Friday, 15 September 2017

The Folly of Food

A couple of years ago my friends and I were forced to abandon a small game of soccer in Albert Park due to the rain. Since it was around lunchtime, we wandered back to Auckland Uni's campus with the intention of eating. I suggested a vegan lunch, which I had then tried just the one time. Is it any good they asked? I liked it I answered. Low key sort of thing.

So, we decided to fork out $5 each (or not) and sat down somewhere it wasn't really raining. They spent the bulk of the meal suggesting it needed meat. Seriously guys? Grow up.

Vegetarian and vegan food is, by and large, tasty. Certainly, meat is often not required to make a meal. Fairly often, for instance, we eat meatless meals, but not with the same regularity that was once the case and generally with minimal balance (e.g. essentially all staple). I think a fairly good way of approaching a week's eating is three or four meat days and the remainder not meat (for dinner anyway, leftovers incorporated in the next meal's days). However, that is as far as I would go. I am not interested in a vegan or a vegetarian diet.

The problem with what my friends were doing is that it is completely ordinary to not be eating meat and the vegan lunches on sale on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays do not require meat at all. In fact, they're good value meals. They're nice and they're filling. They even come with pudding. My friends were missing the point of the meal for no good reason.

This brings me to the notion of planning to hijack a vegan event by eating "steak and eggs" lunches nearby. The hell? What are those people trying to accomplish? What is the purpose of doing that? Dudebro humour? Who knows?

Sure, there are some vegans and vegetarians who like to act as though ethical veganism is a thing. It's not. There is nothing unethical about eating meat. (Half the arguments that say so believe in overpopulation and the other half mistake poor management for inherent evil.) All dietary choices are arbitrary and whimsical. All of them. There is nothing morally superior about adding meat, nuts, honey or excluding any of the same. People who use these arguments to support any position are in the wrong. We should point that out. But they're never everyone. There will be arbitrary vegans in that crowd. There will be people like me who like the cuisine. Hence, my conclusion is very simple. Grow up and let people be.

I'm not saying that we should just let our stomachs wander through life free of all restraint and decision nor that there is no reason to condemn certain diets as unhealthy. What I am saying is that macrodietary choice is amoral... except when you're not a vegan and you're eating the function's vegan choices before you can tell if the vegans have eaten their fill: that is unethical.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

How Democratic is Abortion?

Once upon a time I was really anti-criticisms of policies/position as inconsistent. These days I don't like arbitrary policies and differences. This is quite possibly the biggest shift in how I think about the world over the last six years. However, abortion illustrates the problem with the extreme version of consistency: politics from first principles.

The idea of politics from first principles, at least the way I mean to use the term, is that you have some basic principles from which a cohesive and comprehensive platform is built. A common principle is liberty, which we might define as the notion that one should have freedoms but only to the extent they don't reduce the freedoms of others. Sounds reasonable, no? You do whatever the hell you like, unless it restricts my ability to do whatever the hell I like. Fair. So, how does this principle engage with abortion?

First up, I am completely fine with abortions that are fairly early on. If you wait long enough, the foetus becomes viable, which means that if you gave the mother a C-section, the baby would survive 50% of the time. Unless, you know, I have completely misunderstood that on account of not being a doctor.

Secondly, we'll work from the quote that inspired this post:
15. They [abortions] are undemocratic. In a democracy there should be tolerance for different beliefs and anti-abortionists should not be allowed to impose their views on others, however sincerely these views are held.
I think this reason is a terrible argument. For one thing, tolerating different beliefs means allowing people to criticise abortions and to argue that they should be banned. For another, I think that has very little to do with what the author (Sparrow) is saying: her emphasis seems to be on the liberty angle. Which is the bigger issue... think for a moment why it is "pro-choice" and "pro-life"? Why those terms?
  • The way that pro-lifers see it, abortion is murder because a foetus is a human life. Or, in other words, arguments from liberty say that abortion should be treated in the same way that other crimes against the person are treated, i.e. banned.
  • The way that pro-choicers see it, abortion is not murder because a foetus isn't really human (in the same way a tulip bulb isn't actually a tulip). Or, in other words, arguments from liberty say that abortion should be treated in the same way that we treat other medical conditions, i.e. patient consent based on medical advice.
Obviously, Sparrow's argument is neither here nor there... it completely misrepresents/side-steps what the "two sides" are clashing over. In some particular circumstances it's a valid notion because these two positions are just generic statements of the camps. Everyone knows, for instance, that a lot of pro-lifers say things like "every life is sacred" and are as much making religious arguments as anything else and I have seen people equate foetuses to parasites (they're not, despite being comparable in some respects... like Donald Trump, John Key and Jacinda Ardern)... possibly because we might run into an animal rights argument against abortion with the articulation above. Regardless, the point is that liberty doesn't really say anything about what to do with abortion.

Now, you might say, and you'd probably be right, that in real life people would work from multiple principles, not just any particular one, but this becomes a difficult exercise. I think the example of abortion shows that we have to combine principles with other interpretations (intersect visions with realities*) in order to actually have a coherent way of thinking about the world. I think that is true regardless of how many principles you regard as first principles. Perhaps, more saliently given the title, you also might say, but what does liberty have to do with democracy anyway?

Look, there are a lot of ways of arguing about this point, and I've really just followed what Sparrow appears to be saying, so I'll choose one. In a very basic sense, democracy is about the competition of ideas because every single person who constitutes the rule of people thinks differently. Liberty manifests here because it is possible to talk in such a way that restricts the ability of others to participate in the competition of ideas. If you compromise the competition, you compromise the democracy, right? So, the question is, does being anti-abortion limit the participation of others? 

My sense is: not inherently, but it certainly can. Yet you see how this is a difficult question to answer... if you disregard that pro-lifers think abortion is murder then being anti-abortion is authoritarian. Hence, to some people, being anti-abortion is inherently threatening of the place of some people in the competition. How to accommodate this I leave up to you: this is a "food for thought" post not a substantive argument any which way.

*Whatever your view on the murderness of abortion, that particular view is your reality and someone who disagrees? Well their particular view is their reality. Big ideas like Truth need not apply: they don't matter.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Inhabiting the Narrative, or The Richardson/Ardern Debacle

The bulk of this post was written in closer temporal proximity to the event, but I have decided to put it out there now with a new thrust. Now it is about the narrative stuff rather than the debacle. Why? Two reasons. One, because then Blogger will think I've written three posts on 6/10/17 (one of those was still my Tuesday 5 September) so I will have 666. Two, because I referred to it in my other post from today.

NZ's current PM has six children. He's been asked about what that means, he's answered that. The previous PM had two kids. One of whom is quite well known: widely derided even as a bit of a tosser. I guess John Key was asked about them at some point. But the more pertinent thing is that John Key was once asked if he pissed in the shower. He answered. He does. The point is that John Key's quest to paper over every problem by being goofy has fundamentally altered how we think about talking to politicians. Questions that we'd never usually ask people were something that John Key wanted to answer. In fact, he preferred to answer those questions. It's one of the reasons some people think he's a tosser too.

This is what we call a narrative. As humans our lives consist entirely of narratives. Not in the sense ones on Discworld do... they actually have an element called narritivium there... but in the sense we make sense of literally everything through narratives. The trouble is that there is no single narrative. That might even be true of actual narratives too. I mean, we could look at Harry Potter as the tragedy of Draco Malfoy... which is a rather different interpretation to the normal reading. But with real life, all narratives are retrospective and because of this they're really picking and choosing stuff. There is no teleological component to reality, but there is in Harry Potter. Let me show you another narrative.

In the Western world there has been a tendency to consider women as something akin to walking wombs. That is, the entire social function of the woman is to birth the next generation. Hence, all women are perceived as eventually being mothers... and while a normative vision of monogamy simultaneously exists all men are not thought of as eventually being fathers. It doesn't add up. Even worse, some women will have children with multiple men. More reason to expect everyone will be a parent. But because of the way Western morality and thinking works, it's only mothers.

Yet, things have been changing. We now think that women can do anything: they don't have to be just mothers. In fact, we now recognise how problematic saying "just a mum" is. Being a mother is a big deal and incorporates lots of different jobs, tasks and functions: it's real work which we don't recognise justly. We also recognise that employers use motherhood as a rationale for dubious employment practices: being pregnant shouldn't introduce any uncertainties about whether or not one will keep one's job. Asking women if they're thinking about having children reflects the old way of doing things. Being pregnant or potentially being pregnant is irrelevant.

That's another narrative. Notice that it seems somewhat mutually exclusive with the previous narrative. However, they are both equally true. They are both true. They both happened in the same reality. But, wait, there are other narratives too.

We could, for instance, talk about the biological clock. For instance, a woman in her late thirties, a couple of years off forty, is subjected to the above social pressure directing her towards having children but is also conscious that the older you are the harder it is to have children. And she might even be thinking about whatever the female equivalent of this speech by Scrubs' Dr Cox is.

Another story that we could talk about is the glass cliff. This is a bit like the glass ceiling insofar as a woman promoted towards the top or to the top discovers that it wasn't a ceiling at all. In fact, it was the top of the plateau. And, in fact, this isn't one of those nice friendly plateaux this the flat bit of a cliff. And there's a glass wall pushing her towards the edge. Or, because I was having too much fun this there, it's the idea women are disproportionately likely to be promoted to the top when a firm is struggling relative to how frequently they're promoted to the top when the firm is fine (or booming). It is an empirical observation.

(Notice how your perception of the glass cliff alters if I change that last part, e.g. by...  not including it? saying that when it was coined it was an empirical observation? saying it was coined following an empirical study? And I could have done something similar with the womb thing. The only people I see using that language are criticising the sentiment.)

