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A Swede in Germany

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Do utilitarian arguments have a place in society?

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My previous text included a quote with the sentence “Yet this is a calculating, utilitarian argument that has no place in a society that values both individual rights and human dignity.”. By and large, I am in agreement, as both calculating* and utilitarian arguments tend to lead to a bad place, especially through neglecting the rights of others and/or the rights of the individual. (Moreover, there is some ambiguity as to whether the author rejected this specific “calculating, utilitarian argument” or such arguments in general.)

*With some reservations for what is considered “calculating”. Also cf. below.

However, neither is automatically a bad thing. Consider a utilitarian example and ethical dilemma:

Have a train rush down a track, with no possibility to stop the train in time, no lever to pull to redirect the train (much unlike the dilemma of which this example is a modified version), and no other loopholes or clever solutions available. On the track, we have three persons tied down, two with the same rope, one with a separate rope. You have time enough to cut exactly one of the ropes and to help the newly freed of the tracks, while the other(s) will be run over.

There are now three choices:

  1. Free none of the three.
  2. Free the one.
  3. Free the two.

All other factors equal, the typical utilitarian conclusion, that the two should be freed, is perfectly compatible with even a strongly individualistic and anti-collectivistic take on ethics. Indeed, saving the two is likely what almost everyone would choose.

(When factors are not equal, other decisions can be more likely, e.g. when two archenemies resp. a single love interest of the chooser are at stake, or when the one is a child of ten and the two are both in their eighties.)

A “calculating example” is trickier, especially as there is likely to be more debate around what is or is not calculating behavior, a calculating argument, whatnot. However, consider a slight modification of the above, where there are just two persons on the track, each tied down with a separate rope, and otherwise the same setup. You have reason to believe that the one will give you a hefty reward for freeing him, while the other will give you a warm thanks and not one dime. It might well be that they are both, in some sense, equally deserving of rescue,* but who could fault you for choosing the one with the reward? The death toll would be the same in both cases, with the main difference that you would or would not have some extra money.

*Note that the absence of a reward does not automatically imply e.g. ingratitude, which could conceivably have justified a “less deserving”. Say, to keep all-other-factors as equal as possible, that the two are identical twins, only differing in details, one of these details being that the one remembers where they had jointly buried some money and that the other does not.

However, note that these examples are carefully chosen and that small changes to the conditions can lead to different conclusions about e.g. whether something “has [no/a] place in a society that values both individual rights and human dignity”. For instance, the original dilemma, involving switching or not switching a train down a new track, actively killing one who was set to live in order to save two who were set to die,* is much more likely to lead to differences in opinion.

*Or whatever numbers happen to be used. As an additional complication, many might choose differently depending on whether we have two-against-one or, say, twenty-against-one.

To return to a medical setting (as in my original text), note the similar difference between a physician performing triage after a collision between two trains and a physician deliberately murdering a patient in order to have organs to transplant into several other patients.


Written by michaeleriksson

February 27, 2023 at 4:22 pm

Life-and-death choices III

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In a text on life-and-death choices ([1]), I noted:

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


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

Today, I encountered claims that Doctor endorses idea of suicide through organ donation ([2]). Some quotes:*

*Here and below with reservations for formatting, etc.

A recent bioethics paper raises some age-old arguments around an issue that strikes at the heart of ethical organ donation: organ donation euthanasia or ODE.

The Dead Donor Rule (DDR) is cornerstone to the public trust and ethics of organ donation. But for some, including Dr. Didde B Anderson, limiting the donation pool only to those actively dying or dead violates a principle of personal autonomy and is “paternalistic.”

As summarized in Psychology Today (PT), Anderson argues that healthy people who wish to donate an essential organ — a heart, for example — to save the lives of others should be allowed to do so, at the cost of their own lives.

Here something very similar to my original points apply, in that this might superficially seem like an increase in self-determination, but that the net-results could be very negative. This especially once the interest of others, utilitarian principles, and similar enter the equation. Apart from what is discussed in the remainder of [2], I note how easily this could move us towards exactly one of those Boxer or “Soylent Green” situations, especially when combined with coercion, economic incentives, reductions in medical services, etc.

One of Anderson’s main arguments is that allowing someone to choose to commit suicide for organ donation would lead to better organ viability. Yet this is a calculating, utilitarian argument that has no place in a society that values both individual rights and human dignity. […]

[Dr. Jonah Rubin of Harvard Medical School] says that creating a system that ignores the DDR — where an otherwise physically healthy person could request euthanasia for the purposes of organ donation — would inevitably create perverse incentives and unintended social consequences. If killing oneself for organ donation becomes a praiseworthy act, the mere mention of organ donation on a suicide-minded patient increases psychological pressure and starts to erode their autonomy.

Yet another issue in the same family, which could soon turn into guilting e.g. those in pain,* the elderly,* the poor, or the already suicidal into death, maybe in combination with claims that “You will no longer be a burden on your family!”, “You will no longer be a burden on society!”, “You have a civic duty to [whatnot]!”. (Note the difference that organ donations make to the situation: hospitals and the like now have incentives to push such a line in order to get organs for other patients and/or make more money.)

*In these cases, with reservations for organ viability, which can vary greatly depending on the cause of pain, how elderly, etc.

In a follow-up ([3]), I wrote:

[…] we have issues like where to draw the border between assistance and murder/manslaughter/whatnot, what level of encouragement (to go ahead) is tolerable in what setting,* when there should be an obligation to provide alternatives, when an offer to assist and/or a request for assistance should require a “cooling off” period, etc. […]

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

Coincidentally, this matches up well with another recent article from the same source as [2]: Plan would let kids seek euthanasia … without telling parents! ([4]). This article discusses a potential horror, in light of the above, how easily manipulated today’s youths appear to be,* the gender-dysphoria epidemic, etc. Note, in particular, that youths who commit suicide and donate their organs would be a gold mine for an unscrupulous hospital.

