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A Swede in Germany

Archive for May 2019

Undue alterations of fictional characters

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I have long thought highly of both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and have read their collaboration “Good Omens” at least four times (albeit not within the last ten or so years). Correspondingly, it was with great interest that I took note of the television version of this work.

While the first episode is promising, it repeated the deplorable PC-ification of characters that plagues much of today’s TV and movies: in the first few minutes, we have the introduction of a female* God, a black** Adam and Eve, and a potentially gay*** Aziraphale. The rest of the episode contains several choices that might not be outlandish but did not match my natural expectation, including an Indian looking “Pepper”—would a British girl by the real name “Pippin Galadriel Moonchild” be likely to have non-White parents? On the positive side, the character Dog was not turned into a cat… Other recent examples include a female Doctor (“Doctor Who”), a female Mar-Well and a black Nick Fury**** (“Captain Marvel”), and a black Buffy (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” reboot, still on rumor stage). Marvel Comics is indeed a repeating sinner, with other alterations including a black Kingpin and a black Heimdal (movies) and a female Thor***** (comics). To boot, there are problems with characters being altered in other ways, even when uncalled for and unnecessary, and even when allowing for a switch of medium (cf. a discussion of changes to Blyton’s works, where there is not even a medium switch).

*While a case can be made for God being a woman, the book (I checked) uses formulations like “he” and “his” in the introductory monologue that the TV version has turned into “I” (and whatnot) by a female speaker. Worse, the way this is handled raises the suspicion that the show’s makers went for a (failed) shock value, expecting a lulled into “he”-ness audience to be moved out of its comfort zone. Seeing that the frequency of female Gods in fiction has been quite high, this borders on the hackneyed. (For two off-the-top-of-my-head examples, see the movie “Dogma” and Phil’s claims on “Modern Family”.) Moreover, there are risks involved with making God the narrator, regardless of sex, e.g. in that a too high burden on infallibility arises or in that parts of the narration becomes odd—both exemplified by how the narrator speaks of what might have happened to the surplus baby.

**This could be seen as the realistic outcome of trying to combine Biblical creation stories with what science says about human evolution. However, I would be highly surprised if the original authors and readers of the Bible did not assume a “Semitic” look. (Also note the Shem/Ham/Japheth split of humanity at at much later stage.) Moreover, looking at the evolutionary record and e.g. the first use of fire and clothes, the more ape-like look of e.g. a Homo Erectus would have been a more appropriate result of such a combination.

***In all fairness, this might be over-interpretation by me and is not entirely incompatible with my recollection of the book.

****Repeating an error from a number of earlier movies—the more so, because Samuel L. Jackson just seems wrong for the part, even color aside.

*****According to claims from a few years back. As I have not followed the comics for twenty-something years, I am uncertain what eventually happened. The mere idea, however, of replacing a well-established character, with a mythological background to boot, borders on the soap-opera level.

(This counting only examples of a pre-existing character being altered and only some that occur to me at the time of writing—the list would be much longer if I had kept record; and not to mention the definitely disproportionate number of homosexuals and various trans-this-and-that, and what subjectively feels like a disproportionate number of black characters and female leads. Indeed, I have reached the point where I am almost surprised when there is not at least one homosexual in a TV series and where even erotic interactions have ceased to surprise me.)

In many cases, these alterations (or, more generally, character choices) seem pointless, unless a politically correct agenda (or an attempt to cater to those with such an agenda) is assumed. The odd one here-or-there might be acceptable for reasons like a certain actor happening to be the best choice for a certain part in all regards except for e.g. skin-color or sex, or the wish to reduce the dramatis personae*. With the current amount of change, such explanations do not suffice. Often, they are entirely unnecessary or even silly (Viking god Heimdal being black, e.g.)—there is no benefit from the female God of “Good Omens” and if a TV show about a female Time Lord was wanted, why not just make a show about a female Time Lord?** Equally, for a show about a black vampire-slayer, just go with another slayer—not the already established-as-white Buffy. In an interesting contrast, any casting of white people into naturally non-white parts*** is met with cries of “white washing” or “appropriation”, and extremists go to the barricades even for e.g. casting an NT in an aspie part****.

*A border-line example is the Peter Jackson version of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, where the male character Glorfindel is removed and his part of the story is taken over by the (also present-in-the-books) female character Arwen. Better examples are bound to exist. (And, no, I was not enthusiastic about this or a number of other deviations by Jackson either—but I can at least see the point of the change.)

**Note that the Doctor is not the one and only Time Lord in existence, and that female Time Lords have a long history on the show. (If Susan is counted, going back to the very first episode.)

***A notable example is the somewhat recent “Gods of Egypt”. While I grant that the result was a little odd, we have to factor in the likely lack of sufficiently many Egyptian-looking and English-speaking quality casting choices, that the equally great error of using English went without criticism, and that no-one prevented the Egyptians from making the movie first—but that they did not. (To boot, I have the suspicion that a casting with Egyptian looking actors would have been similarly attacked by believers in the discredited black-Egyptians hypothesis.) With older productions, e.g. the “Jesus of Nazareth” mini-series, questions of demographics would have made a “truer” casting quite hard.

****Note e.g. criticism against the TV series “Atypical”. Being a likely aspie myself, I find the criticism idiotic.

TV and movie makers, authors, comic artists, whatnots: Please stop this pointless, annoying, or even outright destructive nonsense.

Excursion on skin color vs. hair color:
Why would a change of e.g. skin color be worse than e.g. a change of hair color? First off, I dislike any type of such change that is not hard to avoid*—and this extends to hair color. However: a change of hair color could be explained by a dye job; skin color is more noticeable; skin color often has great implications in terms of character background; and e.g. comic artists are very likely to vary other** aspects of the character but will typically*** not mess with skin color, making it a fix aspect.

*Getting all the details right when e.g. moving from a comic to a (live-action) movie is hard, because finding a sufficiently look-alike actor would usually involve great compromises in terms of acting ability . Hair color is easy, in as far as someone with the wrong hair can wear a wig, shave or dye the hair, or whatever is appropriate.

**Which, frankly, annoys me too. I understand that not every artist will make carbon copies of the style of others, but some take so large liberties that I have had problems with identifying known characters before they were explicitly named or I saw them in the right context (e.g. in the right super-hero costume).

***There is the incredible Hulk…

Excursion on “Doctor Who” and my viewing choices:
When the casting of a female Doctor was first reached my ears, I wrote about the possibility of ceasing to watch the show. For now, this has indeed been my choice, motivated by the combination of the politically correct miscasting*, the preceding drop in quality over several years, and the many other alternative uses of my time (including, but not limited to, many other TV shows). I reserve the right to revise this decision at a later date.

*A claim that should not seen as a statement about the actress or her abilities, which I cannot judge, but only about the distortion of the character caused and, most importantly, the motivations behind it.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 31, 2019 at 10:13 pm

A contemplation of Creation and the nature of God

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Consider this short selection out of the very, very many awkward facts about God’s Creation:

  1. The planets orbit the sun in ellipses, instead of circles.
  2. Speaking of circles, Pi has the very awkward value 3.14159…, instead of a nice round 3, or on the outside a suitable rational number like 22/7.
  3. The year has roughly 365 1/4 days, which is neither a round number of days nor evenly divisible into months (be they moon based or assigned a fix number of whole days).
  4. The human back is suboptimally designed for standing, let alone sitting in an office chair.
  5. Human eye-sight tends to deteriorate so badly over time that artificial aids are needed.
  6. Success in life disproportionately goes to the ruthless and evil actions are often rewarded.
  7. When bad things happen, they often happen indiscriminately, leading to death or suffering among good people.
  8. The magnetic North Pole does not coincide with the geographic North Pole.
  9. A significant part of the year is uncomfortably, or even dangerously, cold, while another part is uncomfortably, or even dangerously warm. (With some variation depending on geographical location.)
  10. The more someone wants to sleep, the harder it becomes.
  11. The M25 and Milton Keynes. (Cf. [1].)

