Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Pale Moon as a replacement for Tor Browser (or Firefox)

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With the continued deterioration of Firefox and the major recent or (for Tor Browser* users) up-coming changes, I have strongly considered moving away from the Tor Browser*. Specifically, I have had my eyes on Pale Moon, a complete fork of an older Firefox version, for a long time, but have held back because it was not available from the Debian repositories**.

*The Tor Browser is a derivative of Firefox, based on the “extended support releases” rather than the latest release. This implies that changes of various kinds are released later or considerably later than for Firefox it self.

**Implying that there would be more hassle to get it running, no way to get automatic security updates through the standard Debian mechanisms, etc.

I read up more in detail some weeks ago*, with the urgency rising, considering going for a switch anyway:

*The below contents are from my open browser tabs. There might have been edits, new posts, whatnot since then.

At first, it seemed to be a sufficiently strong candidate that I could see myself dropping the hardening provided by the Tor Browser in return for having a “better Firefox”. In particular, it promised not to duplicate Firefox’ absurd attitude towards the users (cf. e.g. [1], [2]). For instance, the FAQ claims:

Firefox is created with one-size-fits-all in mind; Pale Moon is created with efficiency and user choice in mind. These two approaches are mutually exclusive, […] Pale Moon also has a different set of goals as to what should be included in the browser and intended audience.

Pale Moon has a number of differences in the user interface and feature set to provide an as intuitive, predictable, logical and usable user interface as possible for the best user experience. […]

Note that Pale Moon will never adopt the Australis (Firefox 29 and later) interface and aims to remain a fully XUL-driven browser with full user interface customizability.

Also please note that Pale Moon has not run rampant with its releases […]

However, the official forums showed that Pale Moon might talk the talk—but it does not walk the walk. (I have particular concerns about the lead developer, “Moonchild”, but make reservations for the risk of misattributation.) Consider the following forum discussions (by no means a complete list):

  1. https://forum.palemoon.org/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=17619:

    The developers more-or-less force the users to give up the very, very valuable NoScript plug-in*, using the motivation that too many web-sites would break when it is turned on and that Pale Moon would be blamed by uninformed users—a truly Firefoxian move!

    *The use of “plug-in” and “add-on” in this text might be inconsistent. (Starting with my never quite having found out whether there is a difference in Firefox terminology and, if so, exactly what that difference is.)

    Since this is implemented through blacklisting of the plug-in, it appears that the only way to get the plug-in to work again is to turn off the blacklist entirely, which means a considerable unnecessary security risk… The flaws of this implementation, be it of the block, per se, or the blacklist, seem to be beyond the developers’ comprehension.

    The repeatedly displayed lack of insight to the criticism raised in the thread led to comments like

    This makes the whole idea of switching from Firefox a farce– it is replacing the arrogance of one party with the arrogance of another.

    You are the one who needs perspective, and people are going to be giving it to you. You will certainly not gain it though.

    (More complaints about this decision can be found in e.g. https://forum.palemoon.org/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=19119. This might at some point include the above, seeing that the moderators want to merge threads.)

  2. https://forum.palemoon.org/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=5647:

    Here a number of rules are given for those who want to suggest new features. While some of them are somewhat sensible, not all are, and the overall impression is not positive:

    Is the suggested feature specific to your workflow? If so, you have to think about how it would affect people who do things differently, and how many people are likely to use the same workflow you do. Evaluate your own browsing behavior before suggesting this kind of feature.

    This is not only very hard to check, but the attitude displayed here goes a long way in the direction of “if the majority does not use it, it should not be a feature”, which is a major problem with modern software—including the Firefox of the last years. (There is much positive to say about avoiding feature bloat, including easier maintenance; however, older Unix software has shown that it is possible to achieve tremendous functionality and flexibility without writing undue features, simply through the correct thinking. In contrast, most modern software falls on its face as soon as the user tries to do something other than the designers explicitly intended—which is often pitifully little and highly limiting.)

    Is the suggested feature culturally neutral? Keep in mind that Pale Moon users come from all walks of life everywhere in the world. Core features should apply to everyone and not be regionally or culturally bound where possible.

    This sounds like the worst type of Politically Correct crap: Either a feature makes sense or it does not. “Cultural neutrality” is not a valid criterion. (Note that e.g. a Bible-study helper or a find-the-way-to-Mecca helper would be, even without this guideline, too specific to make a useful feature, a prime example of something to put in a plug-in, and/or something that could be generalized to something more useful and culture neutral.)

    How “advanced use” is the suggested feature? While I wholly welcome power users and gurus to use Pale Moon, any added feature should still be easy to understand for most anyone.

    Again a fundamentally flawed approach from a software-development perspective: This ties the hands of the development and could cause a number of beneficial features not to be implemented. It would, for instance, have prevented the development of the features needed for plug-ins… To boot, the limit for “too advanced” is usually set far too low, as e.g. with Firefox and images on/off or, indeed, with Pale Moon and NoScript above…

    Are there multiple existing solutions to what the suggestion addresses? You can call this “technical neutrality”. If there are clear choices a user can make from e.g. existing add-ons to get the feature implemented in different ways, with different levels of granularity or catering to different situations, then the feature is likely less suitable for inclusion in the browser core. User choice is an important driver for Pale Moon.

    While I agree with the question, I find the explanation incomprehensible. For one thing, I am not certain that I understand what is meant; for another, the argumentation is contrary to expectations: If there are multiple existing add-ons to solve a problem, then that could very well be a sign that the functionality should be given a blessing as a core feature (or that some core feature should be made available to cover commonalities of the add-ons). The more solutions there are, the more popular the feature is likely to be, and the more duplication is caused by not having it as a core feature… Indeed, the question would be better as “Is there at least one existing solution to what the suggestion addresses?”, seeing that this is where the question gains its legitimacy.

    Does the suggestion improve overall quality of the browser? A suggestion for a core feature should improve overall quality or convenience for the user in the broadest sense of the word and applicable to a majority of the Pale Moon users.

    Again, a question that makes sense followed by an explanation that does not: This again commits the sin of ruling out features based on some version of “majority use” and rules many things out that would fulfill the question.

    Does the suggestion hinder the download and display of any content? Pale Moon should enable and promote the download of web content, not prevent it. This applies to any content, including commercial content that might be considered “superfluous” or “undesired”. As such, the Pale Moon browser core will not be a good place to put any “blocking” features (ad blockers, script blockers, etc.)

    Spurious reasoning: A good browser should serve to display content the way the user likes it. This includes having some ability to block content as a matter of course, including a minimum of e.g. images on/off*, JavaScript on/off, Cookies on/off, animated content on/off, movies on/off, sound on/off, and preferably e.g. a possibility to black-list based on a pattern. Indeed, many of these can be hard or impossible to implement without supporting core features… However, more advanced solutions, e.g. that provided by the NoScript plug-in are preferably to put in an add-on to avoid bloat. (But then the NoScript plugin is not available anymore…)

    *In some examples, there can be a question of whether the actual download or only the display should be prevented. However, one of the main reasons to block some types of contents is to reduce the number and size of downloads—especially for those who use Tor and see correspondingly slower downloads.

  3. https://forum.palemoon.org/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=19187:

    A post titled “The developers’ attitude” starts this thread thus:

    OK, you have to be the biggest asshole developers I’ve seen in a while. With this attitude you don’t deserve any attention or recognition whatsoever.

    The stupidity that stems from this is so immense that after I read it, its force was so strong a wind gushed from my monitor and pushed me back.

    I don’t care if you delete this thread or ban me, the important thing is that a moderator and maybe some users will read it before its deletion and you will get called out for the arrogant asshats you are.

    You need to stop with this attitude or even the few people that use your outdated, laughable FireFox forks will stop using it knowing you’re a bunch of douchebags.