*Whether the youths of yore or the adults of today were/are better, I leave unstated.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia have become rapidly accepted in Canada under the government’s Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD) program, but there are still efforts to expand it even further. A new government report on MAiD was recently presented to Parliament, urging the inclusion of minors in the eligibility for physician-assisted death — without parental consent.

The committee then made the recommendation that Canada should begin, within five years, funding research and consulting “with minors on the topic of MAID, including minors with terminal illnesses, minors with disabilities, minors in the child welfare system and Indigenous minors.”

Here an interesting potential drift is present: while the current first effort seems to be focused on the terminally ill (cf. other parts of [4]), this continuation points to the mid- or long-term inclusion of those with disabilities, on welfare (burden to society!), and, for some reason, the “Indigenous”*.

*How they plan to get away with that one is unclear… I suspect that it is a case of a horrifyingly unfortunate formulation, e.g. with the intent to give the “Indigenous” preferential treatment in consultation, as a quasi-DIE measure and as opposed to a go-die measure. (Note a recent similar blunder where pushers of that absurd and linguistically nonsensical “people first” language made a claim along the lines that “the poor”, “the disabled”, and … “the French” would be insulting labels.)

Additionally, the report recommended that minors be able to be euthanized, even if their parent doesn’t approve […]:

That the Government of Canada establish a requirement that, where appropriate, the parents or guardians of a mature minor be consulted in the course of the assessment process for MAID, but that the will of a minor who is found to have the requisite decision-making capacity ultimately takes priority.

So, minors are supposed to be allowed to kill themselves, in addition to undergoing sex-change procedures, without parental consent—but they do not have the right to enter a binding contract on their own, to have sex, to get married, to drink, whatnot.* Indeed, such acts are often illegal even with parental consent…

*With reservations for what applies in any given jurisdiction for the age at hand. The laws can vary considerably.

Now, I am open to discuss what should and should not be allowed at what age, with or without parental consent, but any sane system must have a consistency of principle. Such a consistency would not be present here. (And tends to be absent, more generally, when politicians are present.)

Written by michaeleriksson

February 27, 2023 at 3:05 pm

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Life-and-death choices II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by michaeleriksson

December 29, 2022 at 11:05 pm

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Life-and-death choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by michaeleriksson

December 27, 2022 at 7:10 am

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Ethics, choice, and vaccines

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Apparently, a German nurse has been convicted of injecting, without their knowledge, patients* with saline instead of a COVID-vaccine (cf. e.g. [1]).

*I follow [1] in the use of this word, but note that it might give the wrong overall impression. Something like “vaccinee” might be closer to the mark.

This is another case of overruled choice, if one in an unusual direction, as the COVID-vaccine pushers have been among the greatest sinners—this up to and including cases of someone unknowingly being given a COVID-vaccine, e.g. by a nurse substituting it for a requested flu shoot.*

*These cases might fall in the category of “honest mistakes”, unlike the activities of this nurse, but there are a great many indisputably deliberate examples of implemented or merely attempted overruled/denied/sabotaged/whatnot choice, e.g. vaccine mandates for U.S. military personal and the attempted nationwide mandate in Germany. Also note several recent reports of denied access to medical treatment for those not vaccinated—even when already having the superior protection of prior infection and even in light of what we know today that was not known in the early days of the vaccines.

However, there are quite a few other ethical issues to ponder:

  1. If this saline replacement had been performed with the consent* of the patients, she would have been in the clear ethically,** but she might still have been punished.

    *Leaving aside practical details around the plausibility of such a scheme. Just giving the option to every non-voluntary patient might have led to her being caught on the first day; a scheme of outsiders giving tips, to those who wanted to avoid the vaccine, that a certain nurse would be able to help, leaves the question of how to actually get the right nurse; etc. (For voluntary patients, the scheme would have been pointless.)

    **Indeed, she would have helped them avoid an unethical removal of choice.

    However, from another point of view, there might be situations where some type of mandatory and/or forced intervention is warranted and ethically justifiable, and who is to draw the line between the one and the other? COVID is clearly not it, but what if something appeared that did similar damage to the population as the Black Death?

  2. Looking at the reverse situation, might there be cases where failure to subvert some action (here the act of vaccinating someone; but the issue is not restricted to medicine, let alone COVID) is unethical? With COVID, e.g., we now know that much of the Official Truth was not just contrary to later scientific knowledge but even the scientific knowledge of the time—would it be ethical for someone who knows better to not act in the best* interest of the patient? Similarly, would it be ethical for someone who knows better to not speak out, for fear of repercussions?

    *Note that I do not claim that this would automatically imply e.g. “do not vaccinate”. Whether a COVID-vaccination makes sense will depend on the individual at hand, and a blanket approach of “do not vaccinate” is just as flawed as the reverse “do vaccinate”. For instance, covertly using saline instead of a COVID-vaccine might have been good for an even remotely average boy of fifteen, while being highly irresponsible were his great-grandmother concerned.

    Then, again, when does someone know with sufficient certainty to act? There are many in the medical community who have been, maybe still are, true believers in COVID-propaganda, many who believe religiously in homeopathic quackery, many who believe in other quackery—and the mere fact that someone is convinced that X does not necessarily imply X.* Similarly, experts can be found in virtually any field who have very unorthodox ideas (mostly, incorrect ones, but sometimes they are right and the orthodoxy wrong).

    *Note that I discuss persons of alleged expertise here. That laymen have entirely incorrect ideas is very, very common, as can be seen e.g. by the spread within the population of Leftist beliefs that do not stand up to five minutes of critical thinking or a basic (genuine!) fact check. (For instance, much of the worldview of Feminists and CRT-ists.)

