Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘discrimination

Voting at 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking first at Christoph Möllers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Written by michaeleriksson

December 25, 2022 at 9:49 pm

Sweden, pro-woman discrimination, and unfairness to children

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Earlier today, I wrote a text dealing, as a side-effect, with my own experiences with a knowledge competition for kids (cf. [1]). Reading up on Swedish Wikipedia (versioned link), I am met with what looks like blatant pro-girl discrimination over the last two decades:

If we first look at the years 1963–1998*, when these problems were absent or much smaller, the boys dominate the winning teams of three children. (This result is, of course, also well in line with the strong empirical observation that boys/men tend to dominate at the upper levels in almost any area.)

*Many years have no entry. I am uncertain when this implies that no competition took place and when that the data for that year is missing. Note that the years 1966 and 1975 list a winning school but not individual winners. Any claims below are made with reservations for the unstated data (and, of course, any misstated data).

We total 20 years, with 18 sets of three children, of which (going by the names, with reservations for miscounts) 13 or* 14 are girls, the remaining 41 or* 40 boys. In other words, the boys outnumber the girls roughly three-to-one. And, no, this is not a case of 1960s suppression and oppression of women (as some Feminists might claim). The first year listed (1963) saw two girls and one boy; the last two listed (1996, 1998) saw three boys each,** while the only other 1990s’ years (1993, 1994) saw one girl and two boys.

*The “or” arises from a “Conny”, which, I suspect, is/was a boy’s name in Sweden, but which might be a girl.

**To be contrasted with one sole year (1988) with three girls on the winning team—over the entire (listed) history of the competition.

Starting with the next entry in 2000, we have teams of two (excepting three years, cf. below), which are without exception one boy–one girl. It is not clear from the text, but I strongly suspect that the reduction to two was made for the explicit purpose of instituting a quota of “exactly one boy and exactly one girl”,* which is one of the two modes of how the Swedish system tends to work. (The other mode is “We must have at least 50 percent women! Let the men fend for themselves!”.) In 20 years, the girls managed to rack up 20 entries to the previous 13/14 over 18 years, despite a reduction of team size. This at the cost of having half as many boys as in the previous interval.

*Other explanations for the one boy–one girl constellations are conceivable, e.g. that the game was somehow rigged to ensure that only teams matching this constellation were allowed to win, but these seem less likely. No matter the reason, however, it would be unreasonable to claim pure chance over so many years—a literal one-in-a-million chance. (Cf. excursion.)

Past 2000, we have three exceptional years of teams-of-three (2005–2007). These include respectively two girls–one boy, one girl–two boys, and one girl–two boys.* This is too little data to say something with certainty, but I strongly suspect another quota of “at least one boy and at least one girl”. The overall proportions (four girls, five boys) are certainly incompatible with the days of yore on an “expectation value” basis (but not, over so few years, on a “statistical variation” basis).

*With reservations for the name “Jacobo”, which sounds male, but which is not known to me.

Looking at the adults*, beginning with 2000, they too come in conspicuous pairs of one man–one woman.

*A host and a referee, for want of better words. (I am not familiar with English terminology in this area.)

Of course, here we see a great unfairness towards the children, who are no longer measured primarily by what they know, but by what sex they have, while giving the girls an unfair leg up and unfairly holding the boys back. This not just with regard to the reduction of the knowledge component, but also through the greater proportion of boys in these age groups. (The few percent might not seem like that much, but when a restriction is added in a highly competitive area, it can have a major additional effect. Also note the new restriction in team size, which came solely at the cost of the boys.)

Excursion on one-in-a-million chance:
Assume* a 50–50 chance that a boy (girl) is chosen for any slot on a team. A single two-kid team will now contain exactly one of each with a probability of 1/2 (with 1/4 each for boy–boy and girl–girl). To score 20 such teams in a row has a probability of (1/2)^20 = 1/1048576 or, roughly, one-in-a-million.

*Ignoring both the earlier male dominance and the greater proportion of boys among the children. Adjusting the probability for either of these factors makes the event even unlikelier.

Excursion on the Nobel Prizes:
Note that I have speculated on a similar type of quota for men and women for the Literature Prize, in that men and women win (almost) alternately. Cf. my entries on resp. the 2020 and 2021/2022 awards. Typically Swedish.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 14, 2022 at 10:41 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Similarly, further down, I write:

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

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

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

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

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

*Unless over-admitted based on racial discrimination…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by michaeleriksson

October 30, 2022 at 10:24 am

Hollywood insanities / Follow-up: Various

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As a follow-up to some earlier discussions on the influence of the actor and the part on the performance resp. politically correct distortions (e.g. through undue alterations of fictional characters) and countless texts dealing with inappropriate (and especially PC) criteria (e.g. a call for more discrimination):

I just encountered a very depressing text on affirmative action in Hollywood, which I strongly recommend reading—and which makes me, for the umpteenth time, marvel that this type of nonsense has not been struck down by a popular protest. What is described here is insane even by current U.S. standards, e.g. that “best picture” Oscar candidates must have:

o At least one actor from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group must be cast in a significant role.

o The story must center on women, L.G.T.B.Q. people, a racial or ethnic group or the disabled.

o At least 30 percent of the cast must be actors from at least two of those four underrepresented categories.

Apart from the problem of “underrepresented” (cf. excursion), this forces enormous compromises in artistic integrity/quality and distorts the playing field to such a degree that the the award might be entirely spurious—as if the Superbowl invitations would ignore all teams who did not have a significant number of female players, even if the ignored teams had actually had significantly better results. (Note that this applies even if we assume a similar skill level among “represented” and “underrepresented” actors resp. male and female football players. Cf. excursion.) In fact, it codifies a problem that is already having a massive negative impact on TV and movies.

Moreover, it introduces an implicit near-mandatory political message and risks a continuation of the trend of “best actor” awards being awarded not just for the performance but for the part or the movie. (The above criteria, in my understanding only applies to “best picture”, but being in the “best picture” is an advantage, there is bound to be some indirect influence, and, as evidenced by the following, there are already strong PC pressures on “best actor” too.)

Another telling quote is:

A white actor, Anthony Hopkins, beat out the favored black, the late Chadwick Boseman, for best actor. Boseman supporters say he was “robbed.” If Boseman had got the award, would anyone dare say Anthony Hopkins was robbed?