Conclusion: Yes, God is a woman.

Disclaimer: The above is written for humorous purposes, deliberately playing on stereotypes, in conjuncture with a more serious text to follow presently. From a more serious point of view: (a) I am an atheist, making the question academic to me. (b) Assuming a Christian world-view, I would consider it highly unlikely for God’s nature to be mappable onto such human concepts as sex or gender.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 31, 2019 at 10:02 pm

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Some links on paper vs. plastic bags, and similar

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Looking at some old open browser tabs, I found a few interesting reads on topics like paper vs. plastic for bags, the effects of charging for bags, and related topics: [1], [2], [3], [4].

While I do not vouch for the correctness of the claims made, which might e.g. be partisan or outdated, they broadly support my skeptic stance towards “for the sake of the environment—honestly!” changes in German stores. (Cf. [5], [6], and possibly minor mentions elsewhere.)

Written by michaeleriksson

May 29, 2019 at 10:18 am

Quotes on school and unschooling

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Going through some unread browser tabs, I encountered a page with “unschooling” quotes that I highly recommend. While I do not agree with everything there, much of it overlaps with my own observations and previous claims on school, schooling, education, etc.

This including (items are often overlapping):

The importance to think for one self, e.g in:

3. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

— Alvin Toffler

9. Believe nothing merely because you have been told it . . . or because it is tradition, or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conductive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings — that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.

— Gautama Buddha

That learning stems from the student, not the teacher, and/or that education and schooling are different things, e.g. in:

20. “Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”

— John Holt

38. Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

— Oscar Wilde

42. “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”

— Isaac Asimov

73. Schools have not necessarily much to do with education… they are mainly institutions of control where certain basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school.

— Winston Churchill

The importance of curiosity and/or how school is troublesome through damaging curiosity, e.g in:

6. “Just as eating contrary to the inclination is injurious to the health, so study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”

— Leonardo da Vinci

Exposing the horrifyingly flawed claim that school is beneficial through socialization or through teaching social skills. Putting children together with other children, rather than adults, and expecting them to learn social skills is absurd:

11. “Nothing bothers me more than when people criticize my criticism of school by telling me that schools are not just places to learn maths and spelling, they are places where children learn a vaguely defined thing called socialization. I know. I think schools generally do an effective and terribly damaging job of teaching children to be infantile, dependent, intellectually dishonest, passive and disrespectful to their own developmental capacities.”

— Seymour Papert

The low practical relevance of school:

8. “There were no sex classes. No friendship classes. No classes on how to navigate a bureaucracy, build an organization, raise money, create a database, buy a house, love a child, spot a scam, talk someone out of suicide, or figure out what was important to me. Not knowing how to do these things is what messes people up in life, not whether they know algebra or can analyze literature.”

— William Upski Wimsatt

(I do not necessarily agree with the exact examples given in this quote, but I do agree with the principle.)

Disclaimer: I have not made any attempt to verify the attribution of these quotes, nor have I read them in the original contexts. I caution both that quotes are often misattributed and that a reading in context can change the implications considerably.

Note on typography, etc.: The original typography might have been changed in detail for technical reasons, but should be true in principle. The inconsistent use of quotation marks is present in the original. The numbers are taken directly from the original page. (In all cases, referring to the state at the time of my opening the page.)

Written by michaeleriksson

May 29, 2019 at 8:54 am

A few comments after re-watching “Breaking Bad”

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After mentioning “Breaking Bad” a few weeks ago, I was motivated to re-watch the series—especially, the last season, which I had only seen once in the past.

Among the differences of the last season compared to my recollections was the relative innocence of Walter in the death of his brother-in-law (Hank), and in this the prior text was unfair. Walter and his dealings did cause Hank’s death, but very much against Walter’s will: He called in an attack unaware that one of the three intended victims was Hank, immediately (but unsuccessfully…) called it off as soon as he noticed Hank, and he later (again, unsuccessfully) tried to bargain his entire fortune for Hank’s life. This to some degree lessens my criticism of Walter. (And gives another example of the weakness of human memory. In my recollection, Hank’s death had resulted through a personal altercation between the two, possibly influenced by a prior physical, but non-lethal, altercation that did take place.)

On the down-side, Walter’s behavior in other regards was more psycho-/sociopathic or otherwise disturbed than I had remembered, which is cause for increased criticism, and his concern for human life seems to have dropped very rapidly outside his inner circle. Then again, some instances might go back to Walter simply playing a part, as he did with the phone-call placed to his wife in order to mislead the police (that he correctly assumed to be listening in). That instance was quite obvious, but there might have been non-obvious instances in the past. Of course, Walter was never as bad as the character Todd, who seemed to give human life no more value than that of an ant. Comparing him to Dexter of “Dexter”, a radical difference is that Dexter was very well aware of what he was, while Walter often seemed blind.

A few random observations on other topics:

References were often made to percentages (notably, purity of meth), e.g. comparing numbers like (possibly) 70, 90, 95, and 99 percent. These comparisons seemed to be made from a perspective of “99 percent is ten percent better than 90 percent”* (with variations). However, there are many instances when a reverse perspective gives a better impression of a difference—“1 percent short of the full 100 is ninety percent better than 10 percent short of the full 100”. Which perspective is more appropriate specifically for meth, I leave unstated; however, I would strongly recommend being aware of the reversed perspective in general. For instance, is a bowler who hits a strike 90 percent of the time roughly as good as a 80-percenter, or is he roughly twice as a good?

*Ten percent of 90 percent is 9 percent of the original measure, respectively 9 percentage points. Unfortunately, the dual use of percent can lead to some confusion here. I try to lessen it by keeping the percentages-of-percentages in letters and the “plain” percentages in digits.

During the later stages of the series, I found myself thinking of Walter as a man with a barrel—and immediately associated him with Diogenes*. While some similarities between the two can be argued, there might have been more opposites, including Walter’s barrel containing millions of dollars (and his low living standard being forced upon him), while Diogenes spurned riches for a life in poverty.

*Although his commonly mentioned barrel was actual a wine jar (or similar).

As mentioned in another text, the fifth season had been fraudulently split in Germany, into a fifth season and a last season, each covering roughly half of the true fifth season. Looking at the actual DVDs, I find that the “last” season carried the absurd title “die finale Season”, instead of the expected “die letzte Staffel”. Not only is the use of both “finale”* and “Season”** non-standard and likely taken over from English for the sake of sounding English, cool, or whatnot, but the use of “Season” implies a renewed and entirely unnecessary borrowing of a word that already exists as “Saison” (albeit from French). Thus, if this road had been taken, it really should have been “die finale Saison”, which, while stilted and unnatural, at least could pass for (poor) German. Unfortunately, such excesses, where existing and established German words are arbitrarily replaced, are quite common, as e.g. with buying “ein Ticket an der Counter” instead of “eine Karte an dem Schalter” (cf. a more generic discussion).