    (The true solution in medicine, and likely many other fields/situations, is a true and informed consent, in that e.g. a patient is given all the facts and then makes a decision for himself—as opposed to the government, his employer, or a nurse making the decision and as opposed to the patient making the decision based on deliberately distorted or too incomplete data.)

  3. What about all those who have deliberately or out of ignorance done far more harm, and typically harm that was foreseeable, yet have not even been put on trial? Why should this nurse be in trouble, when the likes of Fauci, Ferguson, Birx, or e.g. Biden, Merkel, Ardern walk free?

Excursion on agenda pushing:
How hard the real misinformation on COVID and COVID-vaccines is still pushed is clear from claims in [1] like:

[her actions] leaving [the patients] with no protection against the deadly virus.

Fundamentally untrue, as the virus has proven to not be particularly deadly, as they would still have the protection from their immune systems and deliberate own countermeasures*, and as the formulation implies that they would have had protection, had they been vaccinated, while data shows that this protection is at best spotty and requiring repeated boosters. Certainly, those who already have had COVID (but are unvaccinated) have less to fear than those who are vaccinated (but have not had COVID—maybe even those who had COVID after the vaccination).

*While, in all fairness, those suggested so far appear to be mostly pointless.

Following the incident, state authorities urged the fraud victims to register for revaccination and emphasised that it is completely safe.

If so, state authorities are either horrifyingly ignorant or ruthless liars and far more culpable than the nurse, as there is a small but very clear known* danger associated with the vaccines. (Whether the non-vaccinations constitute fraud or something else might also be debatable, but is not necessarily a sign of agenda pushing.)

*As well as speculation and claims of greater dangers, which might, in due time, prove to be true or just over-interpretation.

Further doubt on the quality of reporting is cast by the titular claim that the nurse “walks free”, which is a half truth—a sentence on probation is not the same thing as freedom and the ultimate consequences will still depend on her future behavior. The repeated use of “anti-vaxxer” might or might not be acceptable depending on her overall opinions, which I have not investigated—but I do note that equating scepticism towards specifically the COVID-vaccines with being an “anti-vaxxer” is intellectually dishonest and highly misleading, as the COVID-vaccines have been shown to be both more problematic and less effective than other vaccines. Prior to that, the COVID-vaccines suffered from a great lack of knowledge, too little testing, and whatnot relative other vaccines. In other words, advocating caution and scepticism was the right, sound, and scientific position back then, while advocating an outright rejection (for those not in a risk group!) is the right, sound, and scientific position today.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 13, 2022 at 6:08 pm

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Attacks on air travel and ATMs / Follow-up: Attacks on freedom

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As a further follow-up to Attacks on freedom:

A day after writing that text, I stumbled upon two interesting examples, in the form of attacks on air travel and cash, respectively.

To the former: Apparently, France is banning domestic short-haul flights, whenever “there is a regular and frequent train option that takes less than two and a half hours”. Air travel is generally a common target of such attacks, having been given an unfair and misleading reputation, and having become a favorite something-to-exterminate of environmentalists.

This particular attack comes with a number of complications, including that we might see an existing domestic flight that is allowed at time A suddenly being a violation at time B, because train services have improved (and without the airline necessarily knowing this), that competition is reduced, giving train companies a leg up, and that it can give train companies unsound incentives, e.g. to add another train between two stations for the purpose of eliminating a competing flight or to cut out an intermediate stop to save time for the same purpose. (In a second step, as trains are easier to coordinate than airplanes, maybe that train is removed again/that stop reinstated, once the flight is gone…)

Moreover, it seems pointless: As I have noted in the past, the sheer amount of waiting and delays around air travel is horrific, and the comfort is much higher and the stress much lesser on a train. In most cases, going by air when there is a train connection fulfilling the mentioned criteria is, then, either a bad idea (where additional information could move travelers to make a better decision) or something done for a specific reason, where the removal of the flight would be harmful. An example of the latter: someone travels by air internationally between two major airports, wants to reach a smaller town, which also has an airport, and now has the choice between (a) simply changing flights at the larger airport and (b) going from that airport to the next train station and then travel by train, possibly losing hours and very likely increasing the stress of travel.* Another example: someone travels on business and has this business much nearer to a certain airport than to the city center. (Should he now (a) travel by e.g. car to his local airport and by plane to the destination airport, or (b) by car to the local train station, by train to the destination city, and then from there to the destination airport by some other means?)

*Note complications like dragging luggage around, the greater amount of walking likely necessary, the greater likelihood that something goes wrong, and that much of the otherwise relevant stress of air travel does not apply to those already on the right side of the security checks.

To the latter: Nigeria limits ATM withdrawals to $45 per day* to force government-controlled digital payments. So, get rid of cash in order to force the citizen onto digital currencies—a particularly perfidious variation of two of the issues mentioned in my original text. Also note complications like the inability** to withdraw a large amount before travel, to give a larger amount of cash to someone else, to have a buffer when a crisis threatens, and to avoid government scrutiny even when having a legitimate*** reason to do so.

*From the text, I am not clear on whether there is an actual day-based limit, as implied by e.g. the headline, or whether there is a weekly limit, which gives this daily amount when divided by 7.

**In exchange for considerable fees, the amount might be overdrawn, but that is a shitty option, to say the least. Moreover, beyond a certain limit, even the personal approval of the bank CEO might be needed.

***And even fanatic Leftist proponents of government power and “the government is always right” will have a hard time extending that position to Nigeria. The more sensible might understand that such legitimate reasons can exist even in, say, Germany or the U.S.

Note that similar issues exist with many other countries. The current case differs through the nominally low amount, but might be nothing special once we factor in purchasing power.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 9, 2022 at 2:56 pm

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Attacks on freedom

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Writing my various texts on choice, I contemplated how the modern world and modern politics seem hellbent on removing not just choice but even freedom. (Notwithstanding that the two often go hand in hand and that the border can be hard to draw.)