Well, I have not seen the movie for which Boseman was nominated—or hardly anything of his other works.* However, there is a fair chance that I would have both dared say that and would have said it: Hopkins’s performance was monstrous. The “I’m losing my leaves”** scene is as close to perfection as I have ever seen, down to such details as the shaking of the hands. Indeed, after having watched “The Father”, my first impulse was to write another Oscar prediction—ten months in advance. (However, I soon learned that I was not ten months in advance but rather two months behind.) Of course, I have seen a great many of Hopkins’s performances over the years, and he is widely considered one of the greatest actors of our time. Boseman? Well, he has tons of nominations, but appears to have won next to nothing, and most of even his nominations are for his works in 2020, where both a “was Black” and “just died” bonus is likely to apply—not to mention that his main movie had a “Black icon” topic.***

*Going by Wikipedia, “Gods of Egypt” (only the vaguest recollection), an episode of “Castle” (no recollection), and a few minor appearances as “Black Panther” (left me cold; however, note that I have not seen the actual “Black Panther” movie).

**Reservations for the exact phrasing.

***Possibly, with other aspects like “mistreated by Whites in a less enlightened era”. I have not seen the movie and I do not have the time for detailed research.

Then we have issues with further “black-washing” and whatnot:

Most of the upcoming Marvel movies will star non-whites and have POC in important supporting roles. The new Captain America, one of Marvel’s most popular characters, is black. The most famous superhero, Superman, will also be black in his next film.

As to the aforementioned criteria, I have long considered writing a “turn the TV of if” post, as I am highly annoyed by many issues with modern film and television, including the artificial introduction of various “underrepresented” (or, better, “PC-favored”) characters in e.g. TV series. I will not go through with this (for now), as this blog is supposed to be closed, but I give as examples of what I had in mind:

  1. If there has been more than marginal changes in the racial-or-whatnot “make-up” of an original work, e.g. through recasting Superman as Black or having a female Doctor (in the “Doctor Who” sense); or compared to the realistic historical proportions, e.g. through having a Victorian setting with as many Black or Indian characters as White*.

    *Unless the work actually has a topic that makes this plausible.

  2. If there are PC-favored characters that seem to have been added for no other reason that PC conformity, e.g. an overrepresentation of gay couples in a work with no obvious gay connection, a cast where “ethnic” characters are severely overrepresented, or where all or almost all protagonists have a union card*.

    *I.e. is at least one of non-White, non-male, non-hetero, non-whatnot.

  3. If there is a gratuitous sex scene within the first ten minutes. (My motivation is rooted in fears that the rest of the work will be equally wasteful—as they usually are.)
  4. If homosexual or interracial kissing occurs within the first ten minutes. (Because this is likely done for the specific purpose of pushing a “look how enlightened this work is” agenda—not because I would view it as worse than other instances of kissing. Also note that I would prefer less onscreen kissing in general.)
  5. If a female protagonist has been raped or lives/d in an “abusive relationship”.

Excursion on “underrepresentation”:
The underrepresentation angle is usually complete garbage. Often these claims are based more in Leftist rhetoric than in actual facts, even to the point of being less a matter of underrepresentation* and more of a general “have it worse than they deserve”, which, in turn, is also usually a misrepresentation. When an apparent underrepresentation is present, it usually arises from looking at the wrong baseline. For instance, if there are fewer Black Oscar-winners, senators, or whatnot than predicted by population share, is that really because Whites are deliberately oppressing them or because there simply are fewer qualified candidates? Mostly, the latter. (The same applies to e.g. female senators, board members, whatnot.) Look at e.g. U.S. colleges: Blacks are given an enormous leg up with preferred admittance with worse SAT scores, they are often graduated from high-school with better grades (or at all) than they have earned, etc. If they still trail in academic accomplishment, it is mainly** because they have not managed (or been willing) to take the opportunities provided them.

*Indeed, in the specific case of TV and movies, “underrepresented” groups are usually overrepresented.

**There are secondary complications like schools with more Blacks tending to be more violent, have more unruly classrooms, and similar. However, this usually goes back to the Blacks, themselves, and not to e.g. White supremacists trying to push them down. In doubt, colleges should not be punished for a failure in the school system.

To this might be added problems like a usually undue focus on the group instead of the individual, a focus on potentially wrong groups (e.g. through grouping by race rather than e.g. college major, profession, interests, IQ, or what might be relevant in a given context), and a strong risk of destructive and dehumanising “identity politics”.

Excursion on negative effects of artificial limits:
Artificial limits, e.g quotas, are almost always harmful even when the groups involved seem fungible (and the more so when they are not fungible). Consider, as a very neutral example, the hypothetical regulation that “best actor” awards must be equally divided based on what day-of-week actors were born, and that this is implemented by only considering candidates born on a Sunday this year, only those born on a Monday next year, and so on, in a seven-year cycle. Now there is roughly a chance of 1/7 that the respective winner actually was the legitimate “best actor” of the year, and 6/7 that he was merely the best of those born on the same weekday.* The risk that a relative dud, e.g. the 10th best overall, manages to win sky rockets compared to a system without quotas.** Etc. To make matters worse, there is now a risk that the entire system is changed, e.g. in that actors born on the “wrong” day are not even cast in parts that might be award relevant to begin with, or that the release of a movie is artificially delayed to ensure that it matches the year that the lead actor is eligible.

*Assuming that the awards are otherwise objectively and competently decided, which is dubious.

**I do not want to get bogged down in math, but broadly speaking: Without a quota, number 10 would have to unfairly beat out nine others (as well as, fairly, those behind him). With a quota, it is enough that the best of the current day-of-birth is ranked no better than 10, which is not that unlikely, or e.g. that the number 2 of that day-of-birth beats out just one higher ranker instead of nine.

Excursion on “The Father”:
While Hopkins performance was monstrous, he almost certainly had the benefit of having the right part in the right movie, in a manner similar to those discussed in my first text. The movie, as a whole, might have been better, had it stuck more strictly to the perspective of the protagonist. This both to improve the overall effect and to avoid confusion about what is real and not real through showing other perspectives (as opposed to confusion caused by the protagonist’s failing memory).

Written by michaeleriksson

May 17, 2021 at 3:57 pm

The 2019 Nobel Prizes: Women and the Nobel Prize

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Time for the yearly Nobel-Prize update:

Compared to 2018, the historical male dominance has returned.

The three* regular Prizes (Physics/Chemistry/Physiology or Medicine) saw a total of nine laureates, all men.

*As noted for 2018, I will ignore Literature and Peace in the future. However, they would not have changed the picture this year, with both laureates being men.

The “extra-curricular” Economics Prize saw two men and one woman (Esther Duflo).

In total, there were eleven male to one female laureate, and 3.75 to 0.25 Prizes.*

*Note that, in my understanding, Duflo received a quarter, not a third, as the price was shared equally between Michael Kremer and the team of Duflo and her husband, Abhijit Banerjee.