If we really wanted we could take another tack and talk about media trends. I don't mean in terms of the impact of Seven Sharp on television or, for that matter, the context of The Project, however. Not because those are irrelevant narratives (e.g. discussing the potential medical applications of bioglass... interesting and exciting stuff but beside the point) but because I don't know enough about them. I, long ago, decided television was a rubbish place for the news and have no familiarity with either. It might be possible to tell you a bit about the presenters but hopefully this introduction makes you realise how fraught that is. What we could say about the media is how it basically serves to get clicks, and the best way of doing that is being first and then supplying more about a story than is really justified. The more opinionated, the better. We could talk about this. But I think I have said enough about it.

There is another narrative I could mention, but it should shape your understanding of what you're reading. Originally I did want this to be about Ardern and the Little Matter, which was a pun (babies are small and it was from her first interview after taking over from that xenophobic weed Andrew Little) that I now thing works better as a post about immigration. Originally, I was going to churn it out maybe a day late. But life got in the way... and so I am late to the party. Oh well. It was a lame party anyway.

Lots of narratives, then, and clear signs of the influence that narratives and how we describe them exert. These aren't the same to clarify. Debacle is a description of a particular narrative of what we're about to describe. I could call it a debate. I could call it a spat. I could call it a reprimand or a rebuke. In fact, rebuke is probably what I could call, from where I sit, the most accurate description of Ardern's engagement with Richardson. Yet, as you will soon see, there are lots of other narratives that we could focus on. In a simplistic sense, if we were journalists we could choose different stories from the same events. It could be about the rebuke or it could be about the abstract issues that Richardson raised. Hell, it could be about the way Ardern handled the matter. Which, I feel, was very smooth. (And now remember the previous post talked a lot about Ardern as a political operator.)

And just so you're not confused, it's not just me saying this stuff. When I linked to the Glass Cliff article you were linked to something discussing the same ideas through the subcase of the metaphor. Indeed, I encountered the idea through some readings we were set in History 300 on the linguistic turn. Specifically, Alun Munslow wrote:
[...] I will argue that the genuine nature of history can be understood [...] as the creation and imposition by historians of a particular narrative form on the past [...] not merely at the writing up stage. [...] Recognising the literary dimension to history as a discipline does not mean that we cannot ask ourselves is it only our lived experience that is retold by historians as a narrative, or as historical agents do we experience narratives -- as people in the past? In other words does the evidence reveal past lives to be story-shaped, and can we historians retell the narrative as it actually happened, or do we always impose our own stories on the evidence of the past?
Look, I don't agree with this stuff, although possibly now I am not in the moment of the course I could be more amenable to it, but I do think everything is relevant. And I think the notion of multiple narratives and imposition of them on events is real. The difference is that, unlike my memory of Munslow and his obfuscatingly dense and overly envelope pushing style, I think that all narratives I can generate are events from reality. This is a massive difference between me and the Hayden White cultists. The way I see it, I have fully embraced their chaos, and realised the order on the other side. (Incidentally, I think the extremely referential habits of myself and my peers is a problem for Munslow-style deconstructionists: not that this is a new thing, Medieval writers loved to show their classical knowledge, for instance.)

I guess this is where we should introduce the example. Most of the above narratives relate to what was briefly an evolving story in NZ politics: Jacinda Ardern, the new leader of NZ's Labour party, was asked if she wants to have kids. The basic idea is that the context we choose, and it is a choice of sorts, to give what happened, tells us what happened. But I think you need to know (and  do remember one way of reading this is that I don't want to get rid of my "research") the course of the events to really get my point about narrative.

There are lots of clips out there regarding the question and part of this is because it relates to two separate interviews... both involving Jacinda Ardern and Mark Richardson. However, as dedicated readers know, I don't believe in videos. (Notice: telling you this is giving you a narrative: a way of understanding what is happening to you as you read.) Hence, in order to suitably ground our discussion, I have written down the bits that matter from the first video (and sometimes been assisted from media quotations). But before that I think we need a Dramatis Personae thingy, familiar from many satirical works:
  • Jesse Mulligan: comedian (retired?)... made jokes about shampoo (I saw him live once)... an ex-host of Seven Sharp, one of the three permanent Project hosts (ca. 41)
  • Kanoa Lloyd: news media personality, formerly presented the weather, now a permanent host of The Project (ca. 30)
  • Josh Thomson: comedian, the final of the Three (ca. 36)
  • Mark Richardson: retired cricketer, now a media personality... a permanent host on the AM Show, was on The Project because that's what they seem to do. (ca. 46)
  • Jacinda Ardern: current leader of the Labour Party... had been in job for a few hours for the Project interview... well known even before that (it was a standing question in some circles why Andrew Little didn't resign earlier)... has cultural capital as a young candidate (ca. 37)
  • Duncan Garner: used to be the other Patrick Gower, now he and Gower are both Patrick Gower? And what of Guyon Espiner? (But I digress.) Political journalist & permanent host of The AM Show. (ca. 43)
  • Amanda Gillies: journalist and a permanent host on The AM Show. Journalist (ca. 40)
  • and, I suppose, there's me... early twenties blogger and uni-student. Not a fan of the concept of generations, can barely remember the Clark-era, doesn't normally listen or watch either show we're interested in.
Okay, so I know a bit more about some of this lot than others and this is a problem given this whole multiple narratives thing, but that's the who... now the what.

Jesse Mulligan: "Hey I've got a question and we've been discussing today whether or not I'm allowed to ask it,"

*audible laughs from Kanoa Lloyd*

Jacinda Ardern: I'll be the judge of that.

Mulligan: A lot of women in New Zealand feel like they have to make a choice between having babies and having a career or continuing their career at a certain point in their lives (late thirties) so is that a choice that you feel you...

Ardern: Thank you for reminding the New Zealand public of my age...

Mulligan: is that a decision you have to make or a decision you feel you've already made?

Ardern: "I have no problem with you asking me that question because I have been very open about discussing that dilemma because I think probably lots of women face it.

"For me, my position is no different to the woman who works three jobs, or who might be in a position where they are juggling lots of responsibilities. You just gotta take everyday as it comes and try and see if you can make the best of lot you're  given. So I am not predetermining any of that. Just like most of the woman out there who just make their lives work."

Don't ask a woman that she doesn't have to tell you that.

Josh Thomson: "It's a special case, you're asking her if she wants to be in Labour or in labour."

*Ardern makes what I think is a forced smile.*

And at this point they then moved on to questions about Jeremy Corbyn. So we'll now abandon The Project and go to the AM Show interview. So here's a link to the interview and a partial "post chain":

Amanda Gillies: [responding to a question along the lines of "is it appropriate to ask this question?" from Garner] "I found it inappropriate. For a couple of reasons. First this is her first day in office [...] it's her first primetime interview and that's one of the first questions she's been asked? [...] and no-one, I can guarantee no-one, asked Bill English when he was 39 and leader of the opposition..."

*Mark Richardson leans back and then in a bit smiling broadly during this last sentence*

Garner: "and it's not just Bill English, uh, no-on has asked any other leader. Clark, Helen Clark, this haunted Helen Clark for years and years when I was in the press gallery."


Richardson: "First of all, to counter you there, Amanda it was a magnificant Project show last night [...] The Question this is, and I think it's a legitimate question for New Zealand, because she could be the Prime Minister leading this country. She has our best interest at heart. We need to know these things.

"If you're the employer at a company, you need to know that type of thing from the women you're employing...

[bit of an exchange between Richardson and Gillies, then Richardson continues]

"Because legally, legally, you have to give them maternity leave. So, therefore, the question is, is it okay for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?"

Garner: [...] because of what we do, and we're journalists, well Mark's... you come and go on that front, but, but we ask questions, that is our job. We ask all sorts of questions, that you may not like, you may agree with, you may disagree with.

"Also, on the agenda in the past few years, Jacinda Ardern has talked about juggling career and family, and kids, and not kids, so I think it's a legitimate question but I also think it's none of our business."

[at this point the video skips to where Jacinda Ardern has arrived in the studio, I don't know what is going on that time. For all I know it could matter. We resume after a point where Garner, clearly the main man here, has talked with her about what Ardern needs to do with the party and whether or not policy change will happen and then...]

Garner: Elephant in the room is Mark Richardson, what do you want to say to him? Because we-we-we have talked about this this morning, this 'can you do this job?' 'Do you want kids?' Its, what about this whole question about how, you know, work, and babies, families?"

Ardern: And, and as I said last night, I totally accept that I will be asked that question because I chose to be honest about it. I think a lot of woman [sic] face this dilemma in the workplace, no matter what they're professional job might be. [...] I am not on my own there. I decided to talk about it. It was my choice. So that means I am happy to keep responding to those questions. But...

Garner: You don't find this an inappropriate question?

Ardern: "For me? No. Because I opened myself up to it.

"But, you [Mark Richardson], for other woman it is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that woman should have to answer that question in the workplace. [...] It is a woman's decision [...] it should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job or have job opportunities."


I could keep going on because they get into some stuff which is interesting, but I think we can summarise it more succinctly with a quote from the surrounding NewsHub article:
Richardson repeated his argument, saying an employer would need "to know at some stage down the line. He may need to have to allow, in his organisation, for that person to take leave."
"I'm not saying don't employ that person," he said.
"Then why ask?" Ms Ardern responded. "If you're asking the question around the time you're making a decision around employment, you're implying it's going to have an impact on whether you're going to employ that person or not.
"That is what I'm saying is unacceptable," Ardern said.
So, how should you think about what we have just witnessed? 