My first thoughts were around time, energy (electricity, especially), and money/ownership, that these would be central to having freedom in today’s world:* We need to be able to dispose of our own time; we need energy to accomplish much of what we do, including keeping warm, using computers, and driving cars; and without money (cash, especially) and ownership, we might become very limited, unable to build something for the future, or become dependent on others and/or the government for survival.

*The historical situation might vary, e.g. in that energy, beyond having access to fire, might not have mattered in the paleolithic. However, the importance of these three factors is by no means limited to the “now”.

At the same time, at least the two latter are under a massive attack today: Energy is growing outrageously expensive, and for largely artificial reasons, might be rationed in the near future, and some types of energy and energy uses are anathema—often, again, for artificial reasons. Money has been devalued in many steps, giving us nothing but fiat money and exposing us to increased dangers of inflation—and the rate of inflation is (directly or indirectly) determined by the government. Even now, money can be reduced in value simply by expanding the money supply, e.g. in that the government prints more money to pay its own bills, which makes our money worth less (or, at an extreme, worthless). Money is owned only with the government’s tolerance, and can be confiscated with next to no cause. Governments worldwide seem set on abolishing cash, which would increase government control of money further, while correspondingly limiting us and our uses, and would make it that much harder to do something private.* Then there are issues like misuse of investors’ money for purposes that they need not agree with (and which might reduce their return on investment), including ESG investments and the push of Leftist agendas. Other property? “You will own nothing. You will still be happy—or else!” Etc.

*Not restricted to criminal acts, which is often the pseudo-motivation given by governments. If every payment is either by credit card or some traceable electronic currency, then the government has (or will in due time have) the ability to see anything we spend money on. Give money to the “wrong” organization, buy something unhealthy or “bad for the environment”, whatnot—and the government knows. Moreover, looking at the past few years, chances are that the government will often presume to intervene, be it “for your own protection” or because we are a “threat” for not being compliant drones.

As to time, the matter is more complicated (and partially overlapping with money), but note that even adults have great restrictions on their time in various forms, e.g. in that most of the work done by employees results in more money for the government—not more money for the employees.* While the exact proportions will vary from country to country, time to time, and person to person, thinking of a typical 40-hour working week as 20 hours of unpaid work for the government followed by 20 hours of paid work for oneself gives a good idea of the principle. Then there are issues like tax filings and other for-the-benefit-of-the-government actions, which can take many hours per year or, if hired out, cost a significant amount of money and still require a non-trivial own involvement. Many countries have or used to have mandatory military service, even in peace time, forcing many young men to waste a year of their lives.** Looking at children, mandatory school (note: “school”, not “education”) is all too common, often amounting to 12 years of work taken by the government with a poor return for the children (as school is a poor way to gain an education and, increasingly, time is wasted on indoctrinating the children into becoming what the government wants, instead of educating them to be all that they can be).

*In contrast, while the need to work for money, which most of us underlie, does restrict freedom, it does so in a less negative and less unfair manner.

**As an aside: if this was at all addressed by Feminists, then in the form of “the evil Patriarchy robs us poor women of the right to join the military—men have it so much better”.

However, I soon found more and more examples. For instance, mobility and, specifically, cars have long been hailed as a revolution in freedom relative yore. To some part, this is a different type of freedom, but there is a considerable point to it—including the possibility to leave an oppressive country. However, today, cars seem targeted for extinction or are moving out of what most can afford, due to the switch to expensive EVs. Gasoline prices are, of course, through the roof. Public transport is often awful. Etc. During the height of the COVID-countermeasure era, getting anywhere was hard or impossible, and there is reason to fear that more of that will come, unless a sufficient reckoning against the likes of Fauci, Birx, Biden, Merkel, …, follows—and the odds are against such a reckoning.

Then we have issues like anonymity, home ownership, determination over one’s own children (which increasingly is transferred to schools and/or the government), self-determination (be it bodily, professional, matrimonial, informational, whatnot), control over one’s own devices (note the many issues of bad software, malware, Bundestrojaner, government espionage, …), freedom of speech and thought (including the right to make up one’s own mind and the right to be wrong), freedom to stick to the correct pronouns and to use words according to their the true meanings, etc. Even the right to work in a chosen field and in a self-chosen manner is under attack, as with the Netherlands and its farmers, with a repetition seemingly about to unfold in Germany. And do not get me started on all the shit that governments have pulled during the COVID-countermeasure era.

Everywhere I turn, it seems that whatever contributes to freedom is under attack.

Excursion on the limits of individual freedom:
It used to be that “your freedom ends where my nose begins”.* This has increasingly been replaced with thinking like “my freedom has no limits, because I belong to a privileged group**; your freedom exist at my mercy, because you are not one of us”, and a similar prioritization of government- or Left-approved causes over causes without such approval. The government, of course, has a clear attitude of “we can do whatever we want; no-one else has any rights at all”.

*In detail, I find this formulation misleading and I would certainly see the border well before my nose; however, the general idea is sound. Also note the classical Liberal “bubble of rights”.

**Notably, U.S. Blacks and LGBT-etc.-etc. Generally, the more “intersectional” someone is, the better.

From another angle, even other restrictions might sometimes be warranted, but they should be imposed with great caution and an eye at the costs, not just the benefits. Moreover, they must be based in fact and reason—not a quasi-religious belief in the absolute good or evil of something. New rules, of course, must be imposed in such a manner that the people has a fair chance to adapt. The issue with many (maybe, almost all) governmental impositions is that they fail to do this. Many of the COVID countermeasures are good examples. For instance, there was great reason to be sceptical to lockdowns from day one, but governments tore ahead, with no rhyme or reason—and now we know that lockdowns had at best a minimal postive health effect (quite possibly, an outright negative one) while wrecking livelihoods and the economy.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 8, 2022 at 10:51 am

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Overruled choice and WordPress (“p”, not “P”!)

