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A Swede in Germany

Archive for January 2019

A few thoughts on educationrealist

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In December, I read large portions of the blog educationrealist.* I found it particularly gratifying that the author (henceforth “Ed”) verifies a great number of my opinions on schools and schooling with “from the trenches” information regarding current U.S. schools.**

*Already briefly mentioned during a recent blogroll update. I wrote most of the below a few weeks before publication, based on keywords and short descriptions gathered in December. Taking up writing again today, I can no longer recall much of what I had intended to write for the remaining keywords. This has led to some points being considerably more abbreviated than others. I was torn between throwing them out altogether and keeping the short version, but mostly opted for the short version. With hindsight, I should also have kept more links.

*My opinions are based on a mixture of my own experiences from Swedish schools in the 1980s and early 1990s, reasoning from principles (of e.g. human behavior and abilities), less detailed accounts by students or teachers, and discussions by (mostly) other outsiders. Correspondingly, there was a risk that the non-trivial changes over time or when moving from country to country had mislead me. This does not appear to be the case.

Among the interesting observations to be made:

  1. There is a strong component of innate ability to school success.

    This has corollaries, many contrary to what politicians tend to believe, like: It is not possible to teach everyone everything with a reasonable effort. A one-size-fits-all* school system will fail many students through under- or over-challenging them and through necessitating pedagogical compromises. Over-education is wasteful and unproductive at best. Ignoring group differences in “academic talent” is a recipe for failure.**

    *Ed usually discusses this in terms of (absence of) “tracking”, which is one way to make the school system “multi-sized”. I note that during my own school years more-or-less no such efforts of any kind took place. Cf. e.g. some discussion of skipping grades/being held back in [1]. No in-year acceleration or other differentiation, from which I could have benefited greatly, were available to the gifted. The first true differentiation took place in (the rough equivalent of) senior high-school, where students self-selected into more specialized programs based on interest, with some minor filtering based on previous grades when there were more applicants than places.

    **This especially with an eye on racial variety (which was almost a non-issue during my own school years, with an almost homogeneous population). Many posts deal with racial realism, the evils of various affirmative action measures, etc., approaching the statistics driven topics of “The Bell-Curve” from a more practical/personal/anecdotal angle. However, in the big picture, this is not limited to race—I note e.g. how German news-papers and politicians ever again complain about how the German system would hinder working-class children, without even considering the possibility that the differences in outcome could be partially caused by differences in (inherited) abilities that affect the respective probability of the parents being working-class and of the children doing poorly in school.

  2. The grade system is broken through rewarding effort, compliance, whatnot over actual ability and performance. Indeed, the picture painted is much bleaker than during my own school years, where there was a strong subjective component in the teacher’s evaluation, but where, at least, performance was measured through tests—not home work.

    This is particularly interesting in light of an earlier text on admission criteria, where I oppose the suggestion to remove Högskoleprovet (“Swedish SATs”) for admissions to higher education in favor of a purely GPA based admission.* If we assume that the same trend is (or will be) followed in Sweden, the correct resolution would be to abolish GPA admission and rely solely on Högskoleprovet… (But just as Ed complains about the dumbing-down of the SATs, there is reason to fear that Högskoleprovet is suffering a similar faith. There certainly is a constant fiddling with it—notably, to ensure that boys do not outscore girls.)

    *Swedish admissions are centralized and use numerical criteria—not interviews, essays, extra-curriculars, …

  3. The negative effects of destructive students on others can be considerable.

    Interesting sub-items to consider is what type and degree of disciplinary measures should be allowed, and the benefit of splitting students into groups that are more homogeneous in terms of e.g. interest and behavior. (Yes, the latter might make it even worse for the trouble students, but they are not exactly thriving anyway—and doing so would improve the opportunities for everyone else.)

    I did some minor reading on this from other sources (but did not keep links), and found some stories that make even Ed’s experiences, already well beyond my own,* look harmless—including a female teacher writing about regularly crying with frustration in the evening…

    *To speculate on the difference, I note that I spent a fair bit of my school years in small classes, that anti-authority attitudes were not yet as wide-spread, and that Ed has taught many classes of a remedial nature. Racial factors might also play in, e.g. in that the cognitive differences in the class-room are greater in the U.S. or that many minority boys have a deliberate “tough” image. I know too little of his situation and experiences to say anything with certainty, however.

  4. Student motivation is highly important, and often something that the school system fails at (but which is often blamed on the student).

    This is the more depressing, seeing that a knee-jerk political reaction to school issues is to increase the time spent in school, which obviously will reduce motivation further even among the motivated, let alone the unmotivated. It also comes with other problems. Someone fails in school due to lack of motivation? Put him in summer school so that he will enter the following year already “school tired”. Let him repeat a year to prolong the torture. Let him take remedial classes to make his days longer. Etc.

    The correct solution is, obviously, to attack the lack of motivation (which is very often to blame on the school/teacher/school-system/… in the first place). If this problem cannot be fixed, other efforts are pointless or even harmful. If it can be fixed, the strong students will advance on their own, weaker will at least have a chance, and we have to have enough realism to be willing to part with the too weak students at an earlier time than “year twelve”.

