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Choose your own Americapocalypse

datePosted on 12:16, August 5th, 2009 by Lew

Pretend you’re a USian for a moment, go to Slate and pick up to five things you reckon will bring about the fall of the United States of America.

As for me:

apocalypse

You are a humanitarian internationalist. You’re convinced mankind will terminate America—but at least we won’t off ourselves in the process. You’ll know you’re right when: Everyone on Earth pledges allegiance to a world government; the feds default on the national debt.

The yellow dot is me, the blue dot is the average. Hmm.

(Via bOING bOING.)

L

Contrasting examples of cultural difference

datePosted on 21:34, August 4th, 2009 by Lew

Two very different perceptions of the way cultural difference operates. From Tauhei Notts, commenting on Kiwiblog’s thread about the guilty verdict returned against Taito Phillip Field:

I believe that the jury was not culturally sensitive. Many people in Foreign affairs who dosh out us taxpayers’ funds to Polynesian nations are aware that what Field did was par for the course. Indeed, Field was incredulous at the fact that charges were even laid against him. He could not, and would not, see that what he had done was wrong. This is because what he did had been done for decades by Polynesian leaders. Field is the first one to be found guilty of what most New Zealanders consider to be awful behaviour, but what Polynesian people consider okay. The natives of the South Pacific have always had a different slant on morality and I think it is our job to encourage them to join the 21st century world.

And from Raymond Huo, talking about the case of Danny Cancian, who is in prison for killing a Chinese:

With regard to business, Westerners are generally transaction-orientated. They walk in the door, figure out the deal, sign the contract and get out. Chinese, on the other hand, are relationship orientated. The Chinese concept of friendship, or guanxi, is vital. In a highly centralised state, the use of guanxi is sometimes the only way to get things done.
The core of guanxi is doing business through value-laden relationships. To some extent, guanxi is the counter-part of a commercial legal system. Don’t get me wrong – Asian people do respect contracts. They are ethical. The only difference is that they do business differently. Mostly, obligations come from relationships, not only pieces of paper.

I’ve spent no time in the Pacific islands, but plenty of time living in East Asia, where obligations attach to relationships developed in a more or less organic fashion between individuals, their roles and networks, and the censure of failing to fulfill obligations is rendered by those individuals, roles and networks rather than being imposed by external arbitration. I played the kibun game (I think) very well in Korea for three years, until the very last hurdle – severance pay in our final job. On our second-to-last day in the country, several days after it was due to be paid up, I lost my nerve and called my boss (who’d been good to us and generally trustworthy) and insisted that he pay us immediately. He did. An hour later he cancelled the meal which had been called in our honour for that night (and at which he was planning to present us with the money, all in good time).

Transculturalism is complicated.

L

A definition of “political correctness” in 25 words

datePosted on 14:23, August 4th, 2009 by Anita

for BLiP

Once an in-joke of the Left, stopping us taking ourselves too seriously. Now the cry of the privileged when their right to privilege is challenged.

I voted Yes today

datePosted on 14:16, August 3rd, 2009 by Anita

It is a sunny Wellington spring day; I walked past crocuses and the beginning of daffodils to get my ballot paper, and past trees starting to show their spring growth to post it.

I voted yes because I believe smacking children is wrong.

I voted yes because I want to reaffirm that the Christian right do not speak for me. Many many (many) Christians in New Zealand believe, as I do, that smacking is wrong.

I voted yes because countless people gained the signatures of 300,000 voters to give me the opportunity to say out loud what I believe.

I voted yes because I want to live in a country where children are hugged, held, comforted, and raised to be non-violent adults.

I voted yes because I love.

Some sort of justice

datePosted on 11:57, August 3rd, 2009 by Lew

The Australian and many other sources report that Austereo has suspended 2Day FM hosts Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O and their show indefinitely for their revictimisation of a 14 year-old rape victim on-air last week. Advertisers are boycotting the network and Sandilands’ other contracts are in jeopardy. A firm response.

L

On media bias and distortion

datePosted on 23:58, August 2nd, 2009 by Lew

BK Drinkwater has posted a good response to some of the comments on Bryce Edwards’ synopses of chapters from the book Informing Voters? Politics, Media and the New Zealand Election 2008 (edited by Chris Rudd, Janine Hayward and Geoff Craig of the University of Otago Politics department). In comments to BK’s post, Eric Crampton recommended Groseclose & Milyo‘s paper on the topic. Having not read the book, I’ll constrain my comments to the posts, comments and paper which I have read.

