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A Swede in Germany

Archive for December 2022

Life-and-death choices II

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A, I hope, last death-related entry for a good long while:

My previous text ([1]) spoke of potential complications around a too liberal approach to assisted suicide.

A drastic counterpoint to such an approach is the bans on suicide that have been historically common. Such bans are also a violation of the right to choose for oneself, and a more obvious one, but they differ through their ineffectiveness, as the successful perpetrator is, as a matter of definition, dead. There is a possibility to punish someone for a failed attempt, but this is not much of a deterrent in the big picture and “if at first you don’t succeed …”.* Short of punishing surviving loved ones,** a claimed punishment in the afterlife might be the only way to go, but that presupposes credibility concerning both the existence of an afterlife and this punishment. In some cultures, the threat of e.g. dragging someone’s name or honor through the mud might work, but this hardly applies to the modern Western world.

*It does raise interesting questions around spur-of-the-moment attempts at suicide, where, after failure, there might be no wish to go through with the act, the allegedly common attempts that are intended mostly as “calls for attention”, and similar, but these are off topic, as they do not reflect a true wish to die.

**An approach so obviously unethical that it should make the law worthy of condemnation even to those who are in favor of a ban. Note that such punishment need not involve, say, a prison term, but might include e.g. some type of “forfeiture” claims directed at the estate of the deceased, which would hurt the heirs and not the deceased, even should they nominally be directed at the latter.

Correspondingly, bans on suicide (that are not draconian) are a lesser evil than undue suicide pushing and too lax laws on government approved suicide.

More interesting questions include where to draw the border between regular suicide and something else, and how this something else is to be treated and classified in what cases. Consider, in jurisdictions where suicide, per se, is illegal, when and whether assistance rendered can make someone an accomplice to the crime of suicide. Even outside such jurisdictions, we have issues like where to draw the border between assistance and murder/manslaughter/whatnot, what level of encouragement (to go ahead) is tolerable in what setting,* when there should be an obligation to provide alternatives, when an offer to assist and/or a request for assistance should require a “cooling off” period, etc. While I will not attempt to answer these questions, I point to risks such as the ones described in [1] and the fundamental difference between aiding or “aiding” someone not otherwise capable of suicide and someone who, given enough determination,** could manage on his own.

*That such encouragement can and often should be illegal is clear. Consider e.g. a deeply unhappy high-school student who is exposed to “encouraging” bullies. Even in a more medical setting, a case can often be made, as seen by how many who experience gender-dysphoria have been prematurely encouraged to take irrevocable steps. An analogous, “suicide affirmative”, approach could lead to a great many unnecessary deaths—maybe including that someone who engaged in a “call for attention” pseudo-attempt is encouraged to try again and with professional help to guarantee success.

**This might be an important point: with unassisted suicide, a greater amount of determination might be needed, which increases the likelihood that the suicide truly reflected the will of the deceased.


Written by michaeleriksson

December 29, 2022 at 11:05 pm

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Life-and-death choices

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A particularly problematic angle on various reductions in choice* is a potential removal of the right to live resp. make own decisions about living and dying,** be it outright or through taking or not taking certain risks, taking or not taking certain precautions, etc.

*Cf. [1] and various follow-ups.

**Beyond the restrictions that arise through natural mechanisms, including aging, accidents, and fatal diseases. (But note that some of these still have a component of choice, e.g. in that a chain-smoker has a disproportionate risk of lung cancer and other health issues, and can choose to smoke or to quit. Cf. the later part of the above.)

For instance, over the last few months, I have heard repeated claims of excessive pushing of “assisted suicide” (likely all relating to Canada). Assisted suicide might seem like an increase in one’s own self-determination. When done correctly, it might even be so.* However, when suicide becomes a “solution” actively offered by e.g. the government or a hospital (as opposed to something requested by the patient), maybe even one pushed as “the best option” (or similar), this fast ceases to be the case—especially, when the concerns of others are given priority.**

*As a Libertarian, I originally had a positive attitude to the availability. From what I have seen over the twenty-or-so years since the topic became mainstream, I have begun to suspect that the harm will be greater than the benefits. (More generally, Libertarianism often needs a pragmatic brake.)

**Consider thinking like “if this patient dies, we have a free bed for someone else and maybe an organ or two to transplant”, “if this pensioner dies, there is more pension money to go around”, “if this prisoner dies, society is free from the costs of keeping him incarcerated and he is guaranteed not to commit further crimes” (also see excursion), and note the fate of Boxer in “Animal Farm” and many in “Soylent Green”. (Also note how often the dystopic works of old appear to be used as instruction manuals today—not as deterrents.)

We might even, in the long term,* see scenarios where someone is offered an unconscionable** solution (or “solution”) to a problem, turns this down, is then offered assisted suicide, turns this down, and is then told to take a hike. (Often with the effect that the unconscionable solution is begrudgingly “accepted” as the lesser of three evils.) At the far extreme, beyond what might be realistic, a scenario is conceivable where anyone who raises complaints against the government is offered death as a “solution” and, if turning this “solution” down, is told that he has no right to complain—as he has rejected the “solution” and thereby chosen to live in society as it is.

*Here and elsewhere, note that I am not necessarily saying that this-and-that dystopian scenario is right around the corner. I am merely pointing to what might happen at some point, if current government mentalities, current societal tendencies, whatnot, go unchecked.

**What this might be will vary so strongly from situation to situation, person to person, and level of desperation/need/urgency/whatnot to level of desperation/need/urgency/whatnot that it is hard to give specific examples. However, a less drastic real-life example with an unconscionable alternative is Karl Lauterbach’s (failed) attempt to force vaccinations in German by a fines-or-injections scheme.

For instance, there have been cases where abortion extremists have suggested a mother’s “right” to take the life of an already born child, in some variation of the old parental threat “I brought you into this world; I can take you out of it again”. If we were to accept this, where is the line to be drawn? Could we e.g. have a first-grader killed off for letting mommie dearest down by not being the genius that she had expected? What happens when this intersects with the previous paragraph? Consider scenarios like a social worker denying welfare payments to a mother unless she does her utmost to cut unnecessary costs—including by euthanizing that kid. Or take an NHS-style scenario of “it is too expensive to treat that chronically ill kid for several years, so we will not do that, but we can euthanize him for you” (with variations like “the waiting list for the right operation is two years, but we could euthanize him for you later this week”).

For instance, other recent reports include patients being denied operations and other treatment—unless they accept a COVID-vaccine. This even for patients who are not in a risk group, have already had COVID, or otherwise belong to a group for which not getting the vaccine is the rational decision. This can then result in situations like “either you take the vaccine or you die an excruciating death from a burst appendix”. The former is, by a very considerable distance, the lesser evil, but it does involve an additional and entirely unnecessary risk of death. (Not to mention (a) the risk of non-lethal side-effects, (b) the violation of choice in other categories than life-and-death.) In quality, if not quantity, it is the same as if someone was told to play a round of Russian roulette “or we just shoot you”.*/** In a longer term, the same type of approach might be used for a more harmful*** or otherwise unconscionable alternative, maybe up to such extremes as “either you accept this digital implant for governmental monitoring or we let you die” and “either you agree to donate a kidney or we let you die”.****

*Normally, I make a clear distinction between active action (e.g. harming someone) and passive inaction (e.g. not helping someone). The Russian-roulette example involves an active action (or threat thereof), while the failure to treat is a passive inaction; however, I view medical professions as a special case, as, within reasonable limits, a duty to render medical aid should be assumed, which nullifies the difference. (The overall topic is for a dedicated text, but I note that contractual obligations, debts of gratitude, and similar can also nullify the difference through creating a duty to act.)

**I am slightly reminded of a case of a criminal dentist that I encountered many years ago. Apparently, he would make an agreement about some type of dental surgery for some amount of money, put the patient in a daze through drugs, perform half the procedure, and then demand more money to complete it. The dazed patient had two options: pay or be kicked out on the street with his mouth a complete mess.

***The COVID-vaccines are highly problematic when we look at aggregates over a large number of recipients, but, with reservations for future revelations and what I might have missed, pose a (in comparison) tolerable risk for any given individual.

****Off topic, there are other severe complications that can arise from such arbitrary denials, e.g. that someone who has the “wrong” skin-tone or “wrong” political opinions might be denied treatment. (It might even be argued that current vaccine requirements are sufficiently poorly founded in science that they should be seen more as a matter of demanding political compliance than as a medical issue.)

For example, there are reports of unvaccinated patients being forced to accept blood transfusions from vaccinated donors against their will, which implies an additional risk.* Blood transfusions are, again, an area where the benefit of treatment often outweighs the risk, but it is also, again, a potentially unnecessary risk and a violation of free choice. And: if the treatment outweighs the risk in this case, things could be different the next time around. Correspondingly, any intervention of the kind and/or size of the COVID-vaccinations should lead to a great amount of caution, and it should have been par for the course to (a) strongly prefer unvaccinated donors, (b) strictly separate blood from vaccinated donors from the unvaccinated donors—just like any major intervention in any area should be cause for caution and precautions.**

*I have heard the claim that this should not be a concern, as the vaccine does not enter the bloodstream. Empirical evidence shows this to be either false or misleading. If in doubt, there is no guarantee that the shots are given with sufficient skill and precision to make even a “true on paper” claim hold true in real life. (E.g. in that an injection intended to be given solely in muscle still occasionally ends up directly in a blood vessel. Generally, such “sunshine” assumptions are an endless source of problems, e.g. in politics and software development.) It could not even be ruled out that someone like Karl Lauterbach would push the deliberate addition of COVID-vaccines to the transfusions to ensure that as many as possible are exposed to the vaccine, no matter the cost, the consequences, the efficiency, and the violations of self-determination.

**Note e.g. thalidomide and freon, how they are perceived today vs. how they once were perceived, and how long it took to discover the problem.

Excursion on capital punishment:
From a general view point, the death penalty is a relevant example for this text, in that it removes the convict’s right to live and in that there are many current or historical regimes that abuse[d] the death penalty to e.g. get rid of dissidents—but, unlike most the above, it is neither a current development, nor something that the typical reader would be unaware of.