  5. Politicians and education reformers are often very naive.
  6. There is a lot of trickery with re-classification of children, artificial passes of courses, and similar, for the purpose of making schools look good (or “not disastrously bad”?).

    A particularly interesting variation is the confusion of classes for/students in “English Language Learning/er” and special education: Apparently, many students who should be in special ed are put into ELL based on excuses, e.g. because the parents were first generation immigrants, while the child is a reasonably proficient native speaker who happens to do poorly in school. This way, the failure in school can no longer be blamed on the school (or, God forbid, the possibility that not all students are equally smart)—but on an alleged language handicap.

A point where his experiences (and some citations?) do not match my expectation is the competence level of teachers: He repeatedly expresses the view that the effect of increasing the subject* competence levels or minimum test-scores** of teachers has little effect on student outcomes. There is even some speculation on a negative effect on Black students, because they appear to do better with a Black teacher, and increasing the test-score limits would reduce the proportion of Black teachers. My own experiences with teacher competence are very different, but I could see a possible reconciliation in teachers affecting different students differently, e.g. in that a dumber teacher will bore/under-challenge/annoy/whatnot the bright students, while a brighter teacher might similarly over-challenge or have troubles with adapting to the dumber students—leaving the total effect on the student population roughly constant. (Similar explanations could include e.g. brighter teachers being stricter on dumber students when grading than dumber teachers are, resp. dumber teachers failing to appreciate good answers from brighter students.***) If this is so, we have an additional argument for segregation by ability (combined with corresponding choices of teachers); while ignoring teacher competence would be particularly bad for the brighter students.

*E.g. requiring better math knowledge in a math teacher. This in contrast to e.g. pedagogical training, where I am uncertain what his stance is—apart from a negative opinion of some of the training actually on offer.

**On some type of qualification test for teachers. Similar statements might or might not have been made concerning e.g. SAT scores or GPA.

***With several of my own less bright teachers, what I said sometimes went well over their heads. More generally, I have made the life-experience that stupid people often are under the misapprehension that someone brighter disagrees because he lacks insights that they have, while the true cause is typically the exact opposite—he has insights that they lack.

Looking at Ed, himself, he appears to do a great deal of experimentation and tries to improve his teaching over time. There are a few things that appear to work well for him and that could prove valuable elsewhere, including (big picture) running a hard line against students, treating students very differently depending on their behaviors/need/abilities/…, and attempts to motivate his students, as well as (on the detail level) many pedagogical tricks and techniques.

Unfortunately, there are a few other things that strike me as negative, even if some of them might be a result of external circumstances, e.g. that the school system leaves him with no good options or that he must make compromises between the interests of the students, his school, society, whatnot. This applies especially to his “D for effort” policy, which makes him a contributor to problems that he, himself, complains about, e.g. misleading grades and remedial students making it to college (while still being remedial). My take? It is never “D for effort”, it is never “E for effort”, it is absolutely never, ever “A for effort”: Unless actual accomplishment results from the effort, it must be “F for effort”. (Which, to boot, makes for a phonetically better saying.)

Another negative is a considerable mathematical naivete for a math teacher,* that is likely the cause of some weird ideas that are more likely to hinder than help his students, e.g. that higher order polynomials (or functions, depending on perspective) are arrived at by “multiplication” of lines** (i.e. first-degree relations like y = 5x + 3). Yes, this is a possible perspective, but it is just a small piece of the overall puzzle, and it strikes me as highly counter-intuitive and pedagogically unsound as an approach. (In my preliminary notes, I have a second example of “identifying numbers graphically only”, but I am not certain what I meant. It might have been something like requesting students to draw a graph and find the y-value from the x-value by measurement, instead of calculation, which would be pointless as an “only”, but could be acceptable as a preliminary step or to demonstrate the occasional need to use other methods than pure calculation.)

*In all fairness, he, unlike many others, understands and acknowledges that his understanding is superficial when he moves beyond the classes that he teaches.

**Generally, there is an extreme over-focus on geometry; however, I am not certain whether this is caused by Ed or the school (or the text-book publishers, politicians, whatnot). This includes e.g. viewing functions more-or-less solely as graphs, root learning of sine and cosine values, and similar.

Yet another is “lying to students” (see excursion), as demonstrated e.g. in a post on “The Evolution of Equals”. This post also shows some examples of enormous efforts being put in to teach the trivial to the dumber students, who might not belong in high school to begin with—at least a basic grasp of the equals sign should be present years earlier. Move them out of school or to some more practical course and use the freed teacher resources to teach those teachable… (Some other posts make a better job of displaying a great effort with little return, but this is the one post for which I kept the URL.)

Some other points could be seen as positive or negative depending on the details. For instance, he does some type of interactive/quizzing teaching that expects a “chorus answer” from the class. This might keep the students alert and force them to at least rote-learn some material—but it does not allow for much true thought and it does not demonstrate any deeper understanding among the students. I would certainly have found it annoying (or worse), had it been applied during my own school years.