*Off the top of my head, I can recall no use of “finale” to imply “last” outside of DVDs. Use of “Finale” (as a noun) to imply e.g. the final game of a knock-out tournament is relatively common, but more “native” solutions are usually preferred, e.g. “Endspiel”.

**The correspondent of “[TV] season” is without exception “[Fernseh-]Staffel”. References to spring/summer/autumn/winter are preferably “Jahreszeit”. Other cases, like “bathing season” and “opera season”, can be translated with “Saison”, but are probably solved differently in most cases e.g. as “Zeit” (time, time period) or “Spielzeit” (opera/theater/whatnot season).

Written by michaeleriksson

May 29, 2019 at 12:33 am

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A discussion of some recent news

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Recently, there has been a lot of interesting news, especially with an eye on topics in the PC-area, including restrictions on “allowed” opinions. Below, I will look into some of it in an eclectic manner:

  1. German* news-sources (e.g. Tagesschau) state that Brazil has declared homophobia (“homophobie”) illegal.

    *I have not investigated whether the same partial misreporting (cf. below) has taken place in other countries.

    Looking at the details of the texts, a confusing image appears. Apparently, the illegality is two-pronged: Discrimination based on homosexuality is now illegal and violence against homosexuals has the status of a hate-crime (whereas it was “just” a crime in the past).

    As is clear, either “homophobia” or “discrimination” is abused in a sense that is not compatible with correct use and which causes considerable confusion: Homophobia is a matter of opinion or feeling, and is not action. A ban on homophobia implies a ban on opinion (something utterly, utterly evil; something much, much worse than homophobia), implying that the use can only be correct if discrimination is abused in an absurd sense, e.g. to include attitudes rather than e.g. decision making.

    Barring further research*, I would put my money on abuse of “homophobia”**. This still, however, shows a lack of awareness of the difference between thought and action, and continues the Orwellian tendency of condemning things as evil based on thought/opinion/feeling/character and to see action as an inevitable result. (Something that might say more about the proponents’ self-control and morals than about their opponents’…) To re-iterate for the umpteenth time: When judging evil, actions count—opinions do not.

    *Note that this discussion is not about Brazilian law, it is merely triggered by it. The exact details of the Brazilian situation have no major impact on the big-picture discussion.

    **Or possibly a combination that limits the expression of opinion—something at least potentially very evil. (This would ultimately depend on the details of the law. I note that e.g. my native Sweden and adopted Germany have “hate-speech” laws that risk a too large infringement on freedom of speech. Also see the election-poster discussion below)

    To this might be added that the use of “-phobia” to imply e.g. hatred, rather than fear, is highly unfortunate. While I strongly discourage use of e.g. “homophobia”, “Islamophobia”, …, in a non-fear sense, that train is probably long gone.

    Looking at the hate-crime side, it might be partially welcomed that the treatment is now consistent with (as claimed in reporting) that of racism. However, this also demonstrates a flawed legislation in principle: legislation should be sufficiently generic that such aspects should only rarely need to be regulated on a case-by-case basis.* A quality law concerning hate-crimes would then speak not of crimes directed at an individual due to e.g. “race, color, and creed” but of e.g. “group membership”—where group also could include e.g. being a fan of the wrong soccer-team. (I have not investigated the details of the Brazilian law and law interpretation, but it is clear that one or both was not been generic enough in the past.)

    *A horrifying example of such lack of generic thinking is Swedish laws relating to group protection that explicitly include women but fail to include men. Even if we assume that women were in need of more protection (highly disputable in Sweden, but a staple of Feminist propaganda), there is no legitimate reason to exclude men or to be non-generic: If a man is never victim of a relevant crime, there is no negative effect of a more generic law—but if he is, the more generic law guarantees him equal protection. This especially because the situation can change: if men (or members of another group) were not in need of protection at the time the law was made, they might be a few decades later. The omission simply does not make sense (but it does follow a consistent pattern of one-sided pro-women regulation in Sweden, matched e.g. by demands for quotas to ensure a minimum percentage of women rather than of each sex).

    Of course, even “hate-crime” is an unfortunate term (arguably, one of the first abuses of “hate” by the PC movement), as it takes a term that should include any crime committed out of hate (e.g. the murder of a personal enemy) and reduces it to hate against groups and includes crimes committed against these groups for reasons short of actual hate. I suggest avoiding “hate-crime” in favour of e.g. “crimes based on group”. (I continue to use “hate-crime” in this text for consistency with reporting and because I only reflected on the inappropriateness of the term during writing. I am likely to proceed differently in later texts.)

    From another perspective, I have never been convinced that hate-crimes deserve special treatment in terms of punishment. Actions, not opinion, should count and there is no obvious reason why it should matter whether e.g. a gang beats up a passer-by because of skin color or because they want “a bit of fun”. If anything, I would see the latter as the marginally greater evil… Notably, any reasoning around the potential scope of the problem is flawed, because a greater scope would automatically* (assuming reasonable law) imply more punishable events and/or greater punishment per event—-even without a hate-crime modification. For instance, if the same group of people vandalize a small business (with or without a particular group belonging) repeatedly, the members stand to face worse punishment than if they do so once (and a greater risk that the police will bother to involve it self, and a greater risk of being caught, and a greater risk of sufficient proof being available).

    *If the criminals are caught and enough evidence is present, which will often be a problem for any crime. Here there is room for special treatment, however: it could be legitimate to give suspected hate-crimes preferential treatment in terms of e.g. investigative resources.

    Moreover, the presence of hate-crime laws and a focus on hate-crimes can easily lead to preconceived opinions about motivations—and I note that I have often seen claims like “the police assumes a hate-crime” attached to crimes against minority groups in a blanket manner. The simple truth is that immigrants (homosexuals, whatnot) are not magically exempt from regular crimes. Assuming “hate-crime” in a blanket manner does no-one a favour.

  2. As has been hinted for some time, the Tubman twenty-dollar bill will be delayed, or even eventually be lost in time. Good: As I wrote more than two years ago, the Tubman decision was fundamentally flawed—not because Tubman, herself, would be unworthy, but because the process was rigged to find as politically correct a candidate as possible and demonstrated several problems with distortions of democracy.

    Further, in light of newer realizations about U.S. trends, I strongly suspect that there is an element of Orwellian* revisionism involved, e.g. that the character of Andrew Jackson, based on flawed reasoning, has been cast as “evil” in the PC narrative and most now see all honors rescinded.

    *The term applies disturbingly often when it comes to certain areas of discourse, but I will try to avoid a third mention in this text.

  3. Lars Aduktusson, a Swedish politician and member of the EU Parliament for the Christian-values KDU party, has been attacked from more or less every direction, including press, political opponents, and even his own party members for … voting against abortion. (Cf. e.g. a Swedish source.)

    In effect, in his role as someone elected by the people, he is not allowed to vote by his conscience and convictions. I note in particular that the criticism does not appear to have been directed against a violation of the party line.* Instead, there seems to be a general opinion that anything but a pro-abortion stance is morally deficient. For instance, the given source quotes one complainant speaking of “okänslighet” (“lack of sensitivity”) regarding the voting and another who speaks of abortion in terms of “grundläggande rättigheter för kvinnor” (“basic rights for women”). Moreover, the reasoning used to support an abortion stance (at least, in the sources that I saw) followed the naive and simplistic “it’s my body” line… To re-iterate my take on the abortion issue: “The main issue is the body of the fetus, and involves sub-issues like when this body should be considered a human and when a disposable something else—which in turn involves medical, philosophical, and (for non-atheists) religious considerations.” While I have nothing against the pro-abortion stance, per se, and do not have a strong own opinion, I have nothing but contempt for those who reduce it to such a mindless and flawed slogan as “it’s my body”—or reduce it to a women’s right issue, or mindlessly condemn a “pro-life” stance.