However, the aforementioned calculating attitude of “if this prisoner dies, […]” is fundamentally different from the normal motivations for the death penalty, and the presence of the one does not necessitate the presence of the other. Indeed, looking at the U.S., assisted suicide could end up being far cheaper and taking place far faster than an execution, as the years or decades of appeals and whatnots disappear.

An interesting middle-ground is formed by various rumored fake suicides, rumored instigated-by-management prisoner-on-prisoner murders, the possibility that some prisons might view prisoner-on-prisoner murders as positive (even without own instigation) and not look too closely at the issue, etc.

Excursion on COVID and the elderly:
I do not believe that similar thinking has been behind the mismanagement of COVID; however, I have from very early on noticed a considerable convenience for over-burdened welfare societies, especially those with a “pay it backward” pension system: Deaths from COVID disproportionately hits the elderly, and the elderly tend to be a burden on the government, the welfare system, or whatnot through paying smaller amounts of (especially, income) tax, drawing pensions, and incurring greater medical expenses. (To which, maybe, some other factors can be added, e.g. that they might consume less and thereby stimulate the overall economy less.) Especially in Left-leaning countries and countries with a demographic strongly skewed towards the elderly (relative the historical norm), COVID might have been a great boon for the politicians by clearing out the retired Boxers.

(COVID has also been a great boon for them as an excuse to blame for this-and-that and as an excuse to implement this-or-that policy that might otherwise have been blamed on the politicians resp. rejected. Here I do assume considerable deliberate action.)

Excursion on “Quitters, Inc.”:
Mentioning smoking resp. quitting smoking above, I am reminded of Stephen King’s “Quitters, Inc.”, which shares some common ground with this text series. I do not wish to dwell too long on King (cf. [2]), so I merely recommend a thoughtful reading.

Disclaimer on references:
As none of the individual encounters left me with a strong wish to write something, I did not keep references at the time.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 27, 2022 at 7:10 am

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Voting at 16

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After recent calls for a lowering of the voting age to 16 in the U.S., I just found the same idiocy in Germany. Consider [1] (in German) and some quotes:*

*The source is not quite current, but telling. (My original source is not archived and would be subject to short-term link rot.) Some changes to formatting and typography have been made. I make reservations for the details of the translation, in light of odd formulations in the original. I follow the original (and the standard German practice) in using conjunctive/subjunctive formulations for indirect speech.

Die Juristin Silke Ruth Laskowski von der Uni Kassel wies auf das Engagement vieler junger Menschen in der Klimabewegung hin. “Die notwendige Ernsthaftigkeit und Vernunft, die erforderlich ist, um an einer Wahl teilzunehmen, ist offenbar heute schon auch in einem jüngeren Alter zu finden.”

The jurist Silke Ruth Laskowski of the Kassel University pointed to the involvement of many young people* in the climate movement. “The necessary seriousness and reason necessary to participate in an election** is obviously, today, to be found even in younger years.”

*Here and elsewhere, I use the idiomatically more likely “people”, over the literal “humans”, for “Menschen”.

**Contextually, in the sense of voting. The ambiguity with “running for office” is present in the original.

Firstly, the participation in climate hysteria* speaks strongly against enough reason being present. Secondly, the value of seriousness** is disputable. Thirdly, there is no proof that the current generation would, in some sense, be better than the past generations in this regard. (I rather suspect that they are worse…) Fourthly, seriousness and/or reason are not enough (as, if in doubt, proved by the participation in climate hysteria), we also need an understanding of how this-and-that works, an ability to see causes and consequences, to think in terms of side-effects, etc.—and the younger generations will, on average, trail by dint of being younger and having had less time to build their minds. As a special case, maybe overlapping with seriousness, we have physical maturity, as even the brain is not completely developed in someone of that age. As another special case, voting is to a significant part based on ideological positions, and the ideological positions of those in this age group tend to be exceedingly naive and highly changeable: very few have good opinions for good reasons, very many have poor opinions for poor reasons,*** and the best to be hoped for in any quantity is those who have good opinions for poor reasons…

*While there is nothing wrong with e.g. being aware of environmental issues and striving for a more “sustainable” world, what goes on with e.g. Greta Thunberg, “Fridays for the future”, and (sadly) even most of the adult movements is hysteria—nothing more, nothing less. If in doubt, the focus on specifically the climate, as opposed to the environment in general, goes a long way to prove a position naive. (I would go as far as suggesting, as a rule of thumb, to ignore everyone who speaks in terms of “climate” instead of “environment”.) The likes of Greta Thunberg are an argument against lowering the voting age.

**Indeed, the term, even in German, is sufficiently odd and irrelevant that the exact intentions are unclear.

***Something made worse through Leftist indoctrination in school, which affects the younger generations the more, and which can takes years to shake even in those who do manage to shake it.

Der Berliner Rechtswissenschaftler Christoph Möllers plädierte dafür, mehr “in Betroffenheiten zu denken”. Entscheidungen, die der Bundestag heute treffe, seien insbesondere für jüngere Menschen relevant. Das spreche dafür, das Wahlalter zu senken. Robert Vehrkamp von der Bertelsmann Stiftung argumentierte, die Möglichkeit zur Partizipation erzeuge politisches Interesse. Ein Wahlalter 16 biete die enorme Chance, Interesse für die Demokratie und für ihr Funktionieren zu erzeugen.

The Berlin legal scientist [scholar?] Christoph Möllers pleaded in favor of thinking more in [terms of?] affectednesses.* Decisions that the Bundestag [German parliament] make today would be particularly relevant for young people. This would speak in favor of lowering the voting age. Robert Vehrkamp of the Bertelsmann foundation argued that the possibility of participation would create political interest. A voting age [of] 16 would offer the enormous chance of creating interest in democracy and its functioning.

*The German formulation is similarly unusual and awkward, but would contextually imply that whoever is affected by a decision should be included in the decision making. (Quotation marks removed for reasons of word order.)

Looking first at Christoph Möllers:

That current decisions might* be more relevant for the young is nothing new, as a greater portion of their lives might be affected by these decisions. As it is nothing new, it is not cause to reevaluate the situation.** Moreover, there is an implicit “us vs. them” thinking in Möllers’s reasoning, as the argument is only strong if we assume that different voter groups do and should vote predominantly based on personal interests (as opposed to e.g. what is ethically right, makes economic sense for society, what is, in some sense, fair, and similar), e.g. in that “the young must have the right to vote to protect themselves from exploitation by senior citizens”. It would, then, be much more valuable to combat this type of voting and the “us vs. them” thinking found (mostly) on the Left. Three further weaknesses of this argument are that the young will grow older and soon land in a group with other interests and priorities, that chances are that their parents already do a sufficient job in defending their rights and interests, and that there are other means of exerting political influence than voting—e.g. to present an intelligent argument to others.

*An important word as (a) the immediate relevance of many or most decision might be larger for others (e.g. a pensions reform), (b) the decision of today might have changed again by the time that it does/would have become immediately relevant.

**But it might be something to consider, should the situation be reevaluated for other reasons. A case could maybe be made that the bigger government and more meddling politicians of today has changed the situation, but, if so, the correct solution is to make government smaller and to prevent politicians from meddling.

As with the earlier discussion, it can also be doubted whether the young (a) know what politics further their best interests, even when they actually know these interests, (b) do know these interests, have their priorities straight, etc. For instance, an idea like “We must abandon nuclear power so we don’t end up in a nuclear wasteland!!!” might be appealing to many of the young, but the result of that will almost certainly be a worse future, both in general and when looking specifically at the environment, not a better one.

Robert Vehrkamp has a pointless claim: Firstly, the effect that he proposes is speculation. Secondly, political interest and participation is not an automatic good. On the contrary, most of the political active bring a net harm to the world. What we truly need is for those who are not sufficiently intelligent and well-informed to abstain from running for office, engaging in political activism, and voting—and he seems keen on achieving the opposite. Thirdly, any decision must be based on a pro-and-contra, and any advantage (should it actually exist) from lowering the voting age must be measured against the disadvantages that appear.

As is clear from other parts of the linked-to page, the pressure in Germany, as in the U.S., is coming from the Left—entirely unsurprisingly, as the Left (a) has a current advantage in the younger generations, (b) relies more strongly on voters who are poorly informed, outright misinformed or indoctrinated, and/or weak critical thinkers. (There is also room for speculation that pushing for a lower voting age can be beneficial to building that misleading image of “we on the Left care for you”, or similar, which well matches activities with other demographic groups.)

To be clear: From all that I have seen, such reforms aim at making the voters more susceptible to influence from the politicians, so that the politicians can do what they want with fewer constraints. Correspondingly, such a lowering of the voting age is a threat to democracy (or what little still remains of it) and to society. (Also note similar issues with a politicians’ attitude of “it does not matter whether you pick the right party, the main thing is that you vote at all (but please vote for us)” and other nonsense. Cf. a text on agnostic scepticism.)

Even absent this intent, the result would be a lowering of the ability of the voters to make reasonable decisions, which, again, is a threat to democracy and society.

What we need is, if anything, a complete reversal: the typical 16 (or 18!) y.o. simply does not have the maturity, depth and breadth of knowledge, understanding of the world and politics, whatnot, to give a qualified vote. The only thing to be said in defense of a low age is that too many of the considerably older are also unqualified to vote, yet still have the right to do so. Going back to 21* would be a better move—and a much better move would be, as I have repeatedly mentioned in the past, to make the right to vote contingent on some more individual judgement. (For instance, passing some test of critical thinking, having some combination of age and IQ, or similar.)

*This used to be the cut-off in at least some countries. Looking at any given country, the “back” part might or might not apply.

To take another approach: There is nothing magical about either of 16 and 18, and a lowering to 16 today could well result in demands for 14 tomorrow. Given that we have the need for some type of border,* and given that this border is age-based,** we have to ask what age forms the best border. The arguments in favor of specifically 16 are very weak, would often apply equally to e.g. 14 or 15, and going to 16 would not inherently make the world a better place than remaining at 18, “only” dropping to 17, or, even, increasing the age.***

*If not, we would see small children voting in the manner dictated by others (parents, teachers, whatnot) or even others outright voting for them, as they are too small and uncoordinated to physically perform the act of voting.

**Which is the current situation, but not, cf. above, my personal ideal.

***This to be contrasted with older debates like whether the “common man” should have the right to vote, or just the upper classes, and whether women should have an equal vote to men. These involve a difference in principle that is much more fundamental. (Notwithstanding that both have likely led to a lowering of the quality of voters.)

