The incredible idiocies and incompetence of WordPress is another thing I have repeatedly written about.
Today takes the cake, however: Attempting to write the preceding post, I am met with a pop-up that I need to click away about enabling “distraction free writing”—I was not distracted until WordPress distracted me with this idiotic pop-up!
In addition, there were a number of other distracting moving aspects of the edit page.
Frankly, I am not certain why I bother with this useless platform even at my current irregular intervals—and I sure as hell do not understand what the designers of WordPress are thinking!
It is no secret that intolerance of opinion is one of the things I loathe the most—when people do not merely disagree, be it ever so drastically, but when the one party presumes to consider the other party morally defect, evil, worthy of being shot, whatnot based on the difference in opinion.
(Not to be confused with considering someone worthy of being shot, be it literally or metaphorically, because of the methods used and actions taken. No-one should be shot for being a Nazi. Those who invade Poland and gas Jews, those are a very different matter—even if they happen to belong to another ideology.)
I will not expound in detail on this topic in general here (again), except in as far as noting that it almost invariably does harm (cf. medieval inquisitions, Nazi or Communist censorship, or, although less violently, the Politically Correct of today); that “Fascist is as Fascist does” (where I use the word “Fascist” in the incorrect but dominating everyday sense); and that no matter how convinced we are that we are the ones in the right, other opinions must be tolerated and only fought with facts, arguments, and reasoning—because there always, absolutely always remains a possibility that we are wrong. (After all, religious and ideological fanatics are almost by definition utterly convinced that they are right—even when they are obviously wrong in the eyes of others.)
Instead, I will point to the immense danger that we are currently exposed to through the intolerance of politically correct fanatics and populists through their attempts to use opinions as a criterion to ban people from work, political office, and similar.
In just a few weeks time, I have read news stories about e.g.:
A young employee in Germany being fired for having made racists posts on Facebook, with no regard whatsoever to his actual performance at work, and even though his statements were irrelevant to his employer. (For instance and to the best of my knowledge, he did not insult his employer or leak secret information.) In effect, those having certain opinions will not be able to utter them for fear of losing their jobs.
Hulk Hogan being thrown out of a hall of fame for professional wrestling for having expressed racist opinions—despite almost certainly being the most famous professional wrestler of all times. Notably, his fame and his importance in the (mis-) development of wrestling in the past thirty or so years is utterly unaffected by this, except in as far as he might become even more well-known because of it.
If they had at least thrown him out for ruining the action performance art of wrestling and turning it into half-an-hour of muscle mountains screaming at each other, then I might have had some sympathies.
Today, Donald Trump suddenly moved from a prime presidential candidate to a persona non grata over allegedly sexist statements.
I have seen many other examples over the years, including:
The inexcusable firing of Larry Summers for making non-conclusive statements that are, by and large, supported by both science and common sense.
A number of athletes being banned from competition, including the Olympics, or being forced to make (fake?) apologies for allegedly racist statements that by and large were either harmless, in the heat of the moment, or merely racial. (And even if some of them were racist, seeing that I am unlikely to be aware of the details of every case, they still had nothing to do with athletic performance. Note that the criticism raised has, to my knowledge, always been the irrelevant “racist”—not “lacking in sportsmanship”, which in some extreme cases may have been a legitimate reason to act.) A very young triple jumper, e.g., was banned from the Olympics for making a single joke that could realistically only be criticized for not being very funny…
One or several U.S. colleges tried to instigate a policy where students of education would not merely be prevented from teaching unless they were sufficiently politically correct—bad enough, seeing that this would propagate the politically correct brain-wash from generation to generation. No: They would actually be prevented from receiving their degrees! This irrespective of actual academic accomplishment.
The (with very few exceptions) utterly unscientific, prejudiced, and whole-sale condemnation of “The Bell-Curve” as racist, including the absurd idea that Wikipedia should not even provide an article on the book! (Basically, due to it being so evil that it would be best to bury it in silence, as if it were the Necronomicon or some similar work of darkest magic.)
German Leftist extremists calling for a ban of all parties they do not like—much like Hitler in 1932… Again: Fascist is as Fascist does.
