Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Issues with downloading and publishing books / Follow-up: Problems with books in the public domain

leave a comment »

As I noted a few years ago ([1]):

We live in a world where great amounts of text, including by many great past authors, are in the public domain and also actually available on the Internet.

I still find myself constantly frustrated. Part of the benefit is removed by (often entirely unnecessary or arbitrary) artificial restrictions. Sometimes, all of it is removed.

A few additional words, both as a reader and as an author:

  1. When possible, I strongly prefer to read e-books on my computer—not on e.g. a separate e-book reader or on a smartphone. For these purposes, I prefer PDF, as PDF (when done correctly!) preserves the original formatting of a printed book better than other formats and gives a more pleasant reading experience (less strain on the eyes, better readability, whatnot) than other popular formats.*

    *A secondary reason is that Linux is weak in support of other formats, which can lead to suboptimal display, the need to convert between formats, or, in extreme cases, files that are not readable at all. To avoid such issues, I stick to PDF, ePub, HTML, plain text, and, in rare exceptions, DjVu. (With reservations for the correct capitalization, here and elsewhere.)

    However, ever and ever again, I find that I have downloaded a PDF file that has none of the advantages of PDF through some crude conversion, effectively combining the disadvantages of two formats with the advantages of neither.* This typically in that someone has taken a plain-text file and run it through enscript (or some similar tool) to create something that looks like the original text file, fixed-width font included, or that someone has converted a web page into PDF through a print command (or some similar approach)—often with artificial headers indicating the file name, date of printing, or similar on each and every page.

    *All formats have advantages and disadvantages. For instance, plain text has (among others) the advantages of small files and of extreme flexibility, including that it can be viewed in, investigated with, and/or manipulated by tools such as less, grep, and vim. PDF, in contrast, shines with great formatting and the ability to print a hard-copy in a true-to-the-original manner.

    In both cases, I would have been much better off with the original file, keeping the advantages of the respective formats and foregoing the disadvantages of PDF. If, for some perverse reason, I needed a PDF, I could create it myself from the original file—and typically with a better result.

    To boot, despite a wide variety of free (both senses) software being available for local use, the conversion or editing has often been done with some type of online tool—which promptly adds further disadvantages through branding or advertising messages. In an extreme example, I once downloaded a PDF file where each and every page had a large and intrusive sun-like image in both margins. This rendered the file so unreadable, through the sheer annoyance, that I actually converted the PDF into plain text…

  2. Many books in both PDF and ePub follow “bad practices” that are intended for a strict optimization for standalone e-readers, especially those sold by Amazon—and that, frankly, often are dubious even there. This includes artificial removal of margins, leaving the text immediately adjacent to the “physical” page borders (does not just look ugly, but hurts the eyes); artificial changes to interline distances, font size, or similar (ditto);* artificial removal of page numbers (due to front/back matter and similar, the indicator in the reader is not always enough); artificial removal of an original table of contents in favor of an automatically generated one (especially for non-fiction, the authors or editors have typically put in a lot of thought in the TOCs, which is now wasted—to the detriment of the readers); artificial removal of page numbers/references in TOCs (I often visit the TOC for purposes like finding out how long the current or the following chapter is, which is easy with page numbers, but not without them).

    *The exact manipulations vary, because different manipulators appear to have different goals. Notably, some appear to want to cram as much text as physically possible onto a single page, while some appear to want very large letters. In both cases, this likely reflects their personal habits, eye strength, whatnot on a standalone e-reader (maybe even the single, specific one that the individual manipulator uses)—and this is now forced onto the rest of the world, even on those who use computers.

    Note that, in doubt, content/formatting left in can always be removed later; content/formatting removed is usually gone for good. This is not the difference between, say, drinkers of red and white wine in a restaurant—it is the difference between drinkers of red wine and those who smash all the red-wine bottles to make room for more white wine.

  3. Many books in both PDF and ePub have been shorn of images—without any warning to the prospective downloader. Now, sometimes the removal of images as an option is justifiable through the resulting size reduction; however, especially for non-fiction, the result can be highly detrimental and the choice should be left to the reader/downloader.
  4. Some sites, notably Amazon, outright recommend or even demand “bad practices” like those mentioned above, with no consideration for other reading habits than standalone e-readers—not even with different versions for different formats, e.g. PDF for computers and ePub for standalone e-readers.
  5. Format requirements for sale/upload are often too restrictive. For instance, a reason why my own first books are yet unpublished is that I went through the effort of giving them a nice formatting in LaTeX (from which PDF was generated), even doing some reading on topics like typography and book design in the process—only to find that sites likes Amazon screech like harpies when someone tries to deliver quality. At the time of my research,* Amazon did not even allow the upload of PDF, and instead presumed to take some other uploaded format** and convert that into PDF, should a customer wish to buy in PDF. Not only does the author lose in creative control, but he also has to take the potential hit from a poor conversion…

    *I have honestly lost track, but it was likely more than a year ago. I make no guarantees for the current situation (August 2022).

    **Likely, AZW; maybe, ePub or some other format, too.

    Worse, to my recollection, Amazon even presumes to include data like information about the author automatically and based on data stored with Amazon, reducing the author’s control further.

    Of course, all this fiddling, and the great risk that different sites use different rules, implies that the author will either be stuck on a single platform or be forced to adapt his book repeatedly for different platforms. (And woe to those who use a meta-platform, which distributes the same book, in the same version, to several different sales platforms.)

  6. Of course, some sites have lost all contact with reality and demand, as sole upload, a Word-document… In other words, either the author has to write his books in Word to begin with, or he has to spend a horrendous amount of time (almost necessarily) manually converting from a more sensible format to Word.

    I am* a professional author. Products like Word should not be an option for a professional author.** I have more respect for someone who uses a pen, pencil, or typewriter, than for a Word user—pens and the like have a different set of advantages and disadvantages (a recurring theme) than LaTeX. Word is just bullshit.

    *Or was. Considering how little I have written since last summer, between construction noise, frustration with COVID countermeasures, demotivation from restrictive publishing options, and whatnot, my status might be under dispute.

    **That so many still limit themselves is scary. It is as if a professional carpenter would go to work using a kid’s toolbox. A central part of being a professional is to find and learn how to use a sufficiently powerful set of tools for the profession at hand. Those who do not, even should they earn a living in the field, scarcely deserve the title “professional”.

Excursion on how to do uploads better:
If Amazon was serious about both quality and genericness, it could and should provide a simple LaTeX template and/or LaTeX package (or some equivalent technology) with which the author could set up his book with a known-in-advance set of abilities and limitations. Afterwards, Amazon could simply generate the right formats from the corresponding LaTeX document.

Barring that, the best option would be to allow the authors to upload the formats that they want to support in the form that they want to support them, while the customers may either choose between the formats as uploaded or accept an automatic conversion with the explicit warning that the result might be poor.

Excursion on who-does-what:
A particular annoyance is that authors, both in modern “conventional” publishing* and in self-publishing are increasingly forced to do tasks that are unnatural matches with their likely skill profiles and interests, notably marketing, while those tasks that are more creative, short of the actual writing, are removed, including matters of book design and typography. If (!) the argument was that “authors know writing; we, the publishers, know typography, design, and marketing”, this might be acceptable.** In reality, the argument is “we, the publishers, make the creative decisions; you, the authors, do the boring leg-work”.

*One of several reasons why I ended up not even attempting the conventional route. (Other reasons include an apparently increasing shift in who earns what portion of the money, similar to the record industry, the need to be more “commercial” than I am, and the strong PC angle of the industry.)

**And, in my impression, this is how it used to be.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 6, 2022 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

Nazis XVI: Misrepresentations of Nazis

leave a comment »

Preamble: Once upon a time, I set out to write a single, if somewhat longer, text on why the Nazis should correctly be viewed as Leftists. Somehow, this turned into a never ending and ever expanding task, until I (a) was too tired of the topic to continue in force, (b) lost the overview of what I had already written, forgot what more I had intended to write, and otherwise lost track. With hindsight, I might have been better off writing a book on the topic, including through how this would have simplified content control and required more structure from early on. As is, the future of this text series is uncertain, but I do have a few drafts for additional texts lying around, many of them from the early period, which I will review and either reject or patch up into something publishable—but likely incomplete or of lower quality compared to the original intent. (I have already spent too much time on the topic.) The below is the first of these texts.

There are some more specific-than-is-far-Right issues* where the Nazis are regularly misrepresented, often with an eye at discrediting others through guilt by association.

*I will not attempt a complete list, as this would involve additional and likely considerable leg-work.

Consider e.g. the claim that the Nazis were anti-abortion (as are the U.S. Republicans; ergo, …):

It is true that the Nazis strongly opposed abortion of healthy “Aryan” babies, but they did not do this due to convictions about abortion—they did so in order to ensure a growing population of these healthy “Aryans”.

On the contrary, they were very much in favor of abortion when it came to e.g. Jews—in order to keep the unwanted portions of the population down.

Abortion, per se, was neither wrong nor right to the Nazis—it was a tool to be used or not used as suited the Nazi goals.

In stark contrast, a typical position among U.S. “pro-lifers”, even when Republican, is that abortion, in and by it self, is wrong, regardless of whether the baby is White or Black. Indeed, in the wake of “Dobbs”, I saw repeated mentions of how restrictions on abortion could increase the Black population share, as Blacks are more likely to have abortions than Whites, which puts the very allegedly anti-Black Republicans on the side of Black lives and the equally allegedly pro-Black Democrats in opposition to Black lives. Moreover, many Democrats argue strongly in favor of abortion in order to combat e.g. Down’s syndrome. Who, then, is truly closer to the Nazi position?

In other cases, the reason might be more to build a fictitious distance between the Nazis and the (usually) Leftist speaker, as with e.g. an alleged pro-Capitalist or anti-union angle to Nazi politics. This from very early own, if originally to discredit the Nazis (!) through guilt by association, as with the “Agent Theory”.* However, Capitalism and Capitalists, just like abortion, were just tools to the Nazis—tolerated as long as they cooperated with the Cause and with no care for what individual business owners might be crushed by the turning wheels of the Nazi state. As to free markets, the Nazis did their best to obliterate them by e.g. increasingly centralizing and merging various businesses**, setting production targets and prices, and similar.

*A remark in the draft refers to a deeper discussion of Nazis vs. Capitalism for more detail. This discussion has not yet taken place (it might or might not follow later), but some discussion of the anti-Capitalist take of the Nazis’ 25-point plan is present in the entries dealing with said plan. The “Agent Theory” amounts to the idea that the Nazis were shills for Big Business, pretending to be Leftist to fool the working class.

**Incidentally, a recurring issue with Leftism, including e.g. the Soviet Union and China, but also e.g. Sweden (cf. excursion).

Unions, on the other hand, were a potential obstacle to the Cause and the Gleichschaltung and a potential competitor for the support of the people—as the Polish Communists were later to learn at the hands of Solidarity and Lech Walesa. To the degree that Nazis were antagonistic to the unions, it was not a matter of e.g. profit-seeking industrialists vs. struggling minimum-wage laborers—it was a matter of political power, control of the people, and meeting state-set production targets. The concerns of the unions were subjugated to the overall political goals—just like the concerns of the Capitalists—and like with businesses there was a massive consolidation, leaving only one (?), Nazi controlled, union. Besides, who needs unions when you have a Führer to ensure that wages and working conditions are fair? Contrast this with, e.g., Thatcher’s and Reagan’s anti-union positions, which stemmed from issues like union excesses and destructive behavior, distortions of the free markets, and whatnot—the unions as a problem for a free society, not as an obstacle to a totalitarian one.*

*And, yes, there were often objective problems, up to and including massive criminal involvement in some U.S. unions. Or consider “you may not change a light-bulb if you belong to the wrong union” regulations. Or consider physical attacks on non-strikers. Or consider the horrifyingly Luddite British printers’ unions.

Oh, and unions in e.g. the USSR? Transformed into indoctrination vehicles in the service of the Communist party… (Again, a much stronger Nazi–Communist parallel than e.g. any Hitler–Thatcher parallel.)

Excursion on Sweden and centralisation:
Under Social-Democrat rule, Sweden was unusually set on creating or favoring very large businesses. This included a strong drive towards state-owned businesses, artificial monopolies, and selective state support. A particularly perfidious approach was the “solidarisk lönepolitik” (“solidary wage-politics”), which included a state and union driven attempt to keep the wage level constant over different businesses by holding wages back relative their natural level* in more profitable businesses**, while letting them rise above their natural level* in unprofitable businesses. This with the deliberate (!) goal that the latter would go bankrupt faster, after which the former would be able to suck up the newly unemployed.

*I.e. the level that would have resulted from fair negotiations and market forces. Note that problems with this include not just the premature or maybe even avoidable bankruptcies mentioned in the main text, but also issues like misallocation of workers and a lesser differentiation between competent, conscientious, or otherwise high-value workers and their opposites, as a business that merely reduces its scope will try to keep the quality employees, while a business that disappears will indiscriminately put all its employees on the street. (An issue additionally worsened by various other rules, like a mandated “last in; first out” approach to partial lay-offs.)

**Which tend to already be among the largest or the fastest growing. If in doubt, after sufficiently many bankruptcies among the competitors, the survivors were likely to have grown large by expanding in the resulting vacuum.