On one level we might wonder what I mean by that: it's a very cynical statement about the media, which will surely colour the two articles I will briefly discuss. But, obviously, this is about how people should be thinking about something. This is the implicit purpose of all political commentary and anyone denying this is just taking the conceit/"fiction" too far. That is, we imagine that political commentary is more than "you should think like me" because people can actually think and sticking a bunch of different opinions out there can provoke thought. However, people often don't think because, frankly, we're too busy thinking about other stuff. It's just how we are. (And, yes, it is confusing to use the term think to talk about two fundamentally different things. And yes they're both thinking.)

Naturally, the above should have got you thinking about narratives again. I have created a new context that worked really well with the initial visions/intentions I had for/of this post. Back then (blue) I wrote: I've taken this angle of narratives because I think Jacinda Ardern is being used to make all sorts of points. Frankly, I think she nailed it both times. Firstly, in pointing out that there is a wider context but also that Jesse Mulligan was okay to ask her because it was her choice. Secondly, switching gears to address the abstract points that Richardson was raising about employment. But that doesn't mean that people aren't using these events for their own agendas, which is an argument I think you're much more likely to accept (allow me the conceit you don't already think this way) if I start off by telling you political commentary is really substantive argument rather than analysis.

Abstract. That's a good word. It's really relevant given the retooling of this post. It used to be more general with an abstract framework. Now, it is an abstract point revealed through a concrete launching point. There is a tension there which introduces much room for misunderstanding. In general, I rarely actually care about my examples, they're almost all really just parables to me. Which is an issue. Here's a quote from Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus, and the Scoundrel Christ:

Telling a story, as he so often did, introduced extra-legal elements into the discourse: persuading people by manipulating their emotions was all very well to gain a debating point, but it left the question of law unanswered.
Which I take to mean, parables and examples and analogies make people think about sentiments which are ultimately unclear. Ironically, that Craccum piece I criticised a couple of hours ago made the same case:
Though, if this were ever in play, it could be detrimental because of the very fact that "new Zealand values" are currently undefined. Will there be an adverse impact on migrants' ability to continue carrying on cultural practices? What qualifies an activity as being against our values? Would we enforce secularity or give a special preference to migrants who leave behind their cultural roots? These tough questions are ones that we have to think about if we want to fairly assess what ACT could do for people colour seeking to move here. Honestly, having no barometer for how this all would be assess of enforced is pretty shady, David.
Even if we understand what ACT means, Anqi Liang argues, we don't actually understand what the policy means. In truth Liang actually goes further than that saying we don't understand what ACT means, but that's because of the flaws with this piece (as I said before, those values are clearly cosmopolitan, but knowing that doesn't help us answer these questions).

This brings us back to our example. On an abstract level, it is often important, I think, to understand the chronology. On a specific level I think we needed to do that with our case study because I feel the two interviews were blurred. Both with each other and within themselves. And perhaps more importantly, because Richardson's thoughts generated the most abstract discussion. And the discussion was abstract, and not about Ardern: that's visible in the NewsHub quote. But the chronology wasn't clear to me from the articles I was reading, which really means the narrative was out of whack in a way that led to a fixation on the abstract. Let's explore two examples (not that I know why I started with these two examples all those weeks ago).

Jacinda Ardern: It is 'totally unacceptable' to ask women about baby plans

This is the NewsHub article. As you can tell from the headline it kind of assumes that people are familiar with the story, but if you're not familiar with the story what you would perceive is a headline that means "Well Known Politician Comments on Gender Issue." And if you know Ardern was asked by Mulligan about where she was with personal plans she'd discussed previously, you would get a different meaning: "Ardern not happy with baby plan question". As to the article's ordering? First paragraph quotes "unacceptable" while the second one talks about the Mulligan-Question ("Ardern, do you still want to be a mummy?"). Then we get the Richardson-Question ("Should Employers be Told about Baby Plans when Hiring Staff?") that we know the "unacceptable" was in response to.

There is an appreciation of the specific but it's buried in the middle of the article. Verdict: Problematic Narrative Structure

'Unacceptable': New Zealand's Labour leader asked about baby plans seven hours into job

A foreign interest piece, from the Guardian. Obviously this is a really problematic headline... it very clearly implies that the "unacceptable" was in response to the Mulligan-Question. Look, Jesse Mulligan might not be the world's greatest comedian or even the best comedian I've ever seen live (a very short list) for free (the same list) but he's not the bad guy here. That was Mark Richardson. Maybe the article gets a bit better?

The first paragraph runs a simple narrative of Richardson-Question is unacceptable following the Mulligan-Question. That is not really making up for the headline, though, and I think inverting the chronology like this casts things differently but we'll be nice. After this it pretty much works in chronological order, but I think the ending conflates the Richardson-Question with the Mulligan-Question, although it is a quote. Whether Lloyd "laughed uncomfortably and rolled her eyes" is less clear to me.

Obviously a clip would be better, but this will have to do. Which leaves... Verdict? Bad Headline, Tolerable Article (at least, if we pretend there is no headline). Remember, I don't care about any ideological slant, even if that might inform how the narrative is put together, because it is possible to be very ideological with a good narrative. I mention this here because NZ's media is more into spelling mistakes than anything else.

What have we Learnt?

There are a bunch of lessons we can take out of this. We could comment on the idiocy of my exercise, it was always going to result in an incoherent end product, right? We could praise the competency of Ardern. We could talk about media-politician relationships in late 2010s NZ and what this means for democracy. We could do a lot, but the original remit of narratives is pretty big.

In essence, the opening point is that we can easily make the question look sexist by talking about the"all women shall be mummies" stuff, and people did do this (anyone who made comments like, "Why do we care so much about Ardern's plans for her womb?"... a parsing I absolutely loathe by the way, it's not clever at all... unless you think that parenthood is nothing more than combining DNA... and rather grating too) without actually saying the word sexist. But we could just as easily make the question not look sexist by framing it within a context of whacky questions we ask politicians these days. And that there were more stories than just these two, which were all true.

But I'd have to say that the point of using the example is that the narratives we choose actually shape our lives. If we had chosen a context like "John Key pisses in the shower" for this story, we might not be talking about Jacindamania right now because the narratives we chose, which justly vilified Mark Richardson, gave some nice positive things for Ardern to do straight off the bat. Now, we probably would be talking about Jacindamania but the point is that the Richardson-Villain interpretation is now a narrative which we can use in the future and that gave us a way of thinking about politics at the time. These are important ideas to talk about, I think... even if my approach had serious flaws.

When You're A Bit Like Trump

Yesterday I wrote about the NZ Herald publishing something which it shouldn't have. Today I will write about something it largely hasn't been talking about. In fact, something basically no-one's been talking about. Which is really weird because it seemed like an obvious conversation to have:
1. Jacinda Ardern will have to explain Labour’s immigration policy
Immigration was the first point in a serious post wondering what further turns in the road lay ahead. Yet, here we are, finding ourselves going from "Now what? 10 more things that could change this election campaign" to "Jacinda Ardern takes offence at being compared to Donald Trump". Oh my God. For real? Grow up dickhead.

Look, Trump and Ardern are quite different. He's American and elderly. She's a NZer and on the verge of middle age (37*2 = 74). But there are lots of similarities. Sure, Trump's behaviour around women seems to raise that tension between confessing and bragging and Ardern's not like that at all but they are similar politicians. Why? Because they're both like John Key. That is, both of them rely a lot on personality and media reception.

Jacindamania is a creation of NZ's terrible media and Trump's riding roughshod over scandal over scandal was similarly media borne. Not that the media woke up one day and started pushing narratives. Trump really did surprise people early on in the primaries so journalists read events and wrote their articles from the position this would happen again. And Ardern? She really did revitalise Labour. She really did give it a direction after years of not being John Key (a fool's quest because he didn't have a consistent vision... if he was Ardern's age and National had still managed three terms after 2008, he'd be the leader of the Labour party right now). And Johhny-boy? Well, he was a media darling. Just goofy enough. Just smiley enough. Wore a suit just enough. Didn't matter what he'd done, he was Teflon John. Except with flag change. That was your dad telling you to get a haircut. And the electorate responded in the same way.

The similarities don't stop there. Not that they're exactly the same media-wise. Trump savages all media. Ardern just has a bone to pick with Mark Richardson... because of something he actually did do. She also doesn't actually have any real scandals (also unlike John Key, who, unlike Trump, actually did always get off scot free... possibly because none of them were rapey).

Both Ardern and Trump campaigned with apparently clear policies. Build the Wall. Lock Her Up. Drain the Swamp. Repeal and Replace Obamacare. Immigration Ban. (Actually, I can't recall, was that a campaign thing?) All of these sound like specific things to do, but they're all what I think Americans mean by optics. That is, they're presented in just the right way that you basically ignore the lack of specifics. Ardern's more grounded because our elections are less like circuses but this is still there. Look at how easily she answers questions like abortion, raising refugee caps or, even, tax reform. Where you can give quick answers, she's got them. Where you have complex issues? It is a working group... for after the election... but that is still doing something.

The thing is, it isn't just the way they're campaigning that offers room to point out real similarities (a fake similarity would be, for instance, comparing Trump and Fake News to Ardern and Richardson). You see, on immigration and on the TPPA, Trump and Ardern have policy similarities. That is, neither is for them. In fact, MAGA is really just a patriotic nativisim that reads well as an extreme version of Labour's perverted conception of fair, albeit that's from the Little days. And it makes sense that Trump would be more extreme: he's from a more extreme country. I mean, the US tears itself apart on abortion when here it is literally a crime and no-one cares. If the US government tried to market itself as 100% Pure, there'd be riots. We do do this and nothing happens? Despite the terrible quality of our waterways? Rising emissions? We can't even agree on whether or not blaming farmers is a big deal. (It isn't, because they do deserve a lot of blame, but so does the government. partly for letting them behave how they do.)

