Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Chauvin trial / Follow-up: Utterly insufficient data, insight, and thought

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As the Chauvin trial is approaching final arguments, I will summarize my view in advance, to avoid the risk of later rationalization (or accusation of such).

In my past writings, there have been several mentions, probably most notably in [1], more than nine months ago:*

*Footnotes of the original text have not been duplicated. Please see the original text for these, the full context, etc.

From what I know at this stage, it is possible that even a drugged and unhealthy Floyd would have survived without the knee, but it is also possible that he would have died anyway. Remove the knee, and he might or might not have lived. Remove the drugs, and he might or might not have lived. Remove his health problems, and he might or might not have lived.

On the outside, it seems extremely likely that Chauvin, the “knee”, had no intention of causing death or permanent harm. Indeed, if he did, he would have to be Darwin-Award level stupid to do what he did on camera and in front of witnesses. Certainly, I have not seen one shred of proof that the event was motivated by racism. (Also see an earlier text on this situation.)

In a sane society, we might right now have an objective debate about what police methods are or are not safe, demeaning, whatnot. What we do have are near-blanket condemnations of “racist murder”, “institutional racism”, “racist police”, etc.—not to mention riots and looting.

I am going to go as far as to say that, unless further evidence appears and provided that the trial is fair, Chauvin will ultimately be acquitted of any murder charge, simply because there is next to no possibility to gain “beyond reasonable doubt” if even half of the “off screen” claims are true. There might or might not be room for a manslaughter conviction or some relatively lesser crime (reckless endangerment?), but not murder.

From what I have read* about the trial (in general) and testimony (in particular) so far, I see these claims broadly validated.

*See excursion for partial sources.

The scope of Chauvin’s guilt might (or might not*) be a little larger than I thought, in that he might (or might not*) have violated departmental procedures or shown poor judgment. However: Firstly, there is no indication whatsoever of e.g. a “mens rea”, a deliberate attempt to kill, or similar. (And certainly not of racism.) At worst, his actions might have been incompetent or negligent. Secondly, even if his actions were incompetent or negligent, I have not seen more than claims that he was a contributor to the death of Floyd. Considering the overall circumstances, including potentially lethal levels of drugs in Floyd’s system, it would be virtually impossible to see Chauvin’s contribution as proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. This brings me to my thirdly—the burden of proof is on the prosecution and the required level of proof is “beyond reasonable doubt”**. If it had been “balance of probabilities”, Chauvin might (or might not*) have risked a conviction even in a fair trial, but with “beyond reasonable doubt” there are simply too many points that are not sufficiently proved.

*Different expert testimonials have made different claims, and quite a few factors have to be weighed in, including what the exact procedures are, how a reasonable police officer would have seen the situation, whether Floyd could have been a threat to himself or others at a given time, whether there was reason to fear danger from the crowd, etc. I do not have the depth of knowledge to judge this. I do note, however, that the other officers at the scene did not act as if Chauvin was grossly and obviously out of line. Moreover, we again have the issue of burden and level of proof.

**With reservations for exact terminology in the jurisdiction at hand.

As is, I am going to sharpen my original statement and say that he would not be convicted even of manslaughter in a fair trial; and, in particular, that he rightfully should be acquitted of all the charges that he is currently facing.

However, as a counter-point, I partially retract subsequent claims that Floyd probably died of a drug overdose. From my current state of knowledge, that too is too speculative, and my original take (as quoted in the first two sentences above) is the better. (But I would judge the third sentence as a likely thumbs up: remove the drugs and Floyd would probably have lived—knee or no knee.)

Unfortunately, and here things become complicated, there are strong signs that the trial was/is not fair. This includes doubt as to whether jury selection found a sufficiently impartial group, that the jury might have fears of personal repercussion in case of an acquittal, the potentially damaging effects of the settlement with Floyd’s family (see excursion), the vastly different resources and (probably) competence levels of defense and prosecution, and the use of evidence that has no place in a fair trial.* To the latter, I point at least to the use of extensive “Floyd was a great guy” testimony, which is utterly irrelevant** to the facts of the case and can serve only one purpose, namely to prejudice the jury. Whether Floyd was Pol Pot or Mother Teresa does not change Chauvin’s actions or motivations, does not change Floyd’s drug levels or health issues, or any other aspect of what actually happened.

*Which is not necessarily to say that the use was against U.S. law or U.S. standard practices. However, I do note that [2] speculates that another issue might provide grounds for mistrial. (A claim that I am not qualified to judge.)

**With some minor reservations for issues that, in my impression, have not featured in the case, e.g. speculation that Chauvin might have known of Floyd as a bad guy and might have wanted to remove this known bad guy from the streets or, absent medical tests, that it could have affected the believability of the claim that Chauvin had taken drugs.

Excursion on sources:
My largest individual sources of information during the trial and pre-trial phases have been a number of early texts by Scott Johnson, who has analyzed the jury-selection process, and, after this source dried up, Coverage by Anastasia Katz. Other sources have provided just an article here and an article there, and I have not kept a record. (Except for [2] above, which I encountered today.) I note that somewhat factual sources have tended to say similar things as Johnson and Katz, but that strongly partial have gone off at different angles—ranging from Chauvin “obviously” having done nothing wrong whatsoever to Chauvin “obviously” being a malicious murderer. As a disclaimer, I stress that I have not spent as much time on the trial or had as thorough access to evidence and testimony as the jurors.

Excursion on “if Floyd had been found elsewhere”:
A common argument in the pro-Chauvin camps is that, by expert testimony, if he would have been found dead elsewhere, an overdose would have been assumed. This argument has merit, but it is not as strong as it might seem. Consider the common physician’s cliche “if you here hoof beats, think horses—not zebras”. This is a statement about what is more plausible in a certain setting (e.g. the U.S. while not in a zoo). Change the setting and it does no longer necessarily hold. We could well have an expert (correctly) testify that if he heard hoof beats in a zoo or in some parts of Africa, his thought would be “zebra”. This does not alter the fact that “horse” is the better assumption on e.g. a random Texan ranch. To judge which explanation is the better, then, we have to look at the actual situation at hand—not at some other situation.

