Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Archive for October 2022

Unfair government and choice

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To continue the discussion of choice (see The illusion of choice and non-choice):

There are some interesting variations of restrictions on choice, often involving civil servants or police, including “having a choice” but being unaware of this choice, having a choice but being unaware of the stakes and consequences involved, being denied a choice that one rightfully should have, and seeing a so rapid and unexpected escalation that choice becomes irrelevant.

Consider e.g. citizen–police interactions in the U.S. (and likely many other countries too): We have non-criminals who travel with large amounts of money for a legitimate reason—and see that money confiscated through civil forfeiture, on the mere unproved suspicion that it would have some connection to something criminal. We have an innocent woman, Ashley Babbit, gunned down in cold blood for no even remotely justifiable reason, with not even a “Leave NOW or I’ll shoot!”—her murderer walked free. We have Republicans, Pro-Lifers, and the like being arrested in public, in their homes, and/or with an overkill of police force, when nothing more was called for than a notification of “Please surrender yourself voluntarily within three days.” (or whatever might be applicable in the individual case; and even assuming that the underlying suspicion was justified to begin with, which often seems dubious).

Even in more specifically criminal–police, troublemaker–police, whatnot–police interactions, there is often a risk of undue or premature escalation, e.g. in that shots are fired too soon, that something harmless is mistaken for a weapon (followed by deadly force* from the police), or that a criminal is not given the chance to surrender, drop his weapon, whatnot.** Here the question is often (for the purposes of this text!) not whether someone is doing something wrong, but whether a sufficient awareness of the potential consequences is present/can reasonably be assumed to be present—and whether the police has sufficiently considered all relevant circumstances that were known, should have been known, or should have been reasonably suspected. A particularly absurd and horrifying case is the shooting of Linden Cameron, a boy of 13 (cf. e.g. Wikipedia; also see below for more details). I seem to recall (but might be wrong; the principle remains instructive) a story of someone deaf being thrown to the ground for not obeying instructions delivered from behind. The possibility of deafness is certainly something that must be considered in such situations.*** Ditto, with reservations for the details, the risk that a hearing-someone looking the wrong way might not be aware that certain instructions were intended for him. Ditto the risk that someone does not speak English.

*As this term is often misunderstood, I stress that “deadly force” does not automatically imply a high risk of death. A strike with a nightstick that breaks an arm is also an example. (But, yes, with enough bad luck even breaking an arm can result in death.)

**What counts as e.g. “too soon” will depend on the individual case and I will not attempt to give a specific rule. Suffice it to say that there are situations where immediate deadly force is called for and situations where it is not. (Indeed, that things vary from case to case is likely a strong contributor to such issues. The choice between firing too early, potentially killing/injuring someone unnecessarily, and firing too late, risking one’s own or a hostage’s death/injury, e.g., can be quite tricky.)

***Note the Bayesian angle: few are deaf, but given the fact that someone does not react to sound, the probability increases drastically. Ditto the probability that someone is using in-ears with noise cancellation to listen to music, and similar. (Leaving aside whether such in-ears are a good idea when outside.)

To look at Linden Cameron in more detail, it appears that his mother called 911 to get help to bring him to a hospital—an act that no reasonable person would have seen as involving the risk of a shooting. (From the description on Wikipedia, it is not clear that she even expected the police, as opposed to, say, an EMT or a social-service employee.) Linden ends up running away from the police, which he (especially at age 13, regardless of autism) could hardly have expected to lead to worse consequences than a chase and, if caught, a tackle. Instead, he was shot at eleven times and grievously wounded—with no adequate warning.* This, notably, despite the police being at least approximately aware of his age and condition or, on the outside, should have been aware.** That the actual shooting seems to have been performed by a single officer does not make the injuries lesser, but it does point to the increased risk for the people—disaster only requires one single officer who misunderstands the situation, is too trigger happy, shows up high on something, whatnot.

*At least, going by the description, where a “Get on the ground!” is mentioned, but not, e.g., a “Halt or I’ll shoot!”. (It is conceivable that one of the shots were intended as a warning shot, but I doubt that someone fleeing would take a gun shot, with no verbal companion, as cause to stop running. The opposite seems more likely.)

**From Linden’s point of view, there are more circumstances of relevance claimed, e.g. a strong fear of the police; however, I try to keep this as fair as possible to the police. It is reasonable to demand that they knew or visually recognized that he was just a kid, but the same demand for his fear of the police would almost always be unreasonable.

Once in court, absurdities in many legal and justice systems can lead to utterly disproportionate punishments and other consequences. Consider the Ahmaud Arbery shooting ([1]): Let us say, strictly for the sake of argument, that the two McMichaels set out to deliberate murder Arbery. How does that justify the multiple life-sentences that befell William Bryan? How could he even remotely have predicted that outcome? There are no signs that he coordinated in a non-trivial manner with the McMichaels, it is unclear to what degree he knew them, he did not fire a weapon, he did not attack anyone, etc.* All he did was drive a car in a manner that was deemed felonious—and (a) he was likely not aware of even the risk that his driving would be deemed felonious, (b) from my layman’s point of view, it seems a comparatively harmless matter felony-wise,** even were it contextually unacceptable, which might be a matter for debate. Now, because another party killed someone, his felonies became “felony murders”—and his life was ruined. Felony murder is an abomination and must be abolished, at least for cases comparable to this one (also see [1]).

*Going by my last state of knowledge and with reservations for memory errors. I have not looked into the case since last year.

**Much unlike e.g. the Waukesha massacre. By analogy, giving someone a slap in the face is battery—and so is beating him until he is unconscious and needs a few weeks in a hospital to recuperate. The former might (under most circumstances) be unacceptable, but it is not even remotely on the level of the latter.

And, remember, that this is even making extreme assumptions, very likely to be wrong, about the McMichaels. There are no signs of any ill-intent in the two that I am aware of. They might or might not have acted ill-advisedly, maybe even illegally by engaging Arbery, but everything points to good intentions (in general; not necessarily vis-a-vis Arbery) of more-or-less peaceful neighborhood protection. Especially the younger and non-shooting McMichael could make a very strong case for just being an innocent (beyond minor felonies*) victim of circumstance, where he acted in good faith and with no awareness of potential consequences. The older is the only one of the three who shot anyone, and the only one who might be on the line for murder in a sane justice system. Even for him, however, there is the issue of self-defense and chances are both that he saw pulling the trigger as justified in the moment, and that a great many others would have done the same in the same position.

*And even these might be disputable, depending on who drove and did what prior to the shooting, which I do not remember.

In contrast, Arbery had, or should reasonably have had, an understanding of the potential consequences of his actions: Attack a man with a gun, and being shot is par for the course. (Note that this does not change because the attacker believes the attack to be justified, which might or might not have been the case here. Guns do not care about right and wrong.)

Looking at various governmental agencies, they are often allowed to just fine without warning and often out of proportion—where a private entity with a complaint usually must first point out a problem and ask for a remedy before taking further actions (and this further action ultimately involving a law suit and a court judgment before the equivalent of a fine can be relevant). More generally, at least in Germany, various civil servants and similar characters are often allowed to by-pass the court system entirely and merely dictate the equivalent of a court outcome on their own. The afflicted citizen still has the opportunity to go to court, but should not count on being successful, because the German government/civil-service system is drenched in a mentality of “the citizen is always wrong; the civil servant is always right”.

Consider the case of an absurd and unwarranted 1000 dollar fine:* An old owner of a building in NYC had failed to have a boiler inspected. The boiler was removed before the next owner, one Serafim, bought the building. There was no sign of the issue on a “title search”, because of delays in the city bureaucracy. Years later, Serafim is told to fork over a 1000 dollar as penalty for his predecessors negligence—and to have the long removed (!) boiler re-inspected. His requests for a hearing are denied. Allegedly, this is a deliberate standard practice in NYC.

*I had a better case in mind, relating to much, much larger fines for an overgrown lawn. (The owner went on a long vacation, the guy hired to take care of the lawn died, and tens of thousands of dollars in fines accumulated before the owner was even properly notified that something was amiss—with reservations for details.) Unfortunately, I only found the above in my browser history and my current search-engine, mojeek, is (yet another) useless POS. On the upside, the similarities with my own situation (cf. below) make the example the more satisfying.

The following quote catches much of the general issue with government abuse, overreach, undue bureaucracy, failure to consider the citizens point of view, etc.:

Serafim said, in a statement released through the IJ, “This lawsuit isn’t about me, it’s about the basic principle that nobody should be punished without a hearing or a chance for an appeal. The city punished me for someone else’s mistake and then denied me a chance to point that out,” Serafim said. “This system is simply wrong, and I want to help ensure that other people don’t have to go through this.”

To this I note a similar own set of experiences in Germany with the (technically pointless and redundant-due-to-yearly-servicing) exhaust check of gas heaters. A chimney sweep, the runner of a commercial business,* performs legally mandated (but, again, pointless) exhaust checks as part of a government make-work** scheme to keep the otherwise borderline unemployable employed. After various problems*** with these impossible persons, I decided to just dodge the issue by cancelling my gas contract. Despite my having no gas and despite no check being technically possible, he insisted on a check. When I turned him down, in light of his and his staffs repeated rudeness, incompetence, and belligerence, he went straight to the city and had a two(?)-hundred-something Euro fine ordered. The city refused any reasonable hearing or objection, including relating to the absence of gas, and certainly did not ask for my point of view in advance. The chimney sweep said to fine someone; ergo, we fine. To avoid future demands for these pointless checks and/or unjustifiable fines, I was ultimately forced to remove the entire gas heater. Utter insanity! (The above leaves out quite a few other complications that are equally insane.) A semi-sane system would have had the chimney sweep report the issue to the city, the city to contact me with a request for information and/or resolution, and the fact that I had no gas would have ended the matter—possibly, excepting a reprimand to the chimney sweep. Alternatively, the city would have given me a deadline to arrange matters after which a fine might have been applicable. A truly sane system would, of course, not have these nonsense checks to begin with.

*In other words, he has an immediate personal advantage from forcing his “services” onto those who do not need them. In contrast, an employee of NYC has no personal advantage, even though the city government might have.

**Germany is big on make-work. Note e.g. the decades of support for the coal-mining industry, at a rate of billions per year, where it would have been so much better to just let the market work, let the industry shrink to profitability, and let the surplus workers find new jobs, which most would have managed within months, instead of drawing on the tax payer’s money for years or decades. Even paying unemployment for a few years, to any who had trouble finding new work, would have been much cheaper. (And note how much better it would have been for the environment if coal had been ditched faster and nuclear power been kept.)

***A small subset of the problems has been discussed in the past, cf. e.g. [2], [3], [4].

Excursion on Chauvin et co. and Floyd:
This scenario shows the police being more on the receiving end than the criminal. From their behavior, it is highly likely that they did not expect Floyd to die and/or to die in a manner that brought culpability on them.* They certainly had no conception of the (objectively utterly out of proportion) consequences that would follow, or they would have acted very differently. (Remember that the whole scene was in front of a multitude of witnesses and that it was filmed.)