A German IT company requiring that their employees, their contractors, and the employees of their contractors (!) have no connections with the Scientology movement. As I answered them upon hearing this requirement for a possible collaboration: Scientology might be a religion for idiots, but if you want exclude them in this unethical manner, well, then I will in return exclude you.
Unless we want to end up in a world were freedom of opinion has no more value than in North-Korea, it is high time that we take a stand and refuse to accept such intolerance and de facto censorship. A far more enlightened and worthy attitude is found in the words attributed to Voltaire:
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.
Freedom of speech and freedom of thought by their very nature must not be “say whatever you like—as long as you agree with me”.
(A similar principle appears in many other cases. For instance, “innocent until proved guilty” becomes hollow and hypocritical when taken as “innocent until proved guilty—unless the accusation is of crime A or B, because these particular crimes are so horrible”. Indeed, the entire concept could be seen as invalidated, because possibly the single greatest advantage is removed: Protection against deliberately false accusations, be it from a dictatorial regime, modern day witch-hunters, or feuding neighbours.)
Today, I encountered two stories on Spiegel Onlinew that really made me cringe (and, regrettably, are good stand-ins for greater problems).
Let us see here: Miss Piggy is shallow, conceited, belligerent and over-aggressive, (extremely) prone to violence, lacking in self-perspective and self-understanding, and so on and so forth. When Kermit lamented that “it’s not easy being green”, I have long suspected that she was one of the main reasons… Miss Piggy is in many ways a caricature of a (particular type of) woman.
The motivation for her receiving the award appears to be (lacking a formal statement, I read between the lines) that she was a strong woman who made it in a man’s world. To this I will re-iterate a point that I have often made in the past: The common complaint that strong women are often seen as bitches by men, that men are afraid of strong women, whatnot, is an utter misunderstanding or misrepresentation of what happens. The simple fact is that many of the women who are considered strong by feminists are in fact just bitches, often displaying a behaviour which would not be tolerated in a man, or bullies just as bad as the worst of men. They rarely share the characteristics of a strong man. Indeed, I strongly suspect that this behaviour is actually usually driven by fear and weakness rather than strength in the first place. In contrast, truly strong women are rarely called by the name—those who stand up to and conquer adversity instead of bullying weaker people into submission, stubbornly insisting that they are right even in the face of proof of the opposite, or over-aggressively attacking anyone who dares to criticize them. Miss Piggy is a bitch and a bully. No matter how funny she is when viewed from afar, if I ended up with her in real life, I would pick up my legs and run.
In addition, picking a fictional character is somewhat dubious per se. Picking one where the character’s creator is dead and unable to confirm or reject the chosen portrayal—well, that raises some serious ethical issues.
The second relays a suggestion by Ellen Pao to ban salary negotiationse—in order to reduce differences in outcome between men and women. (An English piece reporting on the same topic with differences in detail.e)
The premise (with which I concur) is that men tend to negotiate tougher than women and thus earn higher salaries; the conclusion (with which I strongly disagree) is that everyone should be payed the same based on position.
First off, I must admit that I have toyed with ideas of removing negotiations from the picture myself, being a man who has historically had a more female negotiation style and likely have less accumulated earnings than I should have because of it. The underlying problem is real: Some people get more than they deserve measured by accomplishment because they negotiate well; others get less than they deserve because they negotiate poorly. However, setting salary by position alone is not viable.
To state some obvious, but probably incomplete, counters to the proposition and the reasoning behind it:
Other and better solutions to such problems exist, including better performance reviews, better tracking of accomplishment, and interviewers and negotiators who are better at judging ability (as opposed to superficial impressions).
This is not a matter of men and women but of good and poor negotiators. If women are less willing to negotiate or less good at it (on average), then this is irrelevant. Any individual has the same choices to make and the same options open—man or woman. This is not a matter of sexual discrimination, it is a matter of discrimination by behaviour. If anything, this type of reasoning should be used to counter e.g. claims that women earn less merely through being women—the reality is that they earn less through behaving differently, making different choices, etc. (In as far as they do earn less at all: With the common positive discrimination of women and alterations in the demographics of education, this is not universally true anymore.)