    Unfortunately, there is no reason given for this opinion, but it is certainly not a good sign, especially when combined with the other threads mentioned.

    (The rest of the thread is, predictably, a flame war.)

  4. https://forum.palemoon.org/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=19696:

    Here a user has problems with a missing option to continue with a page display after a warning concerning certificates—a standard feature in modern browsers. The responses are not cooperative and the OP says:

    But in this case it was safe, as seen by the fact the page loaded if I followed a link to get to it. So, why does Pale Moon get to make the decision instead of me? Shouldn’t a manual override always be an option? Shouldn’t I have control over how I use the program?

    (An opinion that I support whole-heartedly: He should be in control, Pale Moon claims to want to put users in control, and not actually doing so is both user-hostile and hypocritical. Software should enable—not disable.)

    Most of the thread consists of a back and forth between users, who believe that they should be in charge, and developers, who believe that they know better…

  5. https://forum.palemoon.org/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=11659:

    Here the developers explain “why we prefer to not allow TOR relayed users to use our services”—using entirely specious reasoning: Because Pale Moon would not in any way be “personally or ideologically sensitive”, anonymity is not needed and the only conceivable use of Tor would be for illicit purposes like “abuse, spam and trolling”.

    This shows a fundamental lack of understanding for how anonymity on the Internet works and the problems relating to e.g. profile building and government surveillance—not to mention the potential extra effort to e.g. run multiple browsers. To boot, if all sites reasoned in this manner, only a fraction of sites would be usable with Tor, and Tor correspondingly be reduced to a tool for criminals/terrorists and vulnerable politicals, instead of the general anonymity tool it is supposed to be.

    Some other thread that I did not keep open also showed a complete misunderstanding of the advantages and disadvantages of Tor.

    For someone considering a switch from Tor Browser (or even Tor it self), this is not a good sign, especially since this type of naivete is likely to also manifest it self in the internal workings of Pale Moon, e.g. concerning what data is volunteered to various sites.

At least at this point of time, I would not touch Pale Moon with a ten-foot pole. For others, it might or might not be better than the original Firefox, but that is not a ringing endorsement… Tor Browser users should certainly stay with Tor Browser, even at the price of losing a few plug-ins. Sadly, the reason for my rejection is that Pale Moon manifestly does have the same user-despising philosophy as Firefox—quite contrary to the official claims.

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Written by michaeleriksson

August 14, 2018 at 8:29 am

How the U.S. Supreme Court is divided

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I have done a bit of reading on the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. constitution, and related issues during the last year, and would like to suggest a different perspective to the traditional Republicans vs. Democrats thinking: There is a line dividing the Supreme Court, but it is not inherently a matter of political leaning—it is a matter of approach to the job. Specifically, one faction* tries to actually do its job by pushing the standards set by law and precedent, above all the Constitution, while the other** sees the job, at least partially, as an opportunity to push personal preferences.

*Clarence Thomas is the possibly paramount example in my outsider’s/layman’s perspective. Others likely to be here in the current line-up (temporarily of eight) are Roberts, Gorsuch, and Alito. (Caveat: A too shallow study of the individual or a too poor memory can make this list imperfect.)

**Sotomayor, Breyer, Bader Ginsburg, Kagan? (Caveat: As above.)

It is true that this line is not that different from the was-appointed-by-a-Democrat resp. -Republican line; however, this is consistent with my impression of the typical mentality of the Left/“liberals”/Democrats and the “Right”/Conservatives/Libertarians/Republicans, respectively. Moreover, by ensuring that judges* are appointed based on their qualifications, intelligence, dedication to an Originalist and (possibly) Textualist interpretation (see excursion), the question of political affiliation becomes a very secondary issue, the maneuvering to get as many “Republican appointed” or “Democrat appointed” judges as possible would mostly be a waste of time, and the risk that the Supreme Court of ten or twenty years later over-turning precedent is reduced considerably**.

*I go with a more generic word to avoid loss of generality. In other contexts, “justice” or “associate” might be more common.

**Precedents would be over-turned for reasons like changes in interpretation by similar criteria, a better understanding of implications, and similar—but not because a certain judgment fits an ideological agenda better and not because radically different criteria are applied.

Excursion on “doing the job”:
Why do I say that the one faction does its job and the other does not? Well, the entire U.S. system is based on a division of powers; and the Constitution is by its nature intended to be a fix guide-line through time, which has been made deliberately hard to change. When a court, be it the Supreme Court or a lower court, takes it upon it self to re-interpret the Constitution (or other laws), the division of power is diminished through the court’s effectively enacting legislation, and the intention of a fixed Constitution is thrown out the window. I once stumbled upon a claim* of approximately “if I can make the constitution better [implied, by judicial activism], why should I not?”—to which the obvious answer is: If you want a better constitution, request a bloody amendment! There are established procedures to do so, including provisions for congressional votes and ratification by the states—it is not acceptable that five individual judges take it upon themselves to do in hours or days what usually takes years.**

*I have no idea of by whom. It was likely one of the current or recent members of the Supreme Court, but it could have been someone outside it merely debating principles.

**Other countries also often have strict criteria for constitutional changes, e.g. in terms of the needed majority or, as in Sweden, that the change must be approved by two separately elected parliaments (i.e. parliament approves it, a regularly scheduled parliamentary election takes place, parliament re-approves it).

Of course, some degree of interpretation is always necessary, especially in a common-law system; however, this should usually* be an “Originalist” interpretation, because other interpretations usually* imply exactly the type of change that should be done per amendment. The question of whether to use a “Textualist” or “Intentionalist” interpretation is tougher: The intentionalist might be truer to the original philosophy; however, it also opens the door to malicious misinterpretation**, especially in combination with changing times; and raises the question of whose intention. (The authors’? The voting members’ of Congress? The ratifying states’? What if these had different interpretations?) All-in-all, the Textualist interpretation is likely the better choice, but I am open to more flexibility than with the requirement of Originalism—a non-Originalist is not doing his job…

*Legitimate exceptions could conceivably occur when matters are involved that the original authors could not reasonably have foreseen, e.g. through technical developments (but not changes to mores and social values; this is similar to Churches in an older text). Even here, however, the interpretation should attempt to be compatible with the underlying intents in related areas.

**I lack the depth of legal knowledge to give strong examples (although e.g. “dignity” arguments in the context of “same-sex marriage” possibly could qualify), but I recall how a publisher defended censoring or re-formulating parts of an older book with the idiotic argument and exceedingly bold claim that it was certain that this was what the dead author would have wanted… (Sadly, there are simply too many cases of such changes, especially relating to censorship of “nigger”, for me to remember which book, etc. It might have been “To Kill a Mockingbird”, shortly after Harper Lee’s death.) What if, similarly, a judge is “certain” that the Constitution would have intended for “nigger” to not be covered by freedom of speech in the modern society? Or “certain” that due process was not intended to include those accused of rape in the modern society?

More generally, it is important to bear in mind that judges are not there to determine what is ethically right or wrong, what is fair, whatnot (except within the leeway given by the law and the circumstances at hand)—their job is to determine what is legally right. If a law says that it is illegal to wear a yellow tie, the judge is not at liberty to overrule the law based on the belief that the illegality is preposterous. (However, he might when other laws take precedent, e.g. by arguing a violation of some Constitutional right. A U.S. jury might, controversially, also have some degree of private leeway here.)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 14, 2018 at 2:07 am

Follow-up: Further mistreatment of athletes / a call to revisit the illegality of large groups of drugs

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As a brief follow-up to a recent text around doping in sports:

Further controversy around the Meraf Bahta issue was caused by the Swedish federation allowing her to compete in the (just concluded) European Championships, under the assumption that she, possibly excepting incompetence, had done nothing wrong and had not* gained any artificial advantage.

*While someone who unknowingly uses some form of illegal drug can still have a such an advantage.