Jacinda Ardern, though? She can't handle the comparison. And it's not even a broad statement. It's actually really specific. I mean, really specific. It went like this:
Meet New Zealand's Justin Trudeau—except she's more like Trump on immigration

In other words, the comparison was made solely on the point of Labour's platform that is least consistent with the values of contemporary Labour thought... do note socialism in the Antipodes used to be quite extremely racist... and modern thinking about economic migration. Labour's stance on immigration is morally disgusting and economically illiterate. National's weakened version of the same things is not ideal, but it's better. ACT, despite some criticism in Craccum for being too interested in human capital and too vague about NZ's values (pg. 20; and ACT obviously thinks those values are cosmopolitan), gets a moral pass simply for being open to the idea and is pragmatic about them by advocating for last year's policy settings. The Greens and some other parties recognise that familial breakdown is an issue our policies should resolve (although Craccum seems to believe this only exists in families of colour) so they're adding some moral sweetener there, even if, for instance, TOP have other problems with their policy.

In this context of indefensible immigration policies, Ardern obviously points at Labour's stance on refugees. Good for you Labour! I don't care. Labour frames and treats refugees as something completely separate from immigration, except when they want to look like they're not total dicks. Why? Because refugees are migrants but they're not emigrants in the sense a refugee doesn't choose to move. A refugee is placed in a situation where they can't stay, whereas saying someone has emigrated implies they've chosen to leave the country. These are quite distinct processes and, as a result, we should and traditionally have not conflated the two. Labour does conflate the issues because they actually have a decent refugee policy. For instance, they're one of several parties who want to create a category for climate change. But if you want decent refugee policy, vote Green or even Maori. However, do notice these bad boys:
But for every refugee New Zealand opens its doors to, we are repaid in multiple by the contribution they will make to our country.
We should have an immigration system that fills genuine skills shortages and isn’t used to keep wages down
To the extent that refugees and immigrants are both migrants, somehow refugees are good and immigrants are bad. This is an entirely arbitrary distinction. The reality is that "migrant labour" falls into four basic categories. One, seasonal labour. Two, skills shortage labour. Three, replacement labour for the brain drained. Four, people who lack local qualifications competing with other people who lack local qualifications, because local qualifications mean more to employers and are a non-discriminatory way of hiring people. We might add a fifth category which would be Australians, but it's us that move there, not them that move here.

If it quacks like a duck, it sounds a like a duck. And while Ardern doesn't walk like a duck, doesn't flap like a duck, doesn't look like a duck and doesn't lay eggs like a duck, she does quack like a duck. If she wants to not be compared to Trump? Well, then she needs to change her policies on immigration. Put up, or shut up. Basic lessons from the playground... which Ardern, Trump and "I pull pony tails" Key all need to learn. Maybe Ardern was trying to say that at least Trump is also anti-refugee so is a bit more consistent. Nah, that'd be absurd.

Oh, and Swing Vote describes nicely why Labour is anti-immigrant (and they categorically are). Fun film. Deserved more attention given, you know, Trump's "popularism."

State Charity

I have previously tried to condemn the NZ Herald for allowing an article to be published which compared the pathetic* struggles of the middle class trying to keep up with the Jones' with the actual struggles of the poor. I have been constrained in this criticism by poor Google Fu. This time, though, I have Alan Duff and the twits at the Herald caught red-handed. It is completely unforgiveable that this was allowed to go up. It is not interesting intellectually. It is obviously wrong and trite. It has no reason to exist beyond Duff's Hosking-esque belief in his validity. Hell, at least I know this blog ain't all that.
If he truly cared he'd start with the poor first. Not in getting them subsidised state housing, higher welfare benefits, a swathe more entitlements. But in persuading a change of outlook, their diet reassessed since it is killing them, teaching restraint in all areas, from food to social interactions.
Duff is making two trite points here. Firstly, that politicians are self aggrandising blowhards who do basically everything in an attempt to build a kind of cult of personality which will win them votes. Cool. The only other idea about politicians with anything like the same level of cultural capital is basically the same but with more corruption. Secondly, this kind of individualisation of causation is absurdly common.

One of the ways to look at writing about public issues is the tension between the specific and the general. That is, generalised remarks tend to be very dry, look at a lot of data/summary statistics and lack the emotional immediacy of a case study. Yet, too much case studies means one makes anecdotal arguments, thus raising the question of whether or not it's a real concern or not. But Duff's saying that individual factors are everything. Thus, all we have to do is provide a contradiction.

We could contradict this enormous moron in several different ways. Indeed, that we can choose so many tacks is why he is clearly an enormous moron. We could talk about the human need for "frivolity", the poverty trap or the absolute failure to understand really, really basic economics:
Heroes and rebels are in every country. The ones who live in the hills and fight guerrilla and terrorist-type warfare, make strident speeches in the poor settlements, hand out a few goodies and take thrice as much back by extorting businesses who of course employ the poor - but a lot less when they have to pay protection money.
No, dickhead, labour demand depends on the broader market situation. That is, if lots of people want ice-creams, then people who can be employed in ice-cream connected firms are in demand and will be employed. Consequently, "the poor" need to have skills wanted by the market, and their skills are wanted by the market if and only if "the poor" are buying stuff. Think of it like this: individual firms and employers don't employ people, the market does and the market is nebulous and complex. Ask yourself this... are you more likely to employ John if he can demonstrate an ability to get to work reliably than if he isn't? is this connected to John's level of deprivation? Perhaps the poor are just structurally disadvantaged.

You see, the thing is that it doesn't matter how well you budget if there isn't enough money coming in to meet the expenditure outlined by the (hypothetical) perfect budget. And that's assuming the perfect budget doesn't save. Budgets are just a means of optimising given a situation: they are never a solution because that's just not what they are. If you can't find secure accommodation, for instance, you have to split time between working (harder to get... you may be moving around a lot) and trying to find accommodation. Don't you think that this inhibits one's productivity? Do you imagine the house search involves no trade-offs? And what about the boot theory?

Just think for a minute and you'll realise what a waste of space that column is. Fire Duff. Fire his editors.

* Sense three. Not that emotional struggle doesn't matter, but that emotional struggle characterises both struggles so what is relevant is the physical problem.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Three Best Reasons to Not Vote Labour

I cannot sit by and say nothing about Jacinda Ardern's Labour, but I am too tired to write up everything that needs to be said. What I can do is quickly bang out a list. The internet likes lists. I like lists. I don't really write them.

#1 Labour's Stance on Immigration

Back in the heady days of March when everyone was wondering why exactly Labour had stuck with Andrew Little, I watched a debate over whether or not the Labour Party should go with Jacinda Ardern instead. The opposing side ran a practical case as I remember it (too tired to look at my notes) so they were clearly wrong. After all, no-one even remembers who Andrew Little is now, except if they want to talk about the Jacinda Effect. But the supporting side were wrong too.

The principled reasons to switch from Little to Ardern were that Little's Labour, despite his always talked about union links, were never really a Labour party. One of the big foundations of that case was on immigration. There was nothing fair or worker friendly about Little's immigration policies. There was nothing socially just about them either. Coming or going (old or new style leftism) Labour just wasn't lefty. Hence, if you scapegoated Little, policy changed could happen no worries. The problem is that Ardern's keeping Little's immigration stances. Boo! Hiss! Vote Greens!

(There was also the practical argument of being youth adjacent but, hey, 37 is pretty ancient when you think about.)

#2 Labour's Solution to Auckland's Housing Problems

Look, we absolutely do need to build more houses and we absolutely do need to go back to having a proper welfare state. In the very simplest terms, it is difficult to play cricket without wickets, a pitch, cricket bats and a ball. Sure, you can make do. I've played my fair share of rubbish bin cricket. I've bowled with rocks and even flowers in desperation. I've run from horizontally laid stick to crack in ground, and tried to stump an imaginary jumper. I've had fun with these variants, but none of them are cricket at their best. Hell, some just plain don't work (lookin' at you flower bowling). More than three people also helps enormously.

Similarly, having a welfare state, a bureaucracy, the rule of law and a tax system are all necessary to get the best out of private existence. Whether I want to be a 9-5 office slave, run a multi-national company or just play cricket, the best way of doing these things is if there's a stable base. If I can have secure housing, if my employees can have secure housing and if I can live near enough people who'll turn out to play, I can do all these things better. To be clear, better than if everyone is slipping into homelessness, being turfed about by capricious landlords or succumbing to a stress spiral caused by overdue bills. This is logical. And Labour will solve it to some extent with their proposals to build more houses.

The problem is that building houses always requires a where. For Labour, that's beyond the current urban limits of Auckland. I've mentioned before that development moving out of existing infrastructure areas is problematic but I think Labour would just build the infrastructure. The problem is more that places like Pukekohe exist. That is to say, for every house you build from Drury and Runciman towards Ramarama and Pukekohe, you take up that much more fertile land. That is, land whose best use is agricultural. This is not sustainable development. Indeed, if you look at places like Portland in the US, strict urban boundaries have stimulated superior urban forms. Or, at least, that's what everyone says. (I've never been.) We should emulate that and build out on pain of death... because that's ultimately what sprawling means.