Excursion on Floyd’s character and the settlement:
The settlement is a disgrace and such a waste of city money that it should be cause for the immediate resignation of the decision makers and that they should be forced to pay back every single cent to the city out of their own pockets. The settlement was extremely pre=mature and likely deliberately timed to have a negative effect on Chauvin’s chances. Moreover, while the burden of proof is lower in a civil suit, an acquittal of Chauvin (just wait a few weeks for Pete’s sake!) could have been a strong indication of a rejection of damages or an awarding of a much smaller amount in court. (Here I had also intended to go into a long discussion of the absurd sum relative the life a scumbag vs. sums awarded to more upstanding and more innocent citizens; however, a brief research shows a long history of absurd awards in wrongful death suits in the U.S. The amount is and remains absurd, even compared to most other cases, often involving much worthier people, but it might only be a portion of a larger problem.)

Excursion on “systemic racism”, etc.:
The brouhaha around Floyd and Chauvin, contrasted with e.g. the Ashli Babbitt situation, is yet another (!) indication that “systemic racism” and similar ideas are bullshit. Floyd was a criminal who, even very early on, seemed to have died more from poor police decision-making than malice (even before e.g. drug issues became known); Babbitt (White) seems to have been an upstanding citizen who was shot without warning by a police officer (apparently Black). The former case goes to trial with murder charges; the latter is dismissed with minimal publicity long before trial.

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April 17, 2021 at 11:13 pm

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Follow-up II: Pinning the tail to the COVID-19 donkey

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As I wrote last week ([1]), the German government has been jumping back-and-forth on the topic of an Easter ease-up, clamp-down, or business-as-usual (by the COVID standards).

It appeared that the last bid had been “business as usual”, but, as I learned a few days later,* this was not the case. The individual German Bundesländer (“states”), to some degree individual municipalities**, are allowed to set their own rules, within some limits, and it appears that they are doing so. In the case of Wuppertal, where I live, I have been unable to find a reasonable description of the exact rules that will apply, but it appears that stores may only be visited after a “rapid test” (“Schnelltest”) during the Easter days. I am taking the safe course and treating the situation as a five-day*** everything-will-be-closed. Correspondingly, despite having been grocery shopping yesterday, I went again today to load up a little.

*I had not originally looked into the details, but merely noted the repeated pin-the-tail attitude.

**With reservations for what exact word applies.

***There appears to be some unclarity over the time spam, but my impression is that the Sunday (everything closed anyway) and the two holidays (everything closed anyway) are complemented by restrictions for both tomorrow/April 1st (ha!) and Saturday (April 3rd).

Here we have two issues: Firstly, does it really matter from a COVID-POV whether I went to the store today or whether I had done so on Saturday (as originally planned)? I doubt it. Secondly, quite a few other people seemed to have had the same idea, making the store unusually full for the time of day (and likely to grew much worse as the day progresses). Considering the governmental obsession with keeping distance, would this not make matters worse from a governmental perspective than if the store visits had been spread over several days? It would not surprise me.

The bigger picture also raises at least two other issues:

Firstly, federalism and subsidiarity. Normally, I am in favor of this more often than not; however, here we see it backfire. One of the most important points behind these principles is to protect the citizens (and other entities, including individual states and municipalities) from too arbitrary, too undiscriminating, too self-serving, whatnot decisions “from above”. If we look at the U.S. and the COVID approach of e.g. Texas and Florida, we see how this can work well.* In Germany, however, there appears to only be two approaches—hard lockdowns and harder lockdowns. Here subsidiarity does not serve to protect the citizens from the federation but to screw them over even when the federation does not. (While I have not looked into the details on other issues, my general impression is similar: if the federation does not screw something up, count on the Bundesländer to do so; if the Bundesländer do not, count on the municipalities.)

*Generally, my fears of the complete corruption of the U.S. in the wake of Biden have been slightly reduced in light of my growing awareness of the power remaining with the individual states and that the GOP might have fared better on the local level than on the federal level. (Nevertheless, the picture is very, very bleak. By the next federal elections in 2022, the damage will be absolutely horrifying, if things continue down the current path—even COVID aside.)

Unfortunately, I have no good solution to offer that would also preserve the positive aspects of federalism and subsidiarity, but a general principle might be that a “lower” entity may only ever weaken restrictions and regulations, reduce taxes, and whatnot compared to what a “higher” entity suggests. (Possibly, with some exemptions for extraordinary circumstances, say a local natural disaster or local riots.)

Secondly, communication: It absolutely, positively, must be mandatory that the involved entities communicate various rules in an explicit, clear, and timely* manner. This, notably, not restricted to COVID but in general. For instance, I have had massive problems, because my (now de-installed) gas heater was subject to various obscure, counter-intuitive, internationally unusual laws and regulations, spread over several different texts, none of which I had even encountered during my twenty-something years in Germany—until a belligerent and incompetent piece-of-shit of a chimney-sweep sics the authorities on me.** Given these laws, even discounting that they are unreasonable to begin with, it should have been the governments responsibility to inform me that I had to pay attention to certain regulations—which would have been trivial in light of both the heater being on registry and my purchase of the apartment being registered. Given the extreme size and complexity of current laws, and how often they go against common sense and/or vary drastically from place to place, the principle of ignorantia juris non excusat simply is neither conscionable nor compatible with Rechtsstaatlichkeit when the government has not actively informed the citizens or when the need for citizen to inform himself is obvious.

*To the degree that the situation allows. That e.g. an explosion in the infection rates can force a short-term measure is understandable, but this is not the case here where politicians have just been pinning-the-tail, and often concurrently.