Through the course of the Championships, she won (with reservations for the ongoing disputes around her status) a bronze medal in the 10,000 meters, and chose to forego the 5,000 meters (and a presumed greater medal opportunity) based on the controversy, personal pressure, or whatnot.

In this situation, the sport and/or some individuals will lose, irrespective of what the eventual outcome of the investigations are:

Either Bahta is cleared, has lost her 5,000 meters chances for nothing, and the medals of that event have been devalued through the absence of one of the medal favorites; or she is suspended after the fact, and then the 10,000 meters has to be re-ordered, with a new Bronze medalist (who lost early positive publicity and whatnot), and the remaining risk that the results would have been different in other regards without Bahta (e.g. through changes to race tactics or coincidences).

I still, broadly speaking, support the Swedish federation, seeing that depriving Bahta of the chance to compete entirely would have been a greater injustice towards her. To boot if she eventually is cleared, we would now have two devalued events instead of one.

Instead, I see this a further indication that my general proposition (that the overall stance on doping in athletics should be changed) is the way to go.

(However, there might be other ways to at least reduce the secondary problems, e.g. in that there are internationally clear rules that an athlete is allowed to compete and gain preliminary results while investigations are pending—with no room for national decision making, criticism of the involved, or other possible sources of controversy. Alternatively, but less fairly, that such competition is forbidden by internationally clear rules.)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 12, 2018 at 11:24 pm

Me too five: Swedish Track-and-Field

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During the “me too” campaign, Swedish Track-and-Field hit the spotlight after Moa Hjelmer*, former European Champion, claimed** to have been raped. An investigation into sexual and physical abuse in the area of Track-and-Field was launched, and a report published.

*I have no idea whether she is included among the survey respondents (see below).

**To preempt outbursts from an irrational reader: I have no deeper knowledge of the matter, and neither deny nor confirm the event. However, experience shows that it is very important to approach matters relating to rape, sexual abuse, child abuse, …, agnostically and to use agnostic formulations until considerable proof is present.

At the time, I downloaded the report, fully intending to give it a thorough read and, if needed, comment upon it—but put this off again and again, expecting it to contain dozens upon dozens of pages. It does not…

It has a whopping four (4!) pages and a cover, most of the contents amounting to “look how seriously we take this”.

Looking into what is said about the investigation, I find:

  1. A survey had been sent to 404 Swedish athletes, of which 192 had actually answered.* The survey included both men and women, but neither their absolute numbers nor their proportions are mentioned.**

    *Note, below, that the low answer rate could imply that the percentages claimed in the report could be exaggerated by as much as a factor two for the overall survey addressees, seeing that those who have been victims tend to be disproportionately likely to answer.

    **Some speculation might be possible based on answer rates (or other numbers); however, the claim that 48 % of everyone, 53 % of women, and 48 % of men had answered makes this tricky: Either the rates are misreported or the proportion of male addressees must have been considerably higher than for female addressees. That 192 / 404 is roughly 47.5 % (48 % only with maximal rounding) makes the combination even less plausible.

    The athletes have been pre-filtered with the constraint that they were active in the Track-and-Field national team at some point in the range 2011–2017. While this ensures some degree of currency (and is generally not unreasonable), it could skew the overall results by including many events too far back to describe the current situation—e.g. that someone did a last tour in 2011, at age 35, and describes an event that took place when 15, i.e. around 1991. Here it might have been helpful to include some younger athletes without previous national-team experience and/or to restrict the survey to e.g. events during the last ten years. (Note that at least the “physical abuse” part below appears to be dominated by experiences pre-adulthood.) With regard to an athlete’s younger years, it should also be noted that Swedish Track-and-Field has seen a number of “imports” and that their prior experiences could skew the situation further.

  2. The survey uses the following definitions:

    Sexual abuse (“sexuella övergrepp”): Exposure* to some of the following against own will** (“Utsatthet för något av följande mot egen vilja”):

    *The Swedish original uses a very awkward wording, which is actually only partially reflected in the awkward translation. “Utsatthet” usually refers to a more persistent state and often has further going connotations of e.g. lack of protection than would be expected in this context. (In contrast, a formulation like “att bli utsatt för”/“to be exposed to” would have been more reasonable.)

    **It is not clear from context whether this is restricted to non-consensual activities or whether voluntary-but-reluctant activities are included—be it with regard to the intention of the survey makers or the reading by the survey takers. In another context, I might have given the former interpretation a nod, but in light of the common malpractice of including exactly voluntary-but-reluctant activities into abuse, or even rape, I urge caution. (Also note the absence of references to force and threats.) Similarly, it is not clear how e.g. welcome actions that took place without prior or implied consent are to be handled. No word is said about reasonable expectations of the other party (e.g. when two sexual partners are in bed together and the one makes a grab for the others genitals; cf. the first sub-item).

    • someone has touched your genitals* (“någon har berört dina könsdelar”)

      *It is not clear whether the genitals had to be naked, whether accidental touching is included, and whether non-sexual contacts are included (for instance, should it be considered sexual or physical abuse when someone is kicked in the groin?). An additional danger is that some might misinterpret this to include e.g. breasts or buttocks—a more explicit formulation would have been beneficial.

    • you have masturbated for* someone (“du har onanerat åt någon”)

      *The use of “for” preserves an ambiguity in whether the sense goes in the direction of “giving a hand-job” or “giving a show”. Unlike “to masturbate”, “att onanera” would imply a self-pleasing act (i.e. “giving a show”); however, “åt” points in the other direction (as does the general context).

    • you have had vaginal intercourse (“du har haft vaginalt samlag”)
    • you have had oral sex (“du har haft oralsex”)
    • you have had anal sex (“du har haft analsex”)

    (In the three last items, there is no specification of whether as “top” and/or “bottom”. Both could be intended or the survey could be skewed to exclude many abuses of men, which would not be unprecedented.)

    Physical abuse (“Fysiska övergrepp”): Exposure* to some of the following against own will** (“Utsatthet för något av följande mot egen vilja”):

    *The same remarks as for sexual abuse apply.

    **Somewhat similar remarks as for sexual abuse apply. Consider e.g. someone who gets into a fight with the intent of hurting someone else and is willing to pay the price of some reciprocal damage—but would prefer not to. The practice of hazing poses another problem: While some hazing is entirely involuntary, even physical abuse can occur on a voluntary-but-reluctant basis in other cases.

    • hit her/him* with the hands (“slog till henne/honom med händerna”)

      *Why the perspective has been changed from the first to the third person is unclear. The order of the pronouns is interesting, however, seeing that men are more likely to be victims (both a priori and in light of the actual survey results).

    • kicked, bit, or beat her/him with fists* (“sparkade, bet eller slog henne/honom med knytnävarna”)

      *Attacks like kneeing appear to be excluded. Why this and the above item is divided is unclear; one possibility is that the above item is intended for slapping and poorly formulated.

    • hit her/him with an object* (“slog henne/honom med tillhygge”)

      *“Tillhygge” has no obvious English translation, but would, at least in this context, likely imply any “wielded” object.

    • burned or scalded her/him (“brände eller skållade henne/honom”)
    • tried to suffocate her/him (strangulated*) (“försökte kväva henne/honom (tog struptag)”)

      *It is not clear whether this is an illustration, a clarification, or a restriction. My translation is simultaneously wider and narrower than the original: The original is restricted to using hands, but need not include actual or prolonged strangulation or choking. In both languages some ambiguity as to eventual intent could be present—are we talking e.g. pain, unconsciousness, or death.

