Posts tagged ‘professionalism’


Is the death of expertise tied to the Anglosphere?

20.03.2018


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Boris Johnson: usually a talented delivery, but with conflicting substance.

I spotted The Death of Expertise at Unity Books, but I wonder if the subject is as simple as the review of the book suggests.
   There’s a lot out there about anti-intellectualism, and we know it’s not an exclusively American phenomenon. Tom Nichols, the book’s author, writes, as quoted in The New York Times, ‘Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.’
   I venture to say that the “death of expertise” is an Anglophone phenomenon. Head into Wikipedia, for instance, and you’ll find proof that the masses are not a good way to ensure accuracy, at least not in the English version. Head into the German or Japanese editions and you find fewer errors, and begin to trust the pages more.
   Given that many of “the people” cannot discern what is “fake news” and what is not, or who is a bot and who is not, then it’s absolutely foolhardy to propose that they also be the ones who determine the trustworthiness of a news source, as Facebook is wont to do.
   I can’t comment as much on countries I have spent less time in, but certainly in the Anglosphere, I’ve seen people advance, with confidence and self-authority, completely wrong positions, ones not backed up by real knowledge. You only need to visit some software support forums to see online examples of this phenomenon.
   When I visit Sweden, for instance, there’s a real care from individuals not to advance wrongful positions, although I admit I am limited by my own circles and the brief time I have spent there.
   It’s not so much that we don’t value expertise, it’s that the bar for what constitutes an expert is set exceptionally low. We’re often too trusting of sources or authorities who don’t deserve our reverence. And I wonder if it comes with our language.
   I’ll go so far as to say that the standing of certain individuals I had in my own mind was shattered when we were all going for the mayoralty in my two campaigns in 2010 and 2013. There certainly was, among some of my opponents, no correlation between knowledge and the position they already held in society. It didn’t mean I disliked them. It just meant I wondered how they got as far as they did without getting found out.
   Fortunately, the victor, whether you agreed with her policies or not, possessed real intelligence. The fact she may have political views at odds with yours is nothing to do with intelligence, but her own observations and beliefs. I can respect that (which is why I follow people on social media whose political views I disagree with).
   In turn I’m sure many of them disliked what I stood for, even if they liked me personally. Certainly it is tempting to conclude that some quarters in the media, appealing to the same anti-intellectualism that some of my rivals represented, didn’t like a candidate asserting that we should increase our intellectual capital and pursue a knowledge economy. No hard feelings, mind. As an exercise, it served to confirm that, in my opinion, certain powers don’t have people’s best interests at heart, and there is a distinct lack of professionalism (and, for that matter, diversity) in some industries. In other words, a mismatch between what one says one does, and what one actually does. Language as doublespeak.
   So is it speaking English that makes us more careless? Maybe it is: as a lingua franca in some areas, merely speaking it might put a person up a few notches in others’ estimation. Sandeep Deva Misra, in his blog post in 2013, believes that’s the case, and that we shouldn’t prejudge Anglophones so favourably if the quality of their thought isn’t up to snuff.
   Maybe that’s what we need to do more of: look at the quality of thought, not the expression or make a judgement based on which language it’s come in. As English speakers, we enjoy a privilege. We can demand that others meet us on our terms and think poorly when someone speaks with an accent or confuses your and you’re. It gives us an immediate advantage because we have a command of the lingua franca of business and science. It gives us the impunity to write fictions in Wikipedia or make an argument sound appealing through sound bites, hoping to have made a quick getaway before we’re found out. Political debate has descended into style over substance for many, although this is nothing new. I was saying, although not blogging, things like this 20 years ago, and my students from 1999–2000 might remember my thoughts on Tony Blair’s 1997 campaign as being high on rhetoric and light on substance. Our willingness to accept things on face value without deeper analysis, lands us into trouble. We’re fooled by delivery and the authority that is attached with the English language.
   You’ll next see this in action in a high-profile way when Facebook comes forth with more comment about Cambridge Analytica. I can almost promise you now that it won’t hold water.

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Posted in business, culture, globalization, India, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | 2 Comments »