*I recall some commenter on the matter saying that Chauvin’s lack of emotion (or whatnot) during the knee-portion of events showed what cold-blooded psychopath he was, murdering a man and showing no emotion—and because he showed no emotion, he must be guilty. Much more likely is that he showed no strong emotions because he did not believe that he was doing anything harmful, out of proportion, and/or legally/ethically wrong. At that, I am still not convinced that the knee was the deciding factor in Floyd’s death.

Excursion on awareness of consequences:
Just as “mens rea” plays in when it comes to crime, it might make sense to formally make a reasonably expected knowledge of consequences a part of both evaluating criminal punishment (but not necessarily criminal culpability) and various fines and whatnot. Unless the government can show that someone knew or should* have known about certain legal consequences, these consequences may not follow. This would be a great obstacle to government abuse.

*Where some stricter definition must be found to avoid government abuse: it would be all too easy to say “it is in a promulgated law; ergo, he should have known”, “a story on this was in the papers five years ago; ergo, he should have known”, or similar. Some additional leeway might be needed for foreigners and laws that differ between countries, but care must be taken in the other direction, so that this leeway is not abused by criminals.

From another point of view, some analog of the medical “informed consent” might possibly be applied to governance, laws, and whatnot. Consent in the proper sense is, obviously, tricky, as few governments, unlike physicians, would be willing to allow a choice, but a principle might be possible that a consent-like whatnot cannot be presumed without sufficient proof of “informed”, and that e.g. laws are limited when this consent-like whatnot is not proved.

More generally, governments must actively inform to a much higher degree than today, where, for instance, an important change in laws or the COVID-restrictions typically only reaches those who read the papers/watch the news on the right day; and where the sheer mass of laws casts serious doubt as to the compatibility between “ignorantia juris non excusat” and both Rechtsstaatlichkeit and Rule of Law. (However, the main point of this excursion is not ignorance of what is criminal but of what the resulting punishment might be, and to some degree ignorance of what crime a criminal act might be considered by the law. Note, with an eye at the above, how hard it can be for a layman to tell what crime he is committing, even when he might be aware that he is committing some crime.)

Excursion on J6 and Brandon Fellows:
The J6 political persecutions contain many examples of problems in line with the above. Taking a break from writing, I encountered the story of Brandon Fellows. (Disclaimer: I have not watched the videos included with the linked-to text.) He did no-one any harm and he was given every reason to believe that he was acting in an acceptable manner, including being told by the police that he was in no danger of being arrested, “but has been detained without bond for 16 months on four misdemeanors and one felony ‘obstruction’ charge” in the aftermath. This is likely longer than a reasonable sentence, should he paradoxically and unjustly be found guilty, and the imprisonment conditions for J6 victims appear to be far worse than in a regular prison. At this stage, even a reversal of Biden’s hypocritical and deceitful “semi-Fascist” accusation falls well short of the mark—the current Biden regime is all-out Fascist and it must be treated as such. Remember: Fascist is as Fascist does.


Written by michaeleriksson

October 31, 2022 at 7:37 pm

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About those experts…

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Disclaimer: This text started out in one place, saw a change of tack, and then evolved into something even more different. With the length of the text and the massive amount of writing that I have done this month (averaging a little more than one published text a day), I lack the energy to rewrite it to the level that might find expert (to stick with the theme) approval. I publish anyway to shrink that backlog just a little.

When I was a young teenager, I had an attitude to governance very similar to e.g. a modern day U.S. Democrat or other Big-Government proponent. The broad masses are stupid* and politics is the art of putting the right persons in charge, so that they can make wise decisions for all—an expert for everything and every expert in his place. The more than thirty years since have seen a gradual change of opinion, my last few illusions crushed by the behavior of “experts” during the COVID pandemic.

*Well, I got one thing right, but whether they are actually more stupid than those actually in charge is sometimes debatable.

While I have certainly not walked around with blinders for close to fifty years, the process was slower than it, with hindsight, should have been, and I always seemed to just exclude, sometimes unconsciously, a slice of society as non-experts, rather than to contemplate the whole of society. I discovered that most teachers were nothing to write home about during my school years, for instance, but I never viewed teachers as true experts (on pedagogy or whatnot)—specialists, yes; experts, no. When it came to individual fields of study, the first few teachers were generalist, and we had a series of single teachers teaching all subjects for the first six years of school, with a switch based on age group, not subject.* In contrast, I expected e.g. the professor of pedagogy, the minister of education, and a Ph.D. holder in an individual subject to have true expertise.

*Excepting some special cases, like wood-shop and music. Here and elsewhere, note that many references are to Sweden. The general claims are likely to hold internationally too, but the exact details might vary.

The next six years were better, with teachers who specialized in, usually, two subjects and had a correspondingly deeper knowledge, but they were still “only” teachers. When they failed to live up to my standards, and most did, I shrugged it off—even high-school teaching is, after all, not where you find your typical genius. Those who can do, do; those who can’t do, teach. (And two or three STEM teachers might have been outright good, if far from deserving a status as infallible policy makers, giving me some hope for the future.)

Time went by, and I saw disappointment after disappointment, e.g. in that most politicians were intellectual nobodies. (In my very late teens, I actually watched a few parliamentary debates in the hope of learning something. Well, I suppose that I did learn a thing or three, e.g. that parliamentary debates are horrifyingly boring, that politicians are poor at reasoning, and similar.) But, hey, politicians—they are elected because of popularity, not true merit.

Physicians who believe in homeopathy? Sad—and a failure for medical education, but most do not and, after all, medicine is, compared to e.g. math, a field requiring more memorization and less thinking.

(More generally, I have seen many cases of a member of field X who believes stupid thing Y or does not understand Z, and have shrugged it off as an individual nitwit, not representative of the majority. To return to the physicians: those who believe in homeopathy are not representative in this specific regard, but their presence still sends a warning sign for the field as a whole—maybe, they are somewhat representative in terms of ignorance or weakness of critical thinking.)

Bosses who are both less intelligent and less informed than half their teams? Well, the sad truth is that promotions rarely go to the true high potentials* and that e.g. showing dedication, behaving in the “right”** manner, becoming friendly with the right higher-ups, and understanding and using company politics is more important than being good at the actual job. (In a bigger picture, promotions-for-being-a-woman and promotions-for-being-a-minority-member have to be added, but I have myself been relative sheltered from them, likely simply because of the demographics of German software development. In neighboring departments, and during my time as a business analyst, I have seen some quite suspect cases, however.)

*A phrase somewhat popular in e.g. personnel management.

**Exactly what this implies will vary from case to case, but being sufficiently compliant and sufficiently sociable are common factors.

Over time, I continually shrank, in my mind, the circle of alleged experts who actually were experts, but I never truly stopped believing in experts: they might be rarer than they should be and they might be misallocated, but they do exist, they do, they do! (Or was that Santa Clause? I forget.)

Then came COVID and the conclusion that virtually everyone hailed as an expert* by media and politicians and virtually everyone put in charge of something important was a long way from where he should be.**

*But note that this still leaves room for experts not hailed as such by media and politicians.

**In the case of some, e.g. Fauci and Birx, not just in terms of competence but actual physical location, viz. prison.

A large part of this is, of course, misallocation, as true experts, unlike Santa Clause, do exist—they just are not put in the right positions. Much might be misrepresentation. A recurring problem is experts speaking on topics that they do not understand, using their (real or alleged) expertise on another topic as legitimacy, and/or their failure to factor in other fields. (As with e.g. the many lockdown proponents who failed to consider factors like the effect on the economy, which made lockdowns extremely dubious, even assuming that they had worked strictly from a defeat-COVID perspective. That the lockdowns did not work even to defeat COVID just makes it that much worse.) Another is true expertise being shouted down by propaganda, suppressed by threats of cancellations, and similar. However, the most damaging might well be empty credentials:

What does that diploma or whatnot truly mean? Higher education used to have a strong component of filtering for ability, intelligence (which is the most important in any expert), willingness to work hard, and similar, but is not necessarily that developing—a degree tells us who had the right type of mind before admission, but it does not create that mind. The mind is strong after graduation because it was strong before admission. Yes, I learned much during my own studies, but it did not fundamentally change me beyond what a similar stretch of e.g. work would have done.* Today, this filter effect has been catastrophically weakened, for reasons like laxer admissions,** lower standards to pass old courses, new courses that are bottom-of-the-barrel, and entire majors that might be passed just through being sufficiently compliant and not thinking for oneself (e.g. gender-studies). Even in the days of old, non-STEM fields were not ideal filters, as a hard worker could often compensate for a lack of brains.

*The typical college years fall into an interval when there is still some physical maturation taking place and when there are large “beginner’s gains” in terms of professionalism, self-knowledge, worldview, etc. (This especially as they often coincide approximately with leaving home, gaining new legal rights, having first major economic responsibility, first serious relationships, and similar.) A few years of virtually anything will make a difference, but the difference will be less a matter of e.g. college having a magic effect and more of nature taking its course.)

**Note how much larger the college population is relative the past.

From what I have observed myself, read, and been told by others, Ph.D. studies are similar—they do develop a narrow set of skills, but the main question is whether the mind was there before admission.*/** Moreover, doctoral studies often involve surprisingly long stretches of leg-work.

*Disclaimer: I have two Master’s degrees but have never been in a Ph.D. program.

**Reservation: There are some interesting differences between different countries. For instance, many U.S. (non-language) programs have a requirement that the candidate must have some knowledge, often “reading proficiency”, of one or two foreign languages by the time the degree is awarded. This requirement might increase the distance between Ph.D. holders and non-holders within a given country, but mostly because of a catching-up effect, as such language knowledge is expected at the end of high-school in many other countries, including Sweden. (I had nine years of English and six of German by the end of high school.)

That professorship? Well, as I have learned over the last few years, the main point of a professor today is neither research nor teaching—but collecting enough research grants for his employer. (And as early as the mid-1990s I had a professor complain to me that all the administrative work was taking up half his workday.) Now, when a professor is judged by how much money he brings in, what quality of professor qua researcher* and expert will result? Do not get me started on other aspects of academic research, like publish-or-perish, “p-hacking”, dubious co-authorships, pressure to get the “right” results, and whatnot.

*Being a good researcher plays in, of course, but knowing the right people, being charming, being able to bluff, and, sadly, the willingness to pick the right research topics seems more important. Even more sadly, fudging one’s results can be helpful (if undiscovered).

Looking at other qualifications, it is rarely better. High government positions, for instance, say very little about competence, and sufficiently high positions tend to be detached from actual research and expertise in favor of policy work, public relations, and whatnot. Awards are often dubious (witness many of the Nobels and Oscars), with a common influence of politics, filtering based on opinions, mutual pats on backs, and similar. The MacArthur “Genius grant” has been derided as entirely detached from genius.* Some awards are even invented for the purpose of publicity and credential padding (arguably, including the Oscars).

*I have not done the leg-work to have a firm own opinion, but I do note that somewhat recent recipients include the likes of Ibram X. Kendi (racist, hate monger, reality distorter) and Nikole Hannah-Jones (of the fraudulent 1619 project).

