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A Swede in Germany

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Further reading tips: Facing Reality

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Since beginning my series of further reading tips a few months ago, I have not managed to add one single entry. (Also see excursion.) Time for a change:

Yesterday, I discovered a 2021 book by Charles Murray, “Facing Reality”, which had flown under my radar and which I highly recommend to those naive* on topics like “systemic racism” and U.S. demographics, or, more generally, naive on how much of the various “narratives” is out of touch with reality, with the actual facts and statistics at hand, with what actual science says, etc.

*My recurring readers are unlikely to find much new in terms of the big picture and the main ideas, but might find something new in detail. They might certainly still benefit from the data sets and additional references. (Points where I tend to be very weak for reasons of time and motivation.) Similarly, those familiar with Murray’s other works and/or works by similar authors might recognize the big picture and the main ideas.

It is a short but valuable read, gives considerable data (e.g. on crime) and analysis of data showing that claims about e.g. (pro-White/anti-Black) “systemic racism” are quite incorrect, and contains discussions about e.g. why “identity politics” and “intersectionality” are fundamentally flawed ideas (view individuals as individuals—do not define them by what groups they belong to). A key observation is that disparities in treatment and outcomes arise mainly from differences in behavior—not racism or racial discrimination. (No, you were not arrested because that cop was a racist pig. You were arrested because you robbed someone.) Often, the disparities arise despite pro-Black racial discrimination, notably with regard to college admissions.

The data is repeatedly combined with information on incorrect perceptions, e.g. that many overestimate the proportion of Blacks and Latinos* in the population very considerably, which gives a flawed baseline for any further thought on the matter. (Also note e.g. parts of [1], where I discuss some potential consequences of such incorrect perceptions, and an analogous situation for exaggerated COVID beliefs.) Generally, the issue of comparing against the right baseline is important, not just in the sense of knowing the right values but of actually picking the right one, for example, in that local rates must be measured against local circumstances, like local demographics, not the national ones. (My own go-to example is to compare e.g. arrest rates with what proportions of criminals belong to what group, not what proportions of the overall population.)

*Presumably, used in the same or almost the same sense as “Hispanics” in e.g. “The Bell Curve”. Note that he later switches to non-standard labels for various groups, including a plain “Latin” for Latinos/Hispanics.

Other contents include discussions of IQ, differences in IQ distributions between groups,* and disparities between common prejudice about IQ and what science says on the topic; how Blacks are admitted to college based on laxer criteria than Whites and Asians, and the negative consequences thereof; how job performance can differ between groups and must be factored in when we look at e.g. career success; the damage done to science and journalism by the restrictions that the current anti-intellectual far-Left climate imposes; and the potential harm from the many blanket accusations of racism. The latter includes a “Damned if you do; damned if you don’t” situation for retailers, who might have the choice between not servicing some neighborhoods (“Racist!”), hiking up prices to compensate for the greater rate of shop-lifting (“Racist!”), and taking a loss.

*As usual, any such references to groups refer to distributions, averages, and whatnot—not individuals.

The extensive notes include some interesting things too, apart from significant data and references, e.g. that “stereotype threat” would be more-or-less debunked by now. (Entirely unsurprising to me, seeing that this is how it tends to go with Leftist and/or social-science miracle explanations, but I had not hitherto heard of the debunking.)

A few important big-picture quotes:*

*Note that an ePub-to-text translation and later integration in my text might have led to e.g. formatting changes.

I DECIDED TO WRITE this book in the summer of 2020 because of my dismay at the disconnect between the rhetoric about “systemic racism” and the facts. The uncritical acceptance of that narrative by the nation’s elite news media amounted to an unwillingness to face reality.

By facts, I mean what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan meant: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.” By reality, I mean what the science fiction novelist Philip Dick meant: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

At the heart of identity politics is the truth that “who we are” as individuals is importantly shaped by our race and sex. I’ve been aware of that truth as I wrote this book — my perspective as a straight White male has affected the text, sometimes consciously and sometimes inadvertently. But identity politics does not limit itself to acknowledging the importance of race and sex to our personae. The core premise of identity politics is that individuals are inescapably defined by the groups into which they were born — principally (but not exclusively) by race and sex — and that this understanding must shape our politics.

I am also aware of a paradox: I want America to return to the ideal of treating people as individuals, so I have to write a book that treats Americans as groups. But there’s no way around it. Those of us who want to defend the American creed have been unwilling to say openly that races have significant group differences. Since we have been unwilling to say that, we have been defenseless against claims that racism is to blame for unequal outcomes. What else could it be? We have been afraid to answer candidly.

Over the last decade, on many campuses, the idea that a scholar’s obligation is to search for the truth has become disreputable — seen as only a cover for scholarship that is racist, sexist, or heteronormative. Scholars are criticized not for the quality of their work but for its failure to advance the cause of social justice. Work seen as hostile to that cause is met with calls for the scholar’s dismissal.

On the downside, Murray is still either too cowardly, too naive, or too conciliatory towards Leftist readers to get the full point out. For instance, he repeatedly writes as if there were a problem with extremism on the “Right”* of a similar size to that on the Left, which is utter bullshit. In as far as there are problems on the “Right”, they (a) are far smaller than the problems on the Left, (b) are often caused by the behavior of the Left (note a number of earlier texts, e.g. [2]), (c) tendentially concern groups with very little in common with the rest of the “Right” (cf. footnote*). Similarly, he repeatedly mentions existing (but non-systemic) racism, without proof of a non-trivial presence and without acknowledging that any such racism in today’s U.S. seems to tilt strongly anti-White, anti-Asian (by Blacks—not Whites), and/or pro-Black. Similarly, he takes an attitude that amounts to “it is a problem that people jump to conclusions about individuals based on crime rates”, where the far better attitude would be “it is a problem that people deny differences between groups in light of non-negative experiences with individuals”—or, for that matter, “it is a problem that those who are aware of crime rates are maligned for taking sensible precautions”.** Then there is his old and ignorant chestnut that “If Whites Adopt Identity Politics, Disaster Follows” (actual heading), for which he has yet to deliver any good arguments, where he fails to recognize that this, or rather a pro-White attitude,*** might become a necessity of self-defense if current trends continue, and where he ignores the importance of Whites to carry current U.S. society. Moreover, it repeats the Leftist fallacy that the kid who does get mad after being exposed to “Not touching! Can’t get mad!” would be at fault. Generally, he seems to be extremely naive and/or ignorant of the actual “Right” and, in parts, seems hooked on a Leftist narrative about the “Right” in a manner that he has warned others against in other areas.

*I re-iterate my observations that (a) the “Right”, unlike the Left, is too heterogeneous to be a meaningful grouping, (b) the “far Right” is not a more extreme version of the rest of the “Right”, unlike the far Left relative the Left.

**He partially re-addresses this theme in a more intelligent manner later in the book, and makes up for some of this misstep.

***The phrase “identity politics” has much farther-going connotations and involves other aspects than race, e.g. sex and sexual orientation.

Excursion on other reading tips:
As a part of my general backlog problem, I never seem to get around to the reading tips, and the problem is made the worse by a fading memory that would often necessitate a re-read before the actual writing. I will attempt a policy of making write-ups of “new” books immediately, and will address “old” books, even if more valuable, only if and when I have sufficient time and energy.