    • Attacked her/him physically in another manner* (“angrep henne/honom fysiskt på annat sätt”)

      *This claim is so vague that it invalidates the earlier attempt to restrict, enumerate, whatnot. Either this should have been the whole or it should not have been present at all. I note that e.g. that the common Swedish practice of throwing a team captain into the water-grave for the steeple-chase upon victory could be construed to be included…

    The definitions suffer from a vagueness and completeness problem, and there is no discrimination concerning e.g. severity or who started what. (For instance, if a man jokingly and lightly beats a woman with a rolled up news paper and she retaliates by beating him senseless with a discus, it counts the same.) There is also no information on context (including age of the involved, previous provocation, whether the intent was to protect someone else or to apply discipline, whatnot). A deeper analysis might show further problems*. The definitions are certainly not the conscientious work of a competent scientist.

    *Indeed, I found myself adding new objections every time I read through the lists…

    (I make the reservation that the actual survey might have contained additional clarification. However, it is the responsibility of the report makers to include sufficient context for a reasonable interpretation.)

    Not including a section on emotional violence (and similar types of behavior) seems like a missed opportunity, but is not strictly speaking an error. (And emotional violence has a far greater subjectivity.) I would have let it go unmentioned, except for speculation about mobbing (cf. below) as a motivation for the physical violence, with mobbing usually being more non-physical than physical.

  3. Almost 12 % claimed to have been sexually abused, by the above definitions, independent of a Track-and-Field context. Considering the great vagueness of the overall formulation and the first sub-item of the definition, this number is nothing remarkable and could possibly largely arise even from a significant portion of the survey takers going with a wide interpretation. For instance, more-or-less everyone has at some point had voluntary-but-reluctant sex—and if only 12 % chose a “feminist” interpretation, the entire number is explained in one go.*

    *Note that I am not saying that this was the case—I merely point to the resulting low informative power of the reported number, as well as a fairly wide range of numbers around it, had they occurred instead.

  4. A whopping five (5!) survey takers (or 2.6 %) claim to have been sexually abused in a Track-and-Field context. Of these, two were drunk* and none claims to have talked to the authorities**.*** No statement was made as to which item of the definitions applied—are we talking groping or all-out rape? No statement was made as to the sex of the individuals.

    *Which (a) shows that “Track-and-Field context” (“friidrottssammanhang”) is given a very wide meaning, (b) implies that there is a fair chance that the other party was drunk too, (c) opens the door to the perpetrator being someone from “outside” (e.g. in that a group of team-members went to a party open to non-athletes/non-trainers/non-whatnots, one of which performed the abuse).

    **Which is at least an indication (but not proof) that the events were of a less severe nature. However, possibly indicating severity in two (!) cases: “Shy of half of the exposed claim that the abuse had consequences for their athletic activities; less energy to train, avoided some training elements and worse results during competition”. (“Knappt hälften av de utsatta uppger att övergreppet inneburit följder för friidrottandet; mindre energi att träna, undvikit vissa moment i träningen och sämre resultat på tävling.”) Then again, looking at the original storm, I suspect that much of it was directed at the fear of exactly such cases—and of 404 survey takers and 192 respondents, there were … two.

    ***The report makes several other subdivisions, which, however, are entirely pointless with so small numbers—40 % this, 60 % that, … Also see the “half” in the preceding footnote: Slightly less than half of five persons, implies two persons—why then not just say “two”?!?! The reason is likely that “half” sounds much better… (Or, depending on who is behind the survey, it opens the possibility for a Woozle after dropping context—“in a survey given to 404 athletes, half said that sexual abuse had negatively impacted their training or competing”, which would imply exactly the type of problem scale that the report thoroughly refutes…)

  5. The reporting on physical abuse is confused, but it appears that 8 % of the women and 13 % of the men have been “abused”* by an adult, most usually the father or a teacher, which in the overall context** gives me the impression of disciplinary or order-restoring action, e.g. that someone acted out as a child and received a slap or was forcefully brought to his room.***

    *As will be seen, I have great doubts that the majority of these cases refer to true abuse (but some of them might).

    **Including the above discussion of the definition and the considerably higher rate among male survey takers.

    ***In all fairness, even some such actions could be illegal by Swedish law—but that does not automatically make them abuse or “wrong” in a sense that matters (e.g. by causing lasting physical or emotional pain). We would have to look at the individual cases in detail to determine that.

    44 % of the men and 18 % of the women claim to have been “abused” by a minor, which “could also be interpreted as an indication of mobbing” (“kan även tolkas som indikation för mobbing.”). Yes, it could: It could also be a sign that some kids occasionally got into a fight… (Note the far higher number for the men.)

    Unfortunately, only the age categorization of the “abuser” is mentioned—not of the “victim”. To boot, the “minor” category would need a better subdivision, e.g. to differ between those who might have been in a fight (or mobbing incident, or whatnot) at ages 5, 10, and 17.

    Unlike with sexual abuse, there is no mention of whether a Track-and-Field context was involved in any given case.

All in all: In as far as a problem exists, it is basically unrelated to Track-and-Field, and the Track-and-Field related part of the “me too” storm has obviously taken place in a tea-cup.

Excursion on whom to blame for the report:
In situations like these, it is often hard to tell whether the authors of the report, the survey makers, or other parties yet, are to blame for any specific short-coming. I make no such assignment of individual blame—but I do note that the end result is a complete fiasco not worthy to be considered science.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 12, 2018 at 6:55 am

Follow-up: A few thoughts on what constitutes science

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As a follow-up to a previous text on science (and falsification):

Reading a discussion on due-process problems at Brown University, I see at least one special case where falsifiability can be a very good way of identifying non-science: When the system is rigged so that what a reasonable observer would see as falsification is turned into non-falsification—or even confirmation.

In this specific case, a college-internal sexual-assault proceeding was perverted by “training” given to the panelists, effecting exactly that:*

*Quoted from the linked-to page with changes only to formatting. Bracketed text is by the original author. Smith is a real judge presiding over a subsequent real trial.

After the incident, the accuser told a roommate what a great time she had with the student she’d eventually accuse; post-incident text messages sent by the accuser likewise indicated her having consented to sex. But one of the panelists, Besenia Rodriguez, said she didn’t consider the post-incident texts or conversations because her interpretation of Brown’s “training” suggested that sexual assault survivors behave in “counter-intuitive” ways. Therefore, she reasoned, “it was beyond my degree of expertise to assess [the accuser]’s post-encounter conduct . . . because of a possibility that it was a response to trauma.”

Rodriguez’s contention that her university-provided training shows that essentially any behavior—intuitive or counter-intuitive—proves sexual assault “clearly comes close to the line” of arbitrary and capricious conduct, Smith noted. Yet the training Rodriguez received, and the mindset she reflects appears to be commonplace in campus sexual assault matters.

In effect: How the alleged victim behaves after the alleged assault can incriminate the alleged perpetrator—but can never acquit.

This is the more problematic, because many of the accounts I have read over the years follow a pattern of: Boy and girl have a sexual, romantic, and/or flirting relationship of some duration. An event* takes places. Boy and girl continue their sexual, romantic, and/or flirting relationship. At a later time, sometimes months after the event, boy leaves girl, is caught with another girl, or shows interest in others. Girl immediately goes to college officials and declares the event to have been a rape or a sexual assault…

*I am deliberately vague, because (a) these are typically word-against-word situations, which make it hard to “find the facts”, (b) “finding the (college) law” is often done in a matter that goes well beyond what the regular law, established norms, common sense, whatnot would consider reasonable, e.g. in that even sex with mutual consent is considered a crime when the consent was not explicitly spoken or that of two equally drunk consenting partners, one was considered capable of consent and the other not. Worse examples exists—including here, claims the discussion, “[…]Brown’s current policy, which defines sexual assault as including such behavior as a male student giving a female student flowers, or flattering her, in hopes of getting her to agree to sex.”, which would make any type of courtship a potential sexual assault…

Similar cases (regarding falsification) include claims by self-proclaimed psychics that the presence of skeptics blocks their powers (i.e. “that I failed is not proof that I am wrong—it is proof that there is a skeptic present”); and feminists interpreting evidence in counter-intuitive or implausible ways to fit their preconceived ideas, notably in that signs of sex differences in behavior even in very young children are not seen as a falsification of their “tabula rasa” ideas, instead being proof that the “Patriarchy”, “gender stereotyping”, “structures”, whatnot are even stronger and earlier in their effects.