    *Which might be bad enough as is: I disapprove of the whip and party-line mentality in favour of the own judgment of the individual.

    Worse: It appears that Aduktusson, himself, was not necessarily opposed to abortion, being more motivated by the question of what issues should be decided on what level within the EU. However, not even this is enough of a justification for his “immoral” voting—on the outside, he is admitted the right to abstain from voting… This even though an abstained vote is unlikely to be recognized as a rejection, and is more likely to imply e.g. the lack of a strong opinion or a negotiated* non-vote to compensate for someone else being absent.

    *Such trickery appears to be fairly common, e.g. in that a member of party A is taken ill and the need to bring the him in to vote is avoided by a member of party B voluntarily abstaining.

    This type of intolerance of opinion is extremely dangerous, especially because there appear to be many areas where an opinion becomes universally programmatic once sufficiently many voters believe it or a sufficiently large group is likely to protest against non-adherence. For instance, I recently had a look at the 2018 party program of Moderaterna, who were the most reasoned, reasonable, and informed Swedish party during my youth, only to find various nonsense about women still being unequal, a weak version of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar fraud, claims of violence against women, … This nonsense is, at best, heavily outdated in Sweden, but we have reached an unfortunate point where those who object to it are run over with accusations of sexism and whatnot, and where far too few politicians have the courage to take a stand for the truth. (To which can be added that the lesser some problems are, the more complaints they appear to attract. For instance, as women’s disadvantages of old have disappeared, the complaints about disadvantages have grown louder and the conviction that they are present has grown stronger—never mind the facts at hand. Also consider e.g. U.S. phenomena like the micro-aggression issue, which are used to “prove” that the fight against this-or-that is as urgent and important as ever.)

  4. In Germany, election posters have been removed by the authorities for allegedly being Volksverhetzung—actions at least temporarily seen as legal by a court*. In the source, two examples are given: “Stoppt die Invasion: Migration tötet!” (“Stop the invasion: Migration kills!”) and “Widerstand – jetzt” (“Resistance – now”).

    *A preliminary court proceeding, possibly comparable to a motion for a temporary restraining order, has declined to put a stop to the removals.

    The latter appears beyond reproach by any reasonable* standard of free speech, and must be seen in the light of more extreme claims by Leftist extremists—including the Marxist-Leninist MLPD calling for revolution… Indeed, it is border-line obvious that the problem here is not the message, because a similar reaction to the exact same message by MLPD would not take place. The problem is the “who”—NPD, a strongly nationalist party with (at least historically) some Neo-Nazi contacts.

    *Note that it is not a given that local legislation has a reasonable standard. Germany definitely goes too far in its restrictions—however, even here I have great problems with seeing how the poster could be illegal (in general) or Volksverhetzung (in particular).

    The second, I could conceivably see as violation of the Volksverhetzung law, but it is truly a stretch. Moreover, even if it is technically illegal, it is hard to condemn it from an ethical point of view. The main point of criticism would be its factual correctness, with the “Migration kills!” part seeming far-fetched to me (I have not seen their reasoning)—but factual correctness has not been the deciding issue! To boot, other parties definitely make incorrect statements. For instance, the major parties SPD (Social-Democrat) and Die Grüne (“green” party) both repeated variations of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar fraud during the last parliamentary election—the SPD even admitted to knowing that it was a fraud upon my contact (Die Grüne never answered). Now, if there was a crack-down against incorrect claims, extending to all parties, I might* not object at all; however, again, this is not part of such a crack-down and it is clear that different parties are given different treatments based who they are—not on what they do.

    *In principle, I would not object at all; in a practical situation, great care must be taken to avoid undue censorship due to e.g. poorly informed or too partial checkers. In countries like Sweden, it is so bad that the truth might regularly be condemned as lie, while the lie be tolerated as truth.

    Looking at the actual law, it seems to be restricted to “national, racial, religious group or a group defined by their ethnic origins” (using the translation present in the linked-to Wikipedia article).* Firstly, the topic is immigration**, not immigrants, and it is conceivable that no ill-will is intended towards the actual immigrants—at blame might be e.g. a too lax German immigration policy, too generous social systems, unconscionable situations in the countries of origin, whatnot. Secondly, even if we do assume that immigrants are targeted, these categories do not apply here, in my eyes, because including immigrants in general as a group would be contrary to a reasonable interpretation. Note that immigrants include Swedes, e.g. yours truly, U.S. citizens, and Dutch people, as well as Somalis, Japanese, and Indians—even Hitler, himself, was an immigrant! The group would simply be too heterogeneous to be defined by more specific criteria than e.g. immigrant or not-German. In contrast, “Swedes out!” would have been directed at sufficiently specific group.

    *Here we have a good example of the poor laws discussed above: Men/women, homo-/heterosexuals, members of particular parties, adherents to particular ideologies, members of specific professions, …, are all implicitly excluded from protection. For instance, if someone were to apply a caste-mentality and declare garbage men to be “impure” or “untouchable”, the law would not be helpful.

    **Proof-reading, I see that the quotes do not even speak of “immigration”—they speak of “migration”. While it seems quite reasonable to assume that immigration is intended, a court proceeding would need to be very careful with interpretation, and only judge the statements in a bigger context of statements, e.g. a party program. At an extreme, an interpretation like “emigration kills Germany, because the brain-drain is so severe” would still be within the realms of possibility (but not likelihood) for a nationalist party.

    Moreover, the law gives several types of specific violations, none of which is strongly convincing and some of which are obviously not applicable:*

    *The Wikipedia translation strikes me as poor, and I partially give my own translation here. Beware that I might get the “legalese” wrong.

    zum Hass aufstachelt (incites hatred): Would require a generous interpretation of intent behind and/or effect of the statements, at least when applying reasonable doubt. By comparison, “smoking kills” does not imply that the speaker hates smoking, smokers, or the tabacco industry. The claim could be a perfectly unemotional warning by a public agency. (Indeed, as occurs to me right now, it is conceivable that the posters were written as a deliberate parallel. In that case, the “kills” part might even be seen as a metaphor or something “snow-cloney”.)

    zu Gewalt- oder Willkürmaßnahmen auffordert (demands/requests violent or arbitrary measures): No demand is made, or necessarily implied. In as far as a demand is implied, there is no sign of violence, and no arbitrariness that goes beyond what other parties get away with.

    die Menschenwürde anderer dadurch angreift, dass er […] beschimpft, böswillig verächtlich macht oder verleumdet (attacks the human dignity of others, through insults, malicious malignment,* or defamation): The first two do not apply, the third is a stretch (and tricky with regard to reasonable doubt), and only the fourth gives a non-trivial opening—if the claim can be proved to be sufficiently inappropriate** in context.

    *I am at loss for a good idiomatic translation, “verächtlich mach[t/en]” being an extremely rare expression, and draw on the Wikipedia translation, but have some doubts there too. A more literal translation would be “make despised” or, possibly, “[…] despicable”, which does not work at all in English.

    **Going by memory, German defamation laws sometimes apply even when a claim is factually correct. Depending on the details, it might not be strictly necessary to prove the claim wrong (and the burden of proof of correctness might lie on the alleged perpetrator to begin with). Then again, such crimes are normally directed at the individual, which might make the angle irrelevant. (I would need too much research to clarify this.)