How a car accident makes you grateful

04.05.2015

The trouble with all the yellow-peril reporting that’s far more prevalent than it should be in Aotearoa is when something happens to you that may get people thinking about a stereotype.
   Back in March, of course, we had one writer justifying racism toward (east) Asian tourist drivers in the Fairfax Press, when the facts show that Aussies are the worst of the tourists when it comes to causing accidents on our roads. That’s no surprise, since there are simply more Aussie tourists driving on our roads; yet, as I pointed out in March, no one really seemed to mind how many accidents tourists were causing when the bulk of them were Aussies, Brits and continental Europeans.
   Then we had another one a few weeks later from the same newspaper group that suggested the increase in corrupt practices among New Zealand companies was due to immigration from countries such as China, tying in the story to a Deloitte report to give it legitimacy—except the report makes no such claim.
   With the exception of journalists like Dave Moore of The Press (part of the same newspaper group) who prefers to cite motoring facts and back them up rather than rely on hearsay from their grandfathers, it seems pretty easy for some in the media to draw a stereotype of the corrupt, incompetent Chinese driver. Those who think that we have completely moved past drawing pigtails (I said pigtails, not ponytails) on Chinese caricatures are wrong; while there aren’t such negative portrayals in our media, it seems incredibly easy, almost a default position, for some less responsible types to fall back on unrealistic conclusions. After all, The Dominion Post said my accent is hard to understand on its p. 1 some years back, and as many of you pointed out to them via the social networks, no one in the real world knows that they are talking about. (Note: I received a Twitter apology from the editor-in-chief.)
   The trouble comes when the fantasyland concocted by some starts impacting on everyday life, which is, of course, some of the discussions that US residents are having right now over how black Americans are portrayed. The peaceful protesters don’t get covered, because they are less newsworthy; the violent looters do, and it becomes dreadfully easy for the less cosmopolitan to equate being black with being violent.
   After a car accident on Friday, where everyone was exemplary, I couldn’t help but have these thoughts go through my mind. I found myself telling friends, ‘I had an accident, but the other driver was at fault,’ even though my friends know of my love of cars, and my above-average abilities with them. I double-checked with the police officer that he clearly understood me, when I should never have doubted his objectivity. My radar was alert for anyone who might fall back on the stereotype, even though I live in a city, with an urban population that generally has more contact with minority cultures and know that the fantasyland concocted by certain people is designed only to appeal to the ever-shrinking market of xenophobes in society.
   The ages of most of the people involved were under 30, so I really had nothing to fear: the other driver, the police officer, the witnesses, and the schoolboy who, as a responsible young New Zealander, called the emergency services for us. One witness offered her lounge for us to rest and get over the shock. The officer was scrupulously professional, not letting on any emotion (the Dieter Bonrath poker face school of policing, for the Cobra 11 fans out there) as he gathered his facts; he became friendlier after it was established we were both decent folks willing to help, and there was no booze involved. The ambulance staff were ultra-friendly and we had to assure them that we were all right and they should head off to the next gig where there may be a greater need for them. The other driver was honest, considerate and took responsibility, although she was in shock (as was I for some time, though I probably hid it better), yet her first utterance was to ask if I was all right. That says volumes about her character. Not only was this an urban population, this was a young urban population for whom skin colour is far down the list of priorities. Ditto with me: I can’t tell you what races people were. I just remembered everyone sounded like me. You know, like Sir Anand Satyanand.
   But it is a worry when your thoughts go toward defending yourself from the stereotype, because years of living in a place where you are the minority have taught you to be alert. Granted, no one shoots at us, since our cops are unarmed for the most part, but I began to get an appreciation for the hands-up gesture among black Americans in their country. It’s a symbol of so much, including ensuring that no one ever mistakes you for being armed, because of the negative associations that are portrayed. You nevertheless worry if anyone around you bought into fantasyland, because you know the less intelligent do: you’ve seen it. (I hasten to add that this is not a criticism of any particular people, because I am well aware that if you go to a place where my race is the majority, there will be a certain segment of the population there that holds negative and false stereotypes of others.)
   Race relations in this country have improved markedly since my arrival in 1976, so this is heartening. I don’t see things like refusal of service to people of my colour (yes, it has happened in the last four decades), and the stories of my great-uncle and others, of having stones and rocks thrown at you by fellow Kiwis because of their colour, seem foreign and distant. Last Friday was a reminder that most New Zealanders look at others fairly, regardless of their origins. That was a silver lining. Lucy Knight’s instincts kicked in to defend a Chinese New Zealander whose handbag was being stolen by a young man, and Mrs Knight got a serious head injury for her intervention, requiring months of surgery and rehabilitation. I doubt she evaluated the race of thief or victim before stepping in, and, rightly, The New Zealand Herald didn’t care, either. Go to your social media feeds, and by and large, racism is frowned upon. Last Friday was a fantastic reminder of the good of the place I have proudly called home most of my life. A place where xenophobia is virtually dead.
   We’ve come a long way, and we just need to weed out the last little bits of this strange fantasy where it’s apparently desirous that Aotearoa looks something like Midsomer but without the deaths. The reality is that the Midsomers of this world (by that I mean any society that adopts a Luddite position in part through having its head in the sand) are terrible at trading and stagnate. We’re in a global society, we’ve a lot to gain from working with others in different nations, and we’re really not that different across the planet. As someone once pointed out to me, the Palestinian Dream looks an awful lot like the American Dream.
   And, if you’re truly proud of your country, you’d naturally want to share, secure enough in your belief about the place to know that the fundamental things about it will never change. New Zealand will always be New Zealand, with an independent, determined outlook, and those who come get it. The more we share, the more we all get it. That’s a good thing.