Excursion on Wikipedia:
To my surprise, I did not find any link to this book on Wikipedia.* However, I did visit the article about Murray, and found it in an inexcusable state, giving further support to my wish to avoid (English) Wikipedia. Most notably, right in the lede, it has the audacity to claim, in the context of “The Bell Curve”, that belief in genetic influence on group difference in IQ is “a view that is now considered discredited by mainstream science.”—which is extremely contrafactual. Among the sparse sources for this claim we find e.g. an article in the Guardian… This claim is the more problematic as (a) it is irrelevant to the main points of “The Bell Curve”, (b) its otherwise pointless inclusion in the lede indicates an attempt to discredit/defame Murray and/or “The Bell Curve” at an early stage,** (c) it could be interpreted by many readers to imply that IQ is not heritable (in general), which would be outrageously wrong. Wikipedia, plainly and simply, has turned into a hell-hole of far-Left reality distortion and propaganda—paralleling the issues with academia.

*Nor my current replacement, Infogalactic, which would follow naturally from its datedness problem. I have yet to make a thorough search for other potential Wikipedia replacements.

**Of which the Left has a long history, making book and author, themselves, an area where the uninformed masses have a radically wrong impression, in a manner similar to how the masses often have a radically wrong impression of “systemic racism”.


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January 31, 2023 at 10:54 pm

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Nullius in verba / Follow-up: Who are the science deniers?

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Checking a detail about the Royal Society on infogalactic, I came across the RS motto, “Nullius in verba”, explained as:*

*Some change to formatting through copy-and-paste and/or for technical reasons. Reference indicators removed.

Nullius in verba (Latin for “on the word of no one” or “Take nobody’s word for it”) is the motto of the Royal Society. John Evelyn and other Royal Society fellows chose the motto soon after the founding of the Society. The current Royal Society website explains the motto thus:

It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.

(I note especially “withstand the domination of authority”. Whether “by experiment” is the sole source of verification, even for scientists, is open to dispute, and it is certainly impractical for the layman; however, the general idea of own verification definitely holds, even be it in the weaker form of checking with independent sources for, say, a prospective voter listening to the claims of a political partisan.)

This is a scientific attitude—and the virtual opposite of what e.g. Fauci and various Leftist “Believe the science!” and “We are the party of science!” shitheads try to force upon the world, often while making claims unsupported or outright contradicted by science… I particularly re-iterate my observation that “Science says X!” is no more and no less credible than just “X!”, unless accompanied by actual proof that science indeed says X.

I ask again, Who are the science deniers?—and, again, the answer is “the Leftists”.

(Also see a few other texts on various related topics, including [1].)

Written by michaeleriksson

January 30, 2023 at 7:18 pm

With what right does X claim to be Y?

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Recently, I asked “With what right do[es] various organisations, groups of activists, and similar claim to speak for others? (And do they truly serve the interests of these others?)”.

Similarly, we might ask e.g. “With what right does X claim to be Y?” and “On what basis do others claim that X is Y?”.

Such questions are highly relevant for various political entities, e.g. relating to countries and cities. Take the City* of New York: Depending on point of view, this could be taken to legitimately mean different things, including (a) the buildings and infrastructure that make up the physical city, (b) the sum of all those who live within the city, (c) the area where these buildings, inhabitants, whatnot are located (with or without a prescribed border). What is meant, however, is often something illegitimate, namely “the government [administration, whatnot] of the City of New York” (or something similar). Certainly, politicians very often seem to fail to understand the difference between a city or a country as such and the respective associated governmental organisation(s). Indeed, in many cases, especially on the Left and/or during the COVID-countermeasure era, it seems that many politicians view the purpose of the country-as-such as keeping the government running, instead of the government to keep the country-as-such running, and/or are unable to perceive any difference between the two.** (However, the issue is not restricted to what e.g. politicians think, how politicians use a certain phrase, and similar. Often, the issue resides with the attitudes or language use of others, as will be clearer below.)

*Examples following such a pattern, here to disambiguate with the State of New York, are unusually easy to understand and, often, more “in the face”. However, the overall issue is by no means restricted to mere names. (Note that, in any given case, the official name need not adhere to such a pattern, even when the pattern is used colloquially.) The issue might be larger in Germany, where I have the impression that “Stadt” (“city” or “town”) is often prepended for the specific purpose of pointing to the government of the city, which is idiotic.

**The latter is strongly overlapping with totalitarianism.

This is the more frustrating as governments, beyond a certain and usually long exceeded size, tend to do more or far more harm than good, and as a world with parallel societies might be an improvement.

Particular signs of a faulty attitude on a city level include the nonsense of “twinning”* in the name of the city and excessive city-planning projects** that are often rejected by the citizens, do much damage to them, harm small businesses, would be better left to the commercial sector, whatnot—but years down the line give the politicians a shinier toy to be proud of. Then there is nonsense like “X has no place for racism/intolerance/whatnot”, where a small group presumes to dictate to others, including those who have lived in X for far longer, what they are allowed or not allowed to think in order to remain in X… (Off topic, this is the worse as what is called “racism” usually is not, as intolerance is usually far more common in this small group than among the allegedly intolerant, etc. Cf. any number of earlier texts.)

*This does virtually nothing for the regular citizens, but does give the politicians an excuse to travel, to play at being international “somebodies”, and to show that they are doing something. For my part, I view twinning as proof that the politicians/administrators have too much spare time and too large a budget on their hands. Twinning ties should be severed and forbidden, the money saved be returned to the citizens, and politicians/administrators either be set to do real work or have their positions removed.

**I still think back with horror at the way Düsseldorf tried to commit suicide during my years there, through one of the largest and most poorly planned turn-the-city-on-its-head projects that I have ever seen. The main cost was ultimately carried by the people, including those who had massive delays in their daily commutes for several years and those who ran mom-and-pop stores and found themselves cut off from their customers.

Similarly, consider sports and what organisations have what weight. For instance, yesterday, I wrote of Djokovic’s official return to the top, but what is the implication of “official”?* As long as I spoke of e.g. “official ATP rankings”, this was not a problem, because the ATP can naturally determine its own rankings. When we look at more general “officialness”, however, this fails; and it might even be argued that the idea of “official rankings” (as opposed to “official ATP rankings”) is nonsensical.** There is certainly nothing to stop someone else from posting his own rankings,*** and historically**** many have. It is not even clear what organisation should, in some sense, be considered the main candidate for “official”—the ATP or the ITF. (Similar claims apply to the WTA rankings, the WTA vs. the ITF, etc.)

*The modifier “official” is one of many to drift considerably in meaning over time, to the point that its use often borders on a meaningless filler. However, the most common meaning (or family of meanings) seem to relate to communication/approval/whatnot by some organisation or other, which becomes near pointless when the organisation is left out of the sentence or, worse, takes on something almost mystical when the mental connection to the organisation is forgotten and/or the organisation is implicitly seen as an authority beyond fault, doubt, and differences in opinion.

**This applies equally to e.g. cities: “per official city-government policy” might make sense, while “per official city policy” is nonsensical. (The shift in topic is only apparent.)

