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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.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Intellectual Honesty

In the past week I have been embroiled in or an observer of several different and rather heated internet conversations on internet forums. I use the term conversation because I contend that discussion or argument implies certain standards that are invariably not met. I'm sure that anyone reading this would be familiar with these kinds of exchanges, but if you're only familiar with the trope let me stop you right there. These are reasonably civil conversations in that they don't involve threats, gratuitous disregard for conventional English and occur in that kind of forum that still believes in the internet as a democratising force (cf a hot bed of memes and random viral crap hosted by "social media" giants). As it happens, these are the kinds of heated conversations where the participants believe the phrase "intellectual honesty" to have meaning/power.

The thing is, intellectual honesty is something of a problematic term. After all, I think pretty much everyone knows what they mean by "honesty" but will struggle to articulate it. I skip the problematic middle man and say, "Well, I think of it as telling the truth and not deceiving people" but then jump to the dictionary anyway to compare. (Or clearly, I don't.) But how does intellectual change this (4:16pm quote)? Is it now about avoiding deception in intellectual pursuits (whatever they are)? Is it about not lying to oneself? Is it really just as simply as "the pursuit of truth for the truth's sake" and hence pretty much "lacks conflicts of interest"? Actually, no, I don't think it is.

From a practical point of view, intellectual honesty is simply a rhetorical concept that you invoke in order to dismiss the validity of your opponent's conduct, whether or not it is true. (There are echoes of this here.) In this way it's an idea analogous to pseudo-intellectual... which is a pseudo-intellectual term. Yet, that it is used this way means that people understand something else by the term... which is the "real" meaning. In this way it is like SJW... it doesn't matter if there aren't any actual SJW's following a given definition of "SJW", as long as the definition one comes up with corresponds with the meanings that people who are using the acronym are trying to invoke. And the truth is, intellectual honesty is about completeness.

Basically, an argument can be considered intellectually honest if it is complete. This means, it is aware of its burdens, explicit in its meanings, formulated in context, considerate of its strengths (and therefore its weaknesses) and what it superficially appears to be. That means, that an intellectually honest argument is not deceptive in its expression or its construction and is viewed as a product of its author (i.e. is owned). It might be useful to use a checklist to see if an argument is whole:

  • statements are owned, i.e. one holds onself accountable for what one does
  • one does not obscure intellectual forebears, springboards and punching bags, i.e. ideological ancestry, what one is riffing off and what one is attacking/talking about is made clear
  • when one attributes opinions to others, one offers evidence
  • when one claims that statements have implications, substantive justifications are made
  • one respects the specific context of the conversation and the wider context it exists in
  • the bounds of one's claims are consistent and signposted, i.e. digressions, special cases and the like are made clear and differentiated from earlier points
  • statements are aware of their own burdens, i.e. what needs to be true for the statement to be true
  • one engages with responses as they are, e.g. no strawmen

This is a difficult task to achieve and rather scary when you look at it. But this doesn't actually say anything about being right, as such. Rather, if you are accountable, then you are approximating entirety because if someone comes along and says, "Actually you haven't considered..." or "Well, that point there isn't true..." then these sorts of responses are honestly appraised. That is, they're weighed against TRUTH, rather than any kind of attachment to one's earlier positions. Ownership and concern for the "owned material" means that adjustments are made, even if that means recanting. There is very much a suggestion of the dispassionate scholar here or the consummate professional (the doctor who saves the life of their mother's murderer or the rape victim collaborating with their rapist to build a house... note that these are unrealistic and unfair examples: dispassion is not a human condition, but that does not mean that it is worthless).

I'm not sure where I am going with this, I should mention one of the links I read talked about authenticity which I think matters, and I know that breaking up responses to posts or studies or whatever makes honesty more difficulty (seeing as it has problematic consequences for context) and one-liners are necessarily dishonest (they are incapable of doing all of the above) but no matter how long I make this sentence, I don't think I am going to get anywhere. So, um, basically I think I felt motivated to try my hand at defining a concept related to my earlier post Responsibility, Beliefs and Discussion. How to incorporate my scepticism of the notion that you cant't argue for view you disagree with honestly or talk about how I really shouldn't have quoted things I haven't read all of in this post remains unclear. I also don't have the will to engage with these afterthoughts properly. Perhaps it is honest to note that I have thought of such concerns and that I have not attended to them here?