Excursion on a generic solution to tracking, acceleration, etc.:
I have for some time considered taking a more “collegey” approach to school as a solution (sketch) to some problems. I see some support for this in the non-integrated approach taken to e.g. math in Ed’s descriptions.* What if the material to be covered, even in year one, is broken into rough packages of four quarter-semesters per semester and topic—and the students then go through these packages in whatever tempo they can manage? The strong students will soon move ahead of schedule, be it in general or in their favorite topics. Similarly, the student with an interest in a certain area, e.g. math, can move ahead in that area. The weaker students can take their time until they have mastered the matter sufficiently well. Etc. Exactly how to handle the teachers in this scenario is not yet clear to me, but it is clear that mere lecturing** to the class would have to be considerably reduced or combined with a division of people based on the package that they are currently involved with.

*Math was integrated through-out my own school years. While I do not see this as a pedagogical problem, it does limit flexibility.

**With some reservations for the first few years, I consider lecturing to be highly inefficient, often boring, and increasingly only suitable for weak students as we move up in grades. Strong students are able to learn mostly on their own and based on books. Cf. an earlier text on college material. In at least a U.S. context, it also helps with hiding the problem of sub-grade-level literacy—better to reveal and address the problem.

Excursion on memory:
A recurring issue is that Ed’s weaker students often actually do learn how to do something—but have forgotten it again by the next semester. This is likely partially caused by a too superficial understanding,* but it could also point to many simply having very weak long-term memories. Revisiting some past interactions with others, such a weak memory could explain quite a few incidents that I had hitherto considered rooted in e.g. an original pretended understanding or agreement,** willful non-compliance using pretended ignorance as an excuse, too great a stupidity to be able to make even a trivial generalization of a known fact, or similar. (Whether weak memory is the explanation I leave unstated, but it is something that I must consider in the future.) A twist is that I have partially not considered memory an issue, because I thought my own memory poor and rarely had such problems—but in comparison to some of Ed’s students, my memory is excellent…

*Understanding does not only help with recollection, but can also be used to fill in many “blanks”. Of course, in terms of school, it can require a teacher with the right attitude: I recall an oral examination (on the master level, no less) where the professor asked for a formula. I had not bothered to learn the formula, knowing that the derivation was very easy from first principles, and set about deriving the formula. He immediately interrupted me, stating that he was content with the formula and that the derivation was out of scope. Apparently, he expected students to blindly memorize the formula, while having no clue how it came about…

**Something that also occurs among some of Ed’s students, as might some of the other items mentioned.

Excursion on lying to students:
“Lying to students” roughly refers to giving them a simplified (or even outright incorrect) view, which is (perceived as) good enough for now and which they can easily understand—without telling them that it is a simplified view. The result of this is that those who do not progress in their studies believe things that are not true, while those who do progress have to unlearn and relearn things in a highly unnecessary manner. A particular complication is that it can be very hard to be certain what opinions/knowledge/whatnot, gathered over a prolonged time period, corresponds to what state of knowledge. In many cases, the simplifications can make something harder to understand for the bright students, because it simply does not make sense or because the non-simplified version is (in some sense) cleaner. A very good example is the theory of relativity taught on the premise that the speed of light in vacuum is fixed* vs the premise that there is an upper speed-limit on causality or information, which light reaches in vacuum—the latter is much easier to see as plausible, leads to more natural conclusions, etc.** To toy with a simpler example in Ed’s direction: Compare the teacher who says “It is not possible to subtract a larger number from a smaller number!” with the colleague who says “If one subtracts a larger number from a smaller number, the result is a negative number—but that is for next semester!”. Which of the two is more likely to have confused students the next semester? Possibly, to the point that other claims made are no longer seen as credible? Which is more likely to peak an interest into what negative numbers are? Possibly, to the point that ambitious students read ahead or ask for explanations in advance?

*In all fairness, this could be based less on a wish to (over-)simplify and more on historical development. Even so, it should not be the starting point today.

**Consider e.g. questions like “What is so special about light?!?”, “Why must it be the speed in vacuum?”, “What happens when light travels through a crystal at a lower speed?”, …

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Written by michaeleriksson

January 14, 2019 at 10:42 am

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A dialogue on some topics relating to Plato’s “The Republic”

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Glaucon, I am sure that you know Plato’s “The Republic”.

I do.

Then you have also noted his way of presenting an argument?

I have. I find it most convincing.

I see. Would you agree that our understanding of a matter is improved through critical thought?

Undoubtedly.

And that mindless and uncritical agreement does little to achieve this?

It is so.

Would you further agree that this applies also to the speaker, who might be more stimulated to investigate his own position, deepen his own understanding, and improve his arguments, when faced with some opposition? That there might even be cases, where a speaker comes to reject his old opinion?

You speak the truth.