In many ways, this is as stupid as the nutcases who want to lower physical criteria for firemen so that more women are eligible—without considering the consequences on performance.
The conclusion ignores the down-side of taking an aggressive negotiating position: The risk of getting nothing… Indeed, male unemployment is typically higher than for women and some portion of that is almost certainly explained by an unwillingness to take a position that is not attractive enough. Furthermore, in a twist, if negotiations were banned, some of these people would be back in contention for lower paying positions—and thereby forcing some others out of a job.
Finally, and likely most significantly: A premise of this type of idea is that people working in the same position bring the same amount of value to their employers.
This is utterly, utterly wrong.
In reality, even low-level employees at McDonald’s (who have a very different amount of leeway for negotiations to begin with) differ significantly in terms of performance, value-added, whatnot. When we look at e.g. my own area of work (software development), the differences are gigantic. In fact, they are so enormous that I do not hesitate in saying that typical intra-company salary differences are far too small to fairly reflect the situation.
That the best and worst in a given team differ by less than the two-fold in terms of performance is the exception; that it reaches the ten-fold is not unheard off. Indeed, I have had a few colleagues, who through their lack of understanding of what makes good and poor code, their laziness, their destructiveness, …, actually hurt the team/the project/their employer by their presence.
A discussion of what makes good code/a good software developer goes far beyond the scope of this post. However, I stress that it is not just a matter of having a certain number of lines of code, or just whether a certain feature works. (Such misconceptions being one of the reasons why there are many poor software developers out there.) Other highly important factors include whether the code is understandable, maintainable, extendable, …; whether it is well tested, preferably with automatic tests; how many bugs there are; whether the documentation is adequate; …
Much of the issue can indeed be summarized simply by asking: What will this piece of code cost me/us/my employer/… not just today when it is written—but tomorrow, next week, next month, next year?
In addition, where there is a well-intended rule that does not match the will of the ruled, circumventions tend to be found. Here an obvious such circumvention would be to simply create more positions with different salaries and then to hand out positions based on old criteria.
The last few days, I have read a number of news articles dealing with the Klitschko–Jennings fight. These have provided ample evidence of my long-standing complaint that journalists tend not to know what they are talking about and fail to do appropriate background research and quality checks.
Their blunders include:
Referring to Jennings as “Brandon” (actually “Bryant”).
Calling the small-by-heavyweight standards Ruslan Chagaev a giant when listing prior opponents of Klitschko. (Possibly confusing him with 7-footer Nikolai Valuev, but Valuev never fought Klitschko in the first place.)
Claiming that Klitschko won his title from Samuel Peter, instead of Chris Byrd. (Vitali Klitschko, his now retired older brother, did take his title from Peter, which might be the source of the error.)
Confusing the time Klitschko has been undefeated with the length of his title reign.
Short-changing Joe Louis severely in terms of title defenses, turning his record setting 25 into (possibly) 18.
To err is human, but is it too much to ask that someone spends two minutes on Wikipedia, when being payed to write and being published to thousands readers? Is it too much to ask that the papers have an independent fact-checker (not to mention spell-checker…) go over a work before allowing it to be published in their name?
(I too make mistakes, but despite writing for free, during my spare time, and for a far smaller readership, I am more conscientious than a very large proportion of the alleged professionals—let alone more intelligent and better educated.)
OK, so journalists get a few details wrong. Surely, this is not the end of the world?
No; not in and by it self. The problem is this:
If they get such easily checked details wrong, what can we expect about their fact checking in other articles? If the writers are so lacking in knowledge of this one field they are writing about, what can we expect when other fields are concerned?
What is the result in terms of informing the public? Educating voters? Giving the man on the street a reasonable chance to form a valid opinion?
Poor journalists strongly increase the risk that society suffers under poor politicians, that prejudice and ignorance grows more common, that destructive agendas can gain a following, …
(And, yes, my experience from other fields, including politics, economics, science, …, is that journalists are extremely lacking and that the problems is by no means limited to sports. This in particular when considering other factors that are less relevant when it comes to sports, e.g. the ability to think critically or to understand causes and consequences.)