However, this does not alter the conclusions of my earlier text: The above is normally* not a matter of whether a certain claim/theory/model/whatnot is falsifiable (by a reasonable standard). The problem lies in one party (deliberately/dishonestly or through lack of reason) finding excuses to deny the falsification (by applying an unreasonable standard).

*In theory, it would likely be possible to construct, in advance, a more complex system that would be unfalsifiable for similar reasons—and, if so, the lack of falsifiability could be a strong argument against the status as science. However, even then, I strongly suspect that there would be other avenues to discredit the system, e.g. by pointing to tautologies or to insist upon an investigation of individual claims using system-external methods. (It could even be argued that no system, short of an “explanation of everything”, that alleges complete self-sufficiency could ever be trusted as a model of the real world.) To boot, the instances that I have seen to date have always struck me as fairly obvious “excuse making”, likely also having arisen after a first encounter with a falsification. (This includes all three examples mentioned above.)

Excursion on colleges and quasi-judicial proceedings:
Considering both the extreme problems with due process (and competence, and consistency, and fairness, …) that exist today and the lack of obvious justification for this type of parallel justice system, I strongly recommend that colleges be prevented, if need be by real laws, to hold such quasi-judicial proceedings. Either a crime is alleged (and then the real police/DA/courts/… should handle the issue) or it is not (and then the college has no legitimate reason to call for punishment).* If and when a real conviction follows, the college might** be entitled to apply additional consequences; if it does not follow, the college should let things be. Even when a real conviction does follow, the college must respect the presumption of innocence in the time leading up to said conviction.

*With reservations for matters relating directly to the academic aspects (e.g. cheating on tests), where any other organization would be expected to act (e.g. gross disturbance of the peace), and when an any organization might legitimately suggest a mutual solution without law involvement. However, even here the student (like with conflicts with other organizations) should always have the choice to clarify the issue by criminal or civil law. College-dictated constraints on how students should interact sexually or romantically with each other are certainly not covered by these exceptions—and should not be allowed in the first place.

**Depending on the severity of the crime, potentially negative effects of the punishment or lack there of on the involved parties, etc. I note, however, that e.g. suspending or expelling someone for a parking ticket would be over-kill, while doing the same to someone who is about to go to jail for ten years will usually be redundant. Obviously, a college should not be allowed to e.g. expel someone and keep the full semester fees…

Written by michaeleriksson

August 10, 2018 at 5:31 pm

Poe-litically correct mad-houses

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I have long marveled at the absurd excesses, extreme irrationality, and virtual insatiability of large parts of the PC crowd, e.g. among Swedish feminists or in U.S. colleges.* The problems in higher education are especially depressing, because colleges and universities are supposed to be about truth, knowledge, rationality, freedom of speech and opinion, intellectual development …—an example for all of society. Starting in the 1960s and heading downward ever since, they have been slowly turning into the opposite of this—a center for pseudo- and anti-intellectuals, those pushing ideological agendas over truth, those trying to indoctrinate the younger generation instead of teaching it how to think critically, those wanting to silence their opponents by any means, …** In some cases, the transformation is more-or-less complete by now.

*See a number of older posts, or sites like www.mindingthecampus.org and www.thefire.org, for examples and deeper discussions. Also note an excursion at the end. If you think that I engage in rhetorical exaggeration, please read even a handful of articles on such topics from other parties first—you will find that I do not. (Notwithstanding that the mentioned sources do not necessarily give a complete overall image of the college situation, as they focus on particular types of abuse and rarely have a reason to mention positives.)

**In all fairness, the faculty is, at least outside social sciences, the place where the sensible people are still most likely to be found. Students and administrators often appear to be the larger problem; and the three reinforce each other’s behavior. To boot, the destructive tendencies do not necessarily reflect majority opinions in any group—maybe they do, maybe it is more a matter of who cries the loudest wins. (And can these people cry!)

The point has come where I often even doubt whether mere ignorance, stupidity, intellectual dishonesty, hypocrisy, a “the end justifies the means” mentality, whatnot, are enough to explain the situation—or whether at least some of the involved people might actually suffer from severe mental problems.

As I contemplated* grabbing an online copy of “Alice in Wonderland” to explore the topic of insanity by transforming it into a portrayal of U.S. colleges, I stumbled upon something usable as is, with only a minor switch of mental perspective: Poe’s The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether. In brief, it tells the story of a (as it transpires) less-than-bright young man, who visits a “mad-house” in the hopes of educating himself on a new (fictional) system of treatment—“soothing”. Soothing takes an extremely tolerant approach to the behavior and self-/world-perception of the patients—to the point that someone who believes himself a chicken is treated like a chicken.**

*I might or might not. This will depend on how much time I have available, how long it is, and how well the overall story can be made to fit. (I have not read it since a teenager, leaving me a little vague on these details.)

**In all fairness, unlike e.g. U.S. colleges, this is partly with the intent of making the patient return to a more conventional perception, e.g. in that someone being given only corn to eat might realize that he is not entirely a chicken after all.

Our unnamed protagonist finds himself in the company of the superintendent, Monsieur Maillard, and a young woman. After the departure of the latter, he expresses some curiosity as to whether she was one of the patients, but is reassured that she was a niece of Monsieur Maillard’s. He receives some information about the system, the history of the mad-house, and whatnot—but is also told that the soothing system has been replaced by one largely of Monsieur Maillard’s invention, with influence by Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.

The protagonist is not yet allowed to see any patients, but is invited to dinner “[…]where a very numerous company were assembled — twenty-five or thirty in all. They were, apparently, people of rank—certainly of high breeding[…]”. As dinner progresses, various stories of patients are told and absurd events occur that have some very clear implications to a rational reader, but, sadly, not to the protagonist. This includes the young lady from before attempting to undress in front of the rest of the party…

Monsieur Maillard eventually tells a story of when the soothing system misfired, strongly contributing to its abolition, and the patients took over the mad-house, showing rather less consideration to their former keepers than had been shown in the other direction: “The keepers and kept were soon made to exchange places. Not that exactly either — for the madmen had been free, but the keepers were shut up in cells forthwith, and treated, I am sorry to say, in a very cavalier manner.”

Further said about the how the leader of the revolution kept the new state of affairs secret: “He admitted no visitors at all — with the exception, one day, of a very stupid-looking young gentleman of whom he had no reason to be afraid. He let him in to see the place — just by way of variety, — to have a little fun with him.”

Shortly thereafter, in the timeline of the dinner, the “lunatics”/keepers stage a break-out*, take back control, and reveal further parts of the story, including that they had been tarred-and-feathered and locked up for more than a month.

*This, regrettably, has not (yet?) happened in the real world.

The story concludes with the protagonist’s lament “[…] that, although I have searched every library in Europe for the works of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, I have, up to the present day, utterly failed in my endeavors at procuring an edition.”; however, I am certain that things have changed since Poe’s days and that any modern college library will contain these or many similar works…

Excursion on insatiability:
A particular absurdity is that the less* actual reason for a complaint is present, the greater the complaints are. This includes, e.g. accusations of racism, intolerance, hate speech, … The reason appears to be that the goal-post are continually moved to more and more extreme positions, even after an absurd state has been reached. Consider e.g. Swedish feminists who, as arguably the most privileged and advantaged major group in the world, still complain about oppression, discrimination, and whatnot; or the U.S. idiocy of micro-aggressions, which can make any interaction between a White straight man and someone not a White straight man into a grave offense; or objections to hoop ear-rings worn by the “wrong” people; or fits being thrown over the casting of a “binary”** person in a “non-binary” film role.

