Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

An even 50

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As a month of heavy writing comes to an end, I find myself tired of typing and at a count of 49 published texts for the month. It would be nice to see 50, but the “real” texts that I have in the immediate pipeline are too much work right now (notably, several texts relating to guilds, insiders vs. outsiders, and similar).

Instead, I will take the easy way out with what mostly amounts to filler:

Firstly, how did this count come about? I was already on a rising trend, partially trying to do something about my backlog, partially having a new drive after a prolonged time with comparatively little activity; and I tend to find more ideas* of things to write about the more I write, and write more, the more ideas I have. At some point in October, aided by an additional set of texts on the back-and-forth around Liz Truss, I broke some critical limit and ended the month very strongly, bringing me to 33 (?) posts. I continued in a similar tempo through November, with additional material arising through e.g. the U.S. elections, until my energy began to peter out, and the month ended with a more average level of writing/posting.

*Or, maybe, fresh ideas and other stimuli. For instance, merely having a large backlog does not create an urge to write about any given item; however, such an urge can arise when I encounter something in the now that overlaps with or reminds me of a backlog item. (Similarly, something in the now can cause an urge even without a backlog item.)

Secondly, what will future counts be? I really cannot say. I suspect that a typical count might be in the 20s in the near future, but this could vary drastically depending on how satiated with writing I am (right now—very), how much time I have, what other interests take precedence (notably, that I might drift back to fiction), etc. Specifically for December, all bets are off, as I (a) will likely take a few days of rest from any writing, (b) might be absent from computers for a part of the month, (c) do have those “several texts […]”, which could give me a few easy entries, due to work already performed.

Thirdly, what about that backlog? I have made some progress, but nowhere near as much as the post count might imply, as much of what has been published was new material and as some new items have been added to the backlog. There are many dozens of texts to go. (How many is impossible to say, especially as the backlog exist more as an abstractum than as an actual list. Two particular complications are the many books that I have read/am reading and intend to write about and the ongoing series on Nazis, which might be done in just several texts—or need several dozen. Further, due to the nature of a backlog and the continual addition of new ideas, it is unlikely to ever be entirely empty, even should I manage to bring it down to a reasonable size.)

Excursion on National Novel Writing Month:
November is also, coincidentally, the National Novel Writing Month, where participants are supposed to reach a word count of 50,000. When I first heard of it, maybe some ten to fifteen years ago, I found that word count nearly suicidal, with an eye at time invested, quality to be expected, and stress on the fingers. This November, I reached 50 posts (including this one), and most of my texts are probably above a 1,000 words in length, many far above.*/** I am now considering actual participation for 2023. (If I do participate, do not expect much blogging.)

*Actually running a set of texts through a word-count program (wc), I land at more than 85 thousand words for November; however, that includes some texts that are not yet published (which might or might not count, depending on point of view), some texts based on pre-November drafts (where most of the word count does not belong to November), some texts with quotes from the works of others, and some markup. Even adjusting for these complications, however, I should be well above 50,000. The longest individual texts broke 4 thousand words.

**It is possible, however, that I have exceeded the 50,000 mark at some point in the past, e.g. during October or during times when I wrote heavily on my own novels.

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Written by michaeleriksson

November 30, 2022 at 3:51 am

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A few thoughts on disclaimers

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With the extensive writing that I have behind me this month, I have also had much cause to reflect on some aspects of writing—including disclaimers* of various kinds.

*And, yes, I probably am using the word in a too wide sense.

As the recurring reader might have noticed, I am often insert such in my texts, be it as something explicitly labelled “Disclaimer:” or as just a few appropriate disclaiming words, like with the above footnote.

The quantity of disclaimers is partially a special case of wanting to “establish the whole truth” (cf. [1]), partially the result of a long exposure to a mixture of idiots (be it on the Internet or elsewhere) and those who are keen to maliciously misinterpret. The sad truth is that, at least on the Internet, there is no such thing as a “fool-proof sentence”—there is always someone foolish enough to turn it into something different from what a reasonable reader would.

However, if I am too focused on the worst-of-the-worst, the more reasonable reader might think that I “over-disclaim”—that it is a given that X, that there is no need to spell X out, and, even, that I waste my readers’ time by doing so. Then there is the issue of my own time and how much of it I am willing to spend on disclaimers…

Correspondingly, I try (not necessarily successfully) to hold back and to find a balance. In a next step, however, there is a real potential problem—that I have created an expectation of disclaimers in certain situations and that the absence of a disclaimer is seen as more important than it actually is. Consider the relaying of a personal anecdote of relevance to a certain text: I might then add a disclaimer of “with reservations for memory errors” or “anecdotes should be taken with a grain of salt”. How should it be interpreted when I do not? Am I then claiming that my memory is perfect and that anecdotes are conclusive proof? No, but the recurring reader might misinterpret the absence in this manner. (With the twist that my own use of disclaimer might have unnecessarily created a need for disclaimers that would not have been there, had I not used disclaimers. More generally, our behavior is often measured against an individual baseline and the deviation of e.g. a certain act from a known baseline can be more important than the act as such.)

A potential way out might be to write some type of “general purpose” disclaimer, going through various points once and for all, where I state, e.g., that my memory is fallible, that I do not vouch for the claims of others being correct, and that this-or-that is a one-sided perspective. This maybe with an added pointer to agnostic scepticism or to this text, which can be seen as a meta-disclaimer. However, if I do, I would either have to include this “general purpose” disclaimer in every single text or count on most readers missing it. (Have you visited the existing pages with e.g. an advertising disclaimer and an evil sabotage disclaimer? I doubt it.) Even a link, in every single text, to a page with the disclaimer would likely remain unvisited by most. Then there is the issue of what to do with all the old texts that would not automatically contain this link.

Excursion on paranoia:
Am I a little paranoid when it comes to disclaimers and/or the absence of disclaimers? Maybe, but this is the Internet and considering what trifles can lead even to public condemnation, cancellation, or a firing (not just to a misinterpretation in, say, a short comment debate), it might be perfectly sane and rational to err on the side of caution. Even as is, your typical Leftist hater/idiot/propagandist might find as much to complain about in my writings as in those of, say, Heather Mac Donald. From another angle, I seem to be much better at spotting holes, faulty arguments, unstated assumption, and similar than most others, which makes the use of disclaimers, and the general completeness drive mentioned in [1], a result of seeing flaws that most others do not.*

*And/or of prioritizing various types of flaws differently than most others, e.g. in that I might prefer to add a footnote for greater completeness where someone else might prefer to cut footnotes down to a minimum—and completeness be damned. (In this specific text, the two footnotes serve a different purpose, namely to give a practical illustration on a more “meta” level.)

Written by michaeleriksson

November 29, 2022 at 2:04 pm

Long texts, pretexts, and a troublesome backlog item

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With many backlog items, one of the things that hold me back is size—that giving them a fair treatment would take so long that I keep putting it off. Currently, I am dealing with the opposite—an item where I have long had an idea but still have very little to say about the idea.

Just this:

There are at least two types of persons who might be accused of “having to get the last word”, “not letting a matter rest”, “being a know-it-all”, whatnot by others—those who want to be proved to be in the right and those who want to establish the truth.

This can be spun out and elaborated a little. I could, for instance, observe that the former is the mark of a bad scientist, the latter the mark of a good one. Maybe, I could add a personal angle and note that much younger versions of me were in the former category, but that I grew into the latter, or lament that my attempts at the latter are often taken to be attempts at the former. Maybe, at the risk of going off-topic, I could even speculate on the influence of school and school’s “you must give the right answer” attitude in giving me an early aversion to being wrong.

However, and unusually, there is not much that creates an urge to write or which spawns of new ideas. With other texts, it is often the other way around, that I begin with a simple thought, maybe worthy of two paragraphs, that a brief brain-storming or the act of writing spawns off another four paragraphs, that writing these four new paragraphs spins off even more, and that even the act of proof-reading can be a danger in terms of keeping the length of a text down, as I almost invariably discover some new idea, special case, example, whatnot that I want to share. Consider the mention of school above: my fingers are itching to expand on that.

In a twist, the issues of the above paragraph are overlapping with exactly wanting to “establish the truth” or, to be specific, “establish the whole truth”. Yes, I could ignore this-or-that new idea, and I often do, especially for a text that is already long, but I am left with a feeling of dissatisfaction, almost a bad conscience, over having short-changed the truth.

Now, what to do with such a backlog item? Well, one possibility would be to find some pretext topic, use the pretext topic as an excuse to insert the item, and then, while straining my self-control to the utmost, keep the pretext topic so short that the item does not drown in a four-thousand-word jumble.

Another possib… No, let us not go there.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 29, 2022 at 4:06 am

Browsers and lack of choice

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Related to the families of texts on choice (note [1] and follow-ups) resp. computer annoyances of various kinds, there is an interesting (and extremely depressing) drift towards forced use of inferior browsers.

