To expand on the issue of prostitution from the previous post:
There are strong reactionary forces working against prostitution, and with it both the individual’s right to make his or her own choices and a natural and de-mystified view of sex. To make matters worse, these forces often have a strong misogynist streak in that women are considered incapable of making sexual and life-style choices the way men do. In addition to countries like the USA with its long-standing outdated take on the issues, some countries that once were more enlightened are getting lost. Sweden, in the clutches of gender-feminism and feminist populism has already banned prostitution (however, irrationally and absurdly, only for the customers). The French are currently considering a ban modeled on the Swedish. Germany might be next: Shortly before the current proposal Alice Schwarzer (the hands-down best known feminist in Germany, rather extreme in her opinions) and her magazine “Emma” made head-lines with their call for a ban.
Looking more in detail at the proposal, it seems fairly innocuous and may well be well-intended; however, as already stated, it could easily be the first step for a ban. Practical problems include that the customers are put in an unduly problematic situation and that the effectivity is disputable with regard to the claimed goal of reducing involuntary prostitution. (Certainly, a better solution would be to increase transparency by changing perceptions around prostitution and making it more like an ordinary occupation in terms of what goes on around it.) Two quotes from a German articlee:
“Es gibt eine Reihe von Indizien, die für Zwangsprostitution sprechen”, sagt Anna Hellmann von der Frauenrechtsorganisation “Terre des Femmes”. Klare Merkmale seien Minderjährigkeit, Anzeichen von Gewalt oder der Aufenthalt der Frauen in verschlossenen Räumen. “Auch die Bitte der Frau, das Handy des Freiers nutzen zu dürfen, ist ein alarmierendes Zeichen dafür, dass sie in erzwungener Isolation lebt.”
(“There are a number of indications for forced prostitution”, says Anna Hellman of the women’s rights organization “Terre des Femmes”. Clear characteristics are under-age[iness], signs of violence or the women’s staying in closed off premises [depending on intent, possibly “rooms”]. “The request of the woman to use the cell phone of the customer is an alarming sign of her living in forced isolation”)
(I note that the proportion of male prostitutes is comparatively high, contrary to the impression given by the quote and common anti-prostitution propaganda. Further, that female customers certainly do occur, even if more rarely. Strictly for simplicity, I match the quote in terms of pronouns below.)
Now, if these are criteria that would make a customer (at least negligibly) liable, a number of problems arise: How does he now that the woman is under-age? There is a great variety in looks of women of various ages and she is highly unlikely to answer even a direct question honestly. (As a case in point, I recently watched the German sit-com “Türkisch für Anfänger”. I originally thought that the main female protagonist was around 13. She turned out to be 16—and played by an actress aged 19…) Detecting that premisses are closed off need not be trivial and there can be other quite plausible explanations, including the natural characteristics of the building or measures for the protection of the women. A request to use a cell-phone is also at best a vague indication (absolutely not “alarming”), e.g. because her own cell-phone batteries could legitimately have run out. This not to mention the fact that there are ways to enforce compliance in non-obvious manners, e.g. by threatening violence, keeping passports hostage, or giving women with a poor knowledge of German and Germany faulty information about legal consequences—and the proposed law would be entirely useless in these cases.
When push comes to shove, the customer is stepping on a mine-field where he cannot have certainty and may make himself criminally liable even when acting entirely in good faith.
Grünen-Fraktionsvize Ekin Deligöz bezeichnete die angestrebten Reformen als unzureichend: “Der Opferschutz fehlt völlig”, sagte sie den “Ruhr Nachrichten”. Wenn man den Zwangsprostituierten wirklich helfen wollte, müsse man ihnen “die Möglichkeit eines Neustarts in Deutschland geben, mit Aufenthaltsrecht und Arbeitserlaubnis”.
([The Green Party’s second-in-command in parliament] Ekin Deligöz called the targetted reforms unsufficent: “There is a complete absense of victim protection”, she told [regional German paper]. To really help those forced to prostitution, it is necessary to give them “the possibility to start over in Germany, with visum [approx.] and working permit”.
Combined with other claims/quotes in the article, I am left with the impression that many already see the proposed reform as swing-and-a-miss in terms of actually bettering the situation of the prostitutes—as do I.