*From the point of view of the Leftists/PC crowd/SJWs/… Other parties can have quite a lot to complain about, including racism, intolerance, hate speech, … by these groups.

**I.e. someone who identifies as purely man or purely woman and does so in concordance with biological sex. (I am uncertain whether heterosexuality is also required.)

Excursion on other works of literature:
Much of what goes on is disturbingly similar to some works by e.g. George Orwell, Franz Kafka, Anthony Burgess, and Ayn Rand. The extreme attempts at thought-control and extermination of even the slightest hint of dissent, as well as the ever sinking threshold for thoughtcrime and sexcrime, might leave the impression* that “Big Brother” has been taken as a deliberate role model. (A separate text on this might follow.) The quasi-Orwellian slogan “Ignorance is Enlightenment” also catches many of the problems…

*More likely, it is a natural development paralleling the problems that inspired Orwell—at the hands of those ignorant of his works. Litmus test: When you hear “Big Brother”, do you think surveillance or thought-control?

Written by michaeleriksson

August 10, 2018 at 4:51 am

A call for more (!) discrimination

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The word “discrimination” and its variations (e.g. “to discriminate”) is hopelessly abused and misunderstood in today’s world. Indeed, while properly referring to something (potentially) highly beneficial and much needed, it has come to be a mere short for longer phrases like “sexual discrimination” and “racial discrimination”.* Worse, even these uses are often highly misleading.** Worse yet, the word has increasingly even lost the connection with these special cases, degenerating into a mere ad hominem credibility killer or a blanket term for any unpopular behavior related (or perceived as related) to e.g. race.***

*Note that it is “sexual” and “racial”—not “sexist” and “racist”. The latter two involve ascribing an intention and mentality to someone else, beyond (in almost all cases) what can possibly be known—and is sometimes manifestly false. Further, their focus on the intent rather than the criteria would often make them unsuitable even in the rare cases where the use could otherwise be justified.

**E.g because a discrimination on a contextually rational and reasonable criterion (e.g. GPA for college admissions) indirectly results in differences in group outcome, which are then incorrectly ascribed to e.g. “racial discrimination”. The latter, however, requires that race was the direct criterion for discrimination.

***Including e.g. having non-PC opinions about some group or expressing that opinion, neither of which can in any meaningful sense be considered discrimination—even in cases where the opinion or expression is worthy of disapproval. This including even the (already fundamentally flawed) concept of micro-aggressions.

What then is discrimination? Roughly speaking: The ability to recognize the differences between whatever individuals/objects/phenomena/… are being considered, to recognize the expected effects of decisions involving them, and to act accordingly. Indeed, if I were to restrict the meaning further, it is the “act” part that I would remove…* (Also see a below excursion on the Wiktionary definitions.)

*E.g. in that I would not necessarily consider someone discriminating who flipped a coin and then hired exclusively men or exclusively women based on the outcome—apart from the greater group impact, this is not much different from the entirely undiscriminating hiring by a coin flip per candidate. I might possibly even exclude e.g. the feminist stereotype of a White Old Man who deliberately hires only men because of the perceived inferiority of women: This is, at best, poor discrimination on one level and a proof of a lack of discrimination on another. C.f. below. (While at the same time being a feminist’s prime example of “discrimination” in the distorted sense.)

For instance, deciding to hire or not to hire someone as a physician based on education and whether a license to practice medicine is present, is discrimination. So is requiring a lawyer to have passed a bar exam in order to perform certain tasks. So is requiring a fire fighter to pass certain physical tests. So is using easier tests for women* than for men. So is using health-related criteria to choose between food stuffs. So is buying one horse over another based on quality of teeth or one car over another based on less rust damage. Etc. Even being able to tell the difference between different types of discrimination based on justification and effects could be seen as discrimination!

*This is, specifically, sexual discrimination, which shows that even such special cases can have the blessing of the PC crowd. It also provides an example of why it is wrong to equate “sexual” and “sexist”, because, no matter how misguided this discrimination is, it is unlikely to be rooted in more than a greater wish for equality of outcome. To boot, it is an example of poor discrimination through focus on the wrong criteria or having the wrong priorities. (Is equality of outcome when hiring really more important than the lives of fire victims?!?)

Why do we need it?

Discrimination is very closely related to the ability to make good decisions (arguably, any decision short of flipping a coin)—and the better someone is at discriminating, the better the outcomes tend to be. Note that this is by no means restricted to such obvious cases as hiring decisions based on education. It also involves e.g. seeing small-but-critical differences in cases where an argument, analogy, or whatnot does or does not apply; or being able to tell what criteria are actually relevant to understanding the matter/making the decision at hand.*

*Consider e.g. parts of the discussion in the text that prompted this one; for instance, where to draw the line between speech and action, or the difference between the IOC’s sponsor bans and bans on kneeling football players. Or consider why my statements there about employer’s rights do not, or only partially, extend to colleges: Without a lack of understanding, someone might see the situations as analogous, based e.g. on “it’s their building” or “it’s their organization”. Using other factors, the situation changes radically, e.g. in that the employer pays the employee while the college is paid by the student; that co-workers who do not get along can threaten company profits, while this is only rarely the case with students who do not get along; and that a larger part of the “college experience” overlaps with the students personal life than is, m.m., the case for an employee—especially within the U.S. campus system. (For instance, what characteristic of a college would give it greater rights to restrict free speech in a dorm than a regular landlord in an apartment building? A lecture hall, possibly—a dorm, no.)

Indeed, very many of today’s societal problems and poor political decisions go back, at least partially, to a failure to discriminate resp. to discriminate based on appropriate criteria.

Consider e.g. the common tendency to consider everything relating to “nuclear” or “radioactive” to be automatically evil (or the greater evil): Nuclear power is “evil”, yet fossil energies do far more damage to the world. The nuclear bombings of Japan were “evil”, yet their conventional counter-part killed more people. Radioactive sterilization of food is “evil”, yet science considers it safe—much unlike food poisoning… What if discrimination was not done by name or underlying technology, but rather based on the effects, risks, opportunities?

Consider the (ignorant or deliberate) failure to discriminate between e.g. anti-Islamists and anti-Muslims or immigration critics and xenophobes, treating them the same and severely hindering a civilized public debate.

Consider the failure to discriminate between school children by ability and the enforcing of a “one size fits all” system that barely even fits the average*, and leaves the weakest and strongest as misfits—and which tries to force everyone to at a minimum go through high school (or its local equivalent). (Germany still does a reasonable job, but chances are that this will not last; Sweden was an absolute horror already when I went to school; and the U.S. is a lot worse than it should and could be.)

*Or worse, is so centered on the weakest that school turns into a problem even for the average… Indeed, some claim that e.g. the U.S. “No Child Left Behind Act” has done more harm than good for this very reason.

Consider the failure to discriminate between politicians based on their expected long-term effect on society, rather than the short-term effect on one-self.

Consider the failure to discriminate between mere effort and actual result, especially with regard to political decisions. (Especially in the light of the many politicians who do not merely appear to fail at own discrimination, but actually try to fool the voters through showing that “something is being done”—even should that something be both ineffective and inefficient.)

Consider the failure to discriminate between those who can think for themselves (and rationally, critically, whatnot) and those who can not when it comes to e.g. regulations, the right to vote, self-determination, …

Consider the failure to discriminate between use and abuse, e.g. of alcohol or various performance enhancing drugs. (Or between performance enhancing drugs that are more and less dangerous…)

Consider the undue discrimination between sex crimes (or sexcrimes…) and regular crimes, especially regarding restrictions on due process or reversal of reasonable expectations. (Whether sex is involved is not a valid criterion, seeing that e.g. due process is undermined as soon as any crime is exempt from it.)