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Posted in cars, China, culture, media, New Zealand, USA, Wellington | 1 Comment »


A minor McAfee bug report continues to bug, while (breaking news) Google acts professionally

28.06.2011

I have to hand it to McAfee for their courtesy and even their tenacity, but phone calls at weekends (and then failing to call at rescheduled times) are getting ridiculous.
   When I file a bug report, I like an acknowledgement that things are being worked on, and that’s great.
   But considering I’ve spent over an hour doing this for McAfee over a really tiny issue, you’d think they’d have enough information.
   Oh, no:

Thank you for contacting McAfee Consumer Online Support.
   We have been trying to contact you on [phone number], however we were unable to reach you. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused.
   We have received few suggestions from next support level, which we would like to perform in the computer. We would like to contact you at a time that is convenient for you. Please respond to this email letting us know if and when we may call you tomorrow (29th June, 2011). Also provide us any alternate telephone number.

My response:

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions prior, this was merely a bug report. I really don’t see why you need to do anything on my computer.
   Most software companies allow users to file bugs so they can update their successive versions. The bug does not affect the operation of your program: it is an æsthetic issue. However, it is one that I would have thought McAfee would like to remedy in future.

   And, surprise, surprise, good news from Google.
   I wrote to Chang Kim, who appears to have succeeded Rick Klau as product manager of Blogger. I’ve asked him about the ongoing issue with Google Dashboard reporting that I have one blog with them, when I know I have none. Are they holding on my data, in contravention of their terms and conditions?
   Like Rick, Chang’s responded immediately. He’s checked out my record and found nothing there, though he has cced one of his colleagues to see if he can assist further.
   We haven’t remedied it, but I have this question: why are the Blogger product managers so proficient, courteous and professional, while other parts of Google, and at least one volunteer on the forums, work on the “biggest dickhead” theory?
   It’s guys like Rick and Chang that make you wish more Googlers were like them.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Giving a toss about web hosting: Americans 2, Brits 0

23.12.2010

©

Generally, I turn a blind eye to people who use thumbnails of our work or take an excerpt from an article and link the rest to us. Pity, then, that so many of these sites are splogs, but at least they stop short of outright piracy.
   It’s when someone takes an entire article, pretends it’s their own, and even slaps a copyright notice on it—that’s what gets my goat more. In the past fortnight, two websites have done that with Lucire material (and material from many other media outlets). Neither had a contact address or contact form, because nine times out of ten, these are solved just by a nice email, so our only path was to notify their web hosts in the US. God bless them both: they have acted.
   While the Americans have the Digital Millennium Copyright Act down to a fine art, less can be said about Great Britain. A British site, which I will not yet name because I can’t be arsed sending them hits for being thieving gits, has taken three Lucire articles, in full, one even containing my byline. Two are not from our regular RSS feed, but from the features’ section, which means that the person has to go in to our site and save the content manually.
   We wrote to them in mid-November, not asking for removal, but just a cutting back of the content of the first article we found. It’s not a big ask, and I see it as a good win–win. The article in question was in Lucire’s RSS feed, so I figured they had an automated script that took the content. They might not even have known it was there. And they were kind enough to provide a link, and that’s far better than some people who don’t even give us that courtesy.
   But then I found the two feature pieces that weren’t featured in RSS. It’s a bit much then, because that suggests a malicious hand.
   I received no reply to the very polite email I wrote to them. The blog comments have not been published (I wonder why). And I see that their web host, a British company, has done nothing, either, except to inform me of their abuse email address.
   It is crystal clear that this site has breached the host’s published ‘acceptable use policy’, and while Britain does not have a DMCA, there is the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988, which I studied in some depth back at uni.
   The foundation of the British act and the American DMCA is identical, in that both are set up to protect authorship, and the British hosting company has been provided with more than sufficient evidence of its client’s guilt.
   It seems, then, that the acceptable use policy of this company is nothing more than lip service, because there is no response from the abuse address, nor from the fax I sent yesterday.
   A total of eight messages have been sent on the British issue, to two organizations who could not give a stuff about copyright infringement. The Americans only need one email. If you want to pirate stuff, there’s one hosting company in the UK that is your friend—it’s even won awards, apparently. At least one was from the Murdoch Press. I wonder on what criteria those were given.

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Posted in business, internet, media, publishing, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


Yay for ‘None of the above’!

06.05.2010

You have to love the thinking behind the local newspaper in Wellington when it comes to the mayoral election. We have five people shown here in their poll, one of whom (Councillor Foster) hasn’t declared his candidacy.
   Spot anyone who’s missing?
   I’m very glad to say ‘None of the above’ is leading at the time of writing, and I understand from my Facebook fan page that some are my supporters.
   Ah, old media. Now you’ll never know what the breakdown of the ‘None of the above’ is!
   As for me, I rather like being at the bottom of the table. It mirrors the alphabetical order of the polling form where I hope people will vote for me and ‘None of the above’!

PS.: Just received this post-Facebook-message screen shot, thanks to my supporters. Loving your support!—JY

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Posted in media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | No Comments »