***Indeed, my own writings on Djokovic and his artificial handicaps amount to this in miniature, in that I point to him as the true number one—no matter what the ATP claimed at the time. (The “miniature” arises from the sudden end of my “rankings” after awarding the number-one ranking.)

****In the days before the ATP rankings and during the pre-open era in particular. Back then, there was a niche to fill. Today, the ATP rankings and the unification of pros and amateurs has reduced the need. (A case for a continued need might be made on the basis that the ATP rankings do not so much reflect “who is better than whom” as “who has participated with greater success in certain competitions than whom”, which can amount to very different things in some situations, e.g. when one player, like Djokovic in 2022, is unfairly barred from competition and the others are not.)

The ATP rankings still have some degree of “canonicity”, as there are no major other rankings and as the pattern of competition within the sport is so tightly tied to the rankings, but boxing is a different matter—and here we see that there are other ways to handle the issue than through a single, unified rankings and a single, all-important organisation:* Not only are there several competing federations that fill a similar role to the ATP in tennis (e.g. the IBF, WBA, WBC, WBO), which all bring their own rankings, but there are several “unaffiliated” rankings (e.g. by Ring Magazine, BoxRec, and TBRB), which are often taken more seriously.**

*Note that I do not necessarily call this a better way: boxing is a complete mess in terms of champions and rankings, and I would like to see it done much better before recommending the approach. The point, however, is that there are other ways to handle the issue.

**For a variety of reasons, up to and including suspicions that the federation-rankings are sometimes manipulated to achieve certain purposes. More generally, however, it is much harder to rank boxers, as they compete much more rarely than tennis players. A typical champion in boxing might fight once or twice a year; the likes of Djokovic have dozens of matches per year.

Or consider the case of athletics and world records. Looking at e.g. news reporting, it is not uncommon to see claims that this-or-that would or would not be a world record or that this-or-that would be a mere “world’s best”, because no world record is recognized. (Sometimes with, sometimes without our old friend “official”.) Taken literally, this is, again, nonsensical; taken as a short-hand for e.g. “[not] recognized as a world record by the IAAF”, it has some justification. Now, the IAAF* has considerable advantages relative others through its greater resources, great involvement with individual competitions, its status as organiser** of e.g. world championships, and similar, but it simply does not determine what is or is not a world record—only what results it considers to be world records. While there are no competing organisations of a similar type (like tennis; unlike boxing), others have other approaches. For instance, “Track & Field News”, a very notable athletics magazine and collector/supplier of statistics, has its own set of world records, lists of results, and whatnot, that, on rare occasions, deviate from the IAAF’s. (As well as its own world rankings, which often deviate.) Most notably, it did not recognize Randy Barnes 23.12m mark in the shot put, which the IAAF had as a world record for more than thirty years, preferring Ulf Timmerman’s even older 23.06m. (Both marks have since been exceeded without controversy, removing this disagreement as far as the current record goes.) For my part, I do not recognize altitude marks as world records, including Bob Beamon’s legendary 8.90m. Go back in time and there are plenty of marks near-unanimously considered world records that pre-date the very existence of the IAAF… There are also instances where a national federation can recognize a mark and the IAAF not, and similar complications.***

*I deliberate choose not to use the still far less known, too-short-to-be-recognizable, highly presumptuous, and even pretentious “WA” (for “World Athletics”), but I do note that this name appears to reflect exactly the problematic attitude that is discussed in parts of this text. Note how much more descriptive and non-presumptuous “International Association of Athletics Federations” is. (I have an upcoming text on use of names.)

**With reservations for exact terminology and roles. The idea is that it has its own set of world championships and that, to my knowledge, there are no competing world championships within athletics. (With reservations for divisions based on e.g. age groups that do not affect the “main” championships.) However, strictly speaking, and in line with the above, it is slightly sloppy to speak of just “world champion” instead of e.g. “IAAF world champion”.

***According to some recent remark in a forum, the IAAF might currently even refuse to recognize any and all marks not made in a meet on some IAAF-run schedule or calendar. However, I have not looked into this.

Looking further, consider the WEF (and maybe some similar organisations): This highly presumptuous and pretentious “World Economic Forum”, has no true status as anything. It is, for instance, not a UN sub-organisation, not derived from the G8, and not a global parallel to NAFTA and EFTA. Neither is it e.g. an organisation formed by the leading economists of the world, an economic and international parallel to the British Royal Society, an international scientific conference, … In fact, it was originally hardly anything. My suspicion is that Schwab applied the idea of “fake it until you make it”, used tricks like picking a fancy name to give the impression that the WEF was the authority, the “in crowd”, the whatnot, and then waited and hoped that sufficiently many would fall for the trick to make the claim match reality. Unfortunately, he appears to have been largely successful in this regard.

Excursion on the likes of the WHO:
Somewhat similar ideas as for the WEF and some sports organisations might apply to e.g. the WHO, especially in that the WHO appears to have decided that “we are the medical authority and you others should follow our lead—preferably, by law”, something recently pushed very strongly in the wake of the COVID-countermeasure era. (The worse, as a sole organisation taking the lead would increase the risk of global overreaction and reduce the possibility for saner approaches, as used in Sweden.) However, the WHO is a UN-run organisation and it is implicitly backed by or in interaction with most of the world’s governments. While I do not think that highly of the WHO, and while I have a quite low opinion of the UN as a whole, it is fundamentally different from the WEF’s “fake it until you make it”.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 30, 2023 at 6:00 pm

Follow-up V: Djokovic as GOAT? (III) and COVID distortions

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As I have argued repeatedly in the past (cf. [1], [2], [3], [4]), Djokovic is the true number-one player in the world, only failing to be so officially due to artificial restrictions placed upon him. Moreover, these restriction have skewed various measures of GOAT-ness, including weeks-at-number-one (his lead artificially shortened) and majors-won (temporarily trailing Nadal, when he might well have been one or a few ahead).

Looking at the official ATP rankings, Djokovic began the day with at least three artificial strikes against him: he had not been allowed to compete in the 2022 Australian Open and U.S. Open, and his victory at Wimbledon had not brought him any ranking points—a penalty of potentially 6,000 points.* With today’s final of the 2023 Australian Open, a mere one of these artificial strikes were removed, as Djokovic won—and this is still enough to allow him to return to the official number-one position on Monday (when the next official rankings are released).

*An enormous amount. Compare this with e.g. the overall numbers given in [4].

Looking at his last 12 months, he has won three out of the five largest tournaments (2023 Australian Open, 2022 Wimbledon, 2022 ATP Finals), reached the quarter-finals in one (2022 French Open),* and been artificially barred from one (2022 U.S. Open). As a comparison, this would have been a banner year even for someone like Pete Sampras and it exceeds the career best of any active player except for Djokovic, himself, and Nadal.

*Losing against eventual champion Nadal. A negative side-effect of the knock-out format is that someone unlucky enough to meet the eventual champion early might go out in a, in some sense, “too early” round, and a quarter-final is best seen as the lower limit of the accomplishment. I note that Djokovic was the defending champion and likely is the second best clay player (after Nadal) among the currently active players. (But this is the same for everyone and moves on a very different level from the other issues.)

