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A Swede in Germany

Archive for October 2010

Comment censorship and comment policies VIII: Coloured bloggers in need of a reality check

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Recently, I encountered a blog discussing censorship of commentse (a recurring topic on my own blog). After leaving a comment and a follow-up, I have received email notifications about a number of comments that would need addressing.

Notably, statements like those by AfroCan are likely to have a negative effect on the cause and on society, by antagonizing many who would have been supportive, by making others less likely to pay attention when true issues are raised (if one cries “wolf”…), and by causing unnecessary rifts in society between the “true believers” and the rest of the world.

To give these their due attention is not within the scope of the time I have, so I will give a selective overview of some issues:

  1. The initial post has a very one-sided and over-generalizing view on the “-isms”. Formulations used include (emphasis added)

    Some people argue that bloggers have a responsibility to moderate hateful comments, but this abstraction often assumes that the blogger is an able-bodied, middle-to-upper-class, heterosexual, white, cis man who is not the target of the hateful comments.”

    (Note in particular the use of the word “cis”, which by the standards applied by the politically correct where women and minorities are concerned must be considered offensive.)

    Through-out, there is an excessive repetition of the word “hateful”—a word that in my experience is usually used with very little basis in fact. (I grant that I have not investigated the general take and justification on this specific blog.) An upcoming post of mine will deal with this topic.

    Generally, I recognize the kind of artificial polarization and division into groups that it so common within many PC-movements. Effectively, one group is cut off from the others by throwing labels at it, to the point that it eventually can be disputed whether the group actually has any members, and the members of this group are called privileged oppressors based solely on group membership—irrespective of their own actual opinions and situations.

  2. The commenter AfroCan proved to be particularly prejudiced and white-people-are-out-to-get-us—the black version of some of the feminists I have written about on earlier occasions. Consider statements like

    It’s critical for People of Colour to have a (relatively) safe space to voice and dialogue on the issues of race, privilege and other intersecting social oppressions. One of our great frustrations is not having a forum or platform to voice any of these concerns/alternative perspectives in the mainstream media.

    (The feminist version of this argument, I have dealt with previously. The same counter-arguments, m.m., apply. [Note: Wrong link, I will dig up the right one later.])

    […]yet another demonstration of psychological privileges and “terror” dominant Whites wield over people of colour.

    (Yet another demonstration of feminist-style lack of perspective and insight.)

    At the heart of many rebuttals disputing the existence of White male privilege/domination, is the “blind spot” of perception, where the White privileged naysayers can recognize only their own oppression in a refusal to recognize intersectionality, an inability to see across and evaluate social categories/ oppressions of gender, sexuality, class, and ability. They also fail to see they ways in which their very language/rhetoric is actually exposing the deep rooted White domination, arrogance and contempt POCs are trying to identify and dismantle. They are providing the EVIDENCE of racism in Canada’s so-called multicultural egalitarian society.

    (As with feminists: “Either you recognize our claims—or your failure to do so is proof of our claims!”. Now, unlike with e.g. Swedish feminists, I am not qualified to judge whether there is at least a partial truth behind this statement; however, it is at best a gross over-generalization and exaggeration. Further, it is AfroCan, himself, who demonstrates the blind-spot of perception, living in his own reality.)

  3. AfroCan, in a later comment, goes on to say that he is

    […] still a male feminist committing myself to anti-racist feminist thought, through READING feminist works and BECOMING an ally.

    (The feminism of today is an anti-equality movement, filled with bigotry and based on an extremely twisted world-view. See a number of previous entries.)

  4. Other statements by him include rhetorical nonsense like

    Many of the uncritical bloggers are mobilizing false rhetorical “freedom of speech” and “censorship” claims to subvert discussion, not recognizing that these practices are in part what racism, privilege and White domination are all about to begin with.

    (Apparently aimed at giving a pseudo-justification for the unethical censorship discussed in many of my previous entries.)