Then I will also claim that the reader of a dialogue will be better off when this dialogue is not a one-sided presentation of ideas by the first speaker, interleaved with a blanket agreement by the second; especially, in those cases where the claims are specious, simplistic, one-sided, leave out a discussion of special cases, or similar.

Truer words were never spoken.

We might even argue that, unless satirical, a great convincer, or someone with an interest in finding the truth, or someone who respects his audience, should avoid such one-sidedness—even that an argument will often be more convincing when it is given a hard test and survives that test, than when it is left untested.

For sure.

As you agree so far: Would you still consider Plato’s reasoning convincing?

I admit that my faith is weakened, and I will return to his thoughts with a more critical mind.

Your doubts please me. Still, while his reasoning is often weak, there is much reason and many good ideas in his writings.

So there is.

Some, however, I find troubling, be it because of changing times or different preferences.

I, too, have always thought.

Are you not contradicting yourself, Glaucon?

I am indeed.

Any way, consider topics like the formation of opinions in the populace: While Plato makes a great case against lies in general, he appears to make exceptions when it comes to the rulers of a country. He also favors censorship of myths and legends to give the broad masses the right ideals.

This is so.

Today’s leaders are obviously often duplicitous, but they are far from Plato’s ideal.

How so?

Plato has an image of the best of the best being groomed for high office, as philosopher kings, while today’s leaders … Well, you do follow politics?

I do; and I see what you mean.

In fact, Plato seems to see a ladder of decay of government or governance where democracy is just one step short of tyranny as the penultimate stop on the ladder.

He does. But have you not yourself called democracy the least evil among forms of government?

Echoing Churchill—yes. I am not necessarily saying that Plato is right with his hierarchy, but I do find the perspective interesting.

It is indeed.

But to return to my earlier thoughts, it is clear that Plato’s ideas are often dependent on each other and do not necessarily function on their own. For instance, if we had a rule that a philosopher king might be allowed to lie to his citizens, while his citizens would be forced to speak the truth to him, and that rule actually proved beneficial, could we conclude that the same rule would be beneficial when the philosopher king gives way to an incompetent populist?

Certainly not.

Could we conclude that the same rule applies even for a merely reasonably competent politician?

No. I see your point that it has to be the philosopher king, or the rule might prove faulty.

Of course, even with a philosopher king, and even assuming that the rule is beneficial, which would still need verification, there is an ethical problem.

How so?

It juxtaposes a pragmatic benefit with an ideal of how to handle knowledge: At the very core of my beliefs on forming opinions, growing of knowledge, and similar, is the right to do so on one’s own terms, based on own thinking and with free access to information not distorted by others. Indeed, I have used a part of “The Republic” to illustrate this very thing.

Your insight blinds me like the sun does a cave dweller.

But a ruler lying to his people would be exactly such a distortion. So would censoring myths, legends, and tales to change their real or imagined message to something else. So, indeed, could a too one-sided dialogue be.

So it is. I do recall a certain vehemence on your part against distortion of literature.

I am pleased that you paid attention. From another point of view, one of the central ideas of the modern law system is that everyone should be equal in front of the law, and when a ruler is allowed to lie, while his citizens are not, then they are not equal in front of the law.

True.

Similarly, modern thoughts on topics like the Rechtsstaat are steeped in ideas like safe-guards of democracy, use of checks and balances, giving the citizens rights towards the state rather than vice versa, …

Pardon me for disagreeing, but that sounds more like the 18th-century idealism.

Consider yourself pardoned: Unfortunately, proponents of a true Rechtsstaat are rarely heard today and the insight into what is needed has lessened; and many fall into the trap of considering any state that enables their own ideology and politics as an ipso-facto Rechtsstaat, if rarely using that name, while states that do not are condemned irrespective of to which degree they adhere to the ideals of a Rechtsstaat. Still, when we contrast even the 21th-century take with Plato’s times, the world is very different—and there are many of us who do hold and propose strong Rechtsstaatlichkeit.

I see your point. But: If we do have a philosopher king, what would the purposes of safe-guards be? And: Do we really need safe-guards specifically for democracy?

Good questions. The first is likely easier to answer: Such safe-guards, or their presence or absence, must never be based on the assumption of an ideal situation. The situation might or might not be ideal today, but even then there is no guarantee for tomorrow. If I trust all my fellow humans, I could leave my door unlocked or even forego a lock entirely—but I do not. I might know and trust my neighbors sufficiently, but what about the mail-man? The mail-man’s vacation replacement? Guests of my neighbors? All strangers who pass by the house in the course of the day?

It is clear now. You say that the next king need not be a philosopher, despite having been carefully chosen and groomed.

Or that he was a philosopher king and has since succumbed to insanity or dementia, or that the choice was not careful, or that the grooming was flawed, or whatever other complications can occur. Worse, if the philosopher king is seen as a literal monarch, rather than e.g. one of the members of a governing council, then the main difference between him and the tyrant, who is the lowest rung on the ladder, lies in his person—not in the system of government. The later concept of an “enlightened despot” has a great overlap with Plato’s “philosopher king”, and illustrates in its very name how small the difference can be—the one despot happens to be enlightened, the other not.

