A very sad example of how easy people lose perspective can be found in a recent debate in Sweden:
In a short time-span male soccer player Anders Svenssonw and female soccer player Therese Sjögranw set new records for most games played in their respective national team. The former was rewarded with a car; the second was not. The predictable Swedish sexism debate started…
What few people considered was that the female soccer players are on a very different level from male players when compared on equal levels of “numerical” accomplishment. Its not just a matter of men being bigger or having other physical advantage—but the competition in and development of women’s soccer is far weaker. Women should have equal pay for equal accomplishment—not for a considerably weaker accomplishment.
For instance, the Swedish Wikipedia page on women’s soccerw:sv claims that women make up 29 % of all Swedish players. In other words, there are more than twice as many male players and the competition for spots on the national team is more than twice as hard. (Factoring in that men tend to be relatively more competitive and women relatively more interested in playing “for the fun of it”, the numbers likely understate the difference on the level of the national team.)
According to the same page, only one in 12 (10 million out of 120 million) players is a woman world-wide. This has at least two important implications: Firstly, women’s soccer is not competitive with men’s soccer even after correcting for physical differences between the sexes. Secondly, the far higher proportion within Sweden puts the successes of the female national team and individual female players in perspective: They are internationally successful because the rest of the world lags in the relative size of the women’s soccer sector—not because they would be truly great players.
However, women’s soccer trails men’s soccer by even more than these numbers imply: Watch a few games and compare the way the play, even natural physical differences aside. To say that there is a difference of one “league” would be extremely kind, even in Sweden two or three could easily be the case—world-wide there is no comparison. In contrast, female tennis players often have a technique and “feel” for the game that is comparable to male players, losing ground through their smaller stature, weaker arms, etc. Conversely, male athletes in sports that are considerably smaller globally than soccer are still more accomplished: In a match-up facilitated by magic, the Swedish national team in bandyw would likely have an easy time against the women’s national soccer team.
To take another perspective: Cars cost money. Which of the two is the better money maker? (And therefore the more reasonably rewarded from an economic point of view.) Comparing individuals could be very tricky; however, if we look at groups we can get at least a good indication. In 2012, the highest Swedish men’s divisionw:sv had a per game average number of visitors of 7210; the highest women’s divisionw:sv just 836.
Very recently, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the world’s most successful soccer players in recent years and the team captain of the Swedish national team, spoke out about this affair, correctly pointing out that women’s soccer is not comparable to men’s and that there is no unfairness in giving only the male player a car. He also correctly points out the absurdity that he is internationally compared to the likes of Messi and Ronaldo but nationally to female players of a far, far lesser calibre.
The result (and what prompted me to write this post): He is attacked from every direction and seen as a sign of how unfairly maligned women’s soccer would be or how much undue prejudice there would be. (Cf. e.g. one of many Swedish news itemse). In the defense of his detractors, he could have formulated himself more diplomatically; however, that does not change the underlying issues or that he is correct in these underlying issues.
This debate points very clearly to some recurring problem with the current Swedish attitude towards “gender issues”:
Actual accomplishment and equality of opportunity is less important than equality of outcome and a highly subjective and extremely superficial take on “fairness”.
There is little will and/or ability to actually think an issue through. Instead reactions are based on emotions, what people want the world to be like (as opposed to how it actually is), simplistic assumptions, …
Criticizing attempts to create or assert pseudo-equality borders on a crime—even when the criticism is objectively justified.
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.)