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A Swede in Germany

Archive for June 2022

Never read your idols!

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“Never meet your idols!” the saying goes. A similar saying might apply to re-encountering, after too long a time, someone or something that we once admired:* Working on a text on some early influences and non-influences on my own development, I downloaded a copy of “Broca’s Brain”—a work by Carl Sagan, which I recall reading with great enjoyment at a tender age.**

*For which the title of this text is a hyperbolic special case, not to be taken literally.

**How tender, I do not know for certain, but it was tender: “Cosmos” was, according to IMDB, released in Sweden when I was 7 (1982), which provides a lower bound, while leaving “mellanstadiet” (years 4–6 of school) provides an upper bound. (A better lower bound would be given by the publication of “Broca’s Brain” in Swedish translation, but a short Internet search did not find this information.)

Having now partially read, partially skimmed the introduction and the first of five parts (“Science and Human Concerns”), I am horribly disappointed and will not read on. Not only is the writing the type of poor non-science that makes popular-science books hopeless,* but Sagan reasons poorly, is weak on critical thinking, shows a lack of understanding of what little science is present, is highly naive outside of science, and pushes exactly the type of anti-scientific Leftist populism that is so dangerous and has done so much damage to the modern world. Too often, he abuses rhetoric to spread opinions, instead of factual arguments. Above all, I come away with the impression that he has not truly thought on and gained insight into most of what he discusses.

*E.g. through an immense amount of “human interest” material with only parenthetical mentions of actual science, through sloppy or faulty science, and through more attempts at saying how wonderful this-and-that is than actually demonstrating the wonderfulness (note e.g. the first quote below).

Between the “Cosmos” TV series, “Broca’s Brain”, and one or two other books (of unremembered title[s]), Sagan once seemed an intellectual giant to me. Right now, he seems like a “mid-wit”.

To look at some details:*

*Quotes with reservations for distortions during a PDF to text conversion. Some hyphenation at line-breaks have been removed (as have the line-breaks themselves). Some formatting might have changed.

This book is written just before—at most, I believe, a few years or a few decades before—the answers to many of those vexing and awesome questions on origins and fates are pried loose from the cosmos. […] By far the most exciting, satisfying and exhilarating time to be alive is the time in which we pass from ignorance to knowledge on these fundamental issues; the age where we begin in wonder and end in understanding. In all of the four-billion-year history of life on our planet, in all of the four-million-year history of the human family, there is only one generation privileged to live through that unique transitional moment: that generation is ours.

It might well be that there were many interesting questions posed and/or answered at the time, but that has not been unique to any given “now” for a long time. Consider e.g. someone seeing the breakthroughs of Galileo, Newton, Darwin, or Einstein, or one of a number of other big names, and the ensuing immense changes to our understanding of the world. Their contemporaries might very well have expressed a sentiment similar to Sagan’s. And: We are more than forty years, or almost two generations, past Sagan’s time of writing.* I am not convinced that the set of questions has changed that much or that the answers to them have been provided.**

*Here and elsewhere, I am not clear on what material was written exactly when. The book was published in 1979, but individual copyrights go back to as early as 1974. Depending on the exact quote, and what might or might not have been revised, we land at between 43 and 48 years ago using a year-minus-year calculation.)

**Sagan mostly speaks in generalities and it is hard to make a statement about any given question, because the question is not actually given. However, off the top of my head, I can recall no true and great revelation during my own lifetime (which is approximately the lifetime of the book), only smaller and more accumulating insights. Yes, we have evidence of the Higgs boson, we are reasonably certain how the non-avian dinosaurs died out (and that birds are dinosaurs), and we have a better estimate for the age of the universe; no, we have not seen the equivalent of heliocentrism, evolution, deep space, deep time, special and general relativity theory, quantum mechanics, maybe not even continental drift. (With reservations for discoveries yet to be widely known or sufficiently understood as important.) Moreover, it is in the nature of science that new revelations raise more questions than they answer and that answers tend to merely shift the problem from the current turtle to the turtle below it.

You could feel the presence of nineteenth-century museum directors engaged, in their frock coats, in goniométrie* and craniologie*, busily collecting and measuring everything, in the pious hope that mere quantification would lead to understanding.

*The setting is a French museum, which explains the language.

Apart from being one of many, many examples of atrocious writing, this simultaneously gives a hint of the agenda pushing to come and gives signs of own prejudice and lack of scientific understanding and/or mentality.

Not only is this unwarranted speculation about the long dead, but it also misses the point of measurements and quantification: Good science, outside of strictly theoretical fields, requires measurements, be it to get the lay of the land, to develop first ideas and models, or to verify/reject/refine these ideas and models. Understanding comes from thinking, but we need to have something to think about and a connection between the thoughts and reality. That someone takes an interest in quantification does, as should be obvious, not automatically imply that this is his sole interest and that he considers quantification to be enough.

As to what is measured: Let us say that you were a 19th-century anthropologist with an interest in the physiology of the human mind. Where would you begin your measurements and investigations? With a CT-scan? With an EEG? By cutting up the skull of a living human and placing electrodes into the brain? No, chances are that you would begin with calipers. Maybe, calipers would turn out to be highly insufficient at the end of the day, but you have to start somewhere, you have to start with something realistic, and you have no way of knowing in advance whether calipers will be productive or a dead end.

An array of large cylindrical bottles containing, to my astonishment, perfectly preserved human heads. A red-mustachioed man, perhaps in his early twenties, originating, so the label said, from Nouvelle Calédonie. Perhaps he was a sailor who had jumped ship in the tropics only to be captured and executed, his head involuntarily drafted in the cause of science. Except he was not being studied; he was only being neglected, among the other severed heads.

This is one example of how Sagan seems to push an attitude of something barbaric or wasteful with the collections of a museum. (And what is the point of wildly speculating on the man’s profession and fate?) Maybe, there are some objects who have never brought value or truly do reflect something barbaric, but current neglect is not a sign of this. It might, for instance, be that this head was once an object of intense study, but that this study is now long ended. Who says that the currently neglected might not prove of value at some later time? How are we to know in advance what objects are worth preserving? Etc.

Doubtless the savants of earlier days had hoped there might be some anomaly, some telltale sign in the brain anatomy or cranial configuration of murderers. Perhaps they had hoped that murder was a matter of heredity and not society. Phrenology was a graceless nineteenth-century aberration. I could hear my friend Ann Druyan saying, “The people we starve and torture have an unsociable tendency to steal and murder. We think it’s because their brows overhang.”

This reeks of politically correct “Those people of yore were evil racists. Thank good that we are so much more enlightened!” thinking:

Phrenology was not a “graceless nineteenth-century aberration”—it was merely something that did not pan out. A priori, it might or might not have, and the general idea (but not necessarily the details) was not obviously absurd. There are even aspects of it that proved true, notably the idea of a differentiated brain with different areas having different responsibilities.* (As a contrast, note that Leftists have sometimes tried to deny that even brain volume/weight might have any type of influence, and that the considerable physiological differences between male and female brains would, by some stroke of magic, be equally void of influence. There we have a truly graceless aberration.) From another perspective, that phrenology did not pan out and that no “telltale sign” was found might merely have reflected the limits of science and measurements at the time. Today, it is known that differences within the brain** can affect e.g. behavior (even among humans, as opposed to the more obvious differences between e.g. humans and horses).

*I am not certain whether this idea originated with phrenology, however, or whether it merely was central to phrenology.

**Consider e.g. the considerable influence of the amygdala. Unfortunately, the amygdala cannot be characterized by applying calipers to the outside of a skull.

As to his “friend” (actually, future wife), the quote is a good example of simplistic Leftist thought or argumentation—lack of insight, straw-manning, and borderline sloganeering. Not only does it suggest an active oppression and a level of poverty/whatnot that is only very rarely present, but it also ignores the overwhelming amount of crimes, then and now, committed for reasons other than dire need (or e.g. a wish for vengeance). Look at the current U.S. For that matter, look at Sagan’s U.S. As to overhanging brows, they might be irrelevant, but there is considerable evidence of at least one connection between something largely inborn, IQ, and various behaviors (cf. e.g. “The Bell-Curve”).

It was difficult to hold Broca’s brain without wondering whether in some sense Broca was still in there—his wit, his skeptical mien, his abrupt gesticulations when he talked, his quiet and sentimental moments. Might there be preserved in the configuration of neurons before me a recollection of the triumphant moment when he argued before the combined medical faculties (and his father, overflowing with pride) on the origins of aphasia? [And a looong continued rambling on the same theme.]

I am no expert on the workings of human memory, but I suspect that such ideas border on the ridiculous to someone who is an expert—and would have done so even at Sagan’s time of writing. With the end of neurological activity and the subsequent decay, chances are that virtually everything would be gone. Also note how Sagan, much like a phrenologist, wishes to extract information from the configuration of the brain—the one might want to do so by looking at bumps on the head, the other by looking at neurons, but the principle is not that different.

Broca was a humanist of the nineteenth century, but unable to shake the consuming prejudices, the human social diseases, of his time. He thought men superior to women, and whites superior to blacks.

While I cannot speak for specifically Broca, these formulations, especially “social diseases”, are too far-going and speculative—likely more reflecting Sagan’s prejudices than those of Broca’s time. Leaving the specific word “superior” out of the discussion,* it was clear then and it is clear now, outside of politically correct propaganda, that e.g. great inventors, thinkers, scientists, whatnot tend to be male more or much more often than female—even given equal opportunity. The same applies to e.g white vs. black. Etc. A criticism is valid e.g. if someone were to conclude that all men are smarter than all women, but I have seen few examples of such thinking both in my own experiences of the current world and my readings of history and literature of the 19th century. Women of great actual and proven ability were not shoved off to the kitchen merely for being women—they just happened to be very rare. Possibly infected by Sagan’s tendency to speculate and imagine wildly, I cannot shake the image of someone trying to show Queen Victoria her proper place. She does not seem amused as she loads up for a devastating blow with her handbag.

*Firstly, it is not clear whether this is Sagan’s word or that of e.g. Broca. Secondly, it is unclear what type of superiority is intended, and a discussion would be hampered without clarifying this. For instance, and at one extreme, if we speak of some abstract human value, everyone might be tautologically on the same level. For instance, and on the other extreme, if we equate superiority with having a higher IQ, then these “prejudices” are correct (at the group level). I am also uncertain what the proper connotations of “superior” would have been in the original context—is Lake Superior actually better than Lake Huron? (Or is it simply further to the north? Or is there an other explanation for the name entirely?) Is your superior at work actually better than you?

Indeed, the current world suffers from massive prejudice in the opposite direction, that all are created identical in abilities (not just equal in rights), that what we accomplish in life is determined by how poor or wealthy our parents were, that a few additional years of education is what made the smart smart and the lack of these few years what left the dumb dumb, etc. (Whether Sagan did so too, I leave unstated.) This despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

From another point of view, the defining characteristic of a prejudice is not that it is wrong, but that it is arrived at without sufficient investigation, deliberation, and whatnot. But was that truly the case with the opinions of Broca and his peers? They might have drawn from a wide range of experiences and observations, and might have arrived at these opinions in a perfectly reasonable manner. (This while their current counterparts might reject the very notion of this-or-that out of hand, because it “cannot” or “must not” be true; because a wrong word on the matter could lead to a “cancellation”; or similar—and never mind the actual evidence.)

Even so straightforward a question as whether in the absence of friction a pound of lead falls faster than a gram of fluff was answered incorrectly by Aristotle and almost everyone else before the time of Galileo. Science is based on experiment, on a willingness to challenge old dogma, on an openness to see the universe as it really is.

Hypocrite!

Where would Galileo have been without measurements and observations? Was not Aristotle’s problem (rumored to be) exactly that he failed to do measurements? Why would Galileo be better or worse than a user of calipers? The falling objects happen to be far less complex, and much more easily observed, than the human brain. If it had been the other way around, Galileo might be viewed as a quack and some phrenologist as a hero of science.

Can we know, ultimately and in detail, a grain of salt? Consider one microgram of table salt, a speck just barely large enough for someone with keen eyesight to make out without a microscope. In that grain of salt there are about 10^16 sodium and chlorine atoms. This is a 1 followed by 16 zeros, 10 million billion atoms. If we wish to know a grain of salt, we must know at least the three-dimensional positions of each of these atoms.

Do we now? Firstly, by that standard of exact and exacting detail, humans would know virtually nothing about anything, rendering the idea of knowledge nonsensical and contradictory to previous conceptions. Secondly, is this the right level of abstraction? For instance, virtually any relevant characteristic of this grain of salt will be independent of the exact numbers of atoms and their exact layout. For instance, the individual atoms are not salt. Thirdly, we have issues in the extended family of the Sorites Paradox and the Ship of Achilles. Would, for instance, a previous knowledge be invalidated if two sodium atoms changed places? (Likely with more concerns to be found on deeper contemplation.)

By analogy, would we require this level of knowledge in order to say that someone “knows his brother” or “knows math”? Well, maybe, someone could argue that there is a difference between knowing one’s brother and knowing him “ultimately and in detail”, but even here the bar must either be set lower or the exercise be pointless. If in doubt, what would the benefit of knowing someone/something “ultimately and in detail” be, if such excessive and pointless criteria are applied?*

*In addition, this is the wrong type of knowledge. (Cf. e.g. knowing his exact atomic configuration with knowing, say, his favorite movies, foods, places, whatnot.) However, Sagan notes that there is more to the grain of salt, he would presumably think the same about humans, and it would almost certainly be unfair to criticize him in this area.