Excursion on 2018:
The 2018 analysis was slightly hampered by the delayed awarding of the Literature Prize. It is noteworthy that the delayed award did go to a woman (Olga Tokarczuk), which makes 2018 a truly exceptional year for the women. Factoring in the rarity of a share of the Physics Prize, 2018 could be argued as even on par with 2009.

Excursion on the married couples:
With Duflo, we have another instance of a husband/wife team sharing a Price. While this is unremarkable when looking at husbands,* the proportion of female winners is sufficiently large that there could be a distortive effect, e.g. in that a brilliant male scientist has his merely good wife as a tag-along. Official information gives four** other cases, leaving us with five couples:

*Not because the reverse scenario of brilliant female with tag-along husband would be impossible, but because removing a few male winners would not affect the overall proportions.

**Not counting the also mentioned Gunnar and Alva Myrdal. While they did both win, they won in different fields in different years, which reduces the risk of a tag-along effect. To boot, Alva was awarded the Peace Prize (1982), which is not under consideration. Also note Marie Curie’s Chemistry Prize below.

  1. Duflo/Banerjee, Economics in 2019. Duflo is only the second female laureate (in the field in question).
  2. May-Britt and Edvard Moser, Medicine in 2014. May-Britt is one of twelve female laureates. With Gerty Cori (cf. below) this makes two in twelve or one in six.
  3. Gerty and Carl Cori, Medicine in 1947. She was the first female laureate by thirty years.
  4. Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Chemistry in 1935. Irène is still one of only five female laureates. She was only the second female recipient of any non-Literature/non-Peace Prize, behind only her mother (cf. below).
  5. Marie and Pierre Curie, Physics in 1903. Marie is still one of only three female laureates, and was the first by 60 years. Indeed, she was the first female laureate in any category, Literature and Peace included.

    (But note that she won the 1911 Chemistry Prize unshared, a few years after Pierre’s death. Moreover, that the delays between effort and award were far shorter back then, implying that Pierre need not have had any effect on the Chemistry Prize, even had he had one on the Physics Prize.)

(Additional data from a Wikipedia page listing female laureates. With reservations for oversights on my behalf.)

A similar tag-along effect could, obviously, exist even without a married relationship, when a team is jointly awarded a Prize but the contributions of the laureates vary in importance. Again, such an effect would have only a small impact on men, while the impact on women could be considerable. (Most winning teams have been all-male, implying that the number of male laureates could drop, but it would still be far larger than the number of female laureates, and the number of “male” Prizes would remain almost or entirely unchanged.)

Excursion on the Economics Prize:
With repeated awardings of the Peace and Literature Prizes for “being Left”, I have some fears that the Economy prize will eventually be similarly politicized. The motivation for the 2019 Price could point in this direction: “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”, which might be an indication that the award is less for scientific accomplishment and more for choice of topic. (I have not attempted the very considerable leg-work needed to judge this in detail.)

Other potential suspects include “for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis” (William D. Nordhaus) and “for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare” (Angus Deaton).

As a depressing contrast, this years Literature choice, Peter Handke, has been criticized for reasons unrelated to literary accomplishment—his opinions relating to Serbia et co. appear to be considered unacceptable.

(All motivations from official information.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 14, 2019 at 7:38 pm

Sports and payment of men and women

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Apparently, the U.S. women’s soccer players are crying wolf about earnings again.

I have dealt with similar problems in the past (e.g. in [1], [2]) and will not repeat those discussions.

However, another angle:

Let us try the following: Just like there are different soccer leagues for men and women, institute two different federations. For all I care, make every single decision maker in the women’s federation female.* Now let us see how much they earn or do not earn. They might earn more or they might earn less than today—which I do not know. But: They will be exposed to the realities of economy and the connection between creating value and receiving value, e.g. that the ticket revenue generated and the revenue from television rights will affect who is paid what.

*They could probably get away with this: If the men’s federation tried the same, it would likely land in court for illegal discrimination and definitely be publicly attacked.

Ditto in tennis: Separate the men’s and women’s majors into entirely separate tournaments, run by different entities. If the women’s entities want to pay the same prize money as the men’s, they may do so. If they want to pay twice as much, I have no objection. But: do not complain to me, should they do so and find themselves running out of money.

From another point of view: If we do consider it unfair that e.g. female soccer player’s earn less than male, why it is not considered unfair that players of different sports earn differently for the same level of success? Why should e.g. a multiple world champion in bandy earn less than many (most? all?) titleless NFL players? Why should tennis players earn more than e.g. racket-ball players?

Of course, we could* institute some global rule for all sports and both sexes that give everyone the same amount of money for comparable levels of success, regardless of e.g. ticket earnings: Soccer players would take a severe pay cut—even be they women. Ditto tennis players. Hope Solo, do you still want “fair” pay?

*Defining reasonable comparisons would take a lot of work and might require restructuring some sports, e.g. by scrapping the tennis majors in favor of a single world championship—but the global rule is a thought experiment, not a practical suggestion.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 8, 2019 at 9:41 am

The 2018 Nobel Prizes: Women and the Nobel Prize

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Time for the yearly Nobel-Prize update:

Unlike 2017, women did reasonable well, with participiations in three out of five categories and putting up a total of three laureates out of twelve.* This even included a share in the Physics Prize—for only the third time, after 1903 and 1963.

*Including the Economy Prize. The Literature Prize is moot (cf. below).

The Literature Prize was not awarded (so far?) for 2018, due to an extremely chaotic situation within the awarding “Swedish Academy”. The situation is worthy of a longer text of its own; however, the information that has reached me through the press over months has been confusing, incomplete, and often looked like a game of mutual blame, which makes me unwilling/unable to write said text.

With this chaos on top of my previous criticism of both the Literature and Peace Prizes, and factoring in their very different character, I will probably ignore both of them in any future updates—I can no longer take either seriously. (And to the degree that they can be taken seriously, they are not that relevant to the original context of my interest.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 11, 2018 at 2:19 pm

Hope Solo and misguided legal actions

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It appears that Hope Solo is up to her old tricks again: According to a recent entry on her blog, she is initiating a federal law-suit to get “equal” pay. This in a continuation of an earlier suit ([1]).

These are highly unfortunate developments, which risk setting a damaging precedence, should the suit be successful, removing or weakening the performance aspect of remuneration and risking more “Title IX”-style problems. And that is just in sports: If and when such procedures catch on in the overall economy, there is no telling what the results could be. (I have a number of older texts on related problems, including [2], [3], [4].)

For want of new details, I have briefly looked into the original situation. Going by [1], the (then) complaint alleged that “[t]here are no legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for this gross disparity of wages, nor can it be explained away by any bona fide seniority, merit or incentive system or any factor other than sex”.