**I will not go into details of the overall situation, but as a for instance: portions of the regulations are buried in the “Schornsteinfeger-Handwerksgesetz” (“chimney-sweep trade law”). That a regular citizen would even contemplate investigating what appears to be regulations strictly for the chimney-sweep trade is highly unlikely. Would you bother to read a “dog-groomer trade law” in order to find out e.g. whether pets must be spayed and neutered? Hardly. Would you even be aware that one existed? I doubt it. (That there is a “chimney-sweep trade law”, at all, might be seen as proof of over-regulation, even if the justification is larger than for dog grooming.)

As a minor correction to [1], it appears that Merkel’s back-tracking was only partially caused by the public outcry. Another part came from a business outcry, a “we simply cannot reasonably shutdown with such short warning”. This is certainly a legitimate concern, but one that should have been obvious to the government and one which I assumed had been taking into consideration, e.g. through discussing this with relevant business organizations. Apparently, this was not the case, and that makes the approach the more amateurish. To take just one example from my own professional experiences: In my last project, the topic of bank holidays was important, e.g. to calculate payout dates, often a week or more in advance. Assume that such a date is calculated and communicated today, and arrangements are made for payouts and book-keeping, based on a certain set of bank holidays, possibly spanning several countries. Assume next that tomorrow someone adds a new holiday, retroactively making these dates incorrect. Now, how are we going to resolve this? Without massive additional effort and chain-reactions affecting other businesses, the best bet might be to just send apologies (“due to circumstances outside our control, blah blah”) and hope that no-one is sufficiently dissatisfied as to sue, shorten payments, or jump to another provider.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 31, 2021 at 12:36 pm

Follow-up: Pinning the tail to the COVID-19 donkey

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I have repeatedly compared government policy regarding COVID to pinning-the-tail, most notably in [1]. This especially regarding my local German situation.

This includes a statement that I considered hyperbole at the time:

Grab a pin-board. Pin notes with possible counter-measures on the board. Put on a blindfold. Throw darts at the board. See what counter-measures were hit. There we have this weeks policy. Next week? Who knows.

Today, I am wondering whether it actually was that hyperbolic: A few weeks ago, there was considerable talk of easing up on the restrictions over Easter, to allow this special-to-many occasion to actually take place in a reasonable manner. But, no, suddenly there was a drastic course reversal—the lockdown must be made even harsher than before, lest Easter turn into a major occasion for infections instead of celebrations. Cue public outcry—and suddenly the harsher lockdown is off the table again.

We still have a few days left. I wonder whether Frau Merkel will throw another dart …

Written by michaeleriksson

March 26, 2021 at 2:54 am

Follow-up II: Plastic bags, the environment, and dishonest companies

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To revisit the topic of plastic bags vs. paper bags (cf. at least [1], [2]), especially with an eye on irrational and environmentally counterproductive policies:

For quite some time, most grocery stores have offered only paper bags and/or only sturdy plastic bags intended for multiple use. The chain Netto has been a pleasant exception, offering “regular” plastic bags until quite recently.

Now, these regular plastic bags, the misleadingly called “one-time” or “disposable” bags, have been quite good for multiple use: they fit well in the pocket of a jacket; are sturdy enough to use half-a-dozen to a dozen times;* and when they are too worn out, they can be used for garbage.

*Possibly more, as the limiting factor in my case has been the need for garbage bags …

The intended-for-multiple-use bags are, paradoxically, inferior in this regard: they do last even longer, but are a much worse fit for a pocket and I doubt that they are better on e.g. a uses-per-quantity-of-plastic* basis. Moreover, of the two bags that I have so far tried to use for a prolonged time, one fell out of my pocket and was lost within less than a dozen uses, the other developed a tear within a dozen uses, which grew to the point that I did not dare use the bag within a total of two dozen uses.

*To illustrate the principle: If a regular bag can be used a dozen times and an intended-for-multiple-use bag uses ten times as much plastic, it would take 120 uses to reach the same level.

The paper bags are near useless for repeated use: (a) they do not take folding well; (b) they easily tear, often on first use (and once torn, they are exceptionally weak); (c) a simple rain, and Wuppertal is very rainy, can kill them even on a first use. Moreover, even on a first use, they are sufficiently much weaker than a plastic bag that care must be taken to not load them too heavily and to not have e.g. the corner of a carton in a position to poke a hole. (d) they are less useful for other purposes too, e.g. as garbage bags (vulnerable to moisture, not closeable in the manner of a plastic bag).

Looking at Netto, the first sign of trouble was in January: I visit(ed) Netto almost exclusively for the plastic bags (cf. excursion), typically loading up enough on groceries to justify two bags, which I then used while visiting other stores until the bags were re-purposed as garbage bags, after which I went back for a rare Netto visit, lather-rinse-repeat. My January visit was a disappointment, as no plastic bags were available. I had to resort to a big paper bag, which was highly impractical for repeated use, even if somewhat sturdier than most other paper bags. I was highly annoyed upon discovering the almost taunting presence of ten check-boxes on the bag, where the proud and environmentally friendly owner was supposed to mark off how many times he had used this unsuitable-for-multiple-use paper bag! Not only was this a virtual taunt, but it also displayed a customer despising attitude where the customer is considered an idiot and/or a pathological virtue signaler and/or is to be used to shame other customers into repeated use.

I gave Netto a second chance a little later, and indeed found plastic bags again.

But: Today, I was out of plastic bags again. I went to Netto—and again found only paper bags. I restricted myself to one bag’s worth of groceries, packed up and left. Barely out of the store, the bag tears to such a degree that I had to carry the remains, barely covering my groceries, in my arms. So much for the quasi-prescribed ten uses!

Considering various other issues (cf. excursion), I will stay away from Netto indefinitely.

Now, about pockets: Should it not be obvious that pockets make the regular plastic bags the preferred version? Apart from human stupidity and irrationality as an explanation why this is not the case, there seems to be a wide-spread assumption that grocery store visits are done by car. Certainly, someone traveling by car need be less concerned over what fits or does not fit well into his pockets, what might fit but fall out (cf. above), and similar. But would it not be better to remain with regular plastic bags and discourage car travel instead?