In particular, a limit at 16 is today harder to justify from a rational point of view than in the past. For instance, a school-kid at 16 today is likely* to be worse or considerably worse educated than his age peers of e.g. 1991 (when I was 16) or 1968 (when my father was). This both in absolute terms and relative the rest of the population.** He is also likely to have less practical experiences in other areas of life and is likely to have been infantilized*** to a higher degree. There might or might not be a “pro” argument based on physical maturity, but physical maturity does not imply mental maturity and I doubt that the apparent effect of earlier physical maturity has been very large going from e.g. 1991 to today (but it might be, if we compare 18(!)91 with today).

*Looking at averages and with reservations for the developments in the country at hand. Here I assume a reasonably well developed Western country.

**Note that the proportions of adults with respectively high-school, college, and whatnot degrees have grown rapidly over the years. For instance, my mother was at 9 years of school when she was 16, while her mother/my grandmother never got past the 6 years that were mandatory in the 1930s, and her case to vote, given that my grandmother was allowed to vote and looking just at formal education, was stronger than today. Looking at her children, me and my sister, we were also at 9 years of school, but Mother had moved on to 12 years of (regular) school, 1 or 2 of the Salvation Army’s officer school, and then 4 or 5 of university—or between 17 and 19 in all. The case that we should have been allowed to vote given that Mother was, was weak indeed.

***It could be argued that giving the right to vote would help with reducing infantilization, but (a) the overall effect is likely to be small, as the overall time and effect for any given person would be small, (b) it starts at the wrong end, with giving power over others instead of building responsibility for oneself, (c) the effects of prior infantilization would still affect the vote negatively, making this a poor starting point.

Excursion on voting inflation:
An interesting thought is that increases to the voting population diminish the value of each individual vote in a manner similar to how printing more money reduces the value of existing money, with the implications that there is partial disenfranchisement of existing voters in favor of the new and that more existing voters might refrain from voting, because the expected pay-off* is lower. A better approach to, e.g., “create interest in democracy and its functioning” would be to move more influence to politicians and voters on the regional/county/city/whatnot level, where each individual vote counts for more. (Today, it hardly pays to vote on the national/federal level, as the chance of a vote counting is miniscule, and it hardly pays to vote on the local level, as the local government has too little power relative the national/federal.)

*Where “pay-off” must be taken to some approximation, as voting pay-offs tend to be all-or-nothing: either, very rarely, my vote determines the (sub-)election or, much more often, my vote has no effect. More other voters, all other things equal, pushes the likelihood of “nothing” up and reduces the likelihood of “all” even further than it already is.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 25, 2022 at 9:49 pm

Weak Leftist argumentation and playing the victim / Follow-up: The purpose of women-only competitions vs. inclusion of trans athletes

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To follow-up on a sub-theme from earlier today:

The Feminists vs. trans activists conflicts are a good example of the extreme “we are victims” pushing that is so common on the current Left. As destructive and tragic as this is when directed at the non-Left, men, Whites, whatnot, it becomes almost humorous when the one group of “victims” comes into conflict with another. Here, e.g., we have a virtual dialogue of:

Trans activist: We are the victims!

Feminist: No, we are the victims!

Trans activist: No, WE are the victims!!!

Feminist: NO, WE ARE THE VICTIMS!!!!!!


It is particularly telling that there are many Feminists (or women in general?) who come out to protest certain behaviors today, when they are used by some other group(s) to gain advantages at the cost of Feminists/women—while the decades of use by Feminists, at the cost of others, never was deemed worthy of criticism. (Ditto, m.m., certain attitudes, certain lines of pseudo-argumentation, whatnot.)

This consistent pushing of “we are the victims” (and related/overlapping “us vs. them”, “X are evil oppressors”, “we are good; they are evil”, etc.) also shows the lack of factual arguments of the Left. The popularity of such tactics arises from the facts that (a) they work, and (b) the Left has no real arguments: With very few exceptions, Leftist factual arguments do not differ mainly in their degree of correctness, rationality, whatnot, but in how much inspection is needed before they turn out to be incorrect, irrational, or otherwise specious.

Apart from “we are the victims” (etc.), Leftists resort to sloganeering, emotional arguments, personal attacks, or even outright shouting, because they do not have the arguments on their side.

Indeed, even when the Left might have a reasonable argument, it resorts to these tactics over attempting that argument. Abortion* is a great** example. Here pro-abortionist could raise arguments about what should be considered life in a meaningful sense, what intelligence in a meaningful sense, where human rights should begin, whatnot, and what value any “preliminary” interests of a growing fetus should be given relative the interests of the mother-(not-)to-be.

*Discounting the question of whether abortion is truly a Leftist issue, as specifically the strong U.S. pro-abortion movement definitely is Leftist and the methods that it uses definitely those of the Left and/or Feminism. More generally, however, (a) conflicts around abortion are typically rooted in religious or, more rarely, philosophical objections, not “Left vs. Right”, (b) there is much less conflict in most other Western countries than in the U.S., and opponents to abortions in (at least!) the first trimester are very rare throughout the entire political spectrum in e.g. Sweden and Germany.

**So great that I find myself coming back to abortion for the umpteenth time, although I do not have a strong opinion on the underlying issue—just on the pseudo-argumentation of the Left around abortion.

Instead, the most common argument is a cheap slogan—which, to boot, entirely misses the point! Cf. e.g. My body, my choice—my ass! and note that it is actually the body of the fetus which is at stake. (Which is why the above areas of argumentation would be so much more valuable, relevant, and constructive.)

Lesser arguments include claims that pro-lifers want to “oppress women” (instead of preventing what they often see as murder), that access to abortions would be central to a woman’s rights/opportunities/whatnot,* and similar rhetoric—much of which falls exactly in categories like “we are the victims”. The post-Dobbs situation brought a number of examples, including misrepresentations of new U.S. abortion laws,** misrepresentation of the motivation of the court as anti-woman instead of pro-constitution, and, of course, the claim that Dobbs made abortion illegal—when it just moved the decision of legality back to the democratically elected law-makers in the individual states or, as case may have it, the federation.

*Another non sequitur, which overlooks factors like the option to avoid careless sex and to use contraceptives, that many women of the past did exceptionally well without abortions, that being pregnant and having a child need not be e.g. a career interrupter in most jobs in the current West, that it might be better for both mother and child with a birth now rather than in ten years, etc. (Note that women who do not want children at all, be it today or in ten or twenty years, can have a tubal litigation.)

**For instance, misrepresenting laws with rape and incest exemptions as not having such, misrepresenting laws with a time interval (e.g. the first trimester) with legal abortion as not having such a time interval, and misrepresenting these time intervals as more restrictive than e.g. those in Europe. This often along the lines of “abortion is now illegal in state X”, with no qualifications, where a truer statement might be “late-term abortion is now illegal in state X, unless the life of the mother is at risk, and unless the pregnancy arose through rape or incest”.

This while a strong-seeming argument, which I have mentioned myself in the past, seems to have stood on shaky legs from day one: that legal abortion avoids highly dangerous illegal abortions, with a correspondingly reduced risk to the women involved. Not only is there a problem with historical/propaganda claims likely being highly exaggerated,* but this also glosses over improved abortion technology, the existence of “plan b” pills, and better preventative methods compared to “yore”.

*I read some material on this around the time of Dobbs and/or the preceding leak, but do not remember where. A brief web search found e.g. [1] and [2], which appear to cover similar ground. (I do not vouch for the details of these pages. Note that both focus on misrepresentation around deaths, which does not rule out that there is a higher number of non-lethal complications.)

To this might be added how problems with abortions are glossed over, e.g. that there is a remaining physical risk to the woman (even with a modern and legal abortion), that some (many?) develop psychological issues in the aftermath, and that a too easy availability of abortion can lead to more careless behaviors. However, such glossing over is quite common in politics, even outside the Left, and exemplifies a more general problem of the politically active being more interested in convincing others than in finding the truth and refining their own opinions.

To look at another family of victim argumentation: I have recently heard several complaints about U.S. media using phrasings like “hit hardest by” to push a victim image. While I do not want to bagatellize the U.S. situation, it is worse in Sweden. In particular, there is a very clear division between how a male resp. female advantage/disadvantage in outcomes is handled (barring cases where e.g. an ascription to the “Patriarchy” or similar takes place): if women come out ahead, the formulation, with minor variation in detail, is “kvinnor är bättre på X” (“women are better at X”); if women come out behind, it is “kvinnor hårdast drabbade av X” (“women hit hardest by X”). A “män hårdast drabbade av X” (“men hit hardest by X”) I have seen once (!)—and I was so surprised that I almost fell off my chair. I have at least one prior reference to the topic (cf. [3])—from 2011.

Note that these formulations do not just have a one-sided “women are victims; men are not” take, but are also asymmetrical with regard to women’s success/failure: if women fail, it is because some external force has effected their failure; if they succeed, it is something that women have actively achieved through their own qualities.

To boot, there is often an odd angling where the situations of men and women are not measured according to the same standard, e.g. in that men are assumed to do something voluntarily and women something similar out of necessity or that the personal gain/cost is misrepresented. Note e.g. how [3] discusses proportions of children helping with housework and how what-more-girls-than-boys do for their own benefit is considered such help.* Also note (which I failed to do, myself, when writing [3]) that there is an asymmetry in how activities indoors (more stereotypically female) and outdoors (more stereotypically male) are handled: the indoor tasks are split over three or four entries,** while the outdoor ones are grouped into a single generic entry. (The “three or four” arises through “Takes care of siblings”, which could be seen as either an indoor task, for “four”, or a location-neutral task for “three”.) Moreover, the intensity and duration of a task is not given due consideration—contrast e.g. mowing the lawn with emptying the dishwasher.

*The original angle of [3] is “incompetent researchers”, and this might well be the truth of the matter; however, the contents otherwise fit well in the current context, and I have grown more open to “researchers had a hidden agenda” over the years.

**As quoted from the source. I suspect that the list is abbreviated, which could increase these “three or four” further, while the single generic outdoors entry would almost certainly remain a single entry.