Consider the undue discrimination between Israelis and Palestinians by many Westerners, where the one is held to a “Western” standard of behavior and the other is not. (Nationality is not relevant to this aspect of the conflict.)

A particularly interesting example is the classification of people not yet 18 as “children”*, which effectively puts e.g. those aged 3, 10, and 17 on the same level—an often absurd lack of discrimination, considering the enormous differences (be they physical, mental, in terms of experience or world-view, …) between people of these respective ages. Nowhere is this absurdity larger than in that the “child” turns into an “adult” merely through the arrival of a certain date, while being virtually identically the same as the day before—and this accompanied with blanket rights and obligations, with no other test of suitability. Note how this applies equally to someone well-adjusted, intelligent, and precocious as it does to someone who is intellectually over-challenged even by high school and who prefers to lead a life of petty crimes and drug abuse. (To boot, this rapid change of status is highly likely to make the “children” less prepared for adulthood, worsening the situation further.)

*The size of the problem can vary from country to country, however. In e.g. the U.S. there is a fair chance that a word like “minor” will be used, especially in more formal contexts, which at least reduces the mental misassociations; in Sweden, “barn” (“child”) dominates in virtually all contexts, including (at least newer) laws.

However, there are many other problems relating to the grouping of “children” with children, especially concerning undifferentiated societal and political debates around behavior from and towards these “children”. This in particular in the area of sex, where it is not just common to use terms like “pedophile”* and “child-porn” for the entire age-range, but where I have actually repeatedly seen the claim that those sexually attracted to someone even just shy of 18 would be perverts**—despite the age limit being largely arbitrary***, despite that many are at or close to their life-time peak in attractiveness at that age, despite that most of that age are fully sexually mature, and despite that people have married and had children at considerably lower ages for large stretches of human history.

*This word strictly speaking refers to someone interested in pre-pubescent children, making it an abuse of language not covered by the (disputable) justification that can be given to “child-porn” through the wide definition of “child”. Even if the use was semantically sound, however, the extremely different implications would remain, when children and “children” at various ages are considered.

**Presumably, because the classification of someone younger as a “child” has become so ingrained with some weak thinkers that they actually see 18 as a magic limit transcending mere laws, mere biological development, mere maturity (or lack there of), and leaving those aged 17 with more in common with those aged 8 than those aged 18.

***Indeed, the “age of consent” is strictly speaking separate from the “age of maturity”, with e.g. Sweden (15) and Germany (14 or 16, depending on circumstances) having a considerably lower age of consent while keeping the age of maturity at 18.

Not all discrimination, depending on exact meaning implied, is good, but this is usually due to a lack of discrimination. Consider e.g. making a hiring decision between a Jewish high-school drop-out and a Black Ph.D. holder: With only that information present, the hiring decision can be based on either the educational aspect, the race/ethnicity aspect, or a random choice.* If we go by the educational or race aspect, there is discrimination towards the candidates. However, if the race aspect is used, then this is a sign that there has been too little or incorrect discrimination towards the hiring criteria—otherwise the unsuitability of the race aspect as a criterion would have been recognized. This, in turn, is the reason why racial discrimination is almost always wrong: It discriminates by an unsound criterion. We can also clearly see why “discrimination” must not be reduced to the meanings implied by “racial [and whatnot] discrimination”—indeed, someone truly discriminating (adjective) would not have been discriminating (verb) based on race in the above example.

*Or a combination thereof, which I will ignore: Including the combinations has no further illustrative value.

Excursion on proxy criteria:
Making decisions virtually always involves some degree of proxy criteria, because it is impossible to judge e.g. how well an applicant for a job fairs on the true criteria. For instance, the true criterion might amount to “Who gives us the best value for our money?”. This, however, is impossible to know in advance, and the prospective employer resorts to proxy criteria like prior experience, references, education, … that are likely to give a decent, if far from perfect, idea of what to expect. (Indeed, even these criteria are arguably proxies-for-proxies like intelligence, industriousness, conscientiousness, …—and, obviously, the ability to discriminate!)

Unfortunately, sometimes proxies are used that are less likely to give valuable information (e.g. impression from an interview) and/or are “a proxy too far” (e.g. race). To look at the latter, a potential U.S. employer might (correctly) observe that Jews currently tend to have higher grades than Blacks and tend to advance higher in the educational system, and conclude that the Jew is the better choice. However, seeing that this is a group characteristic, it would be much better to look at the actual individual data, removing a spurious proxy: Which of the two candidates does have the better grades and the more advanced education—not who might be expected to do so based on population statistics.

As an aside, one of my main beefs with increasing the number of college graduates (even at the cost of lowering academic standards to let the unsuitable graduate) is that the main role of a diploma was to serve as a proxy for e.g. intelligence and diligence, and that this proxy function is increasingly destroyed. Similarly, the greater infantilization of college students removes the proxy effect for ability to work and think for oneself.

Excursion on discrimination and double standards:
Interestingly, discrimination otherwise rejected, usually relating to the passage of time, is sometimes arbitrarily considered perfectly acceptable and normal. A good example is the age of maturity and variations of “age of X” (cf. above)—a certain age is used as an extremely poor and arbitrary proxy for a set of personal characteristics.

In other cases, such discrimination might have a sufficient contextual justification that it is tolerated or even considered positive. For instance, even a well qualified locker-room attendant of the wrong sex might not be acceptable to the visitors of a public bath, and the bath might then use sex as a hiring criterion. Not allowing men to compete in e.g. the WTA or WNBA can be necessary to give women a reasonable chance at sports success (and excluding women from the ATP or the NBA would then be fair from a symmetry point of view). Etc.

Then there is affirmative action…

Excursion on how to discriminate better:
A few general tips on how to discriminate better: Question whether a criterion is actually relevant, in it self, or is just as proxy, proxy-for-a-proxy, proxy-for-a-proxy-for-a-proxy, …; and try to find a more immediate criterion. Question the effectiveness of criteria (even immediate ones). Do not just look at what two things have in common (e.g. building ownership, cf. above) but what makes them different (e.g. being paid or paying). Try to understand the why and the details of something and question whether your current assumptions on the issue are actually correct—why is X done this way*, why is Y a criterion, why is Z treated differently, … Try to look at issues with reason and impartiality, not emotion or personal sympathy/antipathy; especially, when the issues are personal, involve loved ones or archenemies, concern “pet peeves”, or otherwise are likely to cause a biased reaction.

*The results can be surprising. There is a famous anecdote about a member of the younger generation who wanted to find out why the family recipe for a pot-roast (?) called for cutting off part of it in a certain manner. Many questions later, someone a few generations older, and the origin of the tradition, revealed the truth: She had always done so in order to … make the pot-roast fit into her too small pan. Everyone else did so in the erroneous belief that there was some more significant purpose behind it—even when their pans were larger.

Excursion on when not to discriminate (at all):
There might be instances where potential discrimination, even when based on superficially reasonable grounds, is better not done.

For instance, topics like free speech, especially in a U.S. campus setting, especially with an eye on PC/Leftist/whatnot censorship, feature heavily in my current thoughts and readings. Here we can see an interesting application of discrimination: Some PC/Leftist/whatnot groups selectively (try to) disallow free speech when opinions contrary to theirs are concerned. Now, if someone is convinced that he is right, is that not a reasonable type of discrimination (from his point of view)?

If the goal is to push one’s own opinion through at all cost, then, yes, it is.

Is that enough justification? Only to those who are not just dead certain and lacking in respect for others, but who also are very short-sighted:

Firstly, as I often note, there is always a chance that even those convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt are wrong. (Indeed, those dead certain often turn out to be dead wrong, while those who turn out to be right often were open to doubts.) What if someone silences the opposition, forces public policy to follow a particular scheme without debate, indoctrinates future generations in a one-sided manner, …—and then turns out to be wrong? What if the wrongness is only discovered with a great delay, or not at all, due to the free-speech restrictions? Better then to allow other opinions to be uttered.