Excursion on the impact of German reductions:
In the time since my last text on the topic, I have encountered claims (but not kept references) that the number of plastic bags ending up in nature from Europe is dwarfed by the African and/or Asian numbers (to some part, because the recycling quota is much higher in Europe). If so, the bans become the more absurd, as the your-plastic-bag-is-polluting-the-oceans argument is weakened considerably, and as the first lesson of optimization is to optimize where the effect is the largest. Moreover, I have encountered claims that, contrary to propaganda, the overall environmental cost is dominated by the pre-purchase effects. If this is true, the emotional manipulation through claims about suffering animals becomes the harder to justify and the use of e.g. paper bags becomes the more disputable as they, in my understanding, have a higher pre-purchase impact on the environment than plastic bags do. As with e.g. the disgraceful attempts to banish nuclear power, even at the cost of increased use of fossil fuels, the environment might then be harmed by the very attempts to protect it.

Excursion on Netto and my reluctance to buy there:
Visiting Netto is often highly annoying, especially through a repeatedly displayed customer-despising attitude. The three most notable issues:

Firstly, advertising statements that go on ad nauseam. Where other stores, gratifyingly, appear to slowly move away from this annoying intrusion, Netto has begun to use them comparatively recently.* Indeed, I have no recollection of them occurring, or occurring more than rarely, before the first COVID-lockdown, about a year ago, when Netto began to blast the customers with ever-repeating, patronizing, and redundant messages that the customers should keep their distance, and so on, and so forth. I suspect that Netto abused the situation to push advertising through the same channel, after the COVID-related messages were phased out. This especially with an eye on the ad nauseam, which applied to the COVID messages and now applies to the advertising: other stores might play a pop song** over the loud speakers, broadcast one or two ads, play a pop song, etc. Netto has a period of silence** followed by an ad, followed by an ad, followed by an ad, followed by an ad, on and on and on for minutes at a time, before the next period of silence begins.

*Reservation: their presence or absence sometimes vary from store to store, even within the same chain. My local impressions need not reflect the German-wide situation.

**Whether pop songs or silence is preferable, I leave unstated, as these songs are often poor or even annoying in their own right. However, with music there is at least a nominal trade similar to the one of most radio stations—we give you music and in return you listen to our advertising.

Secondly, the particularly annoying and patronizing COVID statements. The aforementioned loudspeaker announcements have been largely phased out; however, the store is still plastered with signs, including the absurd message “Heute trägt man Verantwortung”—“Today one wears [or carries] responsibility”. (Presumably, as a failed joke on the wearing of masks.) The view of the customers that shines through is inexcusable, as are the attempts at cheap manipulation, shaming tactics, etc. (In contrast, a legitimate message would have been e.g. “Per city [or whatnot] ordinance, we must enforce the wearing of N95-masks. We ask for your understanding and cooperation.”.

Thirdly, there is usually only a single check-out line open, even during “rush hour”, which leads to a disproportionate risk of queuing, with the associated delays and, I strongly suspect, an increased risk of COVID spread. (Which makes the aforementioned COVID messages even more absurd.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 18, 2021 at 5:12 pm

COVID Anniversary / Follow-up: COVID-19 reactions doing more harm than good?

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As I have gathered from some recent readings, the first anniversary of COVID is upon us—according to at least some criteria. From my personal point of view, we are days away from the anniversary of my first text on the topic. I posed the question “COVID-19 reactions doing more harm than good?”, to which the answer, one year later, appears to be a resounding “Yes!”.

As this blog remains closed-ish, I am not going to go into a major review of events and my many earlier texts. I note, however, that almost* everything that I have written on the topic appears to be validated by later events, including e.g. that the risks of isolation are severe and that the damage to the economy outweighed any gains from the lock-downs. Above all, perhaps, that politicians do not act in a reasonable and reasoned manner, based on scientific evidence (and a reasonable evaluation of such) and a holistic view that takes side-effects and opportunity costs into consideration. Even were the countermeasures justified and beneficial, which seems even less plausible today than back then, they do not constitute good decision-making but, on the outside, luck with pinning the tail on the COVID-donkey.

*Off the top of my head, I can name only one exception (but others might very well exist): In that first text, I was skeptical to the set of reactions at a time when COVID did not seem to have a foothold in e.g. Germany (where I live). However, this foothold manifested very soon after that. Still, even removing my then thoughts on the timing, the countermeasures appear to be a massive overreaction and to do more harm than good overall.

Worse, and something that I might have failed to predict or deduce, is an amount of misinformation which goes beyond what reasonable could arise, even taking the understandable early lack of knowledge into account. This might be sheer incompetence, but I cannot deny a very strong suspicion that politicians have deliberately lied in order to get the people to do what the politicians wanted. (Remember that slowly boiling frog?) For instance, few would go to the barricades over “two weeks to flatten the curve”, but very many would have over “it will be months and months and no end in sight, even a year later”.

(Of course, the overall information flow, the attempts to suppress dissent, behavior of journalists, etc., play in well with my other writings on e.g. free speech, the right to form one’s own opinion, and whatnot.)

From my recent readings, I would like to recommend* a particularly interesting third-party article on the case against lockdowns. I would also like to point to e.g. the claim that the lockdowns are the biggest public health mistake ever made—which I at least approximately agree with.**

*Disclaimer: I have not yet finished my own reading of this very long analysis.

**Such categorical claims are unlikely to be true, considering the long human history. However, it is a whopper and it is one of the greatest public policy (not just health) mistakes of my own lifetime.