Looking at the Australian Open, this was Djokovic’s 10th (!) victory, and it comes in a series of three straight victories (2019–2021), one missed tournament (2022), one victory (2023). Now, had Djokovic not been artificially barred in 2022, what are the chances that Nadal would still have won? That Djokovic would have won instead? This is impossible to say in detail, but giving Djokovic a better than 50% chance borders on the cautious, in light of both his success at the Australian Open and at such tournaments that he was allowed to play during the surrounding year. Nadal, then, correspondingly well below 50%, as he does not just have to fend of Djokovic but also has to consider the risk of losing against someone else as the events are reshuffled.*

*Note e.g. [5] and how strongly chance plays in for any player who is not highly dominant.

Looking at the overall majors won, Djokovic has now caught up with Nadal at 22, but should likely be a few ahead. Just turning last year’s Australian Open would make it 23 to 21; with a 22 to 21 resulting from a partial change (Nadal does not win, but neither does Djokovic). Ditto replacing a 2020 scrapped Wimbledon and a Nadal-victory in the French Open with a scrapped French Open and a Djokovic-victory in the Wimbledon. A 2022 U.S. Open victory for Djokovic would have made it 23 to 22. All taken together, 25 to 20.* (And I might well have forgotten some artificial disadvantage for Djokovic.)

*But note that the probability of all is much smaller than the probability of at least one, and that the latter is all that it takes to put Djokovic in an outright lead.

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January 29, 2023 at 2:56 pm

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Follow-up: Some observations around a weird illness

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As noted in an earlier text, I had a weird-but-short illness almost three weeks ago—from almost top-shape to very ill to semi-shape in a day or so. (And almost top-shape another day later, but after publication.)

However, I still have a major problem with sleep and tiredness, if not as major as on the day in question. Compared to my normal state, I have been much more mentally sluggish, low in energy, unable to get to working, etc., through a large part of most days; and I have on several days lost a few hours entirely to failed attempts to go to sleep or to simply vegetating, because I have been too tired to even keep my eyes open. Today and yesterday have been particularly bad.

As of now, among the main candidates, I am uncertain whether this is some issue caused directly by the illness, just a temporary continuation of the sleep disturbance from the main day of illness, or a temporary sleep disturbance coincidentally occurring close in time to the illness. (I have experienced similar situations in the past, but never for so long and only rarely to such a degree.)

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January 28, 2023 at 4:54 pm

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Follow-up II: On the idiocy of reparations to U.S. Blacks

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In early December 2022, I wrote about the idiocy of reparations to U.S. Blacks (cf. [1], [2]).

Since then, there have been repeated reports (e.g. by CNN) that the already ridiculous prior Californian recommendation of 223 thousand USD had been upped to an amount that must be considered utterly absurd, even literally insane—5 million.* (In addition to which there has been talk of separate on-going payments.) To put this in perspective, consider e.g. that (a) 5 million USD is likely to exceed the life-time income of most individuals even** in the U.S., (b) for most, it is outright and immediate retirement money and, with the right investments, it would be enough to live very comfortably from birth to death of old age, (c) there appears to have been almost 22 million millionaires in the U.S. as of February 2022, while there are currently around twice that many Blacks. Looking at (c), far from all of those Blacks would eligible, even should the scheme be made nationwide, but there would still be a very, very major shift in the demographics of millionaires and the proportion of Black quintuple millionaires would be far higher than for e.g. Whites, showing how correspondingly disproportionate the amount would be, even if we were to accept the (faulty) premise that reparations were a good idea.

*In both cases, per Black fulfilling some set of criteria that are in no proportion to the amount at hand.

**The incomes of high-earners in e.g. Germany, let alone e.g. Sweden, tend to be much smaller than in the U.S. (Moreover, international, and to some part intra-national, comparisons must consider factors like local purchasing power.)

Indeed, the amount is so utterly absurd that I see it as near* sufficient proof of a deliberate attempt to implement one of my items in [2], that the amounts are intended to “(a) driv[e] up enthusiasm among the potential recipients, (b) prevent[] reparations from actually being implemented. This will then create a near perpetual Noble Cause, which the Left could milk for decades.”.

*The level of derangement of the Left must not be underestimated and I cannot rule out that some combination of grave incompetence, derangement, and, indeed, literal insanity is the true explanation. Then again, more than one simultaneous explanation is possible.

From another perspective, there are valid causes for reparations to other groups that are never raised.* Consider e.g. the damage done by politicians through flawed COVID-countermeasures, high taxes with disproportionately small benefits, artificially lowered growth, the recent high inflation, and whatnot. A much more worthy action would be to e.g. demand reparations from Leftist voters to non-Leftist voters; from the likes of Biden, Trudeau, Merkel to their respective peoples; from the likes of Fauci, Birx, Ferguson to those who have been left suffering in the wake of their lies or incompetence;** from those who voted in favor of flawed measures in plebiscites to those who voted against;*** etc.

*Also note remarks in [1] on reparations from Blacks to the rest of the population.

**Of course, even the sum of the private fortunes of these would just be a drop in the ocean, but I speak in principle. (Other practical problems often occur, e.g. how to identify who-voted-how with certainty and without unduly violating the secrecy of the ballot.)

***Consider e.g. the Swedish plebiscite on nuclear power, which resulted in the decision to abolish—contrary to what was reasonable even with the knowledge of the time. While this has still not happened, more than forty years later, there has/have been a severe reduction in prior capacity, a failure to add new capacity, a failure to research new and better nuclear technologies, increased energy costs, increased pollution, and similar (relative a Sweden with a more sensible outcome). (Here and below, I gloss over complications like that the ballots arguably were rigged and that Swedish plebiscites are only advisory. Cf. e.g. parts of [3].)

Excursion on voting and security deposits:
An interesting idea is that some types of vote might be combined with a security deposit* proportionate to the stakes involved. This would reduce the number of voters and might skew the voting demographic, but it would also force the voters to put their money where their mouths are and would give the victims of flawed decisions some recompense. Take Sweden and nuclear power (cf. above footnote): With a deposit of (the equivalent of) a thousand modern USD, the decision might have gone the other way; if it did not, there might have been a considerable sum available to reduce the negative effects, to restart nuclear-power programs, and similar.

*To be repaid immediately to those on the losing side of the vote and at some predefined time, when consequences are expected to be clear, to those on the winning side—unless, of course, the consequences are negative, in which case the deposits are used for damage control, reparations, whatnot.

(Beware that this is a spur of the moment idea that would need considerably more thought before any actual implementation attempt. A particular issue is how to prevent politicians from denying actual consequences and from pushing absurd priorities in the face of problems, as Germany has done with nuclear power after Fukushima.)

Written by michaeleriksson

January 28, 2023 at 2:59 am

Activists vs. group members and causes

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Two overlapping backlog items in an abbreviated treatment:

  1. There is a major difference between being opposed to activists for a certain cause/group/whatnot and being opposed to the cause/group/whatnot as such. This in particular as the opposition to the activists is usually rooted in negative behaviors and attitudes by the activists, e.g. hateful rhetoric,* exaggeration or outright lies, language distortion, extreme and/or unfair methods, pushing of “us vs. them” polarization, a continual moving of goal posts, a refusal to consider different perspectives, …** In particular, there are many who are on board with a general cause, e.g. “save the environment”, but are not on board with the variation of the cause proposed by activists, e.g. ideas like “Ban all X within ten years—no matter the cost! Or we will all die!”. Similarly, there is a very major difference between disagreeing with the methods used by some activists and disagreeing with the underlying cause. Consider e.g. the recent attacks on art by environmental extremists, in order to, somehow, by some miraculous effect, achieve some positive effect entirely unrelated to art.