Excursion on a likely “Jerusalem Post” victimizing distortion:
Earlier today, I encountered the claim that Jerusalem grocery bans women at certain times of the day. Deeper in the text, I found the more nuanced claim that men and women had different “special times”. If so, the headline severely distorts the situation in a “women are victims” manner, as there would equally be times when men are banned. In fact, the reverse headline “Jerusalem grocery bans men at certain times of the day” would have been equally justified. (I tried to find a better source to clarify this, with an eye at writing a text on the topic. Unfortunately, I found no such source and contend myself with this brief excursion. Note that much of Israel-internal news is in Hebrew, which I do not speak.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 23, 2022 at 11:51 pm

The purpose of women-only competitions vs. inclusion of trans athletes

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The issue of trans athletes and of men competing as/against women seems to be on the table again. However, every discussion that I have encountered so far has missed the core question of why there are separate classes for men and women in most sports. Instead, we have, with minor variations: (a) The one camp whining about women’s rights, “abolishment” of women,* and whatnot, thereby demonstrating that it does not understand or care about the underlying core issues, but is merely an offspring of mindless Feminism and/or self-centeredness. (b) The other camp insisting that being allowed to compete as a woman, never mind the results of the competition or any unfairness in terms of sporting outcomes, would somehow be a divine right for all those who “self-identify as women” or a critical aspect of living the life that they want to live. In both cases, claims about “discrimination” are common; in both cases, destructive identity politics is a major issue,** just that the one prioritizes women, the other transsexuals/-genders.

*An absurd non sequitur even by the standards of modern Feminism.

**Often including an implicit common idea of a favored group, whose interests trump those of everyone else, common methods, whatnot. In some ways, the trans-movement is just the result of applying modified Feminism to another group.

The best that can be hoped for is that someone acknowledges the unfairness of allowing men into women’s competitions or, in some sports, the increased injury risk for female competitors—which comes close to hitting the core issue, but still falls short.

The true reason for the classes is that it was assumed that women would not be competitive* in most sports and that they would need own classes for competitive sport to make sense—just as it is assumed that boys are not competitive among men, girls not among women, lightweight boxers not among heavyweight boxers, etc. Usually, the assumption is correct. There are even cases, notably chess, where women are allowed to compete against (only) other women or against men, as they see fit, but where the reverse is not true—despite the absence of the obvious physical advantages of men so relevant in most other sports.**

*With a secondary, partially overlapping, reason being that women’s competitions sometimes arose because women were not allowed into men’s competitions. In both cases, the aforementioned injury risk might have been an additional/contributing factor; in the secondary, sufficiently early on, that some sports might have been seen as too dangerous for women regardless of the other competitors.

**Implicitly, this amounts to there being an open class and a women’s class (or some other specific set of non-open classes), which might be a fine solution to the overall problems, including the issue of trans athletes and whether women should be allowed into men’s competitions. However, the result of this is that the trans athletes end up in the open class (or in e.g. a specific trans class), not the women’s class.

If we now allow men to join women’s competitions, this will invalidate the reason for having separate classes and competitions for women. The logical conclusion would then be to abolish these, and just have men and women compete together in general—which would be fine by me, but would likely lead to loud female protests, for obvious reasons, and trans protests, as the artificial advantage that trans-opportunists like Lia Thomas have would disappear. (Note that even an alternate rule like “everyone is allowed to compete with men or women as he/she sees fit” would be pointless, as there would then just be two roughly equivalent classes, both dominated by men, and both watered down relative the single men-only class of old.)

From another (if overlapping) point of view: Having female classes is inherently and per se discrimination. Changing the criterion for participation from “must be a woman” to “must self-identify as a woman” does not reduce the discrimination—it just alters the criterion of discrimination.* Moreover, it alters the criterion in a manner, which, again, goes against the justification for the division into male and female classes.

*Note that this applies even if the word “woman” is misleadingly redefined to include “men who self-identify as women”. The meaning matters—not the words used.

As an aside, the fact that members of the PC movement are trying to force male participation by redefining what woman means, when they could, instead, have lobbied for new classes,* points to a hidden agenda—that it is not truly a matter of sports participation but of something more perfidious. Maybe, this “something more perfidious” is the redefinition, it self; maybe it is something else, e.g. an attempt to create a big symbolic issue, a further attack on individuality, or an attempt to divide-and-conquer by turning more and more segments of society against each other. (The options and their relative likelihood will, in part, depend on who or what is the ultimate driving force.)

*E.g. a formal division into “men-who-feel-like-men only” and “everyone else”; or “men-who-feel-like-men only”, “men-who-feel-like-women only”, “women-who-feel-like-women only”, “women-who-feel-like-men only”. Also note the above footnote on open classes.

Excursion on medical adjustments:
A common idea seems to be that a competition involving both men and women would become fair once the men had undergone some type of medical correction, e.g. by bringing their testosterone levels down for a long enough time. There are two fundamental flaws to this idea: Firstly, there are advantages that do not change even with e.g. hormone therapy.* Consider e.g that a lack of testosterone does not cause someone to retroactively grow shorter, and that more than marginal, if any, changes to limb proportions and similar are unlikely. Secondly, even if we were to assume that such interventions worked sufficiently well, there is no realistic way to tell when fairness has been reached. There is a near certainty that any regulation of the “may compete after medical correction X” type will either over- or undershoot the mark. Moreover, it is likely to fail through individual variation, as different competitors are likely to react differently to X.** We could, of course, try something like measuring a performance level and allowing those in who hit the exact right level—but competitive sport would border on the pointless, if the competitors were all equally good.***

*At least, after some point of bodily development has been reached and barring much more invasive procedures—and procedures that need not even be feasible in the foreseeable future. In some cases, this “point of bodily development” might be prenatal, e.g. in that success in some sports might depend on physical aspects of the brain that diverge at a very early stage.

**With the additional complication that it would be hard or impossible to tell what individual variation is, in some sense, fair resp. unfair with an eye at what would have been a fair individual variation, had the man at hand been born as a woman.

***To which must be added practical complications like someone pretending to be worse than he is, that the level of performance might change over time in a different manner for different persons, that the sport might change over time, that finding out what to measure might be impossible, etc. Worse, the sport might change because men are let in: Assume e.g. that we have a sufficiently fair measure of basketball ability to allow men into the WNBA. Chances are that doing so, even at a fix average ability, will slightly change the game by increasing the average player height, hand size, ability to dunk, whatnot, while decreasing some other aspects. As the game changes, a previously fair measure need not remain fair.

To this, note that even a comparatively small advantage can have major effects. In sprinting, for instance, the difference between a victory and a missed medal can* amount to a one percent difference in performance—and five percent amounts to an eternity of time. How do we ensure that any remaining advantage, in either direction, is less than one percent? Is even one percent sufficiently little? As an analogy, imagine that Marathon runners were given the choice between running the full distance, as is, and running a shorter distance with a weighted vest. What amount of weight would correspond to what distance for a fair competition? (And note that this problem is much easier than the one posed by trans athletes.)

*With a reasonable level of probability. Much smaller margins can occur. A particularly interesting case is the 2019 men’s world championship in shot put, where the three medals went at 22.91/22.90/22.90. (Although, admittedly, the difference to 4th place was considerably larger.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 23, 2022 at 6:10 pm

A tale of two houses II

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Part I ended on a very downbeat note, more so than I had originally intended. For my part, I took a break over night to reset myself after finishing the draft. The reader might want to take a break of his own, as house number two might require a different mood. (If nothing else, we are now on the other side of the family, where uncle, aunt, and two out of two cousins are still alive.)

This house of my maternal grandparents has already found direct or indirect mention in some texts,* and I could write a great many pages on the house and various experiences in and around it. As is, I will try to be brief.

*Notably on Skåpsängen ([1]) and Christmases (e.g. [2]).

Imagine a house in rural Sweden. Likely less than a hundred meter northwards, the forest begins. Ditto eastwards. Westwards, we go towards the village center, but not without passing a stream of running water. Southwards, there is first a bushy semi-wilderness for a short stretch, then follows the local hospital (where my grandparents both worked), the main road of the village, another short stretch of bushy semi-wilderness, a stream of running water and some walking paths,* and then more forest.

*With some reservations for my memory. The section after the main road might or might not have been further westwards. If so, I am a little uncertain what truly followed.

The northwards parts might have been the most interesting, as my grandmother instigated a great many walks, (cross-country) skiing trips, and excursions to pick berries to earn some extra money* in this direction. The pre-forest part also covered an old barn of some sort, where my uncle stored many years of split wood for his own heating,** the home of a kind old lady, whom my grandmother used to help with this and that,*** and an object that a sufficiently young incarnation of me might have taken to be literal magic—a tree with a metal chain going through some individual branches.****

*The latter is a semi-large industry in Sweden, where, during the season, commercial buyers take in berries by the bucket from private individuals in exchange for money, and then resell them to businesses who process berries (e.g. into jam). Going by news reporting, the berry picking by Swedes might have dwindled in favor of low-wage foreigners brought in for the specific purpose of picking berries (and then sent back again, post season), but it used to be somewhat popular among Swedes too. (And there is some chance that the news reporting is just aimed at pushing a “see how evil and exploitative Capitalists are” angle, not at giving a correct view.)

**I am uncertain about his exact motivations, as the amount of wood grew and grew, and as the payoff per hour worked is unlikely to have been very high. One possibility is that he used splitting wood for physical exercise (and it is a good exercise) and saw the cost-savings as a bonus—two birds with one stone.

***She was a great deal older than even my grandmother, was, it seemed, “local gentry”, and was referred to as “Fru” (“Mrs.”; but more archaic) by my grandmother—the latest occurrences of (non-humorous/non-ironic) use of such titles that I can recall in a Swedish context. Even that is more than thirty years ago by now, as she probably died in the late 1980s.

****From an adult point of view, I suspect that someone had once put a chain around the branches to prevent them from falling down (or some similar reason), and that the natural growth of the tree had later caused the individual branches to grow around the chain.

The immediately surrounding property was comparatively large, sloping down from north to south, and contained some trees and a handful of bushes with gooseberries, black/red currants, and (with reservations for what is considered a bush) strawberries—as well as some occasionally appearing wild raspberries. There was even a small plot for growing potatoes and the like, and a small sandbox for growing children. (But in the spirit of being brief, I will not go into further detail.)

