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A Swede in Germany

Archive for July 2018

Further mistreatment of athletes / a call to revisit the illegality of large groups of drugs

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And again have I just published something on the situation of athletes, only to see something new pop up…

This time, it appears that the Swedish/Eritrean middle- and long-distance runner Meraf Bahta is in trouble* with doping** agencies. Not because she has been caught doping or because she had a suspect test result—but because she has (apparently inadvertently) violated “whereabouts” rules imposed by WADA.

*It is not yet a given that she will be sanctioned, but others in a similar situation already have been, and even her hypothetical acquittal does not change how problematic the current system is.

**In this text, I will mostly speak of “doping” (and variations) rather than e.g. “PED use”. The latter might still be saved from the automatic implication of something illegal, while the former either can not or (possibly) never has had other implications. (Due to an implicit “illegal” or similar that should have been explicit. This parallels the highly unfortunate situation with “discrimination”, where keywords have been left out of phrases like “illegal discrimination” and “sexual discrimination”, replacing the true meaning of “discrimination” with a special-case meaning.) I will make ample use of the word “drug[s]”, however, seeing that the matter of legality is often secondary to the points under discussion. As a further note on language, “illegal” and similar phrasings are not always to be taken as references to the literal legal situation, seeing that substances banned by e.g. WADA are not automatically illegal or illegal in all jurisdictions; it is enough for my purposes that they are banned in the current context.

According to the Swedish national T & F association, concerning general rules and her specific situation:

[…] Elitaktiva idrottare ska kontinuerligt redovisa var de befinner sig vid olika tidpunkter för att finnas tillgängliga för dopingkontroller, allt genom ett rapporteringsprogram, ADAMS. Den aktive ska för varje kvartal i förväg redovisa var han eller hon kommer att befinna sig under en timma varje dag. Därigenom kan idrottaren anträffas för oannonserade tester. Om en vistelserapport inte lämnas eller om idrottaren inte är där han eller hon uppgett (s.k. bomkontroll), är det en förseelse. En person tillåts göra två förseelser under en löpande tolvmånadersperiod. Vid en tredje förseelse anses den aktive inte ha uppfyllt de krav som ställs av WADA […]

[…]de bakomliggande orsakerna till att rapporteringen inte helt fungerat i detta fall. Flera av dessa är personliga, till exempel kopplade till läs- och skrivsvårigheter och olyckliga sjukdomsfall, och andra är rent administrativa såsom inloggningsproblem […] säger Stefan Olsson, Generalsekreterare.

[…] Sedan januari 2017 har Meraf Bahta dopingtestats 19 gånger av internationella och nationella dopingkontrollanter och 10 av dessa har skett utanför tävlingssammanhang.

[…]Vi kan dock konstatera att Meraf inte hållit sig undan eller medvetet felrapporterat, vilket bland annat är tydligt då vi alla kan följa hennes tränings- och tävlingsaktiviteter via sociala medier. […] säger Karin Torneklint, Förbundskapten.


[…] Active elite athletes shall* continuously make known where they are at different times to be available for doping tests, all through a reporting system, ADAMS. The active [elite athlete] shall for each quarter, in advance, make known where he or she will be present during one hour each day. Hereby, the athlete can be encountered for unannounced tests. If a report-of-presence [“vistelserapport”] is not provided or if the athlete is not where he or she has claimed (so called bomkontroll) this is a violation. A person is allowed to commit two violations during a running twelve-month period. In case of a third violation, the active is considered non-compliant with the requirements of WADA […]

*The translation of “ska” with “shall” can be disputed in context, but then the original use of “ska” is it self disputable. The more typical choice of words in a text of this descriptive nature is “måste”, with the translation “must”. (But “ska”, like “shall”, might have been appropriate in a prescriptive document.) Generally, the text is quite stilted and unnatural. It also uses some phrasings that are hard to translate into English without compromise. The words “vistelserapport” and “bomkontroll” (presumably, a play on “en bom”, “a miss [of a target]”) are either not standard Swedish or of a highly specialized nature. I have made some corresponding compromises, here and below, which I will not detail, seeing that the impact on my discussion will be negligible.

[…]the underlying reasons why the reporting has not worked entirely in this case. Several of these are personal, for instance connected to difficulties with reading and writing and unfortunate instances of sickness, and others are purely administrative, like log-in problems […] says Stefan Olsson, secretary general

[…] Since January 2017, Meraf Bahta has been doping tested 19 times by international and national doping testers and 10 of these have occurred outside of competition contexts.

[…]However, we can note that Meraf has not avoided [the testers] or deliberately misreported, which e.g. is obvious because we can all follow her training and competition activities on social media. […] says Karin Torneklint, head of the national team.

There are at least three remarkable things here:

  1. The constraints and privacy violations imposed on the athletes are extreme: Imagine, dear reader, that you would be forced to state for every day, long in advance*, where you will be for a part of that day. Imagine having to plan that far ahead. Imagine being so constrained in your later activities, e.g. in that an impromptu trip is impossible. Imagine being so vulnerable to external obstacles, e.g. a missed or severely delayed train. Imagine having to keep track of where you are allowed to be on a daily basis. Imagine the potential privacy violations. (Never mind the actual testing and the time needed to file the information.)

    *If my recollections from previous encounters with similar rules are correct (they are not new), there are some provisions for later changes, but this is obviously intended for exceptional cases. Similarly, a missed train would likely be forgiven on a rare occasion; however, the athlete would still need to apply for dispensation, and it might not be forthcoming when there have been repeated similar events. The take on anything relating directly or indirectly to doping is highly “strict liability” and with a one-sided burden placed on the athlete.

  2. The means for filing this information are obviously not what they should be. That log-in (or other technical) problems can prevent a correct reporting, and possibly require the athlete to ask the real perpetrator for clemency for the perpetration, is unacceptable. (In light of my own experiences with Elster, cf. [1] and further texts, I have great sympathies. Consider if professional athletes are met with similar problems.) That problems with reading and writing can be preventative is also a red flag.*

    *I am not clear on whether these are relating to use of Swedish (her being an immigrant) or general (her coming from a country with far lower standards of education than Sweden). In the latter case, the Federation/WADA/whoever should have provided other means and must carry the responsibility for the failure to do so—even (in a hypothetical and exaggerated example) an entirely uneducated, border-line retarded, trainer- and friendless athlete must not be excluded from competition based on restrictive software. As to the former, it should be self-evident that anyone who forces a tool upon someone must make sure that it is available in an acceptable language. (As an aside, I do believe that immigrants should learn the local language; however, that is an issue on a different dimension.)

  3. Bahta has been tested* roughly once per month, on average, since January 2017. More than half of these tests are likely to have been so random that she has been in no position to manipulate test results or alter any drug use in time. She is still in trouble.

    *Presumably, without any findings, or else it would have been mentioned or, more likely, already hit the news shortly after the test.

We have long reached a point where the impositions upon athletes are hard to defend. Note that it does not end with the above, the overall burden also including e.g. “biological passports”, the need to pee on command and in the presence of others after competitions, the constant risk and accompanying fear* that someone will mess with e.g. a water bottle, the risk of inadvertently** ingesting/injecting/whatnot something illegal, the risk of a lab screwing up, the risk of a natural-but-unusual level of something being interpreted as cheating, the risk of missing a change of classification*** of a substance, misestimations*** by organizations like WADA leading to unfair convictions, … To boot, the way potential violations are treated are contrary to the principles of due process, it usually being the obligation of the athlete to prove his innocence well beyond “reasonable doubt”.****

*I can recall Carolina Klüft, a now retired supreme heptathlete, repeatedly discussing this fear, and how she always made sure not to leave e.g. water bottles out of sight.

**The very recent case of Ryan Lochte springs to mind, who apparently took too much of an otherwise legal substance; as does the case of Martin Johnsrud Sundby, whose team physician screwed up.

***Meldonium was banned after long being allowed, and the “half-time” of Meldonium already (legally) present in the body was severely underestimated, leading to cases like Alexander Povetkin and Abeba Aregawi. The former missed a chance at winning a world-championship belt in boxing; the latter a chance at an Olympic gold. To boot, Aregawi has yet to make a serious come-back, implying that it might have been a career-ender.

****Which to some degree is understandable, in light of the many potential excuses that could create reasonable doubt. Consider the early case of Dieter Baumann and his (correctly or incorrectly) rejected explanation that his toothpaste was to blame. This is nevertheless highly unfortunate and has considerable negative consequences for the security of the athletes. To boot, the way this reversal of the burden of proof (lowering of proof limit, strict liability, whatnot) is implemented is usually through forcing the athletes to “voluntarily” agree to some set of rules only indirectly relating to doping. The “whereabouts” rules and potential punishment discussed above are a good example. Similarly, many of the banned substances are not considered performance enhancers, and there is no reason to believe that an athlete would (directly) cheat with them—they are masking agents that could hide the use of other drugs that are banned performance enhancers. In other words, we have a criminalization and punishment of suspect behavior rather than truly criminal behavior—as if someone was put in jail for having staked out a bank, with the reasoning that doing so is tantamount to actually robbing it.

Factoring in the many other problems, costs, and whatnot, I have, year for year, grown increasingly skeptical to whether it is justifiable to continue a “no doping” policy—by now, I am in favor of very considerably easing the regulations, just like the old ban on professionalism was once removed. More, I explicitly call for this question to be re-examined in detail, in order to either largely or wholly remove these bans, as well as to remove the excessive burden placed on the athletes. Further, that this be done in an open-minded and unprejudiced manner, independent of the current opinion corridor.

Consider negative effects like the enormous costs and efforts that go into these programs, the fact that there still is reason to believe that many of the athletes are not clean*, the risk of having to alter the official results of past events**, or the enormous credibility blow when a major name is revealed as a cheater (Lance Armstrong, for instance).

*Creating an unfair competition, where those with the better ability to hide their use, e.g. through a previously unknown drug, can gain an enormous advantage. See also parts of the first item below.

**Take e.g. the Women’s 1500m race of the 2012 Olympics, where there has been three different winners (the original winner, the original second-placer after the original winner was disqualified, and the original third-placer after the second winner was disqualified), and where another two finalist have also gone down the drain. To boot, the current second and third placers (Tomashova, and the aforementioned Aregawi), have also been suspended for doping at other times. The situation with Tour de France and Armstrong is also horrifying, with a long stretch of competitions invalidated considerably after their end. Consider the effect on fans and sponsors, who have the remaining fear that an apparent victory will be invalidated a few years later, and who might lose interest in the sport.

On the other hand, let us look at the some* justifications for a ban:

*Feel free to point me to others.

  1. Doping can artificially distort the playing field:

    However, this is already the case, due to the imperfectness of testing. True, it might be possible to reach perfection at some later time, but this could be far in the future and could involve even more intrusive and costly efforts. To this we have to add complications like some athletes being officially exempt from certain restrictions due to (real or fake) medical issues, notably asthma; or different countries having very different takes on issues like doping, e.g. the Swedish condemnation as a deadly sin, the Jamaican negligence, or the Russian deliberate support of doping. I strongly suspect that a less restricted take would actually make the playing field more even.

    To boot, there already are distortions* of the playing field that are perfectly accepted, including having a better trainer (and other helpers), better training conditions, the opportunities** created by more money, and (in some sports) better equipment. Indeed, the old resistance against professionalism was largely based in the wish to have a level playing field—but professionalism is considered perfectly normal today.

    *Compared to an athletes natural ability, willingness to work hard, personal knowledge of relevant theory, and similar.

    **Including not only the ability to train and compete full-time, but also e.g. with what comfort travel and hotels can be endured/enjoyed, access to more dedicated training facilities, and similar.

  2. Doping can be bad for the health of the athletes.

    However, athletes already do other things that are bad for their health, and what they do with their bodies is, at the end of the day, their decision. Many athletes in their thirties have damage to e.g. knees and back that are decades ahead of their real ages. Some few suffer so severe acute injuries that they die or must spend the rest of their lives in wheel-chairs. Practices like dehydration before a boxing match can be quite dangerous—not to mention the actual match! Some high-jumpers have been heavy smokers in order to keep their body-weight down. Sumo wrestlers are often so fat that they encounter severe health problems. Etc. To this might be added some involuntary and uncalculated excesses, e.g. the relatively common occurrence of severe eating disorders in young female athletes. How many other things would have to be banned, if we applied the same reasoning as with banned drugs?

    It is not a given that such quantities* of drugs make sense, as to cause a severe danger. Correspondingly, athletes would likely show restraint even without a ban, especially when also factoring in the health risks and the phenomenon of “diminishing returns”. It might make sense for a body-builder, power-lifter, or similar, to gorge himself on steroids and growth-hormone—but in most sports this would be counter-productive, because the extra weight will do more harm than good. For instance, a tennis or soccer player who puts on another forty pounds would see his endurance drop, and would need to compensate for that, while getting relatively little direct benefit from more muscle**. Marathon*** runners look like twigs for a reason. A high-jumper might not get enough benefit from more muscle to compensate for the weight-gain even during short efforts, especially when e.g. large glutes threaten to touch the bar during the crossing. Someone like the prime Ron Coleman would have been useless in many sports, because the protrusions of his muscles reduced his natural movements. Etc. (However, I raise the caveat that this might apply more to male athletes than to female, the latter having a lower starting point and, likely, room for greater consumption before the benefits of “more” drops below the disadvantages.)

    *Note that the damaging effects of drugs depend strongly on quantity, and that e.g. extrapolating negative effects from body-builders to sprinters makes little sense, unless the latter actually use at least somewhat similar quantities. (Not to mention similar drugs, which is far from a given. I can, e.g., see no obvious advantage for a 100m runner in using insulin—but I do see a risk of putting on dead weight…)

    **Here and elsewhere, once a certain amount has been reached.

    ***However, there are obviously drugs and other enhancers for other purposes than gaining muscle, e.g. EPO and blood doping—both of which have been used extensively by some endurance athletes and are not without their own dangers. I lack the detail knowledge to judge the reasonable limits in a similar manner to the above; however, I strongly suspect that similar reasons for restraint will apply. Even if not, the public image, the basis for regulation, and the exaggerated fear of PEDs (aka steroids, aka that thing that kills all the body-builders before 50; see also [2]) is still mostly based on muscle building.

    Newer and better drugs will appear over time that have fewer or lesser negative side-effects. (As they already have.) Indeed, current classifications of drugs by e.g. WADA are likely less directed by the risk of negative side-effects and more by the positive (main) effects.

    Drug taking under more controlled circumstances, including open visits to specialist physicians and the procurement of drugs free from e.g. cutting agents, can do a lot to reduce even the current risks. (Note that while true world-class athletes might already have access to such resources, this does not apply to the lower levels of competition and the younger athletes who might one day become true world-class.)

    Some drugs might, even performance aside, have positive effects that outweigh the negative, e.g. because they help the body heal or cope with stress. (And can even be prescribed to non-athletes for such reasons, notably corticosteroids. The above obviously with some reservations for length of use and the quantities involved.)

  3. In the overlap between the two, we have the risk that some athletes might feel themselves forced to take health-risking doses or types of drug in order to be competitive with those who willingly take such drugs. This introduces an ethical issue of a different type than in the first item. (Indeed, this was long my own main argument against doping.)

    However, with the lower risks possible for drug users per the second item, chances are that this will be mostly an academic question. In as far as it is not, we have to consider that the problem is not restricted to drugs. For instance, an athlete who trains through an injury, at the cost of greater long-term damage, can win that gold medal over the athlete who does not; the boxer who is willing to dehydrate further can put on more non-water weight and still remain in the same weight class; the down-hill skier who is willing to take greater, possibly life threatening risks, can gain those extra tenths of a second; etc.

    If push comes to shove, a reasonable way out might be to just disallow the more dangerous types of drugs or too large quantities: Someone with the choice of say running an illegal 9.80 or a legal 10.00 in the 100m dash has far stronger incentives to cheat than someone who chooses between an illegal 9.80 and a legal 9.85.

Apart from the above, we also have to consider that a freer drug use could lead to improvements of drugs, the understanding of drugs and the human body, etc., that can have a very positive impact on the general population: What if we e.g. find a combination of drugs that makes the body of an 80 y.o. function on the level of someone ten or twenty years younger, with minimal risks? (At that age, even larger risks could well be acceptable.) What if we find better means to combat e.g. muscular dystrophy and atrophy? What if we can reduce the exercise time needed to stay in great (non-athlete) shape to an hour a week?

Excursion on records:
A point that can be an advantage or a disadvantage is the comparison with old records in some sports. Track-and-Field, e.g., has a problem with some old records that appear close to unbreakable and that are strongly suspected of having been set by dopers. Freer rules could solve that problem. On the other hand, it might make the comparison in other disciplines less fair. Then again, any comparison over time risks being unfair, e.g. due to better equipment or a better technique. Swimming is a sport that appears to be ridiculously (and counter-intuitively) sensitive to changes to pools, suits, and whatnots. (In many other sports, there either are no significant records, or the records are not that dependent on artificial help. Even baseball, famed for its collection of statistics and notorious for rumored doping, sees a reduced sensitivity because of the opposing influences: For instance, drugs might make a batter swing harder and increase his chances of striking a home run when he hits; however, the same drugs can make the pitcher throw harder or with more spin, decreasing the chance that the batter hits. Drugs that help with recuperation and injuries will affect everyone on the field.)

Excursion on the chance of a rule change:
Unfortunately, there is a strong, but ultimately irrational, reason why the bans will continue: For various organizations and many legal systems, to do an about-turn at this late stage would cause an enormous loss of face and credibility. (Note that anything that is harmful to the organizations or their leaders will be much harder to push through than something that is harmful to the athletes.)

To boot, there would be tricky coordination and persuasion* issues: What if e.g. IAAF drops the ban now and the IOC only after the 2020 Olympics? Should IAAF athletes be forced to forego the Olympics or should they risk being less competitive at the 2019 World Championships? What if one country drops the ban and another does not? What about the extremely uneven playing field this would create? Such issues imply that any fair change could take many years to implement; and even a gradual change would take a similar time to be completed.

*If everyone was on-board at the same time, the coordination would not be that problematic. However, convincing not only various organization but also various law-makers around the world is very tough.

Excursion on drug use in the general population:
Restrictions on use in the general population are even more disputable than for professional athletes. The latter has at least some (if not necessarily strong) justification through the effect on others. Private use by a non-athlete affects the user, not the rest of the world. There might, obviously, be indirect effects on e.g. other family members, but those can be both positive* and negative, and are within the scope of how any action affects close-ones: Should a pizza lover be legally forbidden from indulging in that love, because a premature death could leave the spouse a widow[er]? Certainly, the often proposed specter of “roid rage” and physical violence against the family is a sufficiently rare exception to be classified as a scare tactic, and is only even relevant to some drugs in the first place. Also see parts of [2].

*For instance, a better body might be appreciated by the significant other.

Excursion on the right to set rules:
Note that arguments like “it is X’s competition; ergo, it can set whatever rules it wants” might be technically true, but are also irrelevant to the above. The point is not what rules X is allowed to set—it is what rules are better with an eye on the overall situation and reasoning. To boot, not everything legally allowed is also ethically allowable, and when sports organizations ignore the best of the sport and the athletes in favor of what is best for the organization, forgetting their raison d’être, they are acting unethically. (Whether they have done so in the case of doping is open to discussion, but there are plenty of cases where the issue is clear-cut, e.g. with advertising, or when the competition format is manipulated to the disadvantage of the athletes in order to be more “viewer friendly”, as e.g. the IAAF has repeatedly done.)


Written by michaeleriksson

July 28, 2018 at 4:25 pm

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Some thoughts on a recent German controversies around athletes and freedom of action

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An incident around German/Turkish soccer star Mesut Özil* and Turkish President Erdoğan has caused immense controversy in Germany—and, in doing so, it illustrates some of the problems I have written about in the past, including the poor behavior of sports organizations and their disgraceful treatment of athletes (cf. e.g. [1], [2]); intolerance against unpopular opinion, especially by the press (cf. e.g. [3], [4], [5]); undue accusations of racism (cf. e.g. [6]); and at least an attempt at “who cries the loudest wins” ([7]). A triple hit (sports organizations, intolerance, racism) is provided by [8].