In addition, it pays to bear in mind that increasing what is considered criminal in cases like these often have the effect of increasing the influence of criminals on the business and making transactions take place in greater secrecy—but not actually reducing business to a considerable extent. Many fear that this happened with Sweden and prostitution after the ban; it was definitely the case with the U.S. prohibition.
To somewhat counter-act this nonsense, I am changing my blogroll by adding a link to http://sexwork-deutschland.de/?page_id=85e—a call for a more constructive take on prostitution from a German interest organisation for sex workers. Specific points include a rejection of legal bans/increased government intervention and promotion of the status of prostitutes.
We are now more than two months past the election—and I have some serious doubts whether I was wise in endorsing Merkel’s victory.
For starters, the victory part can in it self be disputed. As I did warn, the failure of FDP left the Bundestag with a more-or-less hostile majority. Differences between various Left-leaning parties has still left Merkel and CDU/CSU as the main force; however, they need an alliance with the Social-Democrats (SPD), negotiations have taken forever, and the price to pay has been very heavy indeed: The Social-Democrats have a disproportionate number of cabinet seats allotted to them and they have pushed through a number of issues that are are worrying. The most notable example is an unduly high minimum wage at 8.50 Euro/hour, which could severely worsen the market for the barely employable. A far worse suggestion was under discussion, but appears to be off the table for the moment: The introduction of quotas for female board members, with a minimum of 30 or even 40 % being women—outdated, sexist, and unjust. (As usual there was no talk of a minimum quota for each respective sex—just one for women.)
CDU/CSU themselves were less than exemplary during the campaigning, making hefty promises. These promises are now combined with those of the SPD and the resulting joint proposals are quite expensive—but little has been said about the financing. As is, there will sooner or later (probably sooner…) be a hole that needs to be stopped. Based on my impressions from the negotiations, the stopping will likely eventually be done through tax increases.
Furthermore, there have been a number of areas in recent times where CDU/CSU have acted unfortunately or potentially dangerously. Most of these point to the important role the failing FDP could have played to keep a liberal rain on Merkel (not to mention keeping SPD away from power and thereby avoiding the above problems). Examples include:
A far to complacent reaction to scandals around surveillance of citizens and politicians (not limited to the NSA).
There are suggestions to reinstate the Telecommunications data retentionw, which on a previous attempt was struck down by the Federal Constitutional Court—the more absurd in light of the recent surveillance controversies.
A wish to make customers of prostitutes criminally liable when they visit prostitutes who work on a non-voluntary basis. Superficially, this may seem like a move to counter-act “trading”; practically, it is an entry point for a renewed ban on prostitution and puts the customers in a very unfortunate position. (I will expand on this in the following post.)
Simultaneously, although likely not tied to CDU/CSU, there are renewed attempts to ban NPD, a minor party considered neo-nazi and “hostile to the constitution” (“verfassungsfeindlich”—a legal German term allowing the banning of organizations). This may not seem bad on paper; however, it violates the principles of democracy in the name of democracy, highlights the limits of freedom of speech and expression in Germany, and shows a great hypocrisy: The East-German Communist party has a descendant in “Die Linke”, which is actually represented in parliament. (The originally party, SED, was restructured and renamed to PDS after the fall of East-Germany. PDS was represented in parliament until just a few years ago, when they merged with another Left-extremist/-populist grouping to form “Die Linke”, which is still represented. There is even some remaining overlap with SED in terms of the actual people involved—admittedly minor by now, but then more than twenty years have passed.) In contrast, NPD has no direct ties to NSDAP (“the Nazi party”), but are accused of having similar opinions. The one is the continuation of a criminal organization and thrives in parliament—the other has similar opinions to a criminal organization and risks being banned.
For good reasons, yet another post on censorship:
Firstly, I recently encountered one of the funniest jokes I have ever seen (courtesy of the German poet Heinrich Heine):
The German Censors —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— idiots —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— ——
While at the first glance not being remarkable (funny and clever, yes; remarkable, no), this joke continued to grow the more I thought about, another aspect revealing it self before I had finished laughing about the previous aspect—keeping me going for five to ten minutes.