The house as such had a comparatively small main floor, roughly apartment sized (although so much of my memories are from my early childhood that it seems larger), but there was a full cellar with a garage and a walk-in earth-cellar. This cellar was chock-full with funny, mysterious, or fascinating items, including many from the childhood of my mother and uncle, old equipment, a training bike, a safe, and two large chest freezers, likely from the 1960s,* both filled with food and, most importantly, ice cream. The garage had more than its share of equipment too, by today’s standard, as my grandfather actually performed occasional work on the car, especially to combat rust.

*Energy crisis? What energy crisis?

Going down the cellar stairs, there was a ladder on the wall, which could be lowered and led up to a trapdoor in the ceiling. Here there was a very dark and primitive attic. It, too, was filled with old things, but I might only have been up there twice or thrice, and only for a purpose. If in doubt, it was a little scary, and might well have been associated with enough real danger* to a child that some adult supervision was needed.

*Say, that a child might have fallen down the ladder, failed to affix the ladder properly, might have stepped through the (in my memory) weak floor and not been able to get out without help, whatnot.

The main magic, however, was on the main floor, with dozens of things that might warrant their own descriptions, ranging from a few antique chairs to a spinning wheel to a small potted orange tree to an old mechanical toy-dog. Skåpsängen, my very favorite, has already seen its own discussion (cf. [1]), and I will point in particular to just (a) a little toy/decorative windmill, which I could spend minutes with, blowing on or otherwise moving the wings, (b) a key-chain fob (?), likely a BP-promotion, which had an amazing see-through green color, and which I got lost looking at and through, (c) a 1970s Assistent, constantly used by my grandmother, who not just cooked but baked quite frequently (also see excursion), with a honorable mention to (d) a door post with markings for age and height of various family members, going back to the early childhood of my uncle, as the oldest child in that generation. (I was the number one in height at most, maybe all, ages.)

Then there were Christmases (cf. [2]) with the extended family (mother’s side); and most of my recollections of my grandfather,* who was almost** always very kind to me, even though I, today, suspect that he found me annoying. Not only do I, myself and as an adult, find children hard to stand, but I had some particular habits likely to be annoying, including turning on various radios and record/tape players as soon as I got through the door. (Not because I enjoyed the sound—it was a matter of enjoying the ability and the know-how.)

*As well as many of my grandmother, but my range of recollections of her in other settings is much larger and covers a much larger portion of my own life.

**When I was six-or-so, I and another kid went into the house through the unlocked garage to hide, for some reason or other, and we were summarily thrown out. This is the one exception that I can recall—and one that seems very fair, as we were neither invited nor had asked for permission, and as the other kid was likely a complete stranger to my grandfather.

Here, too, the magic eventually ended, and the house has long been torn down, but the end was not as tragic* and my memory is untainted, except for the knowledge that the house, as such, is gone—but a house is just a house, not a human, and so much of the magic came from other things and persons than the house per se.

*It did involve the premature death of my grandfather when I was seven (followed, some years later, by my grandmother moving to a cheaper and easier-to-care-for apartment), but (a) he was already in his sixties, while my cousin was in his late twenties (and my uncle-by-marriage, likely, in his fifties), (b) he died a natural death, (c) even if he had avoided this premature death, he (born in 1920) would still almost certainly be dead in the now, while my cousin would still have been a youngish man.

Excursion on energy and heating:
With an eye both at the current politician-made energy crisis and my own prior decision to do without heating, a lesson from my grandmother can be/has been helpful: Whenever I complained that I felt cold, she told me stop whining and put on another sweater. I did not appreciate the wisdom of this at the time, but it has proven one of the few really valuable pieces of advice that I received from the older generations. What matters is not how warm an apartment/house is—but how warm the humans in it are. (Note how this works well both in the literal sense and, with an eye at parts of the above, the metaphorical.)

Excursion on only seeing the sunny side:
An interesting aspect of the magic world of a child is the focus on the sunny sides. Indeed, I likely only ever saw the house of my uncle-by-marriage in the summer—and I certainly never had to bother with repairs, maintenance, government interference, whatnot. My times in my grandparent’s house had a much wider range of seasons and circumstances, but still saw me sheltered from almost any own work and responsibilities relating to the house. For instance, I have later been told that there was a yearly problem with the garage flooding a little, as the downwards slope of the northwards part of the yard made for a much larger “catchment area” for the level part of the driveway and the garage than if rain had just fallen on that driveway—but I never noticed, myself. I do recall one instance when there was enough snow and ice that neither of the two cars available (my grandfather’s and my mother’s) managed to make the way up that slope, but to me that was less of a problem and more of an adventure.

Excursion on own baking:
Competent baking (and, m.m., cooking) can be quite superior to what is bought in stores, especially through the advantage of truly being oven-fresh for at least the first serving. Some of what my grandmother made are among the best that I have ever eaten. Two observations:

Firstly, I have repeatedly heard food-snobby German colleagues proclaim the superiority of bakery-bought bread (and whatnot) over store-bought bread. These miss the point entirely, as the drop from competent and individualized own baking to bakery-baking* is larger than the drop from bakery to store. Even with a bakery that does actual baking, if one can be found, there is little chance of truly getting that just-out-of-the-oven experience, unless eating on the premisses and having luck with the timing. As to the smell of fresh baking in the own house, there is no comparison. This type of snobbery is, if anything, a sign of a lack of refined taste through not knowing what else is available.

*Which, at least today and at least in Germany, often consists just of putting “prefabs” in an oven and waiting for a timer to go “Ding!”. In the days of yore or in more traditional and/or high-end bakeries things might be different, but this is not a distinction made by the aforementioned German colleagues.

Secondly, I strongly suspect that the modern woman’s approach to attracting men, with make-up, high heels, colored hair, and whatnot, is much less effective than the older generations’ attempt to actually bring a practical value (not restricted to the kitchen or “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”). If in doubt, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett: looks dwindle over time; cooking/baking (and other) skills grow better. From another point of view: when it comes to living with someone, sex, looks, and whatnot is just one of many aspects and the modern woman’s approach is similar to someone making a car with a focus on just optics and no thought given to engine, brakes, transmission, etc., beyond “car can be driven”.

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December 22, 2022 at 10:58 pm

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A tale of two houses I

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The sharing of some personal memories and whatnots has become an informal Christmas tradition on this blog. This year, let us look at houses and magic:

While I have spent most of my life in apartment houses, there are three one-family houses that have some importance. The one that might seem most important on paper, my mother’s house from around 1990 and onwards, leaves me somewhat cold, maybe because I encountered it comparatively late. It was mostly a place to live, with its ups and downs, and I will not go into details. The other two were magic in that childhood sense that also infuses Christmas.

The lesser of the two was a summer* house owned by an uncle-by-marriage (my father’s sister’s husband). It was arguably the more magical, exotic (to the child), and more adventure-filled, but also a place were I spent much less time, a week here and there in the summer. The house was small and, by today’s standards, poorly equipped. For instance, there was** no running water, and the water that we needed for drinking, cooking, whatnot had to be collected from a hand pump at a public well some small distance from the house, and stored in a few large plastic containers—but this was an adventure, which added to the child’s experience. I do not remember whether there was plumbing in the sense of “exit for used water”, but, if there was, it was limited to a sink in the kitchen. The toilet, certainly, came in form of an outhouse with some type of bucket beneath the toilet seat.

*He and my aunt also had a house of some sort in town, as their main residence, but from my point of view it was never more than a stop on the way. We arrived there after many hours in a car, had something to eat and a short rest, and then continued on to the summer house a few kilometers away.

**In the early years. At some point, running water was added to the kitchen.

Even this outhouse, however, had something charming to a child, through a certain “rustic quaintness” and a few funny signs. Then, again, it had something a little disgusting, and I was never quite comfortable with the outhouse in its actual role as outhouse. My much younger cousin once managed the trick of falling into the toilet, and had to be dropped into the nearby sea for a wash by his parents. For my part, I escaped without such problems, but going in the late evening or in the night was an adventure of its own, with the darkness and the uncertainty of what might be lurking in the shadows, the cold (but mostly refreshing) sea air, the often wet and slippery grass and stones, and all those bloodsuckers* trying to get at me.

*Mosquitoes and the like—not vampires.

Speaking of sea, this was at the sea side, and other magic parts stemmed from the water, a very, very small private beach, a jetty, a dinghy (?), various fishing roads, nets, and whatnots—and a small secondary house on the jetty, partially used as storage, partially as a small one-room guesthouse. During my later visits, I enjoyed immensely this secondary house and the assorted pulp novels and old 1960s “Reader’s Digest” volumes found inside. One of my very first visits included my attempt to pump out the sea using some type of hand pump (presumably, intended to get water out of the dinghy). My success was limited, which was probably, all things considered, for the best.

The main house also had a somewhat sea-ish theme, including two old ship’s lanterns, but also held various objects of a more generically exotic or old character, including a cuckoo clock (fascinating!), a small hour glass, several old heat-in-the-fire-before-use irons, and whatnot—I even managed to forget the lack of a TV. Most interesting of all was an open fire place, and one actually used in the evenings,* which was a very different thing to someone mostly** used to seeing fire as a lit match or candle. To note: many of the items encountered were “firsts” to me—some might even be “onlies”. I was, for instance, not even aware that there was such a thing as a non-electric iron before my first visit and cuckoo clocks might have figured in some comic, but I doubt that I had ever seen one in real life. That water pump (the well one; not the sea one) was almost certainly an “only” in terms of actual use, and I cannot, off the top of my head, recall using any other plumbing-less*** outhouse.

*My grandparents’ house, see part II, also had a fireplace, but to this day I do not know whether it was just decorative or actually worked. It was certainly never used during my stays.

**An exception was the yearly “majbrasa”, a public bonfire lit on Walpurgis Night.

***I have, of course, repeatedly encountered more-or-less detached toilet buildings in other places, but they have been fully equipped with ceramic bowls, flushing, tap water, etc.