I am unclear on the exact underlying motives for this push towards very large companies in so many Leftist countries, but I do suspect that it is partially one of facility: Firstly, to influence or outright control a single, or just a few, businesses in any give field is easier than doing so with many businesses. Secondly, once that glorious day for outright nationalization finally is here, it will be so much easier with fewer businesses. Another suspicion of mine is that fewer businesses mean fewer owners and entrepreneurs and more employees, which might make for a population demographic more likely to favor Leftist policies.

(The above is not be confused with the long-term international trend towards bigger business, e.g. through mergers, economies of scale, and growing markets in the wake of globalization.)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 5, 2022 at 1:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

Reading tips for the prospective voter

leave a comment »

I have done a fair amount of complaining about human ignorance, including among voters and politicians. It might be time to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

Below, I will give a short list of books that I see as a suitable minimum reading for a voter (“required reading”, in a manner of speaking). Someone who has not read and understood these or equivalent books, or otherwise gained equivalent insight, should not be voting. To this, I stress: (a) I do not ask that the reader/voter agree with these books. (Indeed, while I am, myself, mostly in agreement with my own recommendations, I do not necessarily agree with them on any given individual point.) The important part is to think and to think hard, to understand the books, and to gain new or more nuanced insights, even should these insights not match what the author and/or I might have intended. (b) This is by no means a complete list of books that the ideal voter should have read, be it within the areas of the list or areas outside it. Indeed, even the same authors often have more advanced works on offer.

To expand on (b), it is my intention* to give books sufficiently short and sufficiently easy to read that they can be considered conscionable in terms of effort even for weaker readers and thinkers,** but simultaneously sufficiently interesting and informative as to bring value even to the stronger. Moreover, I have deliberately avoided books that are too specific in their contents. For instance, I considered the inclusion of The Black Book of Communism, but pointing out the evils of Communism in so direct a manner feels too specific and might miss my commonly repeated point that it is actions and not opinions that matter—evil is as evil does.*** Certainly, there are other evils than Communism, let alone evil aspects of other groups. Some of the works below (Orwell, Hayek) cover somewhat similar ground, but they do so in a far more general manner, which can match, e.g., a totalitarian society of any ideology. (Except in as far as totalitarianism is a part of resp. contrary to the ideology.) Moreover yet, there are areas of importance where there might not be a suitable alternative. For instance, I have written about how important I consider history, but history is such an immense topic that just reading one single book is unlikely to do much for the overall understanding,**** as this single book will either cover many events/developments/times/persons/whatnot shallowly, leaving little room for a developed understanding, or few in depth, restricting the understanding to a small area. (See an excursion for some other areas left out.)

*I have not been entirely successful, but I am not aware of any better choices. Suggestions are, of course, welcome.

**Yes, these might require considerably more time, but since they are likely to begin from a weaker position in terms of previous understanding and whatnot, the effort is the better invested.

***Also note that it is not my intention to tell the reader e.g. “Stay away from Communism!”. I sincerely hope that he does, but the point of this text is something different, namely to give the reader better tools to make his own decision. (Proofreading, I see that I repeatedly fall well short of neutrality of formulation, but as it is the recommended books, not this text, that are important, I will leave things as they are.)

****Which should not be interpreted as “so read no book at all”. On the contrary, I recommend reading (and thinking on!) as many history books as possible—or to dig into the many and deep articles on Wikipedia. (Indeed, Wikipedia has been my own main source on history.) Non-history works from “yore” can also be a very valuable source of historical information, in addition to their originally intended value, as with e.g. the “Federalist Papers”.

One contributing criterion to my choices have been the dominating, and usually poorly founded, opinions among naive voters on important topics. With a different set of opinions dominating, or another set of topics being more important, other choices might have been made. To this a more general reading recommendation: prefer books and other sources that go outside your personal “echo chamber” at least until you have seen a wide range of other perspectives on different issues—and have actually understood these.

The actual list:

  1. The Road to Serfdom is a great work on the dangers of totalitarian societies, collectivism, disregard for the individual, etc. My own last reading was a long time ago, so I cannot go into details of argumentation and content, but I do recall that he warned strongly against developments back then (WWII Britain) that were not only a recurring theme throughout the 20th century, but have continued into the 21st. Indeed, the various COVID-countermeasures were more-or-less the opposite of what Hayek might have recommended. Ditto e.g. the behavior of the current U.S. Democrats. I might go as far as to say that this book has been more relevant to the world in the last few years than it had been since the fall of the Soviet Union, more than thirty years ago—just maybe, even since the end of WWII, shortly after the writing, and closing in on eighty years.

    On the downside, the style of writing might be a little challenging for the weaker readers.

    As an important caveat, Hayek uses “Liberalism” (with variations) in an older sense, incompatible with the use of e.g. the current U.S. Democrats—who are, in fact, often outright anti-Liberal by this older meaning. When he proposes e.g. Liberalism, he would be more closely in agreement with a typical U.S. Republican than with a typical Democrat, and certainly more so with Rand Paul than with Bernie Sanders.

  2. Economics in One Lesson is a very insightful and very easy to understand overview of some basic Economics, with an emphasis on common fallacies that typically affect even (particularly?) government action. Interestingly, the first edition was published in 1946 (!),* “my” second edition from 1979 complains that these fallacies are even more influential in 1979 than they were in 1946, and my own observations show their power even in 2022!** Generally, with one exception, the books recommended are 20th century, mostly from the first half, describing problems that are still present and providing insights that are still ignored—well into the 21st century.

    *While the book is a little dated, even with the 1979 updates, the contents are sufficiently, and deliberately, general that they are still valuable. For a first and quick introduction to the field, they are certainly enough.

    **1979 was shortly before Reagan (1981) came into power, and there was a major change during his years. However, post-Reagan, this change has increasingly been reversed, and Biden seems determined to out-LBJ LBJ. (And even Reagan was not perfect.)

    Examples of such fallacies include destruction bringing a net benefit to society through the work created (failing* to consider the effect of the opportunity cost), that various price, wage, and rent controls bring a benefit (failing to see that the gain of the one is the loss of the other and that market mechanisms are disturbed), and that corporate profits are uniformly gigantic and somehow evil (failing to consider how many businesses go bankrupt and how profits motivate e.g. job creation).

    *These “failing” are not a complete analysis, just a first rough indication off the top of my head. Do read the book.

    A particular “summary lesson”, which well reflects some of my own complaints about what the Left fails to do:

    The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

    Disclaimer: The books on Economics that I have previously read have been at least one of: unsuitable to the target audience of this list; unsuitable to any pre-“101” student; full “101” texts (which are too long, entail too much busy work, and often bring too little actual understanding to be included here*). Correspondingly, I searched out this book for the specific purposes of this list, and it is the only book on the list that I have not read deeply and/or repeatedly. That said, I was extremely pleased by the first, slightly shallow, reading.

    *Example: Last year, I revisited a hard-copy of David Begg’s “Economics” (presumably, originally bought during my long-ago business studies). Trying to study it was an endless frustration, beginning with the fact that he long pretended that the goal of a business was to maximize revenue, whereby he minimized his own credibility. Any attempt to explain something was done with minimal math and endless and over-complicated discussions of graphs, intersections, and tangents, where a little math would have given a better understanding in a fraction of the space. At some point, he basically reinvented an inferior type of derivative, while failing to actually introduce derivatives, which should be high-school material and already known to the college-goer. Instead, the preface brags about the book not even using (presumably: high-school) algebra, which is absurd in an alleged college text.

  3. Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, while fictional, are extremely interesting to those who want to see the dangers of thought control, abuse of language, violations of privacy, etc.—especially, but not exclusively, in a Leftist* world. They also give a good run-down of many of the methods used by the Left, many with disturbing parallels in today’s world.** Two particularly important insights is that (a) even the members of a movement/group/whatnot (e.g. O’Brien) can become slaves to that movement, (b) the same type tends to rise to the top regardless of whether pig or farmer—and the difference in species resp. ideology is then often nominal.

    *Orwell, himself, was a convinced idealist Socialist, but also one of the harshest critics of Socialism and Communism as practiced. This largely based on his experiences with British proponents, the practices in the Soviet Union, and what he saw while fighting on the Leftist side in the Spanish Civil War. (Other sources of inspiration for “Nineteen Eighty-Four” might include his experiences working for the British Empire or living in WWII Britain.)

    **A key aspect here is that Orwell did not invent a dystopia out of thin air, but integrated and extrapolated what he had actually seen in real life. Humans, governments, and the Left have not changed that much in the seventy-something years since his time of writing.

    I name both books, because they are overlapping, not identical, in content and complement each other very well. If forced to choose, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is the more important to read, but the extra effort for “Animal Farm” is small, as it is more of a novella.

    Do not be fooled by the apparent “for children” nature of “Animal Farm”, however, as its main benefits come from allegory that few children can understand. Indeed, I remember being disappointed by the lack of a happy ending after my own first reading, as a child—why did not Snowball come back and right all wrongs? (As an adult, I see how a happy ending would have ruined the point of the book; and I realize that, while Napoleon was a proven bad guy, Snowball had never truly proven himself to be a good guy, implying that the effects of his hypothetical comeback were uncertain.)

    As an aside, going from the year of completion of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, 1948, to the year 1984,* we have an interval of 36 years. We are now in 2022, or another 38 years down the line—and closer to the fictional 1984 than we were in the actual 1984.

    *The official claim, in-universe, is not trustworthy, but the claimed 1984 of the book and the actual 1984 of the real world were and are a natural point of comparison—especially, in 1984.

  4. The Bell-Curve is, first of all, not racist, White Supremacist, or anything similar. That I have to lead with this is sad, but necessary. The reason for this defamation is likely that its implications, but not necessarily intentions, amount to a discrediting of much what the Left (in general) and/or the U.S. Democrats (in particular) push. (Generally, such books tend to be given a label like “racist” in a near blanket manner, often by those who have not read them, followed by a guilt-by-association attack on anyone who does not similarly condemn them, let alone supports them. Even more detailed Leftist critique tends to be based on misrepresentation and distortion of the actual contents.)

    What “The Bell-Curve” is is a highly important work with extensive policy implications centered on the effects of g, IQ, or, in the authors preferred phrasing, cognitive ability.

    Most notably, the conclusion must be that most differences in group outcomes are to be viewed in the light of IQ first and whatever else secondarily. This includes e.g. a staple of the current “Old Left”, that working-class children get nowhere in life because they are “disadvantaged” or “underprivileged” from birth—and we must institute social justice!!!! However, once an investigation takes the IQ of the children into consideration, the influence of parental SES is drastically reduced—own IQ matters significantly more than our childhood homes.* And, no, IQ is not largely determined by parental SES either (at least not in e.g. the U.S. or my native Sweden).

    *I am, myself, a good individual example of a successful move from a “disadvantaged” up-bringing to a materially pleasant and high-SES life.

    Yes, this applies to race too, but there is nothing racist about it. The facts are what they are, namely, that e.g. U.S. Blacks (as a group) have a lower average IQ than e.g. U.S. Whites (who, in turn, have a lower average IQ than e.g. Ashkenazim) and that the disparities in outcome look very, very different after own IQ has been factored in. If Blacks, on average and for instance, do worse in college than Whites, this is not a matter of “systemic racism”, “discrimination”, or whatnot—it is a matter, mostly, of IQ. The massive pro-Black interventions that take place are not fighting an unfair disadvantage against Blacks, they are creating one in favor of Blacks.

    On the downside, this book is quite long, and a shorter version might have been preferable for my current purposes. A good idea for the slow reader might be to first read the various summaries and whatnots to get a general idea, and then to dig deeper over time.

    A good complement is Blueprint, which foregoes “The Bell-Curves” big-picture discussions of the potential effects and policy implications of this-and-that, but goes more into the genetic side of human diversity, allows more influence of non-IQ factors on behavior and behavioral differences, and is more up-to-date*. A particular benefit is that it addresses extensively one of my own main complaints about many Environmentalist arguments, namely that the effects of inherited characteristics on the environment are not considered.** However, unlike “The Bell-Curve”, it is not a seminal work with little competition, and substituting some other book on HBD, genetics and psychology, or evolutionary psychology might give a similar value. (My choice was partially because it is the only book in the extended field that I have read in 2022, and my memory of others is a little vague and/or might require a re-read before a recommendation.)

    *Published in 2018 and by far the youngest book on the list.

    **Most notably in that the effect of parental IQ on parental SES is not considered; however, there are very many other examples.

Excursion on left-out fields:
Apart from history, there are at least two obvious seeming fields that are not included (be it pro or contra):

Firstly, global warming/climate change. This is simply because I am not well-read in the area and have not yet formed a firm own opinion. I do note that the Left tends to engage in severe misrepresentation in these areas, however, and point to e.g. a recent text on science denialism with a brief climate discussion and a link to an older text on “Unsettled”. (A book that I found helpful and interesting, but which I do not endorse in the manner of the above.)

Secondly, COVID and COVID-countermeasures. Here I do have strong opinions (cf. many earlier texts), but I am faced with the problem that my readings have all been Internet based and that I have no books to recommend. (On the Internet, I recommend in particular Brownstone.) Moreover, (a) the problems with the countermeasures are to some degree covered more generally by the other texts, (b) further countermeasures seem (knock on wood!) less likely than in the past, which makes the topic less urgent. (Otherwise, I might well have searched for a book.)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 1, 2022 at 7:20 am

Who are the science deniers?

leave a comment »

One of the most frustrating issues with the current political climate is the endless Leftist claims about science, about X* deniers, about the Democrats (!!!!!!) being the party of science, etc. These are good examples of the Left claiming the opposite of the truth. (Cf. e.g. some heuristics to understand the Left.)

