Wednesday, 24 July 2013

In honour of Anthony Weiner, I'm changing my name to Osvaldo Furtive

Whoops, he did it again! In case you haven't already heard, former New York congressman Anthony Weiner's much vaunted political comeback attempt has taken a turn for the, well, not that unexpected. Yesterday word got out that the New York City mayoral candidate has once again been engaging in lewd behaviour on the Internet, including sexually explicit messages and X-rated photos sent to various women.
Among the more amusing allegations by the gossip magazine The Dirty (which broke the story) is that Weiner used a Yahoo account with the sexting pseudonym “Carlos Danger” to email photos of his penis. While Weiner has yet to confirm or deny this particular allegation, the ever-cheeky folks at Slate have wasted no time in creating a "Carlos Danger Name Generator" in honour of NYC's naughtiest politico.
Looking for an appropriately pervy name for illicit online conversations and perhaps a bit of digital exhibitionism? Look no further!
Try it out; it's lots of fun. And in the meantime, from this day forth I will only answer to the name 'Osvaldo Furtive' - both at work and at play.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Korea's Air Safety Saga Revisited

About a year ago I wrote a post about communication culture and air safety within the context of Korean Air's attempt to improve its formerly woeful safety record. I had more or less forgotten about the post until last weekend, when its hits shot through the roof following the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco on Saturday. One reader responded with the following comment:
"Whew, this article helped calm my nerves immensely as my 14 year old gets ready to fly out on Korean Air after today's crash in San Francisco with Asiana. Thanks!"

As of today, the investigation into the crash of the Asiana 214 on landing at San Francisco International Airport, which killed two passengers and injured 182, is ongoing and the cause of the disaster has yet to be identified. What is known is that for whatever reason the Boeing 777's descent into SFO was too low and too slow and that the plane struck the sea wall at the end of the runway before losing the tail section of the plane and spinning out of control on the runway.

Thus far the most disturbing finding has been that of the two Chinese adolescents who died in the disaster, one was actually struck by an airport firetruck rushing to the scene, although it is not yet known if she was alive at the time. Other reporters have questioned why there was an apparent delay in the evacuation of the plane following the crash. The latest findings suggest there were no mechanical problems with the plane, putting the putting the focus of the safety probe squarely on the two pilots, of whom one was landing the 777 for the first time at SFO and the other was a relatively inexperienced training captain.

While it's still to early to say for sure, for the time being it appears likely that pilot error of one sort or another is the primary cause of the crash. Not surprisingly, the advent of the Asiana 214 disaster led some commentators familiar with South Korea's checkered air safety history to wonder aloud if this latest disaster represents a re-emergence of an old problem of fatal cockpit communication breakdowns rooted in an authoritarian aviation culture. As I outlined in my August 2012 post about Korean Air, it was the deadly crash of Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509 outside London that precipitated vast, sweeping changes to the airline's training practices.

Since the advent of Korean Air's human resource management reforms, South Korea's flagship airline has enjoyed a virtually spotless safety record - and a vastly improved reputation. Meanwhile, its main rival and the country's second-largest carrier Asiana (which also had its safety rating briefly downgraded by the FAA in 1999 together with KAL) has also enjoyed a growing reputation for both customer service and safety over the same period. Between 1999 and 2013, Asiana has experienced only two serious incidents - a near-miss over Los Angeles due to an ATC error and a crash of a cargo 747 off Jeju Island resultant from a cargo fire - neither of which were the result of pilot error.

While NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman has stated that she intends to look into communication between the pilot and co-pilot during the flight, thus far there appears to be no evidence that the crash of Asiana 214 was the result of poor cockpit communication. A Washington Post article suggests the two men were indeed communicating effectively and had decided to abort the landing within seconds of the warning bells sounding. Meanwhile, the US media's quickness to question whether Korea's traditionally hierarchical culture was to blame for the crash drew ire from many Koreans. One unidentified airline pilot was quoted in South Korea's Chosun Ilbo daily as follows:

"It's true that captains acted in an authoritarian way in the cockpit in the past, but that's almost nonexistent now. It's unimaginable for a captain to ignore the first officer in an emergency."

Regardless of how the Asiana 214 inquiry turns out, it appears that South Korea's much-vaunted air safety culture reforms of the late-nineties have indeed proven to be the "real deal" and that bad communication was not the killer in the case of Flight 214 to San Francisco. And while it may well turn out that Captain Lee Kang-kook and First Officer Lee Jeong-min (who was flying the plane at the time) made mistakes that caused one of the worst passenger air disaster in recent memory, it would appear that there was nothing intrisically Korean (or Asian) about their errors.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Social Media and Profanity - Does anyone give a f*ck anymore?

