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Follow-up: Some thoughts on generalization

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Regarding my previous text, I belatedly recall one issue, intended for an excursion, that was lost during those weeks of delay: a differentiation based on motivation. (Especially, but not necessarily exclusively, in art.) This is addressed to some degree, but not sufficiently so.

For instance, in a footnote, I use an example of a “young woman in a still-covers-a-lot bikini” as a potential shocker in a movie released at one time, who might be replaced with e.g. a “young woman in a modern bikini” at a later time, and, even later, with a “young woman having sex on the beach”. If this is done out of a failure to generalize, it is fairly pointless; however, it is conceivable that someone wanted to show that “young woman having sex on the beach” on all three occasions and that the sentiments of the time, movie censorships, or similar, only ever allowed it on the third occasion. (Similar to how someone like George Lucas might have wanted to make a certain type of CGI or SFX movie in year X, but had to wait until year Y for technology to catch up with vision.)

We might still dispute whether a scene with sex on the beach is preferable to a scene with a bikini,* but the motivation is different and the level of naivety of the film-maker is lower.

*Non-porn attempts to show sex on screen are usually more turn-offs than turn-ons to me, be it because they are hard to do well, because they simply are done poorly, because they waste time, or for some other reason. This while nubile young women running around in bikinis tend to have a much more positive effect.

Similarly, if someone had an attitude of “I dislike movie censorship and I will push the borders of the allowed today, in the hope that more will be allowed tomorrow”, this would be partially legitimate. We might, again, dispute whether this is a good attitude and a sound priority,* but it is not a result of a failure to generalize.

*I am strongly in favor of freedom of speech (etc.), but it is often the case that more restrictive and/or “wholesome” movies are more enjoyable. (If in doubt, having fewer options might force a better and more thought-through approach. For instance, the shower scene in “Psycho”, while likely shocking by the standards of the day, actually shows very little of anything, lets the music and the viewer’s imagination do much of the work, and is still much more effective than what might be seen in a modern slasher movie.) As is often the case, the ideal situation would be that certain scenes are allowed but that they are only used when the situation truly calls for it—there is a reason why phrases like “gratuitous sex” are so commonly used about fiction.

However, where an attitude of “more skin”, “more erotica”, “sex sells”, or similar is understandable in some movie contexts, most other border-pushing seems to be more in line with my previous text, especially when the border-pushing takes place for reasons like shock value or with some naive agenda of jolting-the-bourgeois-audience-out-of-its-complacency. (The latter borders on being childish, is unlikely to work, and, to the limited degree that it possibly might work, presumes that the audience is as poor at generalization as the presumptive jolter. Cf. my previous remarks on fictional murder-as-art.)

Consider “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”: It is in some ways an excellent movie, I have seen it twice,* and I am open to seeing it a third time at some point in the future. However, it contains a number of scenes that detract from the movie by just being disgusting, while bringing no particular value relative a more restrained version of the same scene. (The often nightmarish or surreal atmosphere, for instance, is not dependent on the scenes that I found detrimental.) Now, I do not know what Greenaway tried to achieve and what his motivations were, but reducing the disgust level might have made for a better movie and if he did try to e.g. shock his audience, he might well have been naive. (Modern wanna-be shockers might take note that this movie is already more than thirty years old and that the same applies to e.g. Peter Jackson’s grotesque “Braindead”. Chances are that you will just embarrass yourselves.)

*Once in the 1990s; once, maybe, two years ago.

As an aside, there was a point where pushing the border further would have been beneficial, but where the easy way out was taken: At the end of the movie, the villain is forced, at gun point, to eat the flesh of a man that he had murdered (or ordered murdered?). He takes a dainty bite and is then shot in an act of revenge. Here, it might have made sense to prolong the eating until such a point that he could not bring himself to go on, or e.g. threw up, and only then to shot him. As is, the scene is almost anti-climatic, especially in light of the foregoing scenes. (Maybe Greenaway had some thought behind this, but, if so, I can only guess at what it might have been. I doubt that cannibalism was a taboo that much bigger, relative the other scenes, even back then.)