    *A particular annoyance, as this hateful rhetoric is very often based in the claim that others would be hateful, which usually seems to be either projection or an outright lie. Similarly, those who speak of the need for tolerance and condemn alleged intolerance in others are often, themselves, extremely intolerant. Etc.

    **My older writings contain a great many examples involving Feminists.

    In the past, I have repeatedly used the example of how some who oppose Islamism* are condemned as opposing (even “hating”) Muslims. A more relevant example in the current climate is the LGBT-etc.-etc.** movement(s), and especially the trans-mania: For a good many years, this movement and its activists have been obnoxious and destructive—and having a negative attitude towards them is just common sense. This attitude, however, need not in the slightest reflect personal opinion about e.g. gays.*** I, for instance, have no objections to gays, be it as persons or with regard to their private sexual activities and preferences—but I rarely have more than contempt left for those who (in today’s Western world) shout loudly about homophobia, try to force soccer players to wear rainbow bracelets, or whatever might apply. Similarly, how would a preference for using words in their established meanings and pronouns in a grammatically correct manner be transphobic? On the contrary, the insistence by trans-activist that words should be used in incorrect meanings and pronouns misapplied is deeply offensive, irrational, and preposterous. How is it transphobic to not be “gender affirmative” (or whatever the phrase du jour might be) when a young teen wants to take hormones and have surgery? With an eye at history, the contrasting suddenness of the movement, how impressionable teens can be, and how many transitioners are now claiming to regret the transition, it is just common sense, not transphobia, to tread very carefully and to wait for a more mature decision.****

    *Often specifically violent or extreme Islamism, calls for sharia, calls for an adaption of local norms to match those of Islam, and similar.

    **The grouping of these into one single unity is often highly misleading and/or an example of the fellow-traveler fallacy. A case can be made for grouping L, G, and, maybe, B in many contexts, but T is usually of a very different nature, and the “etc.-etc.” part is anyone’s guess—especially as the number of letters is ever changing. Even a mere LG is unlikely to make universal sense. However, for the sake of ease of formulation, and with an eye at the use of very similar methods by various activists, I will ignore this complication.

    ***However, there is a risk that loudmouth activists dominate the impressions of certain groups outside these groups, which can lead to unfair generalizations, effectively transferring a dislike of the activists to the group that the activists claim to represent. In this manner, the activists can, themselves, unnecessarily create the very problem that they protest against.

    ****I am open to the possibility that someone can be born with a brain–body mismatch in terms of sex; however, the low past frequency of documented cases points to this being a very rare occurrence. When very, very many of today’s teens, in a comparatively sudden change, claim to be trans-this or trans-that, the true explanation is more likely to be outside pressure, fashion, insecurity, a search for a solution to various problems, attention getting, or something similar—not a true mismatch. Note that any argument based on a permanency of effects, e.g. that a transition is harder post-puberty, hits equally or more strongly in the other direction, as various measures have permanent effects and many are worse than the effects of inaction. Such arguments cannot be used to overcome the very high likelihood of a false positive.

    Note, similarly, how many groups on the Left seem to transfer personal dislikes into statements about groups. For instance, an attitude of “You don’t want Hillary for POTUS? You don’t want women to have power!” was quite common in 2016, when the true explanation, of course, was that Hillary, personally and specifically, was and is utterly unsuitable for the office. Indeed, many of those who opposed Hillary would have had no objections to a reincarnated Thatcher—and I was, myself, strongly in favor of Merkel until she had proved herself to be more-or-less the opposite of what she had promised to be.*/** For instance, during Obama’s presidency and/or in the campaigns, it was not uncommon to see criticism of Obama painted as “racism”, never mind that the same criticism would have been directed at a White man pushing the same politics. (Does Biden get a free pass from Conservatives for being a White man? Hell no!)

    *By 2016 I knew better, but in 2008 I was simultaneously still (naively) in favor of Merkel and (correctly) viewing Hillary as a disastrous candidate.

    **I have to admit that my experiences with female politicians (and women in leadership positions in general), including how disturbingly many of them seem to be far-Left nutcases, incompetent (even by the standards of politicians), or otherwise unsuitable for power, have made me increasingly sceptical. However, I do not rule out a given woman because she is a woman—but because (if) she is a far-Left nutcase, etc. Vice versa, I would not “rule in” a given man because he is a man and regardless of factors like his political positions.

  2. With what right does various organisations, groups of activists, and similar claim to speak for others? (And do they truly serve the interests of these others?)

    Consider “Autism Speaks”, a self-proclaimed pro-autis[tm] organisation, the very name of which makes it a great example: Many autists* and their relatives have been extremely critical towards the attitude of “Autism Speaks”, often seeing it as outright anti-autis[tm], prejudiced against autists, and/or using autism as a money-generating cause. They certainly do not see it as speaking for them or giving them a voice. On the contrary, I have seen the accusation that “Autism Speaks” would steal the voice that they might otherwise have had.

    *The utterly irrational abomination that is “people-first language” is another reason to despise the type of activist from the first item and I will not engage in this nonsense.

    Similar issues have to be raised with a great many others: Do e.g. LGBT-etc.-etc. activists speak for the actual Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts? Many might claim to do so, but chances are that they just happen to, themselves, be Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts with a certain set of opinions and whatnots that might or, critically, might not be shared by the rest. Worse, some of them might be “allies”, opportunists, general activists, idiots looking for a cause to fill their lives, or whatnot—without even being members of the group at hand. Certainly, any individual group member is likely to have a much wider and more nuanced range of opinions and (political/societal) preferences than the activist movement. Certainly, I hope that a great many find the modern LGBT-etc.-etc. movement(s) as distasteful as I do.

    To what degree does this-or-that “liberation organisation” actually speak for those to be liberated? Do those using bombs and violence to “free” the Northern Irish, the Basques, the Palestinians, whatnot, truly have the support of the respective group—or have they just given themselves the right name and presumed to speak for everyone?

    Of course, the problem could be argued even in regular politics: even a democratically elected candidate or party does not necessarily have the support of a majority of the eligible voters, a unanimous backing is unheard of in elections of non-trivial size, and even many of those who voted in favor might have done so on e.g. a “lesser evil” basis. Nevertheless, the elected often presume to claim to speak for the same people. Worse, Leftist parties/candidates have often displayed an attitude that “if you are X, you have to vote for us”.

Excursion on personal disapproval vs. norm breaking:
A further confounding factor in the area of the first item could be the difference between personal disapproval of some X and awareness that X breaks the norms. For instance, if I watch/read some work playing in the past or otherwise in a society with different norms, I do take notice when I spot some behavior contrary to my perceptions of the norms of the time. This does not imply that I, personally, disapprove of the behavior, but it could well mean that those of the right era would have and/or that the author had some specific intent that must be interpreted in light of the older norms.* Take a woman driving a car: Today, this is entirely unremarkable, but go back far enough and few women had the skills and were sufficiently trusted (or owned their own cars), never mind what women were or were not supposed to do. If, then, a woman of yore jumps into the driver’s seat and takes off, chances are that this has implications for her character, the situation at hand, whatnot, and that we really should pay attention. On a more meta-level, violations of, for instance, the old Motion Picture Production Code are a legitimate reason to take note—even when one does not agree with the code or consider the violation noteworthy by today’s standards.