For those who do not see the deeper jokes (or have finished laughing), consider e.g. how the remaining message (whether deliberate or accidental) is simultaneously revealed and proved by the act of censorship, how it can be possible to circumvent some types of censorship through a form of stenography relying on the uncensored parts of a message containing the right information, or how the censors blot out almost an entire message yet fail to suppress unwanted communication.
An interesting question is how a censor should handle a situation like this (given that he does censor at all, which I consider unethical): The author of the original message (presumably) never says that the German censors are idiots, which implies that the censor is unlikely to have a legitimate reason to censor the remaining words—after all, the configuration is accidental, the words are disconnected and obviously do not belong together, and there is nothing worthy of censoring in each of the fragments alone. (Assuming that there is no suspicion of a deliberate trick on behalf of the original author and assuming that there are no specific rules against e.g. messages discussing censorship or using potentially insulting terms.) On the other hand, the result is disastrous (from a censoring point of view) and the censors might become a laughing stock, should a wider publication follow.
Secondly, I have recently been reading Salman Rushdie’s auto-biographical “Joseph Anton”. (Half of it to be specific: I have too much to do at the moment, but hope to be able to finish the rest during the week-end.) My advice to anyone who considers censorship justified, be it with regard to literature, news reporting, or the comments on a blog: Read this book! Chances are that you will change your mind. If nothing else, please take away the realisation that your opinion on what is justifiable censorship (resp. what is to be censored because it is sacrilege, an affront to the good sense, obviously wrong, sexist, …) is just your opinion—and that thousands upon thousands of people have been even more convinced that censoring this book would be a far lesser crime than writing it. Indeed, some have been so convinced that people have been killed over the issue of its publication and distribution. How little worth, then, is there in your conviction.
A specific interesting point is Rushdie’s actions and reasoning around the film “International Gorillay”: He explicitly addressed the British Board of Film Classification to change their minds and let (!) the film receive its certification, despite the story consisting of the hunt for and execution of a caricature of Rushdie. The film got more than its fair chance—and it failed disastrously and well-deservedly.
Here we see another possible take on censorship: Either a work has a value and we should not censor; or it does not and we might be better of letting it fail on its own (lack of) merit.
Soccer is normally a sport I find boring and tend not to follow. However, the ongoing U17 World Cup has caught my attention through the rarity that my native Sweden has done exceedingly well—the bronze medal here is arguably the best a Swedish team has managed since 1994. (When they won a bronze in the, obviously far more prestigious, “adult” World Cup.)
Now, this would not be of any major interest to most non-Swedes—but the almost absurd circumstances could be:
The tournament was divided into two stages: First, a group stage where twenty-four teams divided into six groups tried to qualify for the next stage. Second, a knock-out stage between the twelve teams who placed first or second in their respective groups supplemented by the four best third-placers.
Sweden did poorly in the group stage, scoring one victory, one draw, and one loss—and qualified as one of the best third-placers.
In the knock-out stage, they met Japan in the round of sixteen—a team coming of a flawless 3–0 record in the group stage. To everyone’s surprise, Sweden won 2–1.
This was followed by a quarter-final where Honduras was beaten 2–1. (While Honduras’ record was no more impressive than the Swedish, they had at least been second in their group, trailing only Brazil.)
Combined with the success of the other two teams (Mexico, Nigeria) from Sweden’s group, this led to the very weird situation that all three teams stood in the semi-final—three out of four, while the other five groups between them had one team left (Argentina, an undefeated group winner).
After a 3–0 semi-final loss against Nigeria (following a group-stage 3–3 draw), the Swedes went on to take their clearest victory of the tournament against Argentina (4–1)—ensuring that all three medals landed in the same group, eventually in the exact order of the group placings. I cannot recall seeing something like this ever happening (although it bound to have over the many championships in various sports). The most I have seen is two teams from the same group going in the medals on a few occasions. (Which in a weird coincidence was the case in 1994, where Brazil and Sweden finished first and second in the same group and went on to win Gold and Bronze respectively—Sweden’s only loss in the tournament being against Brazil. Other parallels include the easy, 4–0 instead of 4–1, Bronze-match victory, and that the respective tournament winner only ever failed to win one match—drawing against Sweden in the group stage.)