The outdoors were not bad either, with grass, flowers, trees, and regularly food, including the near-mandatory Swedish coffee-and-cookies (“fika”) and a few barbecues. One of the later barbecues included my uncle sneaking me some beer for another first. Other recollections include my trying to beat my uncle at darts and, cf. [1], “beating” him at croquet. Depending on the year, there might also have been that little cousin running back and forth, reading comics, or getting himself into mischief. Other memories include some indirect demonstrations of physics, as when walking barefoot on that jetty during a hot and sunny day—most of it was in a dark brown color, but there was a white stripe at the side; walking on the main parts could be painful through the heat, while the white stripe was safe.

Did I say “lack of TV”? Paradoxically, one of my strongest memories from this house is watching TV—specifically, the 1994 World Cup, the Swedish bronze medal, and, above all, the highly dramatic quarter-final against Romania. This was a different kind of magic than early on: my first memories might be from the late 1970s, the bulk from the 1980s, and in 1994 I was already 19. It was still magic. (As to the TV set, it was presumably a late addition.)

But sometimes magic ends—as did the marriage between my aunt and my uncle. That 1994 visit would be the last, my now ex-uncle eventually died, and the house passed to my cousin. Shortly before Christmas, ten years ago to the day, my cousin drove out to the house and killed himself. Today, even the magic of memory, and the memory of magic, only lasts a few moments. Then I see the face of a blond little boy of five, who is hyper energetic and loves his He-Man comics, is careless in outhouses, and is no more.

Above, I speak mostly of magic places, things, and experiences, but that is only half the story. The other half is all the family members that were there, at one time or another. Grandparents? Dead. Mother? Dead. Uncle? Dead. Cousin? Dead. Father/aunt/sister are still alive, but that still makes for only three out of ten—eleven, if we count the family dog. (And my father is currently in the hospital. Nothing life-threatening, I am told, but I cannot deny being a little worried.)

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December 22, 2022 at 10:55 pm

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Drowning in ideas / Some British news

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Over the last few months, I have often had the problem that ideas for texts pop up faster than I can write them—and this even when I restrict myself to ideas that I find sufficiently interesting or valuable that they are worthy of a text of their own. (As opposed to the many, many more that are discarded entirely, end up as a brief excursion/footnote/parenthesis within another text, or, as today, are otherwise integrated in some other text.)

For instance, once in a while, I visit The Telegraph, a UK newspaper and one of the lesser evils in mainstream journalism, both in terms of quality and in terms of political leaning. When I do, I often find myself with a handful of potential texts to write, some of them of the pass-something-on kind,* some of the inspired-to-write-something-own kind.

*I usually, regardless of the source, do not, as the gain seems small relative the amount of work, especially with an eye at the other article/whatnot already existing, that I might drive comparatively little traffic the way of the source, and that the absence of pingbacks in most sources reduces the benefit for me. The exceptions usually arise from an unusually great personal interest and/or that the material fits unusually well with my own, prior, writings. Today is an exception for the purposes of demonstration, but still with an abbreviated treatment of each individual item.

For instance, during a visit earlier today, with less than a dozen opened links, I found at least the following items that were worthy of passing on and/or useful as sources for ideas:*

*Some change to formatting, including loss of links, has taken place through copy-and-paste, etc.

  1. [1] discusses how “[b]y closing the Medicine Man exhibition, the Wellcome Trust has decided to value anti-colonialist rhetoric over celebrating medical advances”.

    A particular pertinent part:

    Whatever the Trust’s views, this is surely a matter for the Charity Commission to investigate. The Trust may be in breach of its obligations under Henry Wellcome’s will. But there is a more profound issue at the heart of this affair which undermines philanthropy itself. Why would anyone want to endow and support science and medicine today and in the future if their fate is to fall victim to bad history and character assassination?

    Note my earlier text on overruled choice and a similar case of an art museum ignoring the stipulations of the founder/artist, and e.g. the distortions of the Nobel Prizes. No matter the situation at the time of death, and no matter what paperwork has been laid down, there is no guarantee that the willed money, art, objects, whatnot, continue to serve their intended purpose a hundred years later. They might even have been turned around to work in direct opposition to that purpose. I note in particular an apparent Leftist strategy, in the extended “Frankfurt School”, of gaining control of other person’s accomplishments, money, whatnot, by hi-jacking organisations over the administrative route. Many founders of U.S. colleges, e.g., would be turning in their graves if they knew what has become of those colleges.

  2. [2] notes that “[o]ne year on, we [Brits] still haven’t learnt the lessons of lockdown failure” and continues with much that is justified in the same vein.

    While this alone has some value, a personal* eye-opener is the claim:

    *Note that I have spent comparatively little time on U.K. news and politics until this autumn—and still put in much less time than on Swedish and U.S. news. It might well be that e.g. the typical Brit was already well aware of this and/or has a deeper knowledge of Sunak et co. in other areas too. (While I live in Germany, I spend very little time on German news these days, due to a combination of how depressing it tends to be, how incompetent and/or Left-tilted the journalists are, and the extreme degree of paywalling.)

    There’s a long list of people who “saved” last [2021] Christmas, but Sunak deserves a place near the top. Had he not intervened, the economy and society would have been closed yet again. If the blood-curdling Sage “scenarios” did not come to pass, lockdown would be credited. Sunak had gone along with previous shutdowns, thinking himself a lone voice of dissent. But this time, he had enough support at a time when Boris Johnson had already lost a by-election and lost David Frost, his Brexit minister. He could not afford to lose a Chancellor.

    This tells us three things. First, that Sunak was single-minded enough to take on the whole government machine, risking his career. Next, he’s smart enough to work out when the civil service has been captured by groupthink and find his own information. But perhaps the biggest lesson was that there was — and remains — a massive flaw in the government system, where decisions are taken on unreliable science, with minimal scrutiny. It’s a scandal that ought to have been quickly remedied, but what we see instead is a pattern of denial.

    Maybe, my early, unfavorable, impression of new PM Sunak has been unfair.

  3. According to [3]:

    In the great race to conquer world markets, stock exchanges and tech companies are pairing up. A year ago, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange struck a deal with Google, and Nasdaq agreed to link up with Amazon Web Services. Now, it is the turn of the London Stock Exchange (LSE), which agreed this week to make Microsoft its dancing partner for the next 10 years: the LSE will spend £2.3 billion on Microsoft services and, in turn, Microsoft is buying a four per cent stake (£1.5 billion) in the exchange.

    There are many angles to discuss such a situation, but one particularly depressing is how size begets size, as most companies would simply never be on the table for a deal like this. Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and a few others, are large enough, but even a merely large player might be too small—and the many who fail to reach the bar of even “large” have no chance at all. A strongly contributing problem is that making this type of deal in parcels can be tricky, too costly, or practically impossible, which turns them into all-or-nothing deals—either company A gets the whole deal or one of B, C, and D does. The same situation often occurs with governments, as many government projects range from very large to enormous, which can then imply that tax-payer’s money are used to line the coat-pockets of Billy Gates et co. Of course, the choice of company, be it by the government, the LSE, or someone else, is a correspondingly enormous, with complications like the risk of bribery, that the damage from some fools, maybe convinced more by a slide-show than by the facts at hand, making a poor decision is commensurate, and that a decision once made is nearly irrevocable. The last brings many secondary problems, including that the offers made might be dishonestly optimistic, in the knowledge that “if we get the deal, even an overrun of several years and several billions will be accepted” and the fear that other bidders will also be dishonestly optimistic.*/**

    *Note, e.g., the extreme differences between plans and reality for the Berlin Airport, the Stuttgart main station, and, on a much smaller scale, the main station of my local Wuppertal.

    **This with a secondary complication that the decision makers, especially when politicians, might be willing collaborators: By accepting an artificially low offer, they look good in the moment and voters (stock holders, whatnot) might be more willing to accept the pet projects of the decision makers. If things get out of hand later, (a) the old decision makers might already have moved on to greener pastures, (b) those that remain can shove the full responsibility onto the contractor. (While expressing regret that said contractor must still be paid in full, including for any extra work, but without any true attempt to shorten payments.)

  4. [4] is titled “Governments have learnt that fear works — and that is truly terrifying”, which well sums up the contents. In some parts, it is a little late to the show, both with regard to COVID and to fear (chances are that governments have long known), but it is still a valuable contribution by pointing out how current techniques of and approaches to control* of public opinion might have changed the world for the worse.

    *Of course, that politicians and governments presume to even attempt a control of public opinion is a fundamental problem, as I have noted in e.g. a text on politicians dictating opinions to the people.

  5. [5] deals with the intersection of the COVID-countermeasures and the NHS—two of the greatest fiascos in British history. This with a dose of unions (likely deliberately) choosing to strike when it does the most damage, which calls into question whether strikes are a legitimate means of conflict in the modern world. (And points to another area where more Thatcherism is needed.)

    Particularly interesting quotes are:

    A friend’s husband has had his operation cancelled. Again. The first time, Rob was actually in the hospital and hadn’t eaten anything for more than 24 hours before they finally tipped him out. He was in tears. As there are over 7.2 million on the waiting list, getting admitted for a procedure is roughly akin to your numbers coming up on EuroMillions while enjoying cocktails with George Clooney.

    With nurses going on strike on Thursday [Dec 15],* there are likely to be thousands more disappointed Robs. The NHS is required to give two days’ notice of a surgical cancellation but, in a special Winter of Discontent bonus, the postal workers are also on strike, so the letters won’t reach patients in time. Prepare to hear that you won’t be having your coronary angioplasty done on Friday — only the letter breaking that news will arrive sometime in late January.

    *The “[Dec 15]” is present in the original. My time of writing is Dec 20, making this the previous Thursday.

    Frankly, hearing from these chaps,* who were both given gongs for their work, felt a bit like two arsonists providing a commentary on the likely safety implications of having set fire to a highly combustible building. Offering advice to their successors on dealing with any future pandemic, Whitty* and Vallance* said that the speed with which the Covid vaccines were developed might “lull politicians into a false sense of security, with other new diseases possibly requiring social distancing and lockdowns for even longer”.

    No. No. No. We are now living through the consequences of a purblind pursuit of restrictions that has beggared our economy for a generation and overwhelmed healthcare to the point that an elderly man with a broken hip is told that no ambulance is coming, ever. We can barely call ourselves a civilised country, yet the most public advocates of that ruinous policy have the cheek to suggest that, next time, we could lock down even harder.

*Given as “Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Chris Whitty” and “Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser”.

Then we have an amazing feat of somnambulism: Serial burglar found in Robert De Niro’s house using his iPad while he slept.