#3 Another National Term Would Be A Disaster

I'm one of those people who think National has managed to pull off the most incredible of electoral feats. They have shown literally 0 evidence of sound economic or political management in nearly ten years but have managed to position themselves as the only steady hand. Even better, they've been sued for how they tried to do this (the Eminem thing) and the brand hasn't been dented, not one little bit. Indeed, the whole reason Labour thinks it can win votes by selling anti-immigrant narratives is because of the failures of National. Ultimately, it's a mentality problem.

When it comes down to it, National ultimately prefers to take away your cricket bat (interest accruing student loans for NZers overseas) rather than make sure where they want you to play actually has a pitch to play on. As a result of this mentality, when we needed the government to build urban amenities, encourage dense development, improve urban infrastructure and stimulate construction through intervention the government didn't do anything. In fact, it made a Super City to look after this stuff in Auckland, but then failed to give it abilities that would let it actually do this. That's a moral hazard. Councillors have the risk of not providing amenities to Auckland voters in local elections but central government is still the one with the power. Anyway, the point is, in the brain drain days of 2008, these developments would have kept NZers in-country, and provided housing now.

Which is to say, National's having another term would be a disaster. So, why does that mean you shouldn't vote for Labour? There's a simple answer: the Greens.

I can't remember why I didn't like Labour last election, but for whatever reason they sat ill with me so I went for the Greens instead. I will do so again, in about a month. The trouble is that if you vote for Labour to get rid of National, you vote for the above two problematic issues. But if you vote for the Greens, you vote against National and simultaneously temper the above policy positions. You see, the Greens have a more sane "leave it as it is" approach to immigration and, naturally, are keen on sustainable development. Hence, every extra seat they have means that they can act to avoid both kinds of disaster: National's badly guided tour of hell or Labour's garden of xenophobia. Hence, you can't vote Labour. (Or NZ First.)

Saturday, 19 August 2017

House: A Retrospective

We used to watch House week in week out. I'm not sure when we started because I was 9 in 2004, but certainly we were watching it "live" in NZ when Chase, Cameron and Foreman all left (2007) to be replaced with the game show recruitment strategy. And we were still watching when House went belly up in 2012. And then we rewatched it a couple of years ago. I'm not 100% why, it might have been because a friend of mine had just got into it... but it had been so long since I'd seen the Tritter episodes, I couldn't really offer an opinion. Sometimes I miss House: its sort of many-episode slick productions aren't made any more or are too hard to find.

The thing is, I still think about House. Just the other week I got off the train at Britomart and found myself thinking about "House Classic". Basically, Foreman resigns just before Cameron does (and hence also Chase's sacking) because he's worried that he's becoming too much like House. But he comes back into the fold pretty quickly. Why? Because he resigned too late. He was already House-lite so only someone who'd hire House-Classic would possibly hire him again. But that's not why I'm writing this (strictly speaking the reason is that I have an essay I should be writing). I am writing this because I watched an episode today, having stumbled across the subject of Euthanasia in a different form of procrastination. You see, today I watched Known Unknowns... the medically worst episode of House (according to this dude's review of Polite Dissent's reviews). Which was where I found this comment:

House was a terrible, terrible doctor. End of story and good riddance. From his dysfunctional, litigation-inducing bedside manner to (yes) his so-called brilliant approach to clinical cases. From the few episodes that I (and other doctors) could stand to watch, I saw a character who consistently put himself and his hospital on the path to malpractice suits and led American healthcare generally to its doom. His approach to clinical medicine is merely an example of how not to practice the trade. This was a man who ordered a gagillion-dollar SPECT scan before a $60 urinalysis and shot from the hip with ridiculously obscure diseases. Functionally he was an overanxious medical student with hospital privileges, and he only happened to be right because the writers made sure he was right. In real life, this guy would’ve been out of a job toute de suite and selling medical equipment out of his car trunk. Perhaps not a bad idea for a follow-up series.

Now, I don't know if House really was a genius. Frankly, I know very little about medicine. I can tell you some exercises if you've got tight hamstrings because I was told to do some of those. I can remark that a bruised tailbone might lead to a prescription for voltaren, because that happened to me. I can say that if you've got a broken arm and you're going to fly overseas, this will mean having a cast with crack in it, so your arm can expand. Why? Because that happened to me too. I can also chuck in a couple of other muscular-skeletal observations based on, you guessed it,  treatments I have received through the years. But I can't tell you why. But this comment has kind of missed the point of House.

As a television show, House was never a medical drama. House was a police procedural set in a hospital where instead of murderers and rapists the main cast chased down diseases and other ailments. The emphasis was always on producing something like Cracker, but for Americans. Hence, House had a drug problem (instead of gambling addiction), had a flirtatious relationship with an age appropriate boss (rather than a substantially younger, um, colleague-subordinate), was thin (not fat) and didn't have a family (versus a near adult son, a much younger daughter and a wife halfway out the door). Don't get me wrong, Cracker is much much better than House (or, indeed, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead (hah!), House of Cards and pretty much anything from the so called Golden Age of Television) but it is what House was in the style of. And Hugh Laurie probably recognised this... after all, I know he and Robbie Coltrane know each other (from an episode of Blackadder)... which is probably one of the reasons it worked.

But I think the comment also misses a crucial point of how House was depicted within the show. Look at the Foreman example: the only reason House had a job was because Cuddy was in charge. And then he had a job because Foreman was in charge. And his job was to head up a department I'm pretty sure doesn't exist: Diagnostic Medicine.

In medical shows that I have seen (House and Scrubs) one of the phrases you come across is "if you hear hoof beats, think horse, not zebra". This is an alternative expression of something statistics courses like (a lot): Occam's Razor. The basic idea is that of all the possible explanations for a phenomenon (such as a disease) the simplest one is preferable. Obviously, in House, this isn't true. In House the cases have to be cool. For two reasons. One, for the show's on success. Two, because House is built around the ultimate hater of boredom: Sherlock Holmes (Wikipedia says so). But how do you justify it? Answer? A department of Diagnostic Medicine. Or, in plain English, House only meets patients who are zebras.

Now, we might wonder how large a hospital would have to be to get cases like House's regularly. Even if we exclude the ones that Mr Anti-Boredom made interesting through not following standard procedure (if I remember Polite Dissent correctly, what you do is list everything and rule them out systematically rather than thinking up, say, ten things tops), it is a lot. Even if you're only getting interesting cases, you're still having a lot of them if you've got 52 in a year (House treats one patient a week). If that's 5% of all patients are zebras that's 1040 a year, if it's 1% it's 5200 and if it's .01% it's 520,000 a year. That last figure would mean nearly 1500 patients a day. However, Wikipedia says rare diseases are (sometimes) treated as those that fewer than 1 in 2000 to fewer than 1 in 1000 people have. This would translate to having between 52,000 and 104,000 patients a year, if we're getting 52 "zebras" a year, and rare diseases are  a good proxy for "zebras". That's actually reasonable: Waikato Hospital's emergency department averages 210 patients a day, which is 76650 a year. We can note that this is a rather crude methodology, but I think it sufficient to say that it is plausible that a department of Diagnostic Medicine that caters exclusively to zebras could manage one patient a week, if such a department were to exist.

(As to malpractice... I guess it's easier to get a free ride when you're treating only the desperate who then become the only too grateful. Possibly, because it is a fictional world, you have to be more outrageous than in the reality of America.)

House was fun, but it is probably fun in the way that delayed sports matches are fun: if you know the score, you're missing out. That's rotten luck for medical professionals, especially those familiar with diagnosing patients, but it doesn't mean that House was bad for us lay folk. Sure, it had its problems and took wrong turns, but we stuck with it until the end. Which is why you can believe me when I say that House is the sort of dude who you can believe has kids he doesn't know about. I mention this because there's this one episode where a rape victim wants to talk only to House. It's weird in the sense that House isn't the "right" person for that sort of conversation. Since the rewatch, I've thought that maybe the character's mother knew who House was but never got involved (House being House), and in the extreme situation the character sought out House. Or, maybe, House was just a random doctor, and someone like House was just what that particular character needed. Who knows? But that's the fun of fictional characters: absent evidence to the contrary, they can be who you want them to be (although, this doesn't mean all explanations really do explain things just as well).

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Metiria Turei: Gizza Job?

One of the things that amazed me when I was 18 is that some from my school could've lived to 18 without knowing what WINZ was.

Now, sure, my reasons for knowing about WINZ were a bit more personally connected. I remember waiting in the car while my mother had appointments with WINZ. I remember using WINZ for uniforms, glasses and similar. I remember not always being able to pay bills. But still. I'm sure my fellow knew about the dole.

The thing is, when you look at it, WINZ is not a terribly effective version of not just a great idea but an absolutely fundamental one. The welfare state is arguably the defining character of modernity and regardless of one's views on post-modernity, it doesn't matter at all if you don't have a word to describe starving to death: you're still dying. But WINZ is, well, WINZ.

I am reminded of Boys from the Black-stuff. That's a programme from Britain's Thatcher years about unemployed Northerners... who stayed in England (c.f. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet). People like to talk about a "Golden Age of Television" but even ignoring said commentators general ignorance of anything older than The Wire, we might wonder if it's all got just a bit removed from real struggles. The GFC was a pretty big deal, right? Where was the biting commentary? Where were the scenes of whatever Thatcherite Britain's equivalent of WINZ sending agents out to find the "welfare frauds"? Closest I can think of is that poor bastard in The Big Short (a movie) who loses his home because his landlord didn't keep up his end. Or Frank Underwood's ex-chef. But these are throw-away. Television is no longer viscerally depicting real life economic struggle in concept. Or, if it does, society has been so unbuilt no-one cares.