A notable example is Spiegel Onlinew, a German online news source that I often visit due to its width of coverage: There are so many instances of problematic articles, including poor writing, ignorance of politics and economics, blatant agenda pushing, prejudice, and a sheer inability to think, that the German saying “geschenkt ist noch zu teuer” often crosses my mind. (Literally, “[even when] gifted [it] is still too costly”. In effect, something has so little or even negative value that not even the opportunity cost in terms of e.g. time taken to read, storage space needed, whatnot, is outweighed.)
Indeed, the “Brandon Jennings” error is from this source, specifically http://www.spiegel.de/sport/sonst/wladimir-klitschko-siegt-mit-muehe-gegen-brandon-jennings-a-1030697.htmle. By now, the article text has been changed, but the URL still contains the original error. Interestingly, I just now see another error that I missed when skimming through the text: It claims that Klitschko with this his 27th title fight sets a new record, pulling ahead of Ali and Holmes with 26 each. In reality, so English sources, he pulls even with Louis, making this the second time Louis is short-changed. (The numbers for Ali and Holmes are not unreasonably large, but I would not trust them without an explicit count. 27 should be correct for Louis, however, with one original victory, the aforementioned 25 defenses, and the ultimate loss.)
I have far more to say on the topic of Terry Pratchett than on Leonard Nimoy, yet somehow find it far harder. This is to some part because a greater amount of material is almost automatically harder to write down; to some part because most of it does not belong in this context; and to some part because Pratchett’s death had a greater personal impact. I will still charge ahead with some of the points that are closest to my heart at the moment, disregarding trifling details such as actual relevance, reasonable structuring, whatnot.
In my post on the recent death of Leonard Nimoy, the central part of my message was that it was not an occasion for tears. With Terry Pratchett, the situation is very different: He died at a, by today’s standards, young age, he was still highly productive, and with another dozen years of life he might have produced another dozen of his wonderful books. A particular loss is that (I suspect) most of the Discworld fans have been hoping for just one more book centering on their respective favourite-character-who-last-starred-ten-or-twenty-books-ago, be it Rincewind, Granny Weatherwax, Death, Susanne, …
While I admit that I find most of his latest books somewhat disappointing (as in “did not match my very high expectations” and as opposed to “useless crap”), his immense impact on my life cannot be denied. He has been my favourite author for close to twenty years, providing not only nearly endless entertainment but also much food for thought. (The latter makes him stand out from some authors with whom he is often compared, notably Rowling: Harry Potter was very entertaining, but lacked greater depth or higher literary value—children’s books suitable for adults. Many of Pratchett’s work showed a greater depth of insight and were more thought-provoking than most works by “serious” authors—adults’ books suitable for children. While some of his early works are mostly comedy bordering on silliness, later works have a lot to offer beneath the comedy and, as case may have it, silliness.) Between the great number of books and my repeated re-reads, there was a period of quite a few years when I spent more time on Pratchett than on the rest of the world’s authors put together (but, factoring in Wikipedia and the rest of the Web, still less than half of my readings).
Among the many great books he has written, I would recommend especially “Small Gods”, which should be mandatory reading for anyone with an interest in religion and topics like religious leaders, organizations, etc. (much of it generalizes outside the field of religion), and “Night Watch”, the premise of which fascinates me deeply: The books hero is sent back in time and has the opportunity to relive a forming period of his life through the more developed perspective of his older self and through the role of his younger self’s mentor.
My main criticism of Pratchett and what, in my eyes, keeps him from being considered one of the truly great “serious” authors, is his weak grammar and (textual) writing style. While he shows a great degree of fantasy and creativity, which is laudable, he appears to lack an understanding of and feel for “good” language. It might be fair to say that he has a strong artistic ability of writing literary texts, but that the craftsman’s ability that should underlie it is missing. This is particularly noteworthy, because Pratchett himself has repeatedly emphasized the importance of good grammar (etc.) and spoken of how his background as a journalist has helped him—claims that are paradoxical in light of his considerable weakness in just this area. The “journalist” part is particularly odd, seeing that journalists tend to be surprisingly poor writers (other weaknesses common among journalists include poor thinking skills, lack of erudition, and a tendency towards sloppy research).