This drift results from a two-pronged attack* of declining browser quality and a need to remain with up-to-date browsers and a limited range of preferred-by-websites browsers.

*Without implications of a deliberate action.

First, declining browsers: Firefox is a splendid example, which has over the last ten-or-so years grown incrementally worse, dropped features that once made it great, added lesser features, worsened the interface, whatnot. (Cf. [2] and what by now must be more than half a dozen other texts.) In particular, Firefox has gone ever more in the direction of eliminating user choice and forcing users to live with the preferences of the makers—while it once was quite good in this area.* Chromium** and, by implication, Chrome are horrors in usability and interface—so absurd that I feel like snapping after even a five-minute experiment. Other browsers that I have tried have either fallen into similar traps, are using too old standards, are not available on Linux,*** or are otherwise unsuitable for generic purposes.****

*But by no means perfect. Age-old problems include a poor handling of config files, the idiocy of about:config, and the lack of a good key-mapping mechanism—something many other tools had mastered in the 1980s.

**An (at least approximately) FOSS version of Chrome, which should be almost equivalent in functionality, but with less privacy intrusions and other problems.

***Use another OS? That would worsen the problem discussed in this text, as I am no longer just forced to use certain browsers but also certain OSes.

****This includes e.g. W3m, a text-based browser that runs well in a text terminal and can handle many websites excellently, but which falls flat on its face with sites heavy on graphics, JavaScript, DHTML, and whatnot. (Also cf. the second prong.)

Secondly, the need to remain up-to-date (etc.):

HTML and related languages and technologies are nominally well-defined, and any standards-conformant graphical browser should display any web page correctly, including that any and all “active contents” and control elements work as intended. Nevertheless, this is not the case, as various websites* use non-standard features or deliberately and artificially show error messages with “too old” browsers or browsers outside a very limited selection (e.g. Chrome**/Firefox/Edge)—even when they actually would have worked without this artificial error message. Notably, these non-standard features are almost invariably pointless, either because the same thing can be done with standard features, or because the purposes achieved bring no value to the user. For instance, my first steps with online banking might have taken place some twenty years ago—and it worked well with the technology of twenty years ago. Today’s online banking has no true value added, in some ways works worse, and still requires very new versions of these few browsers…

*Immediate personal problems for me stem from the websites for the “German IRS”-tool Elster, my online banking, and W-rdpr-ss, which have all forced me to perform unwanted updates. Elster is particularly perfidious as the German government dictates the use of this tool for tasks like filing taxes—a certain tool use is ensured by the force of law.

**Usually, without mention of Chromium, despite Chromium being the lesser evil for a sane user.

The result? Poorly programmed websites force users to constantly upgrade browsers (and limit them to that small selection), while the sinking quality of browsers makes every upgrade painful. Browser-wise, the world is worse off than ten years ago. Ditto, in terms of websites.

To some degree, this problem can be lessened by having several browser installations and using an older version or a browser outside the selected few for more sensible websites. However, there is a continual lessening of the websites that work well and chances are that the solution is temporary. A particular risk is that the “selected few” are eventually reduced to a single browser (likely, Chrome), bringing us back to the millennium hell of “Optimized for [browser A] in resolution [X times Y]—and don’t you dare visit with anything else!”.

Excursion on security:
But is it not better to use the newest versions for security reasons? Dubious, considering the track record of browser makers and how low security is prioritized. Chances are that the last version of an “extended support release” from five years ago will be more secure than the fresh-off-the-press version from yesterday.* More importantly, browser security issues stem largely from various active contents, notably JavaScript, and browsing with JavaScript off should be the default for any sensible user.** However, in as far as the answer is “yes”, this creates yet another problem—the user now has the choice between using a less secure browser and a worse browser.

*Indeed, it used to be a recommendation among experienced users to not install the latest version of anything until some sufficient bug-stability had been reached: leave the 4.0.0 to the beginners and wait for 4.0.5! However, with the mixture of automatic and forced updates, perverted version schemes, and (often) lack of true major and minor versions, this has grown near impossible—everyone is an alpha tester.

**Which, again, grows harder and harder as evermore incompetent websites use JavaScript to implement functionality that either brings no additional value or could be done as well without JavaScript. Indeed, I strongly suspect that many of them use such features as a mere excuse to force an enabling of JavaScript in order to abuse it to the disadvantage of the users, e.g. by unethical profiling.

Excursion on more general problems:
Unfortunately, issues like software growing worse over time are quite common, and unfortunately have long spread to the world of Unix-like systems too, including through software that is stuck on the desktop paradigm, software that no longer includes sensible command-line arguments, software that is written specifically for e.g. KDE or Gnome, software that relies (often for no practically worthwhile purpose) on D-Bus, and, above all, software written on the premise that the user is an idiot who should be prevented from doing what he wants with the software.

Forced use of certain softwares and OSes is by no means unheard of either. For instance, it is still common that a business has to own MS-Office licenses, because it receives, or is forced to send, MS-Office documents from/to other parties. For instance, there is a non-web version of the aforementioned Elster, but it runs* only on MS Windows, which would force any user to have a licence for that, have a computer running it, etc.

*Or, at least, ran, some years ago. I have not checked for changes, but I am understandably not optimistic.

Again, the world of software was, by and large, better ten years ago than it is today. And, again, there were things that the likes of Vim did right in the 1980s that virtually all newer software fails at in 2022—including something as basic as easily configurable key-mappings.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 28, 2022 at 2:48 pm

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

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Recently, I encountered a number of interesting articles on topics like plastic bags vs. paper bags, which has been of some prior interest to me (cf. at least [1], [2], [3]).

Below, I will go into some of these articles. First, however, I owe an update to an earlier claim (cf. [3]):

The intended-for-multiple-use bags are, paradoxically, inferior in this regard: they do last even longer [than the old bags], 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.

It has been a little more than 21 months since [3], and I have managed to use a single “intended-for-multiple-use bag” through the entire time interval, excepting only several occasions where I either forget to bring it or deliberately went for a paper bag to ease paper recycling.* A few times, it has fallen out of my pocket (but I have always noticed in time); a few times, I have forgotten it; and the greater bulk in my pocket often impedes my arm swing during walks. However, chances are that the “uses-per-quantity-of-plastic” metric has been much more favorable than anticipated, even when adjusting for the additional plastic needed for garbage bags (which tend to be quite thin). The old system was better, I still contend (cf. the older texts), but the specific “uses-per-quantity-of-plastic” argument is weakened by my experiences during these 20 months.

*Putting various papers and cartoons in a paper bag and putting the entire bag in the recycling is easier than filling and then emptying a plastic bag.

A complication that I have overlooked is the potential need to wash the bag (cf. below), which I have so far only done once, after some yoghurt leaked into the bag. It might be that this is unwise and/or that keeping proper hygiene might shorten the life-span of a bag below the life-span of my current bag, which would worsen the “uses-per-quantity-of-plastic” metric and/or add time, effort, and a negative environmental effect through washing.

(As a minor secondary update: To the best of my recollection, I have not been inside a Netto store since writing [3], where I say “Considering various other issues (cf. excursion), I will stay away from Netto indefinitely.”.)

On to selected quotes from and comments on the new encounters, most by one John Tierney:*

*In all cases, I stress that I do not vouch for the correctness of claims made. Some formatting might have been lost or altered through copy-and-paste or for technical reasons.

  1. On Second Thought, Just Throw Plastic Away:

    Even Greenpeace has finally acknowledged the truth: recycling plastic makes no sense.

    The Greenpeace report offers a wealth of statistics and an admirably succinct diagnosis: “Mechanical and chemical recycling of plastic waste has largely failed and will always fail because plastic waste is: (1) extremely difficult to collect, (2) virtually impossible to sort for recycling, (3) environmentally harmful to reprocess, (4) often made of and contaminated by toxic materials, and (5) not economical to recycle.” Greenpeace could have added a sixth reason: forcing people to sort and rinse their plastic garbage is a waste of everyone’s time. But then, making life more pleasant for humans has never been high on the green agenda.

    This might seem as a strong argument to avoid plastic, to begin with, but there are also factors like energy efficiency to consider. Cf. other parts of these articles. Moreover, 2–5 in the Greenpeace report are things that have a fair chance of being resolved with future technology. (The author’s case is not against plastic but recycling of plastics.)

    In New York City, recycling a ton of plastic costs at least six times more than sending it to a landfill, according to a 2020 Manhattan Institute study, which estimated that the city could save $340 million annually by sending all its trash to landfills.

    I am not enthusiastic about landfills, myself, and would like to see more information about the environmental impact and whatnot. I am certainly open to the possibility that it is better to pay more to keep a cleaner environment. However, as a counterpoint, the aforementioned 2–5 and improvements might, as with nuclear waste, make this a temporary storage solution with a happy ending, even should short-term problems exist.