If, as seems likely, every bit of information in the brain corresponds to one of these [dendrites], the total number of things knowable by the brain is no more than 10^14, one hundred trillion.

Why would this seem likely? On the contrary, from what I have read so far, as well as from common sense, it is highly likely that various memories are formed by some accumulation of something or other—and I am sceptical as to whether dendrites, per se, are these something or other. Even if we assume that they are, the equation of one bit with one dendrite is dubious, and seems like a naive attempt to apply a computer-memory paradigm onto the brain,* which simply does not pan out.

*I do not know how knowledgable Sagan was in the field of computing/computers/whatnot, but I have seen the same type of thinking from others in the past.

It is an astonishing fact that there are laws of nature, rules that summarize conveniently—not just qualitatively but quantitatively—how the world works.

Is it? Or is it merely a fact that seems astonishing to someone unfamiliar with the idea? (Here the questions should be taken at face value: it is often the case that prior exposure alters expectations, and I am not certain which set of expectations is the more reasonable a priori.)

It might be argued that rules could be found in almost any functioning system, because it is hard to avoid entering the realms of math or quasi-math beyond a certain point. Consider e.g. the “law of large numbers” and variations thereof, and how hard it would be for a large system to avoid it, even absent more deterministic rules.

We might imagine a universe in which there are no such laws, in which the 10^80 elementary particles that make up a universe like our own behave with utter and uncompromising abandon. To understand such a universe we would need a brain at least as massive as the universe.

Why? Even with a high degree of random or unexpected behavior, chances are* that abstraction and blocking of various types would reduce the load considerably—as would the likelihood that we only ever interact with a small subset of all those particles. For a sufficient level of “strangeness”,** the claim might hold, but for any reasonably likely universe, even well short of the actual universe, it will likely be false. In the other direction, for a sufficient level of “strangeness”, no brain might be sufficient—or capable of existence.

*Note e.g. the behavior of a gas or gas mixture, including the atmosphere that surrounds us: While the molecules of a gas underlie rules, they are quite chaotic when taken one-by-one, to the point that they might seem to behave entirely randomly and without rules when viewed by a naive observer. Nevertheless, when aggregated to a level that is observable by a regular human (without special equipment), they behave quite reasonably. Behavior on the quantum level might equally seem absurd to us, but still results in high-level behavior that is easily handled.

**Assume e.g. that your typical particle jumps instantaneously from one point of the universe to another in random manner, while alternating between being an electron, a positron, a beach-ball, and a tea kettle, and while its gravitational pull independently varies between zero and that of a star.

It seems unlikely that such a universe could have life and intelligence, because beings and brains require some degree of internal stability and order. But even if in a much more random universe there were such beings with an intelligence much greater than our own, there could not be much knowledge, passion or joy.

Again, why? On the first count, for a sufficient level of “strangeness”, he might be right, but for more reasonable levels he is likely wrong; and even at extreme levels of strangeness, the result might be a type of life and/or intelligence that is simply strange to us. (Contrast e.g. the eponymous entity from Fred Hoyle’s “The Black Cloud” with a regular human to see how radically different conceptions of life are possible—and then note that the unconceivable-by-humans might be far stranger yet.) The second count is ridiculous given the premise of “beings with an intelligence much greater than our own”—except in as far as passion and joy* might be aspects of life that simply do not apply to a sufficiently different life-form. This, however, does not require an extraordinarily strange universe—it is enough with a sufficiently alien life-form. (Contrast e.g. “Data” with the rest of the TNG Enterprise crew. To a lesser degree, the same applies to some other major characters in the franchise, including various Vulcans and the holographic “Doctor”.)

*Knowledge is less likely to be an issue, but maybe it is too in some extreme scenario—or maybe the idea of knowledge is different.

It is stunning that as we go close to the speed of light our mass increases indefinitely, we shrink toward zero thickness in the direction of motion, and time for us comes as near to stopping as we would like. Many people think that this is silly, and every week or two I get a letter from someone who complains to me about it.

Well, if he phrases it like that… (I am genuinely uncertain whether the formulations are idiotic or whether Sagan has completely misunderstood relativity theory.)

Firstly, if Einstein’s relativity assumption holds,* there is no such thing as getting close to the speed of light—either something is at the speed of light or it is not. To travel at 0.999999999 times the speed of light relative e.g. the Earth** has much more in common with standing still relative the Earth than it does with actually reaching the speed of light. (Similarly, the numbers 5 and 5000000000 have much more in common with each other than with, say, Aleph-0.) Indeed, from the perspective of the traveller, his own speed (“eigen-speed”) is 0—plainly and simply, or the relativity assumption does not hold.

*There is (or was, when I was at Uni) some dispute as to whether it holds perfectly or just approximately, maybe whether the distribution of mass might create a preferred frame anyway.

**Which is not the same thing as travelling at 0.999999999 times the speed of light in an absolute sense.

Secondly, no our mass does not increase, we do not shrink, and time does not come near stopping. All these things remain exactly as they were—because our eigen-speed is 0. On the contrary, it is the rest of the universe which goes through strange changes.*

*From our point of view. If Sagan means something else, e.g. the point of view of an observer in Greenwich, he should not have spoken in terms of “we”.

(One might also criticize the use of the phrase “speed of light” as it misses the point entirely, but the use is so common that it would be unfair to criticize specifically Sagan for it. Indeed, at least in this text, I follow his example for convenience. As to the correct perspective: there is an upper limit on how fast information/causality/whatnot can travel and light happens to be one of the things that travels “at the speed limit”.)

For myself, I like a universe that includes much that is unknown and, at the same time, much that is knowable. A universe in which everything is known would be static and dull, as boring as the heaven of some weakminded theologians. A universe that is unknowable is no fit place for a thinking being. The ideal universe for us is one very much like the universe we inhabit. And I would guess that this is not really much of a coincidence.

A dubious opinion (and what seems like a gratuitous swipe at theologians): A known universe need not be static at all, although a static universe might be easier to know than a dynamic one. Unless the individual individually knows and understands the entire universe, there might be plenty of surprises. (And if he does know and understands it, chances are that he is a being so different from us that Sagan’s and my opinions are irrelevant to him. By Sagan’s own reasoning, the human brain would fall well short of the mark for any universe less trivial than a grain of salt.*) As to the unknowable universe, it will depend on what exactly is unknowable, but chances are that a high degree of “unknowability” would be very tolerable.** Not a coincidence? Is he postulating a divine creator or assuming a sufficient adaption of life to the universe? If the former, he seems hypocritical; if the latter, well, then life might adapt excellently to other universes too.

*Well, maybe a grain-of-salt universe would be boring, but this is a matter of the static state of a grain, not necessarily size or knowledge. Melt the grain and it might be much more interesting.

**Consider an alternate-universe pre-historic human who has no clue why he needs to eat and breathe, maybe even one who cannot rely on night following day and water flowing downwards, but who is certain that the ground will carry him and that that weird feeling in his stomach will disappear if he does eat.

Without Einstein, many of the young people who became scientists after 1920 might never have heard of the existence of the scientific enterprise.

Heh?!? This is too stupid to comment on, beyond bringing the stupidity to the readers’ attention.

[…] the famous equation, E = mc^2, which is so widely quoted and so rarely understood. The equation expresses the convertibility of matter into energy, and vice versa. It extends the law of the conservation of energy into a law of conservation of energy and mass, stating that energy and mass can be neither created nor destroyed—although one form of energy or matter can be converted into another form.

[…]

The complete conversion of one gram of mass [sic!] into energy […]

Indeed, Sagan himself gives conflicting signs as to whether he understands the equation: Either he does not or he expresses himself poorly.

Firstly it is very disputable whether “can be neither created nor destroyed” follows from the formula, as the core is a mass–energy equivalence, not preservation.

Secondly, mass cannot be converted into energy; matter only with reservations.* What can be done is to “convert” mass associated with one type of energy into mass associated with another, e.g. by converting some type of binding** energy into kinetic energy (movement of mass) or kinetic energy into gravitational potential energy (e.g. a mass on a hill) .

*The issue is complicated by Sagan’s inconsistent use of “matter” and “mass”: Matter is a poorly defined concept separate from mass, where, depending on definitions, photons and similar particles need not count as matter, but do have a (relativistic) mass. If, for instance, an electron and a positron cancel each other with two photons as result, it might argued that they were matter “converted” into energy, but the overall energy and mass is no larger or smaller than before. Mass is also a somewhat dubious concept, especially as too many resort to special treatment of “rest mass” over mass or relativistic mass in general. (This especially when it comes to photons, which, according to some, would be massless by dint of having no rest mass. A better perspective is to say that they have mass but no rest[ing] state. Again, being at the speed of light and being at 0.999999999 times the speed of light relative the Earth are two fundamentally different things.) As an aside, I personally suspect that mass is best viewed as a manifestation of energy, which would make the conservation of mass a side-effect of the conservation of energy.

**E.g. chemical energy between atoms in a molecule or nuclear energy between protons and neutrons in an atomic nucleus.

Before Einstein, it was widely held by physicists that there were privileged frames of reference, such things as absolute space and absolute time. Einstein’s starting point was that all frames of reference—all observers, no matter what their locale, velocity or acceleration—would see the fundamental laws of nature in the same way. It seems likely that Einstein’s view on frames of reference was influenced by his social and political attitudes and his resistance to the strident jingoism he found in late-nineteenth-century Germany. Indeed, in this sense the idea of relativity has become an anthropological commonplace, and social scientists have adopted the idea of cultural relativism: there are many different social contexts and world views, ethical and religious precepts, expressed by various human societies, and most of comparable validity.

The physical part might or might not (likelier*) be correct, but I doubt his claims about Einstein’s motivations. The claim is sufficiently unexpected and counter-intuitive that a greater amount of reasoning or references would have been needed. It also reminds me of “Fashionable Nonsense”. A more plausible seeming explanation is that Einstein took a leap that others had either overlooked or not dared. I note that the idea is arguably a generalization of Newton’s laws of motion, which could be seen as putting every fix velocity on par with staying still in at least some regards. What influence Einstein might or might not have had on social scientists I do not know, but I note that cultural relativism is only superficially similar and that using the one to justify the other is ill-advised. Moreover, cultural relativism is to a large part misguided and by no means the height of enlightenment: there are types of comparisons where A vs. B does not matter, but for most As and Bs, there will be some or many comparisons where the difference does matter—and very often important such.**

*Depending on what Sagan intends by “acceleration” and “fundamental laws of nature”. The core relativity assumption refers to fix velocities, and someone in acceleration can feel or measure a gravitation-like pull which is absent when moving without acceleration. If two objects move away from each other at fix speed, they will live in equivalent worlds; if there is acceleration, they live in different worlds, as the gravitation-like pull will be different for the two—most likely entirely absent for one of them, because he is not doing anything, while his counterpart is actively changing the relative velocity between the two. Also note how e.g. the “twin paradox” is based on an asymmetry caused by acceleration. (When we move from special to general relativity, additional restrictions might be needed.)

**To look at extreme ends: (a) Whether we pick the French or English language rarely matters, except when there is a pre-existing English- or French-dominated demographic—the languages are, in some sense, equally powerful and fungible. (b) Western medicine vs. the local shaman will usually leave the shaman in shambles, but if someone has eaten the wrong local mushroom, the shaman might do the better job—the systems are neither equally powerful nor fungible.

(In addition to the above, there are a lot of biographical detail and details of Einstein’s political opinions that could be seen as Leftist agenda pushing and as irrelevant to a text ostensibly on science or scientific thought. As my own text deals with Sagan and his work, I will not go into detail, but I do note, in Einstein’s defense, that Leftist opinions were easier to understand in the long gone past than they are today. Cf. e.g. [1]. Einstein was of a generation where some naivete was understandable, even among the highly intelligent and educated; Sagan does not have that excuse.)

But a very plausible case can be made that our civilization is fundamentally threatened by the lack of adequate fertility control. Exponential increases of population will dominate any arithmetic increases, even those brought about by heroic technological initiatives, in the availability of food and resources, as Malthus long ago realized. While some industrial nations have approached zero population growth, this is not the case for the world as a whole.

And the spectre of Malthus has scared the world again and again, but we are still here. The world population is more than twice what it was back then—and there is a lesser problem with food shortages today. (Excepting some artificially created issues, unrelated to population growth, notably the recent COVID and Ukraine situations.) Maybe a truly problematic point will come some day, but there are other problems that are far worse and more urgent—and here the then zero, now often negative, population growth of “some industrial nations” is a major problem.* These problems include dysgenics within the industrial nations, a demographic shift between industrial and non-industrial nations, and the turning of industrial nations into service nations (see excursion).

*Yes, he is right that the ongoing increase in the non-industrial world is a problem, but not due to global population growth. The problem is the demographic shift.

Of course, Sagan likely commits the error that almost every invoker of Malthus does—to assume that the population will grow and grow with less and less to share per capita. In reality, chances are that we would see a voluntary equilibrium before that point was reached. (If not, we would see an involuntary equilibrium when it is reached.) In particular, any exponential population increase simply would not continue once food becomes scarce enough (or water, living space, whatnot).