Friday, 2 June 2017

Covfefe is Wumbo

I'm interested in words. Not in a linguistic or etymological sense, not really, because I lack the knowledge. More a "I'll go on a Wikipedia binge and complain about IPA" sense.

The meaning of words is generally more interesting. It's not just what a word, such as wumbo, means but also why use that particular word. One of the things about English is that one generally has multiple ways of expressing the same thing. Or, at least, essentially the same thing.

To take a concrete example, why might we refer to a methodological approach to history as being longue durée? After all, we could just say we're interested in the whole duration, the slow change or, simply, the long term. If all these different expressions mean the same thing, the meaning of the words (as found in a dictionary) cannot be the reason for the selection.

While I don't know for sure, I rather suspect using the terminology of the original, French, advocates is simply a useful means of establishing credibility. It's pretty much the same idea as sticking a heroin-addled witness in a suit: their underlying reliability doesn't change based on their clothing choices, but the appropriate sartorial style means the jury is more open minded. In academic circles, being original is a great thing (see: Evans on Goldhagen) but standing on the shoulders of giants is also awesome.

More generally, we have to think about the abundance of gratuitous French phrases in the academy. A lot of the time these words are justified on the basis that there is no direct translation. I have to take them at face value because I don't speak French. On the other hand, everyone knows that French does not distinguish between a house and a home. Makes you wonder, right?

Of course, being a NZer, I don't like France much. I am much happier to believe that we should carry on talking about gens or Volk or Sonderweg than I am when it comes to these French phrases I can't actually recall. It also may matter that I started thinking about this in the context of post-modernist histories.

Post-modernism in history might be essentialised as "History is impossible, but imma write a book anyway". Needless to say, it's a bit weird. The theoretical groundings I have encountered were also poorly written and very dense. Yet, apart from the gaps these explanations left behind, I feel the biggest issue is that I agree with many of their premises, but think they suggest quite different conclusions. Which brings us to covfefe.

The one thing that people agree on about cov-feh-feh is that it's not an actual word. Most people have described it as a typo rather than an alternative to "hakuna matata" or "don't worry" or "persevere" or, indeed, wumbo. But is it?

Now, I have to say that I am partial to funny typos. That is, I might type something and accidentally manage to create some kind of gem. That I can't think of any examples right now is exactly the point. And maybe if I was the US president and I was typing out a tweet and saw that I'd written covfefe I'd take the opportunity for some spirited trolling (in its original sense). Maybe. It is pretty funny. It may even be damn well hilarious. But I don't think the Orange-in-Chief shares my sense of humour (see: that's funny... I'm orange too).

The other immediate thing to note is that being the US president is a bit like being a heroin addicted witness: presentation and bearing matter and are fundamental to standard operation (hopefully they're not alike). Basically, this means that random crap like covfefe is rather a no-go. Except covfefe was up for hours.

When you consider how Trump has been running his operation, he's basically been compared to two people. The first is Nixon. That's both in terms of the Mad Man theory (I'm sympathetic*) and stuff like Comey. The second person is Candidate Trump, i.e. the persona he used in public during the US presidential campaign cycle. There are two major constants here: image and Twitter (the Mad Man theory is all about image).

Looking at the tweet itself, it's commonly understood as an attempt to start a rant about negative press. From this, I infer image. But if you then stick covfefe on the end of it... or even accidentally type it and decide to keep it around... you actually change the press narrative. Rather than talking about, I suppose, the Paris Climate spat, the press will focus on the nice clickbait "laugh at Trump" angle.

This isn't a new tactic, by the way. This is yet another sign that Trump is really just a morally dubious (personally I say immoral) version of the moral chameleon otherwise Teflon John known as John Key. Goofiness was a major part of Key's playbook, and no matter how much ridicule crap like the three-way handshake brings, it's ultimately just hot air, everyone knows it. But what people don't recognise is that it crowds out, for example,  discussion about the absence of progress on productivity improvements.**

It has to be said, we're talking about a very cynical or even conspirational interpretation of covfefe. But is it so unbelievable? Is it utterly nuts, really? Well, I have the answer:

De do do do de da da da
Is all I want to say to yo
Okay. Not me. But Still.


*My understanding is such: behave unpredictability and you'll force a conservative approach to interacting with you, this is more advantageous (big risks come with big rewards... and they're not taking even small risks). This makes sense, if actually really well modelled as a mad man.

**This may have hurt John Key's shot at an actual historical legacy. As clear thinkers have always said, the housing problem is  not about foreigners. Key told us this. But why would we believe old Smile and Wave John?