    Virtually all the consumer plastics polluting the world’s oceans comes from “mismanaged waste” in developing countries. There’d be less plastic polluting the seas if Americans tossed their yogurt containers and water bottles into the trash, so that the plastic could be safely buried at the nearest landfill.

    As I have noted in the past, much of the ocean problem is a matter of incorrect treatment of, e.g., plastics—not of plastics per se.

    Banning single-use plastic grocery bags has added carbon to the atmosphere by forcing shoppers to use heavier paper bags and tote bags that require much more energy to manufacture and transport. The paper and cotton bags also take up more space in landfills and produce more greenhouse emissions as they decompose. The tote bags aren’t reused nearly often enough to offset their initial carbon footprint, and they’re breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses because they’re rarely washed properly.

    More indications that the switch from “single-use” (but, really, easily multiple use) plastic bags to other forms was a bad idea.

    Environmentalists’ zeal to ban plastic is far more destructive than their former passion to recycle it; it’s also harder to explain. […] Why ban products that are cheaper, sturdier, lighter, cleaner, healthier, and better for the environment? One reason: the plastic scare helps Greenpeace activists raise money and keep their jobs. Environmentalists need something to replace their failed recycling campaign.

    This fits well with how much of the world of politics and the Left works, especially with regard to the environment. Also note older texts on noble causes and noble distractions.

  2. Greening Our Way to Infection:

    The Covid-19 outbreak is giving new meaning to those “sustainable” shopping bags that politicians and environmentalists have been so eager to impose on the public. These reusable tote bags can sustain the Covid-19 and flu viruses—and spread the viruses throughout the store.

    This (and most of the below) is a longer version of an above paragraph, but is interesting in as far as COVID trumps other concerns—even concerns that seemed beyond trumping before COVID. (The fact that both COVID and many of the environmental concerns are misguided, and that the methods use to “solve” a problem often do more harm than good, makes the matter the more interesting.)

    Researchers have been warning for years about the risks of these bags spreading deadly viral and bacterial diseases, but public officials have ignored their concerns, determined to eliminate single-use bags and other plastic products despite their obvious advantages in reducing the spread of pathogens. […]

    Another example of the failure to perform e.g. cost–benefit analyses and to weigh advantages and disadvantages against each other.

    The Covid-19 virus is just one of many pathogens that shoppers can spread unless they wash the bags regularly, which few people bother to do. Viruses and bacteria can survive in the tote bags up to nine days, according to one study of coronaviruses.

    In a 2012 study, researchers analyzed the effects of San Francisco’s ban on single-use plastic grocery bags […] [researchers] reported a 25 percent increase in bacteria-related illnesses and deaths in San Francisco relative to the other counties.

    The [New York Department of Health] advises grocery shoppers to segregate different foods in different bags; to package meat and fish and poultry in small disposable plastic bags inside their tote bags; to wash and dry their tote bags carefully; to store the tote bags in a cool, dry place; and never to reuse the grocery tote bags for anything but food.

    So, in order to use the re-usable bags properly, we still need disposable bags? Then we have the massive manual effort involved, which is an example of another very common phenomenon—time spent, especially customer/citizen time spent, is not considered in cost–benefit analyses (if they take place at all). Indeed, it is often the case that time spent exceeds the other costs in a fair calculation, and certainly the extra effort involved here will vastly exceed both the price of a re-usable bag and of repeated “single-use” bags. (A text on disrespect for the time of others is in my backlog, but I do not know when I will get around to it. I have touched on the topic in the past, e.g. concerning delivery services.)

  3. Let’s Hold On to the Throwaway Society

    For half a century, it’s been a term of disdain: the “throwaway society,” uttered with disgust by the environmentally enlightened. But now that their reusable tote bags are taboo at grocery stores and Starbucks is refusing to refill their ceramic mugs, they’ve had to face some unpleasant realities. Disposable products aren’t merely more convenient than the alternative; they’re also safer, particularly during a pandemic but also at any other time. And they have other virtues: the throwaway society is healthier, cleaner, more economical, less wasteful, less environmentally damaging—and yes, more “sustainable” than the green vision of utopia.

    These are not new truths, even if it took the Covid-19 pandemic to reveal them again. The throwaway age began because of public-health campaigns a century ago to control the spread of pathogens. Disposable products were celebrated for decades for promoting hygiene and saving everyone time and money. It wasn’t until the 1970s that they became symbols of decadent excess, and then only because of economic and ecological fallacies repeated so often that they became conventional wisdom.

    (The rest of the article is mostly an expansion on this, including some historical background.)

    This is a very interesting perspective, although the forced restrictions through COVID are not something that I recognize from Germany.

    To look more in detail at forever- vs. single-use products and factors like “saving everyone time and money”, one of the main errors that e.g. the “death to plastic bags” movement has made is to assume that a single-use or just several-uses product is automatically* less environmentally friendly than other products. I have used plenty of alleged single-use products myself, like paper tellers, which are excellent for e.g. carrying a few pieces of bread on, and which can be used for several weeks (!) each for such purposes.** Compare this with habits that I have seen with others: take a porcelain teller from a cupboard, put the bread on it, eat the bread, put the teller in the dish-washer, and (at some later time, post-washing) put the teller back in the cupboard. My paper teller, in contrast, only goes back and forth between a counter and where ever I bring it, until, these several weeks later, it goes into the trash. Who comes out ahead environmentally? Who fares better on costs? Who has less effort? I suspect that I do on all counts. Then we have factors like what happens if a paper resp. porcelain teller is dropped on the floor.

    *It might or might not be, on closer inspection. The problem is the automatic and unreflecting conclusion, including the common failure to consider the possibility of multiple uses and to stubbornly count costs based on that single use.

    **In all fairness, this approach is a lot easier for someone living alone, but a very large proportion of the modern Western population does.

    As to costs and environmental impact, I first heard the, then unexpected to me, claim that even true single-use cups (?) were environmentally superior to ceramic machine-washed ones around 1990. The idea is not new. (But there is no guarantee that the same calculation holds today, as technology has improved on both sides of the comparison. I do not remember whether a comparison with hand-washing took place.)

  4. The Perverse Panic over Plastic

    Why do our political leaders want to take away our plastic bags and straws? This question is even more puzzling than a related one that I’ve been studying for decades: Why do they want us to recycle our garbage?

    The two obsessions have some common roots, but the moral panic over plastic is especially perverse. The recycling movement had a superficial logic, at least at the outset. Municipal officials expected to save money by recycling trash instead of burying or burning it. Now that recycling has turned out to be ruinously expensive while achieving little or no environmental benefit, some local officials—the pragmatic ones, anyway—are once again sending trash straight to landfills and incinerators.

    To add some own experiences/observations:

    One of my first contacts (late 1980s or early 1990s) with recycling was an article about a bright new future where machines would take our trash, sort it into various categories, recycle what could be recycled, and proceed sensibly with the remainder. Even in today’s Germany, thirty or more years later, the actual processes are based on a primary manual sorting by the consumers, which increases effort, requires more bags and garbage receptacles, etc.* Even so, about half of the allegedly to-be-recycled materials (glass and the like aside) are actually just burnt, for cost reasons, making most of the effort a waste of time (and a waste of waste).

    *A secondary sorting might take place by machine at a later stage, but not in a manner that reduces the existing burden on the consumers or avoids the extra costs through having multiple types of garbage containers, needing multiple bags, and whatnot.

    Another early contact was at Swedish McDonald’s, where everything should be separated according to type of garbage. We customers did, but for nothing: according to a newspaper article, a few months after the introduction of this system, the sorted garbage would be immediately thrown together into one category by the garbage company… In other words, there was a three-fold effect: more effort for the customers, more costs for the customers to pay for new receptacles and whatnot, and an image improvement for McDonald’s as “environmentally friendly”. Any actual effect on the environment is likely to have been negligible or, due to the pointless overheads, very slightly negative. (Whether McDonald’s or the garbage company was ultimately too blame, I leave unstated.)

    (The article continues with the history of the anti-plastic movement and its dubious and changing justifications, etc.)

    Like the recycling movement, the plastic panic has been sustained by popular misconceptions. Environmentalists and their champions in the media have ignored, skewed, and fabricated facts to create several pervasive myths.

    Your plastic straws and grocery bags are polluting the planet and killing marine animals. The growing amount of plastic debris in the seas is a genuine problem, but it’s not caused by our “throwaway society.” Environmental groups cite a statistic that 80 percent of the plastic debris in the oceans comes from land-based sources, but good evidence has never supported that estimate, and recent research paints a different picture.

    […] more than half the plastic came from fishing boats—mostly discarded nets and other gear. These discards are also the greatest threat to marine animals, who die not from plastic bags but from getting entangled in the nets. […] More than 80 percent of the bottles came from China and must have been tossed off boats from Asia traversing the Atlantic.