When reading blogs, I usually chose to comment only when I find problems in the text read. (But not on every occasion I find problems.) Typical triggers include logical errors, a lack of ad rem argumentation, unfair characterizations of others opinions, and similar. Even just undue one-sidedness can be enough, depending on the details and my own current energy level.
As a consequence, I often find myself countering texts attacking X, even when I have no strong feelings concerning X or am even negative towards X. Indeed, I often find myself responding in an issue where I cannot judge the underlying pros-and-cons, positions, whatnot, but can clearly see that the attack is faulty on grounds not intrinsically dependent on the issue. (By analogy, I do not need to be a physician to be suspicious of a sore throat treatment that consists of amputating the foot of the patient’s spouse.)
This comes with the considerable danger of incorrectly being considered the supporter of X, especially when dealing with people who have low standards of intellectual honesty and exactness, and who do not value a fair and free debate highly—if the end justifies the means, anyone opposing even the means must oppose the end…
A good example is the last Swedish elections and the conflicts around SD, where I repeatedly protested against misrepresentations of their opinions, attempts to prevent their participation in the election campaigns by egg throwing, and similar—without being one of their supporters. (Cf. several earlier discussions, most notably Unfair treatment of Sverigedemokraterna. Almost invariably, however, I was immediately accused not only of being a supporter, but often even taken to be active in the party.
Other occasions include my speaking up in defense of the Pope or the Catholic Church in the light of distortions of opinions or facts, e.g. claims that Benedikt XVI/Joseph Ratzinger had been a Nazi. However, I still consider religion to be misguided at best—dangerous and fraudulent at worst.
In much, it is not just a matter of having the right or wrong opinion, but of having the right opinion for a valid reason—a critical failure in many.
This leads me to the first of two purposes with this post:
The unambiguous statement that my objections to a particular text do not automatically imply that I “side” with the opposing position. Indeed, there are even cases where I am in support of the high-level, principle position of the text, even while rejecting the text (or parts of it) per se.
That I do side with the opposition in many cases (notably, where feminism, astrology, creationism, … are concerned) has a simple explanation: The proponents tend to have extremely weak arguments not just in the one text currently under discussion, but in any and all texts I have encountered. Meanwhile, the opposition fares far better, using sound and factual arguments, scientific investigations, models and explanations more compatible with Occam’s Razor, and so on.
Here we land at the second purpose:
A brief pointer to the risk of unconsciously accepting too much of the opposition or of not examining their arguments or behaviours with the same critical eye through an implicit believe that those opposing the bad guys are automatically the good guys. (Respectively, the same principle concerning those one considers the good guys or the own team.)
I am aware of this risk and hope that I counter it appropriately, but even so I occasionally see myself fault, e.g. in that my unconscious opinion of Ratzinger improved the more unfair attacks I saw—without any additional positive information having surfaced in the mean time. (A risk those who like to vilify their opponents might want to stop and consider.)
At least some others appear to commit it to a far higher degree. For instance, I have often noted that political parties, at least in the Sweden of my youth, tended to oppose each other even on questions where there were no obvious ideological or pragmatic reasons for a difference. This extended to Leftist politicians and supporters rejecting suggestions from the Center–Right parties in a manner that I at the time considered it acts of bad faith. While I do not rule out a partial bad-faith explanation, I see it as more likely that this was a case of a prejudice that anything the Center–Right said must have certain intentions, leading to a biased and flawed interpretation. (See, however, an alternate explanation of at least some aspects.) Similarly, I have the fear that many who (correctly) support evolution over creationism do this for the wrong reason, namely that it is the “right” opinion to have for a Democrat, seeing that so many Republicans believe in variations of creationism. This can lead to absurdities like an evolutionist turning round and suddenly defending feminism: Both are pieces of the orthodox Democrat faith, but with regards to science and reason they have very different levels of support. Indeed, much of what political and gender-feminists claim is near incompatible with evolution (and outright incompatible with biology in general) making it very hard for a rational and well-informed human to simultaneously support both. For another example, there are very many who believe that Obama (Bush Jr., Reagan, Hillary Clinton) can do no wrong/right (depending on affiliation), without appropriately considering that he is just a human.