I have on several occasions almost contacted Pratchett for various reasons. Most of these have been relating to the atrocious, inexcusable, reader hostile, and author defaming German mistranslations of his work: During my early years in Germany, it was still hard to find the works of even best-selling English authors in English, which left me the choice of either reading translations or not reading. While my experiences with translations have been poor in general, they have been thoroughly depressing where translations of Pratchett are concerned, comparing to the original as a photograph of a statue does to the actual statue. Problems include mistranslations, text portions simple left out, puns that disappeared, and a general lowering of the “register” of the text, to the point that I suspect that the translator and/or publisher considered the works intended solely for “young adults” and lower ages. As for puns: Translating a pun in a natural way is often impossible and almost always tricky. However, if worst comes to worst, a conscientious translator would at a minimum report what was lost in translation in a footnote. (Unfortunately, many translators appear to wish to hide the fact that a work is a translation, even at the cost of loss of meaning and other negative effects for the readers. These should not merely be banned from their profession but given to the kittens (a form of torture described in “Raising Steam” (In honor of Pratchett and his often recursive footnotes, I take the liberty of using recursive parentheses. (Seeing that footnotes are not supported by the current format.))).) In fact, the reason that this particular letter was never sent is that I wanted to strongly recommend a switch of German publisher and felt that I needed to be thorough. This resulted in two lengthy drafts, written with a few years in between, of which neither was ever completed due to the sheer mass of problems illustrated by even one single book…
(Subsequently, the German publisher was given a severe sacking, due to an unauthorized advertisement in the middle of one of the German editions. I suspect that the quality of translations also played in, seeing that there were many other Pratchett fans in Germany who disapproved of them, often very strongly, and chances are that some of these did contact Pratchett. I am uncertain whether the quality of the translations improved, however, since I had by that time switched to a strict policy of only buying the English editions.)
Another letter that I almost wrote was a faked (!), lengthy complaint concerning his repeated and “highly offensive” use of swedes (a vegetable; which I would pretend to be ignorant of) as food, with the suggestion that danish (a pastry) and/or some other food-stuffs named after a country were a preferable alternative. (Note that I am, myself, a Swede in the nationality sense.) This should also be seen in the light of Pratchett repeatedly making fun of those who tend to write complaints on a semi-professional basis, often with the (presumably false) claim of knowing the editor-in-chief, mayor, CEO, whatnot. Since I postponed writing the letter until it was too late, I will never know if the idea would have been as amusing to him as it was to me.
(To my knowledge, Pratchett never discussed his take on complaints in more detail. The types of petty complaints usually ridiculed by him are not necessarily something that I approve of either. However, it is my firm personal belief, and here he and I may differ, that the world would be a better place if more people complained, e.g. about poor political decisions or customer-hostile behaviour from various companies: Fear of a negative public opinion can have a major effect, but if none of the unsatisfied ever complain politicians and executives will just ignore them. In other cases, as with the translation issue above, someone who could influence a problem might be very willing to act—but never learns of the problem, because no-one ever bothered to complain.)
In a case of very poor timing, I had very recently actually started writing a letter for the third time (following the two aforementioned drafts concerning the translations). This after finishing my reading of “Raising Steam”, the latest and most likely last, Discworld novel. My main theme was what I considered a very odd treatment of the dwarfs. Additional themes that I may or may not have decided to include, depending on how presumptuous I felt, was the feeling that the Discworld novels had grown tired and that it might be a good idea to go back to the roots for a final “old-school” novel, possibly a joint Rincewind–Granny Weatherwax adventure, before permanently moving on to non-Discworld works; and a regret of technology taking over the magic Discworld: While this take-over has a number of interesting points and has led to several good story lines, it is also contrary to where the Discworld started. A story including long-distance travel per broomstick, e.g., fits well on the Discworld and would be amiss on a non-magical world. In contrast, a story about the early days of railways and steam-engines (as in “Raising Steam”) could just as well take place somewhere else—indeed, better, seeing that the presence of railways, telegraphs (“clacks”), etc., alter the character of the world and reduces its natural opportunities. For instance, by analogy, if the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple had access to modern CSI technology, extensive finger-print registries, and CC-TV, their stories would have turned out very different. Not necessarily worse, but different, and it is a good thing that history has provided us with different time periods that allow for different types of detective stories (explorer stories, romance stories, whatnot). The “original” Discworld provided a new set of story abilities, but these have been diminishing over time, while abilities more akin to the technological world have been introduced, making the Discworld increasingly just a carbon copy of the real world, with fewer “literary benefits”.