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Today, I spent a few hours writing a long and complicated text ([1]). Before final polishing, I wanted to refresh myself with some music—and immediately ran into a case of overruled choice, also see [2]. I wrote a text on that, took a short break, did my polishing, published, took a coffee break—and then ran into yet another case of “overruled choice”:

It appears that WordPress (which, note again, I write with “p”—any “P” is the illicit manipulation of this user-hostile service), has manipulated at least some signs in the extend hyphen family. Specifically, it appears to (inconsistently) turn “-” into the HTML character reference for the n-dash, respectively the Unicode character 8211. This, however, is not what I asked for. If I want to add an n-dash, I* am perfectly capable of doing so—indeed, I have a sign for that in my private markup, used to generate the original and correct HTML (that WordPress (“p”!!!!!) later butchers). I entered a regular “-” (likely Unicode 002D; definitely the corresponding ASCII decimal 45) and I expect a regular “-” to appear. The replacement with an n-dash is particularly ill-advised as different dashes have different lengths and semantic implications, and this replacement made no sense in context. (In contrast, cf. below, a replacement with a minus sign, Unicode 2212, might have made sense, even if it remained an illicit manipulation.)

*And the default assumption should be the same for every other user. I use post-by-email, which implies the sending of a pre-formatted HTML document. Users making such documents from markup languages (like I) or by hand can be assumed to know what they are doing. Those who use an HTML editor have access to the editor’s capabilities to add various signs and whatnots as they see fit—and likely with greater capabilities and definitely with a higher degree of precision that through these illicit manipulations. In fact, there is some chance that the latter run into the complication that the HTML editor has some type of autocorrect going in one direction, which WordPress (“p”!!!!!) then tries to “correct” in another direction…

This manipulation is the worse for occurring in a typographically tricky situation, namely in algebraic expressions containing variables with names involving the “-” sign, e.g. “o- – m+”.* I had some doubts** as to how that would work, but it looked sufficiently OK in my local browser, using the generated correct HTML code. However, how can I trust my local impressions, when WordPress (“p”!!!!!) illicitly changes my express wishes? Or what if I publish the same HTML elsewhere, and some other interfering bunch of presumptuous incompetents decide to change this in some other manner, leading to inconsistent documents? Etc.

*Specifically, the “-” hanging on the “o” was left unchanged, while the “-” in between “o-” and “m+” was altered.

**These doubts were the reason that I explicitly checked how the rendering in WordPress turned out, as there might be differences depending on e.g. the font used—even absent illicit manipulations.

Of course, the question must be raised how many other manipulations WordPress (“p”!!!!!) performs that I am not yet aware of. (And the list is fairly long already, including the constant manipulation of “Wordpress”, mishandling of various quotation marks, spurious removal and insertion of empty lines, …) In this case, I noticed because I checked this specific rendering, in a specific place, for a specific reason—but this is not something that I usually do, and certainly not for entire documents. (No, I have not checked the entirety of [1] either, just that one area.) For instance, a current or future replacement of “fuck” (the f-word) with e.g. “f-word” (an “f” hyphenated to “word”) is definitely possible. I cannot even rule out, although I consider it extremely unlikely, that a spurious “Vote Biden!” or “Hitler is a hero!” has been inserted somewhere.

Note on references:
I have drawn on Wikipedia’s List of XML and HTML character entity references, as well as my local “man page” for the ASCII encoding, for various codes.

As this text discusses mistreatment of text by WordPress (“p”!!!!!) and is published through WordPress (“p”!!!!!), it is quite possible that what I try to express fails through exactly the type of illicit manipulation that I try to argue against.

Excursion on my markup language:
This markup language is by no means perfect, as I have not bothered to do everything doable, including that I have not added a way to encode the minus sign represented by Unicode 2212 or implemented a more generic math mode. So far, there has been little need, but I might have done so today, if my typographic fears had been realized. (Or I might have chosen to simply replace the “-” with the character reference for Unicode 2212—that I did not implies that WordPress (“p”!!!!!) should not have done so either, and it certainly should not have replaced it with the pointless and misleading n-dash.) Similarly, I have not yet added an “escape mode”, to prevent some piece of markup code from being interpreted as markup code and instead be inserted as the literal expression in the generated HTML file. This is OK—it is my decision, in a weighing of my time vs. the (small) benefit of the addition. That WordPress (“p”!!!!!) interferes is not OK, even if it is with some misguided notion that users are idiots whose texts must be arbitrarily reformatted, even at the risk that proficient users see their work sabotaged. (See [2] for more and a link to even further discussions.) Now, an addition that I will perform shortly is to find some workaround for the manipulation of specifically “Wordpress”, maybe by inserting an invisible character or a thin space somewhere to trick the replacement algorithm.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 10, 2022 at 10:55 pm

Overruled choice and firejail

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Another case of user hostile limitations and overruled choice ([1]):

I regularly use firejail, a sandbox tool, to reduce the risk of security breaches and programs (or downloaded contents viewed in programs) misbehaving.* Today, I was trying to listen to a downloaded music file, the filename of which contained a comma. I started it with my usual bash-script wrapping a firejailed mplayer—and was met with an “Error: “[filename]” is an invalid filename: rejected character: “,””.** Note how this makes no mention of what program or sub-functionality of that program caused/detected/whatnot the error, nor gives any true and valid reason—as the filename (cf. below) is perfectly valid.

*Note that, apart from bugs, there are many software makers who have radically different ideas as to what they are allowed to and should do than many users and/or specifically I. Consider e.g. “phone home” functionality.

**Where I have replaced the actual filename with “[filename]”. I caution that the original quotes might have been distorted by WordPress—as might “Wordpress”, which I write with a “p” not a “P”. Cf. [1].