    (With further discussion and examples.)

    Here we see yet another example of how environmentalists and/or Leftists engage in distortions,* of how decisions by politicians are based on poor reasons and lack in cost-effectiveness, and of how Noble Causes and Distractions abound.

    *The overlap between the two groups is, of course, very large.

    Single-use plastic bags are the worst environmental choice at the supermarket. Wrong: they’re the best choice. These high-density polyethylene bags are a marvel of economic, engineering, and environmental efficiency: cheap and convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but so thin and light that they require scant energy, water, or other natural resources to manufacture and transport. Though they’re called single-use, surveys show that most people reuse them, typically as trash-can liners.

    […]

    Every other grocery bag has a bigger environmental impact, as repeatedly demonstrated by environmental life-cycle analyses of the bags and by surveys of consumer behavior. […] To compensate for that bigger initial footprint of a paper bag, according to the United Kingdom’s environmental agency, you’d have to reuse it at least four times, which virtually no one does. […]

    (With more on tote bags, etc.)

    This is the money section from my point of view—that abandoning these plastic bags might have been a grave mistake, even from an environmental point of view. (Never mind the additional costs and efforts for the consumers.)

    […] when consumers are deprived of the bags they were using as bin liners, they start buying plastic substitutes that are thicker than the banned grocery bags—and thus have a bigger carbon footprint.

    Here there might or might not be a difference to Germany, but my replacement bin liners and whatnots are considerably thinner than the old grocery bags. (This also raises some concerns that other parts of the discussion does not apply in full to Germany.)

    If our goals are to reduce carbon emissions and plastic pollution, we can take some obvious steps. Stop forcing consumers to use [presumably, the new types of] grocery bags and other products that increase emissions. Stop exporting plastic waste to countries that allow it to leak into the ocean. Help those countries establish modern systems for collecting and processing their own plastic waste. Send plastic waste straight to landfills and incinerators. Step up the enforcement of laws and treaties that restrict nations from polluting the ocean and that prohibit mariners from littering the seas.

    Hear, hear.

    (The article continues with other ideas from politicians and environmentalists and why these are misguided, methods of environmentalists, etc. For reasons of time, I will not discuss the, still long, remainder.)

  5. Customers are stealing shopping baskets instead of buying bags, N.J. supermarkets say

    Shortly after New Jersey enacted a strict plastic bag ban three months ago,* employees at the Aberdeen ShopRite noticed something unusual — the store’s handheld plastic shopping baskets were vanishing.

    They soon realized brazen shoppers who didn’t bring their own bags and didn’t want to buy 33-cent** reusable bags were simply leaving the store with their groceries stuffed in the shopping baskets.

    *The article is “Published: Aug. 05, 2022, 7:31 a.m.”.

    **This is an interesting difference in price levels. In Germany, before abolishment, even the allegedly single-use bags went for around 20 (Euro-)cent, while the reusable ones are usually above one Euro. This might be a sign that German stores were more into ripping customers off to begin with, but might also be another indication that bags in different countries are not entirely comparable. (Pre-ban, free bags were often available, and these tended to be thinner, but they had not been available in specifically grocery stores for many years prior to the ban.)

    ShopRite isn’t the only grocer dealing with the thefts.

    An employee at the Midland Park Acme in Bergen County said her store didn’t have any shopping baskets in stock this week because people were taking them. When asked if baskets were available at an Acme in Woodbury in Gloucester County, an employee said “right now, no, because everybody steals them.”

    Over at the Bloomfield Stop and Shop, assistant manager Dan Adams said the Essex County store’s baskets have consistently been stolen since the store eliminated free plastic bags.

    Here we see a massive unintended consequence, which will (a) decrease shopping comfort and/or drive up costs*, (b) likely easily outweigh the intended environmental gains from removing bags—compare the amount of plastic in a bag with that in a shopping basket, consider the energy requirements, etc. In a next step, the question is what the long-term consequences will be and what effects this will have. Say, for instance, that a long-term switch is made to metal baskets, which are heavier and less attractive to carry home, but also less comfortable for shopping and might be worse than plastic in terms of environmental effects. (I am not aware of a similar issue in Germany, but this might relate to the great dominance of shopping carts over shopping baskets.)

    *Further than already is the case. Also note that these costs come at a time of already high inflation and when many stores are already hurt by the COVID-countermeasure era.

    We also see the danger of the typical everything-at-once (everyone-, everywhere-) approach of politicians. They want something done and they decree that it shall be done in one fell swoop, which makes it harder to catch side-effects in time, to adapt to side-effects, to see what actually works and what not, etc. A business might run a pilot project, see what happens, and then make adjustments and/or decide on whether to proceed on a larger scale. The government? Just pushes it through and expects everything to work as intended in a first attempt. (In all fairness, there is often a lengthy and expensive committee phase before that, but whether that does more good than harm is debatable.)

  6. The Declining Case for Municipal Recycling

    (Note: I limit myself to parts of the executive summary. The remainder is recommended, however.)

    […]Recycling has long been considered environmentally and financially beneficial. The materials would be reprocessed and used as newsprint, bottles, or cans, while the markets for such materials would make it possible to cover the costs of collection and reprocessing, or even to realize income. Even in periods of slack demand, the cost to dispose of recyclables was lower than that of mixed garbage—allowing cities to reap an economic benefit by paying less to get rid of some of their trash.

    This mostly to set the stage; however, I am far from certain that the claims hold true, when we look at somewhat generic garbage: that e.g. glass bottles can be profitably recycled seems plausible, but is this a representative case? A potential issue could be diminishing returns, that some recycling was profitable but that more was not.

    (In an interesting potential parallel, I once heard someone lament how paper recycling had changed for businesses: In the early days, they were paid to hand over their used paper; then payments ceased, but at least the used paper was collected free-of-charge; today, they have to pay for the collection.)

    This apparent win-win situation has changed dramatically. China, which was importing several billion dollars’ worth of U.S. recyclables in 2017, announced a new policy, Operation National Sword, under which it would no longer permit the import of what it called “foreign trash.” The government stopped taking in other nations’ garbage partly because much of the material was not recyclable, and this was partly because of contamination. […] As a result, much of the garbage that China imported was not recycled and ended up in landfills or incinerated. […]

    Which raises the question: What changed? Is today’s garbage worse than yesterday’s? (Unlikely.) Did the profitability within China change? (Hard for me to judge, but I doubt it.) Did the Chinese originally overestimate the profitability, which in turn led them to accept too much garbage and made recycling seem more profitable in the West than it actually was? (More likely.)

    (Of course, yet other explanations might exist, say, that the Chinese had some hidden agenda, which is now off the table.)

    Since then, newspapers and other materials that municipal sanitation departments (or private firms) had picked up from city residents, who had dutifully sorted the materials and placed them in blue boxes, have increasingly piled up in warehouses or have been sent to landfills.

    Here we again see the issue that manual effort, pushed onto the residents, is wasted.

    Meanwhile, the economics of municipal recycling has been turned upside down. Those city departments responsible for trash pickup now incur significant costs, over and above what they would have to pay in the absence of recycling.

    As a counterpoint, the purpose of recycling is not necessarily to be profitable. An actual environmental benefit, should one exist, might be worth some extra cost.

    This paper examines the financial impact of separately collecting waste materials for recycling in five jurisdictions: […] It finds that the cost-benefit trade-off is unfavorable and that suspending or adjusting recycling services could lead to significant budget savings. These savings are particularly relevant in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is expected to reduce tax revenues and lead to pressure to reduce public services.*

    *The paper is dated “June 23, 2020”, at a comparatively early stage of the pandemic, and work presumably started well before that date.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 28, 2022 at 9:33 am

Sister Socialist

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An incident from my early teens well illustrates a recurring problem both with the Left and with women. (But note that I am not saying, e.g., that there was a Leftist motivation involved. More likely is a mixture of the way some persons think, which, by all means, might make them more prone to become Leftists, and coincidence. The illustration remains good.)

I overheard my younger sister lobbying our mother for a larger allowance. Her main argument: she spent more money that I did; ergo, she should get more money.

Fortunately, Mother did not fall for this, but it is still noteworthy for the mentality shown, which, depending on perspective, well matches either a Leftist “to each according to [her] need” or the common female attitude of “I want something; ergo, I deserve it—and never mind that I have done nothing to actually earn it”. Moreover, consider:

  1. This way of determining allowances would in effect reward her for being wasteful and poor at budgeting, while punishing me for being careful with my money and prioritizing my purchases.
  2. It would also give flawed incentives, as she would then have every reason to spend even more (and, notably, using someone else’s earnings—Mother had worked for the money, my sister had not). Similarly, I would then learn that being thrifty did not pay and simply increase my spending to get the same, or an even larger, amount as/than my sister. (I was certainly not lacking in things that I wanted, including books and comics—I just remained within my means as they were.)