    (The last part does contain a “Teile der Bevölkerung” (“parts of the population”), which might be seen as going beyond the listed groups.)

    In addition, the law specifically gives a prerequisite of a risk “den öffentlichen Frieden zu stören” (“to disturb the public peace”), which does not obviously apply either. Does it risk the peace? Is a specific enough group targeted? Is a sufficiently specific violation applicable? Is there sufficient proof? Whatnot. With the usual “not a lawyer” reservations, I find it hard to believe that an impartial and competent judge would actually deem this Volksverhetzung in a full trial.

Excursion on other parts of the Volksverhetzung law:
The part quoted by Wikipedia does not cover the entire law. (Cf. e.g. gesetze-im-internet.) Skimming the rest, I see nothing that influences the above analyses; however, I do see further concern in other regards. For instance, in my reading, giving a text deemed as Volksverhetzung to a minor would it self constitute Volksverhetzung and be punishable by up to three years in prison. There does not appear to be any restriction on the reason, e.g. due to a historical importance, as part of a comparison, as discouragement, … For instance, handing a minor a copy of “Mein Kampf” for a common critical analysis, e.g. with an eye on determining what information was available to the German people prior to 1932, would be illegal in my reading…

Extrapolating current (and absurd) trends and attitudes towards children’s literature, such laws might one day make it illegal to hand out the original text of e.g. “Tom Sawyer” to a minor, because it uses the word “nigger”, stereotypes black people, glorifies* slavery, or similar. I do not consider this scenario overly likely, but the risk is sufficiently large to prove such laws problematic—and there are people who would welcome such a ban.

*I have not read it in decades and cannot guarantee that this word would hold. If it does not, something like “does not sufficiently reject” might apply.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 26, 2019 at 8:37 pm

A few impressions after a museum visit

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Yesterday, being driven out of my apartment by construction noises, I decided to finally visit the Wuppertal “von der Heydt” museum, renowned* as a high-quality art museum.

*In this, it was a bit of a disappointment, but my standard of comparison is likely unfair, as I, when it comes to art, have mostly visited major museums in considerably larger cities, including the Louvre and the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum.

A few abstract (non-art) observations:

  1. As with most other museums, there was little focus on providing information. A museum visit should be a learning experience, and while just looking at objects can be valuable, additional information can make a critical difference. All too often this opportunity is not taken, or not sufficiently taken through the information being too basic or too dumbed-down.

    This might be true to a higher degree for a non-art museum, but even for art it can be important, including (depending on the work and expectable prior knowledge) historical situation, biographic background, and the intentions of the artist. This especially with modern art, which is often obscure and open to a multitude of interpretations, and with artists that are not widely known (as with many in this museum).

  2. A pamphlet given to me when I bought my ticket went on at length about various measures to entertain children and to bring children into the museum. This not only repeats an ever-recurring error by museums, it also extends it to art museums, which is a new low. The purpose of a museum is to provide a learning experience—not cheap entertainment. The presence of children does little to help the children and much to ruin the experience for the adult visitors. Cf. e.g. an excursion on neglecting core groups in an earlier text.

    (However, I did not actually encounter any children.)

  3. The museum was in parts amateurish, starting with the truly sub-standard website, vdh.netgate1.net, which does not even bother with an own domain and is highly uninformative, poorly implemented, and out-of-date*. Other issues include an often too long distance between painting and descriptive plaque, a use of wrist-bands to identify paying customers**, and an either an absurd jacket policy or an absurdly behaving individual employee (see the next item).

    *Notably, at the time of writing, it speaks of a Paula Modersohn-Becker exhibition being extended to February 24th, while we have May (!) 25th and a current exhibition on Peter Schenk (cf. below).

    **As opposed to the more common spot to put on the clothing. The poor visibility of said wrist-band led to at least four different employees requesting to see it at different times. To boot, it was hard to remove, ultimately forcing me to simply tear it. (The most positive explanation that can be given is to assume that it relates to the stated ability to leave and re-enter the museum during the day. While this is a nice-to-have, it does not seem worth the trouble, a skilled cheater would likely still be able to remove and re-attach the wrist-band on someone else, and better solutions must be possible, e.g. making the wrist-band an additional option for those who wish to leave.)

  4. A very weird incident has the benefit of illustrating a central point from an older text—a good impression is often based on luck with events and correspondingly misleading.

    Specifically, I entered the museum with my jacket tied around my waist, bought my ticket, and entered the exhibitions with no-one raising one word of protest. I first went to the permanent exhibition, spent a considerable amount of time there, saw two individual employees repeatedly (and showed my wrist-band…), and no-one raised one word of protest. I then went to the temporary exhibit, briefly talked to an employee, who pointed out that I was about to go through the exhibit in the reverse preferred order and recommended that I go to the regular starting point instead (and who wanted to see my wrist-band). She raised not one word of protest concerning my jacket and neither did another employee whom I passed on the way to the starting point.

    At the starting point, however, an odd woman (after asking to see my wrist-band) requested that I take my jacket to the wardrobe one stock down. As I stated that I would prefer not to, she now claimed that it was forbidden to carry a jacket over the arm—yes, arm! As I pointed out the obvious, that I was not carrying my jacket over the arm, she now insisted that a jacket must either be worn in the regular manner or be brought to the wardrobe. She offered no explanation for this, and there is no obvious reason: I could see some point when it comes to jackets-over-the-arm, because they might provide some increased opportunity of smuggling something in or out—but the reverse applies to jackets-around-the-waist, because they provide a smaller opportunity than jackets-worn-regularly.

    I also note that I have never received a complaint in any other museum, including those with far more valuable objects.

    Now, if I had not taken the advice of the prior employee, if I had instead continued in the “wrong” direction, I would either not have encountered this moron or only done so while leaving, when a complaint would have been highly unlikely. (Based on the actual contents of the exhibition, the disadvantage of going in the other direction would have been minimal.)

Excursion on the art:
While the collection on display was well short of the Louvre, it did contain a number of interesting works by less known artists. Most notably, a small hall dedicated to Karl Kunz (previously unknown to me; see e.g. German Wikipedia or a dedicated website) bordered on a revelation, especially through (in the “Dante’s Inferno” images) taking the play on shapes and curves to a point that I* had never seen before. The influence of Picasso is often obvious, and a Dali influence often likely, but he goes well beyond what I have seen by either. (If Dali had attempted art deco while on a hallucinogenic drugs and after spending a few hours looking on paintings by William Blake, the result might have been similar.) Another point of interest was the temporary exhibit on Peter Schenk, one of the first mezzotint experts and a leading cartographer, who was born in Elberfeld, now a part of Wuppertal (indeed, the part in which the museum is located).

*Note that my interest in paintings has always been focused on more classical art, rarely going past the impressionist era, and that I am a layman. Others might have different experiences.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 25, 2019 at 12:00 pm

The problem of new trumping good

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There is an unfortunate tendency to focus too strongly on the new, notably within the Internet and regarding e.g. entertainment (even outside the Internet). Consider movies: If there is a benefit to watching a movie in a cinema (compared to e.g. on the own computer), then that benefit applies not only to the latest box-office hit but roughly equally to a comparable movie from the past.* Why then is the cinema landscape so dominated by newer releases? Why do even new releases usually see their best returns in the first week and then drop of rapidly? Why this obsession with the new?