Minor climatic fluctuations can destroy entire populations with marginal economies. In many societies where the technology is meager and reaching adulthood an uncertain prospect, having many children is the only possible hedge against a desperate and uncertain future. Such a society, in the grip of a consuming famine, for example, has little to lose. At a time when nuclear weapons are proliferating unconscionably, when an atomic device is almost a home handicraft industry, widespread famine and steep gradients in affluence pose serious dangers to both the developed and the underdeveloped worlds.

Sigh…

Minor climatic fluctuations? To some approximation, they could, but it is rare* and it is more likely that these populations are hit by something falling short of a climatic fluctuation, e.g. bad weather that ruins a harvest or two. Moreover, chances are that they would be partially bailed out by Western charity.

*As Sagan is not more specific, I have to be vague. If we are talking, say, the population of a small village, it is bound to happen every now and then. (But even here there is some chance that it is the village that dies, while the population moves elsewhere.) If we are talking, say, the population of an entire country, I can recall no single example.

Having many children? A half-truth at best. Chances are that having fewer children and giving them more resources and attention per capita would be better.

Little to lose? Lose in what sense and to whom/what? The last thing to do in a “consuming famine” is to have more children. If in doubt, the newly born are unlikely to live long enough to be useful.

Nuclear weapons? What do they have to do with the topic? What is unconscionable about having or proliferating them? (As opposed to using them and with restrictions to non-crazy countries. Note that the threat of nuclear weapons might well be what has prevented WWIII for more than 70 years. Also see excursion.) Is widespread famine supposed to greatly increase the risk of a nuclear war?

The solution to such problems certainly requires […] , and, especially, fair distribution of the world’s resources.

Here a specification of what Sagan considers fair would have been needed—not to mention what resources he means. It might be unfair that the Saudi’s have oil and the Swedes do not, but how is that to be rectified? What about the Swedish trees vs. the Saudi sand? A geographic lottery might see winners and losers, but is not inherently unfair, a win in one section might be a loss in another, and some degree of own choice is involved. Or does Sagan mean e.g. food? If so, much of the differences go back to whether someone works the land and how well—teach a man to farm instead of giving him bread. Or is this some hyper-naive far-Left idea that “once we have redistributed all the money of the rich to the poor, we will live in utopia for ever”?

At the other is the proposal of Gerard O’Neill of Princeton University to construct large orbital cities that would, using lunar and asteroidal materials, be self-propagating—one city being able to construct another from extraterrestrial resources. [With more on the topic following.]

Maybe one day, but here and now? It cannot be seen as a serious suggestion today, let alone in the 1970s. Focus on what is realistic and doable, including revisiting the Moon, first-visiting Mars, building more space stations, increasing space tourism, … Sooner or later, the critical mass will be there, and if the idea pans out, the cities will be built. I would suspect, however, that we would see a moon city first; in part, because benefits seem more likely; in part, because building an orbital city beginning on the moon might be a lot easier. For that matter, underwater cities might be a more reasonable first step.

We are not stronger or swifter than many other animals that share this planet with us. We are only smarter.

Apart from this claim being oddly placed and bringing nothing to its context: While humans have many limitations, in part due to trading specialisation for generalisation and physical abilities for brain power, they do fairly well in absolute strength and swiftness. (Note that most other animals are considerably smaller.) Yes, a human might lose a fight against an elephant or even a largish dog, but what about that fox, mouse, or ant? For larger animals, our brains have given us spears, guns, and other weapons. As to being smarter, I sometimes wonder.

Only a small fraction of the most able youngsters enter scientific careers. I am often amazed at how much more capability and enthusiasm for science there is among elementary school youngsters than among college students. Something happens in the school years to discourage their interest (and it is not mainly puberty); we must understand and circumvent this dangerous discouragement.

I am with him as far as the negative influence of school* is concerned, but (a) I am sceptical to the “small fraction” claim, (b) it is far from a given that school would discourage from specifically science, (c) to claim “more capability” among youngster is ridiculous. Chances are that those who choose a different career** do so for other reasons, e.g. later non-scientific interests, careers that allow better earnings, or the realization that science, as a profession, is not just fun and games but actual hard work. Maybe, some intervention in these areas might be beneficial, but the right to choose freely must be preserved. Moreover, apparent early capability can be misleading, especially when it comes to those untested in math.

*Here and elsewhere with reservations for what might be different between his and my respective school years and the schools of our respective time of writing.

**And, maybe, a science adjacent career, e.g. as a physician instead of a biologist, an engineer instead of a physicist.

It is clear that Albert Einstein became a scientist in spite of, not because of, his schooling (Chapter 3).

My point exactly—he still became a scientist. In a wider view, this chapter (Chapter 4) of “Broca’s brain” seems to implicitly commit the fallacy of assuming that the education makes the man, while the opposite is the truth. (The odder, as the preceding chapter went in the other direction.)

In his Autobiography, Malcolm X describes a numbers runner who never wrote down a bet but carried a lifetime of transactions perfectly in his head. What contributions to society, Malcolm asked, would such a person have made with adequate education and encouragement?

Probably very few and minor, even if the description is correct:* A great memory does not equate to a great scientist (or a great whatnot), no matter how much it might help, and there is no guarantee that he would even have wanted to become one. The question is not one of memory but of ability to think—the good thinker with a poor memory can use a notebook; the poor thinker with a great memory has no such aid. And referencing Malcolm X? Really? A racist, Islamist hate-monger?

*And it need not be. There might be an honest misestimate, exaggerations, misunderstandings, or even fabrication involved.

I believe that there are many more of [brilliant, daring and complex people] around—in every nation, ethnic group and degree of affluence—than we realize.

On the contrary, these make a small proportion of the population even in the West and the “smart” parts of Asia. Elsewhere they are rarer still. (Affluence, presumably in the sense of parental SES or something similar, is more secondary, once corrected for other factors, but by now, if not already “then”, there will almost certainly be a further rarity the lower in income we go, as there has been a filtering over many decades.)

Not all is bad, however. I note e.g. the implicitly anti-post-modern claim:

The well-meaning contention that all ideas have equal merit seems to me little different from the disastrous contention that no ideas have any merit.

(Although, contextually, I am not certain that his own investigation of what claims have what merit was very meritorious. Other claims might indicate a naive support of post-modernism.)

Or take a rare show of self-insight:

The question raises nagging uncertainties about which of the conventional truths of our own age will be considered unforgivable bigotry by the next.

A point which has been of great importance during the last ten or twenty years through the ever more extreme positions of the “New Left”.

Other positive examples include the use of Einstein to illustrate problems with the school system and the similarity of anti-science stances in Nazi-Germany and the Soviet Union. (The latter is of a particular interest to me due to my series on the Nazis and their correct classification as Left-wing. I also note similarities with how the current Left and the COVID fanatics treat science that speaks against their respective orthodoxy.)

As more of an aside, the long time between my current reading and the original publication has led to changes. Contrast e.g. the, by now, decades old ban on CFCs in new refrigerators with:

Steps have finally, although reluctantly, been taken to ban halocarbons* from spray cans (although no one seems to be worrying about the same molecules used in refrigerators) and as a result the immediate dangers are probably slight.

*Halocarbons include CFCs, but also many other chemicals of no relevance here.

Excursion on nuclear weapons vs. delivery systems:
I have long suspected that the creation of nuclear weapons had less impact than the creation of new delivery systems. There was e.g. an early fear that “the bomber always gets through”; and, looking at WWII vs. WWI, the main difference in terms of bombings were not the two (by today’s standards) small nuclear attacks but the massive aerial bombings of Japan,* Germany, London, and some other areas, which would have been inconceivable without a sufficient quantity of suitable** airplanes. Of course, without airplanes, there would have been no (or very different) nuclear attacks to begin with. The true killer might be the ICBM and the ability to e.g. bomb the Soviet Union from U.S. soil and vice versa. With conventional warheads, ICBMs might “only” be able to take out Moscow resp. Washington and New York instead of dozens of cities. But is that not bad enough? Alternately, countermeasures might be strong enough to ensure that “only” half the city is destroyed instead of the entire city.*** In contrast, nukes without a sufficient delivery system are of little value: What are you going to do? Smuggle a few nukes to Moscow by truck and have them waiting two decades for some future signal that their time has come?

*And the conventional bombings of Japan killed more civilians than the nuclear. (Yet, the one counts as war, the other as war crime…)

**Where suitability does not just include the capacity to carry a certain load, but also having sufficient range to reach the target, sufficient speed or height to not be shoot down, etc. Not many years before WWII, the planes for WWII-style bombings were simply not available. Indeed, even the Orvilles were just several decades back.

***Missing a single nuke can easily be worse than missing a dozen very large conventional bombs.

Then we have the question of other “mass destruction” attacks. What about an ICBM loaded with some deadly gas or infectious this-or-that?

If nukes are the larger problem, this is likely restricted to fusion-based devices, which are similarly more powerful relative fission-based devices as fission-based devices are relative conventional explosives. A dozen Tzar Bombas would be far worse than a hundred Little Boys.

Excursion on service vs. industry:
The value of services is usually far more fleeting and often more pointless than industrial production, which too few seem to understand. To this, as a personal anecdote: The first time that GDP (or some similar measure) was explained to us in school, I objected to the inclusion of services—make a toaster and someone has a toaster for ten years; give a haircut and the effect gradually wears off in a month or two. (And most other services have an even shorter period of value…) This while GDP was supposed to be used to compare different countries (with potentially differently sized service sectors) or the same country at different times (again, with potentially differently sized service sectors). Both the teacher and the class seemed to consider me silly. Since then, I have become aware of more points of criticism relating to services (and, off topic, points not relating to services), say, public sector “service” contributions to GDP often having a disputable true value (grow the civil service bureaucracy and GDP increases) or a hired maid being included in GDP while a housewife performing the exact same service is not. When push comes to shove, whether in GDP or “for real”, a service economy can be a giant on feet of clay.

(My current view of GDP is more nuanced than back then, as there are different perspectives. The perspective of the toaster vs. the haircut is valuable, as is the perspective that a toaster is often easier to store or export than a service, but there is also e.g. a perspective of spending, which pays for salaries, which pay for spending, etc., where the proportion of service to manufacture is more secondary than the circulation of money.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 28, 2022 at 10:14 pm

Follow-up: Nazis VI: Excursion on Roe v. Wade and the Nazi-attitude of the Left

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The actual overturning* of Roe v. Wade has now taken place—and the Left has done everything that it can to prove its Nazi-attitude. We are simply and plainly reaching a point where it is disputable whether the Left can ever again be considered politically legitimate, where, drawing on the hypocrisy of Marcuse,** we might be forced to simply stop tolerating it, where even an ardent supporter of free-this-and-that must contemplate the possibility that McCarthy had the right general idea.***

*For details of the overturning, see “Dobbs” (PDF), with multiple convincing opinions in favor of the decision. (Yes, I have, apart from appendices, read them.)

**The promised text will probably follow at some point during the summer. In short—by their own words, they are condemned: The Left is (and was, even at Marcuse’s time of writing) the greater source of intolerance and often by a very large distance; if we must not tolerate the intolerant, then we must not tolerate the Left.

***Without necessarily agreeing with the details of his opinions and methods.

This includes:

  1. Unprovoked* threats of and attempts at violence against the SCOTUS.

    *No, a legally correct finding of law, correcting a previous gross error, is not provocation. (Also note below remarks on misrepresentation by the Left.) Even if it were, by some absurd stretch of the imagination, the following two items concern persons and entities that did make the finding.

  2. Unprovoked violence and riots directed at the public, including and especially “pro-lifers”.
  3. Unprovoked acts of violence against the state of Arizona* (and maybe some other governmental entities) that go far beyond the alleged “insurrection” of the January-6 victims, including attempts to storm the Arizona Capitol.

    *If there is a particular reason for Arizona, as opposed to e.g. Mississippi (the victorious party in Dobbs), I have missed it.

  4. Calls to delegitimize or abolish the SCOTUS for actually doing its job–and for actually relinquishing (!) arrogated powers back to the legislative branch and the individual states.
  5. Calls for undemocratic and in-violation-of-separation-of-powers attempts to circumvent the decision. (As opposed to legitimate law changes—which the SCOTUS would not object to.)
  6. Gross and often obviously deliberate misrepresentations of what the decision contains, what it implies, and what the motivations of the court were—and often such that have spread to international media.

    Here I point to my original text for details of the ideas, but note in short that the decision does not make abortion illegal, but moves the choice back to the democratically elected state parliaments—as opposed to the appointed federal justices. Any state that wants to keep abortion legal can do so; a sufficient majority of the states and congress could even add an amendment to create the same effect as “Roe” once had.

    (I would go as far as to argue that the central issue at hand in Dobbs was not abortion at all, but Leftist judicial activism versus non-Leftist attempts to preserve the constitution, the division of powers, and the states’ rights—or, equally, Leftist dictatorial methods versus non-Leftist democratic ones.)

  7. Gross and often obviously deliberate misrepresentations of the availability of abortion (both before and after) relative the rest of the world. (The U.S. had among the laxest laws in the world, much of the U.S. still has and will have, and even the Mississippi law tested in Dobbs was entirely unremarkable internationally.)