After some experiments with the ls* command, I could conclude that (a) my file system has no objections to the filename, (b) ls has no objections to the filename, (c) even firejail, it self, has no objections to calling ls with the filename,** but that (d) firejail objects to using this filename in a “whitelist”***. Firstly, this is an extremely disputable decision, as there are hardly ever legitimate reasons to artificially restrict users (and, apart from the above, I cannot recall ever having problems with commata in filenames in any other context). Secondly, the error message is absolutely and utterly inexcusable—an acceptable error message might have read “firejail: “[filename]” is not a valid name for whitelisting: rejected character: “,””. I note, in particular, that (a) it is never acceptable to assume that the user calls a certain program directly and will automatically know what program is to blame, (b) firejail, by its nature, is always used in combination with some other program and correspondingly must make clear whether a certain error comes (directly or indirectly) from firejail or from the other program, (c) as filenames can enter firejail by different roads, it must make clear what road is affected.

*This command just lists file information, so a potentially hostile music file cannot really do any damage even absent firejail.

**But this might simply be a result of firejail being agnostic of the nature of the arguments sent to the “real” program, in this case ls resp. mplayer.

***A means to tell firejail what files may be accessed. An opposite blacklist mechanism tells firejail what files may not be accessed. Note that with mplayer, which per default underlies stricter rules, whitelisting is necessary, while it is optional with ls. Indeed, this points to a possible further point of criticism: it is not a given that a tool will fail just because a certain file cannot be whitelisted, and it would, then, be better for firejail to merely print a warning message and continue with execution. Why should a “firejail ls [filename]” work, while a “firejail - -whitelist=[filename] ls [filename]” leads to an error message? Similarly, why should “firejail - -whitelist=[filename] ls [completely different filename]” lead to an error message?

Generally, firejail has proven quite problematic in terms of arbitrary (or arbitrary seeming, cf. excursion) restrictions, poor usability, and whatnot. For instance, a natural use case is to whitelist the home directory of the current user (while preventing a number of other accesses, including to the Internet, to public directories, and maybe a sub-directory or specific files in the home directory). But this results in “Error: invalid whitelist path /home/[username]”. This is an intolerable restriction, as it should be up to the user and the user only what decisions he allows here. Specifically, the result with my script to play music (and another to view movies) is that I must put my files in a sub-directory of the home directory, which is a nuisance.* Moreover, the error message is, again, very weak. (Yes, this time the issue of whitelisting is mentioned, but neither that firejail is the culprit, nor the exact issue, viz. why this was not allowed.)

*To this note (a) that I reject the idiocy of pseudo-standard directories like “Movies” and “Music” in general and in principle, as a bad idea, (b) that these would be entirely redundant in my case, as I use separate users for this division (just like I have separate users for e.g. surfing, writing, and business activities). Indeed, while whitelisting the home directory, a restriction that prevents the automatic creation of such directories by user-hostile tools would be an obvious use case.

For instance, I had once shuffled off some user files to a directory /d2,* and later tried to access one of the files using firejail. The result? “Error: invalid whitelist path”. As research showed, there are only a limited set of directories below the root that firejail allows, and (the created by me) directory /d2 was not in this limited set. Very similar criticism as with home directories apply. To my recollection, making matters worse, this set of directories was hard-coded, where it should have been configurable, even be it on the system level (instead of the user level).

*I have my “root” and “home” directory trees on separate partitions and the latter happened to be full. This shuffle was a very temporary workaround.

Another issue is the mixture of whitelisting and blacklisting that is used, which is both inconsistent and can lead to odd effects. It would be better to, for most tools, simply consider everything blacklisted and then to whitelist exactly what the tool legitimately needs. (The aforementioned ls is an exception, where the reverse approach seems natural, at least with regard to files, but not, of course, rights like network access.) In all fairness, there is room to discuss the degree to which the firejail developers are to blame and to what degree the distributions that contain firejail.*

*Which have a considerable influence through delivery of configuration files. For instance, until a little less than a year ago, I was a Debian user, and Debian had a very lax attitude, which made use more comfortable, but also reduced the benefit of using firejail. Gentoo, my current distribution, takes a much more stringent attitude. While I prefer this stringency in the long term, it did make the switch from Debian to Gentoo unnecessarily painful. As to Gentoo, there is a lot of incompetence too, in that all user changes are supposed to go in “.local” files that are included during reading of the main “.profile” file for the program at hand. (For instance, there is a file mplayer.profile, which is read, and a file mplayer.local, which is merely included—but mplayer.profile does things that I cannot, or not trivially, undo through mplayer.local, which is contrary to my right to configure my system as I see fit.)

Excursion on possible justifications:
At least with /d2 (cf. above), I could imagine a justifying scenario relating to firejail being a SUID* program, that there might be some way for a user to gain illicit rights if whitelisting directories directly under the root directory (i.e. /). This is speculation, however, and it should have been stated much more clearly, if this was actually the case. It does not justify the home directory issue, even if true, and I cannot see how it would justify the comma issue—if in doubt, firejail should perform better sanitation, not throw errors.

*A program that starts with other rights than the user who calls it and then (if programmed correctly!) drops any additional rights as soon as possible.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 10, 2022 at 7:42 pm

Overruled choice

with 5 comments

And yet another few words on choice (see [1], [2], [3] for earlier entries):

Sometimes we have, or should have, a choice and we make that choice—only to have someone else overrule it. This was first brought to my mind again by seeing one of my recent posts altered by WordPress and its absurd handling of “Wordpress” vs. “WordPress”. I very deliberately write this name/word with a “p”; however, WordPress illegitimately and user-hostilely alters this “p” into a “P”. Correspondingly, chances are that the reader sees four variations of “Wordpress” in the two preceding sentences, out of which one is correctly spelled with a “p”, because the whole word is in quotations marks (which have so far prevented this illegitimate change), one is correctly spelled with a “P”, because I put it there for contrast, and two incorrectly and illegitimately with “P”, because the correct “p” was altered without my doing and without my consent. (Also see [4] for a variety of other absurd distortions by WordPress.)