*There might be some differences, e.g. in that a more modern movie might have more spectacular special effects that benefit more from a larger screen. For similar reasons, the larger differences between different genres limit what movies are reasonably compared to each other, irrespective of the time aspect.

To a part, these questions are rhetorical: I am well aware of the money-making interests of the movie industry (where the newness factor can be quite rational) and e.g. its influence on interest through marketing and how non-niche cinemas naturally show what the industry currently pushes—and the consequence that someone who wants to visit a cinema for the experience, not a specific movie, will have limited choices outside the new releases. However, there is an aspect of irrationality among the viewers, who could equally well be watching an older movie for the first time and/or wait for a better opportunity to watch a specific movie than in the week after its cinematic release—for instance, to watch it in a smaller crowd one or two weeks later or to wait for a cheap DVD. This even with the current box-office wonder, “Avengers: Endgame”: yes, it continues another movie that ended on a cliff-hanger, but would it really hurt to wait another one or two weeks, having already waited for up to a year for the release? Notably, the same applies to other areas where there is no equivalent to the difference made by the cinema, e.g. the purchase of DVDs shortly after release when the same DVDs can be had for a fraction of the price at a later time. Ditto CDs. Ditto the purchase of overly expensive hard-cover books, because the cheaper and better* pocket edition is only published at a later date. In effect, the customers pay a premium to enjoy what is new, as opposed to what is good. This is the odder, as there is no dearth of entertainment and no need to sit around rolling one’s thumbs while waiting for the better opportunity—if anything, we are flooded with entertainment to the point that perfectly good movies/books/whatnots have to be foregone through lack of time to enjoy more than a minority of them…**

*The lesser weight and size make the typical pocket book easier to read, easier to store, vastly superior during travel, and, indeed, possible to carry in a pocket. For most people in most circumstance, this makes it the better product.

**Which is a co-reason why the respective industry pushes the new: They want to avoid the competition with older works at lower prices. Incidentally, I suspect that this is one of the largest reasons for extensions of copyright terms—not to protect the owners of rights to older works but to reduce the competition for newer works.

Looking at this from the view of e.g. a musician or an author, he can often not just put out a few quality works, build his reputation, and see a steady or even increasing stream of long-term income. Usually, the income that does arise will disproportionately do so from the early days after publication/release/whatnot—and the failure to put out further works can make the old works be forgotten that much faster.

The same need to be current is present on the Internet—even to the point that SEO recommendations include* making sure to regularly publish new material and to update pages for a better rating. But: Unless a site actually deals with news**, a reasonable reader should be more interested in quality than newness. What is interesting is the benefit of reading a certain text. This benefit is usually*** only weakly dependent on when the text was written—let alone when the same author or the same website last published something else.

*At least they did when I looked into the matter, possibly ten years ago. I have not verified that this still holds.

**News is almost tautologically an exception to much of this discussion.

***Circumstances change with time, new information can be revealed, new events take place, whatnot, which can leave even the best older discussion outdated. Texts dealing with concrete laws and regulations are particularly noteworthy, due to the frequency and arbitrariness of change, as well as the potential consequences of a violation. Still, quality texts often retain great value for decades—or longer.

For instance, looking at statistics* for my WordPress blog, it took me a single month of 2010 to build up twice as many page visits as I have at the moment (Mai 2019)—with just a handful of posts and very little value to the world. The historical peak was in June 2011 at roughly five times the number of visits of June 2018. Soon after, I had a lengthy break, followed by only rare posts for another lengthy period. During this time, the count dwindled to the point that a few months had less than one hundred page visits. This despite my having accumulated more posts and, with the old posts still there, almost necessarily providing more value than at the peak—let alone the first few months.

*I deliberately do not give specific numbers, because they somehow (possibly, irrationally) feel like a private matter and were never “brag worthy”. To boot, my website proper always had considerably higher numbers during my days of comparison, which would make the implication about readership misleading. Also see an excursion on visitor statistics.

Since writing more extensively again, my counts have improved, but vary very strongly with publications. Notably, there is often* a short boost the day after a publication, but the lasting effects seem to be weak. As for the difference in visitors compared to the pre-break era, it likely goes back to the many comments that I used to leave on other peoples blog, e.g. in that readers or other commenters might have followed a link back to my blog to see who I was. Most** of these comments are probably still there, but since the posts they were made on are no longer new, they no longer have a major effect.

*This varies, especially based on the text and/or the tags that I use. For instance, a text with a tag like “blogging” tends to have a handful of visitors marked as “WordPress.com Reader” in the statistics, while most others do not.

**There is bound to be some loss over time, e.g. because a few blogs have been deleted or made private (as opposed to merely abandoned).

To take a different perspective: To “go viral” appears to be the popular perception of the Holy Grail of Internet success—to see a temporary explosion in readers/viewers/whatnot of a single item. (To “be trending” is similar, if typically on a lesser scale.) This simultaneously shows a negative attitude among content makers and the problems of the new. To the former: having enormously many temporary readers (or whatnot) of a single item is of less valuable than having a decent number of readers of many items sustained over a long period of time.* To the latter: Here we have people jumping on the latest new bandwagon, only to have forgotten it a few days later.

*In their defense: this attitude might partially arise from the knowledge that sustained success is rare and that “a one-hit wonder” might be a more realistic hope. To boot, that which goes viral does not always require a lot of skill. (For instance, a video of someone doing something weird might merely require being at the right place at the right time and having a lack of respect for the privacy of others.)

The problem is made the worse through mechanisms such as “likes”—something that I spoke out against as early as 2011 (and which I, possibly to my long-term detriment, have disabled on my WordPress blog): We can now see an item receive a few likes, be given a better listing due to the likes, find more readers due to the listing, get even more likes from the new visitors, etc. It is made the worse by the superficiality, non-comparability, whatnot of a like—an image of a cute kitten is pre-destined to receive more likes than an insightful scientific article on feline neuro-chemistry. At the same time, a single like of the scientific article by a leading scientist in the field might be more telling than all the kitten-likes from people like school-children, bored house-wives, truck-drivers, …—but this difference in value of opinion does not show if the two items are compared by e.g. a typical ranking mechanism.

Excursion on page-visit statistics:
The value of such statistics is limited in general, because it tells nothing about what amount of reading took place. For instance, a single visit to certain page could result in someone reading every last word—or to someone reading two sentences and then leaving. Without looking e.g. at comments left, other pages visited by the same someone, subscriptions started, whatnot, these numbers are fairly useless for other purposes than spotting trends and comparing authors of similar style and areas of writing. The situation is even more complicated on e.g. WordPress, due to both subscriptions (which imply that a text might be read by many who have not visited) and archive pages (which contain a number of texts from the same time frame, but will only register as one page visit, even if the visitor read them all).

Excursion on the “wrong” texts having staying power:
There are some texts on my blog that have had a considerable staying power (relative the others—the numbers are still nothing to brag about). However, these have often been the “wrong” texts from my point of view. For instance, the most successful text in the last few years has been my discussion of Clevvermail—a complaint by a disgruntled customer. These visitors are gratifying insofar as I have the hope of having diverted a few people away from Clevvermail, but I would have preferred to have more visitors on a text that is, in some sense, more important and/or dealing with one of my core topics. Similarly, one of my most successful texts in the early days was a discussion of the movie “Doubt”

Of course, this relative success is likely only weakly related to my own efforts, and might depend on factors like what the broad masses want to read, what the competition for certain search terms is, what texts are classified as what by a search engine, and how the “raw” search terms match up with my text. For instance, if Clevvermail pushes advertising, some potential customers are likely to look for experiences by others on the Internet, they might not find that much written by other sources (excepting Clevvermail, it self), the use of “Clevvermail” (as a distinctive and rare string of characters) makes it easy for a search-engine to see that my text deals with Clevvermail—and the user is likely to have included that very string. In contrast, the current text is not on a topic that many will go looking for, it would require a deeper analysis by a search-engine to find a proper classification, and an interested searcher might have to be lucky to stumble on the “right” search terms. (On the upside, the competition might still be low.)