Violence, intimidation, lies, …—very Nazi.

Excursion on a weakness in Dobbs:
In my impressions so far, there is a small weakness in Dobbs. This weakness is outweighed by far by the sum of argumentation, but might be worth noting:

Going counter to the principle of “stare decicis” must consider the effect on those who might have relied on the previous ruling(s). This is done with regard to pregnant or potentially pregnant women, but the issue of abortion clinics/physicians/whatnot is not* discussed. It is for instance possible that someone has invested half a fortune in setting up a clinic—and that this clinic suddenly is forced to severely reduce its business and/or to branch into other fields, because a dormant state law now becomes active again.

*Or only superficially: There is a mountain of text and I might not have been at full concentration throughout.

(No, I do not have sympathies for this type of clinic, but everyone is equal in front of the law.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 27, 2022 at 12:34 am

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COVID hysteria and the truly misinformed / Follow-up: Nazis XIVa

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In Nazis XIVa, I noted:

(Similarly, I recently heard that some believed in around 600 thousand COVID deaths. No, not in the U.S.—in Sweden! No wonder that some are in a state of great fear of COVID… In Sweden, this would amount to around 6 % of the population (or around 20 million, if applied to the U.S.). The last real number that I saw was 18 thousand—or less than a 33rd of this overblown estimate.)

Today, I encountered a very interesting discussion of media failures during the COVID era—including a few more data points on the above:

In the summer of 2020, 1,000 citizens from several countries were polled on the pandemic. Below is the mean percentage that the sampling showed people thought the COVID-19 death tallies were after three months of the pandemic:

Country Population Percent that died from COVID-19 That Absolute Population Number Actual Number of COVID-19 deaths at the time
United States 9% 29,700,000 132,000
United Kingdom 7% 4,830,000 48,000
Sweden 6% 600,000 6,000
France 5% 3,300,000 33,000
Denmark 3% 174,000 580

(I note that the early time of the poll moves my original semi-current 18 thousand actual deaths down to a mere 6 thousand at the time, increasing the level of exaggeration from roughly 33 to roughly 100. I also note that the article laments how this poll was ignored in the news—which explains why I only heard of the 600 thousand as late as I did.)

Again: No wonder that some are in a state of great fear of COVID.

And, as similar claims seem to hold in other areas: No wonder that the Left manages to be elected, that nuclear power is feared, that pseudo-scientific nonsense about “White Supremacy” and “Patriarchy” is believed, etc., etc., etc.

We truly do need restrictions on the vote to those who (a) have a brain, (b) use it, (c) keep themselves informed.

I also note that this is further confirmation that it is the COVID pushers, not the sceptics, who are the poorly informed (cf. e.g. [1]), and that the overall article supports my claim (cf. [2]) that it is the “I have a bachelor in gender studies and read the paper!” crowd that is the problem—not those who question the papers and actually inform themselves independently.

(As to “Nazis XIVb”, there might be a while before I get around to it. Generally, I am both a little fed up with the topic and have overstrained my fingers with this-and-that, so the reduced rate of publication in the Nazi series is likely to remain reduced.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 22, 2022 at 2:24 pm

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Market forces and the energy crisis

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As I have noted in the past, governments seem to do their darnedest to sabotage market forces—to the detriment of almost everyone. (Cf. e.g. [1] and [2].)

An interesting family of examples relate to the recent threatening* energy crisis. Not only is the cause largely incompetent or destructive government intervention, but the approach to alleviate it is paradoxical:

*Depending on point of view, “current” might be better than “threatening”.

On the one hand, governments insist that the people should use less of this-and-that, drive less, heat less, whatnot. On the other, they hand out money to the people to compensate for the rising prices—thereby removing the strong incentives to use less of this-and-that, etc., which the rising prices gave. And, no, these compensations are by no means limited to those who might not get by without them. Germany, for instance, is discussing a near-blanket gift of hundreds of Euro to all wage/salary earners.* We might then have the situation that the compensations keep consumption up, deepening the crisis, while also giving the energy industry incentives to increase prices further…** Indeed, I have heard vague*** suggestions that the legislature should intervene to enforce the wanted behaviors in Germany, rather than rely on the markets.

*With reservations for the exact details. Note that this raises three additional questions: Firstly, where is the money for that near-blanket gift to come from? (As with much of government “gifts”, chances are that it will amount to giving with the one hand while taking with the other.) Secondly, would this money actually be used for energy costs or would it be spent on e.g. new TVs? Thirdly, what about those of us not currently “in gainful employment”, who will often be among the most needy/hardest hit by a cost increase? (I can still afford life based on savings and would likely be able to find a well-paying job if I wanted to, but my situation is an exception. Others are less lucky.)

**Which might then be countered by additional compensations.

***The exact details and scope are very unclear. One source seemed to imply that citizens would be forced to take some unspecified actions; another, merely that there would be a reduction in the minimum temperature that landlords needed to guarantee during the winter. (No, I did not keep the sources.) Knowing Germany, almost nothing would surprise me.

Abstain from compensations and what happens? Energy consumption would be naturally reduced, the crisis diminished, and prices would rise more slowly (or, depending on details, remain in place or even sink).

Similarly, greater profits from energy sales (per unit) give the energy industry incentives to increase production, find new sources of imported energy, whatnot, so that it can sell more and increase earnings further. This would increase supply, alleviate the crisis, keep prices from spiraling out of control, …—but what do governments do? They accuse the industry of price gauging, suggest price controls, institute windfall taxes, …, thereby removing or reducing the incentives to increase supply—maybe, even, the incentives to stay in business.

Then there is the issue of resource allocation: Allow markets to work and allocation will mostly take care of it self, e.g. because those in greater need of energy and those who will profit more from it are also willing to pay more. Hinder markets and the allocation will be worse or far worse.

Excursion on ability to cut consumption:
A great many members of the people do have a considerable scope to reduce consumption even in the very short-term. (Unlike many industries, should they not want to reduce production.) With the yearly overview sent by the local utilities company, I receive a list of what energy brackets* are considered very low/low/normal/high/very high—and I have consistently been below the limit** for “very low” for both electricity and gas during my years in this apartment. After giving up gas entirely, I am still below the limit for “very low” for electricity. (And, no, I do not own a car, so I am clean as a whistle there too.)

*With an additional division into size of household. My “very low” consumption is measured against other singles—not against families of four.

**Presumably, the upper limit. The listing is a bit vague on this, however.

“Sure, but you are a green fanatic who puts himself through hoops that others cannot conscionably manage.”

On the contrary, I consider most of the green movement laughably naive, destructive, and unhelpful for the environment. (And I am not a penny-pinching Uncle Scrooge either.) It is true that I pay attention to some unnecessary consumption, e.g. in that I usually turn lights on and off as I enter or leave most rooms (while many others just leave them on), but I spend almost the entire average day in my apartment, I have at least one notebook running at any given time, I have both a fridge and a freezer that run 24 hours a day, I never bother to turn the main light in my work/bed room off (not even when I leave the apartment), I make coffee half-a-dozen times a day, I use either oven or stove about once a day (on average), there is some toast every-now-and-then, this-or-that is always charging, etc. Apart from cold showers, I see nothing frugal in my behavior—and I must conclude that the problem is wastefulness among others.

Excursion on showers:
A long hot shower can be quite energy consuming, but a short hot shower cleans just as well. A longer duration might increase short-term enjoyment, but wastes time and can lead to long-term issues like dry skin and an overstrained circulatory system. Indeed, that I tend to go with cold showers (even before I cancelled gas services) has nothing to do with costs or the environment—and much* with the knowledge that I can have very great problems with ending a hot shower. If I do take a hot shower, the result is typically a long series of “just one more minute”, which accumulates to far more than that one minute. By going with a cold shower, this temptation is removed.

*Another, but more secondary, reason is an alleged health benefit from cold showers.

Excursion on Germany and compensation:
Germany seems to have some odd fixation with compensation. For instance, it seems to me that every time that a tax is raised or a fee levied, a counter-measure is instituted to compensate for the effects on the needy (or some similar group). The result? Further distortions and a more complicated system. If there is a fear that the people cannot afford raised taxes then do not raise taxes! (Indeed, even when it can afford raised taxes, not raising taxes can be a good idea, as they tend to do more harm than good and contribute to the problems caused by big government—starve the beast!)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 22, 2022 at 7:38 am

Nazis XIVa: Nationalism, racism, xenophobia, …

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As repeatedly stated, much of the faulty classification of the Nazis, and various other groupings, hinges on an automatic “nationalist; ergo, (far) Right” or “racist; ergo, (far) Right” reaction, without considering opinions in other areas and without ever truly justifying why e.g. racism would be something Rightist.

It is up to those who claim that “X is Y” to provide the proof—not for us others to disprove it. With that, as I have never seen any proof, the discussion really should be over. However, as a somewhat predictable reaction from some Leftists is some variation of “Is too!” or some invocation of Tolkningsföreträde to one-sidedly define anything racist as far Right, I will take a closer look at some issues.

This will broadly be a two-step process: Firstly, in this text, understanding why much of what is called Right-this or Right-that is either not Rightist or not relevant, which will weaken the flawed blanket association. Secondly, in the next, understanding that a considerable amount of racism/xenophobia/nationalism/whatnot can be found even on the official Left, which either requires that blanket claims of X-implies-Right must be scrapped or that these groups are re-defined to be Right-wing (which is not going to happen and which leaves us with the scrapping of X-implies-Right).*

*Yes, from a logical point of view, this second step is all that is needed. The first is still beneficial, because it might alter preconceptions a little and make the second step both easier to understand and easier to swallow. (Not that I am overly optimistic when it comes to Leftist readers.)

  1. Much of the problem goes back to circular reasoning, e.g. through combinations like “A, B, and C are racist; ergo, they are far Right” and “all those far-Rightists are racist—look at A, B, and C”. Note e.g. the recent case of a Leftist, environmentalist extremist, who engaged in a race-based shooting—and was promptly denounced as “far Right”, where, if anything,* “far Left” would have been more appropriate.

    *It might be that, looking closer at the case, both claims are too weak and that a pure “environmentalist extremist” must be chosen: Extreme environmentalists do tend to be far Leftists, but, here too, it would be wrong to see an automatic “X; ergo, Y”.

    Similarly, there seems to be an increasing drive to call anything “Right” which involves (at least certain types of) violence, and ascribe a motive of racism, White Supremacy, or similar any time someone White kills someone Black—even in some cases of self-defense (e.g. Zimmerman, Rittenhouse) or where, even given a conviction, there is not the slightest proof or indication of racism (Chauvin).

    This is particularly unfortunate, as it allows distortive claims about Right-wing violence being common, which it is not. (Much unlike Left-wing violence. Look back at the last few years or read some of my earlier texts.)

  2. There is a difference between actions and opinions. Not only do actions matter more than opinions,* but actions are not necessarily driven by opinions or driven in a manner that is, in some sense, expected.

    *As discussed in both some earlier entries of this series and in some earlier texts in general.

    For instance, a common claim is that this-or-that would be “racist discrimination”, while it is just racial (!) discrimination.* Moreover, racial discrimination (e.g. in form of “affirmative action”) is often used in favor of the alleged victims of racism.

    *Ditto e.g. “sexist” discrimination. Also note what discrimination means. Indeed, even the modifiers fill different roles in “racist discrimination” and “racial discrimination”—the former implies discrimination motivated by racism (while being silent on the criteria), while the latter implies discrimination based on racial criteria (while being silent on the motivation).

    Moreover, claimed discrimination-by-A is often discrimination-by-B, including a likely majority of claimed-by-the-Left cases of “racial/-ist discrimination”. For instance, the apparent over-arresting of Blacks in the U.S. is not based on the arrested being Blacks, but on the arrested being criminals (or, possibly, criminals who let themselves be caught). No, X was not arrested for being a Black guy—he was arrested for waving a gun in the face of a shop-keeper. If* Blacks happen to wave guns in the faces of shop-keepers, this is not the fault of the police.

    *And disproportionately many Blacks do, both metaphorically and literally. (At least in the U.S. The situation in other countries might be different.)

    Similarly, even apparent “racial profiling”, even absent a clear connection with a crime, is likely to at least partially be a matter of just plain vanilla “profiling”: Was that Black young man, who wore a hoodie, loitered on a corner for several hours, and made suspicious approaches to several strangers, … frisked by the police for being Black or for being a young man, who wore a hoodie, etc.? Being Black might have increased the probability of a frisk, but the police have better things to do than frisking Blacks-for-being-Black, absent other signs of something odd, and Whites who behave similarly are not immune to being frisked.*

    *In today’s climate, being Black might even reduce the risk, as Blacks are relatively more likely to become aggressive, and as the individual police officers can see their own lives ruined, should something go wrong with a Black guy. Consider Chauvin and colleagues: they were fired and declared to be evil racists and murderers on national news long before the facts of the matter were established. Picture a slightly different reality, where Floyd indisputably died of e.g. a heart or drug issue, and where they were acquitted in court. They would still be out of jobs and have severely reduced hiring chances, family members or friends might have severed contact, many would still consider them guilty, and it is far from inconceivable that some crazy would try to “rectify” the court decision with a weapon. As is, they were (a) convicted on grounds that still leave me unconvinced and (b) punished far more harshly than would be expected if Floyd had been White (or Chauvin Black).