*Where X is any of a growing number of terms, including e.g. “climate”, “COVID”, or even “science” outright.

Let us look more closely at this nonsense:

Firstly, the modern Left has a very anti-scientific and anti-intellectual streak, beginning with Post-Modernism and its attempts to truly deny the legitimacy of science and scientific endeavours, its attempts to blur the difference between mere opinion and well-founded scientific results,* etc. As if this decades-long issue was not enough, we now have to contend with absurd claims that scientific endeavours, giving correct answers on a test, “showing the work” when solving a math problem, and even math it self would be “White Supremacy”. Long before even Post-Modernism, we had issues like Lysenkoism and other pseudo-scientific fields pushed by Leftist regimes. (This despite Lysenkoism having a massively negative impact on the local agriculture and the sustenance of the locals.) Indeed, Marxism, it self, is a pseudo-science (at least by today’s standards), while many of the important Leftist “intellectuals” of the 20th century depended on psychoanalytic theories (also pseudo-scientific by today’s standards).

*I am tempted to write “established scientific facts”, but that far Post-Modernism gets it right—perfect knowledge is impossible and science is a process of revising the established. Of course, the scientists had this insight much earlier and Post-Modernism goes off the reservation immediately after this insight.

These problems extend deep into the Left-dominated social sciences or, increasingly, “sciences”, which by now have more-or-less abandoned scientific ideals and the scientific search for truth in favor of Leftist agenda pushing and ideological distortions not dissimilar to Lysenkoism. This up-to and including absurdities like Gender Studies and CRT, where the entire fields seem geared at “proving” and pushing certain pre-conceived opinions, with no regard for the evidence at hand—which is usually strongly contrary to these pre-conceived opinions.

Secondly, if we look at various areas of denialism, the Left does not fare well. Consider some prominent areas:

  1. There are mountains of evidence from various fields, including physiology, psychometrics, and genetics, of in-born differences between various groupings, including between men and women, between sub-Saharan Africans and Europeans, and (to a lesser degree) between Swedes and Russians.

    These do not fit the Leftist agenda and “blank slate” ideology—and are alternately ignored and condemned as e.g. “racist”, with no regard for the actual evidence.

    This applies in particular to the area of IQ*: IQ has a proven track-record as a predictor** of e.g. success in life, is hard to change within the parameters of modern society, and would, if properly considered, reveal many Leftist programs and ideas, especially relating to education, as wishful thinking. But, no: instead we get to hear that IQ is “racist”, or see IQ “debunked” by some ever recurring and highly contrafactual claims, e.g. that “IQ only shows how well you do on IQ tests”***.

    *More accurately, the underlying g. As the latter concept is poorly known among the broad masses, I will ignore the difference. I note, however, that there appears to be some training effect to IQ, which is not reflected in g, and that the “Flynn effect” might be restricted to IQ.

    **Strongly so on the group level and for differences in e.g. distributions of outcomes. Less strongly so, but still on a valuable level, for the individual.

    ***On the contrary, there is a very wide range of correlations and likely causalities to various other measures, e.g. of scholastic success.

    Then we have issues of “gender” and sexual preferences, where the Left jumps between denying any biological involvement (“X is a social construct”) and declaring something in-born and inherent depending on how it fits the ideology and agenda, with no care for consistency of thought or that pesky evidence.

  2. Partially overlapping, we have the area of Evolution:

    It is true that U.S. Democrats almost invariably claim to believe in Evolution, while their Republican counterparts are much more likely to be sceptical or even outright Creationist. But:

    Firstly, this is a U.S. issue and does not reflect the global situation. In e.g. my native Sweden and adopted Germany, Evolution is usually taken for granted outside the Left. At the same time, the aforementioned Lysenkoism was a severe mistreatment of Evolution pushed by the Left.*

    *At a minimum, the Soviet Left. I have not looked into details, but chances are that parts of the Left elsewhere had similar ideas, notably the parties/countries under strong Soviet influence.

    Secondly, this is not a matter of Democrats vs. Republicans, per se, nor Left vs. Right, but of religious opinions. In the U.S., and many other countries, the Left has a very strongly atheistic or even anti-religious angle, which has almost necessarily forced the strongly religious to take shelter in non-Leftist groupings, including the Republican party. In the older days, when Christianity was more widely popular this was different. For instance, the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial was based on the Butler Act, passed by a Democrat legislature (cf. [1]) and the vociferous and strongly religious prosecutor was none other than William Jennings Bryan, one of the leading Democrats of his era and one of the most influential on Democrat thought in any era.

    Thirdly, the Leftist claims are typically nothing but lip service: Ever and ever again, the Leftists show that they simply do not understand how Evolution works. If they do not understand how Evolution works, a profession of being an Evolutionist carries no more value than the claim of being Christian from someone who has no clue about Christianity. Worse, by this lack of understanding, they quite often combine a de facto denial (!) of Evolution with their de jure acceptance, e.g. by denying that humans have evolved over the last few thousand years, that Evolution applies to humans too (not just animals), or that differences in life style, societal roles, whatnot could* have an Evolutionary effect.

    *Here and elsewhere, legitimate questions may be raised as to how large a certain effect might be, how long a time is necessary, how large the differences must be, etc. However, the Left does not, or only very rarely, raise such questions—instead, there is typically a blanket denial of even the possibility.

  3. COVID is an area of many, many examples. That there were great doubts about what was true to begin with is understandable; however, even then the Left* tended to discount established ideas and there seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction that “Trump said that X; ergo, X is wrong”—without any actual investigation of plausibility and proof.**

    *In particular. Unfortunately, the problem occurred to some degree outside the Left too. Witness e.g. Merkel in Germany and, to a lesser degree, the early acts of Trump in the U.S.

    **Consider e.g. the possibility of a lab leak, which was mentioned by Trump, immediately considered discredited for a long time, and then suddenly considered legitimate again when a journalist raised the suggestion. Similarly, Trump suggested that Ivermectin might be a viable early treatment and Ivermectin was immediately considered discredited. (I am not up-to-date, but the last I heard, the jury in the non-ideological community was still out on Ivermectin. Note that the research has been scarce and that some trials have misapplied it, notably by missing the “_early_ treatment” aspect. Indeed, some have raised the accusation that some trials were deliberately designed to fail. However, the question is not whether Ivermectin works, the question is the anti-scientific approach to the matter. Ditto, the question is not where COVID originated, but the anti-scientific approach to the investigation of the origin.)

    Since then, we have seen a long line of scientific investigations and practical experiences indicate e.g. that lockdowns and masking bring at most a minor help (and do more harm than good through side-effects), that those not in a risk group are not at risk, that the effectiveness of the vaccines is dubious and that the vaccines come with side-effects, that various predictions and models were wide off the mark, etc. Still, the current, highly anti-science, stance of the Left is that we need more lockdowns and masking, that absolutely and categorically everyone, children included, must be vaccinated for their own safety, that the vaccines work well and have no side-effects whatsoever, and that renewed predictions “prove” that renewed countermeasures are direly needed. Oh, and did anyone notice how slowly and reluctantly natural immunity was accepted? This despite the natural expectation being that natural immunity would come and be at least as good as vaccine-induced immunity.

  4. Accusations of climate denialism is a Leftist staple.* (And a horribly illogical expression—who would deny that there is a climate?!?)

    *Unlike most other points, this is an area where I do not necessarily reject the Leftist position, as I have done too little leg-work. However, I do reject the Leftist methods, distortions, anti-scientific approach, … (Note that the use of such methods by the Left do not automatically imply that they are used by the climate scientists—this is a discussion of Left vs. non-Left, not of the work of the actual climate scientists.)

    Nevertheless, the Left seems to be the greatest source of poor science, unscientific thinking, and misleading or outright faulty claims. This includes uncritical acceptance of poorly tested and poorly performing models, exaggerated reporting, blanket ascription of this-or-that (e.g. forest fires) to global warming, misrepresentation of past data, and a failure to discuss the many past predictions that have failed—society should have been destroyed several times over by now, had they been correct.* Then there are those constant claims of the “Hottest July of All Times!!!” (or whatever the latest hottest was). Really? Four-and-half billion years and this July was the hottest? Oh, you meant the hottest July since the beginning of measurements. Well, then say so you f-ing moron!!!

    *Of course, for someone who does have a scientific mind, repeated failures are cause to be very cautious and critical. (But not necessarily to reject in a blanket manner—the boy who cried wolf was actually taken by a wolf in the end.) Ditto, poor reasoning, exaggerations, etc.

    Moreover, the accusation of climate denialism often arises merely through questioning some portion of the narrative, pointing to errors or exaggerations, or asking for actual proof—implying that the accusation is raised in an anti-scientific manner against someone (often) scientific. A good example is the debate around “Unsettled”, as I discuss in an earlier text: a real scientist who appears broadly supportive (!) of the claims around climate change is hanged to dry for questioning individual flaws with good arguments.

  5. Related, we have many misrepresentations of an unscientific nature in various other environmental areas, e.g. in that the dangers and disadvantages of nuclear power have been horrifyingly exaggerated, that the disadvantages of favored technologies are swept under the carpet, that only “run-time” greenhouse-gas emissions are considered when making comparisons and not the life-cycle costs/emissions/whatnot, etc.
  6. Then there is the topic of Economics, where members of the Left seem to be either ignorant or to cling to outdated (e.g. Keynesian) thought or wishful thinking (e.g. MMT). Established and proven principles are ignored, e.g. that (all other factors equal) an increase in the money supply leads to inflation—witness Joe Biden. Or consider the known negative effects of high taxes and the danger of big government or regulatory capture—no, the Left wants higher taxes, bigger government, and more power to regulators. Or consider the benefits of market forces*—no, the Left does whatever it can to remove their effects or to supplant them with government controls. The effect of incentives and principles from game theory are equally ignored. Etc.

    *Arguably, the single most important thing to understand about economics.

    (Additionally, I have a fear that the field of Economics, it self and as a consequence of Leftist influence, is drifting from an attempt to explain and understand to an attempt to push specific political goals, e.g. “exterminate poverty” and “reduce GINI”. Effectively, it is moving from a science or proto-science to an unscientific field of activism.)

  7. As a bit of a meta-item, consider fact checking. The way that fact checking, usually run by Leftists, works is that claims are not judged on their merits but on (a) whether they fit the Leftist ideology and agenda and (b) who made them. This well illustrates the analogous Leftist approach to science—what supports the Cause is “true”; what does not is “false”. This in a blanket manner, without any scientific investigation, and with a thoroughly anti-scientific mindset.

    (The reader familiar with my early texts will note how many of them deal with Feminists, Feminist censorship of dissent, statistics, and factual arguments, and Feminist misinterpretation, distortion, or outright invention of statistics.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 28, 2022 at 10:11 pm

Nazis XV: Deep attitudes of the Left

leave a comment »

A natural approach in a comparisons of Nazis with (other) Leftists is to find a definition for “Left” and see how the shoe fits. Unfortunately, this is virtually impossible, as directly or indirectly mentioned in other entries of this series. However, we can look at some criteria that are common or very common fits for the Left, less common elsewhere,* and play in well with at least some notable divisions, including the divisions between current Republicans and Democrats in the U.S., the old U.S. vs. the Soviet Union, Libertarians and classical Liberals vs. Socialists and “social” Liberals, and the Swedish Moderaterna** vs. the Swedish Social-Democrats.

*But note that I do not claim that they would be the sole realm of the Left.

**At least in the incarnation that I knew well three decades ago. I am not up-to-date in detail, but do note that they have since begun to support Gender-Feminist reality distortion, which is a very bad sign.

Consider:

  1. Collectivism over individualism:

    Virtually without exception, Leftism demands that the individual and his rights be ignored in favor of the (real, alleged, or misperceived) good of the collective. The main variations seems to be in whether the push for the collective is honest or merely used as an excuse in a manner similar to “Animal Farm” and in how the preference is phrased (e.g. “for the good of the people”, “for the good of the proletariat”, “for the good of Germany”, “for the common good”, “for the public good”*).

    *In some of these cases, it might be argued that we do not see a juxtaposition of individual vs. collective but of individual and some “higher cause” or other not-necessarily-collectivist concept. However: (a) The implicit intent in Leftist propaganda is typically of a collectivist nature, even if more indirectly. (Contrast this with a more medieval “for King and Country” or a more religious “for the glory of God”.) (b) To the degree that the collective misses the point in any specific Leftist case, the larger and more abstract issue of violating the rights of the individual in favor of something else remains.