    Then there are the poor lessons for adult life to consider…

  3. If there had been some merit to her idea, the right conclusion would not have been to give her more money—she obviously was well set, not to say spoiled rotten, as it was. No, if at all, the conclusion would have been to give me less money, while keeping her money constant, to ensure that Mother had more and could spend it where needed.*

    *Note that putting this in an analogy of two citizens and the government, as I suspect that some Leftist readers would, would be highly misleading. With us, the money came from Mother to begin with, while we, at that age, did next to nothing to pull our own weight. With the citizens, they are the source of the money and the government the freeloader. On second thought, the analogy might be quite good, except that the government should be forced to repay unspent money…

  4. Particularly interesting is how she tried an, for want of a better term, “antagonistic” approach, pushing a “I deserve more money than my brother” angle. Notably, she asked for more money for herself, not for us, and she failed to approach me to see what we might have achieved together.

    Here, the joke is on her. While I do by no means guarantee that Mother would have agreed, had we approached her jointly, our chances would, knowing my mother, have been much better.

  5. Equally, her chances would have been much better, had she tried something along the lines of “Mother, can you help me earn money?” instead of “Mother, can I have more money?”. She did not. (Of course, if she had, she would have had to actually work for her money…)
  6. The “argument” used failed to consider buffers and savings.

    While the need for buffers is more urgent and more obvious for adults, it is present for children too. What if someone spends the last of this month’s allowance on ice-cream and a few minutes of eating*today and finds that a much more important and worthwhile purchase manifests tomorrow, say, a previously unreleased “Harry Potter” book? (Or whatever might match the individual priorities.)

    *This a good example of differences in spending habits: While I enjoyed ice-cream immensely, I only rarely spent money on it, understanding that it would be short-sighted for someone on a limited budget who otherwise received plenty of food (and some amount of ice-cream, sweets, whatnot) for free. My sister was less insightful, and could, maybe, have resolved her perceived money issues simply by focusing on items with a longer period of enjoyment.

    Similarly, why would savings, even if for non-buffer purposes, not count as a worthwhile use of an allowance? Maybe there will come a time when a bigger purchase is needed/wanted, and is it not better to pay oneself than to run to mother with a “Please, Mommy! Please! Please!”.

    Some, of course, are deliberately saving for some known bigger purchase to begin with. This was never the case with me, but an example is conceivable where someone saves for that big purchase and suddenly sees money dry up because “You don’t spend it, anyway. It is better that someone who needs it gets it.”, while the spending was actually just delayed. Ditto, that someone with a merely delayed spending does not receive the increase in allowance that a more “spend immediately” sibling does.

    If in doubt, money eventually not spent in younger years can come in handy during college or other first steps in the more adult world.*

    *Paralleling the principle behind the “small savings count” fallacy fallacy: Saving a Euro a week for ten years will not go far to pay U.S. college fees, but it can be a very nice helper for the everyday budget—and in a country like Sweden, with much, much smaller college fees, it can make a more substantial difference for the overall budget.

  7. From a radically different perspective, if my sister (or I) had received more money, would that have made things better? Maybe a little, and in the short term, but we were not in any material need, there is a diminishing return to owning more (even for books), too much ice-cream or candy can be outright unhealthy, and abundance can make it hard to appreciate what one does have—especially, for a child with more limited life-experience and perspectives than an adult.* If there, in this situation, was an underlying dissatisfaction, more money would hardly have cured it; if there was not, there was nothing that truly needed curing.

    *The “Little House on the Prairie” books provide an interesting contrast, where little girls are repeatedly overjoyed with a quantity of e.g. candy that would seem trivial by today’s, or our then, standards—and which was consumed slowly and with appreciation, while most modern children would have gulped it down and asked for more.

    Overlapping, I note a favorite saying of Mother’s: money is only important when you don’t have it. This does not hold for everyone, as many see money as important no matter how much they already have, but it probably holds for most, well matches my own attitude, and was said by someone who knew the difference between having and not having enough money from own experience.

Excursion on allowances vs. other benefits:
While not necessarily on topic, it can pay to consider how small a portion of the net value of having parents is formed by a typical allowance. There is food, clothing,* a roof over one’s head, being driven from point A to point B, Christmas and birthday gifts, being pampered when ill, and whatnot. A parent faced with a request for more money would be perfectly entitled to instead give a lecture on the topic. (And, while likely not welcome, such a lecture might have done more good than money in the long term. One thing that my sister and I had in common, and, I suspect, most other children and teens too, was a lack of appreciation for how much we actually were given in various forms.)

*In particular, when comparing the allowances used in different families or given to children of different ages in the same family, it is necessary to consider how much own costs apply, e.g. because the one might receive clothes and the other money to buy clothes. In our case, we probably did have less cash than our age-peers (on average), but it does not follow that we had it worse.

Excursion on my sister as a child vs. adult women:
As I grew older and gained some experience with women, I was often surprised to find how the attitudes and behaviors of my sister (and other girls) as a child manifested among the women. With hindsight, it is a shame that I did not pay more attention and tried to draw more lessons. For instance, once I was playing with her and a visiting girl. We debated what we would play, and there was a two-against-one in favor of “Remington Steele” (a big thing on TV at the time)—but my sister did not like the choice, and I tried to be kind by not insisting. The debate went on, and we landed at a new two-against-one for, maybe, “play house”. This time, I was the dissenter—and no mercy was shown in return. So, we played house.* This well reflects how one-sided such comprises and attempts to be kind have been on a number of occasions in both my own adult life and among what I have seen from the lives of others. (Come to think of it, this is also reminiscent of politics, e.g. through how Libertarians are loathe to have the majority force its will upon the minority, while Socialists have no such qualms.)

*Or, maybe, I ditched them—this was close to forty years ago and my memory is vague. I only remember the core of the incident through how absurd and unfair I found this behavior at the time.

Excursion on spending/saving and inter-sex variation:
An interesting question is how spending might vary between the sexes, who might, within this variation have greater needs or “needs”, and what the attitudes to saving vs. spending money are. Overall, this is too large a topic for an excursion, but I note that women tend to spend more, that women’s spending tend to be more geared at looking good, and that many have little feeling for what the actual value of something is.* I once saw the very telling (but highly anecdotal and second-hand) claim that when for-men magazines spoke of saving, they dealt with investment strategies and the like, while for-women magazines dealt with the benefits of saving, implying that women first had to be convinced that saving was a good idea… I have also, repeatedly, seen claims along the lines that “it is only fair that men pay for dates, because we women have all that extra cost to look good for them”,** with no regard for how men might prioritize artificial beauty vs. a woman’s willingness to pay her fair share—let alone how negatively they might feel about a lack of punctuality, an obsession with shoes, and similar.

*I would like to complement the old claim that “X knows the price of everything but the value of nothing” with “X takes the price of something as its value”. The latter often applies to women—and to those who use the former. More, I see the lesson for life as more valuable in the latter: here the focus is on those who overestimate the value of this-and-that, while the former points to those who underestimate the value (or, in real life, maybe just those with a more realistic view). Will buying, say, a 2-grand Gucci bag also buy 2 grands’ worth of happiness or would a cheap bag, a cappuccino, a new DVD, and still almost 2 grands in the bank, for a rainy day, be better?

**Interestingly, other women like to claim that “men are so conceited to actually think that we try to look good for them—we try to look good for ourselves”. Generally, many women seem to work on the premise that their individual preferences apply to all other women and that men are stupid for not adhering to these preferences—even when other women actually have radically different preferences.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 27, 2022 at 11:57 pm

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A few thoughts on the shifting of Overton windows

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The Wikipedia article on Overton windows* (fix version) claims that:

*I use a (likely, non-standard) plural: in part, to separate a shifted version of the window as a different entity from the unshifted version, which allows for easier formulations below; in part, to acknowledge that there might be multiple, separate, Overton windows and Overton-window generalizations at any given time, e.g. in different countries and at different levels of government.

The Overton window is an approach to identifying the ideas that define the spectrum of acceptability of governmental policies. Politicians can act only within the acceptable range. Shifting the Overton window involves proponents of policies outside the window persuading the public to expand the window. Proponents of current policies, or similar ones within the window, seek to convince people that policies outside it should be deemed unacceptable. According to Lehman, who coined the term, “The most common misconception is that lawmakers themselves are in the business of shifting the Overton window. That is absolutely false. Lawmakers are actually in the business of detecting where the window is, and then moving to be in accordance with it.”