  5. With the following, utterly absurd claim, he really takes the Orwellian prize

    Another curious I discourse I see going on in these blogs, is calling [people of colour] racist—an utterly absurd rebuttal. Granted—some POCs can be “prejudiced” but not “racist”.

  6. Commenter Jennifer Kesler gives a number of flawed arguments in favour of censorship. Some of these have been dealt with in earlier installments, some do not make sense, others go against common sense, constructive behaviour, or Hanlon’s Razor. (I do not rule out a partial justification of some of them in at least some contexts, however. Even so, they would make for a very poor comment policy on the vast majority of all blogs.) In the main, they would tend to reduce exposure to alternate ideas and arguments—the very lack of which is a major reason why the PC movement actually is one of the bad guys.

    (Ironically, the blog owner explicitly mentions the danger of groupthink—but he does so with the prejudiced and role-reversed claim that “[…]tech news readers tend to boost the signals of sexist or misogynist comments.”, proving that he does not know many of these and that he has a severe blind spot for the sins of the PC movement.)

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Written by michaeleriksson

October 31, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Encounter with a real-life leftist feminist

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As the recurring reader knows, I am less than thrilled by some of the people I meet online. However, based on my experiences so far, I have assumed that they are more moderate or more varied off-line—just like a basket-ball player does not run to-and-fro, jump up-and-down, and throw balls around in daily life. Even when I was myself politically active (and had a greater in-person exposure to others active in a variety of parties), I found this to be the case.

Yesterday, however, I encountered a woman who was a caricature of a leftist feminist—to the point that I actually considered the possibility that she was an actress trying out a character on the group (the participants of a one-day seminar).

Picture a middle-aged woman; hair semi-unkempt and tied behind her head; little make-up, but a contrasting red lipstick; horn-rimmed glasses; an odd red dress; and an unhappy, often angry, face.

During the individual presentations, she mentioned that she had once been a member of the German autonomew movement (known for its extreme opinions and methods—including violent confrontations with the police)—but that this was a thing of the past, from which she had repented.

As the day proceeded, however, it became very clear that was still strongly convinced leftist, who turned every discussion onto some angle of a leftist or feminist agenda—regularly interrupting the leader of the seminar and, on balance, talking about as much as he did (and more than the other participants put together). Now, I have nothing against a discussion or an excursion into an interesting side-topic (quite the contrary, as those who know me can testify); however, she moved off the actual topic and went off on long rants with such persistency that the situation become untenable. Without her presence, 1–2 hours of the 6-hour seminar could have been saved or filled with more valuable content (even allowing for other discussions ensuing). Further, her aggressiveness often made it hard for other participants to get a word in.

As for the content she provided, the general impression that I have from leftist and feminist blogs was affirmed, including:

  1. An underlying anger/moral indignation and little insight into other perspectives than her own.

  2. The stating of very trivial insights as great truths that needed to be brought to the people. For instance, she correctly, but tritely, stated that the concept of a citizen as a “customer” of a governmental agency differed from the common connotations of the word—and then forcefully went on about how this was something that needed to be explained to the masses…

    (As an aside: While I too find this use of “customer” annoying, it can possibly be justified by considering it an abstraction. Notably, I have seen academic discussions where even those selling have been considered customers, e.g. making both the person buying an apple from a store and the company selling the apples in bulk to the store “customers” of the store.)

  3. Jumping to negative conclusions about what others said and meant. Most notably, the seminar leader related an anecdote about how he had once been confronted with an epileptic attack in one of his employees. As he stated that this was something he hoped never to witness again (with the clear contextual meaning that he merely wished to stress how unpleasant such a situation was), she immediately accused him of not wanting to hire more epileptics… This interpretation was not only far-fetched (and explicitly denied by the him), but also effectively the opposite of Hanlon’s Razor.