Written by michaeleriksson

February 3, 2023 at 4:02 am

Some thoughts on generalization

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The area of generalization, extrapolation, abstraction, analogies, etc., can be quite interesting—as can the question of how to best handle it. (For simplicity, I will mostly speak in terms of just “generalization”, and the examples might be tilted towards specifically generalization, but the word should be taken in a widened meaning of “generalization, extrapolation, […]”.)

For instance, with most* texts that I write, I find that the contents apply (in whole or in part; with or without relevant modifications; with or without abstraction; whatnot) to other areas. When should I mention this in the respective text resp. when would the mention bring value to the reader? This is a judgment call, which usually turns out as “don’t bother” with me. Factors to ideally consider include how obvious the generalization is (mentioning the too obvious can be a waste of the reader’s time and/or seem insulting), how far-going a generalization might give a benefit, how many possible generalizations there are (the more there are, the more work there is likely to be), the issue of how much text is needed to make the generalization worthwhile,** etc. Then there is the observation that spending more time thinking about a topic might bring forth a slew of new generalizations, which could lead to never-ending work.

*And chances are that the exceptions arise from my not having spotted the generalization(s) yet—not from an absence of possible generalizations.

**I might just mention that “X generalizes to Y”, but this need not be that interesting without a deeper discussion of the details and consequences. (This, especially, in areas like math. An advantage of usually writing about politics and similar topics, not math, is that the additional discussion needed can be much smaller.)

In most cases, however, I do not so much engage in a deep analysis as rely on the mood of the moment—if I at all remember that there was a generalization that could be mentioned. A recurring factor in my decisions is that I often am a little tired and/or tired-of-the-topic when I have a text done, and adding another paragraph to discuss generalizations is not very enticing at this stage. Here we also see an example of how trivial or obvious the generalizations can be. For instance, the same idea applies to virtually any tiring activity, or situation of being tired, that has an optional continuation—but that goes without saying for most readers. And where should the generalization be stopped? Replace “tiring” with “boring” and something similar applies. Ditto “painful”. Ditto even normally positive things, once we enter “too much of a good thing” territory. Abstracting and generalizing to find some single formulation might bring about the tautological “when I am disinclined too continue, I am disinclined too continue”, which truly is too trivial to bother with, might be too detached from the original situation (as being “tired” does not automatically imply “disinclined too continue”), and might still not be the end of the scale. (For instance, a similar idea might apply to a great many other contexts; for instance, a “when X, then X” is a further generalization, just of a different type.)

Similarly, that I might “rely on the mood of the moment” over a deep analysis is not unique to this situation. It can also affect e.g. what I buy in a grocery store, and the generalization starts again. But now we have two different ideas that both generalize, which allows us a generalization about generalizations…

An interesting complication, in a generalization (!) of an older text ([1]), is that adding a generalization to some ideas could conceivably raise an expectation in the reader that I add generalizations whenever I am aware of one. If there is a too obvious generalization of another idea, or a second of the first idea, that I do not mention, then I might look foolish in front of this reader. Of course, the fact that I occasionally have such concerns, while the typical reader is unlikely to even care or notice, generalizes another portion of [1]. Potential further generalizations of this generalization include that “many pay too much attention to the opinions of others”, “many overestimate how much others might care”, and “many fear non-existent threats”, with further generalizations of these possible. Then we have the conflict between my intellectually knowing that few readers will care/notice and my instinctually imagining that they will, usually followed by a quick suppression of my instinct by my brain—which, you guessed it, generalizes. (I will not mention further cases in the continuation, but they are plentiful.)

Of course, the amount and direction of generalization that is appropriate in a given context need not be the same in another context. For instance, if someone working on a specific physics problem makes a novel mathematical observation, this observation is likely to have an analogue in other problems and other areas, where the equivalent math appears, but this might simply not be of immediate interest. For someone working on such another problem, the situation might be different, but it is not a given that more than a one-off generalization to that single other problem is wanted. However, once a mathematician with the right interests gets his hand on the original observation, it might be generalized one or two steps fairly rapidly—and another one or two steps when some mathematicians with other, especially more abstract, interest gets involved. Etc.

It might even be argued that the ability to find the right level of generalization for the task at hand is more important than the ability to find generalizations. (And this level might in many contexts be “no generalization”.)