Quite true.

To turn to the second point, I agree that safe-guards for democracy might seem a bit paradoxical in light of my other writings. The answer falls into at least three parts: Lesser evil, semantic misunderstanding/misuse, and the self-servingness of politicians.

I see what you mean by “lesser evil”, from past discussions, but you have to explain the others.

My pleasure: In terms of semantics, words like “democratic” are often used to imply certain things that are not necessarily relating to democracy. It is, for instance, possible to have a democracy without strong due process and to have due process without democracy; however, due process is often incorrectly seen as a part of democracy. Similarly, it is possible to have freedom of speech without democracy; and while it is arguably not possible to have true democracy without freedom of speech, many self-proclaimed democracies do have strong limits on speech. In such a context, “safe-guards of democracy” could include safe-guards for various civic rights, aspects of the Rechtsstaat, and similar—which I, incidentally, consider more important and beneficial than democracy per se.

That makes sense. What about the politicians?

Here we do not so much have an argument for as much as an explanation of such formulations, or of the safe-guards themselves: Politicians, in the modern sense, are kept in power by what passes for democracy and they are correspondingly set on preserving it…

Very true.

Wonderful. Then this will be a good point to wrap the discussion up, before our dialogue reaches Platonesque proportions.

If it is not too bold, I have some questions concerning the above and the later books of the “The Republic”.

Well, strictly between you and me, I have only read about half of it so far. You know how I tend to have a dozen books open in parallel, often over months, and how that annoying dialogue format makes it hard for me to keep my concentration up. It is true that the preceding might give an incorrect view of Plato’s ideas through this incomplete and unfocused reading, but I thought it better to get this text out of the way now, before I forget what I already wanted to say and before I have so much other material from the rest of the “Republic” that this text would grow too long and chaotic.

A most wise decision.

Glaucon, you are, unless I am much mistaken, a great sycophant.

I regret to admit that this is true.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 13, 2019 at 2:33 am

Further damage to democracy / Follow-up: The 2018 Swedish parliamentary election

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As a further sign of how democracy is increasingly lost, Swedish politicians appear to be going down the same perfidious path that the Germans have pushed with their unholy CDU/CSU and SPD coalitions.

Shortly after the Swedish election, things seemed to point to a non-Leftist government, with the traditional non-Left alliance of parties being roughly on par with the Social-Democrats (S) and their support parties, and upstart SD being less likely to support S. Item 6 of the linked-to text is particularly interesting in light of actual developments…

However, just as in Germany, there were endless* delays and negotiations, with the added perfidy that two parties of the decades long non-Left alliance have decided that it is more important to keep SD without influence than it is to support the alliance and to be true to their voters.** This despite a very clear understanding among the typical alliance voters that a vote for any one of these parties was a vote for the alliance as a whole and against S. To boot, said two parties (according to current reporting) would not even get seats in the government as a part of their thirty silver pieces, which would have given some pseudo-justification to this move. They have received some promises of policy changes, but likely none that could not have been handled better with an alliance government to begin with. Of course, these concessions also potentially open S up to criticism, but a lesser one, seeing that it actually gets most of the cake…

*My first text on the election was published four months ago, to the day.

**SD is still, despite having the support of more than every fifth voter in some polls, treated as a pariah by some other parties, in entire disproportion to their actual opinions, and is seen as carrying some type of guilt by association. (Well in line with typical Leftist propaganda methods of condemn-everyone-insufficiently-PC-as-evil-to-the-core: SD is critical of immigration policies and rejects the gender-feminist world-view of “Patriarchy” and “constructs”.) For my part, I would consider S the more extreme and unbalanced of the two… Certainly, it is absurd when parties refuse to even risk winning a parliamentary vote through SD’s support. Consider, by analogy, if the U.S. Republicans (Democrats) would refuse their own bills and nominations if they needed the support from a handful of Democrats (Republicans) to push them through. See also several older texts, including e.g. [1] from before the 2010 election.

As far as I am concerned, the said two parties,“Centerpartiet”–“the center party” (C) and “Liberalerna”–“the liberals”* (L), have de-legitimized themselves entirely, and I cannot at this juncture consider either of Sweden and Germany a true democracy: Democracy is more than just formally having a democratic system—it also requires that the players behave democratically and do not just use the voters as a mere tool for their own purposes.

*I note that the Swedish word “liberal” kept its original meaning for a lot longer than in the U.S., whose “liberals” are often anti-liberals by older standards. Indeed, as late as when I was a teenager, I used the word to describe myself and was correctly understood. However, L has long flirted with the U.S. style of “liberalism”—the more so since a name change, a few years back, from the then “Folkpartiet” (“the People’s Party”).