I have already discussed much of this matter in an older post on remuneration in Swedish soccer, and I will not re-iterate the arguments made there. However, I do explicitly note that audience figures are similarly poor among women compared to men in the U.S.: For instance, Wikipedia on MLS attendance and NWSL attendance shows that the MLS for 2017 had a total of 8,270,187 spectators over 374 games, with a mean attendance of 22,113—while the NWSL had 609,960 spectators over 120 games, with a mean attendance of 5,083. In other words, less than quarter per game and less than a third of the games…* (For further reference, a single 17-game round of the Bundesliga often exceeds the above season’s total of the NWSL.) The (international) situation in the men’s World Cup and the women’s World Cup is less extreme, but has the same tendency. For instance, the last four men’s tournaments have averaged roughly 50 thousand spectators at 64 games each. The best women’s average was 37,944 over 32 games in 1999; the highest overall attendance was in 2015 after the number of games had been pushed to 53—but with a mere 26,029 in average attendance.

*A better comparison would take total revenue and/or ticket prices into account, but, with the large difference in spectators, the research would not pay off—even a considerably higher ticket price for women’s games would not make up for this difference. To boot, chances are that the men’s tickets are more expensive due to greater demand; to boot, any difference in ticket price would be reduced by secondary game-visit costs, like overpriced hot-dogs.

The lawsuit appeared to claim that the women’s team would actual earn more money for the U.S. soccer federation than the men’s team. Here I have two objections:

Firstly, if that is the case, the women should have an excellent bargaining position and their first move should be to negotiate (see also an excursion below)—not sue. There might or might not be some deranged Old White Man somewhere who takes a perverted pleasure in keeping women down, but, contrary to Feminist propaganda, this is a rare case indeed. Motivations like a wish for more money and more power are far, far more common, and those who can give them what they want can get something in return. Starving the golden goose is just stupid. However, do not expect to get things without negotiating for them: Big organizations rarely work that way; and there are plenty of both Old White Men and Young Black Women who are more than happy to underpay everyone who lets them get away with it.

Secondly, the claim is at best misleading, as can be suspected from the above. I had a look* at a PDF-report with official numbers that is linked in [1]:

*A detailed interpretation might require more background information or more detailed numbers, and I make reservations for errors of interpretation.

Generally, it is misleading to base comparisons of a single year and a greater time stretch has to be considered: The numbers for each team can vary considerable based on the external circumstances of the year, as when the men’s World Cup in 2014 (fiscal year* 2015) increased the numbers for the men in that year and the women’s World Cup in 2015 (fiscal year 2016) did the same for women in that year. Furthermore, there is often a dependency on short-term success, which also make any short-term comparisons misleading. What e.g. if the U.S. women had missed their mark in 2015 the way they did in the Olympics in 2016?** Indeed, the great budgeted numbers for the women’s team in 2017 include an “Olympic Victory Tour” (chart 2; chart 3 for the men). I do not know what the later real games and numbers were, but I do know that the U.S. Women did not win the preceding Olympics, making this “Olympic Victory Tour” a budgetary distortion.***

*Unless referring to a championship, references to years will be fiscal years below.

**Note that I am not arguing that their success should be discounted—they did win and do deserve the credit (and any bonuses they might have negotiated in advance). What I do argue is that differences from one tournament to another (especially, when combined with the question of what tournaments are available in the given year) make it important to be cautious with prognoses for the future. They won in 2015, but flopped in 2016. The German men won the World Cup in 2014 (and were Olympic runner-ups in 2016), but were last in their group in 2018. Keep in mind particularly that there is always an element of chance involved and that even the best team of the tournament is unlikely to win it without at least some luck.

***Interestingly, per game, the men’s budget had both higher average attendance and higher average ticket-prices, making it reasonable with higher per game rewards for the men. (Per game rewards appearing to be one of the main bones of contention. I make no claim as to how much higher would be reasonable at this stage, however.) Note that the overall numbers are further distorted by the greater number of “away” games for the men.

Further, the numbers are not that flattering for the women. True, page 68 shows a projected income from “Men’s National Team Events” of 21,047,216 for 2016 compared to 23,570,326 + a World Cup 3,234,600 for the women—leaving the women almost six million ahead.* However, actual numbers for 2015 show 14,867,576 + 12,892,819 for the men, reaching higher than the women in their World Cup year—and the overall for the women in 2015 is a mere 3,160,386… 2014 tells a similar story—men clearly ahead. The budget for 2017 would show women ahead again, but here we have the influence of the “Olympic Victory Tour” (cf. above). (No other years are listed.) The tentative** conclusion is that the men’s team brings more money and/or that we have to wait and see what happens with future revenue, before judging*** what would, in some sense, be fair.

*There are some other entries with no obvious sex relation, including “International Games”. I have not attempted to investigate their nature.

**A longer time series would be interesting and could alter this conclusion.

***But not before negotiating: The time for the team to hit the negotiating table, and to do so hard, was immediately after the 2015 gold.

It is true, however, that the men’s team also has had higher expenses (cf. page 71), implying that its profitability relative the women’s team might not have been as good as the revenue indicated. Then again, in the budget for 2017, this is changed and the women have about five million more in expenses… (Likely, the “Olympic Victory Tour” again.) To boot, the demands by Solo et al. would drive the women’s expenses even higher.

A point where the women’s team might* have an argument is the area of publicity and sponsorships. However, if so: (a) The continuation of this is contingent on continued success. (b) The individual players should already have been benefactors through their own sponsorship deals. (c) The better solution would be to generally pay out more of “central” sponsorships to the players instead of fattening the federation. (d) If there really is a long-term effect, this should manifest in better attendance numbers, which can then be used for negotiations and/or will lead to semi-voluntary increases by the federation. (e) Strong publicity and sponsorship effects are a perfect base for negotiations—so negotiate.

*This is not unambiguously clear from the parts of the report I have read.

Excursion on Hope Solo:
As for Hope Sole herself, I have done a bit of reading today, and note that, in addition to her dubious legal actions and payment stance, she is alleged to have badly physically abused several relatives (and threatened police officers, and whatnot), and has been referred to as a “piece of work” by Pia Sundhage* (re-quoted through the New York Times). She has been mentioned on this blog before ([5]), that time in her defense. While I stand by my defense in that issue,** I have at least heard the claim that her suspension was based more on prior behavior than the incident at hand. (But this should be taken with a grain of salt, considering that misrepresentations by the other party are not unusual.) The bearing of this on her payment case is at most circumstantial; however, it is interesting how often Feminist activists (and similar people) have similarly shady behavior patterns and personalities.