Unfortunately, lack of time prevented me from reading this particular article, but the headline says it all. (Or, maybe, this is another case where those who read just the headlines are mislead.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 20, 2022 at 10:56 pm

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Explanations and observations

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As I said in a footnote to my previous text, “note that I, here and elsewhere, am open to other explanations that cover a similar set of observations”. In the comparison with many others, this is a critical point: One of the most common reasons for incorrect opinions (especially in, but by no means limited to, politics) is the failure to understand the difference between a hypothesis* that explains the observations, is consistent with the observations, or similar, and a hypothesis that is actually correct, combined with a tendency to jump to conclusions of “X is a matching hypothesis; ergo, X is the matching hypothesis” or “[…]; ergo, X is the truth”. This the more so, cf. below, when a mere “almost explains”,
“is almost consistent”, etc., is allowed.

*The choice of “hypothesis” over “theory” (and e.g. “model”) is a little arbitrary, but I prefer it, as my main focus is on the usually unsystematic and poorly developed ideas of non-specialists (in the field at hand). However, similar errors are quite common even among (real or self-proclaimed) specialists, as with e.g. gender-studies.

The correct hypothesis must* be consistent with the observations, but it need not be the only consistent one and mere consistency does not guarantee that the current consistent candidate is the correct one. (Indeed, even a, in some sense or to some approximation, correct candidate need not be the last word. In the hard sciences, continual refinement over time is the standard expectation.)

*To some approximation. It might e.g. be that the observations contain errors or statistical fluctuations. (This is a reason why good science is not content with matching prior observations, but also makes new predictions and then sees whether the predictions match reality. Generally, a critical difference between science, on the one hand, and proto-science from before the “scientific method”, current pseudo-science, and similar not- or not-quite-science groupings, on the other, is the openness to put assumptions and theoretical deductions to a practical test—and to adapt the theory when a test is failed.)

To take one of my go-to examples, that a woman was fired (or, m.m., not hired, not promoted, whatnot) might be because “My boss discriminated me because I’m a woman!!!”, but it might also be because she was incompetent—or a number of other explanations. On the balance, the likelihood that this self-serving Feminist explanation is correct is comparatively small.

Generally, many errors go back to assuming that a certain event was based on membership in a population group, e.g. the group of women or the group of Blacks, without properly considering the influence of own behavior and other factors on other dimensions.* This applies even when we look at aggregates,** as different groups often show different behaviors, abilities, and other characteristics—and this regardless of the cause of these differences. For instance, before drawing any conclusion from an over-/under-representation*** of some group in some category, beyond “is over-/under-represented”, we must consider the possibility of more immediate causes than “X belongs to group G” (with the common rider “ergo, …”), e.g. that “X displayed behavior B, and while B might be more common in group G than elsewhere, the immediate cause was B—not G”.

*It might be argued that e.g. the group of incompetents is a population group, but, if so, it is one less obvious and one less likely to find self-professed members, and I will ignore this possibility in the following.

**While the above woman was an individual example that need not tell us anything about the big picture, even had she been correct, and where she might also have been incorrect for statistical reasons.

***Relative some naive standard, e.g. proportion of the overall population. More generally, over-/under-representation might disappear if another standard is used, e.g. in that the proportion of convicts might seem unduly high for one group when we look at its proportion of the overall population but not when we look at its proportion of criminals. What standard is the most reasonable will usually depend on the purpose of comparison. To boot, even a naive standard might be open to alternatives, e.g. through variations in age demographics and local demographics.

A notable family of examples stems from the confusion of correlation with causality. If X tends to go hand in hand with Y, it is not correct to assume that X causes Y. Yes, if X causes Y this might explain the observations at hand, but it might be that Y causes X, that each has a causal effect on the other,* that both are independently caused by Z, etc.—and these scenarios, too, might explain the observations at hand. We might even have cases where there is a causality from X to Y but this causality is drowned out in the big picture: Consider the observation that (a) those buried alive tend to die, (b) the cemeteries are filled with dead humans who are buried. These observations are consistent with the (posthumorous) hypothesis that there has been a large-scale burying of living humans; it might certainly be that some very few of these were buried alive; and it might even be that, under some exceptional circumstances, e.g. in a genocidal Communist dictatorship, a great number of live burials took place. However, chances are that all or almost all those buried at the nearest cemetery died first and were buried because they had died—not first buried and then dying because they had been buried.

*Height and weight is a good example: Those taller tend to be naturally heavier (“vertical” heaviness), but someone malnourished might see his growth stunted and be shorter than he would have been, had he been better nourished, in which case “horizontal” heaviness (or lack thereof) affects height.

Another notable family stems from misinterpreting claims like “observation X is consistent with hypothesis Y” (e.g. that certain observations from an autopsy are consistent with the hypothesis that the cause of death was strangulation). This does not imply that Y is true, merely that Y cannot, at this time, be ruled out. In contrast, the claim that “X is not consistent with Y” would rule Y out. (With reservations for mistakes, confounding factors, and whatnot.) More generally, demonstrations of consistency can make a claim more plausible, but cannot fundamentally prove the claim, which is were the idea of “falsifiability” comes in.* The typical reference to Sherlock Holmes and the dog that did not bark is a good illustration—the fact that the dog did not bark was inconsistent with some explanations but not with others.**

*As a counterpoint, some cases of apparent-to-the-layman falsifications are not falsifications. For example, if a study claims that it “failed to show X”, it does not follow that it “showed not-X”. It might even be that the study shows reasonably strong support for X—just support that fell short of the typical, semi-arbitrary, bars used to measure when a finding is considered statistically significant, say, that a “p-value” of 0.05 or less has been found (0.10, e.g., falls well short of this bar, but is still a strong indication).

**Notably, depending on whether the perpetrator was presumed to be someone strange or someone familiar to the dog. Here we see another complication, namely that the one might fail to see an inconsistency that the other does see, notably in terms of consequences. Indeed, one of my own main complaints about e.g. politicians is that they seem to miss a great many of the likely consequences of their suggestions. (This has also been a common annoyance in the office, in that someone makes a suggestion that I suspect will do more harm than good, that the majority fails to listen to my warnings, and that no-one remembers my warnings, when I am, in due time, proven right.)

More generally, Sherlock Holmes differed from the competition through a lesser willingness to accept an explanation that explained almost all observations resp. was consistent with almost all restrictions involved.* The question, then, is what does someone do when some previously unknown observations, facts, arguments, whatnot contradict a pet hypothesis? (Or, worse, when someone else points to contradictory evidence that has been swept under the carpet?) The rational attitude is to take a hard look, with an open mind, at the hypothesis and these observations (etc.) with an eye at determining where the problem is. It might now be e.g. that some contradictions were spurious, but it might also be that the hypothesis needs to be refined or rejected. Too many, however, and especially in Leftist camps, just bite down on the hypothesis, ignore/distort/defame the contradictions, or, even, try to turn the contradictions into proof of the hypothesis… The latter in at least two variations, which can be roughly described as willful ignorance/obstructionism and/or bending the facts to fit the hypothesis** resp. a “damned, if you do; damned, if you don’t” double-bind***.

*Similarly, as a software developer, I have learned to look hard at even seemingly small issues of mis- or unexpected behavior from the software in development. That virtual blip on the radar screen might be something small, but it is hardly ever nothing and sometimes it, at the risk of mixing metaphors, is the tip of an iceberg capable of sinking the Titanic. Any known deviation from the intended behavior is bad.

**E.g. “Even small kids show signs of male and female behaviors?!? Gender stereotyping must be even more powerful and begin even earlier than we thought! We must redouble our efforts!”, instead of a sane “[…]?!? Hmm, maybe there might be something biological to this, after all.”)

***E.g. “Either you agree with us that male privilege [White privilege, White Supremacy, whatnot] is a massive problem or your denial proves us right by exemplifying male privilege!!!”.

Excursion on competing “good” hypotheses:
It is often the case that there are more than one hypothesis that explains what should be explained, is consistent with what is known, etc. This includes cases where the one hypothesis* is a suggested refinement of the other (as with e.g. Newton’s laws of motion being superseded by Einstein’s) and where the one uses a significantly different model from the other (as with e.g. the switch from geocentrism to heliocentrism).** Depending on the circumstances at hand, the choice might be arbitrary, require additional data, be based on factors like ease of use, and/or be a candidate for the heuristic of Occam’s Razor. A key point, however, is that the success of actions suggested based on such a hypothesis can be highly dependent on how correct the hypothesis is, not just on how well it matches observations, and that corresponding efforts must be spent on making sure before large-scale or undoable action is taken. For instance, the hypothesis that poor educational outcomes in a certain group are caused by “being underprivileged” is not absurd a priori, but the attempts to improve school results by remedies focused on “privilege” have never worked well (or never well beyond a certain low limit). As an untested model, this explanation might seem tempting, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Still, the main explanations used by the Left, today, decades after the first experiments and after decades of wasted money and other resources, are still in the extended “underprivileged” family—and the suggested solutions broadly amount to more of the same and to throwing good money after bad.

*Here, more often, scientific theory/model.

**While the approaches of Einstein and Newton were different, and while e.g. their equations of motion look different, their results are virtually identical for sufficiently “classical” conditions and Newton’s equations can be derived as limit cases from Einstein’s. In contrast, geocentrism and heliocentrism are fundamentally different and contradictory, with the former requiring convoluted corrections to predict reality. (Note that a seeming equivalency in e.g. explanatory power might depend on the time of comparison. For instance, a geocentric or Newtonian model suggested today would fall well short of explaining known observations.)

Excursion on “What’s the next number?”:
A similar issue is found with a particularly idiotic family of pseudo-math problems, namely where some few numbers are given and the problem solver is asked to find the next number. The issue here is that there are always multiple solutions and that “Which solution is the best?” is a matter of taste. In some cases, this “best” solution might seem obvious, as with 1, 2, 3, ? and the answer 4. However, even here, other solutions exist, e.g. 5 (assuming that 1 and 2 are the initial values of a Fibonacci-style sequence) and 0 (the result of putting n = 4 in the function f(n) = (4 – n) (1/6 (2 – n) (3 – n) – (1 – n) (3 – n) + 3/2 (1 – n) (2 – n)), deliberately constructed to give the results 1, 2, 3, 0 on the inputs 1, 2, 3, 4).* In other cases, the ambiguity is intolerably high and/or the solution hinges on knowing some obscure fact. For instance, should 0, 7, 0, 7, ? give 0 (assuming that 0 and 7 alternate for the duration) or 1 (assuming that these are digits from 2^(-1/2) = 0.7071…**) or possibly something different yet.