Excursion on the election procedure:
A potentially severe flaw in the Swedish system is that the new government (resp. the prime minister who appoints the government) is elected within the parliament on a negative basis: Rather than picking whoever can get a majority (or plurality) behind him, the job goes to whoever is not explicitly rejected by a majority. This peculiar system has likely strongly contributed to the current problems, and was behind the absurd 1978 choice of L as sole government party—with 39 (!) out of 349 MPs and roughly one in nine of the (popular election) voters as a basis. (According to Swedish Wikipedia, the in-parliament vote showed 39 for, 66 against, and 215 abstaining, and since the 66 were well short of half… While I see nothing wrong with minority governments in principle, this is too much.) It might be time to experiment with e.g. a knock-candidates-out-until-one-has-a-majority system.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 11, 2019 at 8:50 pm

Follow-up: WordPress and more post-by-email distortions

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Looking at the actual results of the WordPress-spelling issue just mentioned, it seems that all-but-one occurrence of “Wordpress” were indeed turned into “WordPress”—the one that actually was in quotation marks.

This has the advantage that it does allow discussions of spelling and correct quoting of others statements; however, it does so at the cost of an inconsistent behavior, and a behavior that is highly unpredictable. To boot, it does not resolve the overall problem. The correct solution is and remains to keep all occurrences the way that the blogger actually wrote them.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 7, 2019 at 10:53 pm

WordPress and more post-by-email distortions

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I have already written about how WordPress distorts quotation marks in “post by email” texts, and why this is idiotic. However, these are not the only artificial problems caused by WordPress. For instance, I have long noticed that line-breaks are often added or removed compared to the display of my HTML original, e.g. in the list entries in my recent blogroll update. Looking at the actual HTML code, I can see that WordPress has simply removed closing paragraph-tags (p) before a closing-listentry tag (li), which is very poor style. Not only does the result indisputably display differently* in my browser, but good code does not rely on implicit closures of that kind.

*Unlike in my original, very preliminary observations, when I first experimented with post-by-email. Then, I had mainly (or exclusively?) seen a removal of tags around the asterisks that I use for footnotes, which indeed did not seem to affect display. (At least in my browser and with the fonts used—there is always a risk that the situation is different in other circumstances.)

Another issue is that I write “Wordpress” (as I attempt here; let us see whether it is changed) with a small “p”, but that this somehow always turns out as “WordPress” (with a capital “P”). WordPress might have its own preferred spelling, but it has no right to impose it on me, especially since the word could conceivably refer to something else in some context (possibly, within a book by Jasper Fforde?). Certainly, there are a few* people who disapprove strongly of such unconventional casing, and imposing something that it disapproves of in such a manner would be doubly unethical—with strong parallels to a recent text on distortion of literary works. Or what about a text (e.g. this one) discussing the spelling, which is now unable to quote the word in variant forms? Or what about an attempt to quote something that someone else said, which simply did not use the preferred-by-Wordpress spelling?

*I am not one of them, but I have sufficiently strong opinions in other areas that I can sympathize and put myself in their shoes in this scenario.

Moreover: What guarantees do we have that no more insidious changes take place (or later will take place)? What if someone decides that words like “nigger” and “fuck” are to be auto-censored*, that all spelling be converted to U.S. conventions to suit the broadest spectrum of readers, or that all occurrences of “he” be automatically replaced by “they” to ensure PC conformity? Also note that there is no notification whatsoever as to what changes have been made, which leaves the blogger the choice between blind trust and entirely disproportionate checks and/or manual corrections.

*In the context of forums, such auto-censorship is relatively common, and often applied in an utterly idiotic manner. For instance, words like “analyst” can be turned into “****yst”, because the filters do not differ between a stand-alone “anal” and “anal” as part of a larger word with an entirely different meaning. (The question aside, whether “anal” is worthy of censorship in any context.) On the other hand, they are typically foiled by variations like “f*ck” or “F-U-C-K”, the censorship of which would be much less unreasonable (but still disputable!) than a plain-text “anal”.

This is all the more annoying, since one of the reasons that I use post-by-email is to avoid the extreme fuck-ups that WordPress causes through its GUI*.

*Cf. e.g. the current state of a text dealing with “Google’s ideological echo chamber”, where a post-by-email malfunction forced me to correct the text in the GUI—with very weird layout results. (Actually, this might be yet another example of consistent idiocy: I used the HR-tag, which has over-time been redefined from meaning “horizontal ruler” to “general content separator”. Because my original posting attempt was cut off exactly where the HR-tag was, I suspect that WordPress has imposed an even further going private semantic of “end of post”, which would yet again be an inexcusable meddling contrary to reasonable assumptions. However, I have made no further experiments with said tag in conjuncture with WordPress.)

The only reasonable solution is to respect the actual words and code of the blogger.

Disclaimer:
In order to avoid additional complications through possible WordPress interference, some of the above formulations are less explicit than they would be in another context, e.g. in that I speak of “paragraph-tags (p)” where I would normally have included an explicit tag example.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 7, 2019 at 10:31 pm

Fraudulent product information/German DVDs/Koch Media

with 2 comments

A few years back, I bought a German edition by Koch Media of the 1980s/1990s Sherlock-Holmes series*, labeled as “Die komplette Serie” (“The complete series”). Re-watching it, I also visited the Wikipedia page—and was highly confused to see a mention of 41 episodes, where my “complete” DVD set only contains 36.