Finally, a few words on masks: In light of sharper German regulations, I have taken to wearing FFP2/N95 masks (previously, a scarf) while in stores. I often precede my grocery shopping with a rapid walk up and down a few nearby hills, and am often a little out of breath for some time afterwards. The masks not only make the recuperation much slower, to the point that I am still a little out of breath when I leave the store, but I suspect that the reduction in oxygen supply is outright unhealthy. Moreover, while I am technically within the limits of the regulations, any positive effects of the masks might be neutralized by the breathing, as air is noticeably exiting the mask around its borders when I breathe heavily. (Yet another reason to suspect that masks have more to do with psychology than medicine—at least, with the current set of German regulations.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 11, 2021 at 10:16 pm

The struggling author: Amateurish Amazon and follow-up on construction noise

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Another shitty day: It appears that the construction works are here again—and, again, without any notification or possibility to judge the size of the problem. Indeed, there is now scaffolding along the house wall, which could imply something very major and something not perpetrated by an individual apartment owner or resident but the actual building management.

Fortunately, the disturbances started in the mid-afternoon, and I could spend enough time walking to come back home after they had stopped. However, firstly, I have no idea how the future will look, and, secondly, the city is almost dead due to COVID-restrictions, meaning that there is very little to actually do, except walking (per se).

To conclude the day, I decided to finally open that Amazon KDP account that I will need in the mid- or long term. This was a frustrating and annoying experience. A partial summary (even at the risk of exceeding the policy for this closed-ish blog, but I need to unload the frustration):

  1. The interface asks for an email address, sends a confirmation code to that address, and awaits entry of that code.

    OK.

  2. The interface ADDITIONALLY asks for mobile phone number, sends a second confirmation code there, and awaits entry of that code.

    Not OK.

    Firstly, it must not be a prerequisite to have a cell phone to participate in various non–cell-phone activities. (Indeed, I have gone through quite long stretches without one and it is pure coincidence that I have a working cell-phone number at the time of writing.) Secondly, email confirmation should have been enough. Thirdly, Amazon claims that it would later be possible to opt out of cell phone verifications, but because it has to be activated the first time around, Amazon can now steal data that I would very much like to keep absent, e.g. to avoid abusive SMS/“text” spam. (Note that Amazon has no legitimate reason to know my telephone number, unlike e.g. my street address and email, for the current purposes. I have yet to investigate whether the opt-out claim holds true.)

    Moreover, the implementation was utterly incompetent, by repeatedly* resetting the country to the U.S. Here my explicit choice of Germany should have been kept; and the original default should have been Germany, too, as my address was German and I was clearly accessing the site from Germany. (In my recollection, but I might be wrong, Amazon even used German as the interface language.)

    *I tried to get past this step, as no mention of the reason had been made (itself a poor UI decision), by first entering a landline number, which is less susceptible to abuse. As the claim that a SMS had been sent was given after entry, I re-tried it with a cell-phone number, including (unthinkingly) a leading “0”. As no SMS arrived, I tried again, removing the “0”, for a total of three attempts.

  3. A highly annoying, moving CAPTCHA needed to be answered.

    At best dubious, as there seems to be little reason to assume that someone goes to the immense effort of handling automatic confirmations per email and SMS for a purpose like creating an Amazon account. (Indeed, with this level of overall stringency, it might have been better to simply send a postal confirmation code and accept the temporary delay in exchange for one single confirmation.)

    Moreover, the implementation was awful, including crossing the border to where it becomes hard even for a human to complete the confirmation. (I needed two attempts, myself.)

  4. I proceeded to enter the user account, an act apparently considered a separate log-in, despite following directly after the account-creation process, which required a second SMS confirmation.

    Not OK.

    Firstly, this particular type of two-factor authentication is very dubious in general,* increasing the efforts needed for trivial tasks disproportionately. (But note mentions of opt-out above.) Secondly, specifically in this situation, it was entirely redundant and my previous SMS confirmation should have been considered enough.

    *In fact, the two main scenarios where it is needed is (a) with idiot users who pick poor passwords (I use random and automatically generated ones) or have sloppy local security (I do not), (b) with idiot service providers who have too many flaws in their own systems or allow password hashes to get out (or, worse, have actually stored plain-text passwords). The risk of e.g. a snooper stealing a password exists, but is a lot smaller. Moreover, the (partially false) sense of security created by two-factor authentication can worsen the problem with (a); moreover, when more and more users access the Internet per cell phone, the value of this specific type of two-factor authentication is drastically reduced.

  5. (My account was marked as incomplete (as expected), and I proceeded to complete the data. Note that the below items might be in the wrong order or be incomplete. It does, in particular, not include several amateurish oddities with the workflow and ambiguities concerning what-button-does-what.)
  6. Address fields included an empty field for my telephone number, which was mandatory.

    Not OK.

    Firstly, my phone number is plainly and simply not Amazon’s business. Secondly, as a mobile number had already been entered, this should have been the pre-filled default.

  7. For my bank information, separate entries of IBAN, BIC, and name-of-bank were needed.

    Not OK.

    This shows a fundamentally flawed approach, as the IBAN is intended to serve as the sole account identification. Requesting a separate BIC is amateur hour. (This unlike the “old” German system, where a BLZ identified the bank, and an account number the account within that bank.) The bank name might be acceptable as a safety check, but better systems fill it out based on the IBAN.* Moreover, it should be a near given that data like account numbers are copy-and-pasted, which would either make the check unnecessary (data is guaranteed to be correct) or pointless (if, highly unlikely, the original is faulty, repeated copy-and-paste procedures will not help).**

    *Here Amazon might be excused as an international operation.

    **However, other checks, like “is the IBAN of the right length” are still justified, to catch e.g. an incompletely copied IBAN.

  8. I was led to the fill-out-the-U.S.-tax-excemption area.

    Not OK.

    A reasonable operation should have made sure that such nonsense is not necessary, e.g. through use of a non-U.S. subsidiary. A smaller company (or one, like Barnes & Nobles, highly U.S. centric) might have deserved a pass, but Amazon is one of the largest and most international companies in the world.

    (But I was already aware of the need to do this to avoid an absurd-for-any-European tax deduction of 30 % in favor of the U.S. (!) IRS, and had indeed even prepared by finding my German TIN in advance.)

  9. Required further fields for the preceding item included address fields that had already been entered.

    Not OK.