[Apologies, this is a long and dry post on a topic very dear to my heart. I also banged it up in a spare couple of hours while I ought to have been sleeping, and haven’t proofed it, so it may be incoherent. I reserve the right to subedit it without notice. The rest is over the break.]

Read the rest of this entry »

Allowing people a voice

datePosted on 12:29, August 1st, 2009 by Anita

Sam speaks out publicly about the fact that ACC payments for counselling do not cover the full cost of each counselling session and victims of crime like Sam are left to scrape together the difference. What information should Nick Smith be able to release about Sam’s circumstances? Should that include that Sam, who was sexually abused by a female caregiver when he was a child, insists on seeing a male counsellor, and in his small town there is only one appropriately qualified male counsellor and his rates are higher than average?

Chris is on the sickness benefit and speaks out publicly about the fact MSD won’t help with the high transport costs of getting to specialist appointments. What information should Paula Bennett be able to release about Chris? Should that include the fact that since Chris’ last psychotic episode, in which she threatened to stab her nieces and nephew, she has moved out of her sister’s home near the specialist and back to her parents who live in a semi-rural area with no public transport?

Moana, who has a full time job, speaks to the select committee considering leave provisions about the hardship that compulsory christmas closedowns cause non-custodial parents and talks about her employer requiring a three week closedown. What information should Moana’s employer be able to release? Should that include the fact that Moana’s leave situation is atypical in that workplace and is due her taking extended leave earlier in the year to attend a residential alcohol programme and using annual leave to have supervised contact with her children whose father moved them out of town when her violence and drinking became dangerous?

Sam, Chris and Moana should feel safe speaking publicly about those issues of government policy. None are lying, none are misrepresenting their own situation, each is raising a genuine issue of policy. For each the disclosure of their personal circumstances could cause significant shame, damage to relationships and support networks, and provide a huge disincentive to speaking publicly.

Being a democracy is about more than giving everyone a vote, it’s about allowing everyone a voice.

[This post was originally a comment in reply to jcuknz in this thread.]

Strange things are afoot at the circle K

datePosted on 22:55, July 31st, 2009 by Pascals Bookie

“We completely understand the public’s concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission…”
Harry Schoell, CEO, Cyclone Power Technologies Inc.

– The best thing about cheesy 80’s SF on the telly, (and StarWars), was the robots. I was all kinds of disappointed when I saw my first real robot, via the news, and all it did was swing a big ‘arm’ around and did something to help build a car in a Japanese factory.

I suspect now, that the thing I found cool about those SF robots was that they were little metal persons. They clearly had more than just processing power and autonomic reactions. They were self aware, curious, emotional and aware of others. Nothing like robots at all then, appalling SF, and even worse telly. But still, they were pretty cool.

In the early nineties when I was looking at a few theories of mind, Artificial Intelligence was obviously a useful thing to think about. What would it mean to say that a computer, or an integrated system of machines, could think? That would obviously be a mind, wouldn’t it?

Back then I thought the most important issues, if such machines were invented, would be; “What rights, if any, do we give them” and ” Help, they are going to kill us”. Those are still important issues.

– There’s been a bit of talk about what they are calling ‘The Singularity’, defined as the point at which we invent a machine ‘smarter’ than us. The existence of such a machine, would cause a positive feedback loop with the machine(s) being able to further improve both their own descendants, and us, upwards along an increasing spiral of alleged awesome. I’m not at all sure what to think about that.

Most of the talk I’d heard about this was from people mocking the boosters of the idea, many of whom to be fair, do seem a bit strange.

This though, is a little bit different from that. More prosaic, less utopian, more real.

While the computer scientists agreed that we are a long way from Hal, the computer that took over the spaceship in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” they said there was legitimate concern that technological progress would transform the work force by destroying a widening range of jobs, as well as force humans to learn to live with machines that increasingly copy human behaviors.
The researchers — leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and roboticists who met at the Asilomar Conference Grounds on Monterey Bay in California — generally discounted the possibility of highly centralized superintelligences and the idea that intelligence might spring spontaneously from the Internet. But they agreed that robots that can kill autonomously are either already here or will be soon.

They focused particular attention on the specter that criminals could exploit artificial intelligence systems as soon as they were developed. What could a criminal do with a speech synthesis system that could masquerade as a human being? What happens if artificial intelligence technology is used to mine personal information from smart phones?

A bunch of scientists have had a meeting discussing AI issues, they’ll be releasing the report “this year”. Should be interesting. The NYT report itself is kind of strange. It seems to be offering a warning, but the meeting also seemed to be about letting people know that there is nothing to be alarmed about. (So look over there and don’t worry your good selfs. It’s all under control.)