*In addition to being a former long-time U.S. national-team trainer with considerable exposure to Solo, she was also one of the best player’s in the world in the early years of women’s soccer. The latter implies both that she is not a bureaucrat talking down a player without understanding her situation and that she is likely to have encountered more unwarranted sexual discrimination than Solo.

**Even assuming that the secondary, vague, allegations are true and refer to something less forgivable: Prior behavior might very well have an influence on the degree of punishment; however, it must not make things illegal that are legal for someone with a better background. (Excepting cases where there is a strong reasonable connection and where the consequences are public knowledge well in advance, e.g. that someone convicted for a felony might be forbidden to own a gun. Even here, however, it is better to err on the side of “too little”.)

Excursion on negotiation:
Should negotiation fail, we have to consider the “why”. It could, for instance, be that the parties involved simply see the world so differently that no mutually satisfactory agreement is possible, in which case the sides need to consider their alternatives (up to and including a refusal to play, in the current case). It could be that the party requesting a change does not make its argument effectively, in which case it might hire a professional negotiator (or a better one, should one already be present). It could be that the one side holds out in the belief that the other side will cave, and then the other side needs to prove the opposite.

It could also be that the one side has a so disproportionately better situation that it can more-or-less dictate terms—which might very well be the case here, and would be well in line with some of my other writings (e.g. in [5]). If, as here, this party is a sports organization dictating to its athletes, however, we have another and more urgent matter—making the organization a tool for the athletes, not the athletes tools for the organization. Focus on that and the issue of negotiation will resolve it self; neglect it and other actions are tantamount to Sisyphus rolling his stone up the hill. (Had this been Solo’s complaint, she would have had my support.)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 30, 2018 at 5:55 pm

A call for more (!) discrimination

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The word “discrimination” and its variations (e.g. “to discriminate”) is hopelessly abused and misunderstood in today’s world. Indeed, while properly referring to something (potentially) highly beneficial and much needed, it has come to be a mere short for longer phrases like “sexual discrimination” and “racial discrimination”.* Worse, even these uses are often highly misleading.** Worse yet, the word has increasingly even lost the connection with these special cases, degenerating into a mere ad hominem credibility killer or a blanket term for any unpopular behavior related (or perceived as related) to e.g. race.***

*Note that it is “sexual” and “racial”—not “sexist” and “racist”. The latter two involve ascribing an intention and mentality to someone else, beyond (in almost all cases) what can possibly be known—and is sometimes manifestly false. Further, their focus on the intent rather than the criteria would often make them unsuitable even in the rare cases where the use could otherwise be justified.

**E.g because a discrimination on a contextually rational and reasonable criterion (e.g. GPA for college admissions) indirectly results in differences in group outcome, which are then incorrectly ascribed to e.g. “racial discrimination”. The latter, however, requires that race was the direct criterion for discrimination.

***Including e.g. having non-PC opinions about some group or expressing that opinion, neither of which can in any meaningful sense be considered discrimination—even in cases where the opinion or expression is worthy of disapproval. This including even the (already fundamentally flawed) concept of micro-aggressions.

What then is discrimination? Roughly speaking: The ability to recognize the differences between whatever individuals/objects/phenomena/… are being considered, to recognize the expected effects of decisions involving them, and to act accordingly. Indeed, if I were to restrict the meaning further, it is the “act” part that I would remove…* (Also see a below excursion on the Wiktionary definitions.)

*E.g. in that I would not necessarily consider someone discriminating who flipped a coin and then hired exclusively men or exclusively women based on the outcome—apart from the greater group impact, this is not much different from the entirely undiscriminating hiring by a coin flip per candidate. I might possibly even exclude e.g. the feminist stereotype of a White Old Man who deliberately hires only men because of the perceived inferiority of women: This is, at best, poor discrimination on one level and a proof of a lack of discrimination on another. C.f. below. (While at the same time being a feminist’s prime example of “discrimination” in the distorted sense.)

For instance, deciding to hire or not to hire someone as a physician based on education and whether a license to practice medicine is present, is discrimination. So is requiring a lawyer to have passed a bar exam in order to perform certain tasks. So is requiring a fire fighter to pass certain physical tests. So is using easier tests for women* than for men. So is using health-related criteria to choose between food stuffs. So is buying one horse over another based on quality of teeth or one car over another based on less rust damage. Etc. Even being able to tell the difference between different types of discrimination based on justification and effects could be seen as discrimination!

*This is, specifically, sexual discrimination, which shows that even such special cases can have the blessing of the PC crowd. It also provides an example of why it is wrong to equate “sexual” and “sexist”, because, no matter how misguided this discrimination is, it is unlikely to be rooted in more than a greater wish for equality of outcome. To boot, it is an example of poor discrimination through focus on the wrong criteria or having the wrong priorities. (Is equality of outcome when hiring really more important than the lives of fire victims?!?)

Why do we need it?

Discrimination is very closely related to the ability to make good decisions (arguably, any decision short of flipping a coin)—and the better someone is at discriminating, the better the outcomes tend to be. Note that this is by no means restricted to such obvious cases as hiring decisions based on education. It also involves e.g. seeing small-but-critical differences in cases where an argument, analogy, or whatnot does or does not apply; or being able to tell what criteria are actually relevant to understanding the matter/making the decision at hand.*

*Consider e.g. parts of the discussion in the text that prompted this one; for instance, where to draw the line between speech and action, or the difference between the IOC’s sponsor bans and bans on kneeling football players. Or consider why my statements there about employer’s rights do not, or only partially, extend to colleges: Without a lack of understanding, someone might see the situations as analogous, based e.g. on “it’s their building” or “it’s their organization”. Using other factors, the situation changes radically, e.g. in that the employer pays the employee while the college is paid by the student; that co-workers who do not get along can threaten company profits, while this is only rarely the case with students who do not get along; and that a larger part of the “college experience” overlaps with the students personal life than is, m.m., the case for an employee—especially within the U.S. campus system. (For instance, what characteristic of a college would give it greater rights to restrict free speech in a dorm than a regular landlord in an apartment building? A lecture hall, possibly—a dorm, no.)

Indeed, very many of today’s societal problems and poor political decisions go back, at least partially, to a failure to discriminate resp. to discriminate based on appropriate criteria.

Consider e.g. the common tendency to consider everything relating to “nuclear” or “radioactive” to be automatically evil (or the greater evil): Nuclear power is “evil”, yet fossil energies do far more damage to the world. The nuclear bombings of Japan were “evil”, yet their conventional counter-part killed more people. Radioactive sterilization of food is “evil”, yet science considers it safe—much unlike food poisoning… What if discrimination was not done by name or underlying technology, but rather based on the effects, risks, opportunities?