*As this is a British production: I use the word in the U.S. meaning and/or as a British plural.

As it turns out, Koch Media has arbitrarily removed five episodes, without giving the slightest indication of this fact. Worse: These five appear to be the movie-length* ones, which (in a rough approximation) then equal ten episodes worth of screen-time… By this reckoning, “complete” corresponds to roughly three-quarters (36/46). I note, in contrast, that Wikipedia claims the full 41 episodes for the English language region-1 (“The Complete Granada Television Series”) and region-2** (“The Complete Collection”) equivalents. Further, that any excuse based on what was originally aired in Germany falls flat on its face,*** seeing that German Wikipedia points to even fewer episodes being aired and dubbed versions*** being available for the missing episodes. Further yet, that the movie-length additions were sent during and are an official part of the series (in contrast to e.g. some continuations of sci-fi series). Further yet, that they were made long before the DVD-box was released (actually, before DVDs were available), making a “it was complete at the time” explanation impossible.

*Most episodes likely clock in at roughly fifty minutes, and are based on the many short-stories. Several stories were book-length, however, while others might have been given more time for other reasons when filmed.

**Differences between DVD-regions (a user-hostile idiocy) would not give a satisfactory justification, but at least some explanation.

***Germany is infested with dubbed versions of everything (cf. excursion), and a sometime problem is that material that was never aired is not available in dubbed versions, and are therefore not included on DVD releases either—to the great annoyance of those who use the English audio as a matter of course.

Barring great incompetence and lack of due diligence, there is only one conclusion possible: A deliberate and fraudulent attempt to mislead the customers about the contents.

Unfortunately, this is only the latest of many, many grossly dishonest distortions by the German DVD industry. For instance:

  1. I once bought a few Hitchcock movies in a box labeled as having English audio, but where half of them actually only contained German audio. Note: Not “a few Transformers movies”—we are talking about movies that are simultaneously classic and artistic, which should not be watched in a dubbed version by anyone.
  2. In the days when I used DVD players,* I regularly encountered DVDs marked as having English/German audio and German subtitles (with no qualifications!), where it turned out that it was impossible to disable the subtitles when using the English audio.

    *Today, I use a computer with software that does not allow such inexcusable idiocies.

  3. Occasionally, especially with older material, alleged dual-audio TV-series turn out to have single episodes with only German audio (“Get Smart” springs to mind).
  4. Seasons are often divided into two smaller boxes (it self acceptable) that are labeled as “The complete season X” (“Die komplette Xte Staffel”) in large letters, with an accompanying “Volume 1” resp. “Volume 2” in smaller letters and on a different line (no longer acceptable). Since the only sane expectation* is that a DVD release of a TV season does not leave anything out, the only reasonable implication of “complete” would be “this volume contains the entire season in one go”, which is quite in contrast to the actual intent. A non-misleading description would be e.g. “Die Xte Staffel: Volume 1” (“Season X: Volume 1”) in a consistent letter size and on one line.

    *Unlike with books and “unabridged”, where e.g. the “The unabridged [very long book], volume 1” might be justifiable, seeing that long books often are abridged. (However, even then, it would make more sense to leave “unabridged” out, and to be very, very careful about marking all abridged works as “abridged”.) There might be some very, very rare exception, e.g. when some episode has not been aired for censorship reasons or when portions of episodes have been cut to fit a certain combination of time-slot and advertising; however, both are quite rare in Germany. (While, by reputation, British TV series are often cut when aired in the U.S.)

  5. The treatment of “Breaking Bad” was particularly poor and dishonest: The fifth and simultaneously last season was split into and advertised as, respectively, the fifth season (half-a-season at full price) and the last season (half-a-season at full price).

    This is made the worse, because anyone who had, even casually, followed the news on the series would have known that the fifth (in the true sense) season also was the last, and must have assumed that the claim of “fifth season” implied the end of the series.

    With the previous item, the observant buyer at least has a chance and most of the victims will be among the poor readers, but here it would take actually research to become aware of the problem. (Yes, I too fell for this one.)

(To which can be added the more global problems, like unskippable copyright warnings and trailers, annoying menus, and whatnots—some of which reach the point of invalidating merchantability or fitness for purpose.)

Excursion on further action:
In a parallel email, I will confront Koch Media and demand that the missing episodes be provided to me separately.

Excursion on books:
Unfortunately, such dirty methods are not limited to DVDs. For instance, many thick U.S. fantasy books that sell at price X in the U.S. are split into several smaller volumes when translated to German—and sell at price X each.*

*Or, at least, they were/did during my first few years in Germany, when the access to English language books was much more restricted than today (and I read much more fantasy than I do now). Such nonsense, the poor quality of translation, and the inevitable distortion through even a rare good translation, moved me to stick to English whenever possible, and I cannot speak as to the current situation.