This might be seem trivial, but it shows a very harmful attitude—and other examples abound.

To just remain with texts, we have cases like Twitter (at least, pre-Musk) manipulating messages by users; over-aggressive auto-correction/-suggestion distorting messages in a sometimes humorous, sometimes harmful manner;* over-aggressive automatic censorship in forums;** and, as I describe in [5], German police officers replacing coherent texts and other claims with the nonsense of a high-school dropout.

*I can only recommend turning these off. (“Hey, honey, I just kissed your sister. MISSED! MISSED!”)

**Notably, the type that stars out letters in certain words, e.g. by replacing “cock” with “c*ck” and “ass” with “*ss”. This is ethically dubious to begin with; and, more pragmatically, the victims of this include roosters and donkeys, and, in extreme cases, the likes of “cocktail” (“c*cktail”) and “Hancock” (“Hanc*ck”). Some star out the entire word and have no sense of word boundaries—whatever you do, do not write a text about an assassin assaulting and assassinating the unassuming passport-assessor’s assistant in a massive massacre—or you will look like a complete arse.

Consider a few non-text cases:

  1. I have read about (but do not remember the names involved) a museum dedicated to a single artist, that was set up in a particular house with a particular set of paintings in a particular configuration by the artist—with the non-negotiable stipulation that this setup must remain unchanged, house included. Long after the artist’s death, the board (or whatnot) of the museum decided to move the paintings to another building in another configuration because the old building would be too small to meet demand. (Not to mention: allow all of the potential profits to become realized profits.)

    A similar case can be argued for the Nobel Prizes, which are often given with little regard for the original stipulations* and to at least some** that Nobel would have strongly disapproved of.

    *The Peace Prize is a common sinner, to the point that it is not necessarily awarded for anything relating to peace… Note e.g. the ridiculous award to IPC and Al Gore. Also note a general trend to use the Prize as a means to send a political message, rather than to reward the winners. Last time around (2022), it was very obviously a message on the war in the Ukraine, with the actual merit of the Laureates quite secondary—if not them, then some similar constellation.

    **I know too little about Nobel’s personal preferences, ideology, whatnot to make a strong guess (beyond those met with near-universal skepticism, e.g. Yasser Arafat); however, in light of the extreme politicization and arbitrariness of the Literature and Peace Prizes, I assume that each contains a number of examples, even should the science Prizes not deliver any.

    In a similar family, we have a likely endless list of foundations, charities, and beneficiaries ignoring various stipulations and whatnots when they become inconvenient and there is no-one left to file a lawsuit.

  2. Leaving behind a spotlessly cleaned dorm room in Sweden before my move to Germany, I was hit with an entirely unjustified cleaning invoice* and the claim that I had stolen a lamp (or something similar—this was in 1997 and my memory is vague). I decided to take a stand and refuse payment, especially as the dorm company had repeatedly shown a student-hostile behavior and failed to live up to its contractual obligations, and I could only conclude that this was a deliberate attempt to defraud me. My mother went behind my back and paid the invoice “to avoid trouble”.

    *No, there was no blanket inclusion of this in the contract.

    In a similar family, we can include e.g. lawyers settling out of court when they have been instructed to pursue the case to the end.* I have read of at least on such German case, and suspect that they occur comparatively often. (I have also heard of one German case where a lawyer triumphantly told his client that he had fought a criminal case down to a heavy fine instead of a month (?) in prison. The client was upset, because he could not afford the fine and would have preferred a short prison sentence. This is more of a communication error, but it does demonstrate the pitfalls involved.)

    *Note the difference between telling a client that he should settle, even that he is an idiot for not settling, and unilaterally overriding his decision not to settle.

  3. Decisions that should belong to the one are sometimes unfairly vetoed or altered by the other. A stereotypical example is a sitcom couple going through a variation of “Peg! I’m going out with the boys!” and “No, you are not, Al!”.*

    *Note the major difference in principle between this and e.g. a hypothetical “Peg! I’m going to sleep with the neighbor’s wife!” and “The hell you are, Al!”. In the one case, the decision involves something which usually has no major effect on “Peg”, or where the refusal would affect “Al” the more or be more in violation of his rights; in the other, the potential effect, metaphorical breach of contract, whatnot, is usually far, far larger. A veto in the latter case is typically fair.

    (I have some trouble finding examples, as I seem to land at the border to other cases and non-cases, maybe from another text in this series. Consider, e.g., a traveller being turned away at a foreign border despite having done, and done correctly, everything that could and should be done before reaching the border, including all paperwork: How exactly is this to be classified? Will the classification depend on details not given in the example?)

  4. The world of software has many examples. For instance, when I last had my screen locker on, a few minutes ago, it displayed an annoying message about being out-of-date. This results from a conflict between the maker of the program (xscreensaver) and my Linux distribution (Gentoo; but I first encountered this issue as a Debian user)—the one wants updates to go over “upstream”, and has added an artificial check; the other over “downstream”, where updates can take place in a controlled and standardized manner, with checks for intra-distribution compatibility of various package and library versions. Here both are trying to thwart the choice made by the other.*

    *Who is in the right is open for debate, but I would side with the distribution when the software has been installed through the distribution (e.g. per emerge or apt-get), as opposed to a manual download/compile/install. This annoying message was the reason that I moved to another screen locker under Debian, and it might be time to repeat the process under Gentoo.