A few observations on this:

  1. A limitation to the acceptability of governmental policies is short-sighted. Something very similar appears to apply to e.g. decision making in business and what opinions may be expressed/research topics may be explored in academia—indeed, it was only when writing this text that I became aware of even a suggested limitation to governmental policies. (However, in this text, I will not go into other areas where an Overton window, or some generalization thereof, might apply.)
  2. Lehman might or might not be right about lawmakers*, but this would show what sad state politics is in: Lawmakers should neither detect** nor shift*** the window, they should strive to make good decisions regardless of the window.

    *I am a bit puzzled by the specific choice of “lawmaker[s]”, as not all politicians are lawmakers and as far from all government policy is a matter of law. (Consider e.g. the POTUS and other politician within the U.S. executive branch.) A possible case can be made that not all (de facto or de jure) lawmakers are necessarily politicians, especially in non-democracies, but whether these are as bound by public opinion can be debated. For simplicity, at the risk of missing some subtlety, I will not usually differ between lawmakers and politicians.

    **Except to the degree that it can help them to free themselves from subconscious influences through an existing window.

    ***However, a deliberate attempt to widen the window might be acceptable, in order to ensure that more ideas are treated in a less prejudiced manner resp. that good decisions are possible despite the window.

    However, I strongly suspect that he is wrong—at a minimum through over-generalization and through giving many lawmakers too much credit in terms of awareness and conscious action. Beyond that minimum, attempts to achieve such shifts appear to be quite common even among lawmakers. Note, e.g., the contents of [1] and that a portion of the discussion of the Left below involves acts by lawmakers and/or politicians.

  3. The claim on “Proponents of current policies […]” seems highly dubious. The point of the Overton window, in my understanding, is that what lies outside is already widely considered unacceptable. Pushing to further this might well make sense, but what goes on in the world today seems to be much more about shifting the window in order to force out old policies and to open the doors for new. Similarly, “proponents of policies outside the window” seem less interested in expanding the window and more on shifting it.
  4. In particular, much of what the Left does amounts to attempts at shifting Overton windows (and other actions on a meta-level, say, shifting perceptions of reality). In a sane world, opinions like mine, which are based on facts, thoughts, and arguments, and (where relevant) are backed by real science (as opposed to the “the truth is what we want it to be” pseudo-science so often found today), would be considered perfectly normal and mainstream, while those expressed by the likes of Biden and those enshrined in e.g. CRT and Gender-Feminism would be recognized for the out-of-touch-with-reality extremism that they are. Courtesy of decades of continued propaganda and reality distortion, the public (mis-)perception is often the exact opposite.

    Note e.g. how hard members of the Left work on demonizing opponents and their opponents’ positions, how they push “you are evil, if you X” angles, how a cancellation is threatening those guilty of wrongspeak and thoughtcrime, how non-extremists are condemned as “extremists” while extremists are treated as heroes, how non-racists are condemned as “racists” while racists are treated as heroes, (etc.), how opinions of others are distorted, how argumentation is based on assertion and suppression of dissent, … Then there is the pushing of packages of ideas of various kinds, e.g. ESG and DIE, that would be rightfully viewed with great skepticism without massive propaganda efforts to back them.

    Certainly, the Left has been disturbingly successful at this game—and has been at it without interruption going back at least to the days Lenin (likely, much further), with later variations including Feminism, CRT, Post-Colonialism, whatnot. Look e.g. at Germany, where the mostly harmless (and in some aspects more-sensible-than-the-old-parties) AfD is constantly vilified, while the far-Left re-branded SED shares governmental power in several states, the often outright loony “Greens” are seen as a perfectly legitimate choice, and the Social-Democrats, with their long outdated ideas, have spent more time in government than out of it since I moved here in 1997. The Swedish situation is similar, and even allegedly non-Leftist parties officially subscribe to Gender-Feminist rhetoric about “Patriarchy”, poor-oppressed-women, and we-still-have-along-way-to-go-before-we-have-equality-for-women, which is not just factually incorrect but often claims disadvantages for women where they actually have advantages relative men.

    A particularly distressing example is the recent transmania,* where, over just a few years, correct use of pronouns was turned into “hate speech” and “violence”, where words like “man” and “woman” were stolen and given meanings incompatible with the real meanings (and deviations from these false meanings are condemned), etc. Also see a later item on language perversion.

    *Note that I here speak of attitudes, use of words, etc. For instance, I do not automatically have objections to someone saying that he (!) has a woman’s mind caught in a man’s body—but I do object when he tries to appropriate words like “she” and “woman” to describe himself. As to the underlying situation, I am open to the existence of very genuine such cases, but, looking at the historical record vs. recent numbers, it is extremely likely that these cases are very, very rare and that most of the current claimants are variously misinterpreting unhappiness or an identity crisis, being pushed by others into being something that they are not, posing for personal gain, mentally ill, or otherwise not true cases.

    Of course, the shifts often lead to even previously orthodox and accepted Leftists finding themselves outside the Overton window, e.g. because they are still Feminists instead of “Transgenderists”.

    Indeed, one might speculate that parts of the Left are deliberately trying to “over-shift” the window. The exact motivations for this are unclear to me, but it might have elements of “killing the competition”, of creating a buffer to prevent a later backlash from restoring the status quo ante, and/or to increase the rifts between the “true believers” and the “heretics”. (Note the extremely strong aspect of “us vs. them” thinking in most Leftist ideologies.) Another possibility is an attempt to push the absurd and see who does or does not remain compliant.*

    *As some have speculated concerning transmania and others concerning parts of the COVID-countermeasure era, e.g. with regard to mask wearing, often drawing on Zhao Gao’s loyalty test, which involved calling a deer a horse, noting who agreed and who disagreed, and subsequently executing those who disagreed.

  5. Moreover, the Left is very keen on narrowing windows, and has a long history of allowing less dissent and variation of thought within the Left* than the non-Left, m.m., does.

    *More accurately, maybe, within the party, sect, ideological branch, whatnot of the Left at hand. That Leftist groups, each proclaiming to be the true this-or-that, are more keen on fighting each other than the non-Left has repeatedly happened in the past, as with e.g. Communists, Nazis, and Social-Democrats in Weimar Germany, or Stalinists and Trotskyists in the USSR.

  6. While the legitimacy of Overton windows might be up for debate (cf. excursion), as might the legitimacy of manipulating them, we have a potentially tragic situation in that members of the non-Left do not spend enough time resisting shifts and, maybe more importantly, attempting shifts of their own, as many Leftist ideas are truly vile, destructive, or factually disproved. There is a battle for the metaphorical soul of the world—and the devil is winning.

    To paraphrase another Reagan-ism: Elections are won between the election days—not on them. Exactly the implied continual pushing and explaining of facts, ideas, arguments, and counter-arguments is something that, for instance, the current U.S. Republicans fail at. (Be it with an eye at Overton windows or for more general purposes.) The Democrats and other parts of the U.S. Left spend every day of the election cycle pushing their propaganda, be it in the press, in schools, in college, on entertainment TV, … The Republicans do not.

    This is a particular shame as non-Leftist ideas tend to hold up much better to scrutiny than Leftist—merely by ensuring sufficient scrutiny, things might change. Similarly, things might be much better merely by ensuring that the voters see the ideas of the Republicans* as they actually are, instead of how the Democrats* distort and misrepresent them.

    *Resp. the local equivalent.

  7. Strictly speaking outside the Left vs. non-Left issue, but dominated by the Left, we have many good examples around COVID, e.g. that previously mainstream approaches and “conventional wisdom” of the medical communities were declared anathema—and became intolerable within days or weeks. Note, in particular, how hard the push was to discredit those who dissented, those who listened to and passed on the actual science, those who dared to think for themselves, even those who merely argued for restraint and wanted more information.

    (Similar, if less extreme, remarks apply to e.g. the war in the Ukraine and global warming.)

    To quote myself in a call for a reckoning:

    There should be a reckoning already because of the evil, maliciousness, and incompetence shown by so many—but that point is secondary to preventing repetitions. There must be a reckoning so that this does not happen again!

    A very important part of this reckoning and this prevention of repetition is to give pause to the evildoers, that those who attempt to perform such shifts of the Overton window for nefarious purposes see that their actions have consequences—regardless of whether the issue at hand is medical or something else. Ditto, that those who might merely be misguided show some restraint in the knowledge that an error of judgment will not just hurt others, but might actually have consequences for the misguided, themselves.

  8. Particularly perfidious can be the area of language. In addition to the already mentioned issues around words like “man”/“woman”, “he”/“she”, note [2] and how many words/symbols/whatnot have gone from generally accepted, harmless, and/or without any particular ideological or other loading to, on the instigation of the Left, signify “hate”, “racism”, or similar; how certain heavily loaded words have been (mis-)applied to new areas/groups/whatnot, “Fascist”* being a recurring favorite and “White Supremacy” a recent trend, including the absurd condemnation of e.g. logic as “White Supremacy”; how the word “racist”, itself, is undergoing an attempt at redefinition to ensure that no-one Black can ever be racist and that all Whites automatically are;** how positive words like “equality” and “justice” are perverted to fit a Leftist agenda, which often results in the opposite according to the words’ true meaning;*** etc.

