Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and political correctness

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I have long been concerned with the infestation of Wikipedia by unencyclopedic PC propaganda, where it is clear that many see Wikipedia as yet another platform for furthering their private agendas—science and objectivity by damned. (Cf. e.g. parts of [1] and “young adult fiction” below.)

During the last few months, I have become a frequent visitor of Wiktionary, as a very valuable tool for the struggling author. To my distress, I found many cases of potential similar abuse even here, where it might seem implausible. While any individual case might be a coincidence, the proportion of the articles that contain odd examples and potential distortions is too large to allow coincidence to be the overall explanation. (For instance, any one of the below examples might be harmless or coincidental when taken alone. Possibly, the entire page discussed might be seen as a coincidence. However, when we look at the sum of all pages, this would stretch credulity.)

Consider e.g. Wiktionary on “sneer”. The English section currently contains three examples of use (given below). All three could have been chosen for their “PC value”; with one, it is outright likely. Moreover, two of them appear to be quite young, while the third goes back no further than 1963. This despite aspects like historical* use and somewhat stable** use being of great importance on a site like Wiktionary.

*While Wikipedia is silent on age, Etymonline gives estimations of 1550s (verb) and 1707 (noun). The examples, then, cover about a tenth of the life-time of the word.

**Examples from 2019 could reflect a temporary fashion, while older examples are more likely to represent a stable use and meaning. (A wish to demonstrate current use is still best met with examples that are, say, ten or twenty years old and still seen as “current” in meaning.)

Looking at these examples in detail, we have:*

*Note that some changes in typography and formatting might be present for technical reasons. Use of square brackets reflect the state on Wiktionary, and are not additions by me.

  1. 2019 July 24, David Austin Walsh, “Flirting With Fascism”, in Jewish Currents:

    During [Tucker] Carlson’s keynote, he wedged sneers at his critics for crying “racist!” in between racist remarks about [Ilhan] Omar, jeremiads against the media (“I know there’s a bunch of reporters here, so . . . screw you”), and an attack on Elizabeth Warren and her donors (“She’s a tragedy, because she’s now obsessed with racism, which is why the finance world supports her”)—all to gleeful applause.

    This example is months old, from a political/partisan source (and one with an apparent “anti-Fascist” take at that), and the quote at least represents someone as trying to criticize use of the word “racist” while actually being racist. Now, I am not aware of who Carlsson is or what his opinions are, but abuse of the word “racist” is a massive problem in today’s world, be it out of ignorance or in order to discredit opponents without having to address their arguments. (The same applies to e.g. “sexist”, “xenophobe”, “Fascist”.) I have discussed this repeatedly in the past, notably in [2].

    To boot, the structure of the example, with formatting, quotes-within-quotes, etc., makes it highly unsuitable as an example for other reasons.

  2. “Now here’s someone who should attend privilege workshops,” sneered she.

    There is no date or source given, but the reference to “privilege workshops” is a clear indication of a very recent origin, likely within the last few years, decades on the outside.

    The whole “privilege” bullshit is another staple of PC rhetoric, as I discuss e.g. in [3].

    A potential partial save of the example is the interpretation of the sneerer as evil, as with the above example and, possibly, the below. I am not much inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt these days, however.

  3. 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 8, in The China Governess[1]:

    It was a casual sneer, obviously one of a long line. There was hatred behind it, but of a quiet, chronic type, nothing new or unduly virulent, and he was taken aback by the flicker of amazed incredulity that passed over the younger man’s ravaged face.

    This is the example least likely by far to be an abuse, but combining the quote with the name of the source, there is at least a possibility that it too portrays or pretends to portray a scene of racism or other “ism”, e.g. something anti-Chinese. (I have not investigated this further.)

In a bigger picture, “collaborative” or “public contribution” sites like Wikipedia and Wiktionary are exceptionally sensitive to such distortions. Have just one high-school or college student out of one hundred spend an hour a week performing such deliberately abusive agenda pushing, and the legitimate editors would be flooded. (Even discounting the considerable risk that many of the legitimate editors have pro-PC or pro-Left biases that unconsciously distort their efforts.) That such deliberate distortive editing does take place is indisputable. A blatant example is the Wikipedia page on “young adult fiction”, which I encountered somewhat* recently. At the time, the page was dominated by the side-topic of “diversity”, another PC staple and one of a highly dubious justification—if nothing else, I did not even care if the heroes where human when I read this type of fiction… Currently, this sub-topic has been reduced to a shorter section—but at the cost of creating an entire new page on diversity in young adult fiction. This new page is almost as long as the main page…

*At some point in 2018. I intended to write a longer critical text at the time, but never got around to it.