    At some point, she even started to discuss how she disliked how several of the other participants were sitting quietly, without “revealing anything about themselves”. (Her emphasis on the latter part was heavy, leaving the impression that she saw this as more-or-less immoral.) I only barely managed to refrain from citing the adage that it is better to remain silent and be thought an idiot than to open ones mouth and remove any doubt (implying that she, herself, would do well to heed this statement). As I did try to explain to her, there are a number of reasons why hers is an unfair sentiment: Different people learn in different ways—and we were there to learn, not to reveal ourselves to strangers. (In a deeper discussion, there would be a number of other factors involved, including that some may simply be shy among strangers, unwilling to interrupt others, having had a sleepless night, which negatively affected their abilities, whatnot.) Certainly, her own participation brought a negative net value to the group, and we would have been better off, had she kept quiet.

  4. Showing signs of great prejudice and indoctrination. For instance, she went on at length about some phenomenon she did not like (I was a bit tuned out and missed the details, but the area was unethical or illegal business methods) and ending with the (incorrect) claim that this would be neo-liberalism. Similarly, she went off on a rant about how the immigrants in Cologne were to insecure to stand up for themselves (something I have not noticed…) and too willing to adapt to the German way (ditto), and how Cologne was unusually “patriarchal” (a word that is one of biggest red flags around).

Oh, and she was also very loud and waved her arms around well into the personal space of those around her—often without even looking in the direction of the wave.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 28, 2010 at 7:10 am

German press allowed to publish links

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After five years, the German computer magazine C’te has won a supreme courtw decision with the general content that it is allowed to publish links in its articles.

That this would take the involvement of the supreme court may seem absurd (and, certainly, many have marveled at the complete ignorance of the Internet and linking that previous instances have displayed).

The background story is roughly this: In 2005, C’t published an article about AnyDVDw—a tool whose abilities includes being able to circumvent the copy protection of DVDs. (A protection, which I, personally, consider unethical: There are legitimate uses being blocked, e.g. making a back-up copy or playing a DVD on a computer, while the commercial pirates have the resources to work around any protection.) The article contained a link to the website of AnyDVD-maker SlySoft. This caused the DVD-industry to go berserk: The aim of the link would be a simplification of access to a (in Germany, technically and regrettably) forbidden program and an instigation to its use.

The highly disputable justification of the software ban aside, this overlooks the very nature of links as a reference to other material—and the fact that anyone could have found the website over Google in less than a minute. Further, having followed the industry’s antics, I suspect that the there is an element of bad faith and litigation for the sake of intimidation involved—as well as a willingness to use undue means and cause undue disadvantages for others in order to gain comparatively slight advantages for itself.

Regrettably, lower instances went with the DVD industry’s take on the issue. Fortunately, with its decision from 2010-10-14 (as I gather from the last C’t, #23/2010) the supreme court has over-turned these decisions.

In a bigger picture, the issue arises when and whether a ban on links is a good idea. (Indeed, even after this decision, Germany does not have a complete freedom to link. In the above case, e.g., the interpretation of underlying intent is relevant.) My own view is that bannable cases are rare and that it is better to err on the side of too much permissiveness. In particular, I utterly reject the idea that a mere linking should be seen as an endorsement or a support of opinion/methods/whatnot. (I, myself, regularly link to content that I strongly disagree with.) Further, forbidding links will often be a slight inconvenience to those with a strong motivation—but a disproportionate obstacle for those with a fleeting interest or who merely want to check a few underlying details.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 28, 2010 at 1:14 am

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Integration, assimilation, and the mixture of fluids

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As the recurring reader knows, one of the main political topics in Sweden this year has been immigration. One particular sub-issue (especially after Angela Merkel’s recent remarks on the German situation) has been that of integration: Should immigrants integrate themselves into the existing society or should society develop into a highly inhomogeneous mixture of different cultural groups and traditions.