    This, of course, even if the individual is a member of the favored collective—if he is not, e.g. because he belongs to the wrong class, he might lose all rights already on this count. Which leads us to:

  2. Extreme “us vs. them” and “oppressor vs. oppressed” thinking:

    Attempts at this are so ubiquitous in Leftist thinking and propaganda that, I suspect, it is less a matter of an honest conflict and more of a deliberate search for a “them” in order to successfully convince the weak-minded that their support in an important fight is needed. Find a Leftist group and there will be a “them”—only who “they” are is to be clarified. (The capitalists, the bourgeoisie, the educated, the Jews, the Whites, the “cisgendered”, …)

  3. Equality of outcome over equality of opportunity:

    Less common than the other items, but still quite common and of particular importance with an eye at the current U.S. and its highly destructive politics, Feminism in most of the Western world for several decades, and the far Left at more or less any time and any place.*

    *The matter is complicated by at least two issues, both of which I will ignore below: Firstly, the Left is divided between two main camps—those that openly demand equality of outcome and those who merely claim that equality of outcome is proof of inequality of opportunity. The latter need further subdivision into those who are honest-but-wrong and those who are dishonestly trying to hide their true opinions. Secondly, some groups, especially on the Old Left, seem more intent on equality of outcome on the individual level, while others, especially on the New Left, seem more focused on equality of outcome on the group level.

    This is made the worse by the often very one-sided takes on equality of outcome, where privileges, rights, duties, whatnot are often selectively counted only to favor the in-group. For instance, Feminism is notorious for demanding any right that a man might have for any woman, while not taking up duties in a corresponding manner and not offering female rights to men in exchange. A particularly perfidious case, a horrifying intellectual fraud, is the Global Gender Gap Report/Index, which is systematically made to only count “in one direction”,* leaving the nominally ideal score of 1** virtually unreachable (giving a convenient excuse to claim that “there is still much work to be done until we finally have equality”), and making even a far lower score a strong sign that equality, had it been measured fairly!, has already been reached. (Sweden, e.g., is rated at a mere 0.822 for 2022, despite, by any reasonable standard, being a country which favors women over men. With Afghanistan at 0.435, a first approximation of a corrected index might give equality at (0.435 + 0.822) / 2 = 0.6285 instead of 1. Substituting a less extreme low ranker than Afghanistan might increase that by another tenth.)

    *In at least one case, life expectancy, women must have an outright advantage (!) of 6 percent for “equality” to hold.

    **As I read the page, the highest reachable score would actually be an absurd 0.9949, but this construction would be so absurd that I cannot rule out a misstatement. Either way, the other absurdities involved ensure that no country is even close to either of 0.9949 and 1.

  4. A “the end justifies the means” attitude:

    As I have noted on countless occasions, this attitude (with various variations, including “holier than thou” high-horsing) is extremely common on the Left—and because “we” are the good guys, we are allowed to lie, cheat, steal, defame, … in order to win. The other party? Does not even have the right to speak and should crawl back under its rock in shame!

    (As I have also noted on countless occasions, methods matter more than opinions and “evil is as evil does”—but the typical Leftist is too stupid to understand such a basic principle.)

(Note that this list does not include a great number of connotations of other types, e.g. a Leftist preference for propaganda over argumentation.)

This leaves us with three slam-dunk matches for the Nazis, with uncertainty only on the “equality of X” debate. Here I would need to do more legwork, but I note a current impression that (a) the Nazis allowed for more personal success, but (b) this success was contingent on being a good tool for the cause—any individual success was not there for the individual, but for the cause.

Excursion on Menschenverachtung:
With some hesitation, as this might partially be a matter not only of my connotations of the Left but also of this concept, I would add sheer Menschenverachtung, which seems to be a very often recurring issue with the Left, including the old Communist dictatorships, and which many Germans would immediately and primarily associate with the Nazis.

The literal meaning is roughly “contempt for humans” or “contempt for humanity”, but what lies behind it, at least in my associations, goes far beyond that.* This includes a common disregard for the rights of humans (sometimes even a denial that humans have rights that a Libertarian or classical Liberal, as well as many Conservatives, would see as given), a view of humans as nothing but tools (including, in a political context, as voters and tax payers, whose sole reasons to live is to keep a certain party or politician in power and to fill the governments wallet for the benefit of this party/politician), a view of humans as sheep to be guided, the assumption that the broad masses are too stupid to be allowed to make decisions for themselves** or even to form their own opinions***.

*I make no secret of a low opinion of humanity and most humans of my own, but I differ very strongly in what comes after, what conclusions I draw, what limits I suggest, etc.

**Without a doubt, the broad masses are deeply stupid—but not so stupid that they should be treated as children with regard to their own lives. This to be contrasted with my own repeated claims that the broad masses are too stupid to be allowed to force their will upon others. There simply is an enormous difference between making (potentially bad) decisions for oneself and making them for others. I note further that most politicians are highly unimpressive, themselves, when it comes to intelligence and understanding of topics like good governance. For many or most, their presumption to lead amounts to the blind leading the blind—or, worse, leading the seeing.

***Very similar: I might consider most humans stupid, but I respect their right to form their own opinions—possibly, the most central single right there is.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 27, 2022 at 1:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

Nazis XIVb: Nationalism, racism, xenophobia, …

leave a comment »

To belatedly continue the discussion from Nazis XIVa, I will look at some cases of various behaviors on the Left that might well have been considered “Nazi” by the Left, had they occurred on the Right, with the purpose of “understanding that a considerable amount of racism/xenophobia/nationalism/whatnot can be found even on the official Left” (to quote the introduction in Nazis XIVa).

In my draft before the split into Nazis XIVa and Nazis XIVb, I wrote:

Now, let us look at some cases of probable racism, nationalism, whatnot, with a few restrictions based on the above: (a) We only consider cases with a non-trivial negative effect. (b) We discount what lies too far back in time, because such ideas were too common for a comparison if we go back far enough. (c) We ignore the Nazis, themselves, because the overriding issue is whether the Nazis are Left or Right. (Notably, whether they are the one or the other will have a massive effect on which “side” is considered how racist/nationalist/whatnot.) (d) We ignore cases which are called some variation of “Right” because of e.g. racism, else this would result in circular reasoning in favor of the Left.* Keep in mind that the Leftist take of “Racist; ergo, Right-wing” (etc.) requires racism to be a wholly or almost wholly Right-wing phenomenon, while my take of “Racism, by it self, tells us nothing about Right vs. Left” merely requires a considerable presence of racism on both sides.**

*Which might well be why they do it. I am never certain what is explained by a Leftist ignorance of logic and what by malicious distortions.

**However, I will not try to prove its existence on the Right, because (a) the Left is already fully convinced of this, (b) an absence on the Right would not hurt my case (it would, in fact, strengthen it).

This applies broadly to the “racism” portion, which was already satisfactorily long pre-split. For the empty-until-today “nationalist” portion, I have added a briefer discussion, as I lack the time and motivation to write something longer.

Nationalism:

A discussion of nationalism is tricky without a proper definition, and it would be hard to find a definition which is (a) widely accepted and (b) does not beg the question in some manner. However, there have been a few mentions at other places in this text series, including Nazis XIb ([1]) (notably, invasions), that (depending on definitions) might be relevant. Some other aspects are indirectly covered by the discussion of racism. Yet other aspects include:

  1. Sports, with at least some Communist dictatorships pushing success at sports as proof of national superiority. This, maybe, most notably so in the GDR; other examples include the Soviet Union and Cuba.

    (As a confounding factor, this type of superiority pushing might be more aimed at the political system/ideology than at e.g. a racial component, while a racial component was more notable for the Nazis. Here we see that the motivations for nationalism might differ in detail, even when the same methods and more general attitudes appear. Similar remarks might apply to other items.)

  2. The Soviets had a very clear position of the Soviet Union being in charge of the “Second World” (and were willing to defend the position by force), most notably through the “Brezhnev Doctrine”. It is clear that the Soviets wanted to increase this sphere of influence considerably in the long term; and that its interventions included areas more likely to be considered “Third World”, e.g. in Africa, often by proxy (notably, Cuba).
  3. The Communist dictatorships often pushed nationalism and/or patriotism*, in a manner exceeding that of most Western countries post-WWII. China might or might not be the prime example.

    *Normally, I do not differentiate between the two; however, formulations with “patriot-” are somewhat common, maybe because this push often went hand-in-hand with “ask what you can do for your country (and, thereby, the Party, the Cause, the Whatnot)” manipulation. Note, e.g., the “Great Patriotic War” (WWII from a Soviet perspective). Of course, it might be an artefact of translation e.g. from Russian to English.

  4. As I just discovered,* there are great many Leftist-according-to-Wikipedia** organizations with names containing some variation of “patriot”, including, from a variety of countries and contexts, Patriots of Russia, Patriotic Renewal Party, Morazanist Patriotic Front, Patriotic Labour Youth, and Union of Polish Patriots.

    *After the previous footnote, I searched-in-vain for a youth organization with a name like “Little Patriots” (maybe something that I confused with the “Little Octobrists”), and found example after example of this. I have not attempted the same experiment with e.g. “nationalist”.

    **Which, if anything, distorts in favor of the Left. However, I have not attempted to verify the correctness of the claims.

    In addition, there are articles on e.g. Social patriotism, Socialist patriotism, and Soviet patriotism.

    With some reservations for the exact implication of “patriot” vs. “nationalist”, this alone goes a long way to prove that nationalism is not the exclusive domain of the “Right”.

  5. A more general or generic national pride seems somewhat common in Left-leaning countries, at least until somewhat recently. For instance, the strongly Leftist French are/were known for this; for instance, cf. [1], my own school years contained several instances of “be proud to be Swedish” pushing, and this attitude was also broadly reflected in general society. Also see excursion.

Racism:

  1. Racism in the modern U.S.:

    Racial discrimination, which might or might not have a racist background, is driven by the Left, in the favor of Blacks and, to some degree, Hispanics, and to the disadvantage of Whites, Asians, and, maybe, Jews. (Note e.g. college-admittance issues and preferential hiring issues.)

    Racist claims by various politicians, influencers, athletes, whatnot, seem to come predominantly from the Left and/or be pro-Black and/or be anti-White. In the case of education, this is definitely and massively so, e.g. through the pseudo-scientific, anti-intellectual, and grossly racist CRT.

    To judge the situation among the “broad masses” is trickier, but the opinions that I have seen expressed directly and the indirect claims of opinions that I have encountered point strongly to (mostly Democrat-voting) Blacks being the main source of racism in the U.S.—directed at virtually any other group. Hispanics (mostly Democrat-voting) seem to be better, but do reciprocate the Black anti-Hispanic racism. Whites,* if anything, tend to err on the other side, with claims like “races do not exist”, “IQ is racist”, “differences in outcome are racist”, etc. (Chinese and/or Asian racism is often rumored, but I remain agnostic for the time being.)

    *Whites typically go somewhat Republican, but those erring-on-the-other-side above are skewed, likely strongly so, towards the Democrats. In as far as Republican Whites have “racist” attitudes, it tends to move on the level of “one standard deviation” or “crime statistics show”, while, again, the Black racist attitude is often “X is evil” or “I hate X”.

    How, in the U.S. and elsewhere, is the current anti-Russian wave to be seen? It could be racist or xenophobe, or maybe something else, but it does appear to be directed at Russians, not just Russia and not just Putin and his followers. What would make a generic, random Russian immigrant to the West any worse than a generic, random Ukrainian one?

  2. Racism in the past U.S.:

    Here a Left–Right comparison is tricky, both because party positions change over time and because the U.S. Democrats have, before the last few decades, been roughly “center” by a European standard. However, I do note that Lincoln et al. were Republicans, that the KKK was mostly Democrat, that “Jim Crow” laws were pushed by the Democrats, and that a Democrat interest in pro-Black attitudes might have begun around 1960 (?), quite possibly as an attempt at vote-fishing.* Of course, parts of the more extreme Left, e.g. “Nation of Islam” and the “Black Panthers” held some quite unsavoury opinions.

    *Even today, there are reasons to doubt to what degree the Democrats are genuinely concerned with the well-fare of Blacks (but incompetent) and to what degree they are simply vote fishing. Notably, Democrat policies usually fall well short of the mark and are often even harmful to Blacks. For instance, de-funding the police has lead to a considerable increase in murdered Blacks, because the police is not there to stop Black-on-Black violence. For instance, monetary assistance to teenage single mothers seem to have created a great many Black teenage single mothers.

  3. Racism by* the Soviet Union:

    *As a Communist nation and as opposed to “in the Soviet Union”, where it would be quite hard to identify which individuals held what combination of political and racial opinions.

    Here it can be tricky to tell what actions were based in true racism (e.g. “we Russians are the master race”), and what in pragmatical concerns (e.g. “the chance that a Russian will be loyal to the USSR is larger than for a Kazakh”). However, the sheer amount of actions makes explanations based (wholly or partially) on racism almost impossible to avoid.

    Consider e.g. the early genocide of the Cossacks, the treatment of the Ukrainians (most notably, the Holodomor), acts of barbaric aggressions against (even non-Nazi, non-combatant) Germans at the end of WWII, treatment of e.g. Poles, the secondary stature within the USSR of more Asiatic groups, e.g. Kazakhs, etc.

  4. Racism/xenophobia/whatnot by* the Communist China:

    *As above.

    To begin with, there are the Uyghurs. Other groups with sometime issues include Tibetans, Hmong, Mongols. (Although, I might need to research deeper to see where the border between “in” and “by” lies in the case of China. I have heard tales of strong negative sentiments against Black exchange students in the population, e.g., while the very same students were encouraged by the regime.)

  5. Anti-Semitism:

    Modern anti-Semitism might fall into three broad categories:

    Islamic and Arab animosity, which is likely unrelated to Right/Left issues. (But where I note that many Islamic and/or Arab countries/groupings/whatnot are strongly Left-leaning, in as far as they can be made to fit on a Left–Right spectrum.)