Excursion on main-stream vs. niches:
There is a considerable overlap between the above and the problem that a sizable portion of the population consumes the same information, entertainment, whatnot, without looking into more diverse sources—and that many content producers focus solely on the main-stream. A good example of the latter is how sports have been “dumbed down” again and again over the last few decades, in order to entertain the casual spectator, but also leaving the knowledgeable fan with a reduced enjoyment and often infringing upon the ability to pick a worthy winner*. This type of main-streaming puts niches in trouble, makes it harder for small players, and generally leads to less diversity (in the non-PC sense). At the end of the day: We do not all have to pick what is new and popular just because it is new and popular—some of us might want to pick based on quality and value.

*Often by trying to shorten competitions or creating an unnecessary uncertainty. An outright tragic example is a recent experiment by the IAAF (an ever-recurring sinner), by which a throws competition should be determined by the best effort in the last round and the last round only—the previous rounds merely served to decide which two (?) athletes were allowed to participate in the last round. Throwing events, however, have a large element of chance, which makes the reduction to one throw a virtual coin-toss—except that the athlete who goes second actually has considerable advantage… Why? There is also a large element of risk management, where a thrower can get a bit further by taking a larger risk of fouling. If the first thrower goes high risk and fouls, the second can just make a security throw. If the first thrower goes low risk, he risks a too weak mark. Etc. Of course, the winning mark will often fail to be the best mark of the competition…

Written by michaeleriksson

May 19, 2019 at 9:38 am

A few further thoughts on norms, experience, etc.

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A few follow-ups on two recent, overlapping texts ([1] ,[2]):

  1. In the previous texts, I argue against adopting furniture/ideas/methods/behaviors/whatnot that we see used by others by convention. However, there is nothing wrong with adopting them when they bring us a net benefit. Similarly, it is not necessarily wrong to temporarily adopt something as an experiment to see whether it would bring a net benefit. (With some reservations for the cost of the temporary adoption.) On the contrary, I strongly encourage looking at others as an “experience short-cut”—as long as it is done with a critical mindset, while keeping oneself the final arbiter of what is beneficial, and with an eye at an individualized adoption.* Indeed, failure to be open to such impulses is just a variation of the “take the norm for granted fallacy”—the norm now being the status quo, personal habits, whatnot (also see an excursion at the end).

    *Exactly this critical mindset was missing in some examples given in [1]: I bought a washing machine because I made a blanket assumption that I would benefit from it and/or through an unconscious attitude that a washing machine “belonged” in a household. The carpet and the chandelier, similarly, were not based on a thought-through decision about what would improve my then apartment. Instead, it verged on a fix idea that I had built when visiting my grand-mother as a child—when I grow up, my apartment will …

    For instance, when I (as a software developer) have seen someone else working or encountered his finished code, I have often found some idea that makes my own future work better. For instance, to stick with homes, I found the grilled sandwiches my father made during my recent visit to be delicious and bought a mini-grill of my own once back in Germany—and have been very happy with it as a value-adder.

    The latter also exemplifies the type of individualized adoption mentioned above: My father’s grill was a specialized sandwich toaster, while I went for a more general-purpose, low-end Foreman imitation. Firstly, this gave me more flexibility both to grill non-bread and to grill larger slices of bread, which suits my lower prioritization of kitchens and kitchen implements better—one tool for several tasks.* A sandwich toaster might be better at sandwiches at a given size, but then I would need other tools for other tasks. Secondly, it allowed me to duck the preparation problems my father occasionally had (e.g. regarding how the bread must be buttered), which suits my different effort-vs-taste priorities better.

    *The recurring reader might be surprised that I do not apply the Unix paradigm of “doing one thing well”. This is partially because different spheres (e.g. kitchen implements and software) can have different requirements, partially because the difference in quality is not that large (arguably, even a matter of taste), and partially because the “one” is largely a matter of complexity—and my grill is no more complex than my father’s. In contrast, a combined grill and coffee maker would have left me skeptical. It could even be argued that my grill is closer to Unix ideals through being more flexible at the same level of complexity.

  2. Untested assumptions can be troublesome, especially when a difficulty is under- or overestimated. (Also cf. an older text on how an easy task can be harder to do right.)

    For instance, my problems with orders and deliveries of shelves and whatnots (cf. some earlier texts) are examples of underestimating difficulties, of assuming that something would “work as advertised”. (More correctly, “work sufficiently close to advertised that I did not spend hours of effort and encounter weeks of delays, only to have nothing to show for it in the end”. I have been burnt before…)

    For instance, my later measures to remedy my shelf situation show overestimation, the assumption that a certain difficulty would be so tough that I had to make it easier: I spotted a cheap and light-weight* shelf, which reached an assembled height of 1.5 m while being just 0.8 m long pre-assembly. Seeing this as something that I could realistically bring home on my own, I bought one to see whether I could make it fit with my plans.

    *Six kg per a later weighing.

    In order to get it home, roughly 2.5 km away, I bought a large plastic bag at the check-out counter and took the train for most of the way. The plastic bag was more of a hindrance than a help, because it lacked the depth needed, forcing me to repeatedly intervene, lest the package fall out of the bag.

    Satisfied with the assembled shelf, I later bought two more to approximately cover my original shelf-needs.* I brought a luggage-on-wheels to make the transport easier and to avoid a second train ride**, but found that it was hard to get both shelves to stay on at the same time***. As a result, I spent roughly half the way home “carting” both shelves, and half carting one and carrying the other. I found the going to be slower and the work harder in the former case. I had to stop for short rests several times, and saw virtual stars when I had gone up the stairs to my apartment (preceded by a bit of a hill).

    *The result has less depth and height, compared to my original online attempts, but greater width. The maximal load is considerably lower, but that is not currently a problem.

    **Whenever the distance, load, time, whatnot, does not make it unrealistic, I try to walk as a matter of course.

    ***This might have been solvable with e.g. a rope.

    Yesterday, this time to extend my kitchen, I bought another two of these shelves and, wiser from experience, just took one under each arm and walked. Apart from a few red-lights, I never stopped and I never, not even at the red-lights, put either of the shelves down until I was at the house-door—and then only because I needed free hands to find my keys… Compared to the second time, I was home earlier, I was less tired (both in terms of “cardio” and most individual muscles), and my hands were less sore.

    If I had not overestimated the difficulty of carrying the shelves, I would have saved myself a train ticket and a bag* (first time) and would have avoided a lot of paradoxical effort (the second time).

    *The bag was not expensive, but I thoroughly detest paying for items that display advertising and that often were complimentary in the past. Also see e.g. [3].)

    Note, however, that this is not a recommendation to be optimistic—the way to go is to be realistic. If in doubt, gather more data or make an experiment. For instance, my first trip, with just the one shelf, would have been a perfect opportunity to gather experience with little risk, seeing that I could have alternated between rested arms. If I still had found myself over-challenged, I could just have dropped into a coffee shop for a cup, a sandwich, and a twenty minute rest.