*Most information and all quotes are taken from this (German) Wikipedia page; some information stems from memory of the previous reporting or general knowledge.

Özil was born in Germany and is a German citizen; however, he is of Turkish descent, has a strong Turkish connection, and has had* a Turkish citizenship. He has on repeated occasions met with Erdoğan, the controversial Turkish President, without notable objections. However, a renewed meeting, including several other players with a similar background, in Mai 2018 lead to strong protests**:

*Having a dual citizenship as a German is usually not allowed. The two main exceptions are citizens of other EU states (which Turkey is not) and those still underage (which Özil no longer is). The latter must, unless otherwise exempt, make a choice which citizenship to keep when they do become of age.

**I am uncertain what the cause of this difference in reaction was. It might have been a symptom of the increasing Leftist and media intolerance, a change in perception of Erdoğan, a greater publicity due to the ongoing Turkish election campaign or the soon following World Cup, or that some aspects of the latest meeting were different.

Diesmal wurde Özil, ebenso wie Gündoğan, nach der Veröffentlichung von Fotos der Begegnung und dem Austausch mit dem türkischen Präsidenten teilweise scharf kritisiert. Die Trikotübergabe wurde als “geschmacklose Wahlkampfhilfe für Erdoğan” verstanden, beiden Nationalspielern warf man mangelndes “politisches Bewusstsein” vor. Die Aktion wurde als “Gegenteil von gelungener Integration” bezeichnet. Der Deutsche Fußball-Bund erklärte durch seinen Präsidenten Reinhard Grindel, man stünde “für Werte, die von Herrn Erdoğan nicht hinreichend beachtet werden.” Deshalb sei es nicht gut, dass sich Nationalspieler für dessen “Wahlkampfmanöver missbrauchen lassen. Der Integrationsarbeit des DFB haben unsere beiden Spieler mit dieser Aktion sicher nicht geholfen.”


This time, Özil, just like Gündoğan [one of the other players] was partially sharply criticized after the publication of photos of the meeting and the exchange* with the Turkish President. [The handing over of one or more (sports uniform) shirts] was understood as “tasteless election campaigning for Erdoğan”, both national-team players were accused of a lacking “political consciousness”. The act was referred to as “the opposite of successful integration”. The German Soccer Association explained through its President Reinhard Grindel that it stood “for values, not sufficiently respected [considered?] by Mr. Erdoğan.” Because of this, it would not be good that national-team players allowed themselves to be abused for “his election tactics. The integration work of the DFB [the football association] has certainly not been helped by this act.”

*From context, likely the exchange of gifts. However, other interpretations are possible, including the interaction between them.

(Note that some typographical changes have been made to the original for technical reasons. The disputable placement of full-stops with regard to quotes present in the original has been preserved in both the original and the translation. Beware of the risk that the mixture of original quotes with text by Wikipedia editors can at some point have led to distortions compared to the full original quotes. Similar claims apply to other quotes below. )

There are quite a few problems with this*, most notably that Özil and Gündoğan should not lose their right to freedom of opinion** and action just because they happen to play for the national-team (or because they might be persons of public interest, idols of some teenagers, or similar). Such restrictions, barring exceptional cases***, are highly dubious when required by the press and inexcusable when by an organization like the DFB.****

*And note that this description (and my discussion of it) is just a sample: If this had been the totality, I might have been more forgiving. However, it is a sample highly compatible with what I have seen continually in other sources regarding Özil and/or the original events. (Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of other discussions, including reactions-on-reactions, including by German and Turkish politicians, journalist, and athletes.)

**To boot, Özil denies that there was a political motivation or an act of political support involved (see also below). Whether this is true, I do not know; however, his claims are not obviously implausible. This would make the reactions against him even more inappropriate, be it because of being the more unfair or for being premature and having failed to discuss the matter appropriately in private before criticizing. (Which would have been reasonably possible for both members of the press and, above all, the DFB.)

***I am far from certain that such cases exist that do not at least touch upon the area of the illegal (e.g. explicitly calling for violence against Turkish dissidents). However, they might exist, and at least some of the above would be justifiable in another setting, e.g. the Pope chastising a member of Catholic clergy for appearing to support satanists.

****In as far as we speak of opinions, rather than sanctions or threats of sanctions, it could be argued that Grindel and/or the DFB equally has a right to speak his/its opinion. However, quite generally and including the press, there is a difference between an expression of opinion like (hypothetically) “I consider Erdoğan an idiot; ergo, Özil is an idiot for supporting him” and (what practically amounts to) “I consider Erdoğan an idiot; ergo, Özil has no right to support him”. Further, it can be disputed whether an organization like the DFB is even allowed to have an opinion in areas not relating to sport and its immediate business—and the implicit condemnation of Erdoğan is certainly not acceptable. Indeed, it amounts to the same sin that Özil is hypocritically accused of committing—with the critical difference that it actually is a sin when the DFB does it. Grindel, in turn, has the right to have his private opinion, but he must not presume to speak with the authority of the DFB if expressing this private opinion. To boot, people in positions like Grindel, unlike national-team players, are among the very few where I could contemplate an argument that they should hold back their private opinions, due to (a) the risk that these opinions are given undue weight by others, (b) the risk that others mistake private opinions of the individual for the opinions of the organization he leads or is a spokesman for—again making the accusations against Özil hypocritical.

More in detail, I note:

  1. The word “tasteless” (“geschmacklose”) is not compatible with a neutral discussion; “inappropriate” is an example of a neutral alternative.

    Whether this choice of word was merely careless, an unconscious sign of aversion, or deliberate rhetoric, I leave unstated; however, in a worst case, it could imply that such acts would have been allowed, had someone more “acceptable” than Erdoğan been involved—a thoroughly undemocratic attitude. (But not one that would shock me in light of my experiences with various Leftist groups. The same can apply elsewhere without explicit mention.)

  2. Even “inappropriate”, however, would have expressed a democratically dubious attitude, severely restricting the freedom of Özil on political issues.
  3. Athletes cannot be expected to be deep thinkers, intellectuals, whatnot to a higher degree than the average person. A lack of e.g. “political consciousness” (“politisches Bewusstsein”) cannot be a legitimate point of criticism unless the same is extended to the very many others who have the same deficit. To boot, this phrase is sufficiently vague that it is unclear what is meant, making the criticism harder yet to justify.* Worse, looking at the overall scope of the debate (not just the quoted Wikipedia passage), the most likely interpretation is a euphemistic way of saying “everyone who reads the paper knows that Erdoğan is evil; Özil obviously does not read the paper”.

    *In all fairness, this might have been different in the original context.

  4. The two claims about “integration” are misplaced, very hard to defend, and likely contributed to the character of Özil’s responses (discussed below). I note that integration can validly be a matter of behavior in society (and similar), possibly* even, to some degree, the adoption of certain value norms; however, it must not be extended to requiring adherence to whatever opinion corridor (cf. [5]) is currently popular. Further, the purpose of the DFB is not integration work; Özil has no duty to help them with whatever integration work they engage in; and it is not obvious to me how Özil might have done damage**. Indeed, it can even be disputed whether Özil, himself, has any reason to currently be well-integrated into Germany: He is a player for Arsenal; the Brits might have the more legitimate reason to require his conformance.

    *To me, it is more important to show (or not show) a certain behavior than to share the value norm behind that behavior. If nothing else, value norms change over time, even in a single country, regularly within a single generation, and it is important that value norms can be discussed and criticized. Also see e.g. [5]. Requiring a more than minimal value-norm conformance would deny immigrants rights of opinion that “old” citizens have.

    **If he did not, why would the DFB mention the topic? On the other hand, I could see how the behavior of the DFB and/or media might have damaged “integration”, e.g. through unnecessarily alienating some Turks or through lending them the impression that they are second-class (current or prospective) citizens.

    In addition, while it is true that many Turks remain poorly integrated even after the first generation, it is noteworthy that Özil is born in Germany, has lived most of his life in Germany, and went to school in Germany. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, even his father was two years old (the mother is not mentioned), when he came to Germany, making Özil a virtual third-generation immigrant. To, in this situation, lead with the assumption of poor integration is highly dubious, possibly genuinely indicative of prejudice; and it would be more reasonable to look e.g. at the personal character of Özil first and at “integration” only when this is insufficient. (By analogy, I do not reject, detest, deplore, and condemn the German “Karneval” because of any problems with my integration, but because of my and its respective character—as do quite a few natives.)

  5. To presume to criticize players or politicians (especially foreign* ones) for having or aiding “values” is not the job of the DFB, unless these are immediately relevant to its purpose. For instance, if a politician made statements favoring an increase of taxation for such organizations, a reduction of physical education in schools, or an outright ban of a sport or parts of that sport**, then that is a matter that the organization could legitimately speak on. Even here, however, a factual approach and factual arguments should be assumed: To say “If this tax increase is implemented, we will be forced to considerable reductions in our activities, including youth sports.” is quite OK; to say “X is a sports-hating idiot!” is not.

    *While being from another country, culture, religion, or time cannot e.g. make an unjust act just, it can change how the actor should reasonably be treated and viewed, because the degree to which he has been acting in good or bad faith, in conformance with his upbringing and societal norms, whatnot, can change correspondingly. It can also sometimes reveal a presumed-to-be-unjust act as just, e.g. because the circumstances are that different or because the presumed victim considered the act just; and it can easily reveal a presumed-to-be-illegal act as legal, because the laws in different countries and at different times can vary considerably.

    **For instance, Sweden long had a ban on professional boxing.

    The press should obviously have more lee-way (if in doubt, to protect the freedom of the press). However, I do note my suggestions for a new press ethics, and my strong belief that the press should report facts and leave the formation of opinion to the readers—not shove its own opinion down their throats. The more so, seeing how often this would amount to the blind presuming to lead the seeing.

  6. The use of “abuse” is doubly unfortunate, because it paints Özil et co. as patsies and Erdoğan as maliciously plotting in a manner that is both speculative and rude.

A point where some criticism might have been valid is concerning the disposition of shirts, e.g. depending on what team (national?, club?, other?) they belonged to, whether they were private property or team property, whether they were “official” shirts or shirts bought privately from a fan shop (merely using the same look as the official shirts), etc. However, if this criticism has been raised at all, it has not been one of the major points and it has no major effect on the above analysis. (For which reason I have not bothered to find out the details about the shirts.)

If I had been in Özil’s shoes, I would have been deeply angered over this criticism and I would not have hesitated to stand-up for my position. Gratifyingly*, Özil did exactly that. Less gratifyingly, he did so by resorting to counter-accusations of racism.

*Indeed, in [8] I call for exactly this willingness to take a stand.

Özil erklärte am 22. Juli 2018 auf dem Kurznachrichtendienst Twitter auf Englisch: “Ich bin in Deutschland aufgewachsen, aber meine Familie ist stark in der Türkei verwurzelt. Ich habe zwei Herzen, ein deutsches und ein türkisches. In meiner Kindheit hat mir meine Mutter beigebracht, immer respektvoll zu sein und nie zu vergessen, wo ich herkomme – an diese Werte denke ich bis heute”. Für ihn sei es bei dem Treffen weder um Politik noch um Wahlen gegangen. Ferner warf Özil einigen Medien vor, sein Foto mit Präsident Erdoğan als rechte Propaganda zu benutzen, um ihre politische Sache voranzutreiben. Weiterhin erklärte er, “nicht mehr für Deutschland auf internationaler Ebene spielen” zu wollen, solange er “dieses Gefühl von Rassismus und Respektlosigkeit verspüre”. Er forderte DFB-Präsident Grindel zum Rücktritt auf, weil Grindel unfähig sei.


On July 22nd, 2018, Özil declared on the [short-message service*] Twitter, in English**: “I have grown up in Germany, but my family is strongly rooted in Turkey. I have two hearts, a German and a Turkish. In my childhood, my mother taught me to always be respectful and to never forget from where I come—values that I think of even today”. For him, the meeting was neither a matter of politics, nor of elections. Further, Özil accused some media [services/sources/…] of using his photo with President Erdoğan as Rightist propaganda, to further their political causes. Further, he declared, wanting “no longer to play internationally for Germany”, as long as he “sensed this feeling of racism and lack of respect”. He urged DFB-President Grindel to resign, because Grindel was incompetent.

*A somewhat literal translation of “Kurznachrichtendienst”. I am not aware of a corresponding English word, nor do I consider it likely that an English text would have used one: This type of largely unnecessary attempts at overly abstracted classifications and pseudo-explanations is a specialty of Germany. To boot, the word is very unfortunate, because incorrect assumptions of word division could lead to great misunderstandings: “Nachrichtendienst” is roughly “intelligence agency” (but here the appearance of this character sequence is just a coincidence).

**I have translated the German text back into English, and could possibly deviate from the original in detail. This sub-optimal procedure was partly used because the mixture of Wikipedia text and original quote might make it hard to identify the exactly corresponding statements; partly because I very deliberately have blocked Internet access to sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. to avoid unethical tracking of my activities. For a text of this length, under these circumstances, it is faster to simply translate, probably (!) even when counting this explanation.

His justification* makes great sense, especially when combined with another source (some weeks ago), where I believe I read a statement that it was less a matter of meeting Erdoğan (as a person) than a matter of meeting the Turkish President (as a symbol or as the holder of the office). Consider, in the same line, if he had been of U.S. descent instead of Turkish: Would it be remarkable if he took the opportunity to meet with the current U.S. President or cherished an acquaintance with him going beyond a single meet-and-greet? He might or might not have had a preference for Trump or Hillary—but most people in his shoes would likely have taken either.** This even when there are other people who have an extremely low opinion of one of them (as with me and Hillary).

*But I remain at my position that he had done nothing that required a justification, this being merely an issue of averting unjustified criticism.

**In all fairness, I belong to those who might have turned down both.

I am highly skeptical towards the racism angle, however, in light of the strong left-lean of Germany media, what I have read on the Özil-controversy to date, and the common abuse of the accusation of racism for purposes like discrediting opponents. An anti-Erdoğan sentiment is a far more likely explanation for these reactions, and he would have been far better off having combined his justification of the meeting with a few choice word on freedom of opinion and the need to respect the choices of others—as would society: In this case, he would have helped point the way towards a more reasoned and tolerant debate climate; as is, he worsened it through too weakly supported accusations. (In his defense, he is a soccer player—not an intellectual. The situation might also have been different, had he e.g. spoken only of the DFB or Grindel, where he could very well have had insider knowledge of importance.)

I am not certain that Grindel must resign, but a retraction and an apology would be the minimum: His actions in this issue have done more harm than good, he has proven to be a part of the intolerance problem of modern society, and he has further proven himself to be a part of the problem with athletes’ rights vs. their organizations. I can also understand how Özil, personally hit by his behavior, would see his resignation as necessary. I might even, in his shoes, have demanded a resignation to emphasize the strength of my protests and to try to make clear that the Left and the PC crowd are not the only sources of dissatisfaction and that it is dangerous to just fold for their loud cries (cf. [7]). (Whether he is incompetent, as claimed by Özil, I cannot judge beyond what is implied through his actions in this issue.)

Finally, the DFB has in turn rejected any accusation of racism in a very blanket manner and said e.g. “Die Abrechnung von Mesut Özil schießt aber über jedes nachvollziehbare Maß hinaus und lässt keinerlei Selbstkritik erkennen.” (“However, the reckoning* by Mesut Özil shots over any understandable measure [sic!**] and reveals no sign of self-criticism*** whatsoever.”)

*This, in approximately the sense used in “there will be a reckoning”, is a reasonable translation of both the literal and metaphoric senses of “Abrechnung”. However, the English version likely comes across as more drastic than the German.

**The weird mixed metaphor is present in the original and is idiomatically freakish even in German. Something like “Özils Antworten gehen zu weit und mangeln an Selbstkritik” (“Özil’s answers go to far and lack in self-criticism”), would have been a far better formulation.

***“self-perspective” or similar might be closer in intended meaning.

While I agree that the accusations of racism are over-blown, Özil’s general negative reaction is justified. I see no obvious reason to fault him for too little self-criticism (there has been no* proof that he has done anything wrong!); while the reaction by the DFB hints that it lacks in the corresponding quality. Further, I must make the depressing observation that many an athlete has been accused of e.g. racism on similarly flimsy grounds—and, in those cases, it has typically ended either with the athlete being forced to offer an “apology” or the athlete being sanctioned. This up to and including a refusal to participate in global championships! (And despite it being highly, highly dubious to exclude even a genuine racist from competition based on opinion. If nothing else, absent even the slightest shred of sympathy for the rights of the offending athlete, even the most fanatical anti-racist must recognize that the absence of competitors devalues the event and the accomplishment of the eventual winner.) A similar case is present in [8], although involving a trainer rather than an athlete.

*Barring something that has gone past me during a more than two-months controversy that I have only followed casually. If so, it is not mentioned in Wikipedia either.

Excursion on my opinions of Erdoğan:
In light of my experiences with the PC crowd, I stress that I do not defend (or accuse) Erdoğan. The above deals with societal issues based on an example that happens to tangentially involve him—no more, no less. From what I have seen so far, Erdoğan is problematic, possibly highly problematic, in terms of e.g. his approach to topics like democracy and human rights, and chances are that Turkey would be better off without him. On the other hand, my knowledge of the overall Turkish situation is shallow, and I would not condemn him wholesale before having done considerably more research, especially as his position and actions might have been exaggerated or misrepresented in German media (which would by no means be a unique event). To boot, it is not a given that he is the “greater evil”: Looking e.g. at the rise of ISIS in the power vacuum left by the Saddam Hussein (an indisputable dictator with countless lives on his hands, and whose demise I whole-heartedly welcomed), keeping Hussein might have been the lesser evil…

Excursion on hate speech:
It might be interesting to compare the above with my recent discussions of hate speech, both with regard to how hate-speech accusers often proceeded and how my interpretation was more forgiving in those cases.

While I do say that there have been a number of statements made that have been e.g. wrong, rude, or propagandistic, I do not: Accuse any of the parties of hate speech; call for legal bans on anything said or done;* claim that others must censor them for the good of society; or call for anyone to self-censor**. This is very much unlike a typical hate-speech accuser.

*But note that specifically the collectors of the examples did not necessarily imply such demands.

**With the single exception that the DFB and its representatives should stay out of certain issues—and this exception for reasons that do not relate to whether the statements are right or wrong, or worthy of condemnation in and by themselves; rather that it would be, in some sense, an abuse of its role to enter these issues with any opinion. Cf. an excursion in [8].

Also note that when I see an interpretation as merely probable above, I try to take the trouble to actually speak of a “probable” (or similar) interpretation—I have an awareness that my interpretation could be faulty. (But I do not rule out that I, on occasion, have been or will be unintentionally careless in this regard.) In contrast, hate-speech accusers tend to jump to the worst possible interpretation and take it as the only possible interpretation.

When we now look at how “forgiving” my interpretations are, there are three underlying differences: Firstly, above I argue a “lesser crime” than the collectors did—the question is not one of “hate speech: yes or no?”, but of whether the speech can be considered fair and correct. Secondly, I have more context available than in most of their examples, making the room for ambiguity and misinterpretation smaller (and some other issues, notably a preceding Hebrew–English translation, are irrelevant, which also reduces the risk of misinterpretation). Thirdly, their examples should be seen in light of their own obvious hostility, including risks like cherry-picking, removal of exculpating context, or even malicious distortion.* (While I am not infallible, I at least try to be neutral.)

*Notably, if they had had more incriminating information to provide (e.g. a damning situational context or surrounding statements that would have made a more negative interpretation likelier), it is reasonable to assume that they would have included it. Because they did not, the likelihood of more negative interpretations is reduced.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 27, 2018 at 1:00 pm

A new take on marriage

with 3 comments

I have for some time contemplated topics around marriage, including the conflict between a “civil” and a “religious” take, the problem of “same-sex marriage”, the arguable arbitrariness and/or antiquatedness of marriage, how divorces should be handled*, issues around pre-nuptials, issues around common-law marriages, whether restrictions on polygamy are valid, … A very important topic has been expectations,** and the problems that ensue because too many enter marriages with unrealistic expectations or expectations that have not been discussed sufficiently with the partner in advance.