(To some part, this reuse of the Discworld for increasingly more technological and less magical stories might go back to a wish to reuse beloved characters; however, with Pratchett’s creativity when it comes to new characters, I would still have recommended a fresh start in another world for stories not inherently “Discworldy”.)
As for the treatment of the dwarfs, I provide a quote from my draft. Note that the text might have been revised and certainly edited further, had Pratchett’s death not occurred. Further that it is is highly helpful to know the contents of the book, and to some degree other Discworld novels, to understand the text in context. For those lacking this background knowledge, I note that dwarfs in the books of Pratchett originally made no differentiation between males and females, that (clothed) dwarfs cannot be visually recognized as male or female, and that an inquiry into someones sex was considered a very, very personal question.
Your treatment of the dwarfs is in my eyes highly unfair. I do not speak of their portrayal as the source of fanatics—real-world experience shows that such can potentially arise in a multitude from basically any human culture, creed, country, whatnot, and I consider it likely that the choice of antagonists was mostly a matter of convenience, based on what group was the easiest to adapt based on the previous books. Instead, my problem is with the question of queens, mothers being considered inferior, and the like: The developments and the statements by the Queen at the end of the book are simply entirely incongruous with how I perceive the dwarfs and their take on the sexes/sexual roles. Worse, the statements of the Queen copy the error of many real-world feminists, in that they assume a hostility that is not there, misattribute a mistreatment to sex/gender when the true cause is something different, etc.
The dwarfish take does not in anyway appear to me to be anti-woman. Instead, it is a matter of having an weird sense of what is appropriate. (Where I would even caution somewhat against judging this weirdness: It might be weird to us, but so are the modern Amish and the morals of the Britain of, possibly, a hundred years ago—and our standards may be equally weird when viewed from the other direction.)
On the contrary, dwarfish society appears to be entirely equal and “gender blind” (an ideal that so many real-world feminists claim to strive for). Females do the same jobs, carry the responsibilities, have the same opportunities, whatnot, as males, no questions asked. That the king turned out to be a Queen is entirely and utterly unremarkable—on average, assuming equal abilities and interests, a 50–50 distribution of kings and queens are only to be expected and the Queen might equally have revealed being born during the night and not during the day. (Very much unlike the situation in “Monstrous Regiments”, where the high proportion of women deviates considerably from a priori expectations.) For that matter, I strongly suspect that the revelation of a queen would not even be possible in dwarfish, where I would not expect there to be a different word for the female leader. (As a comparison, the current British queen is not a king, but Thatcher was most certainly the prime minister—woman or not.)
In addition, I cannot but help feeling that Cheery diminished herself, when she started to imitate human women (long, long ago; possibly in “Men at arms”): Not because she revealed herself to be female, not because she went contrary to dwarfish convention, not because she (as case may or may not have had it) wanted to increase her desirability among male dwarves, … No; because she jumped at those parts of human female behaviour that arguably are silly—human women often go to such lengths with make-up and clothes that it makes them less attractive than to begin with and a more down-to-earth (here, possibly, down-in-earth…) female would be a better and more attractive partner to many men. (I do not deny that tasteful and moderate application can benefit a woman’s looks, but too many women simply take it too far.) One might even consider your writing unduly anthropocentric, seeing that there is no reason why females of different species should naturally match the preferences or behaviours of another. Many earth-species have females that are larger than males, males that try to look pretty and females that remain drab, or even males that take care of the children. From that point of view, dwarves and the sudden wish to express femininity is just a bad idea. In contrast, a variation where dwarfish females had remained traditionally dwarfish would have had considerable value in terms of giving some groups of readers food for thought. (The same could conceivably have applied to a reverse variation, where male dwarfes had an interest in e.g. make-up.)