However, generalization is often something positive, for instance as a means too avoid reinventing the wheel, which can all too easily happen when workers in different fields encounter similar problems. Consider e.g. how often different physical phenomena are, at least too a decent approximation, governed by the same differential equations and how wasteful it would be to develop the same methods of solution in the case of each individual phenomenon—possibly, including the repeated development of the idea of differential equations… Mathematicians are particularly keen on such generalization, e.g. by showing that a certain set and associated operators match a known “algebraic structure”, after which they know that all results of that algebraic structure applies equally to the new case.

In other cases, a failure to abstract can be outright wasteful or harmful in other ways. Consider various arts, including painting and the theatre, where there has been a long history of new artists trying to outdo the previous generation in e.g. the breaking of norms, the “shock value”/provocation, and where to draw the border between art and non-art.* But why? If someone manages to find/create something truly thought-worthy, truly original, truly unforeseen, truly value-bringing as an extrapolation, whatnot—by all means. This has rarely been the case, however: most of what has been considered provocative has been well within what even the layman has been able to imagine on his own, has been an natural extrapolation of previous provocation,** has long been exceeded in less “artsy” contexts,*** or similar. I have, e.g., encountered fictional depictions of artists that have gone as far as to consider murder an art, incorporate murder in performance art, murder for artistic provocation, use body parts of a murder victim as art, and similar.**** What could a real-life artist do that would move me beyond the borders of what I have already seen in fiction or could myself conceive? Splash a bucket of pig’s blood on an empty canvas and call it art? Please! Why not just draw the natural conclusion that this type of provocation, escalation of provocation, whatnot is pointless and will often do more harm than good to the art at hand.*****

*As opposed to e.g. just experimenting further in some direction for more artistic purposes, say, to find out what the effect on a canvas is when a certain school of painting is pushed further and whether the result is worthwhile.

**In principle, if not in detail. For instance, if we start in a very straight-laced era of movie-making and have a “shocker” of showing a young woman in a still-covers-a-lot bikini, the next escalation of shock might consist of a showing a young woman in a modern bikini, showing a topless young woman from behind, or similar. To predict the exact escalation is hard; to predict the general nature of the escalation (and the risk of an escalation) is a different matter. Even an escalation to, say, a completely naked young woman having sex on the beach would be more a matter of quantity than quality, of taking several steps of escalation at once. Going in another direction, imagining a young man or an old woman in a bikini does not take a revelation either—but why would anyone wish to see them?

***Contrast e.g. a sexually explicit art movie with a porn movie.

****Note e.g. portions of “Dexter”, but the idea is somewhat common.

*****Unless the artist follows some disputable non-artistic agenda, e.g. to change societal norms, to ruin this or that art form for the “wrong” persons, or, even, to ruin art. While I do not think that such an attitude is common, it is certainly possible, compatible with the behavior of many political activists in other areas, and compatible with some other excesses. Consider e.g. how some seem to take the laudable attitude of “function should take priority over aesthetics” and amend it with a despicable, unreasonable, and irrational “ergo, we should deliberately strive to make buildings ugly”.

More generally, it is often the case that certain ultimate extrapolations and generalizations follow immediately to the reasonably intelligent, but that mid- or nitwits, who are themselves poor at generalization, try to take each individual step at a time. A good (fictional) example is found in Lewis Carroll’s “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles”, where just one or two iterations should have been enough to prove the point, but Achilles was too dense to understand this—and, maybe, the turtle too dense to understand that he had just caught himself in a trap, where his best bet would be to wait for Achilles to fall asleep and then make a crawl for it. An interesting parallel to this is the idea of plus-one, infinity, and infinity-plus-one:

Consider two kids arguing over the size of something, say, who has the greatest desire for a last piece of cake. A stereotypical dialogue might then include something along the lines of “I want it more than you!”, “Hah! I want it twice as much you!”, “Hah! I want it thrice as much you!”, etc., until someone drops the bomb of “I want it infinity times as much as you!”. Exactly how to consider the introduction of infinity is a tricky question, but something like “extrapolation of what events are likely, followed by an attempt to defeat the extrapolation” might be close to the mark, which could be seen as a case of successful generalization (in the extremely wide sense used in this text). Moreover, infinity as such could* be seen as an extremely interesting extrapolation of large numbers. However, we also see a failed generalization, as both kids, unless first-time participants, should have realized that infinity was coming and that whoever first dropped the bomb would “win”.