*Mostly concerning questions like who gets what on the cost of the other party, especially with an eye on the high rate of divorce and the extreme societal changes since the still prevailing norms originated. (Notably, that a woman without a man has plenty of opportunity to earn money of her own—and usually already does.) However, also with an eye on whether divorce should be allowed, in light of the high promises usually made during the wedding (and, to a lesser degree, religious bans).

**Cf. a text on poor decision making [1], which can be valuable in understanding some of my motivations for the below. See also an excursion towards the end.

My solution sketch* to take care of most of the related problems in one stroke:

*There would be many details to clarify, and possibly changes to make in light of practical experiences. Indeed, for reasons of time, there are some sub-topics that I have left out entirely, e.g. inheritance regulations and the rights of children. (Not to mention an unknown number of sub-topics that might simply not have occurred to me…)

  1. Marriage in its current form is deprecated in favor of a regular contract between two (or more*) parties that details their respective rights, responsibilities, if/when/how the union** can be dissolved**, etc. (With the option, cf. below, of having this union “upgraded” through a religious confirmation.)

    *For the sake of simplicity, I will base some examples and discussion on a specifically two-person or a specifically man–woman constellation. This should not be taken as a restriction on the generality of this scheme.

    **In this text, I will use “union” and “dissolution”/“dissolve” to refer to the new and contractual quasi-marriages resp. a “divorce”; however, this is for the convenience of this text alone, and should not be seen as a prescription of terminology (unlike the next item). Note that this use of “dissolution”/“dissolve” does not necessarily imply that the contract is ended—just the quasi-marriage phase and the rights and obligations applying during that phase.

  2. Words like “marriage”, “married”, “matrimony” are reserved for contracts having a religious confirmation (cf. a later item and an excursion towards the end).

    Terminology is otherwise outside the scope of this text, “marriage” etc. being special cases needed to separate the quasi-magic of marriage from mere union (cf. below). However, it might make sense to avoid “wife”/“husband”/“spouse” (absent a religious confirmation) in favor of “partner”, “life-partner”, or similar; “divorce” is another word which might need to be restricted in meaning.

  3. There would be a considerable leeway in how to construct this contract, it would fall under regular contract law*, and legal special treatment should be kept as low as practically possible. However, some contents would always have to be present, ensuring that all situations and questions that will often arise in a marriage are addressed sufficiently.** This will include e.g. matters of sex***, children****, dissolution*****, and penalties/reparations in various circumstances.

    *With the implications that (a) most or all of current marital law would be rendered irrelevant, (b) there might be means of dissolution, reparations, whatnot exceeding those specified in the contract (e.g. in the wake of a severe breach of contract).

    **To ensure this, there would likely be various forms of extensive contract templates provided by the government, specialist lawyers, religious organizations, or similar, which would mostly involve a series of choices between certain pre-defined alternatives—including choices on matters that are somewhat less likely to occur and are not legal prerequisites. (The more effort put in here, the better; cf. the excursion on expectations.) However, the parties would, obviously, be perfectly free to not use such a template.

    ***E.g. to what degree and under what circumstances either party has an obligation to have sex with the other, and whether the parties are promising monogamy.

    ****Notably, if, when, and how many are intended; who will be in charge of what; what major changes are agreed upon in the eventuality of a child (e.g. career changes, move from inner city to suburbia, …); whether to home-school; … (For natural reasons, such plans are quite likely to require adaptation over the time-spans involved, and it will likely often be preferable to state sets of mutually acceptable alternatives. Of course, as with any contract, a mutually agreed amendment is always possible.)

    *****If, when, and how; according to what principles assets are to be divided; whether an alimony will be paid (how much, to and by whom, for how long); ditto child support (but see below); issues of child custody; … It will make great sense to formulate this in abstract and general terms, e.g. not as “X will pay Y an amount of […]” but as a listing of conditional circumstances, depending e.g. on who earns more and by how much. For instance, a highly successful business owner should not promise a blanket five grand a month, and be left with a crippling payment when the dissolution was proceeded by the business’ going bankrupt. A better regulation would be e.g. the smaller of five grand and 20 % of the difference in respective after-tax income, going to the lesser earner (all measured in the respective post-dissolution month).

  4. The courts and the government would (except as restricted by ordinary contract law and general legal considerations) be bound to accept the regulations made in the contract. In particular, a court would absolutely, positively not be allowed to reject the “pre-nuptial” parts of the agreement by using subjective fairness criteria (e.g. based on “social justice” or that someone “has grown accustomed” to a certain standard of living, cf. excursion below); in the light of a sob-story (“I need to X—I can’t be expected to work”) ; or based on who needs what (“I have bills to pay, and earn too little”), except as per the following item.* In particular, in light of modern divorce rates, an abuse of alimony to avert costs (social security, unemployment benefits, whatnot) from the government is not acceptable (cf. an excursion on obligation to support). Courts would, however, have the right to make adjustments in light of reasoning applicable to any other contract.**

    *Note that these arguments and examples apply equally to both parties: We could have someone wanting to “ride the alimony pony”; we could have someone trying to shot it. What is agreed is as binding for the prospective recipient as for the prospective payer—just like with any other contract.

    **I can think of no good “pre-nuptial” example at the moment, but chances are that they exist.

  5. The restrictions on matters relating to third-parties, criminal acts, whatnot that are present in ordinary contract law would obviously apply. For instance, the contract could not oblige the government to continue paying pensions of a deceased party to a surviving party;* an agreement to circumcise a child would not be valid in a jurisdiction where this is illegal; in case of divorce, the rights of a child, as a non-party to the contract, might to some degree** trump the contractual agreements.

    *Which is not to say that “pension sharing” mechanisms are forbidden—just that the parties cannot one-sidedly impose their will upon third parties. Exactly how pensions should be handled is too big a question for this text, but possibilities might include a separate contract between the parties and the government, a legal right for several individuals to have a joint pension account with the government, a move of all pensions to private enterprises with a wider range of contractual agreements possible, … Note that e.g. such a joint pension account would not necessarily be limited to parties of a union, in keeping with the philosophy that there should be as little special treatment as possible. (Whether such accounts would regularly make sense in other situations, I leave unstated.) However, the government must not impose rules like those common today, where pensions are automatically shared under some set of circumstances and never under any other set. That would not only violate the principle of as little special treatment as possible, it would also threaten the general applicability of the system, and re-introduce some of the complications I deliberately try to remove.

    **The extremely far-going interventions that are common in e.g. the U.S. today are out. (Say that the court overrides who should “have the house” or decides on child-support, let alone alimony, in an arbitrary manner.) However, possible examples do include e.g. altering custody agreements in severe cases of parental unsuitability and granting additional child-support to ensure that the child’s/children’s standard of living reaches the existential minimum or some defined-by-legislation (not court!) “conscionable” minimum. (But I stress that only the living standard of the child(ren) is covered—not of the custodial parent. Moreover, that this will be academic in most cases, seeing that such intervention requires the four simultaneous conditions that custody is not sufficiently shared, that the custodial party is very low on money, that the non-custodial party actually can cover the difference, and that the contract did not already make sufficient provisions.)

  6. Such contracts may contain provisions regarding religious confirmation, e.g. that the contract becomes binding with the performance of a “church wedding” or another type of official blessing (rather than e.g. the act of signing). In such cases, the performing church* is, obviously, entitled to impose additional constraints and conditions for agreeing to give this confirmation. (Should these constrains and conditions be irreconcilable with the main contract, the parties must either modify the contract sufficiently to please the church or forego the confirmation.) This includes even strong** restrictions on divorce, bans on infidelity, bans on contraceptives, and similar; however, nothing that potentially violates the rights of third parties, notably the children of the marriage. The decision whether to marry e.g. homosexuals or more than two spouses rests solely with the church.***

    *Here and elsewhere used as a catch-all for the religious organization or entity involved, with no implied restriction to Christian churches.

    **How strong, I leave open for now. One possibility would be that the parties are considered married and must present themselves as such towards other parties, even in the event of a dissolution of the union. (Married, but separated.) Certainly, the church should have the right to refuse the blessing of any future union involving one of the old partners. A complete ban on dissolution would be fine on paper, but might prove incompatible with both the application of regular contract law and the realistically implementable.

    ***As it must: Those rejected have no legal disadvantage from any church restrictions, and they have no right to enforce their own religious views upon others. If worst comes to worst, there is always the chance that “church shopping” will find them someone more cooperative.

    Similarly, a contract might be complemented by a religious confirmation at a later date, with the same constraints applying.

    A religious ceremony without an associated contract would be fairly pointless, even frivolous, and is likely best considered a void act. However, there is no reason why a church would not be able to offer an own contract or contract template, to be signed in conjuncture with the ceremony, in order to create the same effect as one of today’s church weddings.* (However, I strongly recommend the parties to go through a more careful process of contract negotiation.)

    *With some reservations for jurisdiction. In e.g. today’s Germany, a church wedding has no legal/secular effect on its own, and requires a corresponding additional civil ceremony.

  7. In addition to the regular right to make mutually agreed upon alterations, some provisions for mandatory re-negotiation might be present to allow for adaptions due to changing circumstances over a prolonged time period. (If no corresponding law exists, it could pay to voluntarily include such provisions in the contract.)

    It might even make sense to divide the overall agreement into contractual stages, with a first basic contract defining the general frame-work and the matters currently needed, with only a rough sketch of future events, possibly in combination with a time-limit, while additional concerns are addressed in separate contracts as they arise.

    We could e.g. imagine that a couple sets up a contract for a “trial-union” for the following two years, with no mutual obligations in case of a break-up, a resolution not to have children, and a stated intention to either go separate ways or negotiate a more permanent contract, with provisions for children, at the end of the trial period. Half-way through the trial, they decide to pool their money to buy a car, the future of the car is put in yet another contract (or a contractual amendment), valid until the end of the trial period and with provisions for a break-up. Shortly before the end of the trial period, they decide to make matters permanent and draw up a full contract, superseding the previous two, for the indefinite future, regulating everything between themselves in reasonable detail, and make a very rough sketch concerning children. Another two years later, a pregnancy occurs, and further regulations for the future of the child are made.

    This procedure keeps most of the advantages of predictable expectations, and forces the parties to spend thinking time corresponding to the seriousness of their relationship; while reducing the risk of over-, under- or faulty specification based on poor assumptions (e.g. because of new information about the other party) and of unnecessary work (if they broke up after two years).

    (The treatment of this area is a little parenthetical, as I set out to find an alternative to marriage, and this was just an off-shot of the main idea. It is possible that this would turn out to be the main way to proceed; it could equally just be an overly bureaucratic way of co-habiting for two years.)

  8. These contracts and their parties would not be subject to the special treatments that often apply to today’s marriages. For instance, an obligation to cover the other party’s debt in case of bankruptcy would only exist if so stipulated in the contract, there would/must not be a need to e.g. make “married/single” choices in various forms, etc. In those few cases where there is some legitimacy to such concerns, other means need to be found (in the case of a loan, e.g., that any prior legal bankruptcy cover by the other party is replaced by an explicit co-signing).

    (While this should not, per se, be a problem, there could be considerable transitional issues due to various systems being to narrow-mindedly focused on the married–single (or e.g. married–single–co-habiting) division.)

  9. To avoid ambiguity and word-against-word situations, these contracts have to be in written form. Further, to guarantee the security of others, they have to be both notarized and semi-publicly* registered.

    *Exactly how, I leave open. The point is that anyone with a reasonable right to know, e.g. a prospective contract partner, can get sufficient information to avoid problems like involuntarily being part of a bigamy-like situation. (I am uncertain whether multiple parallel unions, with the consent of everyone involved, might be allowed. A single union of more than two people certainly is.) At the same time, privacy and other concerns could imply that the details of a contract are not made publicly available.

    As a consequence, if someone enters e.g. a co-habitation without a corresponding contract, no “marriage-like” rights will be granted—no non-voluntary support, no alimony, no “half of yours is mine”, … * In particular, this makes common-law marriages non-existent (in a legal sense); however, this should not be a problem, because the greater ability to shape the contract makes the leap implied by a union (potentially) far smaller, and the resistance that some might have against moving from a co-habitation to a marriage (resp. union) is reduced correspondingly. Indeed, in the new scheme, it is possible for a couple to choose “how married” they are, and increase their degree of commitment and mutual obligation when they feel that the time is right—a union is not the type of either–or deal that today’s marriage is.

    *However, some situations that already are problematic will remain so, e.g. if the parties disagree on who bought something and none has proof.

    (Yes, there will be additional costs involved compared to initiating a current wedding. These, however, will be dwarfed by the average savings due to smoother divorces.)

Excursion on expectations (and work needed):
This type of contract implies a lot more work and thought than is needed for a current marriage. However, this is part of the point of the system: The work and thought helps the parties to have a better idea of what to expect—and of what the other party expects. They have a greater chance to discover in advance whether they clash on important future issues, to willingly make compromises now rather than unwillingly later, etc. There will be no* issues of “I took it for granted that you would X, but you did not”, because the other party will either be aware that X is expected or will have made clear in advance that X is not likely to happen. See [1] for some discussion of related problems.

*On major points or points of such personal importance that one of the parties ensured a contractual regulation. There can, obviously, be no guarantee for every triviality that arises; however, trivialities are trivialities.

Indeed, I hope that this system would increase the proportion of unions that end up being for life, compared to today’s marriages, even though they seem more ephemeral on paper. (And the more work is put in, the greater the chance of success—and the more work necessary, the lesser the risk of a frivolous union.)

Obviously, this type of work is not a replacement for informal discussions during the earlier parts of the relationship (unless an arranged marriage, cf. [1])—it is a complement. However, as such a complement, it has the advantage of both keeping the result in writing and of forcing the parties to go through lists of issues they might not have thought of. (The aforementioned contract templates would, with years of experience, be sufficiently detailed as to include many eventualities not present in informal discussions.) To boot, it can force a discussion that would otherwise be ducked or turn the perspective of the discussion around. A good example is the stereotypical treatment of pre-nups in fiction: The rich man gives the broke woman a pre-nup, she freaks out over the fact that he can even contemplate the end of their relationship, and the pre-nup usually goes unsigned, because he does not want to upset her. (With some variations, e.g. the groom’s mother shoving it down the throat of the bride.) With contracts like the above, we have the reverse situation: Not only are the parties expected to discuss such issues (and know that they are expected to do so!), but the chairs are now turned: The party who is keen on ensuring a share of the others property or a large alimony payment, should the union end, is the one who has to insist on discussing the eventuality of the end. (And overblown demands give the other party a chance to reconsider in time whether to go through with the union. In today’s system, in contrast, overblown demands would only manifest when it is too late to reconsider.)

Excursion on romance:
True, all of this is terribly unromantic—but then a too strong focus on romance and too little on common sense is another problem with modern marriages. See [1] again.

Or so I thought at a very early stage of writing this text:

By now, giving it one last read through before publication, I am not certain that “this” (i.e. discussions/negotiations and whatnot) would be unromantic. Done the right way, at least parts of it could be made quite romantic, e.g. as a series of discussions of hopes, dreams, and plans over candle-lit dinners. It might conceivably even be a cause of nostalgia thirty years later (assuming that things work out).

I actually see a danger of the opposite problem—that various “industries” (notably, the wedding industry) will abuse the overall system to earn money through pumping the romance and whatnot factor, albeit mostly in other areas. Consider e.g. a union with a relatively low commitment: A perfect opportunity to lobby them for a second proposal, a bigger diamond, and a second “wedding” as a deeper commitment is made. Five years later: Why not throw in yet another proposal, an even bigger diamond, and a church wedding? (On the bright side, there is always a chance that the greater number of events will reduce their individual value to the point that no-one will bother.)

Excursion on existing marriages:
The question of how to handle existing marriages is tricky. Off the top of my head, the two main suggestions would be to either “grand-father”* them or to force the couples into corresponding contracts**.

*They remain unchanged and in the exact legal situation as earlier. (But with no possibility for a new union to reach the same status.) The two systems would then partially co-exist for a number of decades. Provisions should be provided for those who volunteeringly wish to convert their “old-type” marriage into a contractual union or (should a religious confirmation already be present) “new-type” marriage.

**With the state providing a “default contract” that is guaranteed to leave them in the same situation as before. This default contract might be voluntarily used or replaced by a contract of the parties’ choosing (within the above restrictions). Should the parties fail to reach an agreement within some time frame, the default contract would automatically become binding. Regrettably, there might still be need for a partial grand-fathering in order to cover e.g. pension issues.

Excursion on religion and marriage, the word “marriage”, etc.:
A fundamental observation is that marriage only has quasi-magical properties (going beyond e.g. a mere co-habitation or a mere contract) in a religious context. There might be legal differences between e.g. a marriage and a common-law marriage (in the current system); however, the corresponding laws have no “higher”, “moral”, whatnot weight—they are arbitrary. Similarly, under the suggested system, it makes no sense for two atheists to try to move from union to marriage, and it makes no sense to have a “civil” version of a marriage beyond the union.*

*Note that the new marriages would, outside “canon law”, have no legal effects beyond a union: The wedding is a religious (and/or religiously symbolic) act and the marriage has a religious nature. Its implications are religious, not legal. Similarly, there are no symbolic secular implications present than are not covered by a union with an appropriately formulated contract.

In a religious context, under the assumptions of the religion under discussion*, this is different; and a view of marriage as e.g. a “divine institution”, something having or requiring a divine blessing, or similar, moving marriage to an entirely different level, is perfectly possible. The suggested system respects this, “demuddles” the confusion caused by the perceived transfer of similar values to civil ceremonies, and differs clearly between the legal aspects of a union and the “divine” aspects of a marriage.

*Something which must be considered from the point of view of the respective religion, organization, believer, … That others might reject these premises is irrelevant. (I, for instance, belong to the atheists. As such, I am free to consider e.g. a church wedding a waste of time; I am not free to restrict the implications that, say, two Catholics and the Catholic Church draw from a Catholic church wedding, at least as long as no third-parties come to harm.)

At the same time, this prevents undue restrictions on non-believers and members of other churches/religions: The most important part of freedom of religion is the right to freedom from religion. For instance, if two homosexual men form a union, this is a business transaction—not a holy sacrament. Protesting against this business transaction on religious reasons would be entirely amiss. On the other hand, whether a given church is willing to raise the union to a marriage is up to it—as is whether it would recognize the corresponding act by another church.

Excursion on the states’ role:
One of the major advantages of this scheme is that it largely puts the state outside the equation: It is no longer in a position to make restrictions* on who is allowed to enter unions/marriages; nor is there a need for it to be. It can no longer control the rights and responsibilities of the parties in undue detail. Its ability to unduly interfere in private matters is reduced. Etc.

*However, note that the application of regular, non-marital, law will imply some amount of restrictions, including the inability to enter such a contract before reaching the age of majority.

Some countries, notably Germany, deliberately try to promote marriage through artificial incentives, e.g. potentially considerable tax breaks (at the cost of the rest of the population). Combining these with a more varying system, like the above, would be quite tricky. However, frankly, I do not give a fuck about this complication: I consider such incentives to be grossly unethical (towards those not benefiting), severely and unfairly discriminatory, and counter-productive to boot*—and I would positively welcome their removal! (However, there are likely other, legitimate, issues relating to taxation and similar that need to be addressed before an actual implementation. Exactly which will depend on the country in question.)

*I have a text in planning that will address this.

Excursion on what and how to regulate:
What and how to regulate will differ depending on whether we speak of what happens within the union or of what happens after or relating to its dissolution. In both cases, however, it is important to regulate in advance, to ensure that the parties know what they can expect and to increase the probability of regulations based on fair principles and symmetry.*

*As opposed to what is the more self-serving when an event actually takes place. For instance, it increases the chance that a regulation for alimony does not involve “Mr. Smith pays the former Mrs. Smith”, instead using e.g. the principle that the party with the higher income pays the party with the lower income. Even a highly selfish or self-centered Mrs. Smith might be agreeable to the latter at the beginning of a marriage (be it because Mr. Smith was the higher earner at the time or because she had no reason to be selfish at that stage), even though she might have a very strong preference for the former when the marriage did end and she was the higher earner.

In the former case, we have the advantage that the parties are usually still on speaking terms and willing to cooperate, implying that a mistake in regulation (e.g. something left out, or an area where preferences have changed) can usually find a retroactive and amicable resolution.