*Including the possibility that the norm breaking was a wrong (morally, pragmatically, with an eye at consideration for others, or similar) as such, regardless of how sensible the norm was. (Be it in the eyes of the author, because he had a breaking-the-norms-is-wrong attitude, or on a more objective level, because the norm at hand was sufficiently good in context that it should not have been broken. To the latter, I cannot come up with a good “major” example off the top of my head, but consider violations of grammar rules and reasonable etiquett for “minor” examples: such rules might ultimately be arbitrary, but violating them can still do harm.)

Written by michaeleriksson

January 26, 2023 at 7:39 pm

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Better or more familiar? / Thoughts on works for children and their translations

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As I have recently repeatedly noted, there is a difference between being worse and being new/unfamiliar/whatnot (cf. [1], [2]). This brings a backlog item to the surface:

Over the years, I have encountered various works in different language versions, as with e.g. some English children’s books (in Swedish as a kid; in English for a nostalgia reading as an adult) and various older Disney movies (especially specific scenes through a Swedish Christmas tradition). Some comic franchises I have read in all of Swedish, English, German, and French (but not necessarily the same works within the franchise), especially when making early steps in the non-Swedish languages.

Normally, I find that translations are inferior (often, highly inferior) to the originals, as with some absolutely ridiculous German mistranslations of the works of Terry Pratchett or utterly absurd mistranslations of film titles and dialogue (English movies are usually dubbed in Germany)—up to and including the replacement of the original English title with another English title. However, with many of these early encounters, it is the other way around.

A particularly interesting case is the title “Alice in Wonderland”, with the implication of “Alice in the Land of Wonders”, vs. the Swedish “Alice i Underlandet”, which can be interpreted either as “Alice in the Land of Wonders” or as “Alice in the Land Below”*.** As a young child, seeing that both match the contents of the story well, I was fascinated by the question of which of the two was correct, to the point that it transcended the story as such. My memory is a little vague, but I suspect that I tendentially came down on the side of “Below” as the more natural interpretation. (As I grew older, I learned of the original title and straightened this out. I do not know whether the Swedish ambiguity was deliberate or fortuitous, but it was certainly fortunate.)

*Or “[…] Land Under” to be etymologically closer at the cost of a less natural English formulation. A variation with “Land Down Under” is tempting, especially in light of weird animals, but the Australians might complain. (“Alice in the Netherlands” would just be confusing.)

**Both are a little odd idiomatically. I would probably have expected “Alice i Undrens Land” in the former case and, maybe, a formulation with “Under Jorden” in the latter, to match some other tales. (This with reservations for changing idioms and that this is a spur-of-the-moment thought that might not hold up on closer inspection.)

Above, we had an objective advantage for the Swedish name, but in other cases I suspect that my preference is rooted in “more familiar”. Is e.g. “Kalle Anka”* a better name than “Donald Duck”? There is no obvious reason, but the former still sticks with me. (And imagine my reaction when I first heard of Paul Anka…)

*“Anka” is “Duck”; “Kalle” is the usual nickname for “Karl”, a common Swedish name. Cf. “Charles” and “Charlie”. (The overall name likely predates Carl Barks involvement with the Ducks and is unlikely to be a nod. However, with an eye at funny names, I have to ask: Carl Barks at whom?)

As a side-effect, such a name change can give a different set of associations. Consider “Scrooge McDuck” (Scottish* miser of a Dickensian level; maybe clan related; well suited for tartans, kilts, and whatnots) vs. “Joakim von Anka” (nobility; possibly German*; sophisticated and well suited for fancy jackets, canes, and spats). Or consider book titles, e.g. “The Wind in the Willows” vs. “Det Susar i Säven”** (also note “Alice in Wonderland” above): Here, the Swedish translation was likely chosen to preserve the alliteration; and in terms of charm, for want of a better word, it works as well or better (at least in my pre-conditioned ears). However, there is a shift in meaning and associations, as a willow is a tree and, while often associated with water, is not married to it. The Swedish “säv” appears to be the lakeshore bulrush or common club-rush, which needs a watery environment and certainly is not a tree. Looking at the contents of the book, much of it, especially early on, is river-centric, but much of it is not—which makes a willow a much better image than säv.

*Of course, I originally took all the Disney characters to be Swedish, as the opposite simply never occurred to me. (Excepting some who might have been explicitly presented as foreign resp. until such a time as their foreignness was mentioned.)

**Combined with the Latin name mentioned in the given link, a back-translation could amount to the wonderful “A Susurration in the Schoenoplectus Lacustris”—an unbeatable name for a book.

Songs, and often acting, from the old Disney movies also often strike me as better in the Swedish version, as with e.g. the “Silly Song” in “Snow White” or “Bella Notte” in “Lady and the Tramp”. (With reservations for the exact titles.) This in particular with regard to the lyrics, which often seem better chosen in Swedish.* Here we truly have a question of “better” vs. “more familiar”: On the one hand, there definitely is a “familiarity effect”; on the other, the early Disney (full-length) movies were extremely centered on animation and might well have prioritized other aspects of the movie (e.g. story, casting, music**) too low, which opened a window of opportunity for a local version to up the original a little.*** An additional possibility is that a translator who takes liberties with meanings and implications (as with e.g. “Det Susar i Säven” above) can gain an edge in some regard at the cost of less precision and less adherence to the actual intent. Note, as a related example, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, which is a nonsense version of “In the Garden of Eden”, but which gains an edge through fitting the melody in a smoother manner and which might well have been more successful with the nonsense lyrics/title than it would have been with a “proper” version.

*I will refrain from an analysis, as I would have to explain the Swedish lyrics with considerable effort and might still not bring the perceived difference across. I add the reservation that some Disney movies might have seen multiple Swedish dubs and that I refer to the older versions known to me.

**Notwithstanding that there are some truly genius melodies and/or musical performances here-and-there that stand in stark contrast to many lesser numbers. In terms of music, animation, and integration of the two, the “Silly Song”, above all, is a masterpiece. (“Fantasia”, of course, has strong music throughout, but it is not original music.)

***Which is not to say that such opportunities are automatically taken. German dubbing (also see above), which is unfortunately not restricted to children’s movies, typically moves between “awful” and “so awful that it should be banned by law”.

Excursion on multiple local versions and impressions:
An interesting effect is that children in different countries can watch the same movies and come away with different impressions, learn different lyrics, remember different voices, etc. Ditto, m.m., books, comics, etc. To stick with the Ducks, we have a good example of an odd effect in that “Uncle Donald” and “Uncle Scrooge” are turned into “Farbror Kalle” resp. “Farbror Joakim” in Swedish, implying a relationship of “father’s brother”, while the true relationship is “mother’s brother” (“morbror”).* There might even be a distorting effect on memory: with “The Wind in the Willows” my memory was of a much more river-centric book than proved to be the case during an adult nostalgia reading. (Some children’s books are reasonably enjoyable even for adults. Unfortunately, this was not the case here.) Sadly, the same can apply to adults in countries like Germany, e.g. through lines from Hollywood movies that are considered iconic in their German translation.