In theory, means-testing sounds like a great idea, right? After all, WINZ has a limited budget so it should try and be efficient. Thing is, means-testing is a function, which means it is a job, which means it incurs costs. That is, means-testing means that you have to worry about administration costs. Or, in other words, you spend money doing stuff that doesn't actually help you achieve the main thing, i.e. providing a system that isn't just there to catch you, but one that puts you back on your feet and keeps everything (and I do mean everything) chugging along. WINZ is, as a concept, about helping people. WINZ is Mr Incredible, and government? Well, it's his dickhead boss. Except, this time the dickhead boss can mind control Mr Incredible.

This is, broadly, where you get people talking about Universal Basic Income. If everyone gets a universal sum, no questions asked, you don't have to pay anyone to ask questions. Logically, this is how you really do make something like WINZ into a lean, mean problem-solving machine. After all, now you can deal with intractable issues with a soft-touch.

(Charities can do this too, by the way. For instance, Andrew Carnegie's deciding to minimise the unhelpful admin costs by having the philanthropy happen with an endpoint in mind strikes me as basically the same idea.)

One of the last times my mother was getting some kind of benefit/assistance from WINZ, she was basically being made to jump through hoops to find a job. Sounds reasonable, I think: people who can work, and who need money, ought to work. Except, the reason we want people to work is so that they're better off. The money will keep flowing up and around whether it comes from WINZ or Job ACME: that bit doesn't matter. What does matter is the personal and social implications (finances aside... obviously any kind of cost is economic). Which is why WINZ was in the wrong here. But even if you ignore that, my mother was a "productive member of society" at the time... she was volunteering with regular hours. Which is to say, even with means testing, the regime in which WINZ is forced to operate creates absurdities counter to both its real point, and the role ascribed to it by people we might term Thatcherites.

(Obviously this is a middle-ground view. It doesn't have the more specific/efficient set of tasks for WINZ that UBI brings, but letting beneficiaries use volunteer hours, with WINZ essentially serving as their employer, does create a soft touch that actually helps. This "compromise" is Mr Incredible not telling that little old lady the ins and outs of the perverse system administered by the aforementioned dickhead boss.)

At this point I should note some really critical things about my personal situation. My mother is a land-owner. Aside from a brief few months prior to my fifth birthday when we were renting, we've been owner-occupiers. Intermittently on the benefit, yes, but owner-occupiers nonetheless. How? My mother's father is a reasonably well off dude, and this helps a lot. And when my mother was sick, I was able to live with some of my second cousins, no worries. Not everyone has family members of means and not everyone is able to leverage familial connections in this way. And if you are renting, your life has another element of uncertainty introduced to it. Even better, my mother worked from home for a long time while I went to schools within walking distance: minimal travel costs! And we had a car. Things, in short, could have been a lot worse. And for many people? Well, they are.

(Yes, this background is one of the reasons I am disgusted when people compare keeping up with the Joneses to the stress of pay cheque to pay cheque existence or even more tenuous personal existence. And, yes, this happens. I read an NZ Herald article doing this a long time ago now. Similarly I am angered by a lot of the "poverty stricken student" discourse because it frequently (a) ignored all those students who qualify for student allowances despite living in the "comforts" of "home" and (b) frames issues that are bigger than just students purely within discourses of the student.)

The question that all this begs is: what do people do?

Look, if you can "defraud" WINZ to create a situation where we can't distinguish its behaviour from how it really ought to be behaving given its real purposes, you're a God-damned hero. WINZ is not, at the moment, fit for purpose (either its real purposes or the misleading efficiency paradigm's) so the kind of fraud that makes it look like it is? Well, how is that bad? Actual welfare fraud is when you're doing stuff that white collar criminals with fancy lawyers (heck, just knowing lawyers is fancy... let alone employing some) do. And while you shouldn't break the law, living in a democracy means laws aren't sacrosanct so I'm never going to apologise for believing in both (a) welfare "fraud" and (b) fraud involving WINZ. Nor should anyone put in such a situation.

Let's put it this way... no-one's going to blame a bull for wrecking the china shop when the truck rear ends the shop window and lets him out. So how can we blame beneficiaries when it's us who set up the situation where all they can do is walk into the china shop? You have to make a move: not eating is literally dying.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

On the Course

In several of my coursebooks from previous years I have doodled block letter words: power, freedom and knowledge being the typical three. Sometimes I think this is odd but now I can't see why... all the X is Y pairs are common tropes. In fact, "knowledge is freedom" is one that you see quite a lot. At least, that's a sentiment I often think underlies a lot of the "what is the point of university?" discourse. But is that true, in terms of university courses, I mean?

Before we get to that, let's back track a bit. Knowledge isn't freedom in a sense. In my experience, up until the back end of college it's possible to get away with saying stuff. The notion of research is... well, it's something that kind of happens rather than an integral part of the process. Integration of research is the reason the notion of history without footnotes is ridiculous: it's not history at all. But this is a terrible drag for me as a writer of blog posts. I'm not, say, the late Stephen Jay Gould writing essays informed by research or learning from behind the scenes. I'm some bloke down the pub spouting the same old bollocks I always have... except I've learnt for it to really matter, it's got to be done right. It doesn't even matter if it's fact-consistent... to be true, it has to be done right. Four walls and a roof doesn't make a house. If it did physics probably wouldn't exist. And, in principle, this means if I say something I should have something saying where it comes from. Even if it's as vague as APA.

I think this is a vital context to remember in terms of the university course. It's not just an education in content and it certainly isn't any "find your place in the world" nonsense (on account of lacking, well, the world)... education and learning happen in all sorts of ways, which is where one finds:
The fact of the matter is colleges trade on brand. Harvard is a brand. Stanford is a brand. MIT is a brand. The education part is being democratised and commoditised by the internet. [i.e. it is being made free ~ H. East]
That's from a post on Medium by a dude who's making the case that maybe a prospective entrepreneur isn't best suited by going to university. Yet, I think it is a sentiment that you'll find in standard critiques of going to university... which is probably one reason why the author is rightly at pains to stress that this was not the point of that piece. It's also something that is true. Sure, there are plenty of truths but it's still a truth. Think about it. Harvard doesn't just trade on brand, for example, it trades on reputation. That might not strike you as a big difference, and they're certainly related, but Harvard is a good university with good academics who do things the right way (which is really lots of different ways, of course). The brand is definitely important, though. Being able to say you went to a place like Harvard makes people sit up even if they have no real idea about what Harvard is like and who teaches there... or, for that matter, what is taught there. Which is what we're about today.

University Courses are like teeth. It's all very well to say that a tiger is a formidable predator or a university is a good place to attend, but without decent teeth a tiger's dead and without worthwhile courses, why would you go to a university? In fact, one might even say that you can get the content knowledge from books, videos and other things that don't require enrolling. And does a university course even teach you the good stuff, anyway? Take Steve Jobs. One of the videos we watched in, I think, Business 102 about Jobs was one where he talked about being a drop-in student. That is, someone who'd given up on what he was supposed to be doing in order to attend lectures in courses that he was actually fascinated by. It's a bit like how I'd love to take a Public Economics course but it didn't work out for me last year and my last chance was this year... when it wasn't offered. But, you see, it's not just the subject matter that's interesting.

Assessment is an integral part of the university course but it's rarely something you get from a book. Sure, you might get a list of questions and some answers elsewhere in a book or in a video but that's not assessment. You see, knowledge is collaborative and whilst it is a poor collaboration to be forced to sit an MCQ exam, it's still player versus examiner in a battle of wits. With research essays and the like the student actually gets to contribute some original thoughts. Well, not original in the PhD sense, but original in the "not plagiarism" sense. Knowledge is always subject to review, and it is assessment that one pays for... not knowledge.

Look, I'm not here to say that everyone should always go to university if they want true knowledge. What I am trying to say here is that having the syllabus and reading all the same things or even also attending all the same lectures isn't the same as having taken the course. Knowledge is also the experience of doing the assessment so if you answered the essay questions too, even if the lecturer never marks them, you get a bit closer... but if you knew the lecturer was marking your work, would it be the same? But this would still be a worthwhile thing... reading all the readings for a course... the content knowledge is still good. And it is something I want to do myself for some syllabi I have on my computer, but it's not the same. And if I have any ability to prevent falsely constructed denigrations of the education offered by universities, I should take that chance. Or something. This seems oddly written. Perhaps I am trying too hard to say this matters. That is is intriguing is enough for me. It was always enough. So what paragraphs aren't why this blog exists.

Some points for further consideration. Firstly, that a syllabus is something an expert has put together in order to overview or examine a subject matter. It is another kind of tailored treatment of a subject... perhaps just like a book, but with the addendum it is specifically designed for education. Secondly, assessment's relationship with knowledge is problematic, but it is still an experience. I'm just not sure I have enough motive to consider these further aspects properly.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Arsenal

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'm quite keen on soccer. Indeed, I even brought up the notion that I was a fan of Arsenal. But I've never really ever written anything about soccer per se. Nor, for that matter, any of the other sports which I follow.

The thing with being a fan of any European club when you're not from Europe or, in fact, the cities they're based in is that your dynamic, as a fan, is quite different. Some will, for instance, choose to dislike, say, Tottenham because they like Arsenal and you're meant to do this, but from thousands of kilometres away and the opposite side of the world you really need to question why you're doing this. And if it happens that Spurs play an interesting brand of soccer, then it should happen that one can have a soft spot for Spurs and Arsenal. But if it happens that a side, e.g. Chelsea, do not, then one's impression should reflect that. I mention this because I think the distance also means peripheral fans can be less blinkered about the teams they actually do like.