  3. As might be seen from the above footnote, there is a great problem with distortions through media, including misleading claims, selective reporting,* or great reporting of this-or-that alleged hate-crime with much lesser reporting once the alleged hate-crime is revealed as a hoax,** a misunderstanding, or something else that is not a hate-crime.

    *Remember that Waukesha parade, when a racially motivated Black guy drove a car into a crowd of Whites and killed or injured a great many? Kudos, if you do: the publicity died quite soon, while an incident with reverse colors would have gone down in history as an immense disaster and an act of unspeakable evil.

    **Indeed, almost every time that I hear of an alleged hate-crime in the U.S., it eventually turns out to be either an outright hoax or a misunderstanding/misinterpretation. Ditto e.g. many prominent rape accusations (not restricted to the U.S.)—the more publicity, the greater the likelihood of a false accusation.

    Those who restrict themselves to mainstream media are extremely likely to build a skewed worldview. To be informed in today’s world, we need to complement or replace (local national) mainstream media with alternate sources, perspectives from mainstream media from other countries, and study of more primary/extensive/whatnot sources, e.g. through skipping that newspaper article and reading a book on the same topic.

    That a skewed worldview can be a massive problems is illustrated by, apparently, some Blacks believing that they make up half (!) the U.S. population.* Why? Likely, they live, work, and go to school in a predominantly Black neighborhood, see disproportionately many Blacks in advertising, etc.—and fail to actually check statistics and to actually get a more holistic view of their country.

    *Which might then, for instance, create an expectation of having four or five of the nine SCOTUS members, all other factors equal. If they only have one, then surely some factor(s) must be extremely unequal! In reality, having one out of nine, Thomas, was close to and only slightly smaller than the population share. Adding Brown Jackson makes Blacks, at two out of nine, clearly overrepresented. (This even discounting questions of who has what qualifications, has chosen what career, etc., which likely would lower the share for Blacks further, if appointment was strictly on merits and suitability.)

    (Similarly, I recently heard that some believed in around 600 thousand COVID deaths. No, not in the U.S.—in Sweden! No wonder that some are in a state of great fear of COVID… In Sweden, this would amount to around 6 % of the population (or around 20 million, if applied to the U.S.). The last real number that I saw was 18 thousand—or less than a 33rd of this overblown estimate.)

  4. Many actions and/or opinions sometimes deemed to be e.g. racists are correct or otherwise* reasonable. A common problem with the Left is that questions like whether a certain opinion is correct and for what reason it is held are not asked. Ditto, m.m., actions. For instance, if someone is of the opinion that the I.Q. of Blacks trails that of Whites by roughly one standard deviation in the U.S., what is wrong with that? The opinion is correct.** If someone feels that holding this opinion, regardless of its correctness, is racism, then racism, in this instance, is not bad. To hold this opinion is no more racist and/or bad than the, equally correct, opinion that Blacks are more recently out-of-Africa than Whites. Nevertheless, it is common for someone who claims the former, even without a statement about the implications or the cause of the difference, to be immediately denounced as racist/evil/whatnot. Moreover, while such “race realist” attitudes are often slandered as highly racist or as “scientific racism” in disguise, they are on a very different level to the type or racism displayed by many Blacks and/or Leftists, which often amounts to some variation of “Whites are evil” or “I hate Whites”.

    *E.g. in that an opinion was wrong, but also was held for a good reason. For instance, if someone (regardless of skin color, sex, clothing style, and, within limits, age) is spotted sprinting from a store with a broken window and a blaring alarm, it is quite reasonable to assume a smash-and-grabber on the run. Following this with an appropriate action, say a temporary apprehension, is equally reasonable. The assumption might still be wrong.

    **To some approximation: the distance varies a little from source to source, time to time, and, likely, place to place.

  5. Claims by the Left often distort the picture of what others actually believe and/or why they believe it.

    For instance, negative opinions regarding immigration and/or some minorities are often based on actual experiences—and do not match the typical Leftist propaganda of prejudices held by ignorant rednecks. The U.S. “White flight”, for instance and in Leftist propaganda, is alleged as a matter of racist Whites who cannot stomach living near Blacks—merely because they have the “wrong” color. (Or maybe, because the Whites fear that being Black is contagious? Or, God forbid, that their daughters might be knocked up by Black guys, so that they are cursed with Black grand-children?!?) The reality appears to be very different: I have read quite a few accounts of actual experiences by Whites who eventually fled. A somewhat typical, but highly abbreviated, experience might be “I lived in a great neighborhood for years. Then a few Blacks moved in, and things were still OK, maybe Friday night was a little noisier, but no real reason to complain. Then more Blacks came, and crime/vandalism/noise/drugs/whatnot increased more and more. When my kids’ school began to tank, we had enough and moved.”—a very different picture.*/**

    *To which might be added complications that the tellers might not be aware of, e.g. that a demographic shift can reduce local tax income, which can reduce city efforts, which can affect the quality of the neighborhood/schools/whatnot in another manner.

    **Note that this does not require all Blacks to be e.g. criminals. A noticeably higher rate of this-and-that is quite enough, seeing that the bad eggs typically have a highly disproportionate effect. For example, just one noisy and troublemaking kid in the classroom, who is immune to teacher intervention, can ruin class for everyone.

    That is lived experience.

    A particularly interesting example is my own, far away, impression of the French Front National from my time in Sweden. Every now-and-then, Swedish TV reported about those horrible, prejudiced, far-Right whatnots—and I did what all Swedes seemed to do: sigh over human stupidity* and be thankful that we lived in Sweden.

    *I have gained a lot more true insight into this and its effects since then.

    At the time, Sweden still had few immigrants, and most were other Whites. France, on the other hand, already had a very sizable immigrant population, much of it Black or Islamic. Maybe, the French simply had deeper experiences on the matter than we Swedes?

    After I left Sweden, Sweden too saw a rapidly growing immigrant population, including more Blacks and more Muslims. Lo and behold, soon a Swedish party with an anti-immigration stance arose (“Sverige Demokraterna” or “SD”). They were met with the same TV rhetoric as Front National—horrible, prejudiced, far-Right whatnots. Unlike with Front National,* I actually did some reading on SD’s opinions, and they were nothing like the rhetoric claimed. I probably disagreed with them on most issues, but mere disagreement does not make the other party evil and their concerns in the area of immigration were reasonably reasoned, drawing on statistics and experiences, and directed at immigration (_not_ immigrants)—not at all the frothing at the mouth, “I hate you, because you are Black!” or “Every individual Muslim is evil!” crowd that critics seemed to see.

    *I admittedly still have not had more than trivial contacts with their opinions, and I cannot rule out that the Swedish assessment is (or was back then) correct—unlike with SD. However, nothing in the contacts that I have had have involved mass killings or invasions of Poland—and the exact nature of Front National has little impact on the overall example.

    More generally, one of the worst lies of the Left is (with variations) “Racism/xenophobia/whatnot comes from a lack of understanding. Those who have never known an X imagine all sorts of evil about Xs. We have to make sure that people get to know each other and racism/xenophobia/whatnot will disappear.”. In reality, it seems to be the other way around (with reservations for whether the specific words “racism” and “xenophobia” are justified): those who have little exposure have a naive belief that “they are just like us” and “living with some Xs in the neighborhood would be cool”, while those with relevant* practical experiences tend** to have both a far more nuanced and a more negative opinion. The simple truth is that different groups are different, that even neutral*** differences can be an irritant or even an obstacle when living at close quarters, and that many groups outside of “White Westerners” bring objectively negative behaviors, e.g. through more noise making, more crime, more littering, less respect for others, …

    *A particular risk is that many politicians have experiences that are not relevant, e.g. because they have disproportionately interacted with Xs who were highly intelligent, highly educated, and “acting White”, rather than more average individuals. And, no, this is not restricted to e.g. race issues: Charles Murray has an entire book, “Coming Apart”, dealing with a similar problem within the White U.S. population.

    **A word unusually important here, as there are many factors at play. Notably, and what the Left refuses to acknowledge, individual variation can be highly important, as to e.g. how large the culture clash is, how well-integrated the “foreigner” is, what intelligence and educational level both “foreigner” and “native” move on, etc. The matter is one of statistical differences in behavior that make those with contacts more likely to have a more nuanced and/or more negative opinion than those without.

    ***For want of a better word. My intent is on differences that, unlike e.g. a greater propensity towards crime, do not have one group objectively better than the other. Consider a Brit driving a British car in Germany: Even if he sticks to the right (both senses) side of the road, chances are that the position of the driver will decrease traffic safety. If he drives on the wrong/left side of the road, disaster could follow. This while he would be perfectly fine back home, and while the German in a German car would the potential problem there.

    Similarly, Leftist or Left-governed opinions about the opponents of the Left are often steeped in prejudice and a failure to do proper research on the true opinions. As I have noted in the past, there is a great difference between, on the one hand, understanding and disagreeing and, on the other, not understanding. I am often in very strong disagreement with the Left, but I typically understand the Leftist position—the Left seems to not understand others’ positions to begin with. (Or they do understand and severely distort…)

  6. The exact character of a certain opinion or family of opinions can make a major difference:

    For instance, “nationalist” can mean a great many things.* Some nationalists do want to conquer other countries. Others might strive for national excellence, say, by putting a man on the moon before some other country does. Others might simply feel that foreign policies should prioritize the own country—up to and including takes opposing (!) military actions, like “Why should we die to defend other-country A from other-country B?”. Others yet might be the equivalent of “Sunday Christians”, rooting fanatically for “our” athletes during the Olympics and not caring at all at other times or in other areas than sports.

    *With added complications like some considering patriotism (it self a vague term) a special case of nationalism and others considering it something separate. I make no such distinction for the purposes of this text.

    This is made worse, when opinions are distorted by opponents, e.g. by labeling a migration-critical statement as “anti-immigrant” or “xenophobe”, by labeling a statement critical of Islamists as “anti-Islam” or “anti-Muslim”, …

    Merely claiming e.g. that “X is nationalist; ergo, X is a Nazi” is then highly misleading. The type of nationalism espoused by e.g. “MAGA” and “America First” is very different from the Nazi type—and a reasoning based on e.g. “Trump is Right*-wing”, “Trump pushes ‘MAGA’, which is nationalist”, “the Nazis were nationalist; ergo, the Nazis are also Right-wing” is fundamentally flawed.

    *Funny, did not the Left consider him one of theirs until around 2015?

  7. I strongly suspect that the amount of e.g. racism (or what would be considered racism in someone on the Right) on the Left is severely underestimated through lip-service. Consider those who believe in some version of “race realism”, but would never mention it in public, because someone less “enlightened” might want to “discriminate” Blacks,* because they fear rejection from their peers, or otherwise are less-than-open about their true opinions.

    *This is by no means far fetched. Consider e.g. how many Western journalists, including Swedish and German, systematically suppress the ethnicity of non-White, non-Swedish resp. non-German perpetrators, for the fear that publishing ethnicities could lead to “racism” or “xenophobia”. Also note my experience with a self-censoring colleague.

    (Moreover, but off-topic, chances are that many would have similar opinions, had they not been brain-washed into that ridiculous nurture-only mentality, which forces them to find environmental explanations, no matter how far-fetched, to make the world understandable.)

Excursion on uncomfortable truths:
Uncomfortable truths are not limited to e.g. IQ. A few basic observations that I have made over the years:

A cynic is simply someone who sees the world as it actually is.

A misanthrope is simply someone who sees humans as they actually are.

A misogynist is simply someone who sees women as they actually are.

Off-topic, but related: great cynics often started as great idealists and romantics, becoming the more cynical because of the greater disappointment.

I deliberately do not include “A misandrist […]”. The point of the above list is largely to illustrate the difference between those who are clear-sighted and those who are not—especially, when those who are not engage in accusations or derogatory statements. (For example, that someone who does not agree with the claim that “all humans are good in their core” is derided. For example, that a very wide variety of even fairly harmless and correct claims about women are denounced by Feminists as misogyny.) Cases of misandry, in contrast and in as far as they go beyond equal-opportunities misanthropy, appear to be much more rooted in prejudice, unwarranted aversion, whatnot, and to be more literally hateful. Consider Feminists and an out-of-touch-with-reality hate propaganda that involves e.g. claims of “rape culture”, “every man is a rapist”, “toxic masculinity”. They simply and plainly do not “see men as they actually are”. Cases of misogyny often involve opinions on the level of “Jews do not eat pork”, while misandry is more on the level of Nazi propaganda on Jews. (Yes, analog cases do exist among misogynists, but they are far, far rarer.)

Excursion on experiences and misinterpretations:
One of my own, if indirect, first contacts with immigrants might illustrate both actual experiences and misinterpretations.

Post-divorce, my mother rented an apartment in a house with a shared washing machine and a trust-based schedule, where the tenants could mark in advance when they wanted to use the machine. As a single working mother with two children, she picked her slot (or maybe slots) on the weekend. She repeatedly found the machine in use during the slot(s) that she had reserved—and by an immigrant family that could equally well wash during the work week,* even slot reservations aside.