    Alleged far-Right groups, where (in my personal and superficial acquaintance) it is hard to tell what might actually be Rightist anti-Semitism and what is “is considered Right, because of anti-Semitism”. From what I have seen on UNZ, where there are many anti-Semitic commenters, there might be also be more of an issue of “Jewish conspiracy threatens us” or “Jews rubs each others backs” and less of “all individual Jews are evil”.

    Leftist anti-Semitism: Unfortunately, this is not limited to mere anti-Israel or even anti-Zionist feelings, which might be the Leftist self-portrayal. Too often, they have negative feelings about Jews per se—just like Feminists all too often do not stop at negative feelings about their imaginary “rape culture” or “anti-racists” about their imaginary “White supremacy” but extend them to men resp. Whites. (Israel, in all fairness, is actually real.)

    As to the reasons, I note that Israel is often used as the oppressor in oppressor–oppressed relationship in Leftist propaganda, and that a formulation of Jews–Palestinians or Israelis–Palestinians makes for a better image than e.g. Israel–Hamas. Moreover, that the existence of Jews risks the whole narrative of “IQ is racist”, “the SAT is racist”, “Blacks only do worse than Whites due to past and present mistreatment”, etc. Either the Jews are considered White (i.e. evil), or as another “oppressor of Blacks” (i.e. evil) group, or the narrative fails. (Similarly, for the Old Left, there was often a connection between Jews and money/capitalism/banking/whatnot, not dissimilar to, but less explicit than, the one the Nazis* proposed.)

    *Although the Nazi take also had a strong connection between Jews and Marxism. I would suspect, however, that this connection was less factual than e.g. the Jews-and-banking connection, beginning with the question whether Karl Marx, himself, should be considered a Jew. As an aside, the manner in which some Marxists deny a connection between Marx and Jews, even of a non-religious nature, makes a suspicion of anti-Semitism hard to avoid—as if a Jewish Marx would somehow be tainted. (For a reasonable person, “tainted” is a gross understatement when it comes to Marx, regardless of his ethnicity, religion, and whatnot, but these are not reasonable persons.)

    Interestingly, this move of the Jews to an oppressor group is not that dissimilar to the attitudes expressed by the anti-Semites on UNZ either. The difference is who the allegedly oppressed are—Whites or “minorities”. (And, obviously, that Jews are considered a main issue by the one and a mere sub-issue of the main issue, Whites, by the other, at least outside the context of Israel where the Left puts Jews in a position similar to the one they put Whites in in the U.S.)

  6. 20th-century Sweden:

    Until the last few decades of the century, Sweden had a comparatively small non-Swedish (in the ethnic sense) population, most of the non-Swedes were clearly White, often Finnish or otherwise “Nordic”, and there were lesser opportunities for anything racist, “racist”, or similar from the government.* During those last few decades (and on into the 21 century), on the other hand, extreme political correctness came to dominate, and they would hardly have dared to take such an opportunity.

    *Racism, especially in older times, is quite possible between persons of the same actual color. Indeed, even groups like Finns, even in Sweden, have occasionally been mistreated or looked down upon. However, a Finn in Sweden is less obvious than e.g. a Somalian, the cultural and whatnot differences are smaller, and most of the issues, I suspect, predated the 20th century. Then there is the complication of “parallel societies”, which might apply to Somalians, definitely applies to e.g. many Roma and Sami groupings, but (at least today) does not apply to Finns.

    But clearly Sweden, that paragon of enlightenment, tolerance, Social-Democracy, and the “Third Way” would never do anything bad, even given the opportunity and even before the PC-era?

    Not so: A notable non-Swedish group were various Roma/Gypsy/whatnot sub-populations, which had a hard time under Social-Democrat rule. This included many forced sterilisations, low access to schools, and various other problems. This was complemented by negative sentiments in the Swedish Left-dominated population. I cannot guarantee how these sentiments were distributed, but I recall hearing my officially Social-Democrat grand-mother speak derogatorily of “tattare” (a Swedish misnomer, likely based on a cognate to the English “Tartar”), and have not truly seen any signs that Social-Democrats would be more tolerant in real life than any other group.

    (The Sami? They too were often mistreated, but this might have been simply because they, in some sense, were an inconvenience, rather than through a feeling that they were “sub-Swedish”, just like a government might be annoyed over an endangered species preventing that grand new project. I am also uncertain how far in time this mistreatment has objectively reached. I would need more research to write more on the matter. I might make the observation, however, that the Swedish school was quite weak on topics relating to them in at least my days—quite possibly in a manner that would be considered “racist” or “marginalising” by many modern U.S. Leftist educators.)

Excursion on a general need for pride or superiority:
I strongly suspect that humans tend to have a strong drive to be proud or to feel superior about something—even when they, objectively speaking, have little to be proud of. (Maybe, in particular when they have little to be proud of.) At an extreme, one of Fredrick Douglass’s autobiographies speaks of slaves from different plantations getting into fights over who belonged to the better plantation and/or had the better master (my memory is a little vague). Nationalism and other versions of “us vs. them” are very natural candidates to fulfill this need, which makes it highly plausible that nationalism exist in parallel to and independent of e.g. a Left–Right division. An absence of nationalism is, I suspect, more often caused by another set of “us vs. them” groupings filling the same role as those of nationalism would, e.g. “my soccer team vs. the losers from across town”, “we educated vs. the rubes without a bachelor”, or various “identity politics” groupings.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 1, 2022 at 11:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

Never read your idols!

leave a comment »

“Never meet your idols!” the saying goes. A similar saying might apply to re-encountering, after too long a time, someone or something that we once admired:* Working on a text on some early influences and non-influences on my own development, I downloaded a copy of “Broca’s Brain”—a work by Carl Sagan, which I recall reading with great enjoyment at a tender age.**

*For which the title of this text is a hyperbolic special case, not to be taken literally.

**How tender, I do not know for certain, but it was tender: “Cosmos” was, according to IMDB, released in Sweden when I was 7 (1982), which provides a lower bound, while leaving “mellanstadiet” (years 4–6 of school) provides an upper bound. (A better lower bound would be given by the publication of “Broca’s Brain” in Swedish translation, but a short Internet search did not find this information.)

Having now partially read, partially skimmed the introduction and the first of five parts (“Science and Human Concerns”), I am horribly disappointed and will not read on. Not only is the writing the type of poor non-science that makes popular-science books hopeless,* but Sagan reasons poorly, is weak on critical thinking, shows a lack of understanding of what little science is present, is highly naive outside of science, and pushes exactly the type of anti-scientific Leftist populism that is so dangerous and has done so much damage to the modern world. Too often, he abuses rhetoric to spread opinions, instead of factual arguments. Above all, I come away with the impression that he has not truly thought on and gained insight into most of what he discusses.

*E.g. through an immense amount of “human interest” material with only parenthetical mentions of actual science, through sloppy or faulty science, and through more attempts at saying how wonderful this-and-that is than actually demonstrating the wonderfulness (note e.g. the first quote below).

Between the “Cosmos” TV series, “Broca’s Brain”, and one or two other books (of unremembered title[s]), Sagan once seemed an intellectual giant to me. Right now, he seems like a “mid-wit”.

To look at some details:*

*Quotes with reservations for distortions during a PDF to text conversion. Some hyphenation at line-breaks have been removed (as have the line-breaks themselves). Some formatting might have changed.

This book is written just before—at most, I believe, a few years or a few decades before—the answers to many of those vexing and awesome questions on origins and fates are pried loose from the cosmos. […] By far the most exciting, satisfying and exhilarating time to be alive is the time in which we pass from ignorance to knowledge on these fundamental issues; the age where we begin in wonder and end in understanding. In all of the four-billion-year history of life on our planet, in all of the four-million-year history of the human family, there is only one generation privileged to live through that unique transitional moment: that generation is ours.

It might well be that there were many interesting questions posed and/or answered at the time, but that has not been unique to any given “now” for a long time. Consider e.g. someone seeing the breakthroughs of Galileo, Newton, Darwin, or Einstein, or one of a number of other big names, and the ensuing immense changes to our understanding of the world. Their contemporaries might very well have expressed a sentiment similar to Sagan’s. And: We are more than forty years, or almost two generations, past Sagan’s time of writing.* I am not convinced that the set of questions has changed that much or that the answers to them have been provided.**

*Here and elsewhere, I am not clear on what material was written exactly when. The book was published in 1979, but individual copyrights go back to as early as 1974. Depending on the exact quote, and what might or might not have been revised, we land at between 43 and 48 years ago using a year-minus-year calculation.)

**Sagan mostly speaks in generalities and it is hard to make a statement about any given question, because the question is not actually given. However, off the top of my head, I can recall no true and great revelation during my own lifetime (which is approximately the lifetime of the book), only smaller and more accumulating insights. Yes, we have evidence of the Higgs boson, we are reasonably certain how the non-avian dinosaurs died out (and that birds are dinosaurs), and we have a better estimate for the age of the universe; no, we have not seen the equivalent of heliocentrism, evolution, deep space, deep time, special and general relativity theory, quantum mechanics, maybe not even continental drift. (With reservations for discoveries yet to be widely known or sufficiently understood as important.) Moreover, it is in the nature of science that new revelations raise more questions than they answer and that answers tend to merely shift the problem from the current turtle to the turtle below it.

You could feel the presence of nineteenth-century museum directors engaged, in their frock coats, in goniométrie* and craniologie*, busily collecting and measuring everything, in the pious hope that mere quantification would lead to understanding.

*The setting is a French museum, which explains the language.

Apart from being one of many, many examples of atrocious writing, this simultaneously gives a hint of the agenda pushing to come and gives signs of own prejudice and lack of scientific understanding and/or mentality.

Not only is this unwarranted speculation about the long dead, but it also misses the point of measurements and quantification: Good science, outside of strictly theoretical fields, requires measurements, be it to get the lay of the land, to develop first ideas and models, or to verify/reject/refine these ideas and models. Understanding comes from thinking, but we need to have something to think about and a connection between the thoughts and reality. That someone takes an interest in quantification does, as should be obvious, not automatically imply that this is his sole interest and that he considers quantification to be enough.

As to what is measured: Let us say that you were a 19th-century anthropologist with an interest in the physiology of the human mind. Where would you begin your measurements and investigations? With a CT-scan? With an EEG? By cutting up the skull of a living human and placing electrodes into the brain? No, chances are that you would begin with calipers. Maybe, calipers would turn out to be highly insufficient at the end of the day, but you have to start somewhere, you have to start with something realistic, and you have no way of knowing in advance whether calipers will be productive or a dead end.

An array of large cylindrical bottles containing, to my astonishment, perfectly preserved human heads. A red-mustachioed man, perhaps in his early twenties, originating, so the label said, from Nouvelle Calédonie. Perhaps he was a sailor who had jumped ship in the tropics only to be captured and executed, his head involuntarily drafted in the cause of science. Except he was not being studied; he was only being neglected, among the other severed heads.

This is one example of how Sagan seems to push an attitude of something barbaric or wasteful with the collections of a museum. (And what is the point of wildly speculating on the man’s profession and fate?) Maybe, there are some objects who have never brought value or truly do reflect something barbaric, but current neglect is not a sign of this. It might, for instance, be that this head was once an object of intense study, but that this study is now long ended. Who says that the currently neglected might not prove of value at some later time? How are we to know in advance what objects are worth preserving? Etc.

Doubtless the savants of earlier days had hoped there might be some anomaly, some telltale sign in the brain anatomy or cranial configuration of murderers. Perhaps they had hoped that murder was a matter of heredity and not society. Phrenology was a graceless nineteenth-century aberration. I could hear my friend Ann Druyan saying, “The people we starve and torture have an unsociable tendency to steal and murder. We think it’s because their brows overhang.”

This reeks of politically correct “Those people of yore were evil racists. Thank good that we are so much more enlightened!” thinking:

Phrenology was not a “graceless nineteenth-century aberration”—it was merely something that did not pan out. A priori, it might or might not have, and the general idea (but not necessarily the details) was not obviously absurd. There are even aspects of it that proved true, notably the idea of a differentiated brain with different areas having different responsibilities.* (As a contrast, note that Leftists have sometimes tried to deny that even brain volume/weight might have any type of influence, and that the considerable physiological differences between male and female brains would, by some stroke of magic, be equally void of influence. There we have a truly graceless aberration.) From another perspective, that phrenology did not pan out and that no “telltale sign” was found might merely have reflected the limits of science and measurements at the time. Today, it is known that differences within the brain** can affect e.g. behavior (even among humans, as opposed to the more obvious differences between e.g. humans and horses).

*I am not certain whether this idea originated with phrenology, however, or whether it merely was central to phrenology.

**Consider e.g. the considerable influence of the amygdala. Unfortunately, the amygdala cannot be characterized by applying calipers to the outside of a skull.

As to his “friend” (actually, future wife), the quote is a good example of simplistic Leftist thought or argumentation—lack of insight, straw-manning, and borderline sloganeering. Not only does it suggest an active oppression and a level of poverty/whatnot that is only very rarely present, but it also ignores the overwhelming amount of crimes, then and now, committed for reasons other than dire need (or e.g. a wish for vengeance). Look at the current U.S. For that matter, look at Sagan’s U.S. As to overhanging brows, they might be irrelevant, but there is considerable evidence of at least one connection between something largely inborn, IQ, and various behaviors (cf. e.g. “The Bell-Curve”).