Here the aspect of regulation is secondary to the aspect of learning something about oneself, the other party, and the respective preferences in advance. A contractual regulation, per se, will mostly serve to avoid issues like memory lapses or someone changing positions, leaving the other party in the cold. For instance, assume that the first party promises the second that there will be children, that the second party agrees to a life-long commitment on this basis, and that the first party later reneges on this promise (either through a change of opinion or because the original promise was dishonest). Having a written commitment severely reduces the risk of dishonesty and gives the second party a means of legal enforcement* when it was a later change of opinion.

*However, since such enforcement would often, directly or indirectly, lead to the dissolution of the union, it might be more a matter of reparations than of actual compliance. Then again, even the knowledge that there is a risk of enforcement might make the first party sufficiently cooperative, implying that enforcement is not necessary—and make the first party be much more careful when negotiating the original contract!

Exactly what to regulate will depend on the people involved, but definitely should include everything major (see above for some examples). In the spirit of the principle, more detail is better, within what time and effort allows; however, this will still leave the vast majority of all minor issues open—this is not a a room-mate agreement by Sheldon Cooper*.

*Sheldon Cooper and his room-mate agreements show how not to do it. The general idea is partially overlapping and not necessarily a bad one; however, there are at least two crucial differences: Firstly, he uses them to more-or-less unilaterally force others to follow his rules, with no negotiation and no development of expectations. Secondly, they appear to be fraught with (for my purposes) undue detail, e.g. what exact room temperature to have. Both are quite contrary to the intentions outlined here.

In the latter case, we can no longer make positive assumptions and it is important that all regulations are sufficiently detailed that there will be no major room for negative surprises*, disagreement about interpretation, important eventualities left open, whatnot.** Notably, it is the duty of the parties to find a mutually acceptable regulation, without relying on laws for unregulated cases—where no regulation has taken place***, the laws should make no additional imposition compared to e.g. two platonic friends who shared an apartment for cost reasons.**** Fortunately, the greater need for detail is offset by a smaller amount of items that need regulation. Unlike above, calling for legal enforcement will not risk the (already lost) union, and enforcement is less fraught with danger.

*In terms of regulation. Negative surprises like one party going broke and needing support, instead of providing it, cannot be ruled out.

**But note that the intention is not to go into such detail that e.g. every single possession and asset to be divided is listed (although the more valuable ones probably should be, e.g. cars, houses, stock portfolios). The more important point is to have a sufficiently clear regulation of the principles for how the division should be made, that both parties, unless obtuse, will be able to deduce approximately the same division based on the principles, and that a court, should it be called upon, would also deduce approximately the same division.

***If this is at all possible, seeing that the law should insist on sufficient regulation of principle in the first place.

****With some reservations for special cases that are not at least theoretically applicable in both cases. However, I can think of none off the top of my head. Even children are something that could result accidentally between friends (of different sexes), e.g. because of a drunk night where the platonic aspect temporarily was out of effect. Correspondingly, the law might provide explicit default regulations for children, but it would do so with an eye at non-Unions.

Excursion on non-sexual, non-whatnot relationships:
While the above is written with an eye on replacing current marriages, much (barring religious confirmation, possibly all) of it could trivially be generalized to types of union or partnership without a sexual, romantic, whatnot component. Examples include the stereotypical two spinster sisters and temporary cohabitation by students.* Performing this generalization would be well beyond my purpose, but I have no objections should an implementation or future extension by someone else do so. (In the spirit of minimizing special treatment, it might even be recommendable.)

*I do not claim that it would actually be worth the trouble in such cases. However, the framework would allow it, e.g. in that the students stipulate only minimal mutual obligations, put “no” in the virtual check-boxes for sex, children, “alimony”, …, and include an automatic termination clause for those who move out.

Excursion on standard of living:
A patent absurdity of many current takes on alimony is that the standard of living during the marriage should be at least approximately preserved. This is problematic from both a pragmatical point of view and from a fairness point of view.

Pragmatically, it is considerably more expensive to have a certain standard of living when single than when part of a couple. (And in the case of the ostentatious or fiscally irresponsible, it might be entirely unrealistic.) For instance, having two houses or two apartments usually costs far more than having one house or one apartment (even should the two be smaller in size). The couple might have gotten by with one car; the singles might need one each. Buying and cooking once for two is cheaper than doing the same twice for one—and the extra effort per head might make it more sensible to buy more pre-cooked food, driving up the monetary cost further while lowering the quality. Staying in a hotel during a vacation will cost almost as much for one person as it does for two sharing a room. Etc. In effect, if the first party is to provide sufficiently for the second to ensure (still usually) her standard of living, it will imply compromises for (still usually) him, e.g. in that his own standard drops, that he needs more income, that he is unable to put aside the intended amount of money for his old age, whatnot.

Fairnesswise, it will often* be the case that the supported party sees a disproportionate or undeserved gain compared to a scenario where the marriage did not take place. Consider** e.g. a multi-millionaire marrying a woman with few prospects but a lot of beauty, moving her from a poorly maintained one-room apartment to a six-bedroom house with a pool and two garages, turning her from a receptionist to a leisurely lady with a house-keeper: If the marriage falls apart within, say, five years, would it not be fairer for her to be thankful for those five years of luxury and go back to her old life without complaint? (Possibly with some upgrade, but with no luxury and with the need to go back to work.) What has she actually done to deserve a continuation of a similar level of luxury?

*Among those cases where “standard of living” is an argument that will have a major impact on alimony. Browsing some pages on U.S. alimony, a generic “[maintain old] standard of living” criterion is not unusual, but in most cases e.g. a “[maintain a reasonable] standard of living” criterion would lead to the same result—if in doubt because the old standard was “ordinary” and the respective earning powers of the parties are not worlds apart. (In contrast to the above.) This version is considerably less unreasonable, less likely to be abused, and not necessarily something that I would have a problem with.

**I do not claim that all current jurisdictions and judges would grant alimony in the given example. The point is rather to demonstrate unfairness on a very clear-cut example, and thereby illustrate weaknesses of the “standard of living” argument.

Excursion on obligation to support:
A proposed* natural or moral obligation for the one spouse (of a regular marriage) to support the other post-divorce hinges on the premise that the marriage was supposed to last for ever, that both parties were set on this, that both parties were willing to endure “sickness”, “bad times”, and whatnot without wavering from the marriage. In light of today’s divorce rates, the general acceptance of “no fault” divorces, etc., this premise obviously no longer holds.** A divorce is no longer a rare event caused by gross misbehavior of one of the spouses—it is a perfectly normal and common end to a marriage. To boot, the termination of the marriage is most often called for by the woman, who still is the party more likely to receive support, making a mockery of any such obligation.

*The ethics of rights and obligations is a tough area, and I do not necessarily consider this obligation a “natural law” even when the discussed premise is fulfilled. (Neither do I necessarily reject it.) The same applies to child-support below. However, I do consider the premise, or on the outside some variation of this premise, a sine qua non for an ex-spousal obligation.

**Note that a reasoning like “others might not have been this dedicated, but we were; ergo, the premise holds for us!” fails on the fact that a divorce is taking (or has taken) place: The divorce, it self, makes a lack of dedication the prima-facie assumption, even in light of assurances otherwise. (Even assuming that the general societal situation is not sufficient.) Also note that it is not enough to be dedicated or whatnot at the beginning of a marriage—the dedication must have been present through-out, until something utterly intolerable happened; moreover, the party requesting support would have to prove a considerable and realistic expectation of this dedication from the other party, which would be next to impossible in light of current divorce rates. Factoring in the risk of an exaggerated portrayal of dedication for personal gain, and the manifestly low typical dedication, an assumption that the premise holds would, if at all conceivable, have to be reserved for truly exceptional cases. (However, in the suggested system it would never be needed, if the parties have done their due diligence.)

This implies that it is equally unconscionable to force* the one former spouse to take care of the other and to abuse various forms of spousal support to remove costs from the government. Even now, hardships for the one former spouse should be covered by the government** (and/or any existing private insurances)—not by the other former spouse. They have paid taxes, they have paid unemployment insurance, they have paid whatnot***—they have the same right to protection and support from the government as anyone else! This is clearly reflected in the above system. The common current approach is a mere legal dictate for the self-serving benefit of the government. (Notwithstanding that this might have been different in the past.)

*To be contrasted with voluntary contributions, including those regulated in the contract. (Here, again, it is the responsibility of the parties to find a mutually agreeable solution in advance.)

**Assuming that we live in a society where the government handles such issues in other cases, as is in most or all of the Western world. Note that I do not necessarily consider this general approach a good idea: The point is that a government that does normally provide such support must not discriminate arbitrarily or for its own gain, and it must not collect money from someone to cover certain services and whatnots and then refuse to perform when performance would normally be expected.

***The situation differs from country to country. In the complex German system, e.g., unmentioned posts typically include health insurance, “care” insurance (“Pflegeversicherung”), pension fees, Solidaritätszuschlag (a backdoor increase of the income tax), and Church tax—and that is just on the salary. There is also VAT, property taxes, inheritance taxes, vehicle taxes, energy taxes, … (To which might further be added taxes nominally paid by e.g. businesses that ultimately fall back onto the citizens through higher prices or other disadvantages.)

As an aside, this is another point* where child-support is different—a proposed natural obligation to take care of one’s children does not stumble on this premise. More: While spouses marry voluntarily, children are put into this world by their parents, making the obligation that much stronger.

*In addition to children not being parties to the contract.

Excursion on union as a legal person:
It might be a good idea to make the union a legal person in its own right, to make interactions with third parties easier, to handle tax issues, and similar. The idea is interesting, but I have not thought deeply enough on the issue to recommend it outright. It could e.g. turn out to be far too bureaucratic.

Excursion on potential abuse:
I briefly contemplated whether this system could fail through an increased risk of abuse, e.g. in that one party makes unreasonable promises while being infatuated or that the other pushes such through with the threat of not consenting to the union.

However, I do not see the risk as that large. For one thing, contract templates would be unlikely to contain the ability to make too poor choices; while a from-scratch contract reasonably should involve at least one lawyer (better: one lawyer per party). For another, a major point of the scheme is that people really take the time to think things through*, and the appearance of unreasonable demands before a union is better than during a marriage.

*Which, obviously, will also often involve discussions with good friends and parents, who are likely to see things more clearly.

Should people still manage to be unreasonable, well, it is their lives, and if we were to try to nanny them in this area, we would have to nanny them elsewhere too, seeing that the ability to enter idiotic contracts is already present—including relating to marriages.

In addition, most legal systems have some degree of protection against unconscionable agreements or similar that might apply in a given case.*

*However, e.g. duress or perceived extortion would hardly ever apply. For instance, “if you do no agree to this, I will not marry you” is, alone, not worthy of being duress—indeed, considering it such would make the contract too unreliable and positively invite deliberate abuse. Even a factor like the prospective bride being pregnant cannot normally be seen as a cause for duress in today’s Western world and its usually great tolerance of extra-marital children. (In contrast, a literal knife to the throat qualifies.) To boot, we have to consider issues of evidence, and most attempts to show duress would end up in a word-against-word situation.

Another possible issue could be a circumvention of laws against prostitution through a strongly time-limited union (as is apparently done today in some Islamic areas). Even discounting the fact that I am strongly opposed to such laws, I doubt that this means of circumvention would be practical (note e.g. the need for a notary and the potentially embarrassing semi-public registration per an above item). To boot, measures that give the impression of having one effect, while obviously intending another, are often measured legally by the intended effect; and a contract that e.g. stipulates a union of thirty minutes, with sexual consummation, and a one-time “divorce settlement” in cash, will have a fairly obvious interpretation. If worst comes to worst, a law deeming the union frivolous and void when of too short a duration might be conceivable, as might one that a union only goes into effect with some time delay.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 25, 2018 at 2:44 pm

Hate speech III: Analysis of alleged Tea-Party examples

with 2 comments

Preamble: This is the third (and likely concluding) part in a series. For an understanding of the motivations, rough criteria, terminology, general take on the topic, etc., please read the first part (and, optionally, the second part).


  • The examples are taken from http://samuel-warde.com/2012/07/tea-party-hate-speech-10-shocking-examples/, original title “10 Shocking Examples Of Tea Party Hate-Speech”.
  • The numbering is preserved from the original. Some amount of change might have been made to formatting and typography. The contents themselves have been copy-and-pasted, and (barring accidental over-correction with the spell-checker) all language problems, bracketed comments, and whatnots were already present.
  • The quotes are given by an opponent and have often traveled over several instances, both of which imply that they might have been distorted before they arrived here. Below, I will silently take the quotes as correct, but I extend the warning that this is not necessarily the case.
  • There is minimal or no context, which makes the exact interpretation tricky. While I do repeatedly address context below, I am unlikely to have done so consistently at all points where it is needed, and the reader is encouraged to keep this problem in mind. (Note that the same sentence, even individual words, can have very different interpretations depending on context. Consider “One more step and you are dead!” said by a robber to a victim, by an explosives expert to someone standing in a minefield, and by one child to another.)
  • Through a copy-and-paste action into a text file, I overlooked that the HTML original contained a number of links to other sources (unlike the examples given in the second part). Unfortunately, I only discovered this when I had already prepared what I considered the to-be-published version of this text. Of these links, only six worked (link rot?). I have reviewed these six and added a corresponding addendum to the respective item below. (Not much changes.)

1. Tea Party leader Mark Williams mocks the NAACP.

“We Colored People have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People, and we demand that it stop…

The tea party position to “end the bailouts” for example is just silly. Bailouts are just big money welfare, and isn’t that what we want all Coloreds to strive for? What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare? What they need to do is start handing the bailouts directly to us coloreds…

Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government “stop raising our taxes.” That is outrageous! How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?…

Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.”

Mocking the NAACP is hardly hate speech. The quote is an example of (admittedly crude) satire; not of hate speech. I would agree that this type of satire, especially the putting of words into the mouths of others, is inappropriate, childish, and better avoided, but that is about it—and putting words into the mouths of others is by no means a rare method in the PC and Leftist movements… Indeed, as will be seen, the collector of these examples does so again and again himself.

We might discuss to what degree the mockery does or does not reflect reality (after correcting for exaggeration). I do not feel well-informed enough to judge this, but my own impression of the modern NAACP is at best mixed, and much of the implied criticism does apply to at least some parts of the modern Black movements (whether specifically to the NAACP, I leave unstated). This includes a “complaint mentality” and a “someone else is to blame mentality”.

If the text had been mocking “We Colored People” directly, a stronger case could have been made—but the hostile collector, who knows more about the context, and who would have gained from switching to a more general target, still claims that it is aimed only at the NAACP.

The one iffy point is “Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.”, especially the second half. Indeed, in the context of colored people in general, this could have been taken as a statement supporting slavery or racism; in the context of the NAACP, however, it merely is a case of taking satire too far.

Overall, not hate and not worthy of censorship. If it is worthy of condemnation then for being unfair argumentation—not for being hate speech.

2. Preceding President Obama’s speech before a group of leading Democrats, Tea Party protesters heckled members of Congress, subjecting them to racist and hate filled epithets as well as physical abuse.

“A staffer for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) had been spat on by a protestor. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a ‘ni-er.’ And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a “faggot,” as protestors shouted at him with deliberately lisp-y screams.”

This is certainly not hate speech. It is worthy of condemnation, and the spitting, if it actually hit, might conceivably even be a legitimate cause for involvement of the law. However, we cannot just take any evil deed and refer to it as “hate speech”. The worst part, the spitting, is not speech at all, of any kind; and even the shouting of slurs are barely speech to begin with. It would be unreasonable to extend the definition of hate speech to include such; and if it were included, it would make any discussion of hate speech seriously muddled.

This even assuming that the events are given with sufficient truthfulness, considering that there are several steps of hearsay involved, at least one involving someone partial (the “staffer”). Credibility is lost by obvious speculation (“deliberately lisp-y screams”).*

*Note to non-U.S. readers: There appears to be a U.S. stereotype of a “gay lisp”, which I, frankly, had never heard of myself until a few weeks ago.

The introduction by the collector is at best misleading*: It speaks of “racist and hate filled epithets” and “physical abuse”—the core description cites two instances of slurs and one instance of spitting… The “hate filled” part is, obviously, further speculation.

*Considering that this repeats again and again, I have to assume that it is deliberate.

I note that this type of behavior is otherwise common among the Left, the PC crowd, and whatnot—and is then often lauded as e.g. showing civil courage… (Cf. e.g. various U.S. events on college campuses, or Swedish events around the much attacked SD party.) It appears to be less fun when the tables are turned…

Addendum based on https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/20/tea-party-protests-nier-f_n_507116.html:

There is no additional information truly significant for this analysis. There are additional statements made, but these speak in generalities, without specific examples.

It appears that “The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges.”.

3. Michelle Bachmann signs pledge that says that black children were better off during slavery.

“Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”

The quote given has no aspect of hate or otherwise inappropriate speech—it merely points to one thing that a child in slavery might have had that a modern might not. (As a divorce child, I can personal vouch for the negatives involved even for a child who is White and leaving in Sweden, with its extensive social-security protections.)

Moreover, in my best interpretation (in the lack of context), the intent is to criticize modern U.S. society and how it has failed these children. Slavery appears to be introduced as a means of contrast because it was bad—not as something that should be rehabilitated.

The introduction is grossly misleading and intellectually dishonest, likely implying the reverse of what Bachmann actually intended. The claim “signs pledge” is particularly atrocious (unless some type of pledge actually was signed). This is far worse than the NAACP mockery above: That was obviously an at least hyperbolic and exaggerated version of what the NAACP might have claimed and done. Here, in contrast, the claim is obviously intended to be taken entirely at face value.

4. Sharron Angle calls for “2nd Amendment Remedies” telling the Reno Gazette-Journal that people are quietly stockingup on ammunition in case they need to resort to insurrection or “fight for liberty” as she put it.

“Angle: I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This not for someone who’s in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical… Manders: If we needed it at any time in history, it might be right now. Angle: Well it’s to defend ourselves. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.”

Again not a sliver of hate or otherwise condemnation-worthy speech. To boot, the interpretation of the Second Amendment, which could have been a weakness, matches my own impression of standard interpretation. (In other countries, the situation might have been very different, but not in the U.S.) I note the explicit expression of hope that “Second Amendment remedies” will not be necessary.

Again the introduction is highly misleading: Nothing in the quote implies that Angle calls for action—she merely justifies the action she and others might have taken or prepared to take. I repeat the observation that she hopes that action will not be needed—which is close to the opposite of calling for such action.

5. Tea Party hate speech runs amok in Wisconsin over their senatorial recall elections.

“I will tell you ladies and gentlemen, I detest and despise everything the left stands for. How anybody can endorse and embrace an ideology that has killed a billion people in the last century is beyond me,” said Tea Party Nation CEO Judson Phillips.

The quote largely expresses a personal political opinion and does not go beyond anything countless Democrats have said about the Republicans or the Tea Party. There might be hate, but if he actually had hated, chances are that he would have said “I hate” rather than “I detest”.

There are some potentially problematic aspects, largely hinging on exactly what he means by “left”, including whether “everything the left stands for” can be seen as narrow-minded (likely, if the U.S. Democrats are given consideration; but need not be the case, if he has his eyes set on more extreme parts of the left), and whether ascribing the killing of a billion* people to a single ideology is justifiable (depending e.g. on whether the U.S. Democrats are included and put on a level with Soviet Communists**). Here more context would be needed. However, even with a worst-case assumption, there is nothing that would justify actions like censorship. I note that there is no hint of e.g. a call to action to harm members of the Left, to limit them in their rights, whatnot.***

*This number seems exaggerated and its use could be another point of criticism, depending on why this number was used: Was it a deliberate lie to mislead the audience? (Very bad.) Was it just a hyperbolic expression, possibly in the heat of the moment, based on the at least tens of millions that have been killed by various Communist and Socialist dictatorships? (Poor style.) Does he have some type of reasonable calculation that does indicate this number to be true, e.g after including premature deaths by factors like hunger or a weak health-care system? (Possibly OK.)

**I note that the Left rarely hesitates when it comes to associating various opponents with far extremer opponents, e.g. those calling for reduced immigration with Nazis. Even if he were grouping e.g. U.S. Democrats and Soviet Communists together, he would not have been the one to start the abuse. (Which is not to defend it—just to point out that many accusations are more appropriate when raised at parts of the Left than when raised by them.)