Moreover, looking at the talk page, it appears that this is the work of a user Kaylac8215, who claims that “I will be working on this wiki for a class project. I will be doing basic copyediting and reformatting, as well as adding a section talking about Diversity in YA lit.”, which (together with other statements) shows both misguided intentions and an external motivation. (Entirely aside from the fact that the sometime abuse of Wikipedia editing as a pedagogical tool is inexcusable. The work produced is almost invariably well below the regular standard. Any teacher who pushes this should be summarily fired.) Her approach is later discussed negatively by others, but the result of this discussion was not the deletion of the major part of the text, just the move to a new page.

While I have not reviewed the current state of the text, I do recall that I found it highly one-sided and poorly written at the time of my original encounter.

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Written by michaeleriksson

October 22, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Blogroll update

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I recently stumbled over the German site https://ef-magazin.de/ or “eigentümlich frei”, and have read several entries that match my own opinions or provide perspective/information that would be valuable to large parts of the population on, at least, a “food for thought” basis.

These include:

A text on misinformation about nuclear power that distort the public opinion. Indeed, one of the greatest paradoxes in current politics, in my opinion, is how the German “Green” party is now reaping the political benefits of a climate crisis that has been severely worsened through the irrational hatred of nuclear power that this party (and many of its international peers) has. For thirty or forty years, this issue has been the likely single greatest item on the “Green” agenda, driving up the use of fossil fuels much further than would have been necessary.

A suggestion to rework the financing of public service TV in light of recent British suggestions. Indeed, for more than twenty years, I have viewed the variations of the “everyone must pay” systems used in both my adopted Germany and my native Sweden as grossly unethical, distortive to fair competition, and bringing very little value in light of the disputable quality of public service. This the more so after the Internet has made much of the original motivations redundant, e.g. through the great availability of free news.

Reporting on hateful Leftist students who grossly unethically and anti-democratically try to silence a lecturer with the “wrong” political opinions, in the same style so often reported from the U.S., e.g. by Minding the Campus. If in doubt, they are not only infringing on the lecturer’s right to freedom of speech and opinion, but also on the fundamental right of other students to form their own opinions—and not to just be force fed the official Leftist truth. This case is particularly perfidious: The victim is a professor* who attempted to hold a lecture on macroeconomics. The rejection stems from his being a member of the “wrong” party and seems unrelated to the actual lecture. In effect, his ability to perform in his profession is now being limited because of his political activity.

*“Hochschullehrer”: Literally, “university teacher”, which could conceivably imply something different than a professor, but I do not want to get bogged down with research and translations.

This site is put on the temporary blogroll. For the time being, I do not use the permanent for two reasons: Firstly, it appears to not be an entirely free-of-charge site. Secondly, the tone of writing is not always as neutral and factual as I would prefer. (In all fairness, it still does better than most Leftist sites and slips in tone usually have a far better reason than among the Left.)

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October 20, 2019 at 9:00 am

The struggling author III

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Looking back at my last update on the theme of the struggling author, I am now in a very different place. This includes having a much better understanding of writing, both as a process and as a means to produce fiction that works or does not work. It also includes having actually reached both a text mass and a sufficient maturity of outline that I probably could wrap up a readable book in just another few weeks time.

This I will not do, however, because that book might be readable, but also highly unlikely to satisfy myself and equally unlikely to be published. (Getting even a good book published is not trivial.)

Instead, I will take my time, aiming for a completion somewhere during next year’s summer. This will allow me ample time to modify both plot and text in light of increasing competence. Even now, most of what I wrote two months ago seems sufficiently weak that I am set on rewriting it—and that includes text that I was reasonably happy with at the time.

(To avoid misunderstandings: This is a good thing. It shows that I am improving. If I had not improved, then I would have cause to question my career choice. The time plan is set in the hope that I will continue to improve, so that my first book will not just be “OK” but something that I am actually happy with.)