At the end of the day, formal credentials are better than nothing, but they do not truly separate the wheat from the chaff. If there is any doubt, consider the current German Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbach. His formal qualifications seem* to include

*Neither German nor English Wikipedia gives a thorough and consistent overview, and the matter is complicated by the different systems for medical education being used. The below is drawn from his self-published CV (in German), with some speculation on my behalf for the two first items.

  1. Academic qualification as a physician (the equivalent of a U.S. M.D.).
  2. An additional proper doctorate in medicine (which the U.S. M.D. is not).
  3. A Master of Public Health.
  4. A Master of Science in Health Policy and Management.
  5. A Doctor of Science in Health Policy and Management.

(To boot, often at Harvard.)

However, Karl Lauterbach is a disaster. He has pushed for mandatory vaccinations, at a time when the COVID pandemic was diminishing and others went in the opposite direction. He has ignored new data showing how misguided previous actions were—and instead wanted more of the same actions. Before he became Minister of Health, he was a serial guest on TV, propagandizing for extreme countermeasures (and there is, by now, beyond reasonable doubt that the countermeasures that were implemented did far more damage than the pandemic, per se). Both before and after his appointment, he has distributed true mis-/disinformation, including unsupported claims that a COVID-infection would lead to more rapid aging. Many consider him borderline cuckoo, instead of merely incompetent. I certainly consider him outright dangerous, even by the standards of Leftist politicians, the type of man who would wreck society and then look back in pride, insanely believing that he had saved it. (In all fairness, few complain about a runny nose after decapitation.)

Taking a step back to look at myself, when have I developed the most intellectually? In school? At university? No, when I have been at home, reading, thinking, and writing on my own. How does that compare in terms of paper qualifications? Well, formal education tops out at two master degrees, both with a nice diploma. The more worthwhile informal education leaves me with, depending on point of view, either a blank piece of paper or one typed by myself. In the latter case, I will have no accreditation and no advantage in credibility over someone who has not gone down my road but merely claims that he has.

Looking, similarly, at great geniuses* throughout history, they have often** had few or no university-level qualifications and/or had their main qualifications outside their later area of excellence—instead they started on a high level of natural talent (likely, typically g based), developed themselves on their own, and let their work speak for them. Edison had no degree. Srinivasa Ramanujan was largely self-/book-taught when he began his discoveries. Einstein earned a doctorate, but he did so in 1905, when he was already at the top—before that he had some nonsense degree to teach physics (or similar). Tolstoy was a university dropout.*** Paul McCartney has no degree and reputedly could not even read sheet music during his Beatles days. (The other members were similar, IIRC.) Etc.

*Note that I at no point say that I would be one of them.

**Very far from always, especially when we turn to fields that naturally require someone to have an advanced degree to be taken seriously, to get research opportunities, and so on. The further back in time we go, the more the “often” applies; the closer to the now, the less it applies. (As a natural development of both the availability of higher education and the increasing belief in empty credentials.) Go back sufficiently far, and those without degrees will dominate utterly; get close enough to the now, and few, even among the moderately bright, will fail to have at least a bachelor.

***The combination genius–dropout might be quite common.

Turn it around and look at how many have a bachelor, master, or doctorate, yet fail to display any signs of genius—indeed, look at how many are quite stupid. Does the modern day U.S. have more genius per capita than ancient Greece? Is that Ph.D.-wielding college professor in creative writing a greater author than the poorly educated Shakespeare? Why is Terence Tao (a Ph.D.-wielding math professor) considered a mathematical superstar, while most other Ph.D.-wielding math professors are not?

Comparing modern scientists, e.g. Terence Tao and a vanilla mathematician, brings us to another important point—that the type of credentials well known to the broad public, those that tend to fill (non-academic) CVs, those that politicians brag about (until accused of plagiarism), those that snotty pseudo-intellectuals might use as an excuse to be snotty, etc., are not the A and O within academia. At least in STEM fields, the Ph.D. has long been referred to as the “union card”—it is what permits the holder to actually perform work in the field. It is not, however, seen as proof of mastery of that field. To become a professor it might or might not be a pre-requisite (depends on the field and the country), but to apply for the job without a slew of published articles and other merits beyond the Ph.D. would be optimistic indeed. Similarly, a physician is very limited in his right to practice medicine after just receiving his degree, and much more on-the-job training follows before he is fully qualified to practice independently. Most other fields have lower or no entry hurdles, but it is, again, a near given among the knowledgeable that merely having a degree does not prove mastery of the field at hand—nor is it expected.

No, with some reservations for degrees that are both advanced and high in math, I ignore formal qualifications, even those on a Lauterbach level, these days. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Excursion on my parents:
The above includes far from all proper cases of disappointing “experts”, and it ignores borderline or merely related cases. A particularly interesting borderline case is parents: like so many other little kids, I once saw my parents as demi-gods, capable of doing anything, knowing everything, holding the keys to the world—magicians who made food appear and who could read the TV guide. How silly they turned out to be over time. Not to put too fine a point on it—they were outright human.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 30, 2022 at 8:32 pm

When discrimination begets discrimination / Follow-up: A call for more (!) discrimination

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Various forms of official and unofficial race-based discrimination (often hiding under the euphemism “affirmative action”; often under outright excuse making, like “holistic admissions”) around higher education have been in the news repeatedly this year. Notably, there is a big SCOTUS decision on pro-Black and anti-Asian discrimination at Harvard coming up.

This type of bad discrimination, however, makes it harder to perform good discrimination, and it often backfires against those favored by the bad discrimination, as the bad discrimination begets compensatory* discrimination.

*Whether compensatory discrimination is good or bad will depend on the details at hand. In a better world, however, it would not be needed.

One of my more important texts is A call for more (!) discrimination (of the good kind, see the text for details), where I write:

Not all discrimination, depending on exact meaning implied, is good, but this is usually due to a lack of discrimination. Consider e.g. making a hiring decision between a Jewish high-school drop-out and a Black Ph.D. holder: With only that information present, the hiring decision can be based on either the educational aspect, the race/ethnicity aspect, or a random choice.* If we go by the educational or race aspect, there is discrimination towards the candidates. However, if the race aspect is used, then this is a sign that there has been too little or incorrect discrimination towards the hiring criteria—otherwise the unsuitability of the race aspect as a criterion would have been recognized. This, in turn, is the reason why racial discrimination is almost always wrong: It discriminates by an unsound criterion. We can also clearly see why “discrimination” must not be reduced to the meanings implied by “racial [and whatnot] discrimination”—indeed, someone truly discriminating (adjective) would not have been discriminating (verb) based on race in the above example.

*Or a combination thereof, which I will ignore: Including the combinations has no further illustrative value.

Now, when comparing two such extremes (high-school drop-out vs. Ph.D. holder) even massive manipulations are unlikely to make a significant difference,* and even a Ph.D. holder who received several legs up is likely to be the better choice for most qualified jobs. However, smaller differences, or the absence of differences, in formal qualifications can be the result of preferential treatment rather than true merit, and then compensatory discrimination is likely to arise. For instance, Clarence Thomas, in his autobiography,** notes how his hard-earned Yale J.D. did not give him what he had expected—because too many Blacks had been given an artificial leg up, which had diminished the credibility of the Yale J.D. for Blacks relative Whites. Would it not be better then, to (a) apply the same criteria for admission, grading, and whatnot to Blacks, and (b) have the degree count for just as much as the “White version”? As things stand, a prospective client looking for a lawyer would be justified in being cautious about hiring a Black one—and what will this imply for the long-term success of Black lawyers? With corporate hiring and hiring within the justice system, things are better, as a more thorough vetting can take place, but even the worthy Blacks will still start with a handicap*** because of the lower face value of various qualifications that prior pro-Black discrimination has brought about. For attractive jobs, with many applicants, this handicap might even be preventative, as a high applicant-to-position ratio tends to lead to hard pre-filtering based on easily checked surface criteria, with a more thorough process reserved for those who make the short-list.

*Although, other factors might. The high-school drop-out could be a once-in-a-million genius who quit to implement some private project that he found more intellectually worthwhile. Then again, once-in-a-million geniuses are once-in-a-million.

**More on this very educational book will follow at some later time.

***Barring further pro-Black discrimination, which will ultimately do harm to others, as better candidates from other groups miss opportunities that are rightfully theirs, as the actual job is performed worse, etc.

Note how the unfairness of pro-Black discrimination creates an impossible dilemma: Some of the Blacks will be worthy of, e.g., a Yale J.D. and applying a discount to their formal qualifications will be unfair; some will not be worthy, and not applying a discount will be unfair to everyone else. In many cases, notably healthcare, even lives might be on the line, as the quality of e.g. a physician really can make a difference.

Going back to my quote, the presence of prior pro-Black discrimination turns things around. It makes the later racial discrimination needed to compensate not wrong, it makes race a sound (if secondary) criterion, and someone truly discriminating would have used race in the above example. Is that truly the type of world that we want to live in?

Similarly, further down, I write:

Unfortunately, sometimes proxies are used that are less likely to give valuable information (e.g. impression from an interview) and/or are “a proxy too far” (e.g. race). To look at the latter, a potential U.S. employer might (correctly) observe that Jews currently tend to have higher grades than Blacks and tend to advance higher in the educational system, and conclude that the Jew is the better choice. However, seeing that this is a group characteristic, it would be much better to look at the actual individual data, removing a spurious proxy: Which of the two candidates does have the better grades and the more advanced education—not who might be expected to do so based on population statistics.

But there are considerable signs that Blacks (on average) do get higher grades for the same level of work, be it because they are favored* by teachers or because they go to schools with laxer grading or a grading relative** their local peers.

*Not necessarily in the “I like Blacks better” sense. Far more common, I suspect, is thinking like “Yes, D’Jamal only scored a D on the test, but he is Disadvantaged and Underprivileged. Besides, he tried so hard. Better give him a B.” and other emotional, irrational, and misguided attempts to do good in order to feel good.

**Be it informally or through formally “grading on a curve”. An “A” from a stereotypical inner-city school might fall well short of an “A” from a good school, let alone a magnet school dominated by East-Asians.

Of course, this often creates a vicious circle, where, on level after level, Blacks are given a leg up on one level, are admitted to the next level based on the prior level,* underperform (on average) on the new level,** and are given a new leg up “because Racial Justice” or “because Evil White Supremacy”—after all, if someone Black performs worse than someone White/Asian/Jewish/whatnot, despite having the same prior qualifications, it just must be because society is out to oppress Blacks.

*Unless over-admitted based on racial discrimination…

**Note that this is not explained by natural race-based difference. The problem is the laxer admission. Keep Blacks to a higher standard and Whites to a lower standard and this would reverse.

Excursion on the SCOTUS decision:
I am not certain what will happen (as much as I hope that Harvard will have its knuckles rapped and be forced to stand in the corner with a dunce’s cap on), but it is important to bear in mind that the job of the SCOTUS is to make decisions on what is legally/constitutionally right/acceptable/whatnot—not on what is ethically so. Harvard’s behavior is unethical. In fact, it is grossly unethical. It does not automatically follow that it is illegal.* (If, however, things go Harvard’s way, then an overhaul of relevant law should be strongly considered.) Based on prior records, I would advise the observer to focus on Thomas (the aforementioned autobiographer) and Alito, as they are the two out of the nine most likely to stick to the law.**

*I have not done the legwork on the issue. It might or might not be, but the issue is detached from ethics.