Warning: This post contains language that some readers may find offensive. Reader discretion is advised.
I've been meaning to write a post about social media and profanity for quite some time? Why has it taken me this long? To be honest, it's taken me a while to figure out what my views on the topic actually are. Even as I type here I'm not quite sure, but hopefully by the end I will have it figured out.

When it comes to dropping f-bombs and uttering other expletives online, I'm of two very different minds. On the one hand I'm very much a product of my generation in my views on freedom of speech. As a nineties kid who came of age on a diet of expletive-laden grunge rock, punk poets like Henry Rollins and potty-mouthed shock-masters like Marilyn Manson, Trent Reznor and Ministry's Al Jourgensen, swearing is in my DNA and I still find myself swerving into sailor talk when I'm either angry or past the three-pint mark at the pub. I can't help it. Nor do I particularly want to. It's in my bones, and when interjected at the right time, a well-placed "fuck" or even a "What the fucking fuck?" does wonders for getting a point across.

On the other hand, I still contend that there's a place for f-bombs and a place for cleaner, classier language and I tend to think that the 21st century commons that is social media is the latter. But even as I type these words I can easily recount expletive-laden Facebook posts with my name next to them. That said, I've always been discriminating in my use of profanity online. I will occasionally drop a four-letter word on Facebook, but I have never once done so on Twitter, and suffice it to say never on LinkedIn. For me it's a matter of business versus private life, and as Twitter very much overlaps the two worlds, I err on the side of business.

But what about this blog? Those of you inclined to comb through my back posts for colourful language (i.e. those with a lot more time on their hands than I have) will find the odd one here and there, but they're certainly the exception rather than the rule. But I don't eschew this vocabulary completely, and unlike in the title of this post, I don't asterisk it. If you're going to use the word "fuck" in a post, there's no point in pretending you're not using it. Moreover, the word "shit" has become so mainstream anymore that using an asterisk in the place of the 'i' just looks silly. Most other profanity I could use in this blog is either directly pertinent to sex (which isn't really the focus of this blog), or misogynistic (which I hope never to be), or within the context of a quote, which should be self-evident - and therefore totally inocuous.
Like an animal? Really, Trent? Ahhh... the nineties!
Then there's the issue of abbreviated profanity. While it's safe to say that most of us would refrain from responding to an amusing cat video posted on Facebook with "I laughed my fucking ass off watching that!" but wouldn't think twice about tapping out the abbreviation LMFAO, which means exactly the same thing. Likewise, most of us avoid telling people to "Shut the fuck up" in any sort of public domain, but still wield the STFU abbreviation with reckless abandon. And while I find myself employing an at-the-ready arsenal of WTFs and LMFAOs on Facebook, part of me can't help but feel that this drains the colour from our more colourful epithets. Would the likes of George Carlin or Margaret Cho stoop so low as to reduce their colourful language to cute little abbreviations? I cheapens it for the real artists, IMHO.

In a recent article in the Huffington Post, columnist Ann Brenoff laments the mainstreaming of the f-word. As she eloquently puts it, "Saying "fuck" used to be like eating caviar -- a rare experience indulged in so infrequently that the occasion itself became memorable. Instead, "fuck" has become just another word, as in "Can you please change the fucking lightbulb?"" I couldn't agree more. I like my profanity, but I also like it to have an impact, and if you're wielding it all the fucking time, these wonderful words lose any sting they ever had. Furthermore, I would like to see an overall reduction in the faux-fanity represented by the aforementioned popular SM abbreviations. If you're going to swear, just swear. If not, you have access to a rich and wonderful language full of great words that can get the point across just as well as an WTF.

As for whether or not to use expletives in a public forum like a blog, it's entirely a matter of personal taste. It's about knowing yourself and your own comfort zone, with the knowledge that whatever you put out there becomes part of your brand persona. As Randy Brososky, Edmonton-based marketing a communications guru and founder of the Group of Rogues put it when I asked him, "If you want the world to know you're willing to swear in totally mixed company, then it can definitely work, but it will become a very noticeable, indelible part of your personal brand. Make the choice and be okay with it, 'cus it sticks. If you're not okay with that, or people you are aiming to connect with won't be okay with it, then steer the *%#¥ clear."

We live in a complicated era, where boundaries between business and personal lives have become more blurred than ever, and where any and all content we create and commit to the public sphere contributes to shaping our personal brands. This means we need to draw our own lines. For me that line exists somewhere between Facebook and Twitter, with my airport and freelance work (i.e. anything I get paid to do) unquestionably on the 'business' side, and Brush Talk straddling somewhere in between. This is where I get to test the water, give the gods of communication a little jostle, and drop the occasional f-bomb - but only occasionally enough for it to retain its sting. That aside, I prefer to stick to classy language.

Where is your line in the sand vis-à-vis profanity and social media? I'd love to hear your thoughts.