I've generally had more than a soft spot for Arsenal for three reasons. One, when they're playing well, they look better than any of the other teams in England's top tier. Two, they line up with my personality in the sense that when I started paying attention to soccer, Arsenal were good but not bullies (a la Bayern Munich). Three, my grandfather is actually from the Arsenal supporting part of North London. I also have to say that I dislike fair weather fans: the point of being a fan is that you support the team regardless of the results... if Spurs stopped playing well, I would stop liking them. (Note I am an anti-fan of Chelsea... they're never going to play well enough for me to like them.)

Now, as it happens Arsenal have had an indifferent campaign in the season just finished, finishing fifth. If you listened to certain media pundits, you'd think this was a complete disaster and while it is not a good thing, it's not that. A disaster would be relegation. A disaster would be being left completely out of touch with the rest of the teams competing for where you want to be... which in Arsenal's case is first and the other teams of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. Sure, Manchester United are into the Champion's League and Arsenal are not but they spent an entire season not playing as well, have a propensity to buy players rather than team-members and raised expectations that will be let down by the style... the forgiveness period for Mourinho is over. Manchester United are the sixth club that is in the running for the "tolerable" spots of 2, 3 and 4.

The simple reality is that Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City were separated by a single goal... a goal that was scored in the first ever game of the season in Arsenal's 3-4 loss to Liverpool. If Arsenal scored that goal, the whole dynamic of the season would have been different... but even if it had played out otherwise identically, it would have put more pressure on City and Arsenal would have pipped Liverpool to fourth. United wasn't in the last ditch run for fourth, even before giving up... and Spurs and Chelsea were too far ahead. So, the question is: how much will these teams improve and/or worsen?

United have the most ground to make up. Even if they play better and actually add to the team, they can reasonably only expect to be about where Arsenal-City-Liverpool were this season... so I'm suggesting Arsenal only need to not worsen to be at least this good. Liverpool's problems are complex: they're reliant on scoring goals but break down against teams they should smash. Again, expect this season to represent basically where they are now. City are more interesting. They were unlucky, like United, but are really just a slightly better performing version of Arsenal... the issue is that they were unlucky in a game which Chelsea won during their "getting out of touch psychologically dominating" run. Had they been more lucky in that match the entire season would have played out differently. Luck is hard to fix but is not so intractable as Liverpool's oscillation. The corollary of City is that Chelsea have the most work to stay where they are. They were better than teams this season, but will be known quantities next time around... and won't have the psychological weight of that winning run unless they make another one. Spurs have probably topped out and will ultimately look better and/or worse dependent on how well the other teams play... they have to be favourites, followed by Chelsea and City. But what about Arsenal? Will they get better? Or will they get worse?

There's a popular theory that Alexis Sanchez is Arsenal's main man. This isn't true. Far too often he runs no-where and does nothing. What he is good at is running, and has sufficient an aura of quality that he is allowed to do this... although unlike Eden Hazard, because his strength is running, not possession running, running at Sanchez yourself doesn't nullify him. Apparently, Sanchez is also a bad influence behind the scenes and in this sense, it doesn't matter so much if Sanchez is allowed to leave (after this season) or sold (this season). If that isn't true, then Sanchez is sufficiently good as part of the machine that losing him would be a problem. He may be wasteful in attacking runs, but in a sport where 1 goal can make all the difference, this is less important (in cricket, for instance, a wasteful bowler is a disaster) and he's not a glaring defensive liability all the time. But it wouldn't be a disaster to lose Sanchez either... he's not Cazorla... and if there is one issue with Arsenal is that they have spent two seasons now wondering how to play when Cazorla is injured and may only just have figured it out (i.e. 3 at the back, a la "tolerable-to-watch" Chelsea).

When people talk about Sanchez it's often in terms of "grab games by the scruff of the neck". I don't believe that... this seems to be more the function of Olivier Giroud. Wait, what? The much maligned striker? You mean the one who was criticised for failing to turn a 3-1 defeat into a 3-4 win after having dragged it kicking and screaming to its 3-3 ending? That guy? Yes, that guy. He is the only Arsenal player at the moment who actually changes the machine. When Arsenal don't play Giroud they play in three ways. They kick balls into the air for no-one to head, they run around and create space and win comfortably or they run around and make you wonder how Bayern and Dortmund never seem to run out of space. When Giroud is on they don't play like this. Whether because they have one of the best target men in England (if not the best) or because Giroud is actually rather good at releasing the ball and rather good enough that giving him rope (as a defensive team) is just as likely to hang you as him. He also works well with Oezil and Cazorla, to the extent that you'd need someone who is essentially a better version of Giroud rather than a better striker to improve Cazorla-ball.

Losing Giroud would be a big problem for Arsenal. Losing Sanchez would require using probably worse, but not bad, alternatives to him that are already in the team. The issue is that both Giroud and Sanchez are in "transfer sagas" and that losing Sanchez, without the Champion's League, is a credibility issue. As I said, he has an aura of quality... so if he goes, then you need to bring in some people who will make players like Mbappe (but not Mbappe himself) who are young and know they're thought to be that good, think: yes, Arsenal would work for me. The counter-argument is that what is needed is a new Cazorla, but such a player probably doesn't exist and if he does then he's sufficiently obscure that Sanchez's presence isn't going to change the appeal of Arsenal. Finding another Giroud could possibly be easier, but why would you do that? You have Giroud.

There's one thing that has to be said in Sanchez's favour versus Giroud: it matters to Giroud's performance if he has to do it all alone. When Leicester won two seasons ago, they probably shouldn't have. For one, Spurs were clearly the better side. For another, Arsenal were in prime position but Giroud was the only fit striker for the then extant system... and Giroud does a lot better when he has some sort of competition and isn't the guy. Sanchez has shown he can be the guy... although, obviously, he didn't kick it up a notch when Giroud and Oezil needed him to?

Expect Arsenal to be about as good as they were this season: better than Manchester United and a "lucky" result or two (either for or against) away from Manchester City and Liverpool. If Cazorla's fit for the entire season, then it's legitimately like bringing in a big new signing whose place in the team is already clear. I don't think that will happen, so Arsenal need a striker to be signed (for credibility), Giroud to stay (to preserve the flexibility of the team*), Sanchez to be seen to not be in control (i.e. that wherever he is this season, it is because Arsenal willed it so) and some other players... another left back, someone Cazorla-like and a versatile mid-fielder who can fit in Cazorla systems as well as the Ramsey-Xhaka-back three system in multiple positions.

Oh, and I'll do a pre-season, too early to possibly be able to tell, top six prediction:

Spurs (1-3)
Chelsea (1-3)
Manchester City (2-5)
Liverpool (4-5)
Arsenal (3-5)
Manchester United (4-6)
Everton (6-8)

I will give myself 1000 internets if the above is exactly correct, 500 internets if the final results are consistent with the brackets and 250 internets if the half-way table is consistent with the brackets... which means no other teams. So, I can get 0, 250, 500, 750, 1000 and 1250 internets altogether. Any other teams at any of these points means 0 points. Unless it's Newcastle, just to troll. If Newcastle are in it, I get the points (all the points, I mean).

Oh, and if you're wondering, I am suggesting that Arsenal have a negative/left skewed shot at places 3-5 and Liverpool a right skew. Manchester City are more varied than the others because luck is hard to fix and I said Chelsea will have difficulty staying where they are... United end up where they are because one part of fixing one's luck is making your own luck, and they're not good at that this last half-decade. Basically, I think 4-6 will stay as they were with respect to each other, but entertain the possibility of City breaking out.

*If the new striker fits in and multiple Giroud-less systems develop, Giroud would no longer be critical.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Plagiarism in NCEA Exemplars?

One of the biggest differences that I remember noticing as a first year at uni with the way things are done in NCEA is the absence of exemplars. For externals, these are omnipresent. Well, truthfully, they weren't for my cohort because very few of the standards we sat were old: I was one of the guinea pigs who made the realigned standards safe for everyone else. What we got, as far as I can tell, was either candidates whose answers were adapted from old standards or actual guinea pigs who were told to sit papers they weren't taught. I'm not sure, exactly.

Anyway, one of the really useful things that NZQA does is put up exemplars from the previous year's externals and annotate them so that current candidates better understand what it is they are to do. A philosophical "backronym" for this might be that exams aim to assess learning, but what they often will end up doing is just assessing who is able to put their answers together better. If you put up resources, everyone knows what exactly it is that an answer ought to resemble... it's a bit like being told that your parents have bought you a Camaro because you don't know the colour of the car (answer) but you know the shape of the model beforehand (in theory... I had to do a Google search, I'm not sure why Camaro popped into my head). Exemplars are also useful for understanding what it is that makes an answer as good as it is.

Strictly speaking, merely possessing an exemplar doesn't just give a candidate either of these advantages. After all one still needs to think about what is generic and specific about any given exemplar. At the most basic level: what is present because of the specific question and context and what features transcend these base necessities? Salience matters. One might go as far to argue that the university student is sufficiently experienced at doing this, that they need only the question to be able to figure it out.

On the other hand, it may be the case that possessing a bunch of exemplars is really handy because it turns out that the questions hardly ever change. Therefore, one can just memorise an exemplar and write that down: no learning required. Hell, one knows from English that it doesn't necessarily matter that the question is different: people try to shoe-horn in answers. Many (most?) people aren't like me... in year thirteen classical studies the "religion and ideology" question included "ideology" so I changed tack completely rather than trying to stick with my "religion"-centred preparation.* Teachers know about the shoehorn issue, which is why they always advise preparing for multiple different question typologies (e.g. in English you might prepare for character, symbol and event questions rather than being ready to attack every, i.e. any, question typology... this might be an interesting discussion in itself).

