Thursday, December 08, 2016

That date in infamy

Today (December 7 in the USA) is the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the USA into World War 2. This anniversary brings us closer to the inevitable day in which the attack was before living memory, like so many other things we learn about only in books. That means it’s becoming increasingly important that people share their own memories, or those told to them.

My parents were a young engaged couple on the day of the attack: My mother was 24 and my dad was 25. My mother told me that on the day of the attack they were touring a toy factory. In the years since, I wondered how and when they found out—was someone at the factory playing a radio (probably unlikely), or did they find out later (more probable)? I never thought to ask.

Nowadays, of course, such news spreads instantly, faster even than it did on the attacks of September 11, 2001, a day often compared to the Pearl Harbor attack. Back in 2001, we had television to beam live pictures worldwide, but 60 years earlier, there was only radio. Now, there’s also social media, and all the unthinking, uncritical, reflexive responding and sharing that includes.

My parents, like a significant number of Americans, were convinced that “Roosevelt knew”, that he “allowed” the attack to happen in order to get the USA into the war. Even as a kid, I thought that sounded improbable, though I didn’t question it until years later when I was better informed. By the time I was a teenager, we had many interesting discussions about those times, and of the politics and policies of that era.

By the end of her life, my mother admitted she realised that FDR had been a far better president than my parents thought at the time, and it was an implicit admission that her own partisan viewpoint may not have been either accurate or justified. I don’t remember my father expressing much of an opinion about FDR in later years, but he was far more open-minded than his sometimes strongly opinionated pronouncements would have suggested to someone who didn’t know him.

My parents shared stories of the war years, and their lives during that time. Many of them sort of fleshed out what I read about the history, as personal history tends to do. This is another reason why talking with elders about the history they lived through is so valuable and important.

I think that commemorating the Pearl Harbor attacks is important. They remind us of the loss of war, that it’s not all gallant, victorious soldiers in celebratory parades with colourful banners and flags flying proudly. Sometimes horror and death and defeat are all there is. We do well to remember that whenever war is contemplated, rather than thinking only of celebratory parades.

The attack on Pearl Harbor really was a day that will live in infamy. There have been others before and since, and there will be more to come. Focusing on Pearl Harbor is a good way to do remember everything that war can be, and the terrible cost that comes with it. The people who died that day deserve that and so much more.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Selling Christmas Worldwide

The past few days I shared ads from specific retailers, the last two day from UK retailers. Here are more ads, only one of which is a UK ad, and starting with two from New Zealand.

The Warehouse – New Zealand

The warehouse is part of The Warehouse Group, New Zealand’s largest retailer. Founded in 1982, and reportedly modelled on the USA’s Wal-Mart, it’s mainly a discount retailer, but has raised the quality of its products over the years.

For Christmas, the chain is running this ad, “Get That Christmas Feeling”:

They have another ad that asks customers, “What does Christmas feel like to you?” The people in the ad are very Kiwi, which is the main reason I’m including it.

Harrods – United Kingdom

This is actually an ad for a toy sold at Harrods (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrods), however, it’s still a cute video and tale. It also has some very specific British references (like “Father Christmas”, sometimes used here in New Zealand, too). The YouTube description sums up the ad:
“Opening the festive season is A Very British Bear Tale, the story of Hugh the snuggly bear, who gets trapped inside Harrods after a wicked elf turns the store into an ice palace. Only Hugh can save the day – with the help of two rather special friends from the North Pole. Discover the irresistible animation and shop Hugh the annual Christmas bear in-store and online alongside a host of perfect gifts for everyone on your list.”

Woolworths – Australia

This ad is “Street Party” for Australian supermarket chain Woolworths (which owns the Countdown chain here in New Zealand, using the same “W” logo for both). It looks like a fun street party. The ad ends with the written tagline, “We love Christmas as much as you do”, which apparently is why the actress says, “That’s why we pick Woolie’s for Christmas”. But if one doesn’t read the tagline, the spoken line makes no sense, like she was saying it because that was the only store that sold Christmas lights or something.