**The great problem with the Left-leaning SCOTUS members, be it today or e.g. during the Warren Court, is that they often forget this and abuse the Court to push their own private preferences. Ditto many Left-leaning lower judges. Conservative justices/judges tend to do much better, but are not infallible. (What specifically Roberts is up to is often puzzling.)

Excursion on bad discrimination begetting bad discrimination:
A sad twist is that prior bad discrimination can lead to increased demands for further bad discrimination and/or the abolishment of good discrimination, especially when moving from one level to another. Consider e.g. a high-GPA Black student who does poorly in college, whose failure is blamed on “White Supremacy”,* and who is given a compensatory leg up. Or, for “abolishment”, consider when this high-GPA Black student scores low on the SATs or (a few years later) LSATs. It must be because these tests are evil—it cannot possibly be because that high GPA was misleading. Similarly, if Blacks fail disproportionately at the various bar exams, it cannot possibly be because they earned their law degrees too cheaply—it must be because the bar exams are evil. Conclusion: abolish the SATs, the LSATs, and the bar exam.**

*This sounds ridiculous, but it actually happens. This expression has become a catch-all excuse for anything that certain Leftist groups disagree with or want to change—including the idea that some questions have a single right answer and the idea that grammar and spelling matter.

**Again, this might sound ridiculous, but it actually happens. Indeed, both the SATs and the LSATs are increasingly discounted, and the only thing that saves the bar exam might be its role to keep outsiders out and ensure less competition for the insiders. (In a twist, this saving aspect is the true argument that could be used against bar exams. The world is truly upside down.)

Excursion on other distorting factors when comparing qualifications:
More generally, equivalent or equivalent-seeming qualifications need not have the same implication for two different persons, and some care must be taken when comparing—even absent any deliberate or accidental distortion. For instance, a certain high-school GPA might stem from a brighter kid putting in some amount of work or from a duller kid putting in a greater amount of work. They look the same at a casual glance, but chances are that the brighter kid will fare better in life, be a more valuable employee, etc.* For instance, in many softer and/or leg-work oriented fields, it is possible to earn a degree even with brains short of true “college material” by compensating with that much harder work.

*Here it can help to look at individual grades. If e.g. the one has an A in math and a C in home economics, and the other a C in math and an A in home economics, this is a strong indication that the former is the better choice—likely, in the long term, even for something related more closely to home economics than to math.

Note how both examples are made the worse when poor teachers/schools move from grading on ability to grading on effort, e.g. by reducing the weight of tests relative the weight of homework when grading or by reducing the difficulty of the material. A particularly harmful approach for grading* is “continuous** assessment”, especially for the brightest students, who tend to dislike low-thinking but high-effort work, tend to learn better on their own and at their own tempo, etc.

*The use of continuous assessment to help the weaker students in time, to direct the stronger students to more advanced and stimulating material, and similar, is a different issue.

**The word “continual” matches the actual process better in my impression, but the official name appears to use “continuous”.

Excursion on admissions as an artificial bar:
My own degrees come from European universities and I have no personal experience with the likes of Harvard. However, I have repeatedly seen claims that certain U.S. top colleges are very hard to get into—but comparatively easy to graduate from. If this holds true, a distorting admissions process is the more negative, both for reasons of fairness and because it weakens the usefulness of college as a filter even further than it already has been weakened.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 30, 2022 at 10:24 am

The number 30 / Farewell Michelle

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There are odd superstitions around the number 23. These miss the much more interesting number 30, which is truly everywhere, including the date of writing.* Moreover, this text is the 30th that I publish this month.

*Actually, the date of writing is the 29th (October 2022), but I take the artistic licence, as this text, apart from a Michelle-Malkin goodbye, is partially intended to be humorous, partially to illustrate the phenomenon that those who search for something too hard, let alone are willing to bend evidence, are likely to “find” it—even when it is not actually there. (As with e.g. those obsessed with the number 23 or those looking for an evil Patriarchy, systemic racism, whatnot.)

Take 23, itself: 2 x 3 x (2 + 3) = 30. This, of course, gives us a massive body of evidence for the number 30, as any prior evidence for the number 23 is automatically in favor of 30.

Some say that there is something to the number 42, but 42 is just the base-10 version of the base-14 number 30 (because 3 x 14 + 0 = 42) or, from another point of view, the base-7 representation of 30 (because 4 x 7 + 2 = 30). Cleverly hidden, yes, but not clever enough to fool the mathematician.

Or take the box of chewing gum next to my bed: It gives an energy content of “627kJ/150kcal”. Rearrange the numbers and we have (7 – 6) x 2 x 15 + 0 = 30.

Or consider that 30 is self-referential, as we have, in step one, 30 = 6 x 5. In step two, we can analyze the first factor as 6 = 2 x 3, giving us 2 + 3 = 5, and the second factor as 5 = 1 x 5, giving us 1 + 5 = 6. In step three, 5 x 6 = 30.

But wait! I used steps one, two, and three, which gives us 1 x 2 x 3 x (1 x (2 + 3)) = 30.

What about 9/11? Well, 11-09-2001 is, after throwing out the 0s, as we all know that 0 is nothing, 1 x 1 x 9 + 21 = 30. Kennedy murder? 12:30 PM 22-11-1963: Here we have a plainly visible 30 and a barely hidden one (11 + 19). Remove them, and we have 1 2 2 2 3 6 left => 1 x 2 / 2 x (2 + 3) x 6 = 30. Or consider the lazy Yankee version, 11/22/63, which leaves us with 63 – 22 – 11 = 30.

A recent key to the importance of the number 30 is given by Michelle Malkin, who features on my blogroll, and who informs us that -30- is a sign of an end or completion.

In this, it is also an end to her valuable column work, as she continues to say:

From 1992-1999, I wrote an estimated 300 bylined newspaper columns and nearly 1,000 unsigned editorials combined for the Los Angeles Daily News and Seattle Times. Since Creators Syndicate started carrying my column nationally in 1999, I’ve penned nearly 2,000 weekly or bi-weekly columns over 1,177 weeks, for hundreds of print and website clients, totaling more than 1.1 million words. It has been a blessing to work in a career that I have loved, getting paid by the line to opine, as a proud “ink-stained wretch” whose first high-school job was as a press inserter for my hometown newspaper, the Atlantic City Press, back in the late 1980s.

The sentimental English major in me finds it altogether fitting to bring my column-writing to close after “dash thirty dash” years.

Why now? The professional and personal reasons are myriad. In this modern age of oversharing, I’m not going to get into every last one. Suffice to say, the American media landscape has changed dramatically since I entered this industry as a 22-year-old idealist who truly believed the “pen is mightier than the sword.”

But is this the true reason? Might it not be that she knows that she takes a risk by spilling the beans on the number 30? That this is a good time to go underground, before the Illiterati or the Fraud Pressons retaliate?

Note how she seems to send further messages. For instance, 1992 makes 1 x (9 + 9 + 2) = 20 while 1999 makes 1 + 9 + 9 – 9 = 10, with a sum of 20 + 10 = 30. 300? That is just 30 x 10, which gives us 30 x (1 + 0) = 30. Etc.

Even her initials are a hidden message: MM? Well, “M” corresponds to the octal ASCII code 115 and “MM”, thus, to 1 x 15 + 1 x 15 = 30. Decimal and hexadecimal? The values are, respectively, 77 and 4D, where D is another way to say 13. Decimal “M” is then 7 + 7 = 14, while hexadecimal “M” is 4 x (1 + 3) = 16. Thus, MM equals 14 + 16, which equals what?

Excursion on myself and the number 30:
How do I know so much about the number 30? Well, I am 30 and have extensive personal experience. In fact, come the next January 19th, I will celebrate my 19th 30th birthday. (19 is another interesting number. Note e.g. how both WWI and WWII started in a year beginning with “19”. Coincidence?)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 29, 2022 at 7:39 pm

The illusion of non-choice / Follow-up: The illusion of choice

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One of my many backlog items is a text that partially reverses The illusion of choice ([1]), namely a discussion of how some entities claim that they do not have a choice when they either do or when the non-choice has arisen through own manipulations. For reasons of time, I will just give a few examples and then drop the backlog item:

Many examples arise from government regulations or requirements on businesses. These sometimes* “force” a business to do something that is in the business’s best interest to begin with, often because of extensive consultations with or covert lobbying by business representatives. Consider, e.g., laws that ban free bags at grocery store check-outs. The grocery stores can now collect more money from the customers and/or reduce the overhead for providing bags, while blaming the government in order to avoid a loss of goodwill with the same customers.

*More often, I suspect, they are driven by ideology, voter manipulation, ignorance, or other harmful-to-the-business factors. Sometimes, of course, there are valid reasons and a societal/customer benefit.

A less obvious, but very similar, example is the introduction of new restrictions on e.g. cars for reasons like traffic safety and pollution, or refrigerators for reasons of energy efficiency. Yes, this usually makes the products more expensive to produce. However: Firstly, by not giving low-end producers the option of foregoing a voluntary product improvement in favor of a lower price, mid- and high-end producers have it easier. Ditto businesses with greater R-and-D investments/success versus businesses with lesser such. Secondly, as the government is blamed, customers will be somewhat willing to accept a corresponding price increase. Moreover, markup is usually a percentage of the price, meaning that more expensive products give a higher profit-per-unit and chances are that a disproportionate price increase can be passed off as “caused” by the new regulations, as the customers are not aware of the actual increase in production costs. Thirdly, chances are that the new regulations will shorten the life-cycle of already sold products, e.g. because customers feel the need to upgrade to be safe or environmentally friendly. Absent a grandfather rule, there might even be a legal mandate to upgrade well before the natural end-of-life of the already sold product.

(When it comes to the environment, even an official government intervention might not be needed, as a business can claim e.g. that “the climate crisis forces our hands”.)

However, examples exist in many other areas, as with a government who wants to push some unpopular-with-the-people policy, but fears the loss of votes. No problem! The EU, the UN, or whatever might apply, “forced” us do it (after we lobbied them to do so/voted in agreement). Or consider an individual who uses work as an excuse to avoid unpleasant family-related activities and vice versa. (“Sorry, honey, I have to work late tonight.” / “I would love to help, boss, but I promised my wife that X.”)

Excursion on electric cars:
Electric cars are a particularly interesting example, with the reservation that their effects on the car industry have been very varied from producer to producer: They are typically massively more expensive than corresponding “internal combustion” cars, which allows the industry to shift the price range of cars correspondingly far upwards, while, again, blaming the government or the climate. (Such attempts to shift the price range and/or get rid of products that have too low margins are comparatively common. I have another backlog entry on the topic, but, for now, just consider attempts to shift coffee consumption from drip-brews to capsule systems of various kinds, which come with a higher or much higher markup than drip-brews.)

Excursion on the Sorting Hat:
Looking back at the beginning of [1], is the Sorting Hat an example? Not normally, as the misinterpretation by the children is of a very different nature than the misrepresentations above. However, if someone were to argue, e.g., “I am cool, and I really wanted to join Gryffindor! It is not my fault that the stupid Hat put me in Ravenclaw with all the nerds!”, then it would be an example. (Assuming that my interpretation is correct and that the choice of Ravenclaw ultimately reflected the true wish of the child.)