It was difficult to hold Broca’s brain without wondering whether in some sense Broca was still in there—his wit, his skeptical mien, his abrupt gesticulations when he talked, his quiet and sentimental moments. Might there be preserved in the configuration of neurons before me a recollection of the triumphant moment when he argued before the combined medical faculties (and his father, overflowing with pride) on the origins of aphasia? [And a looong continued rambling on the same theme.]

I am no expert on the workings of human memory, but I suspect that such ideas border on the ridiculous to someone who is an expert—and would have done so even at Sagan’s time of writing. With the end of neurological activity and the subsequent decay, chances are that virtually everything would be gone. Also note how Sagan, much like a phrenologist, wishes to extract information from the configuration of the brain—the one might want to do so by looking at bumps on the head, the other by looking at neurons, but the principle is not that different.

Broca was a humanist of the nineteenth century, but unable to shake the consuming prejudices, the human social diseases, of his time. He thought men superior to women, and whites superior to blacks.

While I cannot speak for specifically Broca, these formulations, especially “social diseases”, are too far-going and speculative—likely more reflecting Sagan’s prejudices than those of Broca’s time. Leaving the specific word “superior” out of the discussion,* it was clear then and it is clear now, outside of politically correct propaganda, that e.g. great inventors, thinkers, scientists, whatnot tend to be male more or much more often than female—even given equal opportunity. The same applies to e.g white vs. black. Etc. A criticism is valid e.g. if someone were to conclude that all men are smarter than all women, but I have seen few examples of such thinking both in my own experiences of the current world and my readings of history and literature of the 19th century. Women of great actual and proven ability were not shoved off to the kitchen merely for being women—they just happened to be very rare. Possibly infected by Sagan’s tendency to speculate and imagine wildly, I cannot shake the image of someone trying to show Queen Victoria her proper place. She does not seem amused as she loads up for a devastating blow with her handbag.

*Firstly, it is not clear whether this is Sagan’s word or that of e.g. Broca. Secondly, it is unclear what type of superiority is intended, and a discussion would be hampered without clarifying this. For instance, and at one extreme, if we speak of some abstract human value, everyone might be tautologically on the same level. For instance, and on the other extreme, if we equate superiority with having a higher IQ, then these “prejudices” are correct (at the group level). I am also uncertain what the proper connotations of “superior” would have been in the original context—is Lake Superior actually better than Lake Huron? (Or is it simply further to the north? Or is there an other explanation for the name entirely?) Is your superior at work actually better than you?

Indeed, the current world suffers from massive prejudice in the opposite direction, that all are created identical in abilities (not just equal in rights), that what we accomplish in life is determined by how poor or wealthy our parents were, that a few additional years of education is what made the smart smart and the lack of these few years what left the dumb dumb, etc. (Whether Sagan did so too, I leave unstated.) This despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

From another point of view, the defining characteristic of a prejudice is not that it is wrong, but that it is arrived at without sufficient investigation, deliberation, and whatnot. But was that truly the case with the opinions of Broca and his peers? They might have drawn from a wide range of experiences and observations, and might have arrived at these opinions in a perfectly reasonable manner. (This while their current counterparts might reject the very notion of this-or-that out of hand, because it “cannot” or “must not” be true; because a wrong word on the matter could lead to a “cancellation”; or similar—and never mind the actual evidence.)

Even so straightforward a question as whether in the absence of friction a pound of lead falls faster than a gram of fluff was answered incorrectly by Aristotle and almost everyone else before the time of Galileo. Science is based on experiment, on a willingness to challenge old dogma, on an openness to see the universe as it really is.

Hypocrite!

Where would Galileo have been without measurements and observations? Was not Aristotle’s problem (rumored to be) exactly that he failed to do measurements? Why would Galileo be better or worse than a user of calipers? The falling objects happen to be far less complex, and much more easily observed, than the human brain. If it had been the other way around, Galileo might be viewed as a quack and some phrenologist as a hero of science.

Can we know, ultimately and in detail, a grain of salt? Consider one microgram of table salt, a speck just barely large enough for someone with keen eyesight to make out without a microscope. In that grain of salt there are about 10^16 sodium and chlorine atoms. This is a 1 followed by 16 zeros, 10 million billion atoms. If we wish to know a grain of salt, we must know at least the three-dimensional positions of each of these atoms.

Do we now? Firstly, by that standard of exact and exacting detail, humans would know virtually nothing about anything, rendering the idea of knowledge nonsensical and contradictory to previous conceptions. Secondly, is this the right level of abstraction? For instance, virtually any relevant characteristic of this grain of salt will be independent of the exact numbers of atoms and their exact layout. For instance, the individual atoms are not salt. Thirdly, we have issues in the extended family of the Sorites Paradox and the Ship of Achilles. Would, for instance, a previous knowledge be invalidated if two sodium atoms changed places? (Likely with more concerns to be found on deeper contemplation.)

By analogy, would we require this level of knowledge in order to say that someone “knows his brother” or “knows math”? Well, maybe, someone could argue that there is a difference between knowing one’s brother and knowing him “ultimately and in detail”, but even here the bar must either be set lower or the exercise be pointless. If in doubt, what would the benefit of knowing someone/something “ultimately and in detail” be, if such excessive and pointless criteria are applied?*

*In addition, this is the wrong type of knowledge. (Cf. e.g. knowing his exact atomic configuration with knowing, say, his favorite movies, foods, places, whatnot.) However, Sagan notes that there is more to the grain of salt, he would presumably think the same about humans, and it would almost certainly be unfair to criticize him in this area.

If, as seems likely, every bit of information in the brain corresponds to one of these [dendrites], the total number of things knowable by the brain is no more than 10^14, one hundred trillion.

Why would this seem likely? On the contrary, from what I have read so far, as well as from common sense, it is highly likely that various memories are formed by some accumulation of something or other—and I am sceptical as to whether dendrites, per se, are these something or other. Even if we assume that they are, the equation of one bit with one dendrite is dubious, and seems like a naive attempt to apply a computer-memory paradigm onto the brain,* which simply does not pan out.

*I do not know how knowledgable Sagan was in the field of computing/computers/whatnot, but I have seen the same type of thinking from others in the past.

It is an astonishing fact that there are laws of nature, rules that summarize conveniently—not just qualitatively but quantitatively—how the world works.

Is it? Or is it merely a fact that seems astonishing to someone unfamiliar with the idea? (Here the questions should be taken at face value: it is often the case that prior exposure alters expectations, and I am not certain which set of expectations is the more reasonable a priori.)

It might be argued that rules could be found in almost any functioning system, because it is hard to avoid entering the realms of math or quasi-math beyond a certain point. Consider e.g. the “law of large numbers” and variations thereof, and how hard it would be for a large system to avoid it, even absent more deterministic rules.

We might imagine a universe in which there are no such laws, in which the 10^80 elementary particles that make up a universe like our own behave with utter and uncompromising abandon. To understand such a universe we would need a brain at least as massive as the universe.

Why? Even with a high degree of random or unexpected behavior, chances are* that abstraction and blocking of various types would reduce the load considerably—as would the likelihood that we only ever interact with a small subset of all those particles. For a sufficient level of “strangeness”,** the claim might hold, but for any reasonably likely universe, even well short of the actual universe, it will likely be false. In the other direction, for a sufficient level of “strangeness”, no brain might be sufficient—or capable of existence.

*Note e.g. the behavior of a gas or gas mixture, including the atmosphere that surrounds us: While the molecules of a gas underlie rules, they are quite chaotic when taken one-by-one, to the point that they might seem to behave entirely randomly and without rules when viewed by a naive observer. Nevertheless, when aggregated to a level that is observable by a regular human (without special equipment), they behave quite reasonably. Behavior on the quantum level might equally seem absurd to us, but still results in high-level behavior that is easily handled.

**Assume e.g. that your typical particle jumps instantaneously from one point of the universe to another in random manner, while alternating between being an electron, a positron, a beach-ball, and a tea kettle, and while its gravitational pull independently varies between zero and that of a star.

It seems unlikely that such a universe could have life and intelligence, because beings and brains require some degree of internal stability and order. But even if in a much more random universe there were such beings with an intelligence much greater than our own, there could not be much knowledge, passion or joy.

Again, why? On the first count, for a sufficient level of “strangeness”, he might be right, but for more reasonable levels he is likely wrong; and even at extreme levels of strangeness, the result might be a type of life and/or intelligence that is simply strange to us. (Contrast e.g. the eponymous entity from Fred Hoyle’s “The Black Cloud” with a regular human to see how radically different conceptions of life are possible—and then note that the unconceivable-by-humans might be far stranger yet.) The second count is ridiculous given the premise of “beings with an intelligence much greater than our own”—except in as far as passion and joy* might be aspects of life that simply do not apply to a sufficiently different life-form. This, however, does not require an extraordinarily strange universe—it is enough with a sufficiently alien life-form. (Contrast e.g. “Data” with the rest of the TNG Enterprise crew. To a lesser degree, the same applies to some other major characters in the franchise, including various Vulcans and the holographic “Doctor”.)

*Knowledge is less likely to be an issue, but maybe it is too in some extreme scenario—or maybe the idea of knowledge is different.

It is stunning that as we go close to the speed of light our mass increases indefinitely, we shrink toward zero thickness in the direction of motion, and time for us comes as near to stopping as we would like. Many people think that this is silly, and every week or two I get a letter from someone who complains to me about it.

Well, if he phrases it like that… (I am genuinely uncertain whether the formulations are idiotic or whether Sagan has completely misunderstood relativity theory.)

Firstly, if Einstein’s relativity assumption holds,* there is no such thing as getting close to the speed of light—either something is at the speed of light or it is not. To travel at 0.999999999 times the speed of light relative e.g. the Earth** has much more in common with standing still relative the Earth than it does with actually reaching the speed of light. (Similarly, the numbers 5 and 5000000000 have much more in common with each other than with, say, Aleph-0.) Indeed, from the perspective of the traveller, his own speed (“eigen-speed”) is 0—plainly and simply, or the relativity assumption does not hold.

*There is (or was, when I was at Uni) some dispute as to whether it holds perfectly or just approximately, maybe whether the distribution of mass might create a preferred frame anyway.

**Which is not the same thing as travelling at 0.999999999 times the speed of light in an absolute sense.

Secondly, no our mass does not increase, we do not shrink, and time does not come near stopping. All these things remain exactly as they were—because our eigen-speed is 0. On the contrary, it is the rest of the universe which goes through strange changes.*

*From our point of view. If Sagan means something else, e.g. the point of view of an observer in Greenwich, he should not have spoken in terms of “we”.

(One might also criticize the use of the phrase “speed of light” as it misses the point entirely, but the use is so common that it would be unfair to criticize specifically Sagan for it. Indeed, at least in this text, I follow his example for convenience. As to the correct perspective: there is an upper limit on how fast information/causality/whatnot can travel and light happens to be one of the things that travels “at the speed limit”.)

For myself, I like a universe that includes much that is unknown and, at the same time, much that is knowable. A universe in which everything is known would be static and dull, as boring as the heaven of some weakminded theologians. A universe that is unknowable is no fit place for a thinking being. The ideal universe for us is one very much like the universe we inhabit. And I would guess that this is not really much of a coincidence.

A dubious opinion (and what seems like a gratuitous swipe at theologians): A known universe need not be static at all, although a static universe might be easier to know than a dynamic one. Unless the individual individually knows and understands the entire universe, there might be plenty of surprises. (And if he does know and understands it, chances are that he is a being so different from us that Sagan’s and my opinions are irrelevant to him. By Sagan’s own reasoning, the human brain would fall well short of the mark for any universe less trivial than a grain of salt.*) As to the unknowable universe, it will depend on what exactly is unknowable, but chances are that a high degree of “unknowability” would be very tolerable.** Not a coincidence? Is he postulating a divine creator or assuming a sufficient adaption of life to the universe? If the former, he seems hypocritical; if the latter, well, then life might adapt excellently to other universes too.

*Well, maybe a grain-of-salt universe would be boring, but this is a matter of the static state of a grain, not necessarily size or knowledge. Melt the grain and it might be much more interesting.

**Consider an alternate-universe pre-historic human who has no clue why he needs to eat and breathe, maybe even one who cannot rely on night following day and water flowing downwards, but who is certain that the ground will carry him and that that weird feeling in his stomach will disappear if he does eat.

Without Einstein, many of the young people who became scientists after 1920 might never have heard of the existence of the scientific enterprise.

Heh?!? This is too stupid to comment on, beyond bringing the stupidity to the readers’ attention.

[…] the famous equation, E = mc^2, which is so widely quoted and so rarely understood. The equation expresses the convertibility of matter into energy, and vice versa. It extends the law of the conservation of energy into a law of conservation of energy and mass, stating that energy and mass can be neither created nor destroyed—although one form of energy or matter can be converted into another form.

[…]

The complete conversion of one gram of mass [sic!] into energy […]

Indeed, Sagan himself gives conflicting signs as to whether he understands the equation: Either he does not or he expresses himself poorly.

Firstly it is very disputable whether “can be neither created nor destroyed” follows from the formula, as the core is a mass–energy equivalence, not preservation.

Secondly, mass cannot be converted into energy; matter only with reservations.* What can be done is to “convert” mass associated with one type of energy into mass associated with another, e.g. by converting some type of binding** energy into kinetic energy (movement of mass) or kinetic energy into gravitational potential energy (e.g. a mass on a hill) .