*To my recollection, the need for a translation manifested before the exact relationship had been established.

Excursion on German Disney names:
The Germans have often stuck closer to the English originals for various ducks, mice, and whatnot. However, when they do deviate, the result is often quite poor. Compare the English and Swedish femme fatale Magica de [Spell/Hex] with the (namewise) boring Gundel Gaukeley—a name suitable for a pullover-wearing school teacher. Scrooge keeps a part of his English name through a “Duck”, but loses the “Mc” and the Scottish connection.* His given name is replaced with “Dagobert”, which loses the Dickens connection, but this might be forgivable, as Dickens is much less read in Germany. On the downside, there might now be an injected French (!) connection and there is no obvious relation to money. Something like “Fugger McDuck”** or “Jakob McDuck” (note Jakob Fugger) would have seemed a more natural solution. (To make matters more complicated, “Dagobert” is also the Swedish name for Dagwood of “Blondie”, and he is likely what most Swedes imagine when they encounter this quite rare name.)

*Of course, “Mc” is sufficiently well known as Scottish even in Germany that this is a loss.

**But would have been hilarious/inappropriate if brought back to an English context.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 26, 2023 at 1:03 am

Thoughts on Aubrey–Maturin

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After a very positive re-reading of the Hornblower books a few years ago, I am currently having a first go at Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series. While these books are reasonably good (very good at times), they fall well short of the Hornblower standard, and Forester appears to be not just a better writer but one of greater insight into human nature. The extreme amount of time spent on land and on non-naval matters is a particular weakness—to the point that the series’ reputation as naval books in the mold of Hornblower might be questioned.* The long stretches of intrigues with women, will-they-won’t-they, adultery, and whatnot, are particularly weak and/or pointless. Generally, there is too much that does not bring the story forward, does not result in better characterization, does not bring character development, or otherwise adds actual value.

*But here we have another instance of how expectations can influence impressions (more on this in an upcoming text); and I do not deny that part of my disappointment is the relative lack of ships doing real or metaphorical battle. However, these land-based areas are weaker in terms of value and writing than the more naval—O’Brian is not playing to his and/or the series’ strengths. Moreover, he misses a niche opportunity: there is an endless amount of other books that play on land, even high quality books; far fewer that play at sea, even fewer doing naval warfare, and fewer still doing so in a quality suitable for an adult reader.

“The Far Side of the World” was, despite some name recognition and great potential in terms of concept, particularly weak. Problems include a completely pointless and fairly imbecilic detour, during which Aubrey and Maturin, having gone overboard, went through odd adventures with Polynesians and were marooned on an island—which I got through by alternating between skimming and skipping.* Worse was that the entire book seemed to lead up to a showdown with a particular U.S. ship, where the reader would finally see some compensation for the near complete lack of naval battle—but where this confrontation petered out into the sand of an island where the adversary had already been ship wrecked. (The ensuing on-island co-existence and diplomacy had some value, but would have worked better as an addition rather than an “instead”. Moreover, the resolution of the on-island situation was also anti-climatic and featured a deus ex machina.)

*While this might be the longest skimmed/skipped stretch so far, it is by no means the only. The first might have been during some portion of the heroes involuntary stay in the U.S. in an earlier book (“The Fortune of War”?). A recurring issue is stretches of, mostly, very bad poetry that I have come to skip in a blanket manner.

My current reading, “The Reverse of the Medal”, is almost entirely land-based, deals mostly with the legal issues of Aubrey and internal intrigues between British factions, and seems contorted and almost absurd in its developments.* I am close to the end and uncertain whether I should go on with the book and the series. If I do, it will be in the hope that things turn better again.

*With reservations for exactly where the one book ended and the other began: I have been reading one a day for the last eleven days, and the books are blurring together.

The incongruent treatment of the two main characters is often disturbing. In the case of Aubrey, this might be tolerable by seeing him as someone with a highly specific set of skills and some naivety of the “civilian” world, but Maturin? A skilled duelist but unable to climb onto a ship without falling into the water—even after spending years at sea?!?* A man with an encyclopedic knowledge of parts of natural history but unable to tell larboard from starboard—again, even after spending years at sea?!? A master spy but unable to (on land!) get from point A to point B without getting lost, unless assisted by others?!? Etc. The whole thing does not make sense. In the one moment, he borders on James Bond, in the next on Mr. Bean.** “My name is Bean. Mister Bean.”

*Indeed, for a long time, maybe until the aforementioned overboard incident in “The Far Side of the World”, I contemplated the possibility that he was deliberately playing a clumsy fool in order to appear more harmless, disarm suspicion, or similar.

**Splitting the diff and suggesting Johnny English does not work, as he is half Irish, half Spanish.

The various incidents with Maturin do bring some welcome humor, but the cost in terms of character consistency and sympathy is too large. Moreover, the end result is that we have two heroes, neither of which comes across as all too bright in the balance of all factors, which makes it hard to take them seriously, to identify, to sympathize, whatnot. Hornblower, in contrast, was someone of consistent characterization and genuine greatness, who was humanized and made more relatable by some more specific and more understandable weaknesses, be it sea-sickness, self-doubt, or problems with understanding other humans—a brilliant human, not a brilliant clown.

Another weakness is the increasing appearance of retellings of earlier events, which is the mark of a poor author. If the need arises, give a short one-off introduction (the literary equivalent of a “previously on”), add an index of various persons, or similar—but do not pollute the actual main text with retellings. A few words or an individual sentence, discreetly integrated in the overall is acceptable, to give the reader a bearing, but to repeatedly spend several paragraphs on such matters is amateur hour.

As an aside, the typical “Aubrey–Maturin” label, let alone just “Aubrey” or “Jack Aubrey”, appears misleading in as far as Maturin probably is more in focus, at least after the first few books. “Maturin–Aubrey” might be closer to the mark. (But note that this is a subjective impression, not the result of a detailed page and word count.)

Excursion on Fascism, etc.:
As is often the case with historical fiction, I am struck by the often totalitarian and arbitrary societies, and how little progress there has been since “yore”. Strongly warfaring societies, as with the British Empire during the Napoleonic Wars (maybe, in general), also seem to have a strong tendency towards the stereotypically Fascist in terms of how society works, imposition of order, etc., which makes the current association of such factors with Fascism even more misleading than through just a negligence of very similar trends in e.g. some Communist countries. Chances are that Fascism or “Fascism” is not the problem, but that strong government, power-hungry politicians, putting the collective over the individual, and similar, are. Among many relevant older texts, note e.g. [1] and [2].

Written by michaeleriksson

January 24, 2023 at 5:33 pm

Employees treating humans like cattle

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Apparently, Olympic almost-ran Sha’Carri Richardson was kicked off a flight under dubious circumstances.