Aside from the criminals and terrorists, I’m more than a bit concerned about what governments and corporations will find do-able, working together even.

I’m not stocking up on tin foil just yet, but some of this stuff needs to start getting regulated I think. Or at least talked about. That which isn’t already classified of course.

Normalising diversity

datePosted on 00:23, July 31st, 2009 by Lew

May I echo the inimitable Queen of Thorns, and say how great it is that Māori Language Week is being so well observed. Labour MPs on Red Alert are posting in te reo; Nickelodeon has done Spongebob Squarepants in Māori; Lockwood Smith is reading the Parliamentary prayer in Māori and Te Ururoa Flavell on Tuesday raised a point of order during Question Time (in Māori, no less!) to insist that the Minister of Transport pronounce “Kamo” as “Kamo” rather then “Carmow”. Even David Farrar has a post in Māori, and on that count he beats me at least. Well done.

Such usage is the thin edge of a wedge of linguistic diversity becoming normalised in Aotearoa. The wedge was first driven long ago, but one of the more memorable blows was struck by the venerable Naida Glavish who (working as a tolls operator) got in trouble for answering the phone ‘kia ora’ and generated great and unexpected support. When returning sick and exhausted, with no money and a broken shoulder from a long and abortive road trip across Asia (more on which another time), I could have hugged the (Pākehā) Air NZ cabin steward who greeted me with ‘Kia ora, bro, welcome home’. The NZ Herald has redesigned their masthead in Māori (though I can’t find a copy of it on the website just now). Māori introductions on National Radio and other media are commonplace these days and everyone knows what they mean. I recall the Māori Language Week last year, or the year before, when they were formally instituted and then – the horror! – their usage continued after the end of the week. There was apparently a bit of a backlash against it, and Geoff Robinson read some messages calling for a return to English-only introductions. Robinson, bless his English heart, had one word for the complainers: “tough”.

And that’s all they deserve. My high school German teacher had a banner above her blackboard which read “Monolingualism can be cured”, and it can be. Other languages must be used to be known, and normalisation is the first part of usage. Raymond Huo, also on Red Alert, is posting in Zhōng Wén; it is wonderful.

It goes beyond language, as well. Cultures, norms and ways of doing, approaches and modes of understanding are not monopolised by English-speaking WASP culture. I wrote earlier this year about a book by John Newton about James K Baxter and the Jerusalem commune – it is called “The Double Rainbow” and has been published. The title is Baxter’s, and Newton explains it in the introduction:

The double rainbow is Baxter’s symbol for a mutually regenerative bicultural relationship. He recognised that the Pākehā majority ignored Māori culture, not just to the cost of Māori – though few Pākehā have seen this more clearly or objected more trenchantly – but also to its own detriment. Pākehā, he wrote in 1969, a few months before he first moved to Jerusalem, ‘have lived alongside a psychologically rich and varied minority culture for a hundred years and have taken nothing from it but a few place names and a great deal of plunder.’

Diversity is both a means and an end. It is a means by which people may understand one another and live in harmony and all such wishy-washiness; but more importantly, it is an end in itself because two heads are better than one, every culture has its own irrationalities and blind spots and deleterious foibles. Humankind has achieved its primacy as a species through the constant adaptation of cultural and biological systems which spread risk rather than concentrating it. Monocultures are vulnerable; they may be unified and may even be strong against certain threats, but against uncertainty, or against threats or challenges of an unknown or unpredictable nature, homogeneity a weakness rather than a strength. Diversity is resilience. If you won’t believe me, take it from Robert A Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Who wants a society of insects?

L

Ok, rape, anything else?

datePosted on 21:43, July 29th, 2009 by Lew

From the Department of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, this story from Australia:

Austereo’s Kyle and Jackie O Show sparked the controversy this morning when the 14-year-old girl revealed on air that she had been raped.
The girl’s mother submitted the teen to the test due to her concerns about her daughter’s experiences with drugs and sex and wagging school. Before the actual test, the girl admitted on air to Sandilands, “I’m scared … its not fair.”
Her mother asked her daughter: “Have you ever had sex?” The 14-year-old replied: “I’ve already told you the story about this … and don’t look at me and smile because its not funny.”
After a pause, she raised her voice with frustration and said: “Oh okay, I got raped when I was 12 years old.”
After a long pause, Sandilands then asked “Right … is that the only experience you’ve had?” before the mother admitted she knew of the rape “a couple of months ago”.
Her daughter yelled, “Yet you still asked me the question!

There really are no words.

L

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