    Already entered data should be taken as default values.

  10. My German address contains an umlaut (a “ü”, to be specific). This was rejected when I tried to proceed.*

    *I am a little uncertain whether this was only with the tax fields or already with the main address fields. Below, I assume tax fields. If not, it is far worse.

    Not OK.

    Even assuming that this restriction was posed by the U.S. IRS, the check should have been performed during entry and a pre-filled value with a suggested correction provided and/or the data incompatibility should have been mentioned explicitly and up-front.

  11. As I re-submitted, post-adaption, there was an apparent error text, which read merely that “This field has been corrected.” (or very similar), leaving me uncertain whether further action was necessary. I tried to save again, and was brought back to the same error message. (The page automatically centered on the “error”.) I checked the top and the bottom of the page, in vain, and tried a third time, just in case. I was returned to the same message. I now went through the page in detail and found, a little further down, but outside of the area displayed by the browser after Amazon’s deliberate focus, a request that I confirm the correctness of the correction.

    Not OK.

    The page should have made crystal clear that further action was needed and what action. (Note that the idiotic focus and choice of layout sabotaged this.) Moreover, as I had corrected the field, there should have been no further assumption of error than with any other data entry, making the inquiry/error/whatnot redundant.

Now let us see what future problems occur, including (I very strongly suspect) unsolicited and highly unwanted emails and/or text messages.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 23, 2021 at 12:47 am

Djokovic as GOAT? / Follow-up: Tennis, numbers, and reasoning

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In light of Djokovic now being set to overtake Federer in weeks-at-number-one and having just taken his 18th major, while Nadal has caught up with Federer at 20, it is time to briefly revisit a text on how to determine the tennis GOAT (Part II in a series)—or rather on why doing so is next to impossible.

As this blog is closed-ish, I will not dig deep into details or re-analyze what is said in the old text, but I do note that:

  1. I still consider weeks-at-number-one the best of the “easy” proxies. If we apply this proxy, Djokovic would (in just a few weeks) be the GOAT (of at least the Open Era). This especially as he is a fair bit younger than Federer (and a-year-or-so* younger than Nadal).

    *Here and elsewhere, note that I will not do any fact checking either. There might be minor errors here and there, but nothing that changes the “big picture”.

  2. I would still rate Federer’s career as the better overall, but not by that much and, again, Djokovic is the younger. Certainly, while Federer’s longevity is (was?) extreme, it appears that both Nadal and Djokovic are similar—possibly, even better.
  3. Federer’s dominance at his height was almost unsurpassable, and that might in the end be the strongest argument pro-Federer in a GOAT discussion and/or in a discussion of who was the best among the “Big Three”.
  4. Nadal’s fatal flaw remains that he has achieved too little (relatively speaking!) outside of clay and that he has mostly been second to either Federer or Djokovic at any given time. I can still see no true case for Nadal being more than the “Clay GOAT”. My old estimate of “Federer > Djokovic > Nadal” might now be “Federer = Djokovic > Nadal”, or Federer marginally ahead of Djokovic or Djokovic marginally ahead of Federer.

    However, Nadal has improved in the comparison of feats that formed Part III of the aforementioned series. The comparison made there was based on 12 French-Open titles, while he now stands at 13. (On the other hand, Djokovic reaching 9 Australian Opens, at a lesser age and on a more competitive surface, weakens the accomplishment in comparison.)

  5. The already tricky comparisons are made trickier by the effects of COVID, which include several weakened playing fields, including for Nadal’s 13th French Open and, maybe, the current/2021 Australian Open for Djokovic; a canceled Wimbledon (Djokovic reigning champion; Federer a strong victory candidate, had he played*); and a long period where the ATP ranking** was frozen or otherwise used exceptional rules.

    *Independent of the COVID issue, Federer appears to have taken portions of 2020 off for an injury break or operation or similar. I have not followed tennis in enough detail after 2019 to say for certain.

    **But I suspect that Djokovic would have remained at number one even with the regular rules, and would still be set to take over in weeks-at-number-one.

Skimming through the articles of the series, I note at least one faulty math statement (others might very well be present):

In Part I, I say that “For instance, the probability that the sum of two fair and six-sided dice exceeds* seven is 5/12 a priori but 5/6 given that we already know that one of the dice came up six.”, which is correct in the first half but not in the second: I had my mind on a scenario where one die (dice?) is thrown, it comes up six, and then the other die is thrown. As the order is not specified, another view is necessary. To this, there are 11 (independent) outcomes with at least one six, viz 1–6, 2–6, …, 5–6, 6–6, 6–5, .., 6–2, 6–1. Of these, all but two (6–1, 1–6) exceed seven and the true probability, barring other errors on my behalf, should be 9/11. Looking at the difference, 9/11 – 5/6 = (54 – 55) / 66 = – 1 / 66, making the new result slightly smaller. (The difference is an implicit, faulty, double-counting of 6–6, which unlike e.g. the 5–6/6–5 pair only appears once.)

*Used in the “strictly greater” sense. Another weakness is that this formulation could be interpreted as “greater or equal”. In the latter case, both the old and the new “given that” probability is 1, as the event is unavoidable. (The probability for the first half of the statement would rise to 7/12.)

Written by michaeleriksson

February 21, 2021 at 1:01 pm

Trump’s impeachment and a horrifying democracy failure / Follow-up: U.S. elections

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The second impeachment of Trump is truly a horror; and the meagerness of today’s acquittal utterly absurd.

Consider, among other factors:

  1. The impeachment was with a high degree of likelihood unconstitutional to begin with.
  2. Failing that, it indisputably misses the purpose of an impeachment, which is to remove a problematic office holder from his current office.

    (Here it seems driven by an attempt to prevent a former office holder from holding future offices and/or to exercise some type of Orwellian utter destruction of a defeated enemy.)

  3. The accusations raised were utterly untenable, and were clearly so from the very beginning, considering what statements allegedly were impeachable.