I have for some time been pondering the analogy of integration and the admixture of fluids to an original fluid:

On the one hand, we have integration, as in the traditional US melting potw or a regular mixed drink, where the various cultures are mixed in with the pre-dominant culture, the immigrants adapt to society, and the result is comparatively homogeneous.

On the other, we have Multikultiw, what amounts to a layered drinkw: Immigrants keep their ways unchanged, often over generations, and society instead adapts and accommodates to allow for new niches.

Now, I am not going to state that the one is necessarily better than the other—they both have advantages and disadvantages, and the extreme versions of both are likely best avoided. (Personally, I am strongly in favour of immigrants adapting with regard to laws, etiquette, and, when in public, behavioural norms; but see religion, musical taste, behaviour in the own home, and similar, as distinctly private decisions. The border-line areas can be quite tricky.) I am, however, going to stress that the propaganda by e.g. the Swedish Left that multikulti is the only fair and workable solution is wrong: Most notably, as with fluids, it is wrong to claim that society would be unaffected by integration or that society would not be enriched by other cultures in this manner: Each new drop/immigrant subtly changes the whole, and many drops over a long time can have an enormous effect.

(As an aside, this propaganda includes the rhetorical trick of co-opting the word “integration” to mean multikulti and to attack those espousing integration, correctly using “integration”, for trying to deceive the public—the Newspeakw demands “assimilation”. As discussed above, the one-sided adaption implied by “assimilation” is highly misleading—as if the dash of lemon added to a cup of tea would magically turn into tea… Also see the etymologies of integratee and assimilatee.)

The greatest benefit of analogies is not their value as illustrations, but that observing one side of the analogy can lead to insights and ideas about the other side. I invite the reader to spend some time contemplating the mixture of fluids and whether some of the same issues are relevant for immigration policies. Consider, e.g., that integration depends on the cooperation of the “integratees”—some fluids can be mixed temporarily through external forces (e.g. stirring), but will separate again when the stirring ceases. Or: Mixing too “antagonized” fluids can result in an explosive.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 22, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Doubt: A parable

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A few days ago, I watched Doubtw, a very gripping and thought-provoking movie, which partially ties in with a previous post.

Subsequently, I searched the Internet for more background information, seeing that the movies dedication hinted at a real-life story, which could have shed light on the central unanswered question: Whether Father Flynn was guilty of the implied “improper relationship” with one of the school’s boys (Donald).

I had no great luck with that question (and the very fact that the viewer never learns the truth is arguably central for the movies purpose); however, I found a very interesting, yet slightly disturbing, discussion among some real-life nuns and members of the publice:

Apparently, many of them view Sister Aloysius as the hero and Father Flynn as clearly guilty—something which I find hard to understand and which parallels the real-life problems with presumptions of guilt. Now, let us throw an eye on these two questions:

  1. Sister Aloysius is very clearly portrayed as a reactionary/conservative, overly strict, and “no fun” nun. It can further be argued that she is too willing to let the means justify the end, acts on faith over reason, or even over-compensates for her own doubts. The main dispute should not be whether she was the good guy (she was not), but whether she was well-meaning and misguided or just the stereotypical bitter old head-mistress (a superficial impression could point to the latter, but there are plenty of signs indicating to the former). The road to Hell…

    Notably, in a comparison of attitude towards life between her and Father Flynn, I am reminded of e.g. Dead Poets Societyw and Chocolatw—with Father Flynn as Robin Williams’/Juliette Binoche’s equivalent.

  2. The movie is highly ambivalent on the guilt or innocence of Father Flynn: There are some signs that are highly incriminating—most notably, his unwillingness to answer questions and his sometimes hesitant answers. Then again, he may have been hiding something completely different: His story about the altar wine is far from implausible and what lies in his past may be something entirely different (e.g. having had an affair with a nun or being a homosexual).