There are still things that I struggle with. A notable example is the question of which of several alternatives to choose in key situations. Each choice can simultaneously open and close doors, and many choices can have an effect on the long term plot. Sometimes, it is possible to eat the cake and keep it too; sometimes, it is not. Consider, by analogy, questions from real life like “What if I had chosen a different major or college?”, “What if I had given that girl-/boy-friend a second chance?”, “What if I had not married that woman/man?”, “What if I had accepted respectively turned down that job offer?”, etc.

Looking at my own life, it would, e.g., be possible to have me go through both with my time as an exchange student in Germany and a later life in Sweden, with closer contacts to my family, less language issues, likely an easier career, etc. It would not be possible to combine this later life in Sweden with the actual continued life in Germany, unless the German part was cut much shorter than it was, missing much of the experiences that do make up the “book” of my life. True, even now, I could return to Sweden, but it would now be too late for many of the experiences that could have been a part of the alternate “book”, including differences in early “character development”.

Or, to take the excuse to segue into a different area: What if the last five (?) months had not seen my house terrorized with construction work? (The “book” of my life might be less interesting, but the book that I am writing might be considerably further along.) As is, the amount of noise has been considerably lower the last week or two, but simply will not end. I suspect that the apartment renovations are over and that some other party is now performing lesser works somewhere else in the building. This, however, includes such absurdities as loud hammering for several minutes at 5 AM (yes, AM!) two days ago.

Another considerable annoyance is the Künstlersozialkasse, ostensibly created to ease the financial burden of struggling authors and other artists through covering those portions of various pension and health-insurance fees that are paid by the employer for those in regular employment. I am a perfect case of someone for whom the Künstlersozialkasse is intended, and by the current law, the decision to include me should have been a trivial rubber stamping. Instead, the treatment of my application has been extended over more than two months—and then rejected. Moreover, this rejection has been given a motivation that is simply not compatible with the actual law. (Such misbehavior is, unfortunately, quite common in Germany, where e.g. the “IRS” often willfully ignores laws and precedence in favor of its own internal instructions, to the point that individual tax payers might need to go to court over something that has already been decided in favor of other tax payers; or need to go to court to for the same misbehavior several years in a row, even when they won in the previous years.) Moreover, the resources of this agency (or whatever might be the appropriate term) are often wasted on non-artists, like free-lance journalists, whose inclusion is contrary to the original intentions.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 19, 2019 at 9:53 pm

Trying to buy Peter Handke / German bookstores

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I have previously written about problems with German bookstores ([1]) and mentioned the criticism against recent Nobel Literature winner Peter Handke ([2], excursion).

Today, I dropped by the local Mayersche to pick up at least one of his books, to widen my own perspectives on writing. I did not see a single one …

Normally, even entirely non-German winners are given prominent display. This was certainly the case when Herta Müller (Romanian born German), Günter Grass (German), or even* Elfriede Jelinek (Austrian) won.

*Of the three (four, including Handke), she is by far the one with most disputable literary reputation.

Peter Handke is Austrian with a German father, is indisputably one of the most influential and lauded German-language writers of the last fifty-or-so years, and belongs to those who has had at least some impact outside the German-language area. (If in doubt, through the screenplay to “Der Himmel über Berlin”, often oddly rendered as “Wings of Desire” in English.) He was even on my reading list for the somewhat nearby future before he won his Nobel Prize.

Handke had not received such a display … (Note that the timing prohibits reasons/excuses like “It’s been two days—we haven’t had the time.” and “We had a display, but only for the first few weeks.”.)

I went to the most likely* alphabetized shelf, where I would have expected to find a few of his books even without a recent Noble Prize. There were none …

*Because the alphabetization is not pure, but repeated within different sections (think “Crime”, “Fantasy”, “Chick-lit”, …), it is conceivable that he was in some other section. Here I picked the generic “Romane” (“Novels”). Possibly, he was sold out, but the books looked too packed.

Has Handke been censored for having the “wrong” opinions (not unheard of, unfortunately) or has the intellectual standards of Mayersche dropped so disastrously that they do not want to touch him for commercial reasons? Either way, it is very unfortunate.

I also went by the area where I knew that there was a small section with cross-word/sudoku/whatnot books to be found, specifically looking for something in the “Eckstein”* series. This section had shrunk from small to virtually non-existent. There were three or four books there, none “Eckstein”. (The presence of some books is important, because a complete lack would have been a sign that the section had been moved.)