*I do not remember whether both parents were unemployed or whether this was a working-husband + housewife scenario, but they could. If nothing else, there were two adults available. I do not know why they still chose the weekend, but I would speculate that this-or-that day was a traditional washing day. (A similar, but long gone, tradition is reflected in the Swedish word for Saturday, “Lördag” or the “bathing day”.) I also do not know whether they understood the reservation system.

After a few repetitions, she added an “OBS” next to her newest reservation. (Short for “OBServera” and equivalent to the English/Latin “N.B.”—something entirely reasonable, in other words.) The next thing she knew, she was in front of the landlord, accused of leaving xenophobic messages… The reason? The immigrant family had interpreted this as the much rarer “BSS”, short for “Bevara Sverige Svenskt” (“Keep Sweden Swedish”) and a phrase sometimes used by the (then?) anti-immigration movement.

In a next step, it would have been interesting to know what caused this reaction,* e.g. that they had previously been exposed to an actual “BSS”, that they had been told by someone (maybe a social worker) that there were racists lurking behind every bush and that they should watch out for “BSS”, or that differences in writing** could have increased the risk of misunderstandings.

*Here and elsewhere, there are many points where I have no deeper knowledge, as I was only a child at the time.

**My mother had very clear handwriting, but there are surprisingly large variations between how even Latin letters are (hand-)written in different countries and at different times. For instance, I, my mother, and her mother/my grand-mother were all taught a different script in school. If the neighbors were used to e.g. Cyrillic letters, they might even have judged more based on an impression of the shape of the abbreviation than on an actual reading.

Excursion on semi-justifications:
I can think of two weak-but-not-circular semi-justifications for considering at least nationalism Right-wing.

The one is a historical view: The simplistic nature of the Right–Left divide (just like e.g. the U.S. Republican–Democrat or the old U.K. Tory–Whig divide) means that different positions have been seen as typically “Right-wing” respectively “Left-wing” at different times;* and, as parties tend to emphasise** areas of disagreement, there was often a Yin–Yang like division of attitudes. For instance, the U.K. Whigs tended towards parliamentarianism, while the then-Tories tended towards (absolute) Monarchism, with some or many other opinions similarly divided. Chances are that nationalism was more common on the “Right” up to some point in the 19th century. However, we next have to ask to what degree this should color current classifications,*** whether the distinction was that important in the generally more nationalistic world of yore, and what weight this single issue may be given.

*Although I am uncertain to what degree the contemporaries in a given country spoke in terms of “Right” and “Left”, and to what degree this is a later imposition by historiography. The labels originated at some point in revolutionary France, but need not have caught on internationally until later.

**In the case of the somewhat modern Left, I have sometimes suspected that it deliberately picks the opposite position to the Right’s on many issues. (Maybe, for the purpose of minimizing agreement.)

***At a minimum, we must proceed with great caution or the results will be absurd. Would we consider the current U.S. Republicans Left-wing for preferring a parliamentary republic to a monarchy? Here we can also see a geographic difference—chances are that the U.S. and U.K. “Right-wing” disagreed about monarchy since before the French Revolution and the creation of the labels. A further interesting thought is that a party or position might have been considered Right-wing at some time and Left-wing at some other time (or vice versa). Note the paradoxically named Venstre (“Left”)—a Danish non-Left (!) party.

The other is the strong nominal internationalism of Marxism. However, here we must consider that Marxism is only a subset of Leftism, that many Marxist groups de facto displayed nationalist (or similar) behavior (as discussed in the next text), that the internationalism might have been less directed at true brotherhood and more at spreading Soviet (or whatnot) power, and that a true internationalism among Marxists was ultimately used to replace one type of “us vs. them” division (e.g. Russians vs. Germans) with another (e.g. workers vs. capitalists), which is not a true improvement. Also see a text on identity politics vs. nationalism, racism, etc.

Excursion on further fakery:
An interesting possibility, especially looking at the U.S., is that the Left is not truly anti-racist, whatnot, but finds minority groups useful for Marxist oppressor–oppressed relationships and uses them for vote fishing. This is certainly a popular interpretation among some non-Left U.S. debaters.* I would personally speculate that the Left is to some degree forced towards such positions through the long discredited “tabula rasa” approach that is still popular on the Left and among Leftist social “scientists”. For instance, if someone is in categorical denial of any non-environmental difference between X and Y, then differences in outcome between X and Y must find an environmental explanation, and if decades of purported environmental explanations and attempts at corresponding remedies fail, this might lead e.g. a “Society is racist!” as the only way out—with a natural “Vote for us, so that we can fight racism!” as a consequence.‘

*When we look at some Leftist/Democrat leaders this seems plausible to me. When we look at the broad masses of Leftists/Democrats, I doubt that it holds.

Indeed, “systemic racism” is something so vague that it comes close to an invisible flying spaghetti monster—we can neither see it nor test it, but we know (assuming nurture-only) that it is there, because disparate outcomes. In this, the charge of “systemic racism” is a natural conclusion to a line of excuses that all have failed, and which has been so fool-proofed against falsification that it will be very hard to convince the believers—any new angle of falsification stands the risk of being condemned as proof of regular or systemic racism, if need be with recursive excuse making. (“IQ tests? Racist! SATs? Racist! Poor results in college? Systemic racism in high school! Poor results in high school? Systemic racism in junior hight! … Poor results in Kindergarten? Systemic racism towards the parents!”) Few intelligent and well-informed observers would fall for this, just like few or none actually believe in flying spaghetti monsters, but the stupid and poorly informed, as well as the “I want to believe”-ers, are legion.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 17, 2022 at 5:26 am

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Politics and Marvel movies

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Recently, I have been (often re-)watching a number of the Marvel movies, and I find myself increasingly uncertain what goes on politically—every time that I see something that seems Left-leaning, I encounter something seemingly Right-leaning within twenty minutes. Well, firstly, there is the possibility that they are not very political at all, and that the horrifying politicization of many other movies and TV shows,* as well as my own involvement with political thought, make me over-interpret.

*Cf. e.g., and with some earlier discussion of Marvel, [1].

However:

On the one hand and pointing Leftwards, we have issues like “Black washing” of long-established-as-White characters and a similar turning of long-established-as-male characters into women,* the hyper-egalitarian raising of support staff from the comics into significant figures in the movies,** the abuse of a funeral speech to spread Feminist propaganda (“Civil War”), use of Nazis and Nazi-like characters as antagonists,*** and the wanton and unnecessary destruction of this-and-that**** in a manner similar to the post-modern Left’s attempts to tear down the past, “Western civilization”, whatnot.

*E.g. Heimdall and Nick Fury resp. the Ancient One and Captain Marvel.

**E.g. Wong (servant come Sorcerer Supreme) and Pepper Potts (secretary come CEO).

***The Nazis were, of course, Leftist, but the typical Leftist and media take is that they were Rightist and that everything Rightist is “guilty by association”.

****E.g. the destruction of SHIELD, the destruction of Asgard, the ensuing destruction of the Asgardians, and the destruction of a great many things in the “Infinity” movies. (My memory of the latter is too vague for a more specific statement and they do not merit a second watching.)

On the other and pointing Rightwards/non-Leftwards, we have apparent “deep state” antagonists, antagonists with a Soviet/Eastern-Europe connection, an infiltration of an organization intended for good (SHIELD) by evil forces (Hydra) to corrupt and turn it,* the turning of protagonists into (temporary) antagonist by distortions of their minds and perceptions,** a focus on individual excellence,*** and Captain America’s**** strong stance for individual freedom and against government control in “Civil War”.

*Analogous to how Leftists have come to dominate U.S. colleges, the U.S. justice system, Wikipedia, and a great many other areas—and are, be it deliberately or through bias, abusing them as tools for the Left.

**Quite similar to what appears to be the case with many Leftists, who are more “useful idiots” than anything else. Also note how this was repeatedly done by creating artificial enemy images, just as e.g. the current U.S. Left and various Marxist groupings like to do.

***Something anathema to many Leftists. Teamwork is, of course, important in several of the movies, but most are fairly individualistic, while even the “team movies” often show more individual action than teamwork and the team members seem to spend half their time debating or, even, physically fighting each other.

****The Avengers split roughly down the middle, centered on respectively Captain America and Iron Man. The latter is more open to government control, but seems to be so more out of (perceived) pragmatic necessity than true belief.

Very ambiguous is the question of e.g. control of superheroes, mutants, whatnot, which has repeatedly* been pushed by antagonists in the movies—preferably, combined with hate- and fear-mongering. Chances are that the Left would like to see this as an analogy to e.g. (claimed by them to be Right-wing) racial discrimination and whatnot.** However, a strong non-Leftist case can be made, e.g. by pointing to the rights of the individual over the collective, a comparison of persecution for being different with persecution for having different opinions, or even by using superpowers as a metaphor for guns—the one is not allowed to have superpowers because some with superpowers abuse them, the other is not allowed to own guns because some with guns abuse them. Mutants are particularly interesting through having genetic differences that set them off from the rest of humanity—something inborn*** that is very hard**** to combine with the common Leftist nurture-only approach.

*Going back at least as far as the “X-men” movie and present in the comics for far longer; however, my current watchings are limited to the “MCU” era.

**That this perspective is fundamentally flawed is of little interest here, as I speculate on the intentions of the movie makers, and these might well have this flawed perspective.

***Only while proofreading did even the interpretation of LGBT-etc.-etc. occur to me. Since the alleged mistreatment of these is largely imaginary today, in many cases turned to an outright position of privilege, this interpretation is nonsensical, but it is an interpretation that many Leftists might chose and it might be of importance to the overall judgment of the movies. (But: If we are to look into this type of group, why should LGBT-etc.-etc. take precedence over introverts, Aspies, the left-handed, the redheaded, or the members of a great many other groups potentially mistreated for who-they-are-by-nature.)

****But there might be some attempts to turn nature-in-the-comics into nurture-in-the-movies, as with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Then again, there are plenty of almost preternatural geniuses that do not seem to be ascribed to nurture. (For instance, Bruce Banner turned green due to an adult environmental effect, but, unlike the Leader, was a genius before then.)

What then is going on?

Apart from the obvious possibility that there are different forces at play among the movie makers, which might then have different takes, I currently play with two hypotheses:

Firstly, that the movie makers are very clever and mix more subtle non-Leftist themes with e.g. “politically correct casting” in order to not expose themselves as “heretics”.

Secondly, that the makers are very politically naive, actually believe that e.g. prioritizing the individual over the collective is something Leftist,* and/or believe** that so crude an agenda pushing will convert someone.

*This might seem absurd to non-Leftists, but I have repeatedly seen claims along the line of “For me, it is a given to vote Left, because I believe in freedom and individualism!”—exactly the type of beliefs that make the more insightful distance themselves from the Left.

**It is to be hoped that they are wrong, but considering the current political climate, as well as how common such crudeness is, they might not be.

Excursion on the quality of the movies:
(With the reservation that I have still not seen all the movies even once.) The quality of these movies is varying wildly, but seems tendentially to be dropping both through-out the franchise and for the individual characters. For instance, the first installments for resp. Iron man and Captain America are quite good, while “Civil War” is so poor that I only watched it through this second time because of an older discussion touching on Hopkins vs. Boseman.* As a counter-point,“Captain Marvel”, as a first movie, was so poor that I did not even finish the first watching. Generally, I suspect that foregoing the two “Infinity” movies and most of the related sub-plots in other movies, including hunts and fights for artefacts, would have been for the best.

*I am still unimpressed Boseman, but I also still have not seen “Black Panther”.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 15, 2022 at 3:07 am

Nazis XIII: The Remains of the Day

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I am currently working on a longer (maybe, multi-part) text on nationalism, racism, etc. relating to the Left–Right issue. In parallel, I have been reading Kazuo Ishiguru’s “The Remains of the Day”, which not only has a sub-theme of Nazi perception in pre- and post-WWII Britain, but also contains some points of interest to my own discussions. (An interesting read in general, but I will leave out other topics.)

This in particular relating to democracy, where we e.g. have a “Mr Spencer” deride the idea that the broad masses are suited to the task of governing (correctly, in my opinion; also see excursion). A little later, “Lord Darlington” complains about how Britain is dithering, while the likes of Germany and Italy, even the Bolsheviks (his formulation) and FDR, have put their houses in order.*

*Here an interpretation of “strong man” as opposed to “elites” or “experts” is possible. The practical effects on the below are not that large, if the interpretation is changed.

Naively viewed, this might amount to “we need universal suffrage—or we get Hitler”. However, is is possible to largely agree with Mr Spencer (on this issue), without agreeing with other ideas that might have been held by him or Lord Darlington (and, in the extension, e.g. Hitler):*

*In addition: it was universal suffrage among easily manipulated voters that gave Hitler the opportunity to seize power—not a lack of suffrage.

  1. A typical modern representative* democracy approximately and nominally** amounts to the members of the broad masses collectively making decisions for themselves. When combined with increasingly big government and an increasingly Leftwards trend of society,*** we soon land in a “dictatorship of the masses” and a “the single sheep and the many wolves voting about what/who is for dinner” situation. Politicians are elected for how charismatic or crowd pleasing they are, not how competent, and those elected proceed to make poor decisions, be it through sheer incompetence or in order to buy votes, please lobbyist, gain personal advantage, …

    *Without this restriction, the set of problems is different-but-overlapping. (I am not aware of any current non-representative democracy on the national level, however. The closest approximation might be the Swiss. In smaller circles, e.g. a club of some sort, non-representative democracy might appear.)