    On the opposite side, Sister James (who has more inside information than the viewer) believes in his innocence—and even Sister Aloysius, the accuser, confesses to having severe doubts at the end of the movie. (In this highly multi-layered work, it is possible that Sister James merely wanted to believe and that Sister Aloysius actually spoke of more general doubts; however, in the interpretation most likely to me, the former believed in Father Flynn’s innocence and the other doubted his guilt.)

    Going a step further, there was no indication whatsoever that Father Flynn was (emotionally or physically) hurting Donald. On the contrary, he appeared to provide a valuable emotional support to a bullied boy with a physically (non-sexually) abusive father. It is possible that a hypothetical sexual relationship between the two would have been damaging per se; however, no such damage is indicated in the movie and the damage done by removing Father Flynn may well have lead to a negative net-effect. Certainly, Donald (per hearsay) seemed to take Father Flynn’s departure poorly.

    Finally, anyone who takes a sense of certainty with him from this movie has not understood it—doubt, questioning of truth and perceptions, and awareness of different possibilities and consequences, are at its very core. Even the individual signs that seem to imply this-or-that are themselves ambiguous and sources of doubt (cf. above). In my opinion, the main benefit of watching this movie is a greater motivation to question ones own believes and the way one draws conclusions.

In a bigger picture, referring back to my earlier post, it is very important to not act out of fear (it is hardly a coincidence that the class discusses the phrase “There is nothing to fear but fear it self.” in an early scene), to give the benefit of a doubt, to use due procedure, etc. A related danger is that if someone tries to bend the facts to fit the hypothesis, this is all-too-often possible—as with the Swedish gender-glasses. Notably, Sister Aloysius produced not one single piece of evidence, but relied on interpretation of ambiguous events and statements. Further, she failed to actually ask Donald for his version… She did talk at some length to the mother, but apart from being removed from the events, her testimony only gave a few non-conclusive hints—even, possibly, indicating Donald as the pursuer. (Strong hints that he was a homosexual are given; his admiration for Father Flynn is stated outright.) Certainly, a platonic friendship between two gays in a world looking down on homosexuality is a quite plausible interpretation.

I strongly recommend those interested to visit the above discussion and its neighbouring pages: There a great number of differing views, interpretations, and speculations can be found.

As an aside on the acting: While there were a number of truly excellent performances, I advice the viewer to watch Amy Adams (Sister James) in particular—the more often praised performances by Meryl Streep (Sister Aloysius) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Father Flynn) are not superior. Some of Adams’ scenes against Streep are especially noteworthy. For those (like me) who have mostly seen her playing shallow pretty-girls, her performance was an eye-opener. Viola Davis (the mother) also received considerable, justified praise for her performance; however, her effort is limited to a single scene.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 18, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Blogroll update

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Last week, I was directed to a page wishing to prove that more than 1 % of all desktop users use Linuxe. Considering its approach of actually trying to get sufficiently many Linux users to announce themselves, this is a herculean task, which can benefit from a little help—like the inclusion in a few blogrolls.

I recommend any Linux user to drop by to increase the statistic.

(Note: An email address must be given. While the site looks legitimate overall, I recommend the precaution of using a disposable address.)

By the FIFO principle, The Thoughtful Animale is removed. That blog was first discussed here.

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October 12, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Admission criteria to higher education

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An interesting post (unfortunately in Swedish) on SAT-like tests vs. GPAe as admission criteria to tertiary education has started an equally interesting discussion. Here I will elaborate on my own take on the issue, as well as discuss some opinions of others. (Note that the discussion is valid outside of the original Swedish context too.)

  1. A cognitive test (CT) is a better predictor of academic potential than GPA. GPA measures a mixture of potential, achievement of potential, and external factors, e.g. industriousness, motivation in high school (which need not be the same thing as motivation in college), how popular one is with the teachers, …

  2. Whether a CT or GPA is the better predictor for academic result will depend on a variety of factors, including the proportions of head-work (CT) and leg-work (GPA): Future mathematicians will likely be better filtered by a CT; lawyers by GPA.