Secondly, if the power situation changes, those once censoring can suddenly find themselves censored—especially, when they have themselves established censorship as the state of normality. Better then to have a societal standard that those in power do not censor those out of power.

Thirdly, there is a dangerous overlap between the Niemöller issue and the fellow-traveler fallacy: What if the fellow travelers who jointly condemn their common enemies today, condemn each other tomorrow? (Similarly, it is not at all uncommon for a previously respected member of e.g. the feminist community to be immediately cast out upon saying something “heretic”.) Better then to speak up in defense of the censored now, before it is too late.

Fourthly, exposure to other opinions, dialectic, eclecticism, synthesis, … can all be beneficial for the individual—and almost a necessity when we look at e.g. society as a whole, science, philosophy, … Better then to not forego these benefits.

Fifthly, and possibly most importantly, censorship is not just an infringement of rights against the censored speaker—it is also an infringement of rights against the listeners. If we were (I do not!) to consider the act against the speaker justified (e.g. because he is “evil”, “racist”, “sexist”, or just plainly “wrong”); by what reasoning can this be extended to the listeners? Short of “it’s for their own good” (or, just possibly, “it’s for the greater good”), I can see nothing. We would then rob others of their right to form their own opinions, to expose themselves to new ideas, whatnot, in the name of “their own good”—truly abhorrent. Better then to allow everyone the right to choose freely, both in terms of whom to listen to and what to do with what is heard.

Excursion on failure to discriminate in terminology:
As with the child vs. “child” issue above, there are many problems with (lack of) discrimination that can arise through use of inappropriate words or inconsistent use of words. A very good example is the deliberate abuse of the word “rape” to imply a very loosely and widely defined group of acts, in order to ensure that “statistics” show a great prevalence, combined with a (stated or implied) more stringent use when these “statistics” are presented as an argument for e.g. policy change. Since there is too little discrimination between rape and “rape”, these statistics are grossly misleading. Other examples include not discriminating between the words* “racial” and “racist”, “[anabolic] steroid” and “PED”, “convicted” and “guilty”, …

*Or the concepts: I am uncertain to what degree the common abuse of “racist” for “racial” is based on ignorance of language or genuine confusion about the corresponding concepts. (Or intellectually dishonest rhetoric by those who do know the difference…) Similar remarks can apply elsewhere.

(In a bigger picture, similar problems include e.g. euphemistic self-labeling, as with e.g. “pro-life” and “pro-choice”; derogatory enemy-labeling, e.g. “moonbat” and “wingnut”; and emotionally manipulative labels on others, e.g. the absurd rhetorical misnomer “dreamer” for some illegal aliens. Such cases are usually at most indirectly related to discrimination, however.)

Excursion on Wikipedia and Wiktionary:
Wikipedia, often corrupted by PC editors [1], predictably focuses solely on the misleading special-case meanings in the allegedly main Wikipedia article on discrimination, leaving appropriate use only to alleged special cases… A particular perversity is a separate article on Discrimination in bar exam, which largely ignores the deliberate discriminatory attempt to filter out those unsuited for the bar and focuses on alleged discrimination of Blacks and other ethnicities. Not only does this article obviously fall into the trap of seeing a difference in outcome (on the exam) as proof of differences in opportunity; it also fails to consider that Whites are typically filtered more strongly before* they encounter the bar exam, e.g. through admittance criteria to college often being tougher.**

*Implying that the exam results of e.g. Blacks and Whites are not comparable. As an illustration: Take two parallel school-classes and the task to find all students taller than 6′. The one teacher just sends all the students directly to the official measurement, the other grabs a ruler and only sends those appearing to be taller than 5′ 10”. Of course, a greater proportion of the already filtered students will exceed the 6′ filtering… However, this is proof neither that the members of their class would be taller (in general), nor that the test would favor their class over the other.

**Incidentally, a type of racial discrimination gone wrong: By weakening criteria like SAT success in favor of race, the standard of the student body is lowered without necessarily helping those it intends to help. (According to some, e.g. [2] and [3], with very different perspectives and with a long time between them.) To boot, this type of discrimination appears to hit another minority group, the East-Asians, quite hard. (They do better on the objective criteria than Whites; hence, they, not Whites, are the greater victims.)

Worse, one of its main sources (and the one source that I checked) is an opinion piece from a magazine (i.e. a source acceptable for a blog, but not for an encyclopedia), which is cited in a misleading manner:* Skimming through the opinion piece, the main theses appear to be (a) that the bar exam protects the “insiders” from competition by “outsiders” by ensuring a high entry barrier**, (b) that this strikes the poor*** unduly, and (c) that the bar exam should be abolished.

*Poor use of sources is another thing I criticized in [1].

**This is Economics 101. The only debatable point is whether the advantages offset the disadvantages for society as a whole.

***Indeed, references to minorities appear to merely consider them a special case of the “poor”, quite unlike the Wikipedia article. To boot, from context and time, I suspect that the “minorities” might have been e.g. the Irish rather than the Blacks or the Hispanics…

Wiktionary does a far better job. To quote and briefly discuss the given meanings:

  1. Discernment, the act of discriminating, discerning, distinguishing, noting or perceiving differences between things, with intent to understand rightly and make correct decisions.

    Rightfully placed at the beginning: This is the core meaning, the reason why discrimination is a good thing and something to strive for, and what we should strive to preserve when we use the word.

  2. The act of recognizing the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in situations and choosing good.

    Mostly a subset of the above meaning, with reservations for the exact meaning of “good”. (But I note that even a moral “good” could be seen as included above.)

  3. The setting apart of a person or group of people in a negative way, as in being discriminated against.

    Here we have something that could be interpreted in the abused sense; however, it too could be seen as a subset of the first item, with some reservation for the formulation “negative way”. Note that e.g. failing to hire someone without a license to practice medicine for a job as a practicing physician would be a good example of the meaning (and would be well within the first item).

  4. (sometimes discrimination against) Distinct treatment of an individual or group to their disadvantage; treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit; partiality; prejudice; bigotry.

    sexual or racial discrimination

    Only here do we have the abused meaning—and here we see the central flaw: The example provided (“sexual or racial discrimination”) only carries the given meaning (in as far as exceeding the previous item) when combined with a qualifier; dropping such qualifiers leads to the abuse. “Sexual discrimination”, “racial discrimination”, etc., carry such meanings—just “discrimination” does not. This makes it vital never to drop these qualifiers.

    Similarly, not all ships are space ships or steam ships, the existence of the terms “space ship” and “steam ship” notwithstanding; not all forest are rain forests; sea lions are not lions at all and sea monkeys are not even vertebrates; …

    Note that some of the listed meanings only apply when viewed in the overall context of the entire sentence. Bigotry, e.g., can be a cause of discrimination by an irrelevant criterion; however, “sexual discrimination”, etc., is not it self bigotry. Prejudice* can contain sexual discrimination but is in turn a much wider concept.

    *“Prejudice” is also often misunderstood in a potentially harmful manner: A prejudice is not defined by being incorrect—but by being made in advance and without knowing all the relevant facts. For example, it is prejudice to hear that someone plays in the NBA and assume, without further investigation, that he is tall—more often than not (in this case), it is also true.

  5. The quality of being discriminating, acute discernment, specifically in a learning situation; as to show great discrimination in the choice of means.

    Here we return to a broadly correct use, compatible with the first item, but in a different grammatical role (for want of a better formulation).

    I admit to having some doubts as to whether the implied grammatical role makes sense. Can the quality of being discriminating be referred to as “discrimination”? (As opposed to e.g. “showing discrimination”.) Vice versa for the second half.

  6. That which discriminates; mark of distinction, a characteristic.

    The same, but without reservations for grammatical role.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 9, 2018 at 2:08 am