Equally, it would be incorrect to say e.g. that female dwarves adhere to the standards of male dwarves, behave “male”, etc.: This is only true when we presume to apply a human standard to dwarves—and you will note that I deliberately speak of “traditional dwarfish” rather than “male” above.
More generally, almost all problems in the world go back to human stupidity, irrationality, over-emotionality, whatnot. This appears to be a theme in many of your books (replacing “human” as necessary), and I would be highly surprised if you were unaware of it. This applies not only to the Nazis of old or the Islamist extremists of today (probably a strong inspiration to your last book, although some past depictions of dwarves have struck me as slightly Jewish Orthodox/Conservative), but also to e.g. the Christian Conservative and the Politically Correct of the U.S., homophobia, you-name-it. Importantly, it also applies very, very strongly to feminism, which is by no means a pro-equality movement—but one of the greatest problems of the Western world. (An even semi-complete analysis would cover pages, especially since feminism has many different directions, but common problems include: Denial of even the possibility of biological and evolutionary influences, contrary to main-stream science. Extreme cherry-picking of female disadvantages while ignoring male disadvantages. Painting men as the sole problem of the world. Grossly distorting, falsifying, misinterpreting, or even inventing statistics. Feminism is to equality what astrology is to astronomy or alchemy to chemistry. I also note that I have found the best way to judge a movement is to see how it treats dissenters, what its take on censorship is, whether it reasons rationally and fairly, and similar. Feminism falls as flat on its face as ISIS or Creationism does.) I would very, very strongly encourage you to not fall into the trap of feminism and not to accidentally write books that might play into the hands of feminism. On the contrary, if you are looking for new material, criticism of feminism could keep you busy for several books.
As an aside, I see a strong possibility that the revelations of the Queen and Cheery have an additional aspect not discussed here, with regards to (for want of a better phrasing) being one self in public, e.g. relating to the “coming out” of gays or transsexuals looking for acknowledgment. This aspect is more legitimate, but I do not see this road as very productive. If this is your (partial) intention, writing something more direct, e.g. actually using a gay couple or a transsexual, would be better. (No: Gladys does not count. She was put in her new role by others and adapted to the role—not the other way around. Besides, she did not originate as a man, but as a sexual tabula rasa, and considering her originally male would be a projection by the reader, the characters of the books, and/or the author.) Even such story-lines would be bordering on the hackneyed in today’s world, however.
Leonard Nimoy is dead—and unlike his alter ego, Spock, he is unlikely to be miraculously restored to life.
This might seem a sad day for Trekkies everywhere, but I suspect that both Leonard and Spock would have considered sadness “most illogical”:
He, by human standards, lived long and prospered, his body of work remains even in the absence of his physical body, and his age and relative inactivity makes it unlikely that he would have made any major further contributions to the world, even had he lived for another few years. Sadness would be better directed at the limitations that aging ultimately places on us.
Instead, I suggest that we see this day as an opportunity:
An opportunity to celebrate a wonderful actor, the iconic character that would not have been without him, and the positive influence on several generations of nerds that both of them had.
An opportunity to remember, in these times of growing anti-Semitism and absurdly loop-sided views on Israel, how much good the Jews (to whom Leonard belonged) have done for the world through their entirely disproportionate accomplishments, be it with regard to science (Einstein, Feynman, …), movies (Spielberg, Mel Brooks, …), music (Mendelssohn, Mahler, …), and virtually any other area short of sports. Indeed, if asked at fifteen who my favourite (for want of a better word) “celebrity” was, it would likely have been a toss up between Einstein and Mel Brooks, with Spock being a strong candidate for favourite fictional character. They currently have provided roughly a quarter of all Nobel laureates.
The analogy between the benefit of the small minority of Jews to this world is comparable to the benefit of the one-man minority Spock to the Enterprise.
An opportunity to remember that life is short and that we should make good use of it. We may only have limited control over how long we live, but whether we prosper is mostly up to ourselves in today’s Western world.