*This particular solution is better reached through simply taking n modulo 4, which leads to an ever repeating 1, 2, 3, 0, 1, 2, 3, 0, … However, my original intent was to demonstrate how a similar type of polynomial construction can always be made to match a series, which indirectly led me to the above. See excursion.

**A number that will be easily recognizable to most mathematicians and many with some mathematical interest, but hardly to the “average Joe”.

Excursion on constructing polynomials to match any series:
For a sequence like a, b, c, …, simply take a series of terms in n where all but one of the terms equal zero for each position in the sequence and adjust the non-zero term to match the correct value. For instance, to create a sequence where n = 1 -> a, n = 2 -> b, n = 3 -> c, we can take a first “raw” term of (2 – n) (3 – n), which is 0 for n = 2 and n = 3. It is also 2 for n = 1 and a first “cooked” term of a/2 (2 – n) (3 – n) now gives the correct value for n = 1. Proceed in the same manner for the second and third term to get b and c for n = 2 resp. n = 3, with the idea that each term is 0 for all but one n and gives the right value for that n. The overall result is a/2 (2 – n) (3 – n) – b (1 – n) (3 – n) + c/2 (1 – n) (2 – n). The same idea can be applied to e.g. a, b, c, d, e, ? and a, b, ?, c, d.

This is what I originally did with 1, 2, 3 in the previous excursion, assuming that I would get something other than 4 for n = 4. However, the resulting polynomial annoyingly* reduced to n, and n = 4 then, obviously, still resulted in 4, which caused me to go with the workaround of forcing a 0 for n = 4. (Note how the shape of the polynomial is a factor that is 0 for n = 4, times an expression that is a modified** version of a polynomial as constructed above, with a/b/c = 1/2/3.)

*But, with hindsight, predictably: it can be shown that any two nth-degree polynomials that are identical in n + 1 different points must be identical throughout, which implies that any 2nd-degree polynomial with p(1) = 1, p(2) = 2, and p(3) = 3 must be identical to n = 0n^2 + n + 0.

**The same procedure of creation can be used, but it must now be corrected for the (4 – n) term, giving us a first “cooked” term of a/6 (2 – n) (3 – n) or a third of the original, as 4 – 1 = 3. The other terms are similarly scaled by 1/2 = 1 / (4 – 2) and (with no effect) 1 = 1 / (4 – 3).

Excursion on other issues:
There are of course a great many other (but off topic) reasons why someone could be wrong. A particularly interesting one is mistaking some else’s inter- or extrapolation for truth, taking an “artist’s rendering” of something to be more realistic than it is, taking historical fiction to be more historically correct than it is, or similar. For instance, I am currently reading/skimming “The World Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Creatures”, which contains a great many illustrations, with a fair amount of detail, and fanciful colors—but these illustrations are often accompanied by claims like “is known only from the left half of the lower jaw” (specific quote from the entry for Sarcolestes, with reservations for errors in transcription). Anyone who trusts the accompanying illustration would risk being laughably wrong, and even the less fanciful conjectures mentioned, e.g. that Sarcolestes was an ankylosaurid, might turn out to be incorrect. Indeed, its name, “flesh thief” goes back to earlier speculation that it was a meat eater, while the current belief points to a “slow-moving plant-eating animal”.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 18, 2022 at 11:53 pm

Et tu, socie!

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Over the last few years, I have increasingly suspected that much of international politics goes back to attempts to hinder potential competitors—even when these are not known hostiles; maybe, even when they are outright allies.

This especially when we move from mere hard competition to cheating a la Dick Dastardly: Various acts can be classified based on the degree that they have a “good for me” or a “bad for you” intention, and the degree that they amount to “fair play” or “unfair play”. Having a better motor in a car race is “good for me” and (if within the rules) “fair play”;* sabotaging the motor of the main competitor is “bad for you” and “unfair play”. The main point of this text is the underlying intent of preserving or creating an own power advantage; however, this only truly becomes notable when one or both of the “bad for you” and “unfair play” components is/are strong.

*And that various countries try to gain equivalent advantages, in order to “win” in international politics/trade/whatnot, borders on a given—just as it borders on a given that a racing team will try to get the best motor that rules, budget, time, and whatnot allow. The point of this text goes beyond that.

In some cases, such as the U.S. and the USSR during the Cold War, between two clear enemies, there is nothing unexpected and this text would border on the pointless, were that all there was. The same applies if we look at e.g. Rome and Carthage or two rivaling cities in ancient Greece. Even looking at the current U.S. and the current China, strong rivals and borderline enemies (or, maybe, “enemies waiting to happen”), this is not truly remarkable.

However, consider the U.S. and Russia in the era after the Cold War. Technically, they are not (pre-Ukraine, at least) enemies, Russia is too weak to realistically challenge for number one,* and they have much to gain from trade and cooperation. But say that the U.S. wants to keep a future strong competitor down, especially with an eye at a potential strengthening of inter-BRICS cooperation, an outright alliance between Russia and e.g. one of the other BRICS countries, or a re-expansion of Russia to include more of the old Soviet territory. Now view the unusually large involvement of the U.S. and allies in the Ukraine in this light. (Both with regard to the current war and the events leading up to this war.) Suddenly, it is much easier to understand, even for those sceptical to the rhetoric.** Similarly, the general drift to expand NATO (even after the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact) to almost anyone willing, except for Russia, is easy to understand under the premise that Russia is to be prevented from growing in power.***

*At least, within the even remotely foreseeable future. Its landmass and natural resources are enormous, but the population is considerably smaller than the U.S. one, while China’s is several times larger than the U.S. population. China might gain the upper hand through a mixture of improved productivity and superior numbers, even should that productivity remain well below U.S. norms. Russia does not have that option.

**In terms of intent. Whether it actually achieves that intent might be disputed.

***However, another angle to this is that NATO would border on the pointless, if everyone, or even just everyone powerful, was a member.

Other examples can be more subtle. I have, for instance, heard speculation that the U.S. would have been deliberately manoeuvring the EU and/or Germany into making poor decisions, with an endgame of preserving U.S. dominance, even in light of a growing EU.* There are certainly oddities in the U.S. behavior towards the declining British Empire post-WWII, including during the Suez crisis. Said British Empire** vs. colonial India might be another example: India is one of the cases*** where colonialism almost certainly did more harm than good, and there is reason to believe that this was not just a side-effect of exploitation but involved a deliberate strategy of holding back, maybe even disabling, a country**** that, looking at size and stage of development, might have grown into a global competitor.

*But note that I, here and elsewhere, am open to other explanations that cover a similar set of observations, including that too many politicians are too incompetent.

**The largest culprit, at any given time, would likely tendentially be the strongest power (or the strongest power within a certain sphere). The repeated references to the U.S. above should not necessarily be taken to imply that the U.S. is particular Dastardly in its character—it might well be a case of having the influence and the opportunities to implement a strategy that e.g. Sweden could not. Go back a bit and the British Empire was the strongest power around.

***Leftist propaganda likes to claim that colonialism did great damage without exception, but this simply does not match reality.

****It might be simplistic to view the India of yore as a single country in terms of “political entity”, but the general idea still holds.

One of the seemingly* greatest puzzles of history is why the Brits and the French originally declared war on Nazi-Germany but left the Soviet Union alone (indeed, later were allies with the Soviet Union against Nazi-Germany). Half of Poland was swallowed by the Soviets; the Soviets had been similarly expansive to and, until that date, more oppressive and genocidal than the Nazis; and the rest of 20th-century history shows that Communism almost certainly was a larger threat to humanity than Nazism was. With hindsight, it would have been better or much better, had the Brits and French sided, at least for the time being, with the Nazis to take out Communism instead of with Communism to take out Nazism.

*For those seeing through the more than eighty years of propaganda that the Nazis were an unparalleled evil, never seen before or after. Evil, yes. Unparalleled? Sadly, no. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and their respective regimes immediately spring to mind—and there are plenty of others.

However, if we assume, which was likely plausible at the time, that Germany was seen as a greater threat in terms of being a rival “Great Power”, with an eye at international clout, military strength, and, likely, above all industrial potential, this seems less mysterious. Factor in the greater physical proximity,* which made Germany a more urgent competitor, and the mystery grows even smaller. (Of course, other factors that are off topic for this text might also be relevant, notably the 19th-century conflicts between France and Germany resp. the resulting animosity.)

*Mostly, in terms of homelands, obviously, but even in terms of current and potential future colonial areas, there was almost certainly less proximity between the French and the Soviets, and likely even the Brits and the Soviets.

An important political lesson is that we can never take the risk to consider another country more than a temporary ally. If in doubt, today’s true and genuine friend* might cease to be so tomorrow, even through something as trivial as a change in rulers after the next election.

*And even with true and genuine friends, as in real life, it is important to remember that there might still be strong differences in opinions and interests, where the one might act contrary to the interests of, or be upset over actions by, the other. Even the famed Thatcher–Reagan friendship had its stumbling blocks, e.g. Grenada.

Another lesson is that we must not be naive about the intentions of other countries, or their willingness to act cooperatively and in good faith. Trust can be a good thing up to a certain point, but it most not turn into the type of naivety that turns us into patsies.

Excursion on other areas:
Similar observations, if on a lesser scale, hold in many other areas, notably business and national politics. Cheating in the manner of Dick Dastardly in car racing, however, is unlikely to be much of an issue, as the chance of being caught is large and the consequences of being caught could be career ending. (A more subtle or more indirect version of Dick Dastardly might or might not have some chance at success, e.g. one who does not sabotage a motor but who manages to hit the competition on the business level.)

A key original idea was the manipulation and/or sabotage of nominal allies/friends. As I realize during proof-reading, I have undershot the mark and to a too large part given examples between more obvious rivals. (In part, because obvious examples are inherently easier to find and involve less speculation.) For reasons of time, I will not attempt to rework the text.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 18, 2022 at 1:35 pm