Apple – USA

This ad from Apple, “Frankie’s Holiday”, isn’t specific to any country, and could play nearly anywhere, but the message is particularly resonant for the USA. The YouTube description accurately and simply sums up the ad: “An unexpected holiday visitor finally receives the warm welcome he’s always yearned for.” The ad’s tagline is, “Open your heart to everyone”, so, of course, Apple had no recourse in this age of mean: “Comments are disabled for this video,” it says on the YouTube post. The ad is kind of sweet, barely has any product placement, and sends a message that needs to be heard, one even more important in the aftermath of the USA’s recent election.

Allegro – Poland

And finally, an ad from Poland, “Czego szukasz w Święta?”, which roughly translates as, “What do you want for Christmas? | English for beginners” It’s for an online auction service, and it’s about, as the description—again roughly translated— says: “Sometimes words fail to express what is most important. In this case, you need them just to learn.”

Mashable, where I first saw this ad, also talks about what makes a good Christmas ad. All of the ads I’ve shared have most of those elements. And that’s why I’ve shared them all.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Two more British ads

These two Christmas ads are for UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. The ad up top is their general ad, and the one below is Sainsbury’s food Christmas ad. Both ads use the same general look and feel, though their intent is different.

The ad up top, “The Greatest Gift”, is the most “Christmasy” of the two. The YouTube description says it’s:
“…a joyous Christmas musical created in stop frame animation featuring vocals by James Corden. It tells the story of Dave, a hard-working and devoted Dad, who realises that the greatest gift he can give people this Christmas is his time.”
It’s a nice ad, and somewhat subversive (probably deliberately so…) for a retailer to run an ad that says the most important Christmas gift is one that people don’t buy. It’s also nice because we don’t see traditional animation techniques used much anymore.

The second ad, below, is specifically promoting food from Sainsbury’s, and uses the same animated characters from their Christmas ad: “Feast your eyes on Sainsbury’s range of delicious Christmas food that Dave and the families of Bisby are tucking into this Christmas,” as the YouTube description puts it. I particularly like the way real-life video is intercut with the animation, even though it’s a little bit surreal—actually, that’s probably the reason I like it. The tagline “Christmas is for sharing” is the usual Christmas tagline for the company.

Sainsbury’s is the second largest grocery retailer in the UK (behind Tesco). It’s had its share of controversies, mostly around unfair trading and business practices. Even so, it’s clearly popular.

I like these ads, the one up top the most. I also like seeing how ads are done in other countries. At this time of year, not everything has to be serious.

John Key’s departure - videos

Yesterday, NZ Prime Minister John Key announced he was stepping down on Monday. Here are some videos about that, starting with Key’s own statement and press conference, followed by some significant reactions.

First up, John Key’s entire speech and press conference afterward (the audio isn’t great):

The reaction of Bill English, widely tipped to be the next Prime Minister:

Labour Leader Andrew Little responds:

Andrew Little later spoke to John Campbell on RNZ’ Checkpoint, and points out that on a personal level, Key is decent:

Jim Bolger, who was Prime Minister from 1990 to 1997 (including when I arrived in New Zealand) also talks to John Campbell about a being a prime minister, stepping down, and on John Key:

Finally, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reacts. While his may have had a certain effusiveness, others also chimed in, including Australia’s Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, among others. Australia is New Zealand’s largest trading partner and its most important ally.

I posted my own reactions in a post yesterday.

Monday, December 05, 2016

John Key Resigns

John Key.
Well, we certainly didn’t see THAT coming! Today New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced his resignation, effective Monday, December 12. Everyone had assumed that he was going to lead his party to the next election, but now that task will fall to someone else.

Key said that he didn’t have it in him anymore, and he didn’t want to deceive New Zealanders about that by running again and leaving six months later (assuming they win, of course). He also spoke of the strain it placed on his family, which after eight years as prime minister, following two as Leader of the Opposition, and a total of fourteen in Parliament, would have been considerable.

And yet, most New Zealanders were left wondering, why NOW?! There’s been a lot of speculation, and a few conspiracy theories, but unless there’s some evidence, we need to take him at his word: It was time to go.