***All things that the members of the Left have often suggested regarding their opponents.

Again, the introduction is highly misleading: Even if we were to consider this hate speech, there is nothing that can be considered running amok, even in a highly metaphorical sense.

Addendum based on https://www.politico.com/blogs/david-catanese/2011/08/tea-party-nation-the-lefts-killed-a-billion-people-038167:

There is no real additional information concerning the above, especially no actual discussion of “billion”.

There are some other claims made of (out of context) statements by Tea-Party supporters, but none that would qualify for e.g. censorship.

6. U.S. Rep. Steve King attacks Obama because of his middle name, Hussein.

“…his middle name (Hussein) does matter,” King said. “It matters because they read a meaning into that in the rest of the world. That has a special meaning to them. They will be dancing in the streets because of his middle name. They will be dancing in the streets because of who his father was and because of his posture that says: Pull out of the Middle East and pull out of this conflict.”

Not a shred of hate, not of obvious factual error (barring hyperbole and metaphor), nothing to condemn.

Again, the introduction is misleading: King has in no way attacked Obama with this statement.

Addendum based on http://www.spencerdailyreporter.com/story/1316727.html:

This is a fairly lengthy article, and I have only skimmed most of it. The parts surrounding the above quote (read in more detail), however, appear to conform my thoughts: King does not object to (let alone “attack”) Obama, per se, but is concerned with the impression of his possible* election on the rest of the world—in particular, the Islam world. We might see some of his concerns as exaggerated (“[Islamists] will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror.”); however, being wrong is not a crime.

*The article is dated “Saturday, March 8, 2008”.

7. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas, member of the Tea Party Caucus), is a birther who equated homosexuality with all kinds of insane behavior — too horrible to write here — during a debate on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Followed by not one shred of evidence. Some type of video appears to be linked, but does not play. Recall the repeated exaggerated introductions of those items where a text is actually given.

The claim “too horrible to write here” is a particularly weak excuse: By giving the video (had it worked) his words would still be included in the page, except that the reader now has a ton of extra effort to get to the point… To boot, a sensitive reader would likely be better of reading a claim that hearing it.

I note that exactly this type of attack, where a strongly negative claim is made and left without proof, is a very severe problem with accusations of hate speech.

Addendum based on https://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/debating-hate-crimes-gohmert-rambles-on-about-bestiality-sex-with-corpses-voting-for-a-black-man:

The contents are confusing and incoherent. The text is obviously partial (as is seen by e.g. “rambles on”, in lieu of a more neutral formulation).

My best estimate of events is that Gohmert spoke against a ` “wide open” definition of sexual orientation’ (possibly as a reaction against homosexuality) by pointing to e.g. “bestiality” as something that must (also) be considered acceptable if a laissez-faire attitude was taken. This, in and by it self, is not worthy of criticism. It does, in particular and unlike implied by the collector, not necessarily put those who engage in homosexual acts and acts of bestiality, respectively, on the same level. Generally, trying to find fault with something by pointing to extremes that could be justified by the same type of reasoning is a perfectly valid method.

It also points to a recurring actual problem of arbitrariness of sex vs. sexcrime: Not long ago homosexuality was widely considered a gross perversion and/or outlawed even in the Western world (elsewhere this is still the case). Some countries have bans on bestiality; others do not. Some have bans on prostitution; others do not. Some historical societies (including some ancient Greek) have allowed pederasty or other cases of child–adult sex. Some Churches ban masturbation or extra-marital sex; others do not. Etc.

Now, I do believe that homosexuality should be perfectly legal; however, we have two basic alternatives: Either we do not draw a line anywhere (except for requiring consent) or we must make an ultimately arbitrary choice of where to draw that line. Who is to say that homosexuality should be legal and bestiality* not? If in doubt, it will boil down to a matter of numbers… We certainly cannot argue e.g. that “bestiality is obviously revolting”, because many will say the same thing about homosexuality, and then homosexuality is forbidden again…

*Considering that there are plenty of instances of dogs being the sexual pursuers towards humans, the need for consent cannot be used to rule out bestiality in a blanket manner.

I note that there was nothing in that article that was “too horrible to write here”.

8. Sarah Palin’s PAC puts gun sights on Democrats.

“This is just the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington. Please go to sarahpac.com and join me in the fight.”


This is not only a claim free from anything that can be criticized as e.g. hate speech—it is positively tame by the standards of U.S. election campaigns! (Or is the collector stupid enough to believe that Palin actually implied aggressive use of real guns?!?)

Again, the introduction is misleading. Whether just a little or enormously so depends on whether “gun sights” is intended to be understood metaphorically or literally. If metaphorically, there is not even an unfair accusation of Palin that is worthy of inclusion; if literally, the entire page is discredited—either the collector is deeply, deeply stupid or horrifyingly intellectually dishonest.

Addendum based on https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/24/sarah-palins-pac-puts-gun_n_511433.html:

Apparently, “Palin’s Facebook page now carries a map featuring 20 gun sights, one for each of the Democrats targeted this year by her political action committee SarahPAC.”, which makes the claims by the collector potentially less insane: If these gun sights were overlaid on a portrait of the respective target, I could see how this might cause offense. However, this is not stated, and the use of “map” could imply that the gun sights were aimed at the respective state. (If so, nothing changes.)

However, even if portraits were used, this is on the outside tasteless; and unless someone interpreted this as a wish to literally shot political opponents, claims of e.g. “hate speech” are overblown. (Even discounting the question whether this can count as “speech” to begin with.)

To boot, if these gun sights were the concern of the collector, why did he not quote the sentence about the Facebook page?!?!

9. At the state level, we have Alabama state senator Scott Beason referring to blacks as “aborigines,” while wearing a wire. Its recording was later played at a bingo-related trial in Montgomery.

I am surprised Beason was so carelessly dense as to allow himself to make disparaging remarks about blacks while he was wearing the undercover wire he so wanted to wear.

And it wasn’t just Beason making the comments. A group of Republicans were sitting around, making jokes about the customers and employees of gambling establishments. At one point, state Rep. Ben Lewis of Dothan said the people at Greenetrack are “y’all’s Indians.”

Beason responded: “They’re aborigines, but they’re not Indians.”

In another incident, after opening a speech by saying that “illegal immigration will destroy a community” he closed it by advising his listeners to “empty the clip, and do what has to be done”.

There is too much speculation, with no reasonable support in actual quotes, and too little context for a certain interpretation; however, going by the text it self, the most likely interpretation is that Lewis said something about a group of “native Americans” (not Blacks!) using the older word “Indian”, and Beason corrected him by, correctly-but-unusually, saying that they were “aborigines”. This interpretation is strengthened by Greenetrack appearing to be some form of casino, and casinos often being a matter for “Indian reservations”. If so, there is nothing remarkable at all in the words used. (Except for “aborigine”, while perfectly correct, being an unusual word in the U.S.)

Even had they, however, been talking about Black people, this would merely have amounted to ignorance of terminology, which might be a reason to doubt competence levels—but not to ascribe e.g. hate speech.

The later claim that “illegal immigration will destroy a community”, points to a real potential problem with (large scale) illegal immigration. Had the claim been “could” instead of “will”, there would have been no reason to object; even the “will” falls within the realm of typical-for-a-politician exaggerations and over-generalizations, that are just as, or even more, common on the Left.

The one point that could be problematic is the concluding “empty the clip, and do what has to be done”. However, here the full context would be needed for interpretation, including whether he was metaphorical or literal, spoke of a legal or an illegal act, spoke of a gun clip (potentially: shot them down) or a money clip (potentially: give me money to build a wall), …

(This is an excellent example of why it is so important to have a reasonably large context—especially with people like the collector of this alleged “hate”, who seems very keen on distorting the actual events/statements/whatnot to unfairly attack or discredit his opponents.)

I stress that there is a major difference between legal and illegal immigration, as well as between the respective resistance to them.

Addendum based on http://blog.al.com/jkennedy/2011/06/joey_kennedy_scott_beason_hurt.html:

This is an amateur blog post, apparently with no journalistic or other aspirations. The contents have little more than what is given above, which appears to have been a direct quote. There is no new information, but plenty of derisive and insulting statements. The one interesting take-away is that the above language and likely errors of interpretation belong that blog post—not the collector.

10. Hate Filled Racist & Anti Semitic Signs

Again followed by nothing, except a non-playing video….

I note, however, that certain groups love to use phrases like “hate filled” that amount to speculation about the inner state of other people, and that can usually neither be proved or disproved… To boot they are, in this case, misapplied grammatically—a sign, unlike its maker or carrier, cannot be filled with hate (be racist, be Anti-Semitic, whatnot).

Summary: In all, there is just one example (item 2) that actually comes across as so bad as to warrant intervention—and that example is still not hate speech. Most of the rest are nonsense or rely on additional, unproved and often unstated, assumptions, to even be relevant. This in a text that promises “10 Shocking Examples Of Tea Party Hate-Speech”…

If these examples are taken as a basis, hate speech is not much of an issue. Certainly, the common claim that the “Right” would be the source of most hate speech would fall flat on its back, because the Left and the PC crowd (feminists in particular) do worse quite often.*

*Unfortunately, I have probably never treated this topic in detail, usually being more interested in faulty or intellectually dishonest argumentation and censorship. However, [5] provides an example of feminist “debating” where I was involved myself—as might some similar or related texts. At least two texts briefly mention death wishes towards opponents: [6], [7]. Some texts, including [8], discuss other problems, including physical misbehavior, that the collector might have (mis-)defined as hate speech.

I also note that the page contains the claim “Yet, if one takes a look at some of their statements over the years – one is reminded of the admonition to beware of pointing a finger at someone because 4 are pointing back at yourself.”, to which I feel forced to answer: One should sometimes take one’s own advice.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2018 at 12:40 pm

Hate speech II: Analysis of alleged Israeli examples

with 3 comments

Preamble: This is the second part in a series. For an understanding of the motivations, rough criteria, terminology, general take on the topic, etc., please read the first part.


  • The examples are taken from http://realnews247.com/examples_of_hate_speech.htm, original title “EXAMPLES OF HATE SPEECH”.
  • The numbering is preserved from the original. Some amount of change might have been made to formatting and typography. The contents themselves have been copy-and-pasted, and (barring accidental over-correction with the spell-checker) all language problems, bracketed comments, and whatnots were already present.
  • The quotes are given by an opponent and have often traveled over several instances, both of which imply that they might have been distorted before they arrived here. Below, I will silently take the quotes as correct, but I extend the warning that this is not necessarily the case.
  • There is minimal or no context, which makes the exact interpretation tricky. While I do repeatedly address context below, I am unlikely to have done so consistently at all points where it is needed, and the reader is encouraged to keep this problem in mind. (Note that the same sentence, even individual words, can have very different interpretations depending on context. Consider “One more step and you are dead!” said by a robber to a victim, by an explosives expert to someone standing in a minefield, and by one child to another.)
  • Many of these examples likely originated in Hebrew (or another non-English language). Throughout, it is important to keep in mind that the translation into English might have changed something for the worse. Similarly, there might be issues of idiom that give a false impression, which is also to keep in mind. (Consider e.g. several animal comparisons below, which might or might not give a different impression to a Jew or someone from Israel. By analogy, the English (and Biblical) expression “pearls before swine” indicates, usually derogatorily, an inability to appreciate something—but it does not otherwise compare someone to a swine.)

1. “There is a huge gap between us (Jews) and our enemies -not just in ability but in morality, culture, sanctity of life, and conscience. They are our neighbors here, but it seems as if at a distance of a few hundred meters away, there are people who do not belong to our continent, to our world, but actually belong to a different galaxy.” Israeli president Moshe Katsav. The Jerusalem Post, May 10, 2001

There is no sign of hate.* Assuming factual correctness, there is nothing worthy of disapproval (short of diplomacy).

*See an excursion on hate in the first part for why I do not discuss e.g. contempt, which seems quite likely to be present in this case. (However, even claiming contempt amounts to speculation.)

The factual correctness, in turn, could very well be acceptable, e.g. when looking at some neighboring Arab countries. Certainly, groups like Hamas have done nothing to remove credibility from the claim. (Reservations have to be made for exactly who is included in “our enemies”, however.) That there is a considerable difference in many aspects of morality, culture, etc. is hard to dispute. There is room to dispute which version is the better, but the quote does not make any explicit claim in this regard— and I suspect that an overwhelming majority of the Western population would prefer the Jewish versions.

Ability is a more controversial topic. However, absent more detailed information about what the speaker means by “ability”, it is hard to fault the claim: There are a number of meanings and interpretations in which a huge gap in ability is (or is very likely to be) present, as can be seen e.g. by the respective number of outstanding scientists, average I.Q., economic progress, success at warfare, and similar. (There is still room to discuss why there is a difference in ability and, e.g., whether it will disappear over time. However, the quote does not make any claim in this area and cannot be faulted.)

The statements are potentially vulnerable to an accusation of over-generalization. However, since the quote speaks of groups and not individuals, this is not very dire; and even statements normally considered harmless can fall short of the ideal in this regard, and do not necessarily reflect the level of insight or the intended message of the speaker. (For most of the remainder, I will not explicitly go into this sub-topic, leaving a corresponding reservation implicit.)

(Unfortunately, I suspect that some irrational readers will go through something approximating “he claims that there are differences between groups of people; ergo, he is a racist; ergo, he is wrong, evil, and should be banned from speaking”.)

2. “The Palestinians are like crocodiles, the more you give them meat, they want more”…. Ehud Barak, Prime Minister of Israel at the time – August 28, 2000. Reported in the Jerusalem Post August 30, 2000

If by “Palestinians” e.g. some organization or official counter-part is intended (Hamas, PLO, …), and if the analogy with crocodiles refers specifically to the meat as a metaphor for a hunger for Israeli compromises and retreats, then the claim could be entirely beyond reproach.

If not, it could conceivably have a hate component and it could conceivably be unfair; however, nowhere near to such a degree that e.g. censorship is warranted.

3. ” [The Palestinians are] beasts walking on two legs.” Menahim Begin, speech to the Knesset, quoted in Amnon Kapeliouk, “Begin and the Beasts”. New Statesman, 25 June 1982.

Likely a genuine case of speech worthy of disapproval, but not to the point of allowing censorship. Hate is not obvious.

Even here, however, reservations have to be made, especially if this is a translation. For instance, within the English language, the claim “humans [in general] are beasts walking on two legs” could be a mere biological or philosophical observation.

4. “The Palestinians” would be crushed like grasshoppers … heads smashed against the boulders and walls.” ” Isreali Prime Minister (at the time) in a speech to Jewish settlers New York Times April 1, 1988

Unfortunately, this quote lacks too much context to be interpretable; however, it sounds more like a statement of own strength or a re-assurance for someone who fears a Palestinian attack—should the Palestinians attack, they would be crushed, etc. In this case, it is hard to see something that is even remotely hateful, worthy of censorship, or similar.

5. “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.” Raphael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, New York Times, 14 April 1983.

Apart from an undiplomatic formulation, the claim it self is harmless. The gist appears to be that once settlement has taken place, the Arabs would be helpless to change the situation, which might quite possibly have been true or believed to be true by the speaker. More worthy of discussion would be whether the mentioned settlements* were justifiable, however, that has no effect on the evaluation of the quote.

*If the type of settlement outside of Israel proper is meant, which causes so much controversy today, the answer could conceivably be “no”.

Note that the Arabs are not claimed to be cockroaches, or generally likened to them; what takes place is a comparison of situation and ability to act in that situation.

6. “How can we return the occupied territories? There is nobody to return them to.” Golda Meir, March 8, 1969.

I have doubts as to whether this claim is factually true; however, there is nothing that could reasonably be considered e.g. hateful or worthy of disapproval in it. (And my doubts could be faulty: Golda Meir would have been in a far better position to judge the matter than I am.)

7. “There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed.” Golda Maier Israeli Prime Minister June 15, 1969

The word “Palestinian” has a confused history and has historically even been used to refer to Jews. The modern meaning appears to have been introduced (unilaterally by the PLO) through the Palestinian National Charter as late as 1968. The quote is dated in 1969, which implies both that the quote can be seen as (at the time) correct and that there might have been very strong legitimate controversy around the term “Palestinian”.

Apart from factual correctness there is nothing that can reasonably be attacked.

8. “The thesis that the danger of genocide was hanging over us in June 1967 and that Israel was fighting for its physical existence is only bluff, which was born and developed after the war.” Israeli General Matityahu Peled, Ha’aretz, 19 March 1972.

Not only is this statement perfectly harmless (unless untrue)—it actually puts Israel in a negative light, implying e.g. that it had engaged in historical revisionism.

9. David Ben Gurion (the first Israeli Prime Minister): “If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti – Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault ? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?” Quoted by Nahum Goldmann in Le Paraddoxe Juif (The Jewish Paradox), pp121.

Again, nothing that could be even remotely considered hate or worthy of condemnation. On the contrary, it shows and asks for understanding for the Arab position!

9a. Ben Gurion also warned in 1948 : “We must do everything to insure they ( the Palestinians) never do return.” Assuring his fellow Zionists that Palestinians will never come back to their homes. “The old will die and the young will forget.”

The underlying policy of preventing return might* be criticized; however, the statement it self appears harmless and cannot be hate speech. The part “The old will die”, notably, is merely a statement of consequence of the policy: The older people, who would be more interested than the younger in returning to their homes, will eventually die (naturally, of old age, whatnot), and will then cease to be a source of protest. There is no implication that they e.g. should be lined up and shot.

*In the heated situation, such measures might have been a (real or perceived) political necessity. More information would be needed to judge this.

10. “We have to kill all the Palestinians unless they are resigned to live here as slaves.” Chairman Heilbrun of the Committee for the Re-election of General Shlomo Lahat, the mayor of Tel Aviv, October 1983.

Finally, something that not only truly is worthy of condemnation, but which might* even be worthy of legal restrictions. Even here, however, a hate component is speculative—a willingness or even wish to kill someone is not necessarily rooted in hate; ditto other evil deeds.**

*Note that I (here and elsewhere) speak of the statement, not the implied actions. Should these actions be realized, we land in a very different discussion.

**But, in all fairness, the presence or absence of hate is quite secondary with such an extreme statement.

(With reservations for the lack of context.)

11. “Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that . . . I want to tell you something very clear: Don’t worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.” – Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, October 3, 2001, to Shimon Peres, as reported on Kol Yisrael radio. (Certainly the FBI’s cover-up of the Israeli spy ring/phone tap scandal suggests that Mr. Sharon may not have been joking.

Cannot by any stretch be seen as hate speech or otherwise worthy of disapproval (except in as far as it could be damaging to Israeli–U.S. relations or be factually untrue). If there is anything derogatory about it at all, it is also directed towards the U.S.—not the Arabs or Palestinians.

12. “We declare openly that the Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimeter of Eretz Israel… Force is all they do or ever will understand. We shall use the ultimate force until the Palestinians come crawling to us on all fours.” Rafael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces – Gad Becker, Yediot Ahronot 13 April 1983, New York Times 14 April 1983.

In these three sentences, we have: Firstly, a statement of opinion that many others will disagree with, but which is within the realm of freedom of opinion and not open to any other objection than disagreement. Secondly, a derogatory generalization; which, however, is made understandable if we look at the history of Israel up to that point; and which is neither hate nor worthy of censorship. Thirdly, something which, depending on context and intention, might be a harmless statement about self-defense, a promise of mindless aggression, or anything in between. Lacking the context, a conclusive evaluation is not possible.

13. “We must do everything to ensure they [the Palestinian refugees] never do return” David Ben-Gurion, in his diary, 18 July 1948, quoted in Michael Bar Zohar’s Ben-Gurion: the Armed Prophet, Prentice-Hall, 1967, p. 157.

This seems to be a variation of one of the statements in 9a (or the same statement outright).

15. “We should prepare to go over to the offensive. Our aim is to smash Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, and Syria. The weak point is Lebanon, for the Moslem regime is artificial and easy for us to undermine. We shall establish a Christian state there, and then we will smash the Arab Legion, eliminate Trans-Jordan; Syria will fall to us. We then bomb and move on and take Port Said, Alexandria and Sinai.” David Ben-Gurion, May 1948, to the General Staff. From Ben-Gurion, A Biography, by Michael Ben-Zohar, Delacorte, New York 1978.