Consider the (ignorant or deliberate) failure to discriminate between e.g. anti-Islamists and anti-Muslims or immigration critics and xenophobes, treating them the same and severely hindering a civilized public debate.

Consider the failure to discriminate between school children by ability and the enforcing of a “one size fits all” system that barely even fits the average*, and leaves the weakest and strongest as misfits—and which tries to force everyone to at a minimum go through high school (or its local equivalent). (Germany still does a reasonable job, but chances are that this will not last; Sweden was an absolute horror already when I went to school; and the U.S. is a lot worse than it should and could be.)

*Or worse, is so centered on the weakest that school turns into a problem even for the average… Indeed, some claim that e.g. the U.S. “No Child Left Behind Act” has done more harm than good for this very reason.

Consider the failure to discriminate between politicians based on their expected long-term effect on society, rather than the short-term effect on one-self.

Consider the failure to discriminate between mere effort and actual result, especially with regard to political decisions. (Especially in the light of the many politicians who do not merely appear to fail at own discrimination, but actually try to fool the voters through showing that “something is being done”—even should that something be both ineffective and inefficient.)

Consider the failure to discriminate between those who can think for themselves (and rationally, critically, whatnot) and those who can not when it comes to e.g. regulations, the right to vote, self-determination, …

Consider the failure to discriminate between use and abuse, e.g. of alcohol or various performance enhancing drugs. (Or between performance enhancing drugs that are more and less dangerous…)

Consider the undue discrimination between sex crimes (or sexcrimes…) and regular crimes, especially regarding restrictions on due process or reversal of reasonable expectations. (Whether sex is involved is not a valid criterion, seeing that e.g. due process is undermined as soon as any crime is exempt from it.)

Consider the undue discrimination between Israelis and Palestinians by many Westerners, where the one is held to a “Western” standard of behavior and the other is not. (Nationality is not relevant to this aspect of the conflict.)

A particularly interesting example is the classification of people not yet 18 as “children”*, which effectively puts e.g. those aged 3, 10, and 17 on the same level—an often absurd lack of discrimination, considering the enormous differences (be they physical, mental, in terms of experience or world-view, …) between people of these respective ages. Nowhere is this absurdity larger than in that the “child” turns into an “adult” merely through the arrival of a certain date, while being virtually identically the same as the day before—and this accompanied with blanket rights and obligations, with no other test of suitability. Note how this applies equally to someone well-adjusted, intelligent, and precocious as it does to someone who is intellectually over-challenged even by high school and who prefers to lead a life of petty crimes and drug abuse. (To boot, this rapid change of status is highly likely to make the “children” less prepared for adulthood, worsening the situation further.)

*The size of the problem can vary from country to country, however. In e.g. the U.S. there is a fair chance that a word like “minor” will be used, especially in more formal contexts, which at least reduces the mental misassociations; in Sweden, “barn” (“child”) dominates in virtually all contexts, including (at least newer) laws.

However, there are many other problems relating to the grouping of “children” with children, especially concerning undifferentiated societal and political debates around behavior from and towards these “children”. This in particular in the area of sex, where it is not just common to use terms like “pedophile”* and “child-porn” for the entire age-range, but where I have actually repeatedly seen the claim that those sexually attracted to someone even just shy of 18 would be perverts**—despite the age limit being largely arbitrary***, despite that many are at or close to their life-time peak in attractiveness at that age, despite that most of that age are fully sexually mature, and despite that people have married and had children at considerably lower ages for large stretches of human history.

*This word strictly speaking refers to someone interested in pre-pubescent children, making it an abuse of language not covered by the (disputable) justification that can be given to “child-porn” through the wide definition of “child”. Even if the use was semantically sound, however, the extremely different implications would remain, when children and “children” at various ages are considered.

**Presumably, because the classification of someone younger as a “child” has become so ingrained with some weak thinkers that they actually see 18 as a magic limit transcending mere laws, mere biological development, mere maturity (or lack there of), and leaving those aged 17 with more in common with those aged 8 than those aged 18.

***Indeed, the “age of consent” is strictly speaking separate from the “age of maturity”, with e.g. Sweden (15) and Germany (14 or 16, depending on circumstances) having a considerably lower age of consent while keeping the age of maturity at 18.

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

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

Excursion on proxy criteria:
Making decisions virtually always involves some degree of proxy criteria, because it is impossible to judge e.g. how well an applicant for a job fairs on the true criteria. For instance, the true criterion might amount to “Who gives us the best value for our money?”. This, however, is impossible to know in advance, and the prospective employer resorts to proxy criteria like prior experience, references, education, … that are likely to give a decent, if far from perfect, idea of what to expect. (Indeed, even these criteria are arguably proxies-for-proxies like intelligence, industriousness, conscientiousness, …—and, obviously, the ability to discriminate!)

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

As an aside, one of my main beefs with increasing the number of college graduates (even at the cost of lowering academic standards to let the unsuitable graduate) is that the main role of a diploma was to serve as a proxy for e.g. intelligence and diligence, and that this proxy function is increasingly destroyed. Similarly, the greater infantilization of college students removes the proxy effect for ability to work and think for oneself.

Excursion on discrimination and double standards:
Interestingly, discrimination otherwise rejected, usually relating to the passage of time, is sometimes arbitrarily considered perfectly acceptable and normal. A good example is the age of maturity and variations of “age of X” (cf. above)—a certain age is used as an extremely poor and arbitrary proxy for a set of personal characteristics.

In other cases, such discrimination might have a sufficient contextual justification that it is tolerated or even considered positive. For instance, even a well qualified locker-room attendant of the wrong sex might not be acceptable to the visitors of a public bath, and the bath might then use sex as a hiring criterion. Not allowing men to compete in e.g. the WTA or WNBA can be necessary to give women a reasonable chance at sports success (and excluding women from the ATP or the NBA would then be fair from a symmetry point of view). Etc.

Then there is affirmative action…

Excursion on how to discriminate better:
A few general tips on how to discriminate better: Question whether a criterion is actually relevant, in it self, or is just as proxy, proxy-for-a-proxy, proxy-for-a-proxy-for-a-proxy, …; and try to find a more immediate criterion. Question the effectiveness of criteria (even immediate ones). Do not just look at what two things have in common (e.g. building ownership, cf. above) but what makes them different (e.g. being paid or paying). Try to understand the why and the details of something and question whether your current assumptions on the issue are actually correct—why is X done this way*, why is Y a criterion, why is Z treated differently, … Try to look at issues with reason and impartiality, not emotion or personal sympathy/antipathy; especially, when the issues are personal, involve loved ones or archenemies, concern “pet peeves”, or otherwise are likely to cause a biased reaction.