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October 29, 2022 at 1:35 am

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The tax filings / Follow-up: Depressing software issues and the yearly tax filings

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A few days ago, I wrote of depressing software issues ([1]) preceding the yearly tax filings. Now I have completed the actual tax filings.

For obvious reasons (minimal activity in 2021), it was the least effort that I have had in many years, taking roughly twenty minutes for the actual filling-out-the-forms, including checking and re-checking, and maybe another five minutes for finding the few numbers and papers needed. (But not counting the software complications described in [1] and the need to buy batteries for my mouse.)

However, that filling-out-the-forms could easily have been done in a quarter of the time, had Elster worked better, including having a more thought-through workflow and a more sensible set of fields carried over when importing data from last year’s forms. A particular problem was with the EÜR*: a number of fields were marked as empty-but-mandatory, forcing me to enter redundant 0s in some Euro-fields. One of the fields (net profit?) was mandatory and not automatically calculated (or manually editable) until I had redundantly added a dummy 0 in a non-mandatory field, which took a while to figure out. The empty-but-mandatory fields also included four fields for the Steuernummer**, which occurred twice—once filled in, once empty.*** There was no import of the second occurrence from the other, nor from last year, and I was forced to look up the values externally (as Elster does not allow having multiple pages open in parallel). Worse, one of the fields, to identify my local IRS by name, was likely redundant, as the equivalent information is hard-wired into the first of three numerical components of the Steuernummer proper. As the (overall) numerical component was artificially split into three parts, a single copy-and-paste was impossible, increasing the work and the risk for errors even further.

*A statement of various revenues and costs that allows a simplified calculation of taxable profits for small businesses.

**An entity identifier used for tax purposes. I have written about it and several related issues, including the artificial tri-partition of the field(s), in the past, but I lack the energy to search for links at the moment. (I have many previous texts on Elster and the IRS, and to find the right text or texts could take a while.)

***Presumably, two different values can occur for the same EÜR, for one reason or another. In my case, they have always been the same, and, at a minimum, the value from last time around should have been respected for the version idiotically kept empty.

By the time that I was done with the EÜR, I felt the pressure of irritation reach the border of anger, as I have been plagued by so many other problems with the incompetence and tax-payer/user hostility of Elster and the IRS over the years, and I seriously contemplated leaving the rest for tomorrow. However, I pushed on and, for once, the remainder went almost without problems: I had merely to enter a few trivial values and check that no spurious fields from 2020 were left filled.

However, these trivial values included, in the main document, values from two secondary documents (the EÜR and the VAT declaration) that should have been imported automatically to avoid the additional work and the additional risk of errors, as well as numbers from my health insurance, which the IRS will, as a matter of course, ignore in favor of the exact same values delivered directly from the insurer to the IRS. Idiotic. (And something which remains idiotic—I have complained about these issues before. Indeed, most or all of the old problems seem to remain, but they had less effect this year, due to my much easier situation, filing-wise, and my knowledge of what to expect—like when one has developed the knack of opening or closing that tricky hatch, gate, whatnot, which is so troublesome for the first-time user. Consider e.g. the severely misleading labels for various actions in Elster—knowing what they actually do, as opposed to what they claim to do, makes life easier.)

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October 28, 2022 at 2:22 pm

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Brownstone drops the ball / Follow-up: Why would trans-mania be an attack on women?

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A few days ago, I wrote a text on trans-mania vs. women ([1]) with the central issue:

Opponents of the trans-mania often criticize it for being “an attack on women” or some other thing relating specifically to women.

Why on women? Why not on men?

Today, I encountered an excellent example of this mis-characterization—and to boot one from Brownstone, which features on my current blogroll for its fight for COVID-sanity, but which repeatedly, as now, has included irrational and/or Leftist nonsense.* In this case, it is a massive case of Feminist propaganda and distortion, often trying to blame men for what women have done or the trans-movement for what Feminism has done (and which the trans-movement has merely continued and/or co-opted.) It is also, for the most part, extremely confused, poorly reasoned, and irrational drivel, which pretends to be non-Leftist, but manifestly shares too much of Leftist values and intellectual limits to be credible as such.

*Indeed, I have an almost completed text, intended as either a private email or an open letter to Brownstone, on this issue. To date, I have refrained from completing and sending/publishing it, because it seemed too finicky (for want of a better word) and “glass one-quarter empty” to me, but I might have to reconsider this in light of the below atrocity.

Specifically, Preferred Pronouns Lit the Path to Covid Science Denialism is chock-full of Feminist or quasi-Feminist propaganda (and contains few arguments to support its title*). To boot, it describes exactly the type of hypocrisy that I address in an excursion to [1] (which I repeat towards the end, due to its high relevance). To look at some portions of the text:**

*Indeed, while a more general idea (that various Leftist, PC, Woke, and or Feminist attacks on science, reason, language, whatnot might have lit the path) has some plausibility, reducing this to just “Preferred Pronouns”, or the trans-mania overall, is nonsensical and indicates either a gross ignorance of what has gone before, for decades, or a deliberate attempt to distort history.

**Some formatting changed for technical reasons. Various oddities were present in the original.

The no-limit trans spectrum seems to run from genuine gender confusion to fetishism, perversion, paedophilia, child abuse, misogyny and denial of female same-sex attraction in the insistence that lesbians who refuse to have sex with trans-males are transphobic and gender-critical lesbians are TERFS.

Note how “misogyny” is included, but not “misandry”; how lesbians are included, but not gays; and how “gender-critical lesbians” are singled out over both “gender-critical gays” and those gender-critical in general. Extreme and extremely irrational reactions to the gender-critical is not limited by sex or sexual preference. To paint it as such is intellectually dishonest and misleads the readers. The best that can be said in defense of the author is that “TERF” is the only actual label that I recall. Moreover, these reactions are only variations of the types of reactions that Feminists have shown against their critics for decades, until the trans-movement took over as a more successful user. Indeed, the trans-movement is in many ways just an off-shot of the Feminist and/or LGB movement.*

*Note the difference between being an L, G, or B and being a part of the LGB movement. I have nothing against the former, but little more than contempt for the latter (in its modern incarnation; the state in the days of Harvey Milk, e.g., might have been very different). Ditto being T vs. being part of the T-movement. (The same applies to women vs. Feminists, of course, but far fewer run the risk of conflating the two.)

As to the specific claim “lesbians who refuse to have sex with trans-males* are [denounced as] transphobic”: It is unclear how often this situation would naturally arise, and whether it is a legitimate problem, as there is no need for anyone to give a reason to refuse sex with a non-partner. Instead of saying, e.g., “I’m not having sex with a man! Yuck!” just go with some of the usual reasons or excuses that a straight woman might use towards a straight man (and, I suspect, a lesbian woman towards another lesbian woman). Yes, issues of “it’s you; not me” do happen in the wake of failed sexual approaches—many straight men, me included, have at some point been called “gay” (or similar) for turning a woman down. Firstly, however, not so often that it is truly a reason for complaint.** Secondly, as can be seen, there is nothing male or trans about such accusations.

*Which I contextually take to imply men-who-want-to-be-women, as the sentence becomes quite odd if the gender-maniacs preferred women-who-want-to-be-men-and-therefore-ARE-men is applied. (I strongly favor the men-who-want-to-be-women meaning myself. No PC group has the right to co-opt existing words to distort language. If they want a word for a new concept, they should pick a new word—not an old word already associated with an old concept.)

**An interesting difference between women and men, as well as, m.m., between “grievance” groups and others, is that women often make a storm in a teacup over something that men tend to shrug off. Similarly, women seem to often attribute motivations and whatnots in an unwarranted manner. For instance, if male driver A steals a parking spot from driver B, a male B would typically react with “Asshole!”, while a female B (or “Feminist female B”?) might well land at “He is a misogynistic pig, who only stole that parking spot because I am a woman and he thinks that women don’t count!”.

As an aside, I have long speculated that it is only a matter of time before straight men who do not want to have sex with gay men are condemned as homophobic. I am not aware of any such case to date, but the idea of calling lesbians transphobic in the corresponding scenario seems like nothing more than a natural evolution of the LBG movements. In many ways, here and elsewhere, a traditional group of aggressors is finding itself on the receiving end and does not like this dose of its own medicine. (Also see excursion.)

Many of us are still trying to puzzle out with Covid just what happened. How did we ignore science and reject data to get to where we are? Well, before Covid, the trans movement was the single most successful drive to displace science and data with ideological dogma, at least in the West.

No. The most successful drive to displace science and data with ideological dogma was, is, and remains Feminism! (Cf. any number of older texts.)

This quote is followed by a list of examples, beginning with “Elevation of feelings above facts, dogma over data”—which has been a core issue with Feminists for decades before the trans-movement took off (and with e.g. many Post-Modernists, PC social “scientist”, Leftists, whatnot; as well as with many women in general). The same applies to most other entries in this list, be it directly or after adjusting for details. Consider e.g. “The laws then being used to coerce citizens into compliance”, “Shame being used as a key psychological tool of emotional manipulation” and “The partnership with Big Tech to ‘fact-check,’ censor and disappear contrary viewpoints”. (See the original text for the full list.)

What Peterson asserted as his freedom of speech [regarding use of pronouns] was denounced by opponents as hate speech.

Again, something that is extremely common with e.g. Feminists, although the exact denunciation can vary (e.g. “misogyny” instead of “hate speech”). The trans-movement is just one of many Leftist movements that uses such intellectually dishonest denunciations, sloganeering, and similar in lieu of factual arguments and on a large scale.

Language matters, for it controls the narrative. The war against women’s identity, rights, privacy and dignity is lost once you accept the science fiction of addressing a 6’6’ bearded man with a functioning male organ which he will proudly display in a woman’s spa, regardless of how embarrassed and offended the Korean-American girls and women in there might feel, as ’she/her.’

Yes, language matters.* However, the rest is cheap Feminist rhetoric. What war against women’s this-and-that? There is no such war. This is nothing more than Feminist nonsense. Indeed, if (!) there is a war on either of the sexes today, men would have the greater claim of being the victims, as natural male norms and behaviors are increasingly condemned, school and college is increasingly geared towards women, as women receive many an artificial leg up at the cost of men, etc. The frequency of misleading and sexist unwords like “mansplaining” and “toxic masculinity” alone should be enough to set off the alarm bells. Also note how the author gives an example of a man in a woman’s setting, but fails to give a woman in a man’s setting. (A few minutes before reading the text under discussion, I encountered an article on a girl in the boys’ locker room and how a man was being punished for daring to object.)

*In fact, I have an own text in the pipeline, using examples like “gender-assigned at birth” and the risk that the eventual conclusion, if and when this type of thinking has become the norm through such language distortion, is “stop assigning gender at birth”.

Big headline of Feminist sloganeering with no support through actual arguments:

Men Erasing Women


The idea behind the move to preferred pronouns is that everyone’s own conception of their* gender identity deserves the protection of law. The unintended and perverse yet entirely predictable consequence is that the wilful suspension of biological reality with pretend facts is a threat to women.