Recently, Angela Merkel was named “Person of the Year” by the British news paper “The Times”:
For her central role in preserving European stability at a time of resurgent Russian aggression in eastern Europe, Angela Merkel is named today as The Times Person of the Year.
The German chancellor, who must decide by 2016 whether to stand for a fourth term in office, was chosen principally for taking control of the west’s fraught negotiations with President Putin of Russia after his annexation of Crimea.
Mrs Merkel has shown herself to be an indispensable power broker in a year when east-west relations have been tested to breaking point in the most dangerous geopolitical crisis since the Cold
Now, I used to be a fan of Merkel’s, seeing her as one of the few politicians who actually bring some degree of competence to the table, as well as one of the least populist, and a positive counter-example to the many Swedish female politicians who have been promoted upwards just for being women (and have been correspondingly incompetent—consider Mona Sahlin, e.g.). As is, I consider this almost as a travesty, seeing that Merkel has spent 2014 ruining my impression of her—and has just broken the camel’s back by abusing the Charlie Hebdo situation to urge for an increase in “Big Brother”-/GDR-style telecommunications data retentionw of highly disputed effectiveness (according to a reliable German news sourcee).
A far too weak reaction, almost a non-reaction, to the Snowden scandals. A chancellor after my taste would have taken a very clear stand against this intrusion on the citizens.
I must conclude that she is in favour of such idiocies, is too weak to take the stand, or prioritizes international relations above the good of her citizens.
(While the first revelations and Merkel’s lack of reactions date to 2013, there were plenty of opportunity for new reactions in 2014—none of which were taken.)
An extremely populist take on last year’s general election, with many promises made without a word about the costs.
I must conclude that she commits the politician’s deadly sin of prioritizing (re-)election over faithfulness to the ideals of the party and common sense—or, less likely, that she actually has more leftist views than she has hitherto let on.
In the wake of said election (her party, CDU, and its Bavarian sister, CSU, where hailed as winners, but lost the supporting party FDP and with it the absolute majority), she for the second time entered a disputable alliance with the Social-Democrats, accepting many of their populist election promises and then passively letting them dominate the first few months—despite their being the junior partner in terms of members of parliament.
I must conclude in repetition of the previous item, possibly and again, in combination with her being too weak.
As a result of various election promises, we are now heading for (among other things) several ill-advised pension reforms, a too high minimum wage, and true abomination—-a 30% quota for female board members. This quota ignores that equal opportunity leads to unequal outcomes (for reasons including different interests and family/career priorities) and will therefore give women an artificial and unethical leg up at the cost of men, in particular with an eye on the age structure; it will lead to more incompetence in the board rooms (a problem that is large enough as it is); and it can be disputed on ethical grounds for the intrusion on the companies themselves.
(Conclusions as above.)
The motivation given together with the award, on the other hand, fails in at least two regards: Firstly, it does not give a holistic view of her year. Secondly, if Merkel has been meritorious in this regard, it is not public knowledge. She has not gone “above and beyond duty” for a chancellor in her geographic position, she has not had any obvious positive impact beyond what was to be expected from a randomly picked chancellor from Germany history, and she has failed in as far as the Crimean is still in the hands of the Russians, Ukraine is still in a state of civil war, and the Russians are still highly aggressive.
At the end of the day, I cannot shake the suspicion that the award was more in line of a statement anti-Putin than a statement pro-Merkel, with Merkel simply being the candidate best-suited for being the excuse. Similarly, I am convinced that the absurd Nobel Peace Prize award to Obama was thinly veiled anti-Bush prize (with some suspicions for a few earlier prizes, including to the IPC/Al Gore)—as discussed in a previous article.
As an aside, the repeated “great coalitions” in Germany and recent odd agreements between the leading Swedish parties (in effect that the opposition will not oppose the budget suggestions of the ruling party/parties, even when the ruling faction does not have a majority) are leaving me with a fear that politicians are deliberately trying to get rid of their main irritant, those pesky voters, by making their own arrangements, irrespective of election outcomes. The conclusion is premature bordering on the paranoid at this stage; however, the last time I suspected that I was paranoid, well, according to Snowden I was naively optimistic…