*The results can be surprising. There is a famous anecdote about a member of the younger generation who wanted to find out why the family recipe for a pot-roast (?) called for cutting off part of it in a certain manner. Many questions later, someone a few generations older, and the origin of the tradition, revealed the truth: She had always done so in order to … make the pot-roast fit into her too small pan. Everyone else did so in the erroneous belief that there was some more significant purpose behind it—even when their pans were larger.

Excursion on when not to discriminate (at all):
There might be instances where potential discrimination, even when based on superficially reasonable grounds, is better not done.

For instance, topics like free speech, especially in a U.S. campus setting, especially with an eye on PC/Leftist/whatnot censorship, feature heavily in my current thoughts and readings. Here we can see an interesting application of discrimination: Some PC/Leftist/whatnot groups selectively (try to) disallow free speech when opinions contrary to theirs are concerned. Now, if someone is convinced that he is right, is that not a reasonable type of discrimination (from his point of view)?

If the goal is to push one’s own opinion through at all cost, then, yes, it is.

Is that enough justification? Only to those who are not just dead certain and lacking in respect for others, but who also are very short-sighted:

Firstly, as I often note, there is always a chance that even those convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt are wrong. (Indeed, those dead certain often turn out to be dead wrong, while those who turn out to be right often were open to doubts.) What if someone silences the opposition, forces public policy to follow a particular scheme without debate, indoctrinates future generations in a one-sided manner, …—and then turns out to be wrong? What if the wrongness is only discovered with a great delay, or not at all, due to the free-speech restrictions? Better then to allow other opinions to be uttered.

Secondly, if the power situation changes, those once censoring can suddenly find themselves censored—especially, when they have themselves established censorship as the state of normality. Better then to have a societal standard that those in power do not censor those out of power.

Thirdly, there is a dangerous overlap between the Niemöller issue and the fellow-traveler fallacy: What if the fellow travelers who jointly condemn their common enemies today, condemn each other tomorrow? (Similarly, it is not at all uncommon for a previously respected member of e.g. the feminist community to be immediately cast out upon saying something “heretic”.) Better then to speak up in defense of the censored now, before it is too late.

Fourthly, exposure to other opinions, dialectic, eclecticism, synthesis, … can all be beneficial for the individual—and almost a necessity when we look at e.g. society as a whole, science, philosophy, … Better then to not forego these benefits.

Fifthly, and possibly most importantly, censorship is not just an infringement of rights against the censored speaker—it is also an infringement of rights against the listeners. If we were (I do not!) to consider the act against the speaker justified (e.g. because he is “evil”, “racist”, “sexist”, or just plainly “wrong”); by what reasoning can this be extended to the listeners? Short of “it’s for their own good” (or, just possibly, “it’s for the greater good”), I can see nothing. We would then rob others of their right to form their own opinions, to expose themselves to new ideas, whatnot, in the name of “their own good”—truly abhorrent. Better then to allow everyone the right to choose freely, both in terms of whom to listen to and what to do with what is heard.

Excursion on failure to discriminate in terminology:
As with the child vs. “child” issue above, there are many problems with (lack of) discrimination that can arise through use of inappropriate words or inconsistent use of words. A very good example is the deliberate abuse of the word “rape” to imply a very loosely and widely defined group of acts, in order to ensure that “statistics” show a great prevalence, combined with a (stated or implied) more stringent use when these “statistics” are presented as an argument for e.g. policy change. Since there is too little discrimination between rape and “rape”, these statistics are grossly misleading. Other examples include not discriminating between the words* “racial” and “racist”, “[anabolic] steroid” and “PED”, “convicted” and “guilty”, …

*Or the concepts: I am uncertain to what degree the common abuse of “racist” for “racial” is based on ignorance of language or genuine confusion about the corresponding concepts. (Or intellectually dishonest rhetoric by those who do know the difference…) Similar remarks can apply elsewhere.

(In a bigger picture, similar problems include e.g. euphemistic self-labeling, as with e.g. “pro-life” and “pro-choice”; derogatory enemy-labeling, e.g. “moonbat” and “wingnut”; and emotionally manipulative labels on others, e.g. the absurd rhetorical misnomer “dreamer” for some illegal aliens. Such cases are usually at most indirectly related to discrimination, however.)

Excursion on Wikipedia and Wiktionary:
Wikipedia, often corrupted by PC editors [1], predictably focuses solely on the misleading special-case meanings in the allegedly main Wikipedia article on discrimination, leaving appropriate use only to alleged special cases… A particular perversity is a separate article on Discrimination in bar exam, which largely ignores the deliberate discriminatory attempt to filter out those unsuited for the bar and focuses on alleged discrimination of Blacks and other ethnicities. Not only does this article obviously fall into the trap of seeing a difference in outcome (on the exam) as proof of differences in opportunity; it also fails to consider that Whites are typically filtered more strongly before* they encounter the bar exam, e.g. through admittance criteria to college often being tougher.**

*Implying that the exam results of e.g. Blacks and Whites are not comparable. As an illustration: Take two parallel school-classes and the task to find all students taller than 6′. The one teacher just sends all the students directly to the official measurement, the other grabs a ruler and only sends those appearing to be taller than 5′ 10”. Of course, a greater proportion of the already filtered students will exceed the 6′ filtering… However, this is proof neither that the members of their class would be taller (in general), nor that the test would favor their class over the other.

**Incidentally, a type of racial discrimination gone wrong: By weakening criteria like SAT success in favor of race, the standard of the student body is lowered without necessarily helping those it intends to help. (According to some, e.g. [2] and [3], with very different perspectives and with a long time between them.) To boot, this type of discrimination appears to hit another minority group, the East-Asians, quite hard. (They do better on the objective criteria than Whites; hence, they, not Whites, are the greater victims.)

Worse, one of its main sources (and the one source that I checked) is an opinion piece from a magazine (i.e. a source acceptable for a blog, but not for an encyclopedia), which is cited in a misleading manner:* Skimming through the opinion piece, the main theses appear to be (a) that the bar exam protects the “insiders” from competition by “outsiders” by ensuring a high entry barrier**, (b) that this strikes the poor*** unduly, and (c) that the bar exam should be abolished.

*Poor use of sources is another thing I criticized in [1].

**This is Economics 101. The only debatable point is whether the advantages offset the disadvantages for society as a whole.

***Indeed, references to minorities appear to merely consider them a special case of the “poor”, quite unlike the Wikipedia article. To boot, from context and time, I suspect that the “minorities” might have been e.g. the Irish rather than the Blacks or the Hispanics…

Wiktionary does a far better job. To quote and briefly discuss the given meanings:

  1. Discernment, the act of discriminating, discerning, distinguishing, noting or perceiving differences between things, with intent to understand rightly and make correct decisions.