    By no reasonable standards can these statements be considered e.g. an incitement to riots or speech not covered by the First Amendment.

    (Notably, going down this road could lead to the very dangerous situation of elected politicians being limited in their freedom of speech to a considerably higher degree than others, and possibly at the whim of their enemies and/or the Democrats/the Left.)

  4. There are great signs that Trump could not have caused the events at Capitol Hill even by negligence or otherwise unintentionally, as they, apparently, began before he reached the critical portions of his speech.

    This even discounting claims (which I have not investigated) that the events might have been pre-planned (by others) and/or involved Antifa members acting under a false flag. Indeed, political violence tends to come from the Left, so this would be less surprising than a pro-Trump group using violence (barring situations of a defensive nature).

  5. Considering far worse statements by Leftist politicians, especially regarding e.g. the BLM riots, and the scope, damage, and whatnot of the BLM riots, the impeachment is an astounding and inexcusable hypocrisy.
  6. If this type of approach was successful, the results could be horrifying. Consider e.g. a scenario where an election campaign is held, under a massive investment of time and money, and one of the candidates is dishonestly impeached just a few weeks before the election date. If conviction succeeds, the possibility of launching a strong secondary candidate in time would be minuscule. Even with an acquittal, the distraction caused by the proceedings could damage the campaign severely—as could the negative publicity, considering that too few voters bother to look beyond the headlines.

    Worse, we could see a scenario where candidates or the already elected are picked off one-by-one, possibly in a true “First they came” scenario. Indeed, a portion of the Nazis success came from removing opposing members of parliament—notably, after the Reichstagsbrand, an arson attempt against parliament and a target (but not means) of attack similar to that which was invoked to justify the Trump impeachment.

But let us say, very, very strictly for the sake of argument, that everything would have been above board with the impeachment: What could possibly have motivated Trump? It is very hard to see any possible positive effect for him (or the GOP), while the risk of a backlash would be considerable and obvious. Indeed, if he had actually incited a riot, a coup attempt, or a whatnot, chances are that he would have landed in the real courts, be it on criminal charges or as the target of a handful of civil suits. This alone should make any rational thinker highly suspicious of the accusations. Cui bono? Not Trump, that is for sure.

Despite this, and likely quite a few other arguments, the vote was a disgraceful 57–43 against Trump—enough to acquit him but more than enough to condemn the Senate. Even a 43–57 would have been a disgrace. It is quite clear that this was never a bona fide impeachment attempt, a bona fide attempt at protecting this-or-that, or otherwise anything “bona fide”. On the contrary, it was a malicious, dishonest, and anti-democratic* attempt to abuse the available processes to do damage to a political opponent.

*As in “opposed to democracy”, not “opposed to the Democrat party”.

In addition, it was a democracy failure in that those Republicans who voted against Trump almost certainly did so against the will of the voters who had once elected them and the states that they represent, who tend to be more pro-Trump than their senators. (I have already seen reports of protests and censuring based on the vote in the House. Of course, that the impeachment was not struck down in the House is also a travesty.)

I note that I published a text titled Democracy lost almost five years ago. The time since then has made the contents of that text seem optimistic …

Written by michaeleriksson

February 13, 2021 at 11:23 pm

Follow-ups based on third-party texts (political violence, gender-studies, homeschooling)

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A few follow-ups to earlier texts:

  1. I recently noted that, among other things, “political violence tends to come from the Left” ([1]).

    To this, I want to point to an excellent overview of the U.S. situation by Pat Buchanan.

    As an aside, I also wrote “the [Left–‘Right’] difference has historically been far smaller in the U.S. than in e.g. Sweden and Germany”. Buchanan’s list makes me wonder whether this is actually true. It might well be that I based my judgment too much on the Democrats as opposed to the U.S. Left as a whole, the change over time possibly being that the “extra-Democrat” portions have now become “intra-Democrat”; or it might be that the historical* reporting on various U.S. events, developments, and attitudes has been too lacking in objectivity and completeness** in Sweden and Germany. I note e.g. a much harsher take on the-U.S.-in-Vietnam than on the-USSR-in-Afghanistan in Swedish news.

    *I was born in 1975, and significant portions took place before I was born or was old enough to follow the “live” reporting. (Not that I necessarily expect this “live” reporting to have been stronger in objectivity and whatnot.)

    **Foreign news and history are, usually and naturally, given less space than domestic news and history.

  2. A while back, I wrote about a recanting Homeopath, her journey and problems, and how this was similar to the quackery of large parts of the modern Left ([2]). I recently encountered a similar text by a recanting gender-studies Ph.D.. While her journey is somewhat different, there are similarities, and some additional insight can be gained into how educated people can believe idiotic things. Further, the text shows quite a few of the problems with e.g. gender-studies that I have discussed in the past.
  3. The aforementioned text mentions that homeschooling might be under attack—something which would remove a refuge from Leftist indoctrination and the inefficient school system, and which I have long feared (cf. portions of [3]). My fears have been increasing greatly recently, as even many Conservative debaters are yelling that children must be brought back to the classroom in the wake of COVID-enforced remote education.* She points to a specific attack in Harvard Magazine, which makes a number of poor arguments.

    *This is not strictly comparable to homeschooling, e.g. because the home-schooling parents of today (or pre-COVID) show a greater dedication than generic teachers, because remote education has many issues to be sorted out, because not all children are necessarily suited for the greater responsibilities, and similar. Nevertheless, this increases the threat against homeschooling proper.

    These include:

    That abusive parents might go undetected, never mind that these form a small minority and that the purpose of school is not to serve as a means of spying on parents. In fact, doing so is ethically dubious and might be a greater evil than the small proportion of abusive parents, as this type of spying can easily be extended to other areas, e.g. parents with the “wrong” political opinions. By rumor, it is indeed often extended. This argument also fails to consider the (much?) larger risk of abuse in school.