*The conditionality hinges on whether it is an extrapolation, not on whether it is interesting.

In a next step, we could have the other kid either conceding or trying some variation of “infinity plus one”—and their argument might then have turned to whether this “infinity plus one” was or was not larger than infinity. Here we land at a very interesting question, as mathematicians consider infinity-plus-one in the sense of addition equal to infinity, meaning that attempting to trump infinity with infinity-plus-one is as pointless as trying to trump three with three (resp., above, thrice with thrice). In this sense, the argument could finally degenerate into whether an “infinity vs. infinity” standoff should be considered a draw or a victory for the first invoker of infinity. But, while mathematicians consider infinity + 1, infinity + 2, and even infinity x 25 equal to infinity, they also have a generalized version of the “successor operator” implied by plus-one.* Here we have a generalization arguably bringing something more interesting than even infinity—the idea of a number larger than infinity.** In the unlikely event that infinity-plus-one was intended as this successor operator, not as a mere addition of one, the other kid would have kept the game alive.

*As in 1 + 1 = succ(1), 2 + 1 = succ(2) = succ(succ(1)), etc., for a suitable operator succ, which for integers is simply that same thing as adding one—but where succ(infinity) is something different. By such generalization of the successor operator, we then have a hierarchy of non-equivalent infinities. The “vanilla” infinity presumably intended by the triumphant kid would then carry the more specific name aleph0. (Assuming the most common approach of using “cardinal numbers” and with some oversimplification, as we potentially begin to compare apples and oranges.)

**But this idea might have originated from another line of reasoning, e.g. Cantor’s famous “diagonal proof” that there are more real than rational numbers, and its generalizations.

However, from here on, it is trivial to infer the possibility* of applying a successor operator to infinity infinitely often to form a super-infinity, a version of the successor operator that finds an even larger successor to the super-infinity, a super-duper-infinity and a successor to the super-duper-infinity, etc. Even trying to break out of this by e.g. constructing a super-duper-whatnot-infinity where the “whatnot” incorporates an infinity of terms stands the risk* of failing due to an even more generalized successor operator.

*As case has it, all these successors, super-duper-infinities, and successor operators exist, but their existence is not a given from the above. Without further investigations, we cannot infer more than the possibility. (This with some reservations for what qualifies as “existing” and what has what semantics.)

Apart from some minor editing, the above was written some weeks ago. At the point where the text ends, I was distracted by a text from my backlog, with more mathematical content, which fit well in context and would have clarified a few points above. Having written most of it, I found some issues that I wanted to mull over before finalization and failed to get around to it, which has led to these “some weeks” of delay. To avoid further delays of the current text, I have decided to put the other text back in the backlog. (Especially, as I could benefit from improving my markup language with regard to math before proceeding.) It is possible that some additional thoughts or sub-topics that I intended to include in the current text have been forgotten during this delay. Certainly, trying to go easy on the mathematically unknowledgeable, I run the risk of being sufficiently approximative with the truth as to annoy the mathematically knowledgeable, while not giving enough details for the unknowledgeable to be truly helped.

To, however, give two core ideas of the other text: (a) When we generalize a certain type of number, a certain algebraic structure, whatnot, there is rarely or never one single generalization, and statements made under the assumption of a single generalization can be faulty or simplistic. (E.g the claim that the square-root of -1 is i and/or -i, which truly amounts to something like “the field of complex numbers has the field of reals as a subfield and the number i from the field of complex numbers has the property that i^2 = -1 and (-i)^2 = -1”, which does not automatically preclude that some other field or other algebraic structure than the complex numbers has similar properties and provides another set of “roots”.) (b) The discussion of whether e.g. complex numbers and various infinities exist is in so far pointless as we can just abstractly define some set of elements and operations on these elements, use them when and where they happen to be useful, and forget questions like whether e.g. i is something real (non-mathematical sense) and/or something that “belongs” with the real (mathematical sense) numbers. For instance, the field of complex numbers can be quite useful in dealing with, say, calculations on electricity and magnetism, regardless of what nature we consider i to have—and there are fields equivalent to the complex numbers that do not even mention i.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 2, 2023 at 9:14 pm

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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”.

Written by michaeleriksson

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.)

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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