This is a description of a military strategy—not hate or something worthy of condemnation. Note the year and the then situation, as well as the implication of the first sentence: Israel had hitherto been on the defensive—and was indeed fighting a war of self-defense. (See also an excursion on war in the first part.)

16. “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” Israel Koenig, “The Koenig Memorandum”

A second instance of true awfulness, both in terms of the stated end and the means to that end; possibly, even something relevant for the law. It is not a given, however, that an element of actual hate is present—it could equally well be what is seen as pragmatic necessity.

17. “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.” Moshe Dayan, address to the Technion, Haifa, reported in Haaretz, April 4, 1969.

Again nothing, barring factual correctness, even remotely problematic. It might describe an existing problematic situation, but that cannot be considered hate speech. Indeed, if anything, the statement puts the Israelis in a negative light.

18. “We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question, What is to be done with the Palestinian population?’ Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said ‘Drive them out!'” Yitzhak Rabin, leaked censored version of Rabin memoirs, published in the New York Times, 23 October 1979.

Far too little context to make a judgment. The result could be anything from something harmless to something in great violation of human rights. However, there is no indication of hate and, barring additional information, no obvious reason to e.g. censor it.

19. Rabin’s description of the conquest of Lydda, after the completion of Plan Dalet. “We shall reduce the Arab population to a community of woodcutters and waiters” Uri Lubrani, PM Ben-Gurion’s special adviser on Arab Affairs, 1960. From “The Arabs in Israel” by Sabri Jiryas.

For starters, I am seriously confused as to who is supposed to have made this claim. Rabin? Lubrani? Similarly, it is unclear how many hands it has been through.

There is no obvious sign of hate. There might (more likely) or might not (less likely) be something worthy of condemnation—depending on the context.

20. “There are some who believe that the non-Jewish population, even in a high percentage, within our borders will be more effectively under our surveillance; and there are some who believe the contrary, i.e., that it is easier to carry out surveillance over the activities of a neighbor than over those of a tenant. [I] tend to support the latter view and have an additional argument:…the need to sustain the character of the state which will henceforth be Jewish…with a non-Jewish minority limited to 15 percent. I had already reached this fundamental position as early as 1940 [and] it is entered in my diary.” Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Colonization Department. From Israel: an Apartheid State by Uri Davis, p.5.

The first half of the quote is just an abstract discussion of opinions of what situations have what consequences, with no sign of hate, no actions that could in anyway be criticized, no disputable issues.*

*Objections might be raised against surveillance; however, the quote does not say that surveillance is something good—it merely discusses ease and effectiveness. I also do not think that the despicable “Big Brother” meaning was intended, but rather e.g. the keeping of an eye on enemy leaders and enemy organizations. To boot, surveillance might have been or been seen as a pragmatic necessity at the time. (It is not obvious when the claim was made; however, from the mention of 1940 with regard to the same speaker, it seems reasonable to assume that it fell within a time when there was a constant war threat or actual war.)

The second half remains free from hate and actions, but could conceivably be disputed due to the “15 percent”: Is such a restriction justifiable?* However, there is nothing that could require e.g. censorship.

*Answering this question would require more context: For instance, if reaching this target involved forcefully evicting Palestinians already legally present, it does not look good. On the other hand, if this is achieved by encouraging Jewish immigration and discouraging non-Jewish immigration, it might be perfectly fine. (Note that the Jewish immigration to Israel was very large for long stretches of time, making the latter possibility far more plausible than in most other countries.)

21. “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours… Everything we don’t grab will go to them.” Ariel Sharon, Israeli Foreign Minister, addressing a meeting of militants from the extreme right-wing Tsomet Party, Agence France Presse, November 15, 1998.

Merely a statement of tactics or of cause and consequence. From appearances, the grabbing refers to areas not occupied by others with no true harm done to anyone. The ethics of settlements (if outside Israel) can, again, be disputed; however, not to such a degree that e.g. censorship is warranted or hate can be diagnosed.

22. “It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism,colonialization or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.” Yoram Bar Porath, Yediot Aahronot, of 14 July 1972.

This seems like a mere statement of fact, even an admitting of certain evils that were necessary to create Israel—possibly even, depending on context, a call for compassion and understanding towards mistreated Arabs. There is no hate and (likely) nothing to disapprove of.

I am not a fan of eviction and expropriation, except in the extreme circumstances; however, they likely were necessary to implement the internationally agreed plans, and criticism should then be directed towards these plans. (I do not yet have an opinion on whether the situation behind the plans was such as to be “extreme circumstances”.)

23. “Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” Theodore Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, speaking of the Arabs of Palestine,Complete Diaries, June 12, 1895 entry.

The actions implied are problematic, especially since Herzl (presumably) wrote with an eye at the future. This is a strong candidate for condemnation, but not censorship. There is no sign of hate.

(However, in fairness to Herzl it should be added that he wrote in a time when e.g. waging war to gain land, colonizing less developed countries, whatnot, was still widely considered acceptable. A use as e.g. anti-Israel rhetoric, which might be the intention of the collector, would be highly misleading through this alone. The more so, as the statement pre-dates Israel by more than fifty years…)

24. “One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.” – Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, Feb. 27, 1994 [Source: N.Y. Times, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 1]

A rare case where the label “hate” actually is plausible—or it might just be “contempt”. It is worthy of condemnation for being ridiculously out of line with reality;* however, not of censorship.

*I assume that the claim was not followed by e.g. “So feel free to kill them.”, because if it had been, it would be astonishing if the collector had not included that part.

Summary: While there are instances that involve hate, they are few. Ditto those worthy of legal action or censorship. More are perfectly harmless. The collector draws on one of the most controversial and extended conflicts in modern time, and while he has taken the trouble to draw examples from a very wide time-frame (the oldest example is from 1895!), he still had to resort to the inclusion of nonsensical cases… (Also note the remarks at the beginning of the text and the excursion on war in the first part, which could put yet another light on these cases.) The bar of entry is surprisingly low;* and even the average level is not high enough to indicate that the supposed hate-speech epidemic would need severe counter-measures.

*Compare the motivation given in the first part.

Excursion on the worst examples:
It might be tempting to point at the worst examples to motivate counter-measures. However, in order to get that proportion, even among these examples, high enough to justify the current demands, we would need to turn most “could-be-bad-depending-on-context” cases into “bad” cases. Moreover, the proportion of similarly bad cases among those currently accused of being hate speech on the Internet is likely to be considerably lower: Firstly, the character of the Israeli situation and the Israel–Arab conflicts imply that the likelihood of extremer statements is considerably increased (cf. various remarks). Secondly, there is good reason to assume that the above list was cherry-picked for the greatest possible effect, exaggerating the proportion even compared to other alleged Israeli hate speech from the same time periods. Thirdly, many of the examples are decades or more old, making predictions generally hard to perform; and, with a more PC climate, likely to err on the side of over-estimation. (Unsurprisingly, this is supported by the examples looked upon in the third part.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2018 at 12:38 pm

Hate speech I: Introduction and general discussion

with 5 comments

Preamble: This started with the intention of writing one post, analyzing alleged examples of hate speech. However, with a continual wish for some additional point of explanation here-and-there, the text (and time consumption…) eventually grew out of hand, while the general/introductory part moved far beyond the original intentions. Correspondingly, the overall text was eventually broken into three parts, dealing with respectively the more general matter (here), the “Israeli” examples, and the “Tea-Party” examples. I have also tried to put the breaks on the general part, in order to diminish further growth; and I have not reworked it to the degree that might have been beneficial for a stand-alone document. Note that the belated division can have caused some undiscovered complications with optimal placement of text, internal references, or similar.

Even before the recent obsession with “Internet hate”, “hate speech”, whatnot, I had seen many, many cases of accusations of hate, sexism, racism, and various other “isms” that were entirely unfounded (and a small minority that were not)—often leaving the impression of deliberate attempts to artificially discredit opponents. (See also a number of older texts, including the more general discussions in e.g. [1], [2], [3].) Correspondingly, I have been skeptical to this obsession from the start; especially, since there has been no reason to expect a so fast and drastic change in the behavior of the alleged haters, and since a gradual intensification of the misbehavior of the accusers seems more likely a priori—in particular, as they have seen success after success when applying this type of attack in the past.

This skepticism has been increased by alleged instances normally being reported entirely without examples*—and by the few examples that do occur often being highly unconvincing (as in [4]).

*I.e. X claims that Y has engaged in hate speech, used “hate filled” expressions, made sexist/racist/whatnot statements—but does not provide one sliver of proof. We are apparently supposed to just take X’s claim as truth, which is an absolute absurdity in light of the many historical abuses. I am usually moved to the opposite conclusion: X has not provided evidence—because there is no convincing evidence to provide.

I decided to do a brief Internet search to find some more explicit examples of alleged “hate speech”, in order to indirectly probe the potential scope of the problem and whether drastic counter-measures like censorship or legal persecution might be legitimate (outside of rare exceptional cases). I soon found two* pages containing a total of 34** alleged cases, relating to Israel/Jews/Zionists resp. the “Tea Party”. These examples (discussed below) stem from collectors that are clearly hostile to these groups and who have had the opportunity to hand-pick the worst of the worst (in the former case, going back as far as 1895). In other words, it can be reasonably assumed that the examples fall solidly and unmistakably within what the collectors consider hate speech—not being border-line cases, mere filler to puff out a list of more serious utterances, or something that they would be afraid to include as “evidence” in e.g. a news paper.

*The restriction to two sources is a methodological weakness, and my conclusions would be stronger with a wider variety. However, (a) there are limits to even my time, (b) both sources have an approach very similar to what I have seen in the past, which lessens my concern. The “Israeli” source actually includes more valid examples than I am used to seeing.

**With some reservations for the exact division of cases. Consider the complication around 9, 9a, and 13 among the “Israeli” examples, and possible other deviations from a sensible division.

Correspondingly, these examples give an opportunity to find an upper* estimate of the bar for what passes** as hate speech.

*The real bar could conceivable be considerably lower.

**Note that the purpose is not to discuss whether hate speech and whatnot exists—denying the existence would be ridiculous in the light of e.g. ISIS. The point is rather to check the claims of the scope and the severity for plausibility by investigating the bar for inclusion: A too low bar makes the claims implausible, because it becomes clear that the size of the problem (or “problem”) is massively artificially increased. (This is also the reason why the older “Israeli” examples remain relevant: They are not recent utterances, but they are utterances that have recently been classified as hate speech by someone.)

As it turns out (cf. the more detailed analyses), few cases are bad enough to warrant counter-measures other than factual arguments—and few actually can be considered hate (see an excursion on the relevance of actual hate below).* The “Israeli” source contains some cases with more substance than the “Tea-Party” source; however, this should be seen in light of the very long time span, the intensity of the conflict (also see an excursion on war below), and similar factors—not to mention some far worse statements from Israel’s enemies… To boot, even the “Israeli” source contains a considerable proportion of nonsensical examples. Even going by the “Israeli” standard of inclusion, the claims around hate speech and Internet hate seem overblown; going by the “Tea-Party” standard of inclusion, they most definitely are.

*Which is not automatically to say that the other claims are perfectly fine to make—just that they are not so bad that there is reason to e.g. demand censorship. They can still be rude, narrow-minded, counterproductive, cold-hearted, whatnot. (However, a large proportion of them actually are perfectly fine.)

I originally intended to make an analysis according to a set of more elaborate criteria; however, I found this to be extremely hard due to the great room left to interpretation in many of the examples, as well as the great diversity of examples. Instead, I opted for a freer discussion, often informally using two dimensions: Firstly, is the message (with a high degree of likelihood; not just the possibility) an expression of hate (yes/no). Secondly, irrespective of the presence or absence of hate, what counter-measures might be reasonable (none/mere disapproval* or condemnation/censorship**/legal intervention***). In addition, discussions of factual correctness can take place, seeing that statements that contain a considerable**** factual error can have an undue effect, and that there is at least some risk that the error is a deliberate distortion. (However, note that such errors can also merely be a sign of ignorance.) In reverse, I will never accept the classification of a factually correct statement as e.g. “hate speech”—no matter how inconvenient it might be for e.g. the PC movement.

*In terms of e.g. how (un-)diplomatically something is conveyed, what methods of “agitation” or similar might be used, whether suggestions made are ethically hard to defend, etc. A disapproval in terms of e.g. “I have a different opinion; ergo, I disapprove” is not intended—otherwise more-or-less any debate could be considered a steady stream of hate speech from both parties.

**With some reservations for context. Here my focus is on public forums and comparable situations (including TV debates, blog entries and comments, comments on articles in online news-papers, and similar), provided that there is some pertinence to the statement. Censorship might still be warranted due to a lack of topic connection (even for harmless utterances, e.g. repeated comments concerning cars on a blog post about butterflies); and there might be some rare combination of forum and utterance where exceptional rules can apply (e.g. discussions of BDSM on a forum for pre-teens; however, not based on e.g. “some reader might be offended” or “we do no tolerate dissent”, which will defeat the purpose of a public forum). Governmental forums in a Rechtsstaat must be as forgiving as possible; strictly private forums, intended for a small and closed circle, and not even readable by others, could be allowed stricter and/or more arbitrary rules.

***Note that this should not be seen as a claim about the actual laws in any given country—it is a statement of what laws could legitimately be present in a Rechtsstaat: Could the laws be such that this statement is illegal with an eye at a reasonable protection of free speech? (Note that I do not automatically say that it should be illegal: It is better to err on the side of too much free speech than the reverse.) In particular, I make no comparison with the actual laws in Germany and Sweden, who both have unduly strong restrictions on free speech.

****For instance, claiming that 80% of all convicts are X, when the true number is 20%, is almost certain to distort the implications heavily. On the other hand, claiming 30% will in many contexts leave the big-picture implications the same, and is far easier to forgive. (But deliberate distortions of numbers are not acceptable, even when minor.)

I very deliberately do not use criteria like “is rude”, “is tasteless”, or “could offend someone”: All would reduce free speech far too much, are far too subjective, and at least the third commits the indefensible error of only looking at the result* of an utterance and ignoring the importance of the intent. To boot, such criteria could all too easily be deliberately abused to silence dissent, e.g. through feigning offense.

*If only the experience of the listener is important, there is basically no utterance that can be safely made, as is proved by the extremely thin skin, “triggerability”, and even deliberate search for offense that is common in some PC circles (notably in U.S. colleges).

I also do not (or only very rarely) consider issues of disagreement with overreaching goals, priorities of society, and similar. For instance, having the opinion that Israel has or does not have the right to exist, must be beyond legal and moral reproach—as is the case with all or almost all sheer opinions.* By extension, suggesting means to ensure the wanted outcome that are in proportion to the circumstances** must also be beyond reproach. Condemning someone because of disagreements with such goals and whatnots must be reserved for exceptional cases (e.g. the goal to exterminate all Jews); condemnation of the means must be reserved for those not in proportion to the circumstances. In particular, the accusation of “hate speech” must never become a means to conveniently silence dissent from some PC (or other) opinion just for being dissent.

*But considering someone an idiot for having the wrong opinion for a poor reason remains legitimate.

**Exactly what this entails is too large a question for this text, involving e.g. protection of rights of others, what hostile measures from others require counter-action, and similar. (To boot, there is some room to discuss whether a mere suggestion can be condemnable, or only the implementation of that suggestion; however, I will ignore that for now.) A few reasonably obvious examples concerning the wish to have an apple, however: Buying an apple is OK. Hitting a robber trying to steal an apple (that one already has) is OK. Hitting an innocent bystander in order to take his apple is not OK.

Excursion on the relevance of hate:
Whether actual hate is present, or merely e.g. loathing or contempt, can make a quite large difference in the implications: Hate can easily lead to active intervention against someone, even murder and terrorism, while e.g. loathing only very rarely does. (And when it does, usually to a far lesser degree of extremity.) To boot, hate says more about the hater than loathing does about the loather.

Claiming “hate” also makes highly speculative assumptions about the motivations and the inner state of the speaker, something dubious in it self; and implying that someone who e.g. verbally “attacks” (cf. below) automatically feels hate is unconscionable.

Correspondingly, it is very dubious to use formulations like “hate speech” where hate is not obviously present. A statement might very well still be worthy of condemnation and counter-measures, but if there is no actual hate, the use of “hate speech” distorts the situation in an intellectually dishonest (or incompetent) manner. In these cases, other names should be used.*

*Exactly which depends on the individual case, and I will not even try to create a guide. However, some possibilities include “derogatory speech”, “agitating speech”, and “hostile speech”. (Following the same naming schema. It might well be better to ignore the schema in favor of simpler and more common constructs, e.g. “agitation”.)

Nevertheless, exactly such uses seem to be programmatic in Leftist and PC propaganda. I also looked at some attempts to define the phrase “hate speech”, and found an inclusion of the word “hate”, or another implication of hate, in these definitions to be far from universal… For instance, at the time of writing, the first sentence of the Wikipedia article on hate speech reads “Hate speech is speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”, which does not necessitate even loathing, let alone hate. Indeed, “attacks” it is so vague that even perfectly legitimate expressions of opinion, or even very harmless derogatory statements, could be considered hate speech by some interpreters.*

*This points to another common problem, namely the use of a very wide definition to establish the scope of something—and another definition (or impression of a definition) to establish consequences. A good example is some treatments of rape in feminist propaganda. If we, for instance and for the sake of argument, consider “white men can’t jump” to be hate speech and use such examples to establish a very wide occurrence of hate speech, we cannot then require drastic measures against hate speech. Such measures would simply be entirely out of proportion in the vast majority of cases, often even punishing something that does not deserve any punishment.

More generally, a metaphoric, extended, or, in some sense, convenient use of words in situations like these is not defensible, due to the risk that false impressions are created. Consider similarly the feminist nonsense expression “rape culture”, which calls forth all the associations of rape—yet has virtually nothing to do with it… (As an aside, if PC application of the phrase “hate speech” would be applied fairly to everyone, feminist claims of a “rape culture” certainly would qualify as hate speech—as might “hate speech”, it self…)

Excursion on good and bad faith:
I note that many of the investigated examples require some involvement of bad faith, either on behalf of the collectors or in their preconceptions of those quoted*. Some of the quotes are so obviously not worthy of criticism that no reasonable and objective third-party would have considered them problematic; others require a choice of interpretation that varies between the implausible and just-one-of-several-possible; others yet point to poor research**, likely in the conviction that no research was needed (because “X is evil”).

*As in “X is evil; ergo, he spoke maliciously/with hate; ergo, he must have meant Y and not Z.”, while someone who does not have the same preconceptions might more easily chose Z over X.

**Consider e.g. the 7th “Israeli” item, where it is conceivable that the collector simply jumped to the conclusion that Meir engaged in historical revisionism, “ethnicity denial”, or considered the Palestinians such scum that they were not worthy of consideration—but where even brief research would have given a very, very different interpretation.

In my analyses, I have tended towards an assumption of good faith, possibly more so than I normally do. This for two reasons: Firstly, I generally recommend the application of Hanlon’s Razor. Secondly, I see it as important to apply in dubio pro reo when investigating these types of condemnations—in the presence of several reasonable interpretations of a statement, only one of them has to be acquitting in order to acquit. This especially since the quotes have been taken out of context* by the accusers, that the accusers had the opportunity to include more context*, that it is up to the accuser to prove guilt, and that the accused have no opportunity to defend themselves. (In the specific case of Leftist and PC debaters, I have seen distortion of opponents’ statements and opinions on countless occasions over several decades and in several countries—often in manner that is obviously deliberate. The “Tea-Party” examples, cf. the third part, contain a number of such distortions.)

*As I proof-read the other parts, I see that I have, there, used “context” in different meanings, e.g. textual context, historical context, context of speech. All of these are to some degree vulnerable to these complications; however, the degree varies. In the case of textual context the vulnerability and the risk of (deliberate or accidental) distortion are usually the largest; and textual context was my original intention when writing the above. However, when leaving out another type of context distorts the implications and reasonable interpretations of a quote, the same applies.