    *To the point that the Leftist definition of “Fascist” might be “someone who is too far from us ideologically, no matter his opinions or methods” and where that “far” is not very far. Note e.g. Stalin vs. the “Fascist” Trotsky or the Communists vs. the “Social-Fascist” Social-Democrats.

    **Most notably by detaching it from its true and established meaning and making it more a matter of being in power (combined with claims of pro-White/anti-Black “Systemic Racism”, which, while faulty, are believed by many of the gullible).

    ***For instance, “equality” in Leftist parlance typically implies “equality of outcome”, which is fundamentally incompatible with true equality, which is “equality of opportunity”. Similarly, Leftist “justice” typically implies “social justice”, which, in at least its current incarnation, is usually nothing more than a code phrase for “equality of outcome”, “I ‘deserve’—so give me!”, or similar—which, when implemented, often results in great injustices.

Excursion on legitimate* Overton windows:
Interesting questions include whether there are ideas that are truly illegitimate and, if so, whether Overton windows that exclude such ideas (and no others) can be considered legitimate. These are tricky questions and I will not attempt an answer for now. I will state, however: (a) There are ideas that I, myself, find abhorrent and that puzzle me when they occur in someone else. (b) It can be hard to determine, especially in advance, what ideas are “wrong” in some deeper sense and what merely feel “wrong” because of newness, unexpectedness, contrariness to established norms, or similar. (c) Many ideas are factually wrong, but even here some care must be taken, as even e.g. a near scientific consensus can on rare occasions be overturned. Moreover, factual incorrectness does not imply e.g. a moral wrong. (d) Even ideas that are factually wrong, abhorrent, whatnot might have value within a thought experiment or some similar setting, and it is all too easy to forbid thought experiments together with more practical applications. (e) If some Overton windows are justly considered legitimate, chances are that others will follow with less justification. (f) I reject the notion that ideas (areas of research, whatnot) should be banned because we might not like what we find or because others might come to different conclusions than we did.

*In the sense of their existence being something worthy; as opposed to their existence having been empirically observed.

Excursion on the effects of censorship and echo chambers:
In my long dealings with censorship (cf. especially many older texts), I have had an implicit main focus on how censorship prevents others from seeing the arguments and counter-arguments of “the other side”, how it enables liars to get away with their lies and how it prevents truth-seekers from forming their own opinions, etc. With hindsight, the effect on Overton windows might be even more important—if the masses only ever see one side of an issue, then this can shift and/or narrow the Overton window regarding that issue. The same applies to echo chambers, both in that they can arise more easily in the presence of censorship and in that they can shift Overton windows.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 27, 2022 at 7:40 am

Politicians dictating opinions to the people / evil circle of opinions

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In a functioning representative democracy, the representatives are elected through convincing the voters of their suitability, be it in terms of competence, of compatibility of opinions, preferences, priorities, whatnot, or of some other factors. Once elected, they, to some degree, act to execute the will of the people; to some degree, act to make decisions on behalf of the people.*

*In a bigger picture than this text, one of the main problems is an over-emphasis on the latter at the cost of the former. However, neither here, nor in general, is this the sole problem. A more important issue might be a shift from “on behalf of” to “for”.

Looking at opinions (preferences, priorities, whatnot), however, there is usually a very negative and outright perfidious loop, contrary to the democratic ideal: Those in power can (and very often do) abuse that power to manipulate the opinions of the voters. This gives them and their opinions an immense advantage over those not in power and can lead to undeserved reelections. Moreover, it can lead to a more fundamental change of society than if power was restricted to the more immediate tasks of ruling and making laws, e.g. in that Overton windows are shifted (cf. an upcoming text) and that the population is indoctrinated to hold certain opinions.

To some part, this is virtually unavoidable, as those in power gain more publicity and have more (literal or metaphorical) platforms to speak from. However, other mechanisms include direct or indirect control of schools, teaching, news media,* etc.; use of tax-payers’ money to spread propaganda; and various party-support mechanisms** of dubious value.

*If in doubt, because journalists and publishers might see unofficial benefits (or absence of disadvantages) from being cooperative. However, there are also issues like owned and/or controlled media. My native Sweden, e.g. had a TV-monopoly vested in SVT until around 1990 (cf. excursion), and SVT is still the most important Swedish TV company, carried by unfair tax support and ultimately, directly or indirectly, government controlled. The situation in Germany is very similar. Outright censorship is still an issue in many countries. Etc.

**The sufficiently established (not just ruling) parties have given themselves a sweet deal in many countries, where they receive tax-payers’ money to help run their parties, engage in propaganda, etc. This with the motivation that it would be “good for democracy” or similar. In reality, it often causes a lock-in effect that gives the established parties an advantage relative newcomers and smaller parties. (Also note an upcoming text series on insiders vs. outsiders, guilds, and the like.)

To look at some such propaganda that I have seen with my own eyes, I note e.g. a semi-recent attempt by the German government to, extremely contrafactually, claim that Germany is a Rechtsstaat; attempts by the City of Cologne to spread misandrist men-beat-women (but not the other way around) claims (cf. [1], [2]); various “X has no place for Y”*; variations of “immigrants are welcome”;** variations of “you must vote”;*** and, of course, any amount of COVID-related bullshit.**** (Similarly, attempts to steer behavior in various forms are common, e.g. in that “unwanted” choices are taxed more heavily and “wanted” ones are given subsidies: the government tells the citizens what to do, instead of the citizens the government.)

*Where X is some location and Y typically one of “hate”, “racism”, and “intolerance”—often extremely hypocritically, as these typically stem from Leftists and as hate, racism, and, above all, intolerance are extremely common on the Left. Indeed, the “X has no place for Y” is very often a manifestation of exactly intolerance, often of exactly hate, and sometimes of exactly racism.

**Here there are at least two problems, both of which apply even from the point of view of someone positive to immigrants/immigration: Firstly, that the politicians (or, worse, civil servants) behind the message presume to make a statement for the community as a whole. Secondly, that the message is not primarily directed at immigrants, but at the people, to indoctrinate the people into a pro-immigration attitude. (Or, worse, to alienate those negative towards immigration, to further sow discord, and to gain possibilities of later attacking these critics for, e.g., radicalization.) Of course, it also entirely misses the point of how many immigrants might be accepted in during what time frame, under what circumstances, and what type of immigrant is welcome (e.g. in terms of want-to-work-hard-and-earn-money vs. want-to-receive-social-aid). A blanket “welcome” simply does not make sense.

***Higher numbers of voters help the elected politicians to project legitimacy; and, as uncertain voters are more easily manipulated, higher numbers of voters can give the better manipulator an advantage and/or offset the disadvantage that the party with the weaker arguments has.

****I note with interest that many of these examples, picked of the top of my head, are of a reality-distorting kind, rather than a plainer and more direct propaganda. (For instance, if Germany was a Rechtsstaat, politicians would look better; for instance, if “X has no place for Y”, the implication is that Y is problem in X, and specifically a Rightwing problem, that needs to be addressed, which is hardly ever the case.) I am not certain whether this is a coincidence or whether it reflects something larger. The “something larger” would be plausible, in as far as pushing a too specific and obvious agenda could backfire. (Consider a “Vote Biden!” campaign immediately pushed by, and in the name of, the U.S. government as an extreme example.) It also plays in well with that text on shifting Overton windows.

Excursion on other issues:
This abuse of power is not the only issue that can sabotage a democracy. A notable other example is that a too party-centric system can reduce the importance of the individual’s characteristics to his chances of being elected. In e.g. Sweden, the primary choice for voters is “What party?”, and what individuals are elected through that choice is largely determined by the parties, forcing the voters to take the bad with the good.

Excursion on Swedish TV:
I did some reading on Swedish Wikipedia to gain some more specific information on the level of government control. This was not very successful due to a mixture of vagueness, changes over time, and the complication that the de jure situation does not necessarily determine the de facto situation. Some notes from [3] on the monopoly situation, however: SVT (predecessor) broadcasts began in 1956 with a first channel. A second was added in 1969, and these remained the only legally watchable (!*) channels until the mid-1980s (excepting TV from neighboring countries, for those close enough to the border). A third, independent, Swedish-language program was launched per satellite in 1987—and the ruling Social-Democrats tried to kill access by (unsuccessful) attempts to ban (!) satellite dishes. A first terrestrial competitor arrived only in the early 1990s.

*I do not vouch for the correctness of Wikipedia, but the formulation used (“de enda kanaler som tittarna kunde se i Sverige enligt svensk lag”) could imply not just that there were only two channels available, but that viewers were only allowed to watch these two channels—by law.