*Note how the author implicitly and hypocritically supports similar PC ideas by abusing “their”. This is an example of “gender-neutral” language, which the author (cf. below) claims to reject.

The author neither establishes that this is a threat to women, nor is any hint given as to why men would not be equally threatened, if a threat exists. (See [1] for more on this.)

There is good reason to create women-only safe spaces in toilets, changerooms, refuges, crisis services, prisons and sports*.

*As “changerooms” is a separate item, I take this to imply that men and women should remain in different competitive classifications, e.g. in that there are separate medals for men and women at the Olympics. If the intention is something else, adjustment of my text might be needed.

Maybe there is in some cases, but (barring sports) the same applies to men—I do not want some strange woman ogling me when I am naked, for example. Refuges and crisis services seem a disputable example, one of the many cases where Feminists have driven a hard and defamatory line of “women need protection from evil men”, where men’s services are much more limited, and despite the fact that women are slightly more likely to perpetrate domestic violence than men, the fact that men are much more likely to be victims of male violence than women, etc. The use of the borderline shibboleth “safe spaces” might be an indication that the author has a flawed Leftist worldview and/or has grown up in an over-coddling environment.

Efforts to use the full force of the law to coerce and compel everyone to genuflect to biologically false facts is reminiscent of communist totalitarian systems where people must show obeisance to party diktats or risk the public humiliation of show trials, confession of errors and spells in re-education camps.

This is a typical Leftist/Feminist/whatnot tactic, which has nothing to do with specifically the trans-movement. (Except that we might sometimes have to replace “biologically” with the more generic “scientifically”.)

Their intolerant and belligerent demand amounts to: pay us the respect due to us men as self-identifying women, or we will make you pay for your lack of respect.

And again.

The “preferred pronouns” culture feeds into and enables abusive men while silencing their victims. Irish teacher Enoch Burke has preferred to go to prison rather than address a trans-male student as “they” instead of “he.” J K Rowling mocks bearded males defining what a woman is.

What abusive men?!? What victims?!? This screams of Feminist hate propaganda. The pronoun nonsense has been driven by women from the beginning, while the few who have taken a stand against it have disproportionately been men, like I or the aforementioned Peterson. Indeed, the author gives yet another man, Enoch Burke, as an example of a victim—likely in the mistaken impression that he was a woman.* Bearded men do not (try to re-)define what a woman is—a general, non-sex specific, trans-movement does. To try to shove this onto specifically men is idiotic. The repeated references to bearded men have a light of the absurd, as if emphasizing a traditional male attribute would have any bearing on the discussion, and as if the typical man-who-wants-to-be-a-woman is paradoxically wearing a beard instead of shaving as closely as he can.

*To make certain, as names can sometimes be misleading, I have checked on Wikipedia ([2]).

Too many have been cowed into silence and go along meekly with the claim that “penis holders” are really women, men can become pregnant, doctors, nurses and midwives must be trained to help men give birth, trans-males committing rapes must be documented as women rapists, and males self-identifying as women must be allowed to compete in women’s competitive sports despite decisive biological advantages in size, strength and stamina.

While not wrong, this paragraph shows the incoherence and lack of reasoning of the author: the idea that men can become pregnant/give birth is based on women-wanting-to-be-men being classified as men, which under no circumstances can be seen as an argument for the author’s ideas.

In effect men are once again deciding all the core rights about women. On the one hand, none of this would be possible without first denying that sex is a biological fact that cannot be subsumed under gender as a social construct. On the other, once the preferred pronoun movement is appeased in law, what defence is left against its extreme claims?

And more hateful Feminism. How the HELL are men deciding core rights of women, when a woman-driven off-shot of a woman-driven Feminist/PC movement redefines language? The idea that men would do so again is another sign of Feminist propaganda and a hateful and horrifyingly distorted Feminist worldview. Gender as a social construct, etc.? Again, just an application of Feminist, Post-Modern, whatnot reality distortion to another area—for which women carry a greater or far greater responsibility than men.

“Gender-neutral” language is neither neutral nor inclusive but anti-woman. It erases more than half of humanity as a distinct category and excludes their rights to safety, dignity and privacy.

And yet more Feminist bullshit. Why would it be anti-woman instead of or in addition to anti-man?!? Why would “half of humanity” (implied: women) be erased and not the other half?!? And, again, note that “gender-neutral” language is something created by and forced onto society by Feminists, not the trans-movement. I was, myself, complaining about “gender-neutral” language, maybe, fifteen years ago.

By the way, remember that old-fashioned “manly” virtue? Unconsciously, the wokerati have confirmed the point by putting on a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre no less, that portrays Joan of Arc as a trans — because no woman could have been that brave and soldierly — with accompanying “they/them” pronouns. As the (fictional) Titania McGrath tweeted: “A female Joan of Arc would have been too busy knitting, gossiping and shopping for shoes to fight the English.” To coin a phrase, this is “literally violence” against English language and literature. But the same theatre has also done this to Elizabeth 1, one of England’s greatest queens.

So, we have one or two decades of men being replaced by women in traditionally male roles in fiction, often including recasts of long-established-as-male characters, not to mention a similar “Black washing” of White characters and artificial introduction of homo- or bisexuality to heterosexual characters,* and suddenly one single instance of a woman being moved from regular woman to trans is worthy of criticism—while Feminists have kept quiet or outright lauded the earlier distortions. The claim in the text is, of course, entirely invalidated by these prior distortions, as the 100-pound teenage girl who beats up 200-pound adult men is bordering on a cliche by now.

*“Doctor Who” will shortly be an example of all three, as a bisexual, a woman, and a black man. I seem to recall Feminists being ecstatic over the casting of Jodie Whittaker. And, yes, I have seen calls for the next Bond to be a woman.

Another good example of an unintended consequence comes from Scotland. A 66-year old male blood donor Leslie Sinclair, who has given blood for nearly 50 years, was turned away this year because he refused to answer a pre-donation question on his pregnancy status.

And what sex is now being erased, the male or the female? If a man cannot turn down a question that has a self-evident answer for any man, then that is a far stronger sign of the male sex being erased than anything the author provided to support the idea that the female sex would be erased.

Excursion on the sex of the author:
In an almost comical twist, I have to raise some doubts as to the sex of the author. Going by the style of writing, the weak reasoning, the Feminist propaganda, etc., I took it for granted that the text was written by a woman—and I doubt that many men would and could have written a text like this. Nevertheless, when I hit the byline, the author was given as “Ramesh Thakur”, with “Ramesh” being a man’s name. What is behind this, I do not know, but it certainly makes an exceptionally odd text even odder.

Excursion on female hypocrisy and censorship:
In [1], I had an excursion on female hypocrisy and censorship, which I, in light of the above, repeat here:

An interesting phenomenon over the last few years is that women, even Feminists, who have remained conspicuously silent, or even positive, whenever men have been victim of Feminist censorship and cancellation attempts, suddenly speak out for freedom of speech and object against censorship—now that women and/or Feminists are increasingly on the receiving end from other PC groups. (Note e.g. the debates around J.K. Rowling.) To these, I say: You did not speak up when first they came—and now they have come for you. Enjoy a dose of your own medicine and learn your lesson.

Excursion on fake men-who-want-to-be-women:
Some of the examples given in the text, if taken at face value, could point to non-trans individuals who abuse the possibilities that the trans-movement has opened. For instance, if we do find a bearded man waving his penis in the women’s locker room, chances are that he is not trans to begin with, and only uses the claim to get into the locker room. While this is a bad thing, it is only indirectly related to the trans-movement, and care should be taken when assigning blame.

Excursion on other factors than male/female:
A further complication from a man’s point of view is that many of the problems that Feminists ascribe to men, period,* are actually caused by smaller subgroups of men. For instance, in the U.S. the relative rate of rapists is much higher among Black men than among White men—something that goes carefully unmentioned in Feminist propaganda and, in turn, often creates the impression of “White men are rapists”, when the brunt of the responsibility actually rests with Black men.**/*** The increase of rapes in Sweden due to extensive immigration was long used by Feminists to decry how men were being meaner and meaner towards women, but to mention the actual cause was to ask for excommunication. I have never seen any racial (or other) statistic on bearded penis-wavers, but it would be entirely unsurprising if something similar applies, and, if so, complainers should direct their complaints where they belong, not raise blanket accusations against a far larger group.

*For instance, I grew up hearing Feminist claims like “all men are rapists”, which is extremely contrafactual. (Also note that many alleged problems are gross misrepresentations to begin with, as with e.g. the 77-cents-on-the-dollar bullshit, or considerably exaggerated, as with e.g. the frequency of rape.)

**But, of course, even among Black men, rapists are a minority—just a larger minority than for White men. Even in the subset of specifically Black men, the Feminist defamatory propaganda does not hold.

***Also note the extreme aversion that the press in many countries has against mentioning the ethnicity/race/whatnot of non-White perpetrators, and how keen they are on mentioning the ethnicity/race/whatnot of non-White victims.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 28, 2022 at 8:55 am

The illusion of choice

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Something that struck me about the “Sorting Hat”, when I first read the “Harry Potter” books, was how it seemed to be misunderstood—a feared decision maker for and to the children, who could only hope that they would, more-or-less by chance, land with their friends, siblings, like-minded spirits, whatnot.

To me, something very different was going on, namely that the Hat was bringing the right choice out of the child, possibly after offering some options or pointing to some overlooked factors: The child made the decision; the hat merely helped.*

*My last reading is too far back for me to give details, but note e.g. the dialogue between Harry and the Hat and how everyone with a strong preference, pre-sorting, seemed to land where he originally wanted to land.

Unfortunately, it is often the opposite in real life, where we seem to be offered a choice, but the choice is mostly an illusion, and/or where those who seem to be there to help us make the choice instead presume to impose their own choice. I have, for instance, heard repeated tales of guidance counselors who have set upon students with a fix and unwavering opinion that (repeatedly) “You must go to college!” or (at least once) “You should learn a craft!”, with any resistance from the student being viewed as recalcitrance, and with no attempt to find out what the student actually wanted to do/was suitable for.* A truly grievous, utterly absurd, Orwellian, and Kafkaesque example is the German Social-Democrat’s (failed) attempt to implement forced COVID-vaccinations, the “forced” of which Karl Lauterbach tried to deny on the basis that no physical violence, “only” severe fines, were intended as coercion—either the people would “voluntarily” choose to be vaccinated here and now, or they would do so, again “voluntarily”, once they ran out of money.

*Unfortunately, I can only provide hearsay and one-sided accounts here, but guidance counselors might be the closest to the Sorting Hat that most of us encounter in real life, which makes the example very relevant.