Excursion on dubbing:
Dubbing is the bane of TV/movies/acting/whatnot in Germany. Compared to Sweden, this malpractice has left generations with Germans with a stunted English, a distorted understanding of acting,* and some very odd ideas through various mistranslations.** The average TV sender (at least when I stilled watched TV) sends every non-German program dubbed into German. The vast majority of all cinemas are exclusively or almost exclusively German only. Until possibly as late as ten years ago, DVD buyers had to be very, very careful to check that there actually was an English audio track on originally English (language) movies.*** Etc. (And, yes, this applies even to “art” movies and, almost unbelievably, musicals.)

*I have a long standing hypothesis that the mediocre level of German acting is largely a result of dubbing: Not only are viewers removed from the larger market of English-speaking actors, but since the dub-actors are often second-/third-rate and/or obsessed with “sounding cool” and/or try to play every single character as were he a professional speaker, the mark of comparison is set far too low, which (in turn) hits the quality of even (original) German productions. (Calling dub-actors “voice actors” is a potential insult to many of the U.S. and Japanese voice actors that I have heard in the context of animation: Not only are these very often better actors in general, but they also avoid the forced/fake “coolness” and unnatural voices of German dub-actors—unless and to the degree that the specific part calls for it.)

**For instance, the German version of “Die Hard” is infamous for making the terrorists non-German and then having to jump through various continuity hoops to make things fit. For instance, there are often gross translation errors. For instance, there is often a considerable dumbing down or drop in register compared to the original phrasing—I once caught the trailers of some movie in both German and English: The original used phrases like (in my rough recollection) “You may repossess your vehicle!” and “Are you resisting arrest?”, while the translation used (again, rough recollection) “Fahren Sie Ihre Schrottkarre weg!” (“Drive your piece of trash away!”) and “Nah, wer hüpft denn da herum!” (“Who is jumping [sic!] around?”) for the same respective passage.

***And, as described above, this was not always enough…

I actually tend to use attitude towards dubbing as an informal intelligence test: Does a German prefer original versions, if need be with sub-titles, or dubbed versions? If the former, he is usually a fair bit above average in intelligence, education, and intellectual aspiration (as born out by later experiences); if the latter, he will* fail on at least one the three criteria, irrespective of how he otherwise looks on paper. Certainly, I will condemn him as a “Banause”, in light of the immense damage that dubbing causes to the quality of a work.

*I can recall no exception among people my age or younger, although some are bound to exist with a large enough sample. Older generations might be excused, for having had lesser opportunities (or currently having weaker eyes).

Written by michaeleriksson

January 7, 2019 at 12:40 am

Blogroll update (much delayed)

with 2 comments

It has been a very, very long time since I updated my blogrolls—or even visited most of the linked-to pages.

To improve matters, I have just added three new links and removed a number of others. Note that the “temporary” section is reduced to one entry, due to the excessive time since the last update. (Normally, it would be fixed at three. Cf. my blogroll policy.)

Links that currently appear to be defunct are prefixed with a “#”. They might or might not work at some later time, from some different geographic area, or similar, but do not bet on it…

New:

  1. Minding the Campus deals extensively with problems on U.S. college campuses (and similar settings), notably in areas like freedom of speech and opinion, due process, and damaging PC excesses. Seeing that higher education is an enormously important topic and that the current course is disastrous, this site is one of the most important around.

    Recurring readers might recognize the name from repeated prior mentions.

    (English blogroll)

  2. Academic Rights Watch is a similar site with a focus on my native Sweden (in Swedish, despite the English name). Much of the same applies, but there are some thematic differences resulting from the different Swedish situation and/or different priorities in detail. (The former includes a more homogeneous population, a system that does not involve U.S.-style campuses, and a less intrusive-upon-the-students mentality of the colleges/universities.)

    (Swedish blogroll)

  3. educationrealist writes about practical experiences from teaching U.S. high-school students in a highly informative manner. I have a half-finished draft of a longer discussion that will be published in the near future.

    (Temporary blogroll)

Replaced:

  1. #My own old OpenDiary seems to be defunct. (Without my having been notified…)

    I have changed the link to point to a (complete or near complete) backup on my main web-site.

Removed:

  1. Foundation for Individual Rights in Education currently, in an unethical and visitor-hostile act, blocks access to content with a request that visitors join a mailing list. To boot, the usability of the web-site has otherwise been reduced considerably since the original addition; to boot, the interested reader will find much more information on Minding the Campus.

    (However, the foundation appears to still play an important part as freedom-of-speech and whatnot activists.)

  2. #Feminismus oder Gleichbehandlung leads to a browser-error page.
  3. #Call for a more sensible take on prostitution (German) leads to a server-error page.

    This site was also part of my temporary blogroll, and ripe for removal.

  4. #Länger Einkaufen in Bayern leads to a server-error page (and might have been hi-jacked by some type of squatter, porn site, or whatnot).

    This site was also part of my temporary blogroll, and ripe for removal.

  5. Human Stupidity was part of my temporary blogroll, and ripe for removal.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 5, 2019 at 12:19 am