Disclaimer:
This is a long-standing backlog entry, which is worthy of a more in-depth treatment. I find myself wishing to reference it in the aforementioned text on shifting Overton windows, however, and have decided to get it out of the way, even at the price of a shortened treatment.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 27, 2022 at 1:31 am

The Rechtsstaat and “Law and Order” / Follow-up: Nazis III: Various takes on “Law and Order”

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As I have noted in variations in the past “the two central pillars of a true Rechtsstaat [are] that citizens are protected from harmful acts by other citizens and from governmental overreach, arbitrariness, whatnot” (here quoting from the most recent instance). Noting some drifts and attempted drifts in (most notably) U.S. law and application of law, this plays in well with an older text on the understanding of the phrase “law and order” ([1]).

We can, in particular, see that some acts disguised as “law and order” aim to (or accidentally do) weaken the second pillar, while more bona fide efforts strengthen the first pillar.* Contrast e.g. the various recent abuses of the DOJ to persecute, say, Trump, the J6 victims, and various pro-lifers with the leniency shown against e.g. BLM rioters and looters, Black shop-lifters, whatnot.** The former weakens the second pillar; the latter, the first pillar.

*Going back to [1], we might say that a Conservative take strengthens the first pillar, while a politicians and/or Leftist take might weaken the second. (Depending on the Leftist. The take described in [1] might go more in the direction of a first pillar that is one-sided to protect one group but not another.) Similarly, a police state (“Polizeistaat”) is an example of a very weak second pillar—not of a strong first pillar. The Rechtsstaat, in contrast, would be one where both pillars are strong.

**A particularly interesting case is the prosecution of Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed to protect himself from a life-threatening attack by several Leftist thugs, contrasted with the non-prosecution of Gaige Grosskreutz—a surviving thug. Instead of being prosecuted, this thug has tried to sue various entities for compensation for the consequences of his own actions. (I have not heard any further news on his success or failure.) In a semi-happy ending, Rittenhouse was acquitted, but Grosskreutz, to the best of my knowledge, has never even been brought to trial—more than two years after the events.

Look at how this plays out with the apparent Democrat approach to and motivations for gun control: Criminals (mostly Black, at that) commit crimes with predominantly illegal guns; ergo, let us ban legal gun-ownership for non-criminals (mostly White, at that). This does nothing to strengthen the first pillar, but it does reduce the ability of the citizens to defend themselves against criminals.* Worse, it might unduly reduce the ability of the citizens to defend themselves against the government, thereby weakening the second pillar.**

*Which, depending on point of view, could be seen as weakening the first or the second pillar, or as something else entirely. Regardless, it is a clear further violation of the implicit bargain behind a governmental “monopoly of violence”: the citizens forego some types of (justified) own violence and, in return, the government exercises the equivalent violence on behalf of the citizen, when need arises. Here the citizens are forced to forego further justified violence, specifically acts of self-protection, with no further aid from the government. (While unjustified acts of violence, by criminals, are made the easier…)

**But why should a (non-criminal) citizen ever use guns against the government? Well, that depends on the government, as demonstrated e.g. by Nazi-Germany (and laws must not be made under the assumption of a good government—this error explains why the second pillar tends to be so weak) and where the U.S. has been heading these past two years. For that matter, there are past cases in the U.S. where defense has been justified, as with the “Ruby Ridge” atrocity. If nothing else, the possibility of resistance can be a deterrent for a government to push too far, in the manner that the Biden regime is currently trying.

Excursion on arming government agencies:
In parallel, the Biden regime is trying to unduly arm various government agencies, which is a potential sign of future problems to come and which can severely weaken the second pillar. Why, e.g., should the IRS have weapons? In a sound and sane system, there is no justification, as any duties that might legitimately involve weapons are better put with law-enforcement agencies. If, for instance, the IRS needs a home searched, it should get a court order and then have the actual police* execute it, if need be with someone from the IRS present as a “domain expert” to make judgment calls about what findings are or are not relevant. Similarly, no agency should ever have the right to “self-issue” a search warrant (or similar), even should it have an “in house” judge** of some kind—it must always go over the regular courts.

*Whether this would be the local police, some federal agency, or a whatnot, I leave unstated. The point is that it must not be the IRS—the consequences of letting the IRS handle such matters could be disastrous from a Rechtsstaat point of view.

**This, too, might be something that should not be allowed, but even given such a judge search warrants must go over the regular courts to avoid further weakening of the second pillar. If in doubt, such searches must be extremely rare and, e.g., the IRS is almost bound to use them too often, if the hurdle is not high enough.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 25, 2022 at 5:17 am

Only fools and budgets…

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I considered writing something longer on the Sunak/Hunt “Autumn Statement”, but will, with some delay, restrict myself to: (a) expressing my strong disapproval of the massive tax raises and other Labour-style policy decisions, including throwing even more money into the NHS money pit, and my puzzlement over the almost absurd change of direction, from historical tax cuts to historically high taxes;* (b) discussing a general problem with the attitude of many governments/politicians/budgets/policies/whatnot (cf. below); and (c) discussing some unfairness around the Truss/Kwarteng “mini-budget” (cf. below).

*Might this be how the zombie apocalypse really happens? That Thatcher finds herself turning in her grave, over this U-turn, recalls that she is not for turning, and actually rises in wrath, taking the entire graveyard with her?

To (b) or not to (b):

Overlapping with my recent text on servants in charge, a major problem is that government budgets and whatnots are often given priority over everything else—as long as the government has enough money, as long as the government can meet payments, as long as government programs can be financed, …, everything is well. What happens to individual citizens and individual businesses is not considered sufficiently, e.g. in that a higher tax that saves the government budget can strain or over-strain someone else’s budget—many some else’s budgets. (Of course, this will often backfire in the long run, as a reduced growth, more bankruptcies, more citizens in need of government support, whatnot, can have strongly negative effects on future government budgets.)

This attitude is despicable and destructive, as the government* is not a business with a purpose of making money. Its actual purpose is to serve the people—and this purpose is perverted when the people takes second place to the government or the government is turned into its own purpose.

*Be it in the more U.K or the more U.S. sense. The U.S. sense might fit better in this paragraph, however.

This is the worse in the current case, as it was incompetent government actions (mostly relating to COVID, energy, and the Ukraine–Russia conflict) that artificially brought about the poor situation. Indeed, many seem to have used justifications like “we have to fill the hole in the budget; there is a hole in the budget because it was necessary to support the people; it was necessary to support the people because of COVID”, while utterly ignoring that COVID did very little harm and that the problems were caused almost exclusively by the countermeasures, which were not only highly disputable to begin with but have since been proven utterly idiotic. The same, m.m., with the energy situation, the NHS, the whatnot. (More generally, it is often government actions, including sabotaged markets and incentives, too high taxes, too large redistributions, etc., that hamper the economy.)

To (c):

The old Truss/Kwarteng “mini-budget” has often been described in a highly unfair manner, e.g. that it was a “failure” or “damaged” this-and-that. It might have been a failure in the sense that it failed to gain approval (etc.), but that is not the impression created by such formulations (which sound, rather, as if it had been implemented and left the U.K. sinking) and does not appear to be what is intended. However, the simple fact is that it never was implemented, and that negative reactions from various outsiders did some (likely temporary) damage—and not usually justified negative reactions at that. The main permanent damage of this “failure” is likely the replacement of Truss and her tax decreases with Sunak and his tax increases.

(We will never be able to see a head to head comparison of the result of these two approaches in these specific conditions. However, I very strongly suspect that Truss had the better ideas and that Sunak’s approach would have proven worse, had such a comparison been possible. Indeed, fairer judges have pointed to Truss’s failure as one of communication rather than of policy. More: I am convinced that if Truss did go too far, the correct road would have involved moderation—not going to the other extreme.)

A particular danger involved is that the opinions of third parties are given too much weight over having a sound policy. Here, there might have been a legitimate debate on whether high taxes or an unbalanced budget (or inflation, or something else yet) was the greater threat and what should be given what priority. Instead, there seems to have been a panic reaction of “Third parties dislike our budget deficit! I turn! U-turn! We all turn!”, which is not a good way to do politics and might well have done further harm through a hither-and-dither. Moreover, it raises the question what is next: if the opinions of foreign markets, foreign politicians, or, even, the foreign public opinion is allowed to influence domestic politics to a too high degree, the consequences can be devastating, e.g. in that politicians who are opposed to DIE still implement it to keep outsiders happy. (Writing this, I cannot shake the suspicion that something very similar has already happened, notably with the worldwide COVID countermeasures, maybe with the worldwide climate hysteria. If nothing else, there is a near certainty that “Overton windows” are present internationally as well as nationally—maybe, even, an Overton window of “welfare state, good; low taxes, bad”.)

Written by michaeleriksson

November 25, 2022 at 12:35 am

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