they form the bulk of this 320 pp. book, published by LID Publishing of London, and released on May 26. A party in Stockholm follows on May 31.
 
Technically, the process was an easy collaboration as Panos and I shared notes and written manuscripts back and forth, and I had the privilege to lay it out and edit the photos as well. The whole book was typed out on WordPerfect, which gave an almost perfect re-creation of how the copyfitting would go in InDesign, unlike Word—for a while others doubted I could fit the contents into the agreed page length, since they couldn’t see it in the same format that I did. Martin Majoor’s FF Nexus Serif is used for the body text. And, while hardly anyone probably cares about such things, I managed to deliver it so the printer could do the book without wasting paper with the right page impositions. I know what it’s like to have printing bills.

My Life, My Odyssey was the working title, but it seems LID liked it enough to retain it for the final product. I wanted to retitle it Panos: Who Designs Wins, but the experts in charge of sales preferred the working title. ‘Who designs wins’ appears on the back cover, so it’s still getting out there!

Caroline Li, LID’s designer, did the cover, and I followed her lead with the headline typeface choice; and Martin Liu, who I’ve known from Stefan Engeseth’s many books, published and coordinated. I’m grateful to the watchful eye and coordination of Aiyana Curtis, who oversaw the production stage and did the first edit; she also engaged the copy editor and proofreader, who turned my stubborn Hart’s Rules-compliant text into LID’s house style.

I see from her résumé that Aiyana had done some work here in Aotearoa, and Caroline and Martin, like me, have Hong Kong roots, so we all probably had some things in common that made the process easier. It was particularly easy to understand Caroline’s design approach, and as someone who had done mock covers while we were trying out potential photos, I will say hers is infinitely superior to mine. Similarly, I understood Martin’s business approach from day one.

The final manuscript was done in October 2021 and we’ve spent the last few months doing production, shooting the cover, and preparing for the launch, where LID’s Teya Ucherdzhieva has ably been working on a marketing plan. Panos himself, never one to do things by halves, has thrown himself into doing the launch, and it promises to be an excellent event.
 
For those who’d like to get their hands on a copy, Amazon UK and Barnes & Noble are retailing Panos: My Life, My Odyssey, and a US launch is slated for October (Amazon and other retailers will have it in their catalogues).


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My 10 favourite Don Black lyrics

21.05.2021


 
I’ve bought Don Black’s The Sanest Guy in the Room, which is a great read—you know that it’s piqued your interest if you can do 110 pages in a single sitting. There’s more to go, and it’s entertaining learning a bit about the backgrounds to his songs, ‘Born Free’ arguably his best known. (I do know there are insurance commercials with the song, so I hope he, and the families of John Barry and Matt Monro are getting decent royalties from them—though it’s pretty bad I have no idea which company it’s for. I assume it’s a successor firm to AA Mutual.)
   Don has been very humble in this book and in one part, excerpts his favourite lyrics that others have written. In my mind, however, Don is the top man in his business, and it seems right that I highlight a few of my favourites out of his extensive repertoire and honour him. These come to mind, in no particular order. Many show a good use of rhyme, and all evoke imagery. The repetition of a root word is also clever. And they’re “singable”. As someone who works with the English language professionally they appeal to me for their ingenuity and, in some cases, brevity. Surprisingly, by the time I chose 10, I realized I had not included any of his James Bond lyrics.
   Any errors are mine as I recall the songs in my head.
 
But how do you thank someone
Who has taken you from crayons to perfume?
(‘To Sir with Love’, from To Sir with Love)
 
You’ve been dancing round my mind
Like a bright carousel.
(‘If There Ever Is a Next Time’, from Hoffman)
 
While your eyes played games with mine
(‘On Days Like These’, from The Italian Job)
 
This way Mary, come Mary,
While the sun is high,
Make this summer the summer that refused to die
(‘This Way Mary’, from Mary, Queen of Scots)
 
Walkabout,
And as you wander on
Reflect and ponder on
The dreams today forgot to bring.
(‘Walkabout’, from Walkabout)
 
The me I never knew
Began to stir some time this morning.
The me I never knew
Arrived without a word of warning.
You smiled and you uncovered
What I had not discovered.
(‘The Me I Never Knew’, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
 
Most people stay and battle on with their boredom
But what’s the sense in dreaming dreams if you hoard ’em?
(‘I Belong to the Stars’, from Billy)
 
Love has no season,
There are no rules.
Those who stop dreaming are fools.
(‘Our Time Is Now’, from the Shirley Bassey album The Performance)
 
Main attraction, couldn’t buy a seat
The celebrity celebrities would die to meet
(‘If I Never Sing Another Song’, as originally performed by Matt Monro)
 
There’s so much more for me to find,
I’m glad I’ve left behind behind.
(‘I’ve Never Been This Far Before’, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)


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On Boris Johnson’s strategy, Ken Clarke nails it

03.09.2019

Ken Clarke has been around long enough (indeed, as the Father of the House, he has been in Parliament for longer than my lifetime) to see through political shenanigans, and Bojo and Brexit are no exception. (Yes, Minister is also instructive.)