    A highly annoying case occurred when I travelled with a business notebook using Windows, provided by my then employer. I had deliberately put the sound on “mute” to avoid any negative surprises, overly loud noises, whatnot—including that I would only activate the sound at the right time* when watching a DVD in the evening. However, the pre-installed DVD player automatically and with no query unmuted the notebook as soon as it began playing—inexcusable.**/***

    *I.e. after any and all menus, trailers, and other annoyances.

    **And something that ideally should not even be possible: the system-wide and program-local settings for sound should be separate from each other, and the program should only have access to the program-local.

    ***Likely, one of the many, many cases where some idiot has reasoned that “unless we do this, some absolute beginner might be confused, unable to resolve the situation, or, worse, actually call the hotline; ergo, we do it and the real users can go fuck themselves”. (Sorry, “[…] f*ck themselves”.)

    Firefox is known for its idiotic practice of disabling existing options, while resetting the behavior of the browser to the behavior wanted by the developers—not the user. This in two forms: either by removing functionality from the official settings, while leaving the corresponding switch in about:config (with the value potentially altered from the user-chosen value), or by making a setting in about:config have no function, without giving any error or warning* to the user.

    *The reasoning seems to be that if there is an error or warning, someone could see this error or warning, or a script could fail—and either would be a disaster. This is an outright amateurish attitude, a true beginner’s error. The correct attitude is to do show an error or warning, so that (a) users know that something has changed, (b) they can adapt accordingly. This, of course, in particular in a script setting, where the consequences could otherwise be extremely unpredictable.

Excursion on drawing borders between cases:
It is often hard to draw borders between cases that are a good match for the above, cases that involve deliberate sabotage,* deliberate malicious distortion,** incompetence,***legitimate overrulings (cf. below), and maybe some other categories.

*Say, someone manipulating a (paper or digital) ballot to make the ballot invalid or to indicate another candidate than the one chosen by the voter.

**E.g. someone misquoting someone else for malicious purposes, e.g. in a court case.

***Consider e.g. a HTML form that has been (accidentally) misprogrammed or mislabeled to reverse the meaning of a checkbox or to scramble the possible meanings of a radio button.

A good example is Emvie Martin, an utter sub-human shit who cut down, distorted, and commented on my comments to create the impression that I agreed with her, when my comments actually disagreed. (And, yes, I feel very, very strongly about this type of horrifying behavior—the fraudulent invoice above was a lesser evil, in my eyes.) I originally planned to include this above, but soon realized that it fit better with “deliberate sabotage” and/or “deliberate malicious distortion”, leading to the writing of this excursion. Some acts by e.g. Twitter might also be closer to one of these, depending on the exact details, including the intentions behind the respective act.

Excursion on legitimate overrulings:
There are, however, many cases where an overruling is legitimate. Consider e.g. an employee told to order something for his employer. He fills out an order form indicating “green” as color choice, gives the form to his superior for verification/approval/corrections, and the superior changes the “green” to “blue”. Here, the legitimacy arises through only making a delegated choice for someone else’s benefit, where the “someone else” has a reasonable right to override the decision.

Choices that might seem unilateral but actually have other parties involved form an other case family. (Or are quasi-unilateral at one point of time, but not at another, after circumstances have changed.) Consider e.g. a scenario of one romantic partner inviting the other to Christmas dinner with the parents. Should they break up before the dinner, the original choice often becomes pointless or, if some variation of “I’ll be there!”, contingent on the approval of the other party. Similarly, if “the parents” raise objections, the original invitation might be void and the original choice, again, pointless.

A third family includes many instances of parents overruling the choice of a young child. Note e.g. the headache-pill story below, which I am open to view as a legitimate overruling and have not included in the main text. (The method and the breach of trust is a very different thing.) In contrast, the above story with the fraudulent invoice is not an example, as I was already 22 and in my 5th year as a legal adult. (Off-topic, I would also argue a civic duty to fight back against such fraud.)

Related cases, although arguably based more on potential misunderstanding of the nature of the apparent overruling than a true overruling, include those where the scope of a choice is limited and the choice, per se, is respected. For instance, the choice to appeal a verdict rests with the appealer, but the court handling the appeal might* have the option to turn the appeal down without more than cursory study. If so, it is not a matter of overruling the choice to appeal, which remains with the appealer, but of making a separate choice in a step following the appeal. (An analogue example with less risk for a misunderstanding of the mechanism is a marriage proposal: it is the decision to propose that rests with the proposer, not the decision to get married, which requires the consent of the “proposee”.)

*I am not aware of how this is handled in general and worldwide, but the SCOTUS certainly rejects more requests for certiorari than it accepts. A great many other courts might throw something out for formal reasons like “wrong court” or “past the deadline”.

Excursion on breach of trust and mothers:
As a word of warning to any readers who are mothers (or fathers): The above payment of an illegitimate invoice was one of several incidents that contributed very strongly to my drifting apart from my mother and not keeping contact and confidence during my adulthood, because they taught me that I could not trust and rely on my mother (in at least some regards). The, likely, first such incident took place when I was a very young child, maybe three or four, and she gave me a sandwich with a hidden headache pill of some kind. I did have a headache, but I had also refused the pill. That she tried to trick me into taking it hurt me more than if she had tried to force me to take it. It also raised questions like how many other times she had tricked me in the past, without my discovering it, and what other surreptitious manipulations of my food were taking place. (Try to see this event through the eyes of a small child, not of an adult.) The, maybe, last was when I was in my twenties and she began to brag to a random stranger, a cashier in a store, about something that I had told her in confidence. Yes, it was something positive, but it was also something that I did not want to be public knowledge—and even if I had, it was mine to tell, not hers.*

*A common fault of women is that they assume that anything told, seen, whatnot is free-for-all gossip material.

Disclaimer on completeness:
Neither this text nor the text series as a whole are intended to be complete analyses. There are bound to be many other interesting cases, exceptions, and complications, but I will draw a line here for this text and attempt to do so for the text series too.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 2, 2022 at 11:14 pm