Excursion on the status quo as norm:
An over-focus on the status quo as a norm is quite common, especially in the business world. (With some variations, e.g the “not invented here” phenomenon.) A particularly annoying case is the German claim/cliche “X hat sich bewährt” (roughly, “X has proven it self”) as a means to silence suggestions for something new or to end a discussion without actually providing factual arguments. When used honestly and insightfully, this claim is not something bad, because it would point to an evaluation of X based on experiences and experimentation. In reality, however, it is (be it as an excuse or through narrow-mindedness) almost always code for “this is what we have always done, and we do not care to experiment”, “we tried this once, the apocalypse did not follow, and we have stuck with it ever since”, “this was originally my idea and I will stick with it till the bitter end”, “I do not know why X was chosen, but someone must have had a reason”, or something similarly narrow-minded.

As a special case, that the current choice once was legitimately good (which might often be the case), does not imply that it still is: There might be better choices available today (but not back then). The needs to be filled might have changed. The world with which the choice interacts might have changed to make it work less well. Etc. Correspondingly, it can pay to re-evaluate choices every now and then—even when those choices were originally well made. That T-Ford is not a good choice for car, be it in absolute terms or relative the price.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 17, 2019 at 3:50 am

A few thoughts around glasses

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In school, long ago, I was frustrated by a difficulty to read what was written on the blackboard—and by everyone else doing much better. I can e.g. recall once during wood-shop*, when I had the misfortune of standing at the back of the crowd: I could barely make out the presence of white lines, had to ask the girl next to me again and again what was written, and saw her starting to wonder what was wrong with me.

*A mandatory subject through some school years in my native Sweden. (This might have been year four or five.) I suspect that the use of a blackboard was a rare exception in this class, but my memory is a bit vague.

The explanation was that I needed glasses—an obvious explanation both to me, today, and my parents and teachers back then. However, back then, even with both parents using glasses, this explanation did not occur to me. This in part because glasses “were for adults” and I was the first* in my class to get them, but to a greater degree due to the slow, continuous weakening: I had no reason to suspect that I had weak eye-sight, because I never noticed a change relative earlier times, until some critical limit was passed. Even past this limit, however, I did not so much notice the change in me as the difference relative everyone else.

*Looking at a few old schools photos from a few years later, there is still only one other wearer of glasses. (But some might use contact lenses.)

Similarly, every time I got new glasses, I became aware of how much my eye-sight had continued to drop through the sudden contrast between the old and the new—but the preceding gradual deterioration had not registered.

This brings me to four points (some with an overlap with [1] from earlier today):

Firstly, if we judge the abilities of others by our own, we are often misled. I could not read the blackboard at a distance—and I assumed that others should be similarly troubled. I was wrong. Others made the reverse assumption and were equally wrong. Similar examples can be found around the other senses: not everyone sees, hears, smells, …, equally well.

However, the problem is not limited to the sense. It also includes the ability to think. Indeed, an an ever-recurring annoyance for me,* is that many others, especially among the incompetent, assume that because they cannot see a connection, draw a conclusion, come up with a solution, whatnot, others (specifically, I) cannot do so either. They do not understand that knowledge and understanding can arise based on own thought—not just books and instruction. They do not believe that others can come up with a better way to approach a problem with just a few days of experience than they can with a few years** of experience. Etc. Many even seem to live in a world where there are quasi-magical authorities and geniuses that are the sole source of knowledge, which flows down to the rest of the world, and where no mere mortal, e.g. a co-worker, can ever be a source of his own. This is the more annoying as the people most lacking in ability are also those most unable or unwilling to recognize ability in others. The simple truth is that there are great differences in the ability to think between humans, even between those having college degrees or similar qualifications. If A is a few levels above B, then A will often run circles around B.

*Especially, because some of these people have been higher in the hierarchy at hand than I, including a few teachers, VPs and project leaders with a business education, and colleagues with seniority. (A business education is interesting, because it filters only weakly with regard to the ability to think, while e.g. a math education filters fairly strongly.)

**Which is not to say that I can do this with anyone in any field. However, when the gap in “brains” is large enough, there comes a point where experience is not enough to compensate for the difference. For a lesser gap, we might need to replace “years” with “months” and/or “days” with “weeks”, or we might see the difference disappear altogether.

Vice versa, admittedly, I often have problems understanding their short-comings: If I see something at a glance—should not every else also do so too? (No, and unfortunately there is no solution comparable to putting on glasses.)

More generally, it is dangerous to judge e.g. the reactions of others to an event, the feelings of others, the this-or-that of others, by our own reactions (etc.)—they can be quite different and making assumptions can have negative consequences.

Secondly, it pays to compare (to the degree possible) our own “nows” and “thens”. I* have e.g. often seen my impression of my “now” be distorted through not appreciating the nature of the “then” (as with glasses above). This is particularly negative when it comes to fitness, where it is very easy to lose ground over the years through the effects of aging and the often increasing time taken by other areas (notably, work and family). I have also often e.g. forgotten something enjoyable that I used to do (or rather how enjoyable it was). Even good solutions to a recurring problem might be forgotten, as with the mattress vs. duvet issue discussed in [1].** Such issues can be reduced by greater efforts to recollect the past, by using reminders for important things, running some type of log for what might need tracking over time, or similar.

*Here I assume that many or most readers will have a similar weakness. I might, obviously, be as wrong as with the blackboard…

**To further drive home a point from [1]: My original intention to buy a proper mattress (and the purchase of the original foldable one) was not just a matter of having forgotten a solution (i.e. the use of just a duvet or two). It was more a matter of unthinkingly adapting the “conventional” solution. Once I started thinking about the problem as a problem (as opposed to being lured to view it as a nail in want of the hammer provided by convention), other solutions presented themselves readily.

Thirdly, the benefits of experimentation and of trying something new—e.g. new glasses. If we never change anything, we will cease to improve. (And a change that goes wrong can usually be undone, with just minor losses.) Try a new approach, a new technology, another shop/restaurant/whatnot than usually, an unknown author, … What if I, looking back at [1], had not been experimental enough to try alternative sleeping arrangements? What if I had never bought my first Pratchett*? What if I had not become a free-lancer**? What if I had kept going to the barber instead of buying a hair clipper***? Etc.

*This was a fairly close call in the mid-1990s, seeing that I had a negative impression from the blurb on the back of the books I had looked at. I still bought one, due to his already considerable reputation, and he soon became my favorite author for at least fifteen years.

**Less money, less geographic variation, probably less work satisfaction, less opportunities during my sabbatical, and likely too small buffers to attempt a career as a writer. (But possibly deeper personal connections or a higher-ranking position through a longer stay somewhere.)

***Some money thrown away, (more importantly) time thrown away, and likely worse kempt hair (because I tended to postpone the barber until I was two months overdue).

In all fairness, I have probably still erred on the side of being too stuck in my habits and of experimenting too little, and questions like “What if I had become a free-lancer five or ten years earlier?” are valid (I really should have). I will try to do better…

Finally, we should be aware of the risk that an unrecognized short-sightedness distorts our world-view. In much, this amounts to what I have already written using Plato’s cave as a metaphor. In the other direction, the wrong glasses can distort a world-view—just like glasses with a deliberate distortion (e.g. green glass) or of the wrong strength can do more harm than good. It is not always enough to find (real or metaphorical) glasses—not all glasses are worthy of use and sometimes the right set depends on the intended user.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 13, 2019 at 8:16 am