    **Quite often, the intermediate layer of elected representatives gains power and/or makes decisions in a manner that eliminates the masses. Consider e.g. the massive attempts of politicians to force the people to hold the “right” opinions on various matters in recent years, most notably regarding COVID; or the German horror of repeated “great coalitions” between the nominal Conservatives and the Social-Democrats, which have severely reduced the value of voting.

    ***Both to a considerable degree caused by, or occurring much sooner in, democracies.

    To some approximation (nominally): everyone is governed to a high degree by the broad masses.

    To some approximation (real world): everyone is governed to a high degree by an elected pseudo-elite.

  2. They Nazis chose a different road, in that they tried to eliminate the masses from influence, but kept big government—or even “went bigger government”.

    To some approximation: everyone is governed to a high degree by Hitler or some similar person/grouping/whatnot.*

    *Note that these are not necessarily even close to “elite” in terms of e.g. competence, IQ, etc.

    (With an eye at the overall “Nazis are Leftists” theme, this well matches e.g. the Soviet Union, while more moderate Leftist regimes often move somewhere between this and the previous item—especially, in the “real world” version.)

  3. My own thoughts are a modification of democracy in the opposite direction from what the Nazis took. (Yet one quite likely to be misunderstood or misrepresented as closer to the Nazis by the Left.)

    By having a small government, with little intervention in the daily life of the people, the members of the broad masses individually make decisions for themselves. What small government there is, is to be ruled by a more select group, in that there are restrictions on (a) who is allowed to vote, (b) who may be elected for what role.*

    *In both cases, I have yet to settle on details, but one alternative is to replace a blanket age barrier of 18 years for “(a)” with a more dynamic and harder-to-pass test of IQ or critical thinking.

    To some approximation: everyone is governed to a high degree by himself(!), while remaining collective decisions are fewer and made by a (hopefully true) elite.

Towards the end, the protagonist (“Stevens”, the butler of Lord Darlington) seems to regret that he might have been too trusting and, unlike Lord Darlington, failed to commit his own mistakes.* This plays in well with much of my own writings, e.g. on agnostic scepticism: those who trust too much in the competence and good will of politicians, the statements of others, etc., will often be burned—and they contribute massively to the problems with modern democracies.

*This is somewhat ironic to me, as (a) Stevens made plenty of own mistakes, (b) Lord Darlington arguably also was led astray by trust in others, including a visiting Ribbentrop. Indeed, it might be argued that Lord Darlington, as implied by Ishiguru, was a useful idiot while Stevens was someone blindly following orders, thereby representing two common problematic characters in discussions around the Left and/or Nazis—of which I would consider the useful idiot the more problematic. (Writing this, I even see some similarity between Stevens way of thinking of his profession and the SS attitude of “meine Ehre heißt treue”, if maybe driven more by professionalism and less by personal admiration. Might be more to discover on a re-read, maybe with the household as a parallel to a totalitarian society and “Miss Kenton” showing how an idealist can fail to act through fear in such a society.)

Excursion on Ishiguru’s intentions:
I would not speculate on Ishiguru’s intentions based on this first read. I would certainly not vouch for his intentions matching my own ideas. However, I do note that the type of portrayal that he uses has often been used, if usually with far less nuance and more one-sidedly, by others to try to score cheap points—and usually in a fallacious manner, as e.g. various types of democracy criticism is blocked into a single unnuanced and undiscriminatory category of “evil”.

Excursion on the masses:
The problems with the broad masses are not limited to a, on average, low or lower level of intelligence, knowledge, and understanding. (Nor to e.g. the risk that someone barely able to put food on the table is vulnerable to promises of government money, should some party or candidate win.) A major problem is that many of the issues involved in government can require considerable expertise,* and that allowing those too low in such expertise even a vote can be dangerous. The appropriate bar for voting is certainly lower than for e.g. being a member of parliament, but some ability to judge the general soundness of e.g. a party program must be present. Note e.g. that there was a paradoxical positive correlation between amount of education and probability to vote for Biden in the 2020 elections, while he and the Democrats pushed politics virtually bound to do more harm than good—something borne out by the results in the almost 17 months since his inauguration.

*Note that I am not, absolutely and categorically not, claiming that current politicians would be satisfactory in this regard.

And, no, I am not being a snob here. For instance, going from my own first vote (Swedish parliamentary elections in 1994, age 19) to today (age 47), I have found that I used to be naive on a great many topics. Sometimes, I have revised my opinions as time went by; sometimes, I have kept the same opinions, but now hold them for better reasons. (And while I expect fewer new revisions going to 75, I do expect them.) Yes, in a time-travel scenario that brought me back to good old 1994, I would likely have voted the same as I did back then; no, I do not believe that a legal limit of just 18 (or 19) for voting is sensible. For instance, before I had acquainted myself enough with U.S. politics, I managed to make several naive statements about both Obama and Trump.* (And I fully expect both that there are statements from my past that will turn out to be naive in the future and that I will make further naive statements as time passes.)

*I note, preempting parts of the “text on nationalism, racism, etc.”, the complication that a foreign point of view can be highly misleading, e.g. because the local media’s reporting on other countries is skewed towards foreign policy and other fields with an international effect over fields with a more national effect, say, education. (For instance, the internationally relevant free-trade issue is likely where I disagree the most with Trump, while the more nationally relevant heavy “social justice” angle of Obama is where I disagree the most with him.) That the media’s understanding of foreign countries tend to be lower than for its own does not help.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 12, 2022 at 6:29 pm

That bad cosmic joke again

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And another day where the frustrations mount to the point that I feel like screaming (and did, for a very valid reason, cry a little)—and, no, I do not write about even half of these feel-like-screaming days:

I woke up in the morning to find a server hosted at Hetzner inaccessible. From the last time around, several months ago, I knew that the web/html interface for resets no longer worked in my browsers,* something that had back then cost me more than an hour of trial and error, until I had stumbled upon a web-service API that could be used from the command line. I now tried to find the commands that I used back then—but found no trace.**

*Barring later fixes. As to the reason, I can only speculate as no proper error message was given. Hetzner is yet another case of a service provider that gradually makes the interfaces less usable.

**Again, I can only speculate on the reason. Maybe this was something that was lost between backups before a notebook crash. Cf. earlier texts.

I went on the Internet to search for the API again—and found nothing. (Search engines are not what they used to be.)

Before moving on to the provider’s website,* I decided to check my emails. This, in part, because I already felt my annoyance growing, fueled by prior poor experiences with Hetzner,** and knew that a break was a good idea; in part, because I should have received email notifications about the server being down, and thought that these might contain a direct link to the right documentation. (They did not.)

*Known to be poorly structured and filled with “Buy now!” messages. There is a reason that I began with a search engine.

**Including the aforementioned issues, several others issues, emails to the support that either go unanswered or are answered weeks later, and an actual letter to complain about e.g. the unanswered support emails, which is still, it self, unanswered—after several months.

Among my emails, I found a message that my step-grandmother, one of the most lovable women that I have ever met, and as dear to me as my regular grandparents, had died. Day ruined.

I spent the next half hour writing a short email, just a few lines, to my step-father, hindered by how hard it was to find suitable words, my own sorrow, and a mind that kept wandering, especially to how different things turn out for different persons: she made it to an amazing 107, while (among many other losses) my mother died at 67, my maternal grandfather at 61 or 62, depending on the months involved, when I was 7, and my paternal grandfather at, maybe, 69, when I was 1 or 2.

Email done, I then went to the providers website. While it was as bad as I remembered, I soon found the information, and with a bit of puzzling, I managed to recreate the right commands in just a few minutes.

Things seemed to, within what was possible, be looking up a little. I went back to my emails, to clean up all the “server down”, “reset requested”, “server up” messages—and found that the half-hour email to my step-father had been unilaterally rejected by Gmail as alleged spam. Kicked when I am already down.

Now truly at the point of wanting to scream, I moved on to this text to get some pressure relief.

Excursion on Gmail:
There are a great many reasons not to use Gmail, including major privacy and security concerns. This mishandling of spam filtering is yet another.

Apart from the above misclassification being absurd in light of the contents, format, and sending address, there is not one line in the return email on how to remedy the situation. Moreover, email providers simple should not reject the delivery of emails, except in the most blatant cases: they might well classify an email as spam, but the email should still be forwarded to the recipient, so that he has the ability to override the decision. Spam-filtering is and must be a user* decision.

*I originally wrote “client-side”, which would be the typical case. However, a server-side intervention under the user’s control is equally valid. Moreover, there is the possibility of a third-party, e.g. an employer, forcing client-side filters outside the user’s control, which is at best disputable, at worst as bad as what Gmail does.

This is the more absurd, as an email to my father, who also uses Gmail, was not rejected as spam—or, if it was, I received no such notification.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 11, 2022 at 12:30 pm

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Nazis XII: Classification issues, drawing borders on different granularity levels

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As I noted in Nazis VIII, I feel confident in applying the label “Leftist” to the “mature NSDAP”—but not, without additional research,* “Socialist”. What then might there be to research, in addition to what I have already gone through?

*To my slight annoyance, checking the exact quote during proofreading, I find that the additional research is more implied than stated. It might be that I made some similar claim, explicitly involving additional research, elsewhere among these many texts.

The hitch lies more in what “Socialist” implies than what “Nazi” implies. Words can mean different things to different persons, at different times, in different contexts, etc.; and there is no simple definition of “Socialist” that will find universal acceptance.* The first (likely main, maybe only) step, likely involving considerable research, would then be to find some sufficiently reasonable and acceptable definition of “Socialist”, in order to check whether the Nazis fit this label. A second step might or might not have followed, to do more targeted research on the Nazis, themselves, based on the now established criteria for “Socialist”.

*For instance, many view Communists as Socialists, while others merely see two sibling groups. (Compare the below remarks on the Neanderthals.) For instance, many on the U.S. non-Left see little distinction between “Leftist” and “Socialist” in the first place. For instance, the old “Eastern Europe” nations might largely have rejected both Social-Democrats (“Social-Fascists”) and Nazis from the label of Socialist.

But what of “Leftist”? Is not “Leftist” a term that is even vaguer or more likely to cause disagreement than “Socialist”? Quiet possibly. However, there is a larger core area of less dispute and the disputed areas are not necessarily the same.

Consider, as an analogy, the questions of whether Åland belongs to Finland or Sweden resp. Europe or some other continent.

On the one hand, Åland was the center of a dispute* about intra-European borders, complicated by e.g. the fact that most of the population of Åland speaks Swedish but seems more attracted to Finland. Other such disputes exist; and the claim that “area X belongs to country Y” is by no means always clear cut.

*However, a long settled and no longer very controversial dispute. I still go with Åland for two reasons: Firstly, my own thoughts on the topic originated with the example of Åland as a means of illustration of and a better way to understand the “Nazis are Socialists” vs. “Nazis are Leftist” issue. Secondly, most other such disputes are more likely to involve strong feelings in one party or another.

On the other, similar and larger disputes* are possible for the borders of Europe, including with an eye at geography and politics. Is Greenland a part of Europe? The Falklands? Turkey? (Even Israel is sometimes included, e.g. in sports, which demonstrates the importance of context—this position would border on the absurd in many other contexts.)

*However, these disputes are typically more likely to involve semantics and matters of definition that politics and nationalism. The Falklands above, e.g., are at most indirectly a matter of whether they “rightfully” might belong to the U.K. or to the Argentine; the main issue is whether a so geographically distant island group should count as part of Europe. Here, we see the additional complication that it is possible for a dispute to simultaneously occur at different levels and with answers that might initially seem surprising. For instance, it is very possible to simultaneously claim that the Falklands do belong to the U.K., but do not belong to Europe. (Also see excursion for a similar topic.) Even the claim that they belong politically to Europe but not geographically is possible.

Even so, it is entirely uncontroversial to claim that Åland belongs to Europe, and neither Finns, nor Swedes, nor Ålanders (?) can reasonably complain—no matter what they think of the more local matter. Indeed, even reassigning Åland from Finland to Sweden, or making it an independent country in its own right, would not alter the fact that it is solidly in Europe.

Similarly, it is often possible to claim that X belongs to the very vague area Y, while not being able to make the same claim for the less vague area Z. This the more so, the more “fine-grained” Z is relative Y. For instance, there is still a dispute whether the Neanderthals were members of Homo Sapiens (i.e. whether they are more appropriately considered Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis or Homo Neanderthalensis), but a classification as Homo, primate, mammal, whatnot is not disputed.

This brings us back to the Nazis: If the Nazis were Socialist, they were a fortiori Leftist, but they might well have been Leftist without automatically being Socialist. Correspondingly, calling them “Leftist” is safer and requires less research than calling them “Socialist”.

Excursion on Europe, Norden,* and Greenland:
A good illustration of how different-definitions-for-different-entities can lead to problems is given by my teacher during lågstadiet**. She would illustrate Norden by speedily waving her pointer in a very imprecise figure on the big world map that hang in the classroom. The area within her imprecise figure did cover Norden, Greenland included, but also typically portions of (the non-Norden) continental Europe, of the Soviet Union***, and of the British Isles. To illustrate Europe, she would make a similarly speedy wave and imprecise figure to cover Europe, without Greenland, and with some losses around various border areas (notably, parts of the European Soviet Union; parts of Italy?, Spain?, Balkans?). As the area covered by her waving was larger for Norden, I came away with an early impression that Europe was a part of Norden instead of (approximately****) the other way around.