Excursion on war (and similar conditions):
Many of the “Israeli” examples stem from a time of great and violent conflict, possibly outright war, and often (mostly?) with the Israelis as the attacked party. In these cases, an additional “benefit of the doubt” must be given, compared to the analyses in their current state: In a hard fight, actions might be necessary that would otherwise be condemnable, and to consider speaking of such necessary evils to be hate speech is absurd. Notably, if the actions go beyond what is justifiable even in hard fight, the actions should be criticized without wasting time on the words.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2018 at 12:36 pm

Opinion corridors and related topics

with 10 comments

I recently randomly encountered a Wikipedia article on “opinion corridors”, or “åsiktskorridor” in the original Swedish.* While this particular word had flown under my radar, it is hardly a surprise that my native Swedes are the inventors: Sweden is one** of the countries, outside of dictatorships, where the tolerance for “heretic” opinions is the lowest, where those holding such opinions are exposed to the most denouncement*** (sometimes even hatred and persecution), and where politicians are the most likely to ostentatiously profess their (real or pretended) orthodoxy. Indeed, the expression “the Official Truth” (“den Officiella Sanningen”) is often used to derogatorily describe the problem that an unholy alliance of media, politicians, pseudo-academics from the field of “gender studies”, and various interest groups has dictated a certain “truth”****, the questioning of which is grounds for a virtual excommunication: Those with the “wrong” opinion are condemned, censored, see their positions severely distorted (e.g. by leaps like “He said something negative about Islam; ergo, he must hate Muslims.” or “He wants to reduce immigration; ergo, he is racist.”), etc.

*While the Wikipedia article lacks a formal definition, the general intent is easy to understand: Opinions that lie within or move along a certain corridor are acceptable; others are not.

**Unfortunately, this problem has been rapidly expanding in the rest of the world, including the U.S., over the last one or two decades—and is the reason why I have great fears about the current obsession with “hate speech”: The cure could very easily turn out to be a greater threat than the supposed disease.

***Note that I speak of a denouncement on more-or-less moral grounds—not factual analysis and sound argumentation, as can be used against e.g. homeopaths, or even a “you are so wrong that you must be an idiot”. No, a typical reaction amounts to “anyone with such opinions is evil”.

****Often it has little or nothing to do with the real truth, stands in contrast with actual statistics, disagrees with real science, …

This concept, along with several others linked to in the article (including Overton window and Hallin’s spheres), overlap strongly with many of my previous texts, observations, and complaints.* Indeed, one of my most repeated claims is that only actions, not opinions, can be a legitimate cause for condemnation—while e.g. many members of the PC crowd engage in wholesale moral condemnation of opinion and allow themselves to take any action they see fit to silence dissenters. (Leading me to repeat another observation: Fascist is as Fascist does.)

*To mention but a few: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]. Also note a great many earlier texts on the topic of censorship, especially through feminist bloggers.

This issue complex is one of the most important in today’s Western world, and one of the greatest threats against democracy, enlightenment, sound governance, and even science. Worse, it is a threat against the finding of truth and the development of human knowledge and understanding: We cannot know with certainty, which of our opinions, no matter how plausible they seem or how many others share them, are right or wrong—but we can say with virtual certainty that some of them will be wrong to at least some degree, possibly entirely. By preventing the expression of dissent, the development and improvement of opinion is severely hampered.

That this is not a hypothetical situation can be seen e.g. in the feminist blogosphere where exactly the comments that stands the greatest chance of affecting a change in opinion, e.g. through solid arguments and published statistics, are those most likely to be censored—and in the mean time, the pseudo-knowledge of propagated Woozles, slogans void of arguments, and emotional perception remains the “truth”.

A very interesting example of how opinion corridors, Overton windows, et al., can exert undue influence is the situation of the Christian Churches* (especially the Catholic): Large blocks of the population seem to believe the absurdity that the Churches must modify their opinions (e.g. regarding homosexuality and female priests) to match the surrounding world. However, if we accept** that the premises of a religion are true, the opinions, behavior, whatnot of a Church must obviously be based on these premises—not on the current opinion corridor. There can be legitimate instances of changes to an official stance, e.g. because of new revelation, a find of alternate text sources (like with the Dead-Sea Scrolls), a development of the understanding of old texts based on new scientific methods, the discovery of an incorrect translation, …—or, obviously, a previous minority interpretation developing into a majority interpretation. For instance, if a scroll is found, pre-dating the Gospels, relating Jesus’ blessing of female priests, and considered authentic by the Vatican, this could be valid reason to allow female Catholic priests. In contrast, to reject some two thousand years of policy, with a base in Biblical interpretation or theological contemplation, merely because the opinion corridor in overall society has changed, would not be a valid reason.

*While these are the potential victims in this scenario, they have historically very often been perpetrators.

**In my case, as an atheist, arguendo; in the case of those religious, this is almost a given as a matter of definition. Should we not accept these premises, chances are that the Church or religion must be rejected in its entirety. (Similarly, it can be legitimate for someone to see a religious position not matching his own preferences as a reason to reject a particular Church or religion entirely. An obvious example would be a Church that insists on a literal interpretation of Biblical events that are not compatible with mainstream science. Still, this only gives the right of rejection—not the right to force the Church to change its own stance on any given issue.)

Particularly dangerous areas, especially with an eye on artificial “echo chambers”, include:

  1. Governmental restrictions on opinion, be they direct (e.g. an outright ban) or indirect (e.g. in that only sufficiently orthodox parties or scientists receive public subsidies).
  2. Deliberate abuse of or naturally developing “echo chambers” in the education system to enforce some set of of opinions. Unfortunately, this is by no means restricted to the lower stages—as demonstrated by the current U.S. crisis of the college system.

    (If influenced by the government, this can overlap with the previous item.)

  3. A press dominated by some set of opinions.

Note that these can all (a) have a massive effect on the overall population through a very wide reach; (b) can tend to be self-perpetuating, e.g. in that non-conformant parties are hindered from gaining votes through less founds and can therefore not affect changes to the rules for public subsidies, that the chances for a college student to eventually join the faculty can depend strongly on having the “right” opinions, and that an aspiring journalist faces a similar situation. And, yes, these are all definite problems in today’s Sweden.

Excursion on topics, fiction, and similar:
Unfortunately, these problems extend into areas not directly relating to opinion, e.g. in that certain entire fields of investigation, topics for books, choices of characters for a movie, and similar can be unduly suppressed or altered, in order to avoid controversy and criticism. For instance, (real) science that deals with e.g. biological differences between men and women or psychometrics is often viewed very negatively by ignorants. (Say, as inherently sexist or racist, or as modern versions of phrenology. Worse: Some seem to believe that even if there is something to discover in this area, it must not be discovered, to avoid influencing opinion in the “wrong” direction.) Similarly, a work of fiction that shows a hero rescue a damsel in distress (or any number of other scenarios) stands the risk of being condemned as e.g.“perpetuating stereotypes”; while it is common to see tiny women with some martial arts training easily beating up men twice their size and with more martial arts training,* women abounding even among “STEM” professionals, …—that the world depicted is sufficiently PC is more important than that it is realistic.

*Going well beyond the typical, already unrealistic, “hero bonus” that is so common in fiction.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 18, 2018 at 2:36 am

On FIFA, IOC, et al., their abuse of athletes, and their approach to advertising

with 3 comments

During the ongoing FIFA World Cup, there have been several occurrences of teams (including my native Sweden—twice) receiving fines for allegedly violating advertising/sponsoring rules. (Reuter’s discusses two cases.) Apparently, even something as trivial as wearing socks with an “unauthorized” brand name can lead to sanctions… The restrictions placed on athletes* often reach a point where they are hindered even in their natural right of expression and free speech.

*Below, I will mostly speak of athlete and/or use the perspective of an individual sport. The case for teams and team sports is very similar, but differs in there potentially being different sponsors on the level of the individual team-member and on the level of the team. This complication goes beyond the scope of this text. (Another difference is that teams have somewhat better chances of breaking free, even though they usually remain the considerably weaker party.)

This is a continuation of a growing problem of abuse of power and an appropriation of rights, based on a massive difference in the relative power and consequences of choices* for athletes vs. organizations like FIFA. (Also see some previous texts, e.g. [1], [2], [3], [4].)

*If a team, let alone an individual athlete, chooses not to compete in a certain championship, its loss is usually far greater than that of the organizer. Not competing in a certain organizational structure/hierarchy can even amount to not having a career. Also see an excursion on “BATNA” below.

Notably, regulations like these can have a very harmful effect both on the earning potential of athletes* and their sponsors’ return on investment—and can even negatively affect the performance of athletes**. Effectively, an athlete is sponsored by a particular company or group of companies, receives money, free equipment, whatnot, and when the time comes to shine, when a global audience*** is watching, when the sponsors have the greatest**** shot at receiving something for their money—then some entirely unrelated company, possibly the greatest rival, swoops in with its brand name printed on the athlete… Here the organizers of an event are being outright parasitic, abusing their position to gain a profit beyond what they have earned, on the cost of someone else. In particular, it ignores the simple fact that the athletes are those who actually create the value and do the work—the organizer merely provide a means to tap into that value and to provide that work; it is a catalyst for something great, not the greatness it self.*****

*Note that this is not restricted to the immediate reduction of a sponsors willingness to pay through its own reduced return—there is also a strong component of uncertainty. For instance, what if the sponsor agrees to pay a certain amount assuming a certain set of actions on behalf of the athlete, and these actions are later banned? Such uncertainties can increase the risks to so severe a degree that sponsors reduce their offers in order to keep the expected cost–benefit ratio in check. (And, from an athletes perspective, what if he cannot consent to the conditions imposed by an organizer without being in breach of contract towards a sponsor?)

**Notably, through being forced to use clothing or equipment that does not match what is used on an everyday basis. Even being forced to e.g. use a pair of new shoes on too short a notice can be problematic, even were the shoes otherwise identical to the old. Alternatively, to be forced to give up equipment (including e.g. sun-glasses) for which no replacement can be found in sufficiently short a time (and which the athlete might quite reasonably have assumed were not covered by restrictions). Also note the below example from Wikipedia of NHL players not participating in the Olympics.

***Notably, an audience with a greater interest in the sport than e.g. the average watcher of a TV commercial—quite important for the many sponsors who actually have a connection to the sport, notably various clothing companies.

****In many cases, especially for athletes of lesser stature and sponsors with smaller budgets.

*****A reasonable analogy can be found in various Internet forums where someone provides a technical platform and then forgets that the actual value created on that platform, often outweighing the value of the mere platform a hundred times over, is provided by the forum members and their writings. On the other hand, a comparison with e.g. a regular employer–employee relationship is not suitable: While the employees often create most of the eventual value, this is only possible through the framework created, the resources provided, and the planning done by the employer. Remove the employer and the former employees are now unemployed until they find a new position with another employer; remove the IOC, FIFA, …, and the athletes would still be athletes, still compete, still gain sponsorships, … (Notwithstanding that more entrepreneurship and less conventional employment might benefit many in today’s world. I have vague plans to write something on this topic.)

This is an absurdity: That FIFA, the IOC, and similar organizations influence what is printed on banners in a stadium is one thing—that they presume to control the athletes in this regard is something completely different. A sane system would allow the athletes to use whatever* clothes and equipment they want, with whatever sponsors they have, and to similarly associate themselves however they like. On the outside, a complete ban of advertising might be considered, but this should then apply to the organizers too… Similarly, a strong case can be made that if a TV broadcaster has bought the right to broadcast a certain event, the decision what additional advertising to show during breaks should be the sole decision of the broadcaster.

*Within the realms of the reasonable, including after considering constraints that originate in the rules of the sport: I am not suggesting that a runner can blitz away on roller-skates, otherwise naked, and adorned only by a giant tattoo of a company logo.

However, even if we were to consider a control by the organizer reasonable in principle, the current state would remain absurd. Consider some of the contents of the Wikipedia page on “ambush marketing”:*/**

*Many of the examples broaden the discussion to include disputable behavior of e.g. the IOC towards other entities than athletes, which serve to describe the general attitude and the scope of the problem, even at the cost of losing focus.

**Unless otherwise stated, emphasis is by me.

[…]organizers of major sporting events have sometimes required host countries or cities to implement special laws that, going beyond standard trademark law, provide regulations and penalties for advertisers who disseminate marketing materials that create unauthorized associations with an event by making references to specific words, concepts, and symbols. Organizers may* also require a city to set up “clean zones” in and around venues, in which advertising and commerce is restricted to those that are authorized by the event’s organizer—specifically, the event’s official sponsors.

*Here and below we see a few examples of abuse of “may”, as mentioned in a text on problems with Wikipedia.

The fact that special laws might even be needed is a strong sign that something is amiss, that too far-going restrictions are intended, even that the hosts are being manipulated or blackmailed into giving undue preference to these organizers. (“Either change the law to our advantage or we go somewhere else!”)

As will be seen below, the “specific words, concepts, and symbols” can go far beyond what is reasonable.

That what happens outside the venues is controlled goes towards insanity, and can lead to absurd effects, e.g. that a near-by store must block out its signs during an event sponsored by a competitor. The Wikipedia page contains a few examples in this direction (not included in this text).

In some cases, a venue may be required to suspend its naming rights* for the duration of the event if the venue is named for a concern that is not an official sponsor, during which it is referred to under a generic name by all event-related materials and telecasts, and all signage referring to the sponsored name may be obscured or removed.

*That is, the us of a “branded” name for the venue.

Apart from the negative effect on the “venue sponsor”, this can also be a considerable source of confusion, possibly to the point of people going to the wrong place… I would also deem this illogical: A venue has a name*—end of story. Referring to it by that name must never be forbidden. If an organizer additionally provides a more generic name for its internal purposes, possibly at a point where the physical venues are not yet finalized, then that is OK; however, an obligation for others to follow this terminology does not and cannot exist.

*Venues are occasionally renamed, and this is legitimate when the change is intended for the indefinite future (possibly even for a two-year sponsorship contract). A formal renaming simply for the purpose of using a different name during an event, in an attempt to trick the “has a name” argument, is not legitimate. On the contrary, I might reduce the legitimacy of any “sponsorship renaming” in favor of a fix name with an addendum of “sponsored by X” in publicity contexts. (Note the highly confusing and more frequent changes of the names of events, where it might be “the Mercedes whatnot” this year, “the Audi whatnot” next year, and the “the BMW whatnot” a year after that.)

Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter forbids all Olympic athletes from participating in marketing activities for companies that are not official sponsors of the Olympics, even if they have official relationships with the advertiser, during a time-frame that begins 9 days before the opening ceremony, and ends 3 days after the Games’ conclusion. This includes advertising material containing “Olympic-related terms,” including the current year, the host city’s name, “Games,” “Olympians,” “Sponsors,” “Medal,” “Gold,” “Silver,” “Bronze,” “Challenge,” “Effort,” “Performance,” and “Victory”.

Note that this affects the athletes outside of their Olympic activities, both timewise and in relation to physical location. The time frame cuts away a very important part of a winning athletes temporary popularity increase, and is excessively long to boot: With the length of the games, themselves, about a month of time is covered—even for an athlete who might only have competed on a single day… The time frame is also unfair towards those who gain success at the beginning of the period (compared to those who do so later), seeing that they must wait that much longer, and have that many others steal the lime light, before they can gain from this success.

Further note that the range of words covered is extreme, often having only a vague and non-exclusive relation to the Olympics, and leaving the athlete in a such a mine-field* that it might be advisable to abstain from any public or advertising appearance in that time frame. Even those words that can be seen as having a sufficient connection are disputable through their restriction of free and natural expression. For instance, a TV add referring, even in passing, to an athlete’s participation in an upcoming Olympic competition would be a rule violation—despite not mentioning it bordering on the unnatural. Worse, an add that has spoken of an athlete as “Olympic champion” for close to four years, might now need to be altered for the duration of this month. Hell, even a “We are proud to be X’s sponsors.” resp. “I am proud to have Y as my sponsors.” would be out.

*For instance, mentioning a city of residence, a medal in a different championship (e.g. the European Championships), or even a “Victory” at “Dancing with the Stars”, could result in a violation.

An additional complication is that these restrictions are applied to sponsors, advertisers, whatnot by proxy: They have a contract with the athlete, the athlete has a contract (possibly of the implied kind, possibly over another proxy) with the organizers, and they still risk taking a hit* if rules like these are enforced. Indeed, the sponsor might not even have a chance to react, e.g. if a recently retired athlete changes his plans and decides to go to the Olympics after all.

*The description of the rule only mentions the athletes. However, there can be other channels involved, including the aforementioned “special laws” and the obvious risk of receiving a cease-and-desist demand (even should it not be legally enforceable). Specific examples (possibly based on another justification than this rule) directed at advertisers are present below and on Wikipedia, sometimes without involvement of an athlete.

Finally, note that the lists are not complete…

During a game at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, fans were asked to remove “Leeuwenhosen”-pants with lion tails colored in the orange of the Netherlands national football team, distributed and branded by Bavaria Brewery, because they infringed on the exclusive beer sponsorship rights owned by Anheuser-Busch.

[In 2010] 36 female fans were ejected from a game (along with the arrest of two, […]) for wearing unbranded orange miniskirts that were provided by Bavaria; Sylvie van der Vaart, wife of Dutch player Rafael van der Vaart, had modeled one of the miniskirts in an advertising campaign for the brewery.

Here FIFA presumes to dictate how the fans (!!!) are supposed to dress. If this line of reasoning was followed to its logical conclusion, paying visitors might be forced to remove or hide any type of branded (and some unbranded…) clothing, bag, sun-glasses, whatnot. Seeing that it is even more unreasonable to expect fans to analyse the details of advertising rules, chances are that some would be caught unawares, be unable to find a replacement* in time, and lose the opportunity to watch the event—after possibly spending hundreds of Euros on tickets, travel, and whatnot.

*Pants and miniskirts are good examples of things that, unlike e.g. a hat, would require some type of replacement, and where finding a replacement might take far too long.

The second part, again, demonstrates a veritable mine-field: Someone can, in good faith, wear a particular piece of clothing, only to be ejected over someone elses actions. Again taking this to its logical conclusion, it might be enough to wear something that merely coincidentally looks like something that had been used in advertising…

At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, […] ; logos of non-sponsors were covered with tape on equipment at Games facilities—a restriction that applied even to appliances, bathroom fixtures, elevators, and fire extinguishers.

So patently absurd that no comment is needed—except for the purpose of separating quotes!

The IOC’s restrictive ambush marketing rules were one factor in the National Hockey League’s decision to ban its players from the 2018 Olympics;

Horrifying, considering the presumed importance* of such players, how the results of the tournament might have changed, and how the individual players are reduced in their competitive options.

*The world championships (unlike the Olympic Games) tend to overlap with the end of the NHL season. Every time around, one of the main activities of Swedish reporting is a guessing game of what player might become available at what time, often with an implied hope that this-or-that NHL team will lose sufficiently early…

[…]; EasyJet was told by a LOCOG representative that having Sally Gunnell reprise her pose with the Union Jack from the 1992 Games for an advertisement would constitute an unauthorized association, an art event known as The Great Exhibition 2012 received threats from LOCOG for merely containing “2012” in its name, […]

The first example shows the problems with free expression and how the rights of individuals can be infringed—to the point that it, indirectly, amounts to taking ownership of Gunnell’s accomplishment and prior expression. The second, how dangerous word restrictions (cf. above) and attempts to quasi-trademark parts of free speech (also see excursion below) can be: Effectively, no-one else is supposed to use “2012”…

During the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field trials, the apparel company Oiselle received demands by the United States Olympic Committee to remove social media posts congratulating Kate Grace […] because the photos attached to the posts depicted USOC trademarks, including the Olympic rings and the phrase “Road to Rio”. […], but [Bergesen] argued that their depiction were incidental because the offending material appeared in the venue and on the bibs worn by all athletes at the event, making it intractable to avoid depicting them in photos taken there. She also defended the postings as being news reporting on the achievements of its sponsored athletes, and not an advertisement for its products per se.

If the argumentation of Bergesen is rejected, another mine-field is opened and sponsors, possibly even third-parties in general, will be better of either suppressing expected or natural expressions, or severely altering them. (Here e.g. through digitally editing the photos; however, note that with rules similar to that of the Olympics, as opposed to the trials, a congratulation even mentioning the Olympics would have been a violation—while one not mentioning it would have been pointless.