    Rightfully placed at the beginning: This is the core meaning, the reason why discrimination is a good thing and something to strive for, and what we should strive to preserve when we use the word.

  2. The act of recognizing the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in situations and choosing good.

    Mostly a subset of the above meaning, with reservations for the exact meaning of “good”. (But I note that even a moral “good” could be seen as included above.)

  3. The setting apart of a person or group of people in a negative way, as in being discriminated against.

    Here we have something that could be interpreted in the abused sense; however, it too could be seen as a subset of the first item, with some reservation for the formulation “negative way”. Note that e.g. failing to hire someone without a license to practice medicine for a job as a practicing physician would be a good example of the meaning (and would be well within the first item).

  4. (sometimes discrimination against) Distinct treatment of an individual or group to their disadvantage; treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit; partiality; prejudice; bigotry.

    sexual or racial discrimination

    Only here do we have the abused meaning—and here we see the central flaw: The example provided (“sexual or racial discrimination”) only carries the given meaning (in as far as exceeding the previous item) when combined with a qualifier; dropping such qualifiers leads to the abuse. “Sexual discrimination”, “racial discrimination”, etc., carry such meanings—just “discrimination” does not. This makes it vital never to drop these qualifiers.

    Similarly, not all ships are space ships or steam ships, the existence of the terms “space ship” and “steam ship” notwithstanding; not all forest are rain forests; sea lions are not lions at all and sea monkeys are not even vertebrates; …

    Note that some of the listed meanings only apply when viewed in the overall context of the entire sentence. Bigotry, e.g., can be a cause of discrimination by an irrelevant criterion; however, “sexual discrimination”, etc., is not it self bigotry. Prejudice* can contain sexual discrimination but is in turn a much wider concept.

    *“Prejudice” is also often misunderstood in a potentially harmful manner: A prejudice is not defined by being incorrect—but by being made in advance and without knowing all the relevant facts. For example, it is prejudice to hear that someone plays in the NBA and assume, without further investigation, that he is tall—more often than not (in this case), it is also true.

  5. The quality of being discriminating, acute discernment, specifically in a learning situation; as to show great discrimination in the choice of means.

    Here we return to a broadly correct use, compatible with the first item, but in a different grammatical role (for want of a better formulation).

    I admit to having some doubts as to whether the implied grammatical role makes sense. Can the quality of being discriminating be referred to as “discrimination”? (As opposed to e.g. “showing discrimination”.) Vice versa for the second half.

  6. That which discriminates; mark of distinction, a characteristic.

    The same, but without reservations for grammatical role.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 9, 2018 at 2:08 am

Iceland, irrational laws, and feminist nonsense

with 2 comments

As I learned today, there has been a highly negative development and dangerous precedent in Iceland:

An extremely unwise new law requires “equal” pay between men and women*. This is a good example of the problems with a mixture of democracy and stupid/uninformed voters resp. stupid/uninformed/populist politicians; and equally why it is important to have “small government”, with governmental interference limited to what is necessary—not what buys more votes. Further, it is a good example of how a “noble” cause does more harm than good to society.

*The linked-to article uses the absurdly incorrect formulation “legalise”, which would imply that it would be legal to have equal pay. Presumably, the author intended some variation of “legislate”. (If not ideal, at least much better than “legalise”.)

There are at least the following problems involved:

  1. It falls into the trap of the obnoxious and extremely misleading “77 cents on the dollar” lie. Men and women already have equal pay for equal work in very large parts of the world, including Iceland (and Sweden, Germany, the U.S., …) In fact, in as far as there are differences, they actually tend to favour women… Only by making unequal comparisons by failing to adjust for e.g. hours worked, qualifications, field of work, …, can such nonsense like the “77 cents on the dollar” lie even gain a semblance of truth. Cf. below.
  2. It fails to consider aspects like skill at negotiation and willingness to take risks. Cf. an earlier post.
  3. It risks, as a consequence of the two previous items, to give women a major artificial advantage and men a corresponding disadvantage. Basically, if feminist accounting would eventually find “100 cents on the dollar”, a true accounting would imply “130 cents on the dollar”, given women a de facto 30 % advantage instead of the current alleged male 30 % advantage implied by “77 cents on the dollar”).
  4. Judging whether two people actually do sufficiently similar jobs that the same remuneration is warranted is extremely tricky, and the law risks a great degree of arbitrariness or even, depending on details that I have not researched, that differences in remuneration between people on different performance levels shrink even further*.

    *In most jobs, and the more so the more competence they require, there is a considerable difference between the best, the average, the worst of those who carry the same title, have the same formal qualifications, whatnot. This is only very rarely reflected in payment to the degree that it should be (to achieve fairness towards the employees and rational decision making among employers). In software development, e.g., it is unusual that the difference in value added between the best and worst team member is less than a factor of two; a factor of ten is not unheard of; and there are even people so poor that the team would be better off without their presence—they remove value. Do salaries vary similarly? No…

  5. For compliance, “companies and government agencies employing at least 25 people will have to obtain government certification of their equal-pay policies”. The implication is considerable additional bureaucracy and cost for these organizations and likely, again depending on details I have not researched, the government it self.

    To boot, this is exactly the type of regulation that makes it hard for small companies to expand, and that gives the owners incentives to artificially limit themselves.

    From the reverse angle, for those who actually support this law, such vagueness could weaken* the law considerably—while keeping the extra cost and bureaucracy. Similarly, if the checks are actually fair and come to a conclusion that reflects reality, then changes in actual pay levels will be small and mostly indirect—with, again, the extra cost and bureaucracy added.

    *But I would not bet on it being enough to remove the inherit injustice and sexual discrimination it implies.

  6. It opens the doors to similarly misguided legislation, like e.g. a law requiring that certain quotas of women are met by all organisations—even when there are few women who are interested in their fields. (Implying that women would be given better conditions and greater incentives than men in those fields. Incidentally, something that can already be seen in some areas even with pressure stemming just from “public opinion” and PR considerations—not an actual law.)

As to the “77 cents on the dollar” and related misconceptions, lies, misinterpreted statistics, whatnot, I have already written several posts (e.g. [1], [2] ) and have since encountered a number of articles by others attacking this nonsense from various angles, for example: [3], [4], [5], [6], [7].

Simply put: Anyone who still believes in this nonsense is either extremely poorly informed or unable to understand basic reasoning—and any politician who uses this rhetoric is either the same or extremely unethical. I try to remain reasonably diplomatic in my writings, but enough is enough! The degree of ignorance and/or stupidity displayed by these people is such that they truly deserve to be called “idiots”. They are not one iota better than believers in astrology or a flat earth.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 2, 2018 at 9:35 pm