One of the reasons for the speculation is that Key has been riding high in the polls for years, always leading the polls as “preferred prime minister”. However, the trend as has been downward for years, and he’s now below where he was when he became prime minister in 2008. At the same time, the National Party itself continues to poll strongly, usually beating both Labour and their Green Party allies. So, Key's fortunes may be slipping, but his party is doing well.

Add to that the fact that the TPPA he championed is dead with the election of Don in the USA, and the fact he probably couldn’t face having to deal with Don, his defeat in the flag change referendum, which became a referendum on him and his leadership, and then a crushing defeat on Saturday in the Mt. Roskill byelection that late last week the media said was “too close to call”. Add it all up, and Key may have seen the writing on the wall and decided to go now, rather than losing next year. This way, he leaves on his terms, and as a winner.

I’ve never been a fan of Key, and I’ve never voted for National or any of its electorate candidates. In fact, I’ve campaigned for several Labour Party electorate candidates. However, for most of us, it was never personal: Opposition was never about Key the man, but rather Key the leader of a party with which we disagreed. I wish him well.

Key was unique among New Zealand party leaders in that he ran US presidential-like campaigns that placed him squarely at the centre of their marketing and branding. In our parliamentary system, the prime minister is “first among equals”, which is out of sync with Key’s style. I doubt we’ll see another party leader like him any time soon, which is a good thing, in my opinion: Best get back to New Zealand politics, New Zealand style.

On Monday, the National Party Caucus in Parliament will meet to select a new Leader, who will then become Prime Minister. Odds-on favourite is Deputy Leader (and Deputy Prime Minister) Bill English, who in 2002 led the party to its worst-ever electoral defeat. That was then, this is now, and the best thing National has going for it is MOTS: More Of The Same. Bill English is definitely the MOTS choice for them.

The other parties are unlikely to change their leadership, and if any do it would have to be by early January or not at all. I don’t expect that to happen.

So, right now, the most likely match-up will be between Bill English leading National and Andrew Little leading Labour, which some pundits are already calling “the battle of the grey men”. But that’s a topic for another day.

Right now, the important thing is that John Key has resigned, and that changes everything for the election next year. We may even see a change in government.

As of now, anything’s possible.


The official press release on John Key’s resignation
“John Key's shock resignation speech”New Zealand Herald (complete text)
AmeriNZ Podcast 324 - Shock Resignation – A brief podcast episode I recorded about all this.

AmeriNZ Podcast 324 'Shock Resignation' now available

A new AmeriNZ Podcast episode, “AmeriNZ 324 – Shock Resignation," is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

This is just a short episode about today’s resignation of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. I talk what happened, what will happen, and a little about what may happen. More about this in the next episode.

Buster the boxer’s ad

The video above is the 2016 Christmas ad from UK retailer John Lewis. Their ads are always cute and appeal to emotion, and this one is no different: It’s nice.

These ads are always about more than they seem, and this one has that behind the scenes, too. This year, John Lewis is partnering with The Wildlife Trusts to help protect and restore Britain's wildlife, which is why the ad features so many examples. I recognised the sing used immediately: It’s “One Day I'll Fly Away”, originally performed by Randy Crawford, who I’ve seen in concert several times. This particular version was recorded by UK group Vaults for this commercial.

John Lewis itself is part of the employee-owned retailing company John Lewis Partnership (JLP), which also includes the supermarket chain, Waitrose, whose 2016 Christmas ad is below. I have particular affinity for employee-owned and cooperative companies, so it’s nice to see JLP doing so well (ranked third private business by sales in the UK).

While John Lewis stores are only in the UK, the company is planning “concession stores” within Myer department stores in Australia, selling homewares and manchester (which is what we call bedding, linens, and towels in this part of the world).

I just think the John Lewis ad is fun, and, like always, nice. Sometimes, that’s enough.

Previous John Lewis ads I’ve shared:
Man on the Moon (my post: “Something nice") – 2015
Monty the Penguin (my post: “Another nice ad”) – 2014
The Bear and The Hare (my post: “Because it’s nice”) – 2013

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Christmas video: ‘Come Together’

The video above, “Come Together”, is a Christmas video for Swedish multinational clothing retailer, H&M. It was directed by Wes Anderson, and stars Adrien Brody. It’s certainly elaborate! And yet, my reaction was restrained.