   Subsequently, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who lives in a dream world detached from understanding others, inspired even more rebellion, and with the PM’s speech, it played out exactly as Clarke predicted. Not predicted: Iain Duncan-Smith picking his nose.
   Johnson is acting like the schoolboy who hasn’t done his homework and is trying to hide it in a myriad of excuses. The UK doesn’t even have a negotiating team, according to former Chancellor Philip Hammond, and the PM’s claims of ‘progress’ are a mystery to those in Brussels. There is only so much nationalistic bluster will get you if you don’t actually do the work—even if you voted leave, you would expect this government to have advanced your interests even slightly. It appears that that was never its aim. It feels a bit like the last days of Mao: keep it messy in a hope to hold on a little longer.


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Happy and glorious

20.04.2016

As one of HM the Queen’s loyal and humble servants, I wish her a happy 90th birthday and include this YouTube video of one of her most memorable moments of recent times. A bit of the ‘Dambusters March’ can’t go wrong, either. It shows the Queen to have a particularly good sense of humour.


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7-7, 10 years on

07.07.2015

Remembering the victims of 7-7 today. Ten years on. RIP to my friend Colin Morley.
   I’m glad we toasted you this year at the Medinge London dinner, and we filled in the newer members on who you were, and why for many years we named an award after you.
   Medinge has changed greatly over the last 10 years but it’s the memory of people like Colin who help remind us of our purpose.


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Facebook’s still deleting drag accounts and keeping bots

21.06.2015

Some interesting bugs out there on Facebook that my friends are telling me about. One has been removed from all her groups, including one that I run (we never touched her account), another cannot comment any more (an increasingly common bug now), while Felicity Frockaccino, well known on the drag scene locally and in Sydney, saw her account deleted. Unlike LaQuisha St Redfern’s earlier this year, Felicity’s has been out for weeks, and it’s affected her livelihood since her bookings were in there. Facebook has done nothing so far, yet I’ve since uncovered another bot net which they have decided to leave (have a look at this hacked account and the bots that have been added; a lot of dormant accounts in Japan and Korea have suffered this fate, and Facebook has deleted most), despite its members being very obviously fake. Delete the humans, keep the bots.
   Felicity didn’t ask but I decided to write to these people again, to see if it would help. There was a missing word, unfortunately, but it doesn’t change the sentiment:

Guys, last year you apologized to drag kings and queens for deleting their accounts. But this year, you have been deleting their accounts. This is the second one that I know of, and I don’t know that many drag queens, which suggests to me that you [still] have it in for the drag community.

https://www.facebook.com/DoubleFFs/

Felicity Frockaccino is an international drag performer, and you’ve affected her livelihood as her bookings were all in that account. This is the second time you deleted her, despite your public apology and a private one that you sent her directly. What is going on, Facebook? You retain bots and bot nets that I report, but you go around deleting genuine human users who rely on you to make their living. Unlike LaQuisha Redfern’s account, which you restored within days, this has been weeks now.

   That’s right, she even received a personal apology after her account was deleted the first time. I had hoped that Facebook would have seen sense, since Felicity has plenty of fans. The first-world lesson is the same here as it is for Blogger: do not ever rely on Facebook for anything, and know that at any moment (either due to the intentional deletion on their end or the increasing number of database-write issues), your account can vanish.

Meanwhile, my 2012 academic piece, now titled ‘The impact of digital and social media on branding’, is in vol. 3, no. 1, the latest issue of the Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing. This is available via Ingenta Connect (subscription only). JDSMM is relatively new, but all works are double-blind, peer-reviewed, and it’s from the same publisher as The Journal of Brand Management, to which I have contributed before. It was more cutting-edge in 2012 when I wrote it, and in 2013 when it was accepted for publication and JDSMM promoted its inclusion in vol. 1, no. 1, but I believe it continues to have a lot of merit for practitioners today. An unfortunate, unintentional administrative error saw to its omission, but when they were alerted to it, the publisher and editors went above and beyond to remedy things while I was in the UK and it’s out now.


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

09.05.2015

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

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

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


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Finance is broken, and we still haven’t learned

26.01.2014

I posted this quotation from I Acknowledge on my Tumblr today:

The news that should have us all worried is: the derivatives market contains $700trn of these debts yet to implode.
   Global GDP stands at $69·4trn a year. This means that (primarily) Wall Street and the City of London have run up phantom paper debts of more than ten times of the annual earnings of the entire planet.

   It brings me back to one of the first things we ever wrote in the Medinge manifesto: ‘Finance is broken.’ Attempting to value companies using shares or financial statements can be a mugs’ game—and that was in 2002, before the market became so improbable.
   If only we knew how much worse things would get. And we thought, in the immediate post-9-11 period, that we would be learning the lesson about a Dow that was well overvalued. History has shown that we didn’t. And the most recent recession hasn’t corrected things: we’re still sitting on a time bomb.
   We wrote in the manifesto, ‘We believe money is a poor snapshot of human value. Brands, however, create value. The branding industry is about creating value for our customers. It makes more sense to measure the ingredients of branding and relationships.’
   It’s an ideal, and one with its own problems, too. But I know that part of the finance industry has failed us through its greed. I’m not too certain how their deeds and those of these British forgers differ, creating “wealth” backed by nothing.


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

06.01.2014

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

Nissan Hackney Carriage

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

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


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Open the shop and strip away the jargon

05.01.2014

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

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

And:

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

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


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