  3. GPA becomes increasingly misleading, the higher the cognitive ability of the student. The raw brains needed to get a very high GPA are not stellar (high, but not stellar—and even less so in a time of grade inflation), while even the most intelligent cannot reach the very top without a considerable amount of leg-work or skillful manipulation of teachers.

    Add in that the most intelligent are less likely to have developed manipulation skills, are more likely to find exercises under-challenging and boring, often have their own intellectual interests that school gets in the way of, etc.—and a cognitive ability above a certain limit can actually be a hindrance for getting a good GPA in high-school, when compared to those somewhat below this limit.

    If more practical subjects (e.g. physical education or arts) are counted towards the GPA, the discrepancy grows even wider.

  4. Re-visiting the former item on the college level, we see that there is less direct interaction with teachers/graders, that courses tend to be noticeably more stimulating, and that the ability to choose courses is greater. The latter has a dual positive effect, in that 1. problems with motivation will diminish 2. problem areas of low relevance can be avoided: A mathematician does not need to be fluent in a foreign language, the historian does not need a head for math, and the professional translator who is bored by history need not be a poor translator.

  5. Combining the two previous items there is a distinct problem with popular educations: By the sheer number of applicants the GPA-cutoff will rise to a hard-to-reach level—and many of the best suited applicants will find themselves excluded in favour of industrious teacher’s pets. A CT provides a very valuable second road for these.

    I can cite myself as a case in point: I had a very good, but not extraordinary, GPA and it is quite possible that I would not have been able to get into the program and college I applied to based on GPA (the university, KTH, being Sweden’s MIT; the program being one of the most prestigious). I did have a stellar score on the Swedish equivalent to the SATs, however—and, once admitted, I turned out to be one of the very best students of the program.

  6. The original post is critical to the use of CTs on the basis that GPA is a better predictor for success. Apart from the discussion above, this reasoning has the very critical flaw that it is a statement about aggregates, not individuals: It is quite possible that he is right about the aggregate numbers, but relying only on GPA would result in an unfair assessment of many individuals; in particular, those of unusually high cognitive abilities. Notably, the purpose of an admission system is exactly to select the best suited individual applicants—not the best suited group.

  7. Looking at some comments, an attitude seems to be present that a “CT student” would steal an admission from a “GPA student”, having been to lazy to do his job in high-school and kicking someone out who was more deserving (i.e., in this limited view, working harder). This is a grave misconception for the reasons mentioned above, but also seems to go hand-in-hand with a too positive take on the value and forms of secondary education (respectively, the pre-tertiary school system in general). Education is good; conventional schooling need not be, and if someone finds more meaningful ways to educate himself, why should he be punished for that? (Cf. e.g. Issues relating to education.)

  8. There also seems (but here I speculate) to be a false impression that admissions would first be given to those with a high GPA and then to those with mid-range CT scores, unfairly leaving those with mid-range GPAs outside. In fact, it is better to view the system as a two-pronged admission, which simply reduces the risk for the better suited candidates to filtered out. The presence of a CT makes the system fairer and gives those who deserve it better opportunities—without hurting others of equal suitability. (Except in as far as every system can be unfair to the odd border-line case—while a GPA-only system will hurt many clearly on the right side of the border. Further, with reservations for implementation problems. Should such occur, however, they only imply that the implementation should be improved.)

  9. An interesting twist is the misinterpretation that problems with personal chemistry with teachers would be the students fault, that he would be less inclined to do the work assigned because he disliked the teacher, and, by implication, has himself to blame form not biting the bullet (“bita ihop”). Such cases may well exist; however, the actual argument focuses on teachers who like or dislike students and give correspondingly faulty grades—even if unconsciously. This has nothing to do with hard work, but is a problem with the teacher. (And, make no mistake, this is a very real issue, which can be positively deadly for someone in need of a US-Style 3.8–4.0 GPA.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 2, 2010 at 5:40 pm