The video plays on the theme of Christmas bringing people together, in this case telling a fantasy-like tale of people stuck on a train when they expected to be at their destination for Christmas. It’s nice enough, I think, though of course it’s all about generating warm fuzzies for the company, as most commercials are, at least in part. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily, but we should be honest about what these sorts of videos are all about. On the plus side, it’s not a crass hard sell of their products!

H&M recently opened their first store in New Zealand, and I haven’t been to it, mostly because I never go to the mall where it’s located. As far as I can remember, I’ve never been to any of their stores in any other country, either. There was great excitement about it opening in Auckland, with long queues of eager customers waiting to get in. I don’t personally understand that, though I was recently similarly excited and eager for the opening of a local Sal’s Pizza. I think that other retailers might excite me like that, too—I’m just that into clothes shopping, to put it mildly.

When the NZ store opened, it was met with protesters, too, primarily over the company’s poor record on the treatment of textile workers. The protests made the evening news, but the New Zealand Herald barely mentioned it in their otherwise breathless-with-excitement live blogging of the opening. Fairfax’s Stuff, meanwhile, did a better job of reporting on the protests, but Radio New Zealand (which now prefers to be called “RNZ”) published a report specifically on the protests, without all the breathless, fawning hype, including reporting that a protest organiser said that “[mall] security and H&M staff formed a wall and redirected foot traffic away from the protesters so customers would not see them.”

All of which raises the question of ethics: Is it okay to be so excited about the opening of a store when there is so much need in society? Is it ethical to patronise a store when the retailer continues to be dogged about allegations of bad labour practices? Those are questions people have to answer for themselves, and I personally don’t judge people for whichever choice they make—after all, I have an iPhone, and I have no idea who makes the clothes I buy or under what conditions they were manufactured. It’s fair for people to raise ethical questions, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge people for the choices they make, especially when it’s so hard to find verifiable facts. We all make choices, and most of us do the best we can.

My bigger concern was the fawning media coverage of the opening of a multinational company's store. We can understand the NZ Herald doing it—the chain will probably buy print ads in their paper. Fairfax may see some advertising, too, but without a daily paper in Auckland, it won’t benefit as much, if at all. RNZ, on the other hand, is a public broadcaster without advertising—or the need to fawn over them.

And that’s probably part of the reason the H&M video left me feeling a bit flat. I’m aware of the controversies around the company’s labour practices and other issues, and I’m aware that this is a foreign company when there are so many struggling New Zealand and Australian retailers. Most of all, though, it’s that clothes shopping is something I both loathe and dread doing. Even my reaction to a Christmas video can be complicated, and I’m keenly aware of how silly that is.

I thought the video was nice enough, but I would be curious to know what other people think.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

First December mashup

This is the first mashup for 2016 that I’ve found so far, DJ Earworm’s “United State of Pop 2016 (Into Pieces)”. As is true for most years, I know very few of the songs. But, it’s pop music, so I like it anyway—plus, I like mashups.

DJ Earworm (real name Jordan Roseman) releases videos of these mashups eavery December, basing them on the Billboard charts for the year. He also posts MPS versions for download from his Soundcloud account. He’s a successful DJ and mashup artist, and I feature him every year. To be totally honest, I’ve liked other years better than this year’s mashup, but that has to do with the songs included; Dj Earworm’s skills are always great—and unique.

One artist I won’t be including this year is Daniel Kim, who announced recently on his YouTube Channel that he won’t be releasing a “Pop Danthology” this year due to copyright claims against him for his previous videos. One must assume from that that he doesn’t license the rights to the music as DJ Earworm does. That’s a shame because his mixes are different and interesting.

We’ll see if there are any others in the weeks ahead. But, at least there’s this one.