*The issue is complicated by Sagan’s inconsistent use of “matter” and “mass”: Matter is a poorly defined concept separate from mass, where, depending on definitions, photons and similar particles need not count as matter, but do have a (relativistic) mass. If, for instance, an electron and a positron cancel each other with two photons as result, it might argued that they were matter “converted” into energy, but the overall energy and mass is no larger or smaller than before. Mass is also a somewhat dubious concept, especially as too many resort to special treatment of “rest mass” over mass or relativistic mass in general. (This especially when it comes to photons, which, according to some, would be massless by dint of having no rest mass. A better perspective is to say that they have mass but no rest[ing] state. Again, being at the speed of light and being at 0.999999999 times the speed of light relative the Earth are two fundamentally different things.) As an aside, I personally suspect that mass is best viewed as a manifestation of energy, which would make the conservation of mass a side-effect of the conservation of energy.

**E.g. chemical energy between atoms in a molecule or nuclear energy between protons and neutrons in an atomic nucleus.

Before Einstein, it was widely held by physicists that there were privileged frames of reference, such things as absolute space and absolute time. Einstein’s starting point was that all frames of reference—all observers, no matter what their locale, velocity or acceleration—would see the fundamental laws of nature in the same way. It seems likely that Einstein’s view on frames of reference was influenced by his social and political attitudes and his resistance to the strident jingoism he found in late-nineteenth-century Germany. Indeed, in this sense the idea of relativity has become an anthropological commonplace, and social scientists have adopted the idea of cultural relativism: there are many different social contexts and world views, ethical and religious precepts, expressed by various human societies, and most of comparable validity.

The physical part might or might not (likelier*) be correct, but I doubt his claims about Einstein’s motivations. The claim is sufficiently unexpected and counter-intuitive that a greater amount of reasoning or references would have been needed. It also reminds me of “Fashionable Nonsense”. A more plausible seeming explanation is that Einstein took a leap that others had either overlooked or not dared. I note that the idea is arguably a generalization of Newton’s laws of motion, which could be seen as putting every fix velocity on par with staying still in at least some regards. What influence Einstein might or might not have had on social scientists I do not know, but I note that cultural relativism is only superficially similar and that using the one to justify the other is ill-advised. Moreover, cultural relativism is to a large part misguided and by no means the height of enlightenment: there are types of comparisons where A vs. B does not matter, but for most As and Bs, there will be some or many comparisons where the difference does matter—and very often important such.**

*Depending on what Sagan intends by “acceleration” and “fundamental laws of nature”. The core relativity assumption refers to fix velocities, and someone in acceleration can feel or measure a gravitation-like pull which is absent when moving without acceleration. If two objects move away from each other at fix speed, they will live in equivalent worlds; if there is acceleration, they live in different worlds, as the gravitation-like pull will be different for the two—most likely entirely absent for one of them, because he is not doing anything, while his counterpart is actively changing the relative velocity between the two. Also note how e.g. the “twin paradox” is based on an asymmetry caused by acceleration. (When we move from special to general relativity, additional restrictions might be needed.)

**To look at extreme ends: (a) Whether we pick the French or English language rarely matters, except when there is a pre-existing English- or French-dominated demographic—the languages are, in some sense, equally powerful and fungible. (b) Western medicine vs. the local shaman will usually leave the shaman in shambles, but if someone has eaten the wrong local mushroom, the shaman might do the better job—the systems are neither equally powerful nor fungible.

(In addition to the above, there are a lot of biographical detail and details of Einstein’s political opinions that could be seen as Leftist agenda pushing and as irrelevant to a text ostensibly on science or scientific thought. As my own text deals with Sagan and his work, I will not go into detail, but I do note, in Einstein’s defense, that Leftist opinions were easier to understand in the long gone past than they are today. Cf. e.g. [1]. Einstein was of a generation where some naivete was understandable, even among the highly intelligent and educated; Sagan does not have that excuse.)

But a very plausible case can be made that our civilization is fundamentally threatened by the lack of adequate fertility control. Exponential increases of population will dominate any arithmetic increases, even those brought about by heroic technological initiatives, in the availability of food and resources, as Malthus long ago realized. While some industrial nations have approached zero population growth, this is not the case for the world as a whole.

And the spectre of Malthus has scared the world again and again, but we are still here. The world population is more than twice what it was back then—and there is a lesser problem with food shortages today. (Excepting some artificially created issues, unrelated to population growth, notably the recent COVID and Ukraine situations.) Maybe a truly problematic point will come some day, but there are other problems that are far worse and more urgent—and here the then zero, now often negative, population growth of “some industrial nations” is a major problem.* These problems include dysgenics within the industrial nations, a demographic shift between industrial and non-industrial nations, and the turning of industrial nations into service nations (see excursion).

*Yes, he is right that the ongoing increase in the non-industrial world is a problem, but not due to global population growth. The problem is the demographic shift.

Of course, Sagan likely commits the error that almost every invoker of Malthus does—to assume that the population will grow and grow with less and less to share per capita. In reality, chances are that we would see a voluntary equilibrium before that point was reached. (If not, we would see an involuntary equilibrium when it is reached.) In particular, any exponential population increase simply would not continue once food becomes scarce enough (or water, living space, whatnot).

Minor climatic fluctuations can destroy entire populations with marginal economies. In many societies where the technology is meager and reaching adulthood an uncertain prospect, having many children is the only possible hedge against a desperate and uncertain future. Such a society, in the grip of a consuming famine, for example, has little to lose. At a time when nuclear weapons are proliferating unconscionably, when an atomic device is almost a home handicraft industry, widespread famine and steep gradients in affluence pose serious dangers to both the developed and the underdeveloped worlds.

Sigh…

Minor climatic fluctuations? To some approximation, they could, but it is rare* and it is more likely that these populations are hit by something falling short of a climatic fluctuation, e.g. bad weather that ruins a harvest or two. Moreover, chances are that they would be partially bailed out by Western charity.

*As Sagan is not more specific, I have to be vague. If we are talking, say, the population of a small village, it is bound to happen every now and then. (But even here there is some chance that it is the village that dies, while the population moves elsewhere.) If we are talking, say, the population of an entire country, I can recall no single example.

Having many children? A half-truth at best. Chances are that having fewer children and giving them more resources and attention per capita would be better.

Little to lose? Lose in what sense and to whom/what? The last thing to do in a “consuming famine” is to have more children. If in doubt, the newly born are unlikely to live long enough to be useful.

Nuclear weapons? What do they have to do with the topic? What is unconscionable about having or proliferating them? (As opposed to using them and with restrictions to non-crazy countries. Note that the threat of nuclear weapons might well be what has prevented WWIII for more than 70 years. Also see excursion.) Is widespread famine supposed to greatly increase the risk of a nuclear war?

The solution to such problems certainly requires […] , and, especially, fair distribution of the world’s resources.

Here a specification of what Sagan considers fair would have been needed—not to mention what resources he means. It might be unfair that the Saudi’s have oil and the Swedes do not, but how is that to be rectified? What about the Swedish trees vs. the Saudi sand? A geographic lottery might see winners and losers, but is not inherently unfair, a win in one section might be a loss in another, and some degree of own choice is involved. Or does Sagan mean e.g. food? If so, much of the differences go back to whether someone works the land and how well—teach a man to farm instead of giving him bread. Or is this some hyper-naive far-Left idea that “once we have redistributed all the money of the rich to the poor, we will live in utopia for ever”?

At the other is the proposal of Gerard O’Neill of Princeton University to construct large orbital cities that would, using lunar and asteroidal materials, be self-propagating—one city being able to construct another from extraterrestrial resources. [With more on the topic following.]

Maybe one day, but here and now? It cannot be seen as a serious suggestion today, let alone in the 1970s. Focus on what is realistic and doable, including revisiting the Moon, first-visiting Mars, building more space stations, increasing space tourism, … Sooner or later, the critical mass will be there, and if the idea pans out, the cities will be built. I would suspect, however, that we would see a moon city first; in part, because benefits seem more likely; in part, because building an orbital city beginning on the moon might be a lot easier. For that matter, underwater cities might be a more reasonable first step.

We are not stronger or swifter than many other animals that share this planet with us. We are only smarter.

Apart from this claim being oddly placed and bringing nothing to its context: While humans have many limitations, in part due to trading specialisation for generalisation and physical abilities for brain power, they do fairly well in absolute strength and swiftness. (Note that most other animals are considerably smaller.) Yes, a human might lose a fight against an elephant or even a largish dog, but what about that fox, mouse, or ant? For larger animals, our brains have given us spears, guns, and other weapons. As to being smarter, I sometimes wonder.

Only a small fraction of the most able youngsters enter scientific careers. I am often amazed at how much more capability and enthusiasm for science there is among elementary school youngsters than among college students. Something happens in the school years to discourage their interest (and it is not mainly puberty); we must understand and circumvent this dangerous discouragement.

I am with him as far as the negative influence of school* is concerned, but (a) I am sceptical to the “small fraction” claim, (b) it is far from a given that school would discourage from specifically science, (c) to claim “more capability” among youngster is ridiculous. Chances are that those who choose a different career** do so for other reasons, e.g. later non-scientific interests, careers that allow better earnings, or the realization that science, as a profession, is not just fun and games but actual hard work. Maybe, some intervention in these areas might be beneficial, but the right to choose freely must be preserved. Moreover, apparent early capability can be misleading, especially when it comes to those untested in math.

*Here and elsewhere with reservations for what might be different between his and my respective school years and the schools of our respective time of writing.

**And, maybe, a science adjacent career, e.g. as a physician instead of a biologist, an engineer instead of a physicist.

It is clear that Albert Einstein became a scientist in spite of, not because of, his schooling (Chapter 3).

My point exactly—he still became a scientist. In a wider view, this chapter (Chapter 4) of “Broca’s brain” seems to implicitly commit the fallacy of assuming that the education makes the man, while the opposite is the truth. (The odder, as the preceding chapter went in the other direction.)

In his Autobiography, Malcolm X describes a numbers runner who never wrote down a bet but carried a lifetime of transactions perfectly in his head. What contributions to society, Malcolm asked, would such a person have made with adequate education and encouragement?

Probably very few and minor, even if the description is correct:* A great memory does not equate to a great scientist (or a great whatnot), no matter how much it might help, and there is no guarantee that he would even have wanted to become one. The question is not one of memory but of ability to think—the good thinker with a poor memory can use a notebook; the poor thinker with a great memory has no such aid. And referencing Malcolm X? Really? A racist, Islamist hate-monger?

*And it need not be. There might be an honest misestimate, exaggerations, misunderstandings, or even fabrication involved.

I believe that there are many more of [brilliant, daring and complex people] around—in every nation, ethnic group and degree of affluence—than we realize.

On the contrary, these make a small proportion of the population even in the West and the “smart” parts of Asia. Elsewhere they are rarer still. (Affluence, presumably in the sense of parental SES or something similar, is more secondary, once corrected for other factors, but by now, if not already “then”, there will almost certainly be a further rarity the lower in income we go, as there has been a filtering over many decades.)

Not all is bad, however. I note e.g. the implicitly anti-post-modern claim:

The well-meaning contention that all ideas have equal merit seems to me little different from the disastrous contention that no ideas have any merit.

(Although, contextually, I am not certain that his own investigation of what claims have what merit was very meritorious. Other claims might indicate a naive support of post-modernism.)

Or take a rare show of self-insight:

The question raises nagging uncertainties about which of the conventional truths of our own age will be considered unforgivable bigotry by the next.

A point which has been of great importance during the last ten or twenty years through the ever more extreme positions of the “New Left”.

Other positive examples include the use of Einstein to illustrate problems with the school system and the similarity of anti-science stances in Nazi-Germany and the Soviet Union. (The latter is of a particular interest to me due to my series on the Nazis and their correct classification as Left-wing. I also note similarities with how the current Left and the COVID fanatics treat science that speaks against their respective orthodoxy.)

As more of an aside, the long time between my current reading and the original publication has led to changes. Contrast e.g. the, by now, decades old ban on CFCs in new refrigerators with:

Steps have finally, although reluctantly, been taken to ban halocarbons* from spray cans (although no one seems to be worrying about the same molecules used in refrigerators) and as a result the immediate dangers are probably slight.

*Halocarbons include CFCs, but also many other chemicals of no relevance here.

Excursion on nuclear weapons vs. delivery systems:
I have long suspected that the creation of nuclear weapons had less impact than the creation of new delivery systems. There was e.g. an early fear that “the bomber always gets through”; and, looking at WWII vs. WWI, the main difference in terms of bombings were not the two (by today’s standards) small nuclear attacks but the massive aerial bombings of Japan,* Germany, London, and some other areas, which would have been inconceivable without a sufficient quantity of suitable** airplanes. Of course, without airplanes, there would have been no (or very different) nuclear attacks to begin with. The true killer might be the ICBM and the ability to e.g. bomb the Soviet Union from U.S. soil and vice versa. With conventional warheads, ICBMs might “only” be able to take out Moscow resp. Washington and New York instead of dozens of cities. But is that not bad enough? Alternately, countermeasures might be strong enough to ensure that “only” half the city is destroyed instead of the entire city.*** In contrast, nukes without a sufficient delivery system are of little value: What are you going to do? Smuggle a few nukes to Moscow by truck and have them waiting two decades for some future signal that their time has come?