    That some might homeschool who are bad at it, never mind that this could be easily solved by requiring (unless this is already the case) that students pass recurring tests—if in doubt, high-school diplomas are not just handed out willy-nilly to anyone who applies. Moreover, the reason for the wish to homeschool is often the abysmal quality of a local regular school … I note that this implicitly repeats one of the most common Leftist and/or educator myths, namely that the teacher and/or school matters far more than the student.* In reality, of course, it is the other way around, and the failure to realize this is one of the greatest reasons why school is an inefficient, and often ineffective, way of gaining an education.

    *This is largely a special case of the long disproved “tabula rasa” / “nurture only” view of the human mind.

    That children should “grow up exposed to…democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints”. While partially laudable on paper, the exact opposite is what happens in today’s schools, where they are to be turned into obedient little drones with the right anti-democratic values and an intolerance to those with the “wrong” opinions. As to “nondiscrimination”, this is an abuse of language and we really, really would benefit if students learned to discriminate more and better (cf. [4]). However, even if the distorted Leftist meaning of the word is applied, this is not what schools teach—anti-White, anti-man, and anti-“Right” discrimination is par for the course. Moreover, homeschooling is a valuable aid to ensure that there are differing viewpoints in society, while school often seems set on exterminating them.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 4, 2021 at 12:33 pm

Countermeasures more damaging than COVID / Follow-up: Various COVID-19 articles

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I just read a very interesting article on the damage by COVID counter-measures and how they, according to a peer-reviewed study, do more harm than good. This plays in well with things that I began to say as early as March 2020, or roughly ten months ago. (See [1] and [2], as well as quite a few later texts.)

Below, I will discuss portions of this article, but first I want to point to another case of pinning the tail to the COVID donkey. Going by current German reporting*, there are plans to (a) institute a nightly curfew, (b) mandate FFP2-masks** in e.g. stores. As to (a), what is that supposed to achieve?!? The nights are the times when the streets are almost free of people anyway, when there is the smallest risk of infecting or being infected. By locking people in at night, they either lose an option of fresh air and exercise for no good reasons or are forced to move these activities to the day time, when the risks are larger … Utterly idiotic. (Note that bars, discos, and the like are closed to begin with, irrespective of this curfew.) As to (b), either this is an(other) unnecessary measure or it proves that the old/current policy, in place for many months, was deeply flawed. The latter might very well be the case, as it allowed the use of virtually any mouth covering, including home-made masks and the scarf that I, myself, have been using. If so, however, it should have been obvious to begin with, and the old/current policy was mostly unnecessary, a cheap psychological measure, and/or another case of pinning the tail.

*Source is the non-archived Internet version of “ARD Text”. As I try to minimize efforts on this closed blog, I will not research alternate sources.

**Roughly equivalent to the U.S. N95-masks.

To the main issue:*

*Quote marks present in the cited article have been kept to indicate what words stem from the author of the study (one Dr. Ari Joffe) and when the author of the article. This especially as the article appears to, it self, quote another article/interview extensively.

  1. The study, by a previously pro-lockdown physician, claims that the damage outweighs* the benefits by a factor 10 (ten!). I do not know whether this figure pans out, or whether it pans out everywhere**, but it is a strong further indication that the crisis has been horribly mishandled.

    *And this likely limited to health, while measuring the effects of e.g. bankruptcies only indirectly through health effects. (As I began to write, I assumed the opposite, and only discovered my likely error during writing. For reasons of time, I will not research this in detail. This potential misunderstanding might be preserved in sub-optimal formulations below, but will not render the underlying thoughts incorrect.)

    **The study is likely based on Canada.

  2. A particularly important portion reads:

    Explaining further to the Toronto paper why he initially supported the lockdowns, Joffe noted he’s not trained to make public policy decisions.

    “I was only considering the direct effects of COVID-19 and my knowledge of how to prevent these direct effects,” he said. “I was not considering the immense effects of the response to COVID-19 (that is, lockdowns) on public health and wellbeing.”

    Not only does this match my main complaint, that there is no awareness of e.g. opportunity costs and side-effects, but it also points to a danger of listening to experts without applying own thought.

    However, exactly this blind following is often demanded or voluntarily practiced. This, unfortunately, appears to include the politicians who should know better in terms of public policy than the average physician: “Fauci et al. say that X, Y, Z; ergo, we must A, B, C.” Why not consult a few experts on business and economics, a few civil-rights’ lawyers, and whoever else might be relevant in addition to Fauci? Why not a few psychologist and psychiatrists on top of physicians and experts on infectious diseases?

  3. Overlapping, the article claims:

    He pointed out that government and public health experts did not conduct a formal cost-benefit analysis of various responses to the pandemic.

    I would go further: from what I have seen, even an informal cost-benefit analysis has only rarely been made or, when present, had an influence on decision making.

  4. The negative effects are not just economic. As I have pointed out, there are also competing health effects.

    “It turns out that loneliness and unemployment are known to be among the strongest risk factors for early mortality, reduced lifespan and chronic diseases,”

    I would have said “Duh!”, expect that most politicians appear either unaware of or “willfully ignorant” on this point.

  5. The media have been as bad as the politicians (another “Duh!” moment …):

    “Popular media focused on absolute numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths independent of context,” he said. “There has been a sheer one-sided focus on preventing infection numbers.”

    In a bigger picture, this repeats the failure of media (discussed in many previous texts) of providing the population with the information needed to think for themselves: media has a ready-made, pre-chewed opinion and the population should just swallow that opinion.*

    *Note that this is a bad thing even should the media have a sound opinion.

  6. Another big complaint of mine is that the risks of COVID-19 and number of the deaths from it has not been put in perspective relative other causes of death.

    “Each day in non-pandemic years, over 21,000 people die from tobacco use, 3,600 from pneumonia and diarrhea in children under 5-years-old, and 4,110 from tuberculosis,” he noted. “We need to consider the tragic COVID-19 numbers in context.”

Disclaimer: I have not read the underlying study, nor made any attempts at verifying the science or credibility.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 18, 2021 at 9:59 am

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