Friday, December 02, 2016

A bit naughty

A photo posted by arthur_amerinz (@arthur_amerinz) on

I’ve mentioned Sal’s Pizza, a New Zealand chain of “New York Style” pizzerias, in several blog posts because they’re a favourite. This week, they opened a new location in Birkenhead, a few minutes away from our house. So tonight Nigel and went there for the first time (photo above).

Friday nights are normally takeaway night with the family, but because this is a busy time of year, we haven’t seen them that much. We thought we’d have Sal’s tonight, anyway, and when we found out yesterday that the others couldn’t make it tonight, Nigel and I decided to go to Sal’s and eat in.

We had our usual sausage pizza, which was wonderful, as always. We’ve tried their pepperoni and found it a bit too spicy for our liking, and while we like their cheese pizza, the sausage is currently our favourite. There are a couple others we haven’t tried—yet.

Sal’s is unique among pizza shops in New Zealand in that they sell pizza by the slice (I’ve only ever found one other shop, and not part of a chain, that does that). That means that we can try the other pizzas without committing to a whole one. They also sell sinful deep fried mozzarella sticks, chicken wings, and several flavours of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, in both individual serving and pint sized cups.

The pizzeria itself was very nice inside and out. It was made out of shipping containers, as Nigel tried to tell me during the construction (though at first I didn’t think it was). It was attractive inside, too.

We went there early (before 5pm), and we sat at the only open booth. Next to us were three very loud teenage girls. It was amazing how quiet the place was after they left. There was a good flow of customers, many just picking up pizzas, some, like us, eating in.

We left with two pieces leftover, but it probably should have been three: I may, quite possibly, have had one too many. In my defence, I haven’t had Sal’s in ages, and I really do love it—and good pizza generally (if I had to pick my last meal, it would be pizza).

We (wisely) decided against buying any Ben & Jerry’s and headed home, only to find the object in the photo below: An empty bread bag, torn open in two places, and all the bread missing. It had been a new loaf I’d just bought this afternoon.

I saw the bag lying on the living room floor, and while I knew what it was, at first I couldn’t process it. Even when I glanced over at the kitchen bench and realised the brand new loaf of bread was missing, I still couldn’t quite believe or accept what I was seeing: In all these years, the dogs have never pinched a loaf of bread, or any other food, off the bench.

We checked and Jake had a very full tummy, and Sunny’s was nearly as full, too, so much so that we decided against giving them their dinner, even though they still asked for it—somewhat half-heartedly, it seemed to me, as if it really is possible for them to feel too full to eat anything else, something for which there’d been no previous evidence (because we don’t overfeed them).

So, bread incident aside, tonight was a good night: We got to have our favourite pizza for dinner, I came home with a somewhat too-full tummy, which was a bit naughty. Then we found that the dogs had been even naughtier and were in a similar situation to me—though we didn’t steal our dinner.

We’ll go back to Sal’s, of course, but next time I won't leave the bread too close to the edge of the kitchen bench. Don’t want make it too easy for the dogs to be a bit naughty.

A ‘Summer Wonderland’

The video above is from Air New Zealand, and they describe it well: “Finally, a festive tune we can get behind here in the Southern Hemisphere”. The video is fun, and takes as its starting point the utter absurdity of North Hemisphere imagery and song lyrics celebrating Christmas in what is summer here.

The video features vocals by Ronan Keating (he has an official website), who I first knew as a member of the Irish boyband Boyzone (the band also has an official website). Since then, he’s gone on to a solo career and has also been an Australian talent competition judge. Ronan being the singer is part of the joke, since he’s from Ireland and Christmas in New Zealand is very different from what he grew up with. I thought he did a good job with his part.

The boy is 14-year-old Julian Dennison (see also his NZ Onscreen profile), a child actor best known in New Zealand for playing Ricky in the hit New Zealand film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople (film trailer below; see also the official website). Julian has been doing some small roles since Wilderpeople, including a TV commercial that’s been in heavy rotation, so he’s quite familiar to New Zealanders. He also counts us in to the song Māori at the start of the recorded version.

In the Christmas spirit, Air New Zealand made an MP3 of the song available as a free download, along with the lyrics and the sheet music, all of which is nice. I have a hunch we could be hearing it a bit this summer.