*And the conventional bombings of Japan killed more civilians than the nuclear. (Yet, the one counts as war, the other as war crime…)

**Where suitability does not just include the capacity to carry a certain load, but also having sufficient range to reach the target, sufficient speed or height to not be shoot down, etc. Not many years before WWII, the planes for WWII-style bombings were simply not available. Indeed, even the Orvilles were just several decades back.

***Missing a single nuke can easily be worse than missing a dozen very large conventional bombs.

Then we have the question of other “mass destruction” attacks. What about an ICBM loaded with some deadly gas or infectious this-or-that?

If nukes are the larger problem, this is likely restricted to fusion-based devices, which are similarly more powerful relative fission-based devices as fission-based devices are relative conventional explosives. A dozen Tzar Bombas would be far worse than a hundred Little Boys.

Excursion on service vs. industry:
The value of services is usually far more fleeting and often more pointless than industrial production, which too few seem to understand. To this, as a personal anecdote: The first time that GDP (or some similar measure) was explained to us in school, I objected to the inclusion of services—make a toaster and someone has a toaster for ten years; give a haircut and the effect gradually wears off in a month or two. (And most other services have an even shorter period of value…) This while GDP was supposed to be used to compare different countries (with potentially differently sized service sectors) or the same country at different times (again, with potentially differently sized service sectors). Both the teacher and the class seemed to consider me silly. Since then, I have become aware of more points of criticism relating to services (and, off topic, points not relating to services), say, public sector “service” contributions to GDP often having a disputable true value (grow the civil service bureaucracy and GDP increases) or a hired maid being included in GDP while a housewife performing the exact same service is not. When push comes to shove, whether in GDP or “for real”, a service economy can be a giant on feet of clay.

(My current view of GDP is more nuanced than back then, as there are different perspectives. The perspective of the toaster vs. the haircut is valuable, as is the perspective that a toaster is often easier to store or export than a service, but there is also e.g. a perspective of spending, which pays for salaries, which pay for spending, etc., where the proportion of service to manufacture is more secondary than the circulation of money.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 28, 2022 at 10:14 pm

Follow-up: Nazis VI: Excursion on Roe v. Wade and the Nazi-attitude of the Left

leave a comment »

The actual overturning* of Roe v. Wade has now taken place—and the Left has done everything that it can to prove its Nazi-attitude. We are simply and plainly reaching a point where it is disputable whether the Left can ever again be considered politically legitimate, where, drawing on the hypocrisy of Marcuse,** we might be forced to simply stop tolerating it, where even an ardent supporter of free-this-and-that must contemplate the possibility that McCarthy had the right general idea.***

*For details of the overturning, see “Dobbs” (PDF), with multiple convincing opinions in favor of the decision. (Yes, I have, apart from appendices, read them.)

**The promised text will probably follow at some point during the summer. In short—by their own words, they are condemned: The Left is (and was, even at Marcuse’s time of writing) the greater source of intolerance and often by a very large distance; if we must not tolerate the intolerant, then we must not tolerate the Left.

***Without necessarily agreeing with the details of his opinions and methods.

This includes:

  1. Unprovoked* threats of and attempts at violence against the SCOTUS.

    *No, a legally correct finding of law, correcting a previous gross error, is not provocation. (Also note below remarks on misrepresentation by the Left.) Even if it were, by some absurd stretch of the imagination, the following two items concern persons and entities that did make the finding.

  2. Unprovoked violence and riots directed at the public, including and especially “pro-lifers”.
  3. Unprovoked acts of violence against the state of Arizona* (and maybe some other governmental entities) that go far beyond the alleged “insurrection” of the January-6 victims, including attempts to storm the Arizona Capitol.

    *If there is a particular reason for Arizona, as opposed to e.g. Mississippi (the victorious party in Dobbs), I have missed it.

  4. Calls to delegitimize or abolish the SCOTUS for actually doing its job–and for actually relinquishing (!) arrogated powers back to the legislative branch and the individual states.
  5. Calls for undemocratic and in-violation-of-separation-of-powers attempts to circumvent the decision. (As opposed to legitimate law changes—which the SCOTUS would not object to.)
  6. Gross and often obviously deliberate misrepresentations of what the decision contains, what it implies, and what the motivations of the court were—and often such that have spread to international media.

    Here I point to my original text for details of the ideas, but note in short that the decision does not make abortion illegal, but moves the choice back to the democratically elected state parliaments—as opposed to the appointed federal justices. Any state that wants to keep abortion legal can do so; a sufficient majority of the states and congress could even add an amendment to create the same effect as “Roe” once had.

    (I would go as far as to argue that the central issue at hand in Dobbs was not abortion at all, but Leftist judicial activism versus non-Leftist attempts to preserve the constitution, the division of powers, and the states’ rights—or, equally, Leftist dictatorial methods versus non-Leftist democratic ones.)

  7. Gross and often obviously deliberate misrepresentations of the availability of abortion (both before and after) relative the rest of the world. (The U.S. had among the laxest laws in the world, much of the U.S. still has and will have, and even the Mississippi law tested in Dobbs was entirely unremarkable internationally.)

Violence, intimidation, lies, …—very Nazi.

Excursion on a weakness in Dobbs:
In my impressions so far, there is a small weakness in Dobbs. This weakness is outweighed by far by the sum of argumentation, but might be worth noting:

Going counter to the principle of “stare decicis” must consider the effect on those who might have relied on the previous ruling(s). This is done with regard to pregnant or potentially pregnant women, but the issue of abortion clinics/physicians/whatnot is not* discussed. It is for instance possible that someone has invested half a fortune in setting up a clinic—and that this clinic suddenly is forced to severely reduce its business and/or to branch into other fields, because a dormant state law now becomes active again.

*Or only superficially: There is a mountain of text and I might not have been at full concentration throughout.

(No, I do not have sympathies for this type of clinic, but everyone is equal in front of the law.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 27, 2022 at 12:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

COVID hysteria and the truly misinformed / Follow-up: Nazis XIVa

leave a comment »

In Nazis XIVa, I noted:

(Similarly, I recently heard that some believed in around 600 thousand COVID deaths. No, not in the U.S.—in Sweden! No wonder that some are in a state of great fear of COVID… In Sweden, this would amount to around 6 % of the population (or around 20 million, if applied to the U.S.). The last real number that I saw was 18 thousand—or less than a 33rd of this overblown estimate.)

Today, I encountered a very interesting discussion of media failures during the COVID era—including a few more data points on the above:

In the summer of 2020, 1,000 citizens from several countries were polled on the pandemic. Below is the mean percentage that the sampling showed people thought the COVID-19 death tallies were after three months of the pandemic:

Country Population Percent that died from COVID-19 That Absolute Population Number Actual Number of COVID-19 deaths at the time
United States 9% 29,700,000 132,000
United Kingdom 7% 4,830,000 48,000
Sweden 6% 600,000 6,000
France 5% 3,300,000 33,000
Denmark 3% 174,000 580

(I note that the early time of the poll moves my original semi-current 18 thousand actual deaths down to a mere 6 thousand at the time, increasing the level of exaggeration from roughly 33 to roughly 100. I also note that the article laments how this poll was ignored in the news—which explains why I only heard of the 600 thousand as late as I did.)

Again: No wonder that some are in a state of great fear of COVID.

And, as similar claims seem to hold in other areas: No wonder that the Left manages to be elected, that nuclear power is feared, that pseudo-scientific nonsense about “White Supremacy” and “Patriarchy” is believed, etc., etc., etc.

We truly do need restrictions on the vote to those who (a) have a brain, (b) use it, (c) keep themselves informed.

I also note that this is further confirmation that it is the COVID pushers, not the sceptics, who are the poorly informed (cf. e.g. [1]), and that the overall article supports my claim (cf. [2]) that it is the “I have a bachelor in gender studies and read the paper!” crowd that is the problem—not those who question the papers and actually inform themselves independently.

(As to “Nazis XIVb”, there might be a while before I get around to it. Generally, I am both a little fed up with the topic and have overstrained my fingers with this-and-that, so the reduced rate of publication in the Nazi series is likely to remain reduced.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 22, 2022 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

Market forces and the energy crisis

leave a comment »

As I have noted in the past, governments seem to do their darnedest to sabotage market forces—to the detriment of almost everyone. (Cf. e.g. [1] and [2].)

An interesting family of examples relate to the recent threatening* energy crisis. Not only is the cause largely incompetent or destructive government intervention, but the approach to alleviate it is paradoxical:

*Depending on point of view, “current” might be better than “threatening”.

On the one hand, governments insist that the people should use less of this-and-that, drive less, heat less, whatnot. On the other, they hand out money to the people to compensate for the rising prices—thereby removing the strong incentives to use less of this-and-that, etc., which the rising prices gave. And, no, these compensations are by no means limited to those who might not get by without them. Germany, for instance, is discussing a near-blanket gift of hundreds of Euro to all wage/salary earners.* We might then have the situation that the compensations keep consumption up, deepening the crisis, while also giving the energy industry incentives to increase prices further…** Indeed, I have heard vague*** suggestions that the legislature should intervene to enforce the wanted behaviors in Germany, rather than rely on the markets.

*With reservations for the exact details. Note that this raises three additional questions: Firstly, where is the money for that near-blanket gift to come from? (As with much of government “gifts”, chances are that it will amount to giving with the one hand while taking with the other.) Secondly, would this money actually be used for energy costs or would it be spent on e.g. new TVs? Thirdly, what about those of us not currently “in gainful employment”, who will often be among the most needy/hardest hit by a cost increase? (I can still afford life based on savings and would likely be able to find a well-paying job if I wanted to, but my situation is an exception. Others are less lucky.)

**Which might then be countered by additional compensations.

***The exact details and scope are very unclear. One source seemed to imply that citizens would be forced to take some unspecified actions; another, merely that there would be a reduction in the minimum temperature that landlords needed to guarantee during the winter. (No, I did not keep the sources.) Knowing Germany, almost nothing would surprise me.

Abstain from compensations and what happens? Energy consumption would be naturally reduced, the crisis diminished, and prices would rise more slowly (or, depending on details, remain in place or even sink).

Similarly, greater profits from energy sales (per unit) give the energy industry incentives to increase production, find new sources of imported energy, whatnot, so that it can sell more and increase earnings further. This would increase supply, alleviate the crisis, keep prices from spiraling out of control, …—but what do governments do? They accuse the industry of price gauging, suggest price controls, institute windfall taxes, …, thereby removing or reducing the incentives to increase supply—maybe, even, the incentives to stay in business.

Then there is the issue of resource allocation: Allow markets to work and allocation will mostly take care of it self, e.g. because those in greater need of energy and those who will profit more from it are also willing to pay more. Hinder markets and the allocation will be worse or far worse.

Excursion on ability to cut consumption:
A great many members of the people do have a considerable scope to reduce consumption even in the very short-term. (Unlike many industries, should they not want to reduce production.) With the yearly overview sent by the local utilities company, I receive a list of what energy brackets* are considered very low/low/normal/high/very high—and I have consistently been below the limit** for “very low” for both electricity and gas during my years in this apartment. After giving up gas entirely, I am still below the limit for “very low” for electricity. (And, no, I do not own a car, so I am clean as a whistle there too.)

*With an additional division into size of household. My “very low” consumption is measured against other singles—not against families of four.

**Presumably, the upper limit. The listing is a bit vague on this, however.

“Sure, but you are a green fanatic who puts himself through hoops that others cannot conscionably manage.”

On the contrary, I consider most of the green movement laughably naive, destructive, and unhelpful for the environment. (And I am not a penny-pinching Uncle Scrooge either.) It is true that I pay attention to some unnecessary consumption, e.g. in that I usually turn lights on and off as I enter or leave most rooms (while many others just leave them on), but I spend almost the entire average day in my apartment, I have at least one notebook running at any given time, I have both a fridge and a freezer that run 24 hours a day, I never bother to turn the main light in my work/bed room off (not even when I leave the apartment), I make coffee half-a-dozen times a day, I use either oven or stove about once a day (on average), there is some toast every-now-and-then, this-or-that is always charging, etc. Apart from cold showers, I see nothing frugal in my behavior—and I must conclude that the problem is wastefulness among others.

Excursion on showers:
A long hot shower can be quite energy consuming, but a short hot shower cleans just as well. A longer duration might increase short-term enjoyment, but wastes time and can lead to long-term issues like dry skin and an overstrained circulatory system. Indeed, that I tend to go with cold showers (even before I cancelled gas services) has nothing to do with costs or the environment—and much* with the knowledge that I can have very great problems with ending a hot shower. If I do take a hot shower, the result is typically a long series of “just one more minute”, which accumulates to far more than that one minute. By going with a cold shower, this temptation is removed.

*Another, but more secondary, reason is an alleged health benefit from cold showers.

Excursion on Germany and compensation:
Germany seems to have some odd fixation with compensation. For instance, it seems to me that every time that a tax is raised or a fee levied, a counter-measure is instituted to compensate for the effects on the needy (or some similar group). The result? Further distortions and a more complicated system. If there is a fear that the people cannot afford raised taxes then do not raise taxes! (Indeed, even when it can afford raised taxes, not raising taxes can be a good idea, as they tend to do more harm than good and contribute to the problems caused by big government—starve the beast!)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 22, 2022 at 7:38 am