*One of the more challenging and handmade word-based cross-words, often requiring decoding puns and finding double meanings to get the right solution.

Seeing that I have bought all of three books from this particular bookstore in roughly two years and possibly two dozen visits, I will now forego it permanently. I note that with a larger selection, the count of bought books would have roughly doubled today.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 17, 2019 at 3:08 pm

The 2019 Nobel Prizes: Women and the Nobel Prize

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Time for the yearly Nobel-Prize update:

Compared to 2018, the historical male dominance has returned.

The three* regular Prizes (Physics/Chemistry/Physiology or Medicine) saw a total of nine laureates, all men.

*As noted for 2018, I will ignore Literature and Peace in the future. However, they would not have changed the picture this year, with both laureates being men.

The “extra-curricular” Economics Prize saw two men and one woman (Esther Duflo).

In total, there were eleven male to one female laureate, and 3.75 to 0.25 Prizes.*

*Note that, in my understanding, Duflo received a quarter, not a third, as the price was shared equally between Michael Kremer and the team of Duflo and her husband, Abhijit Banerjee.

Excursion on 2018:
The 2018 analysis was slightly hampered by the delayed awarding of the Literature Prize. It is noteworthy that the delayed award did go to a woman (Olga Tokarczuk), which makes 2018 a truly exceptional year for the women. Factoring in the rarity of a share of the Physics Prize, 2018 could be argued as even on par with 2009.

Excursion on the married couples:
With Duflo, we have another instance of a husband/wife team sharing a Price. While this is unremarkable when looking at husbands,* the proportion of female winners is sufficiently large that there could be a distortive effect, e.g. in that a brilliant male scientist has his merely good wife as a tag-along. Official information gives four** other cases, leaving us with five couples:

*Not because the reverse scenario of brilliant female with tag-along husband would be impossible, but because removing a few male winners would not affect the overall proportions.

**Not counting the also mentioned Gunnar and Alva Myrdal. While they did both win, they won in different fields in different years, which reduces the risk of a tag-along effect. To boot, Alva was awarded the Peace Prize (1982), which is not under consideration. Also note Marie Curie’s Chemistry Prize below.

  1. Duflo/Banerjee, Economics in 2019. Duflo is only the second female laureate (in the field in question).
  2. May-Britt and Edvard Moser, Medicine in 2014. May-Britt is one of twelve female laureates. With Gerty Cori (cf. below) this makes two in twelve or one in six.
  3. Gerty and Carl Cori, Medicine in 1947. She was the first female laureate by thirty years.
  4. Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Chemistry in 1935. Irène is still one of only five female laureates. She was only the second female recipient of any non-Literature/non-Peace Prize, behind only her mother (cf. below).
  5. Marie and Pierre Curie, Physics in 1903. Marie is still one of only three female laureates, and was the first by 60 years. Indeed, she was the first female laureate in any category, Literature and Peace included.

    (But note that she won the 1911 Chemistry Prize unshared, a few years after Pierre’s death. Moreover, that the delays between effort and award were far shorter back then, implying that Pierre need not have had any effect on the Chemistry Prize, even had he had one on the Physics Prize.)

(Additional data from a Wikipedia page listing female laureates. With reservations for oversights on my behalf.)

A similar tag-along effect could, obviously, exist even without a married relationship, when a team is jointly awarded a Prize but the contributions of the laureates vary in importance. Again, such an effect would have only a small impact on men, while the impact on women could be considerable. (Most winning teams have been all-male, implying that the number of male laureates could drop, but it would still be far larger than the number of female laureates, and the number of “male” Prizes would remain almost or entirely unchanged.)

Excursion on the Economics Prize:
With repeated awardings of the Peace and Literature Prizes for “being Left”, I have some fears that the Economy prize will eventually be similarly politicized. The motivation for the 2019 Price could point in this direction: “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”, which might be an indication that the award is less for scientific accomplishment and more for choice of topic. (I have not attempted the very considerable leg-work needed to judge this in detail.)

Other potential suspects include “for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis” (William D. Nordhaus) and “for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare” (Angus Deaton).

As a depressing contrast, this years Literature choice, Peter Handke, has been criticized for reasons unrelated to literary accomplishment—his opinions relating to Serbia et co. appear to be considered unacceptable.