The trouble is that with NCEA history externals, there is only so much scope for changing the questions with the essay standards: they're very narrowly conceived. Observe the level one "essays" and level three essays in their first and most recent years of offering:

91005Describe the causes and consequences of an historical event
What were the causes of an historical event you have studied this year? How did this event affect people, or groups, in society? (2011)

Identify and describe the causes of your chosen historical event. What were the short-term and long-term consequences of the event for people and / or groups? (2016)

91006Describe how a significant historical event affected New Zealand society
Describe what happened in your chosen historical event.

Describe how TWO of the people OR groups in society that you identified on page 3 were affected by the historical event.

Explain why your chosen historical event was of significance to New Zealanders. In your answer, you could discuss aspects such as: • the importance of the event to people alive at the time • how deeply people’s lives were affected at the time • the extent to which the event continues to affect New Zealand society. (2011)

Describe what happened in your chosen historical event.

Describe a specific action taken by a person or group during your chosen historical event.
Describe the reaction / response of another person or group to the action you described in (a), and the reason(s) for the reaction / response

Explain why your chosen historical event was of significance to New Zealand society at the time, and / or how it continues to be significant. Support your answer with relevant evidence. (2016)

91438Analyse the causes and consequences of a significant historical event
Analyse the various causes of a significant historical event, and the consequences of that event on people’s lives. (2013)

Analyse the extent to which particular factors caused a significant historical event, and the different ways this event changed people’s lives over an extended period of time. (2016)

91439Analyse a significant historical trend and the force(s) that influenced it
Analyse the different forces that influenced a significant historical trend, and the extent to which this trend impacted on people's lives. (2013)

Analyse the important forces that impacted on a significant historical trend, and the extent to which change and continuity were reflected in people’s lives. (2016)

Okay, so the non-"causes and consequences" standards seem a bit more different, even giving themselves scope for the religion and ideology issue. That is, NZQA could keep candidates on their toes by mixing it up between questions just about, e.g. "reactions" or "responses" or "reactions and responses" even if what exactly the difference between reaction (physical) and response (mental) are arguable. It's even clearer cut in the trend essay because you could force more narrowly tailored responses on "change" or "continuity" or more generalised treatment of "change and continuity". But I think these examples generally back up the notion that the standards themselves have forced NZQA into a corner... they either don't offer exemplars or greatly facilitate plagiarism because the standards are too narrow for variety. On the other hand, the assessment report for the 2015 version of this last standard did have this to say:
 Some candidates struggled to respond to the question, preferring to write a response to a question from a previous exam. Candidates who approach an examination with a prepared response will always be at a disadvantage.
Now, given why this post exists, that remark is frankly hilarious. You see, I'm talking about this because apparently some candidates have, in fact, noticed plagiarism... the ultimate prepared response. That's right: not NZQA, not markers, not even teachers... pupils. At least, that's what the Herald is saying (NZQA have helpfully removed the exemplars in question). The thing is, this plagiarism happened in 2012... five years ago. I was still at school in 2012. In fact, I would have, probably, looked at both of these exemplars out of interest in the past (I got a merit in 2011 in this standard... and while NZQA did, without asking but I don't care, put two of my merit standards up as exemplars in 2012 they were the only standards I ever had turned into exemplars). The point is: this is a long time for no one to have noticed.

Working from the assumption that no-one is lying (because I cannot check), I imagine that the people who choose the exemplars are drawn from the marking committees. I similarly imagine that these committees undergo some kind of change in personnel from year to year and certainly would see a great many different scripts (and, surely, a great many shortlisted exemplar scripts). I also imagine that there is some kind of checklist like thing which is used to determine what makes a good exemplar (legible handwriting is apparently not one of them... as a friend noted, one of our pseudo-exemplars when we were doing Level Three history was indecipherable chicken scratchings). In this sense, it is quite obvious that something which is exemplar material in 2011 would be pulled up as exemplar material in 2012. Still, there should have been one person, at least, who was there to check that they weren't essentially reposting an old exemplar. And markers really ought to be familiar with the exemplar standards, i.e. the 2012 answer should have been given an N0 right at the start... well before my hypothesised committees got a chance to look at it.

Basically, the minister has every right to want an investigation into this matter. That's one reason why ministers exist: to hold bureaucrats to account, just like any other boss. On the other hand, NZQA five years ago is not the NZQA of today, so to find remarks like the below makes me recall the still widespread scepticism of NCEA (generally by people who know little of it... or those with Freudian obsessions with "employability"):
The authority, which did not spot mistakes in three maths exams last year, has posted almost identical papers on the 1981 Springbok tour as exemplars of scripts that earned "excellence" grades in the 2011 and 2012 history exams.
That's probably more prejudicial than valid contextualisation, in other words. Yet, honestly, it is rather more interesting to look at:
But NZ History Teachers Association treasurer Greg Burnard said memorising previous years' exemplars was "reasonably widespread across the country".
"Memorising an exemplar is not going to be punished, essentially," he said. "It's not seen as cheating, it's just seen as being well prepared."
Compare and contrast what I said in "Listen to the Axe Grind":
Sometimes an exam is just plain useless... for instance, they're prone to creating regurgitation and brain dumps, and they also can't test the ability to research. Exams are, inherently, restricted in what they can assess. Assessment should meet the purpose, not the other way around. 
And Burnard again later on:
"The way forward is to reward analysis rather than just regurgitation," he said.
This, I think, is the real issue raised by this episode. Exemplars are somewhat problematic concepts... even if we disregard the plagiarism potential. Think about the University of Auckland's Comlaw department's critique of model answers: there isn't necessarily one particular way of answering a question, but that is invariably the implication of an exemplar. In terms of the language I used earlier in this post, exemplars make one think that all cars look like Camaros but, of course, we know that thing from Breaking Bad exists and we recognise it as a car. To make the metaphor work a bit harder, the functionality of the Aztek and Camaro is the same: getting from A to B. With every question, there is some function that an answer needs to perform... i.e. actually answering the question. Sometimes this looks like a Camaro... and an answer of this flavour might be red or it might be blue (i.e. is articulated differently)... and sometimes this looks like an Aztek... again of varying different colours.

There isn't too much we can do about the Camaro-Aztek critique. Offering multiple different genera (I should have used a biological metaphor, this ad not withstanding**) doesn't help. If one had several different conceptualisations of a question, the one implies that these represent the set of all conceptualisations. That may be true or it may not be true. Either way, one doesn't provide a structure that pushes the candidate towards open-minded thinking about the question. In this sense, one wants to impart abstract lessons but invariably requires concrete assessments to check this... an inherently flawed task. And possibly the teaching is through a concrete paradigm too. And then one has to remember that content knowledge matters as well.*** I can't think of any other solution that doesn't kick the exemplar out the window entirely. Perhaps annotating the exemplar... but then publishing only the annotations?**** Maybe what I've done with my exam resources works... answers but without questions?

That latter notion is interesting. On one hand, I suggested that exemplars are good things because having everyone know what an answer looks like means everyone is on a level field... and therefore that we provide the best environment for analysis (although God only knows what that looks like in our car metaphor). Just offering an answer gives the candidate this sense of shape. Yet, how meaningful is that shape robbed of context? You and I know what a car is, but show Ugg the Caveman either an Aztek or a Camaro and Ugg would be mystified. Certainly, one would not be able to tell which facets of an answer were specific to the question and which represented examples of what the answer is doing. A bit like how Ugg might think a car's roof is integral to its function, whereas we know it's just a comfort measure. What this would mean in practice isn't clear to me... the ideal case is that one would go, "Oh, so that's the feel of answer of X quality"... assuming the quality of the analysis is what generates the feel (realistically, its rhetorical quality is what probably does that).

Now, it should also be said that regurgitating an answer to an unknown question is ballsy or really, really stupid so perhaps it would help in this respect... but as a lecturer once put it, "[academic dishonesty] usually goes hand in hand with stupidity" (the point being doing silly things, rather than being a dunce). And, again, I find myself unsure of how to interpret this point. My inclination is that it wouldn't really help... even if the idea is useful... and what of the problems in not knowing to expect strangeness? You know, the solution that everyone already talks about because it seems to work: keeping the candidates on their toes with question variety.

I think I've lost the plot a bit here... regurgitation is bad, exemplars definitely encourage it, but we have to balance that against the arbitrary nature of exams and hence the need to ground candidates. In this philosophical context, the plagiarism case should be used to raise awareness of this dilemma primarily rather than being a "bad thing happened, you should know about it" story. That's basically what I've tried to say... with a little deliberation on the difficulties in applying the standard means of balancing. Oh, and let us not forget the grade inflation angle... which you can read about here.

*On the other hand, the only standard whose number I remember (91098) had, as the link shows, radically different questions to what we were used to (and unlike subsequent years we had no clue that they'd try to be funny with the questions). In that case, I am pretty sure I ended up answering a conflict question through conflicts. Sadly, they never turned any of the 2012 scripts into exemplars... I was rather hoping that they'd turn mine into one (I was very pleased with my E).

**I'm also a "call a car a car" kinda guy... I don't give two hoots for cars. I will, however, watch Fast and Furious movies... even the early ones when they were still vaguely about cars.

***A point raised in Not Our Problem... a fictional narrative based in NZ's 1990s "healthcare" reforms (another disastrous reminder that there is a reason why small government societies of the "Western past" left certain aspects of society to government).

****This gives me an idea: I should type up my annotations of some History reading and post it here as a blog post.