Consider politics: Here there are many potential problems, including that there is often a limit on the choices available;* that the established parties deliberately try to suppress newcomers with other ideas;** that parties in government can use public resources (ultimately, tax-payers’ money) to push their own propaganda;*** that even parties not in government, if they are large enough, receive public money for their political propaganda; that parties can collude and barter to push policies with little voter supporter; and that the will of the voters can be made entirely redundant by unholy alliances, as when Merkel’s CDU repeatedly (!) formed coalitions with its nominal archenemy, the SPD. In the last case, the only effect of a vote was to influence whether CDU or SPD would be the senior partner.**** In light of this, how much choice does the voter really have and how much of a democracy is e.g. Germany, Sweden, and the U.S.? It is not quite as bad as “People can have the Model T in any color—so long as it’s black.” ([1]), but a “[…] black, brown, deep blue, or, on the outside, dark gray.” would come close to the truth.

*For instance, in that some opinions are common to virtually all the parties. (In Sweden even the nominally Right-wing parties, SD excepted, subscribe to various scientifically debunked gender-nonsense.) For instance, in that a vote for a certain party or candidate amounts to a vote for a package of opinions, where the voter might be happy with the party’s/candidate’s take on taxes and crime but not on immigration, but where the implied mandate will also include immigration. For instance, with party-based voting, that various party members come as a package, with little chance for the voter to speak for or against them individually. Looking at the U.K., if someone votes for party X to have Y as Prime Minister, he might also be stuck with Z as Chancellor, no matter how much he disapproves of Z. (Also note a discussion of the PM-without-a-mandate issue below.)

**Note e.g. the treatment of SD in Sweden and AfD in Germany.

***Note e.g. how public opinion on COVID was not so much determined by the actual science as by what the respective government declared to be the “truth”—even when the actual science was unsettled or contradicting this “truth”. The government line was then pushed using tax-payers’ money and government influence on media, while those who objected had to use their own, much smaller, resources. (And note how most governments seemed to stick to the original line even as scientific results accumulated against this line.)

****But this ultimately backfired for CDU, as SPD grew larger in the last election and chose not to continue the coalitions, making them a one-sided gift to the Left.

Then we have the issue that the elected politicians do not necessarily have the power that the voter is given to believe. Complications include powerful bureaucracies and civil servants, higher-ranking levels of government (note the influence of the EU on its members), international treaties signed by earlier governments, and whatnot. A particularly sad case is the constant obstruction of Donald Trump’s presidency by various and sundry: he had more-or-less* the right ideas, he was elected to implement them, he was willing to implement them—and half the time he ran into a roadblock, the rest of the time mere speed bumps.

*I have yet to find a politician with whom I agree on all issues, but he was closer than most. Certainly, more so than any other POTUS since Reagan.

Yet another complication is that politicians, once elected, have little accountability towards the voters until the next election. This allows them to make great promises before the election and to break them after the election—and it allows them to make important decisions on new issues with no true voter feedback and in a manner that the voters might not have agreed with, had the issue been on the table during the election. (COVID is, again, a great example.) Or consider the recent political chaos in the U.K.: Boris Johnson had once received the mandate of the people through a general election. He brought himself into an impossible situation and was forced out, without input from the people.* Liz Truss was elected to replace him by the Tory members, without a mandate from the people as a whole. She, too, brought herself into an impossible situation and was forced out, without input from the people. Then Rishi Sunak was more-or-less appointed,** without a mandate from the people and even lacking a mandate from the party members. Now, with an eye on these developments, how much true choice did a voter in 2019 (the previous general election) have? Would a Tory voter have considered Johnson’s COVID policies an acceptable result of his vote? Would he have been on-board with both Truss and Sunak? Chances are that many feel outright defrauded and disenfranchised—and those who do not probably should.

*Note that I neither deny that some means of changing leadership between elections must be present, nor rule out that the people would have agreed, had it been asked.

**I have not looked into the details, but I am under the impression that he was the only candidate that (a) wanted to run for the job, (b) reached some low minimum bar of support among the Tory MPs to make him eligible to do so. In other words, he does not have a true mandate even from the Tory MPs, let alone the overall party members, let alone the people. As an added complication, both Sunak and Truss were elected to lead the party and became leaders of the U.K. almost ex officio.

The election of Liz Truss shows another common problem, namely an artificial limitation on options, which forces the nominal decision maker(s) to pick among choices that someone else has cherry picked: The conceivable candidates had been narrowed down to two (Truss and Rishi Sunak), the members had to pick between exactly these two, and there is a chance that neither was truly the preferred candidate among the members. An older text deals with a similar problem of pre-filtered candidates for the U.S. 20-dollar bill, where the only candidates made available were those whose portrait would send a Leftist, usually Feminist, message. A more significant example is the 1980 Swedish nuclear power referendum, where the voters were, for all practical purposes, given the choice between “abolish nuclear power fast” and “abolish nuclear power slowly”. An option of “keep nuclear power” was conspicuously absent.* Also note the traditional sales technique of posing a choice between almost-equivalent options, e.g. whether to buy a certain car with or without a certain upgrade, as opposed to buying or not buying the car. (The latter, and much more important, decision being treated as foregone by the salesman, in the hope that the customer will fail to object and, thereby, lock himself in.)

*However, 42 years later there still is nuclear power in Sweden, if not as much as there would be in a saner world. This points to another problem, namely that someone creates the impression of influence by asking for advice but negates that influence by ignoring the advice. (Referenda are merely advisory in Sweden. Whether the advice was deliberately ignored, whether it fell victim to changing circumstances, and whether the misleading nature of such a limited-in-choice referendum was realized, I leave unstated. The general issue holds regardless.)

To stay with the topic of sales, consider the German Kundenberater:* He is a salesman,** nothing more and nothing less, and he typically has no true interest in helping the customer to make the best possible choice*** for the customer. No, he wants to lead the customer to the purchase which is the best for the Kundenberater, himself, e.g. through a larger provision (if working for provisions) or more impressive numbers that make him correspondingly more popular with his employer (if on a fix salary). A choice made through the strong influence of a Kundenberater is not typically a true, free, and informed choice already for this reason. However, to make matters worse, these Kundenberater are hired less for their product and market knowledge and more for their pleasant manners, their ability to be (at least somewhat convincingly) fake-friendly, their grooming and the style/quality of their clothing, and what else might apply. In a twist, I suspect that the quality of the actual advise correlates negatively with that of the clothing, e.g. in that the coverall-wearer from the hardware store is more knowledgable and/or more interested in giving good advice than the suit-wearer from the car dealership.

*By analogy with Berater in roles like guidance counselor, cf. above, the translation “customer counselor” begs to be used. Without this influence, I might have gone with e.g. “customer adviser”.

**And most or all of this applies to e.g. U.S. salesmen too. The German word, however, demonstrates the difference between claim and reality so much better.

***Which might be buying a cheap low-end product, buying from the competition, or not buying at all.

Go to college in the current U.S. and chances are that you will be stuck with various un-, pseudo-, or anti-scientific Leftist propaganda which rightfully would have no place in higher education. This regardless of what choices you make with regard to college or, once you are there, courses and lecturers: even the STEM fields are slowing becoming infested, the softer sciences are long gone, and some type of Leftist-cause course is increasingly a graduation requirement. Nominally, you have intellectual freedom, but in reality?

The ever-recurring area of COVID would be great source of examples, except that the illusion of choice is usually absent.* Still, examples exist. Consider the mandatory vaccinations in the U.S. military. Firstly, there is a great chance that the “mandatory” is actually illegal or unconstitutional, which implies that someone who enlisted in, say, 2019 might have made his choice in the justified belief that no-one would force him to take a vaccine (or, at least, a vaccine with so poor a risk–benefit ratio and so many uncertainties) in 2021. If so, his choice in 2019 has been ruined, as he was tricked-after-the-fact (see below for this ad-hoc term) into it. Looking at today, considering the state of science and the intrusiveness on personal choice of the vaccine, he should have the option to at least leave the service with an honorable discharge and no ill consequences—but instead he is faced with the risk of either negative consequences while he serves out his contract or simply being booted from service.** There is a religious exemption program, which nominally would give those with religious objections a choice—but applications for religious exemptions seem to be denied in a blanket or near-blanket manner, removing this apparent choice. (And also the choice to voice louder objections against the vaccination at an early stage, as he might have “chosen” not to do so in the belief that it would not be necessary. Ditto the option to ask for greater scrutiny of the exemption program from day one, which he “chose” not to exercise.)

*The topic of this text is not “we have no real choice” but “we seem to have a choice but actually do not”. With COVID (and a great many other things, e.g. taxes), governments have often made clear that “no, you do not have a choice—you do what we tell you to or else”. This, too, can be a very bad thing, but it is simply not today’s topic.

**Note that how one leaves service can affect e.g. post-service benefits and later employability.

As to trickery: Many apparent choices are not true choices, because we are actually tricked into making them. These fall into at least two categories: Firstly, cases where we are deliberately mislead about central facts and whatnots, e.g. through misrepresentations of what we will get for our money should we buy a certain product or service, important restrictions that are only mentioned after payment is made (if at all), information that should be given up front but is only given after a major investment of time has already taken place (implying that a different choice would lead to a loss of the invested time), etc. Secondly, cases where trickery-after-the-fact takes place, e.g. in that a business chooses to act in bad faith and to the disadvantage of the customer at a later date. (It might be that this was intended all along, it might also be that something changed, e.g. that one CEO with one set of values replaced another CEO with another set of values.) An absolutely horrifying case is that of Göteborgsvarvet, a Swedish half-marathon with tens of thousands of participants every year. When it was cancelled in 2020, the arrangers decided to just keep the entry fees—with a big “Fuck you!” to the poor runners, who got nothing for their money. Even knowing of a cancellation risk, a 2021 edition was planned, new entry fees were collected, the race was cancelled, and the arrangers kept the new entry fees—with an even bigger “Fuck you!” to the poor runners.*

*Here there is an element of “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”, but this cannot excuse the inexcusable.

Excursion on sorting and self-fulfilling prophecies:
The type of sorting performed by the Hat has a risk of self-fulfilling prophecies, e.g. in that the various houses took on or exaggerated a certain character through the sorting. This is a lesson to beware in real life. For instance, the repeated claim that only an X would ever join group Y might make those who are X slightly more likely and those who are not-X considerably less likely to join Y—resulting in a Y that is thoroughly dominated by Xs, while it might not have been so without the claim. (I have often suspected that some Leftist groups deliberate use exactly this phenomenon against some of their opponents, notably those critical of highly permissive immigration policies.) For instance, many of the more sensible youngsters might deliberately avoid college, despite having a greater claim to being “college material” than many who do go, because they want to avoid a certain type of politicized and anti-intellectual environment hostile to their ideas. For instance, those who still went to college might deliberately avoid certain fields or forego an academic career for similar reasons.

Excursion on free will:
For the purposes of the above, I assume that we have free will and that there are no other complications that imply that we never truly have a choice, no matter what. Also see Eriksson’s Free-Will Wager.

Excursion on other issues:
This text is not intended to be a complete listing of all possible reasons for an illusion of choice. As I continually find myself seeing some new angle during writing, I am deliberately cutting myself a little short between the added footnote on asking-for-advice-and-then-ignoring-it and the not added* idea that advice can be deliberately misinterpreted, especially when the advice is filtered through the answers to a vague survey.