*The Swedish/Norwegian/Danish name for the grouping of Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland + some tricky areas. The phrase “the Nordic countries” is occasionally heard in English, but I doubt that it is widely understood. Note that these countries are historically, culturally, linguistically (excepting Finland), geographically (excepting Iceland), and often politically and economically closely tied to each other; and that the concept of Norden might have been of greater importance than that of Europe in school and/or the typical Swedish worldview. (The EU, respectively the then EC, was not much competition at the time.)

**The first three years of primary education in Sweden.

***This was in the early 1980s.

****This, again, depends on how e.g. Greenland is counted relative Norden and Europe. The idea that two areas could be overlapping without the one being a part of the other did not, to my memory, find mention. I have no recollection of a reasonable explanation of the status of Greenland either. (The typical “explanation”, to my very vague memory, was something almost quantum mechanical about Greenland simultaneously belonging and not belonging to Denmark.)

(This with the reservation that I speak from memories roughly forty years old. The description of her waving holds in principle, but might be off in the exact details.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 7, 2022 at 9:41 pm

Redesigning for the worse / Blogroll update

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Last October, I added the Daily Sceptic to my blogroll. Today, I have decided* to remove it again. This in part due to a lower relevance and (my subjective feeling of) less, and less valuable, content as the COVID hysteria, countermeasures, whatnot have subsided.** The main reason, however, is a disastrous redesign.

*I do not currently have access to my WordPress account, and there might be a delay before the actual removal takes place. (This due to various notebook crashes and reinstalls, as discussed in earlier texts. To post on WordPress, I only need my email account.)

**Should they flare up again, I might revisit the decision.

To first look at the big picture:

I have been on the Internet since 1994, and it seems that web design tendentially has grown worse, year by year, that almost every individual redesign of a website makes it worse than before,* and that bigger organizations and organizations with more money tend to have worse websites than smaller ones.

*Indeed, this is not the first time that I abandon a site due to a misguided redesign.

A key issue here might be that web design is best kept simple, while there is a drift towards the more complex, e.g. because the more complex might, in some shallow sense, look fancier (at the cost of usability), that a design firm might be hard-pressed to charge money for something less fancy (even if more usable), that an executive/manager/product-manager* might push for the more fancy looking, etc., etc. As a special case, there seems to be a great unwillingness to accept the “default look” of HTML, which leads not only to excessive CSS-customizations but also, often, a reduced readability or usability, be it because pages from different web-sites look unnecessarily different** or because the default look was superior to begin with.***

*As a software insider, I can attest that many of the problems that the outsiders blame on the software/web/whatnot developers are actually caused by others. Developers usually have little say on topics like “user experience”, “look and feel”, what workflows are available and how they are structured, etc. (Which is a shame, because the developers are often better qualified and more insightful on such topics than those who do make the decisions.) Then there is the complication that the visual design of e.g. a website or a software is often done by others than those who implement the design.

**Which, sadly, appears to be seen as an advantage by the decision makers: Who cares about usability? The main thing is that we can push our unique corporate look/identity/whatnot! We need to stand out! We need to be unique! Besides, the visitors are not supposed to read and be informed, they are supposed to look at pretty pictures and be impressed!

***Fiddling around with the look of various control elements is particularly ill advised. For instance, some modern designs make it hard to determine whether a checkbox is actually checked, because no check mark is present. (Does that non-standard, specific to this one website, change of color mean that the checkbox is now checked or that it is now unchecked?) One extraordinarily idiotic website (I do not remember which one) had designed a radio-button to look like a checkbox.

A particular sub-issue could be that some individual designers want to experiment with various features, display their technical skills, whatnot, rather than favoring usability.

How to do good web design? Keep it simple, stupid!* Focus on readability and usability, not looks. Be user-driven, not design-driven. Do not make assumptions about the user (especially, that he is an idiot) or his wishes—ask him. Etc.

*This “KISS” principle applies very much to software development (and many other areas) in general. It is often one of the first things taught—and one of the first things forgotten. (And, possibly, is rarely taught to non-developers, e.g. product managers.)

Looking at the Daily Sceptic in detail:

Between my discovery of the site and the redesign, the main-page layout consisted of a long list of entries, somewhat like on a regular blog, most of which contained either own contents or a lengthy/article-sized quote from elsewhere (with some minor own comments), while a once-a-day entry contained a “news roundup” with a list with links to and one-sentence descriptions of texts from various other websites and news services. (This “news roundup” was (is?) the main source of value.)

The site was by no means perfect, but except for three things, this worked very well and was highly usable. All three things would have been easy to fix within the old design, and the second was easy for the user to work around (once wise the problem):

  1. The site had not made up its mind whether, for the individual entries/pages/whatnots, it should follow the “give the entire text in the list, with the option of opening it in a separate page to, e.g., give a comment” paradigm or the “give a taster in the list, and let those interested open the full text in a separate page” paradigm.

    Instead, the site combined the disadvantages of both systems, by giving a long-but-incomplete version of the text in the list. Those wanting to skim forward to open interesting seeming texts in separate pages were hampered by the length; those wanting to read the text without using separate pages could not do so, because the whole text was not present.

  2. The internal system, contrary to most blogging platforms, seemed to have two pages for the same text, one reflecting the abbreviated contents of the list and one reflecting the full text.

    In order to get the full text, the user had to scroll down to the end and click “Read More”, after which he was lead to the full version. However, what most experienced users are likely to do was to read a paragraph or two and then, if interested, click on the heading. (Or, on a site with a sufficient proportion of interesting texts, click on the heading in a blanket manner.) Unlike other platforms, however, this did not bring the user to the full version, but only the abbreviated version already seen in the list.

    (During my first few visits, I was highly annoyed to find, a “Read More” at the end of what should have been the full text, forcing me to another page visit. With time, I just scrolled down to the “Read More” of the original list in the first place.)

    Moreover, the lengthy/article-sized quotes ended with a “Worth reading in full” and a link to the original text. If the text is worth reading in full, why am I not? Either the actual full text should have been provided or I should have been linked to the full text to begin with.* This half-measure just wastes time. (Also see excursion.)

    *The semi-pointlessness of this approach is demonstrated by the same text often occurring both as a quote and as an entry in the news roundup.

    (Again, highly annoying during my first few visits, but something that I later worked around by just scrolling down to the “Worth reading in full”, while ignoring the Daily Sceptic’s version entirely.)

  3. Like many other sites, the comments were not immediately accessible even on the full version of a text. This is a near incomprehensible error, especially with an eye at how common it is. Show the bloody comments by default!

    Specifically, do so without a requirement to register and/or log in. Such a requirement might be acceptable for writing comments, but not for reading them.

The new design?* So bad that I will stay clear of the site for the time being:

*As observed during today’s (2020-06-06) visit. The statements need not be true at the time of reading.

  1. That very useful list is gone.
  2. The news roundup has been moved to a separate page and, it appears, a separate page per day, implying that I cannot just go to the same page every day, but have to go to the main page and pick out whatever the current day’s page is.
  3. The (new) main page is poorly designed, wastes space, and has replaced the original list with a much shorter two column list.

    The “shorter” implies that further pages must be visited to find all entries of the day (or since the last visit)—which is not possible without JavaScript. At the end of the page there is a “Load More” button, which should (a) have been a link, (b) should have loaded* more. Instead, it unnecessarily uses JavaScript to do something or other.** General rule: Never, ever use JavaScript for something that can be done with a regular HTML link.

    *Or, better, switched to a “page 2”. I have not investigated the details of Daily Sceptic here, but a common issue with other sites that use formulations like “load more” is that the new page begins with a repetition of the original contents, for a major waste of time—I want more contents, not the same contents again.

    **Presumably, to load more, but I will not activate JavaScript for any random site—especially one with foreign and, therefore, untrusted-even-should-I-trust-the-site contents. Correspondingly, I cannot test this.

    The two columns are a worsening relative a straight list, and columns are usually a bad idea in HTML to begin with—an attempt to imitate a paper design without a feel for the actual medium. (Generally, adopting something from the one medium to another can be highly sub-optimal. Even in good cases, adaption (note spelling) is necessary and often not even that gives a good result.)

  4. The comment issue has not been fixed. Arguably, cf. below, it has been made worse.
  5. On the upside, the site has now made up its mind on the two aforementioned browsing paradigms, settling on short descriptions with a full page view. The “Read More” issue seems to have disappeared as a side-effect. However, the “Worth reading in full” issue remains. Indeed, it has grown worse, because I cannot now jump from the main page directly to the original article. Instead, I have to first visit the Daily Sceptic’s version, and then jump to the original article.
  6. There are now three (!) highly intrusive requests for donations at the bottom of each (!) page.* By all means, ask for donations if you need money (running a popular website can be expensive—I understand that), but be polite and discreet—no-one likes to have a begging hand shoved in his face every two minutes.

    *There might be some discussion whether this should be considered design or content. As they seem to appear without variation on all pages, I consider them design for the purposes of this text. Similar points might apply elsewhere.

    This is the more annoying, as the site provides comparatively little own contents. The main benefit was always the news roundup with contents from other parties; and of the other entries, only roughly half were own contents, with the other, and often more interesting, half being the lengthy/article-sized quotes from other parties.

    Moreover, the third of these intrusive requests contains an inexcusable “We ask for a minimum donation of £5 if you’d like to make a comment or post in our Forums.”:

    Not only is this amount utterly and entirely out of proportion,* but the site is effectively punishing visitors for contributing value to the site.

    *Really, £5! Compare this with what can be had for the same amount elsewhere.

    (Generally, it is absurd, utterly absurd, how many websites seem to think that they are doing their visitors a favor by allowing them to contribute, while it is often these contributions that give the site value in the first place. This obviously in forums, many wikis, and sites like Youtube, but at least sometimes on other websites, blogs, whatnot. Steve Sailer is, again, a great example of a blog where almost all the value comes from the commenters.)

  7. According to an announcement there will now be advertising. Their choice, but it will worsen the “reader experience” and it will make me even less likely to visit.

Excursion on general technologies and trends:
I am often tempted to blame such problems on developments in technology, e.g. increased use of JavaScript (should be minimized) and CSS “position: fixed” (should never have been invented and should never be used). However, the Web has a long history of idiocies and over-use. For instance, Flash was long a problem, but is now almost gone. For instance, one of the early banes of web design was frames, and they have been very rare for at least a decade, maybe even two.

Moreover, at the end of the day, technologies can make it easier to make poor designs, but the blame ultimately rests on the designer (and/or whomever gives the orders).

A partial exception to this is responsive web design (and, maybe, adaptive web design), which pretends to solve a problem that does not exist,* and causes enormous increases in efforts, complexity, JavaScript use, etc. Another partial exception is a drive to design exclusively or primarily for smartphones, which often leads to pages that look like shit in and wastes space for a desktop browser, while, typically, not being very impressive on a smartphone either.**

*Or, rather, would not exist, if the design was solid in the first place. Design well, and the exact same page will look good in both a desktop browser and a smartphone browser without dynamic adaptions. Indeed, in the days of yore, where “mobile versions” were common, a flawed redesign of the “desktop version” often moved me to use the “mobile version” on the desktop too—as it was usually better designed for desktop use than the redesigned desktop version…

**Yes, there is an apparent contradiction of the previous footnote. From memory, I would say that the old “mobile versions” used a look-and-feel which was simply a less complex version of a regular desktop version (cf. the above comments on keeping it simple, etc.), while the modern try to additionally use an Android- and/or iPhone-inspired look-and-feel, including ideas like removing links in favor of big buttons or button-like constructs and preferring many low-information pages/screens/whatnot to fewer high-information dittos. (As an aside, I would welcome it, if the smartphone OSes looked and behaved more like desktops, to the degree that screen space and lack of keyboard/mouse allows it.)

Excursion on earlier writings:
I have a number of older texts dealing with both web design and software development on my website proper.

Excursion on “Worth reading in full”:
To quote and discuss portions of a text, in conjuncture with a “Worth reading in full” (or something to the same effect), is not wrong. I have certainly done so myself. In the case of the Daily Sceptic, there are at least three problems: (a) that this is done on a very large scale, (b) that the link to the original only comes at the very end,* and (c) that the own comments, analysis, whatnot are small in comparison to the quoted text—and usually quite superficial. There simply was not much point in reading the Daily Sceptic’s version over going straight to the source.

*Without checking, I suspect that I have always or almost always linked at the beginning of such texts—and I certainly will try to remember it for the future.

Excursion on utter idiocies:
To illustrate how far some idiots can go, there actually are websites that try to impress the user by playing music when he visits, or accompanies the main page with a spoken message. (This disregarding both that most users will not hear the music/message in the first place, that those who do might be pissed off, and that third parties might be disturbed.) A very common problem is the use of overly large, utterly uninformative, and constantly switching images, which do little but annoy the visitor. (This as part of the deliberate design. Advertisements can have a very similar effect, but are a separate issue.) Generally, overly large and utterly uninformative images, even when not switching, appear to be a staple of corporate web design.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 6, 2022 at 4:09 pm