(All motivations from official information.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 14, 2019 at 7:38 pm

Follow-up: Further thoughts on the City-Pentalogy

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As the second book has resurfaced, I can now speak a little more completely than last time:

My overall analysis remains the same, except that a few characters do now receive enough pages to come alive in a different manner than without book 2, e.g. Emilie who spent* book 1 as a small child (or was not yet born) and books 3–5 as a reliable rock for others (or was already dead), while mostly dwelling on memories for her own part—and often memories that referred to book 2, which made them less accessible to me. With book 2, more of her youth**, hopes and dreams, etc., are present, which makes a great difference. This includes two failed romances, which put her spinsterhood in a slightly different light. Some other characters go from being mere names to me to being something more tangible; most notably Olof, who was born towards the end of book 1 and was already dead*** by the beginning of book 3.

*With the reservation (here and elsewhere) that my reading of the other books are now a bit back and that my memory might be imperfect.

**This might partially be rooted in me: I have often found that younger characters lead more interesting lives, that personal development during “formative years” is more interesting, that first loves are more interesting than tenth loves, etc.

***Checking the beginning of book 3 again, he must have died during the time of the first chapter of book 3, which covers several years in “fast forward” mode, but his death is not mentioned until the second chapter, as being almost three years before the “present” (1905).

Looking at book 2 on its own, it is closer to the first in quality than the others, and exactly for the expected reasons: The action is not yet spread over that many characters (and it is the longest of the books) and the author does not yet appear as intent on just getting a page quota done. The potential reader can read the first two books for value; the remaining three, if he is curious about outcomes.

A personally pleasing point is that Olof, an aspiring artist, makes a similar observation to my recent text on the benefits of learning the craft: he has artistic aspirations, but sees himself hindered by his lack of craftsmanship. At the end of book 2, knowing that he is dying, he even burns all of his works still in his possession, at least partially out of fear of postumous disapproval.

In terms of the history of my reading attempts (cf. excursion in [1]), I conclude that my first attempt (decades ago) must have contained at least a portion of book 2, despite my disappointment with Henning’s death at the end of book 1: Lotten, Henning’s wife, dies at page 131 (in my edition) of book 2 through falling through a hole in the ice; and I recall being confused during my second reading attempt (2010) of book 1, because that was how I wanted to remember Henning dying. (It is quite possible that my first attempt ended at that very point, however, because of the repeated disappointment. I was very young.)

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October 10, 2019 at 5:57 pm

Sports and payment of men and women

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Apparently, the U.S. women’s soccer players are crying wolf about earnings again.

I have dealt with similar problems in the past (e.g. in [1], [2]) and will not repeat those discussions.

However, another angle:

Let us try the following: Just like there are different soccer leagues for men and women, institute two different federations. For all I care, make every single decision maker in the women’s federation female.* Now let us see how much they earn or do not earn. They might earn more or they might earn less than today—which I do not know. But: They will be exposed to the realities of economy and the connection between creating value and receiving value, e.g. that the ticket revenue generated and the revenue from television rights will affect who is paid what.

*They could probably get away with this: If the men’s federation tried the same, it would likely land in court for illegal discrimination and definitely be publicly attacked.

Ditto in tennis: Separate the men’s and women’s majors into entirely separate tournaments, run by different entities. If the women’s entities want to pay the same prize money as the men’s, they may do so. If they want to pay twice as much, I have no objection. But: do not complain to me, should they do so and find themselves running out of money.

From another point of view: If we do consider it unfair that e.g. female soccer player’s earn less than male, why it is not considered unfair that players of different sports earn differently for the same level of success? Why should e.g. a multiple world champion in bandy earn less than many (most? all?) titleless NFL players? Why should tennis players earn more than e.g. racket-ball players?

Of course, we could* institute some global rule for all sports and both sexes that give everyone the same amount of money for comparable levels of success, regardless of e.g. ticket earnings: Soccer players would take a severe pay cut—even be they women. Ditto tennis players. Hope Solo, do you still want “fair” pay?

*Defining reasonable comparisons would take a lot of work and might require restructuring some sports, e.g. by scrapping the tennis majors in favor of a single world championship—but the global rule is a thought experiment, not a practical suggestion.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 8, 2019 at 9:41 am