*Except to the degree that I need to explain the cut. This is one of the conundrums of communications, like how to truly not dignify a claim with an answer. (Saying that “I will not dignify that with an answer” is self-contradictory. Saying nothing, on the other hand, could be misinterpreted.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 27, 2022 at 1:31 pm

The upcoming U.S. elections and election theft

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I have strong fears that there will be massive Democrat election theft in November. Not mainly because of what proof of fraud has been given for 2020,* or because the Democrats seem set to lose without cheating. No, because Hillary Clinton is raising hell about alleged upcoming Republican (!) election theft.

*Open questions include whether the fraud changed the overall outcomes, who in the DNC or elsewhere did or did not know/instigate, how organized and how individual it was, how national and how local, etc., but not whether extensive fraud took place—it did.

As I have seen again and again and again and again, the Left accuses its opponents of exactly what the Left itself is doing or about to do. (See e.g. Heuristics to understand Leftist claims.) If Hillary Clinton says that Republicans will steal an election, that is a very strong sign that it is actually the Democrats who are about to at least make the attempt.

Now, I do not know what will happen on election day, but I will make one thing clear in advance: If the pattern from 2020 repeats, that the Republicans have a clear* lead in the late evening and that this turns into a loss during the night or the following days, then I will, with the sum of all prior evidence, see that as proof of a stolen election—and as proof that the 2020 election was also stolen.

*An important word. That a one-percent lead here and a two-percent lead there reverses is not necessarily incriminating. However, if either clear individual leads disappear or if a clear lead over the sum of the House or Senate elections disappear, that is another matter. Ditto the gubernatorial elections.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 27, 2022 at 8:00 am

Some thoughts on software and animation

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During my recent Firefox adventures ([1]), I stumbled upon an old (2009) page ill-advisedly suggesting a project to add animations to Firefox.

Considering the horror that animation is, it is disturbing with what seemingly sane and insightful attitude the project set out:

Animation in the browser is a tool, but not a goal unto itself. Wherever animation is used, it should be with a purpose and benefit to the user.

Like many web technologies, animation is a useful but easily abused tool. The early web and the dawn of the .gif format saw animation heinously overused websites, with blinking, spinning, and scrolling animations thrown in because they “looked cool.” As the web stopped foaming at the mouth and begin the transition to what could be done to what should be done, animation became used more successfully as a tool. Some ways in which animation can be useful include:

o Making browsing feel faster
o Adding visual affordances to makes tasks more understandable
o Making the browser and tasks more visually appealing

To bring animation to Firefox, we decided to first focus on three key areas that we felt would give users the most benefit by adding animation. Out of many possibilities, we looked for places where animation would make interactions feel faster and help users perform tasks.

The first paragraph is dead on—but exactly this is where seemingly every modern software and every modern website that uses animations fails. This includes Firefox. If the developers had actually lived this paragraph, Firefox would have had no or only minimal animations today. (I cannot quite shake the suspicion that this was an alibi-paragraph, so that the developers could establish “common sense on animation” credibility before going on to actually display a lack of common sense.)

The second is half right, as it describes a horror of old, but it then mistakenly assumes that things would be significantly better in the page’s now (i.e. 2009). This was not the case: Animation then, just as before, and just as in my now (i.e. 2022) was/is excessive and usually done more for the purpose of having animations than anything else.

(The list is discussed below.)

The final paragraph points to three areas where animations in Firefox would be an alleged good. As can be deduced from the rest of the page, these are “Tab tearoff”, “Text search on page”, “Movement of toolbar items within rows (UI elements, bookmarks, tabs)”. None of these, however, have added value as implemented. On the contrary, they are among exactly the type of things not to animate, because the result is annoying and distracting, often delays the action, and adds no value.

Looking at the list:

o Making browsing feel faster

In the case of e.g. a progress indicator, an hour glass, or similar, this might work to the degree that the user sees that the browser (more generally, application) is still working. Other than that, I have never seen a positive effect. On the contrary, I have often seen cases where the application has been made objectively slower by the introduction of animations, because continued work is not possible until the animation is ended. One example is the CTRL-F issue discussed in [1]. The maybe paramount example, and one of my own first major contacts with animation, was the slow-as-molasses menus of Windows 2000 and/or Windows XP.* This was at a time when gaining a usable command line in Windows was virtually impossible and programs had to be started by clicking through multi-level menus. I often “knew the way” and could have reached my goal with a reasonably rapid click-click-click-click. Instead, I had to click on the main menu, wait for an animated menu to slowly unfold, click on the right sub-menu, wait for an animated menu to slowly unfold, click on the next sub-menu, wait for an animated menu to slowly unfold, and then click on the finally visible program.

*This was long ago and I am vague on the details. I do remember that I soon found some type of setting to disable this shit—but this anti-feature should have been off per default or entirely non-existent to begin with. (As I repeatedly noted in those old days of heavy Windows use: if Windows has a toggable feature, the default value will be poorly chosen in two-thirds of the cases. This while a coin-toss would have been at just half the cases.)

o Adding visual affordances to makes tasks more understandable

(An “affordance” is “Any interactive control or component serving as a cue to the user to take some action.” according to Wiktionary. I have no recollection of hearing the term before yesterday.)

There might be some limited room for this, but not much, certainly none that applies to what I have seen in Firefox or what was suggested in the final paragraph of the initial quote, and I can think of few situations where non-animated hints would not be better, if in doubt due to the annoyance factor. Take e.g. a field to input a mandatory text combined with a save button. In a non-animated case, the button might be greyed out as long as the field is empty, and the field carry a note like “mandatory field”. In an animated case, we might end up with an animated paper-clip bouncing around the screen, with a speech-bubble “You must enter text in this field!!!”. (Or, in a less extreme example, there might be a big flashing arrow pointing to the text field.)

However, I suspect that a faulty application of this idea explains the CTRL-F issue: Some nitwit assumed that, without the animation, too many users would be permanently confused as to what to do after pressing CTRL-F, while the animation would provide them the insight that “Hey! There is a search field!”. In reality, this would apply only to a small minority of highly unskilled computer users,* who additionally are too unobservant to spot the fact that a search field has just appeared (as opposed to being slowly blended in through an animation), and would, even for them, likely only be relevant the first few times. Correspondingly, the benefit is minimal. The delay and the annoyance, on the other hand, hits everyone for the duration. Even if an animation were beneficial, this is a poor way to do it. A better way would be to just show the field and have the already present field flash briefly. The annoyance from the animation, per se, remains, but work can begin at once and the annoyance from the delay through the animation is gone.

*Effectively, someone who has minimal experiences with virtually any computer application, including other browsers, and simultaneously has minimal experiences with Windows/Mac without being a sufficiently proficient user to have moved to a more adult OS, like a typical Linux distribution. Of course, someone like that might be unlikely to try CTRL-F to begin with…

For a highly proficient user, however, any animation in this case is likely to be harmful as he is likely to (otherwise) just tip in the search phrase immediately after CTRL-F (resp. / or ? in Vim, resp. whatever keys the application at hand requires), without looking for a search field. Even without a delay, the animation can be problematic, as it screams “Look at me!” and might cause an artificial interruption as the user does exactly that. With a delay, depending on exactly how the delay is implemented, it might well be that the user is now tipping in vain, as the keystrokes are not registered by the search…

o Making the browser and tasks more visually appealing

I have no recollection of seeing this done successfully, anywhere, at any time, in any product with “everyday animations”.* On the contrary, this comes very close to using animations as “a goal unto itself”. When it has worked, it has been with more spectacular “major effect animations”,** as with the classic bouncing-card animation after solving a solitaire in Windows. However, even these grow old fast, and they are certainly not to recommended for frequent use in an everyday tool like a browser.

*Here I find myself lacking in terminology, but consider e.g. the CTRL-F animation or a tab-movement animation.

**Again, I am lacking in terminology, but the example given is likely to be explanation enough.

For my part, I used to work with the following informal rules (in the days that I had to implement occasional GUI-functionality):

  1. Only add animations when they bring a tangible benefit.
  2. If you believe that an animation will bring a tangible benefit, you are wrong in nine cases out of ten.

    (Where “benefit” is to be seen over the entire user base—not just the first one or two uses of a newbie. Note in particular the potential damage through delays and annoyances, as mentioned above.)

  3. If in doubt, do not animate.

These rules served me so well that I cannot recall ever adding an animation (although I probably have—if in doubt because some product manager or whatnot was more naive and insisted).

If giving rules for someone else (which I implicitly am), I might add e.g.:

  1. The main effect of animation, whether intended or unintended, is to call attention to something, with possible side-effects including interrupted work-flows, interrupted thoughts, attention diverted from where it really belongs, etc. Therefore, be very certain that you actually do want to call attention to whatever is animated.

    Corollary 1: Never have more than one animation in the same page at the same time.

    Corollary 2: Keep animations short. Once the purpose of getting attention can reasonably be assumed to have been reached, the animation must be stopped so that work can continue without distraction.

  2. Beware the annoyance factor, especially during prolonged use. Remember that there might be some who use your product for hours every day.

    (See the earlier discussion for more detail.)

  3. Keep the different proficiencies of different users in mind, and that the more proficient are more likely to be intense users and/or that intense users are more likely to become proficient. Do not tailor your application to your grand-mother. (Unless, of course, the intended target demographics is old ladies.)

    More generally, a good application might well make allowances for weak[er] users, but not in a manner that hinders strong[er] users. For instance, looking back at [1], making it trivial to connect the TorBrowser to Tor is good, but making it hard to by-pass Tor is bad. For instance, reasoning that “we do not need any keyboard short-cuts, because everything can be done by mouse” is hopelessly narrow-minded. For instance, to return to Firefox/TorBrowser, providing many ready-made keyboard short-cuts is good; making them near impossible to change is bad. An attitude of “A user should not need expert knowledge to use our application.” is laudable; an attitude of “If a user does have expert knowledge, we must prevent him from using it.” is despicable.

  4. Any and all animations, without exception, must have an easy-to-find* switch to turn them off. In most cases, the default value should be “off”.**

    *The obscure, well-hidden, poorly documented, and often functionless settings in Firefox’s about:config are a negative example.

    **A problem with this rule is that many naive decision makers will reason that “The users would LOVE the animations, if they knew about them! If the animations are off, they will never find out; ergo, animations must be on!”. The premise of “LOVE”, however, is very dubious. As a compromise, an application might provide a “first use” dialogue where a few meta-decisions can be made, e.g. whether to have all animations “on” or “off” until a more fine-grained decision is made. (Similar meta-decisions might include whether to allow “phone home” functionality, whether (on Linux) to prefer Vi- or Emacs-style key-bindings, and similar.)

  5. Clippy is the devil.

Clarification of terminology:
Note that I do not consider any and all change of a display to be an animation. For instance, if a menu immediately goes from a folded to an unfolded stage and then remains static until the next user action, this is a change in the display, but it is not an animation. Ditto a search window that immediately appears and then remains static. Ditto a link which immediately changes looks when focused or unfocused and then remains static. Ditto e.g. a mouse cursor that moves from point A to point B as the result of a continuous user action. In contrast, the Windows folders discussed above suffered from an animation. Ditto CTRL-F in [1]. An hour glass that turns for two minutes while the program is working is also an example of animation, but one much more legitimate.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 26, 2022 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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