Excursion on personal items, clothing, etc.:
The effects of restrictions like those discussed above will depend strongly on how broadly they are interpreted and how harshly they are enforced. However, it is obvious that the consequences can be quite absurd, e.g. in that even sun-glasses of athletes might be banned, that even the audience might have to pay attention to what it wears, whatnot. A particular interesting example is (the now retired heptathlete) Caroline Klüft, who was well-known for carrying with her a pet toy, to which she had a strong emotional connection. If the manufacturer of that toy was not an official sponsor, could the pet toy have been banned from the stadium? (And what effect might that have had on her?)

I note that concerns about a broad interpretation and harsh enforcement are not theoretical: There are enough examples given to prove that extremes are at least occasionally occurring. Further, in my understanding of the mentality of some businesses, I see extremes to be something of an expected case. Indeed, if this-or-that organizer could get away with prescribing what beers were allowed in front of the TV when watching the event, I would not be the least surprised to see such restrictions manifest…

Excursion on appropriation of words, colors, symbols, …:
That businesses try to appropriate certain aspects of the common realm* as “theirs” is nothing new, although the Olympic examples given above are quite extreme. A particularly annoying German example is Deutsche Telekom (the German “AT & T”), which long has referred to anything and everything associated with it as “T-[this or that]” (e.g. “T-Online”), effectively appropriating an entire capital letter—and has done its darnedest to do the same with the color magenta.**

*As opposed to creating, possibly through combination, something sufficiently new that a reasonable trademark is created.

**I am uncertain whether it formally has trademarks for e.g. the “T-[this or that]” template, or just specific examples. However, there is little doubt that threats would follow, should someone else try to use it.

To avoid such issues of undue appropriation, some type of law requiring a sufficient uniqueness even for “quasi-trademarks”, or distinguishing marks in general, would be very sensible, e.g. in that Deutsche Telekom would be forced to use “DTAG”* instead of “T” and be forbidden to using magenta as “its” color, instead having to go by a combination of colors in some pattern—or forego color appropriation entirely. Similarly, the Olympics should be reduced to a very small core, including “Olympics” and variations, possibly also the combination of year and city**.

*“AG” being roughly “inc.”.

**However, even something like “Rio 2016” or “London 2012” could very legitimately occur in other contexts, implying that such a restriction would have to be considered with great care, and possibly be restricted to specific contexts or to individual games with little “competition” for the meaning.

Indeed, even variations of “Olympic[s]”, it self, are a bit tricky: Firstly, (at least) the non-capitalized form is generic, has other meanings, and there have actually been other games using “olympics” than those arranged by the IOC even in modern times. Secondly, there comes a point where a process similar to the generification of a trademark can be argued, and where it could conceivably be undue to restrict the general use of some words or names. In that case, the conclusion would be to allow e.g. “Olympics” and “Olympic Games” as unrestricted terms, and requiring the IOC to use e.g. “the IOC Olympics”, etc., when it wants a “proprietary” identifier.

Excursion on BATNA:
Parts of the problems of athletes and e.g. business customers (cf. a previous excursion) can be seen from the perspective of BATNA, and BATNA might often be a better approach of explanation than looking at the strength and weakness of two parties. For instance, a typical billionaire might, in some sense, be more powerful than many sports organizations (but hardly the IOC). However, if he took up a sports career, barely managed to qualify for a championship, and made demands, they would likely be rejected, simply because of BATNA—the championship can probably do without him, with no or only marginal harm. (Discounting an artificial change in BATNA through large donations/bribes, threats of protracted law suits, and similar.) On the other hand, a superstar with an immense fan following (like Federer or Nadal) would have considerably greater* chances of achieving something, even had he just had a few hundred thousand to his name—his absence could have a significant negative impact on ticket sales, the number of TV viewers, general publicity, …

*That “greater” implies “great” is not a given, however.

In order to remedy such problems, a change of BATNA is necessary. What these changes might be, will depend on the details; however, in the case of sports, strong players’/athletes’ unions are an obvious candidate—losing half the athletes in one stroke is much, much more harmful than losing a single athlete here and a single there. If push comes to shove, a large enough proportion of the athletes could simply start an alternate organization/tour/championship/whatnot. (In the case of e.g. consumer protection, improvements would likely have to consist mostly of changes to legislation.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 14, 2018 at 10:54 am

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Detection of manipulation of digital evidence / Follow-up: A few points concerning the movie “Anon”

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In a recent discussion of the movie “Anon”, I noted, regarding the uselessness of digital evidence, “Whatever is stored […] can be manipulated”, with a footnote on the limitations of write-only storage (an obvious objection to this claim).

A probably more interesting take than write-only storage is the ability to detect manipulation (or accidental change). Here there are many instances where some degree of protection can be added, say, a check digit or a check sum for an identifier (e.g. a credit-card number) respectively a larger piece of content (e.g. an executable file), cryptographic verification of extended change history in a version-control system (notably Git), or any number of Blockchain applications (originating with Bitcoin). The more advanced uses, including Blockchains, could very well be legitimately relevant even in a court of law in some cases.

In most cases, however, these are unlikely to be helpful—starting with the obvious observation that they only help when used during the manipulation, which (today and for the foreseeable future) will rarely be the case.* Worse, the victim of a manipulation will also need to convince the court that e.g. the planted evidence would necessarily have been covered by such verification mechanisms: Consider e.g. someone who meticulously keeps all his files under version control, but where incriminating evidence is planted outside of it. He can, obviously, claim that any file or change of a file actually owned by him would have been registered in version control. However, how can he prove this claim? How does he defeat the (not at all implausible) counter that he kept all his regular files in version control, but that these specific files were left outside due to their incriminating character, in an attempt to hide them from a search by a third-party?

*I note e.g. that the technologies are partly unripe; that the extra effort would often be disproportionate; and that a use sufficiently sophisticated to be helpful against hostile law enforcement might require compromises, e.g. to the ability to permanently delete incriminating content, that could backfire severely. In a worst case scenario, the use of such could it self lead to acts that are considered illegal. For instance, assume that someone inadvertently visits a site with a type of pornography illegal in his own jurisdiction, that the contents are cached by the browser, at some point automatically stored in a file-system cache, and that all contents stored in the file system are tracked in such detail that the contents can be retrieved at any future date. Alternatively, consider the same example with contents legal in his jurisdiction, followed by travel with the same computer to a jurisdiction where those contents are illegal. Note that some jurisdictions consider even the presence in a browser cache, even unbeknownst to the user, enough for “possession” to apply; by analogy, this would be virtually guaranteed to extend to the permanent storage discussed here. (This example also points to another practical complication: This type of tracking would currently be prohibitive in terms of disk space for many applications.)

Even when such measures are used and evidence is planted within their purview, however, it is not a given that they will help. Consider (for an unrealistically trivial example) a credit-card number, where a single (non-check) digit has been manipulated. A comparison with the check digit will* make it clear that a manipulation has taken place. However, nothing prevents the manipulator from recalculating the check digit… Unless the original check digit had somehow been made public knowledge in advance, or could otherwise be proved, the victim would have no benefit in a court of law. Indeed, he, himself, might now be unaware of the manipulation. The same principle can be used in more advanced/realistic scenarios, e.g. with a Git repository: While a naive manipulation is detectable, a more sophisticated one, actually taking the verification mechanisms into consideration, need not be. In doubt, a sophisticated manipulator could resort to simply “replaying” all the changes to the repository into a fresh one, making sure that the only deviation in content is the intended.** If older copies are publicly known, deviations might still be detected by comparison—but how many private repositories are publicly known?*** The victim might still try to point to differences through a comparison with a private backup, but (a) the manipulator can always claim that the backup has been manipulated by the victim, (b) it is not a given that he still has access to his backups (seeing that they are reasonably likely to have been confiscated at the same time as the computer where the repository resides).

*With reservations for some exceptional case. Note that changing more than one digit definitely introduces a risk that the check digit will match through coincidence. (It being intended as a minor precaution against accidental errors.)

**Counter-measures like using time stamps, mac addresses, some asymmetric-key transfer of knowledge to identify users, …, as input into the calculations of hashes and whatnots can be used to reduce this problem. However, combining a sufficiently sophisticated attacker with sufficient knowledge, even this is not an insurmountable obstacle. Notably, as long as we speak of a repository (or ledger, Blockchain, whatnot) that is only ever used from the computer(s) of one person, chances are that all information needed, including private keys, actually would be known to the manipulator—e.g. because he works for law-enforcement and has the computer running right in front of him.

***In contrast, many or most Git repositories used in software development (the context in which Git originated) will exist in various copies that are continually synchronized with each other. Here a manipulation, e.g. to try to blame someone else for a costly bug or to remove a historical record of a copyright violation, would be far easier to prove. (But then again, we might not need a verification mechanism for that—it would often be enough to just compare contents.)

Worse: All counter-measures might turn out to be futile with manipulations that do not try to falsify the past. Consider some type of verification system that allows the addition of new data (events, objects, whatnot) and verifies the history of that data. (This will likely be the most typical case.) It might now be possible to verify that a certain piece of data was or was not present at a given time in the past—but there is no automatic protection against the addition of new data here and now. For instance, a hostile with system access could just* as easily plant evidence in e.g. a version-control system (by simply creating a new file through the standard commands of the version-control system), as he can by creating a new file in the file system.

*Assuming, obviously, that he has taken the time to learn how the victim used his system, which should be assumed if someone becomes a high-priority target of a competent law-enforcement or intelligence agency.

Then we have complications like technical skills, actual access to the evidence, and similar: If digital evidence has been planted and a sufficiently skilled investigator looked at the details, possibly including comparisons with backups, he might find enough discrepancies to reveal the manipulation. However, there is no guarantee that the victim of the manipulations has these skills*, can find and afford a technical consultant and expert witness, has access to relevant evidence (cf. above), … To take another trivial and unrealistic example: Assume that a manipulating police employee adds a new file into the file system after a computer has been confiscated. Before court, testimony is given of the presence of the file, even giving screen shots** verifying the name, position, and contents of the file—but not the time stamp***! With sufficient access and knowledge, the defense could have demonstrated that the time stamp indicated a creation after the confiscation; without, it has nothing—no matter what mechanisms were theoretically available.

*And even when he has these skills himself, he would likely still need an expert witness to speak on his behalf, because others might assume that his technical statements are deliberate lies (or be unwilling to accept his own expertise as sufficiently strong).

**I am honestly uncertain how this would be done in practice. With minor restrictions, the same would apply even if the computer was run physically in the court room, however. (But I do note that screen shots, too, can be manipulated or otherwise faked, making any indirect evidence even less valuable.)

***Here the triviality of the example comes in. For instance, even many or most laymen do know that files have time stamps; the timestamp too could have been manipulated; if the computer was brought into the court room, the defense could just have requested that the time stamp be displayed; … In a more realistic example, the situation could be very different.

Excursion on auditing:
Some of these problems could be reduced through various forms of more detailed user auditing, to see exactly who did what and when. This, however, runs into a similar set of problems, including that such auditing is (at least for now) massive overkill for most computer uses, that auditing might not always be wanted, and that the auditing trail can it self be vulnerable to manipulation*. To boot, if a hostile has gained access to the victim’s user account(s), auditing might not be very helpful to begin with: It might tell us that the user account John.Smith deleted a certain file at a certain time—but it will not tell us whether the physical person John Smith did so. It could equally be someone who has stolen his credentials or otherwise invaded the account (e.g. in the form of a Bundestrojaner).

*To reduce the risk of manipulation, many current users of auditing store audit information on a separate computer/server. This helps when the circumstances are sufficiently controlled. However, when both computers have been confiscated, the circumstances are no longer controlled. To boot, such a solution would be a definite luxury for the vast majority of private computer users.

Excursion on naive over-reliance in the other direction:
Another danger with digital evidence (in the form discussed above or more generally) is that a too great confidence in it could allow skilled criminals to go free, through manipulation of their own data. A good fictional example of this is given in Stephen R. Donaldson’s “Gap Cycle”, where the (believed to be impossible) manipulation of “datacores”* allows one of the characters to get away with horrifying crimes. Real-life examples could include an analogous manipulation of tachographs or auditing systems, if these were given sufficient credibility in court.

*The in-universe name for an “append-only” data store, which plays a similar (but more complex and pervasive) role to current tachographs in tracking the actions taken by a space ship and its crew.

Excursion on digital devices in general:
Above I deal with computers. This partly, because “traditional” computers form the historical main case; partly, because most digital devices, e.g. smart-phones, formally are computers, making it easier use “computer” than some other term. However, the same principles and much of the details apply even with a broader discussion—and for a very large and rising proportion of the population, smart-phones might be more relevant than traditional computers.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 11, 2018 at 2:34 am

A few semi-random points around my blogging and writing

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I have a few points relating to my blogging and writing, sometimes more generally applicable. Since not all have sufficient mass individually, I publish them as a group:

  1. When I first started my website, I had highly ambitious goals in terms of both quality of “markup” and continual improvement* of the texts themselves. Over time, the sheer amount of text has grown so large that I must consider these goals entirely unrealistic—attempting to keep them would cost far too much time, and would make writing a too boring leg-work task.

    *Largely based on my experiences as a software developer, especially with refactoring.

    Indeed, even the wish to make certain texts sufficiently high-quality for a first publication can cause severe delays—and I have often seen my self forced to draw a line and publish something three-quarters done just to avoid an eternal state of non-publication. (In cases where I felt that the importance of the topic to me, the amount of time already invested, or some other factor, made non-publication worse than sub-optimal publication.)

    Over-time, such complications have also changed my attitude towards blogging vs. running a “proper” website. While blogging is not optimal in terms of the resulting product, including the reduced ability to improve* texts, to link from an older work to a newer, and similar; it does have the advantage that it is easier to keep productivity up. A blog-like format is hard to avoid when the quantities of text grow beyond a certain point.

    *In the case of larger changes (arising e.g. through a better understanding of an issue, with a wish to expand, alter, retract, whatnot) a blogger will usually even have to resort to an entirely new post. While this too has advantages, it is more of a “necessary evil” than something positive, forcing me away from a more “book-like” result to a more “newspaper-like” one. However, I have noted that such larger changes on my website often led to problems with e.g. structuring or focus, and writing something new might sometimes have been the better idea.

  2. Partially overlapping: What I put off for the future can be delayed by months, even years, or not be done at all. It is, for instance, quite common for me to mention an “upcoming” text and not actually write it until months later—or to write a text half-way and then to leave it be for a few months.

    Indeed, despite the aforementioned goals, my website still has many articles with TODOs or obvious defects in them, because I published knowing that I could (and assuming that I would) relatively soon make corresponding updates. Some of these have been around since the first year of my website. (2009! The time of writing is 2018…) Worse: My first major attempts at writing consisted of a number of (paper) notebooks, especially based on my experiences at the now defunct company Firstgate/ClickandBuy*—the hands down worst employer I have ever had. Most of the contents of these notebooks are still only present in the very same notebooks…**

    *Due to the “defunct” part and the long time gone past, I no longer have any hesitation in mentioning its name: Those reading my website might find references to “E4” (=> my 4th employer), which is an anonymized version of the same company. (The lack of a key to understand some such names is a good example of an “obvious defect”.)

    **It is uncertain whether they will ever be published: In addition to the problem I discuss here, it is quite possible that my opinions, priorities, whatnot, have changed too much in the intervening years. This especially since parts of these writings had a cathartic character. Despite my considering these notebooks the core of my writing for a number of years, it is conceivable that I will at some point simply put them in my shredder…

  3. A special case of the first item is tagging and categorizations: As I have found over time, it is more-or-less futile to do such things manually, except on a very, very broad scale. This not just restricted to writing, but often in other areas too.

    Consider e.g. categories: If there are more than several categories, it is quite common that there is no single obvious match—implying that more than one category should be awarded, lest the readers look for something in one plausible category and miss it, because it is in another category. On the other hand, if this is done, we have the confusion that the same text (generally, “entity”) can appear in several categories. (This, in turn, might seem like a job for tags, but tags have their own problems, cf. below.) If the categories are fixed in number, there is often no really good match (implying “no category”); however, if new categories can be added to resolve this situation, then the number will tend to increase unduly, the risk of overlap is rises (because the new categories tend to have a less thought-through and ad-hoc character), and we also risk ending up with almost empty categories.

    Tags are usually* very similar to entirely ad-hoc categories, which are just thrown on various entities as seems fit, leading to complete chaos. To boot, we have questions like what degree of detail should be used, what number of tags applied, etc. Should e.g. an article on association football be tagged “association football”, “football”, and/or “soccer”? In most cases, only automatic tagging (and mechanisms with a similar purpose) make sense—to the point that I might even recommend not tagging most texts on the Internet at all, instead letting search engines and similar tools find relevant texts. I have even seen the recommendation to only use tags when the relevance of the tag is not clear to an automated tool from the text it self.**

    *Exceptions occur e.g. when the number of tags is small and/or their values are predictable. For instance, an email reader could use a few fix tags like “read”/“unread”, “urgent”, …; a version-control system could use tags indicating certain releases and other important events, and do so in unlimited numbers, as long as a consistent naming scheme is used; the window manager WMII, to which I have recently switched, uses a tagging system in lieu of “virtual desktops”, which works very well as long as the user does not do anything stupid.

    **Which obviously makes a mockery of tagging, because the most expected tags are then not set, and anyone who tries to use tags to e.g. browse contents will be lost.

    (Also see an excursion at the end.)

  4. I have grown uncertain what to call my works: When I wrote mostly for my website, I usually used “article”; and I continued that use on WordPress too for a long time. Over time, I switched to using the word “post” on WordPress, seeing that this is the standard on blogs. For a few months, I have been torn between “article” and “post”, because I intend to return to my website in the long term, likely including some type of import of my WordPress blogs, which might make “post” misleading. Recently, I have resolved this by mostly speaking of “text”, which is more neutral, avoids the risk of being misleading, and also distances me from journalists*.

    *Recurrent readers will likely have noticed that I have a very low opinion of journalists—and I do not wish to be associated with them.

  5. The “re-boot” of my website, which is one of the main reasons why I have taken a sabbatical, is likely to be one of the many things delayed, for the simple reason that there is much, including the above, that I want to think through before I start. I suspect, however, that the result will be something more like a blog* than the old website (cf. above); albeit, with better support for later changes, notably to fix minor errors, e.g. typos, with less effort than provided by WordPress.

    *But using WordPress as an alternative is not a long-term option: WordPress is and remains a lousy platform. Further, the attitude of the WordPress people towards both bloggers and readers is depressing.

  6. While virtually all my writings to date have been of a non-fictional nature, I have lately developed far-going plans for a novel.* Regardless of whether this is successful, there will be stretches of time where my other writing and website activities will be correspondingly reduced. It will also likely imply that I prolong my sabbatical considerably.

    *Do not hold your breath: Even in a best case, this will take a long time; especially since I need to develop new skills. Outside of the best case, there is no guarantee that I will manage to complete it and do so with a satisfactory quality for publication.

Excursion on how I tag on WordPress:
I try to pick five* tags with minimal thought spent**. Occasionally, I cannot actually come up with five reasonable tags; somewhat more often, more than five feel relevant. Sometimes I try to pick tags consistent with earlier works; sometimes I try to pick something I have not or only rarely used before; often I just pick the five tags most obvious to me.*** Is this much better than throwing darts? Possibly not…

*Rationale: This is something recommended to me years ago, as a compromise between too-little-too-be-noticed and so-much-that-automatic-mechanisms-think-it-is-spam. Whether this recommendation still holds, I do not know.

**Rationale: This approach of “speed tagging” attempts to make sure that I do not lose too much of any benefit that might be present, while keeping down the time potentially wasted. I am skeptical towards tagging and would rather not tag at all. However, in the days of yore, WordPress had wonderful global lists of posts grouped by tags and sorted by date (that I loved to browse myself). While these grew more user-unfriendly over time and appear to have been abolished entirely years ago, I still cling to the hope that they or some equivalent is still around or will at some point be re-instated. Certainly, some amount of tagging did make sense in the early days of my blogging due to these lists.

***(Ir)rationale: I am torn between a wish to be consistent, a hope to reach someone new in the (possibly imaginary) category listings, and the feeling of just wasting my time with tags.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 9, 2018 at 5:42 am

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