The usual “I was not there” applies, and she has a history of situations and statements that speak against her; however, the events as described are symptomatic of a large and actual problem: that various airplane and airport staff do not treat passengers with respect and, often, more as cattle than as humans. Worse, this problem is not limited to airplanes/-ports, and many whose job it should be to provide a service to the customer on behalf of their respective employers instead see themselves as supervisors of the customers. Maybe worse yet, I sometimes have the impression that what these nitwits want to see is not some practical effect, some practical benefit for the employer, some practical increase in air-safety, or whatever might apply, but either compliance-for-the-sake-of-compliance (cf. e.g. parts of [1]) or the opportunity to push others around (which almost proverbially is what happens when small people are given a little power).

In my own flights, more often than not, politeness from the staff consists of nothing more than a fake smile towards the passenger currently entering or exiting—service from the staff of nothing more than that annoying cart being shoved back-and-forth and (for my usually comparatively short flights) doing more harm than good to the overall experience. (But in the second case, the airline is more to blame than the staff.)

To look at two of my own experiences (with reservations for the exact details):

  1. Repeatedly flying with a particularly obnoxious airline,* I bought my first pair of ANC headphones and largely as a means of self-protection: Instead of the usual ritualistic and largely pointless security demonstration by a stewardess, this airline used a pre-recorded security demonstration, which was so intolerably annoying, spoken with such a horrifying voice, that it drove me up the wall. (On top of all the other stress through travel back-and-forth, security checks, delays, and whatnot.)

    *The now defunct Air Berlin. I take some comfort in the fact that entities with an unusually poor attitude towards their customers appear more likely to earn that “defunct”.

    Possibly, the fourth time around and the first time with the headphones, an air steward kneels (!) down behind (!) me and taps me on the shoulder, forcing me to assume an extremely uncomfortable position to see what the issue was. He instructs me to take off the headphones (which, note, I bought with the express purpose of getting rid of this annoyance). He gives no reason. (In particular, he makes no claim e.g. that the security demonstration would be mandatory, he gives no attention to the many others who are simply reading during it, and I have, myself, almost always read during these without ever hearing a protest.) He ignores the fact that, as I point out, this type of device is allowed on flights, cannot reasonably interfere with security, and that (depending on which applied) either headphones are not covered under a “turn you smartphones and whatnot off” instruction or that no such instruction had been given. What he does do is to accuse me of being rude for talking to him without having removed my headphones—during a conversation that he initiated against my will, that was pointless, that he performed by taking an idiotic physical position, and during which he showed a complete lack of interpersonal respect.

    I made very sure that this was also the last time…

  2. I was traveling back to Germany from Sweden and, for the first time in my life,* in business class. Better service or more friendliness, something that might have made me more willing to travel in business class in the future? No. An exceptionally rude, disrespectful, and incompetent behavior by a stewardess? Yes.

    *This was in the wake of my mother’s death, I had quite a few things to bring back, and I had gone with business class solely because the larger luggage allowance made it the cheapest alternative given my amount of luggage.

    Specifically, I was sitting alone in front of two (!) windows, both of which had the curtain (or whatever the appropriate word might be) pulled down due to excessive sunlight. Long, long ahead of noticeable descent, let alone landing, a stewardess told me to pull up the curtain of one (!) of the windows. She gave no reason, but I complied under the assumption that there might be some valid reason—much unlike with the behavior of her colleague in the previous item.*

    *Such reasons do exist, as I later found out through an Internet search, but they basically only apply in the case of an emergency—and certainly not so long before the landing. I am vague on the details, but it was mostly, and understandably, relating to free lines of sight in the event of a crash or emergency landing. I note, however, that I have no recollection of such a request from other flights. While it is possible that I simply never have had the curtain down on other flights, this made the request the odder in my eyes.

    The sunlight was now so blindingly strong that I had to switch seats to escape it, and even so I could not realistically read for the, maybe, fifteen minutes that preceded the actual descent.* In a truly sad twist, the sunlight was so strong that chances are that effects like shrinking pupils would have led to a net reduction in safety, had an emergency followed…

    *Probably through an unfortunate angle and reflection while we were above the clouds. To those who have not experienced something similar: no, it was not comparable to merely having the sun in the eye on a summer’s day—it was much worse.

    But the actual problem is yet to come:

    She continued down the aisle, making similar requests, came back up the aisle—and told me to pull up the curtain of the other (!) window too. In this absurd situation, I asked her “Why?”. She ignored the question and repeated her request. I complied, but repeated my question. Again, she ignored it! Note: she did not even say “regulation”, “air safety”, or even a petulant woman’s “Because I said so!!!” (let alone give a true explanation)—she ignored the question.

    Now, if there was a legitimate reason for both windows to be “uncurtained” the second time around, there was so the first too. That she did not request both windows to be uncurtained the first time around is then an extremely strong sign that something was amiss in her behavior. (And, no, I most definitely did not misunderstand her. And, yes, barring identical twins, it was most definitely the same woman.) Either she was wrong to only request one window the first time around or wrong to request the second window the second time around.

In both cases, note that simply giving a reason increases the likelihood of voluntary cooperation, and reduces the likelihood of annoyance and resentment, very considerably—and that it is a very basic communicative skill to give such a reason, even in situations where compliance can be enforced. Refusing* to do so upon an explicit request is not just incompetent—it is extremely rude.

*I originally wrote “Failure”; however, this introduces an ambiguity: If someone is unable to give an answer, e.g. because she genuinely does not know or because the plane is currently in a state of crisis where all hands must be available, this is a different story. In the first case, something like “Sorry, I don’t know why we do this.” is still owed.

Looking at airplanes, a sane system would have steward(esse)s as service staff, with the pilot and co-pilot as the sole source of authority. Any binding instructions to the passengers are to be given solely by one of these (e.g. by a loudspeaker announcement or a “fasten your seatbelts” sign). The rest of the staff should only be allowed to interfere when an unmistakable such instruction is not obeyed or when, e.g. for language reasons, such an instruction might have been missed or misunderstood. If so, the staff should make a polite approach, give explanations, and, should this fail, escalate the question to the (co-)pilot. (This excepting situations where someone is truly out of line, e.g. by disturbing other passengers or damaging the airplane.)

Excursion on Eriksson’s PC Razor:
From another angle, Richardson’s claim that her event was “discrimination” seems far-fetched. Much more likely, it was yet another case of “happens to straight White men all the time, but because I am an indoctrinated-by-the-Left X I see the world through a distorting lens of they-hate-me-because-I-am-X”. Note Eriksson’s PC Razor, as discussed in [2] and [3].

Excursion on security demonstrations:
A much better solution would be to skip these entirely and to instead require all passengers (above a certain age) to have gone through some type of one-off schooling + test and/or to read a security pamphlet upon each boarding. This, if need be, in combination with a sufficient standardization over all airplanes and airlines that a single schooling is sufficient.

Excursion on other experiences:
Also note my experiences with FinnAir a few years back, as described in [4] with a follow-up and timeline correction in [5], and a correction of terminology in [6]. A number of other texts deal with poor experiences as a customer or with a more general issue of a bad attitude (e.g. [7]). Generally, at least in Germany, there seems to be an attitude that businesses and/or their employees are allowed to treat the customers as shit, be rude to them, lie to them, fail to perform agreed services for them, whatnot, but that pointing this out, let alone growing angry, is a lethal sin and utterly beyond the pale.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 23, 2023 at 12:38 am