Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘ethics

Follow-up IV: WordPress and more post-by-email distortions

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And yet another distortion by WordPress: I had put a portion of the previous text in an HTML PRE-tag, to ensure that it was displayed in a certain manner (specifically, to keep formatting from a third-party).

What happens? WordPress presumes to move the closing tag to (almost) immediately after the opening tag, leaving the text incorrectly formatted.

I can only re-iterate that what WordPress does here is utterly inexcusable.

See a disclaimer for more information and links to older texts.

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Written by michaeleriksson

July 10, 2019 at 10:45 am

Some thoughts around a personal anecdote / suppression of information

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Looking over some old posts, I found a footnote dealing with suppression of information from a discussion:

As aside, there might be some PC-extremists that actually deliberately use such formulations, because they see every sign of sex (race, nationality, religion, …) as not only irrelevant in any context, but as outright harmful, because “it could strengthen stereotypes”, or similar. Not only would this be a fanaticism that goes beyond anything defensible, it also severely damages communications: Such information is important in very many contexts, because these characteristics do have an effect in these contexts. (And it is certainly not for one party do selectively decide which of these contexts are relevant and which not.) For instance, if someone cries, the typical implications for a male and a female (or a child and an adult) are very different. Ditto, if a catholic and a protestant marriage is terminated. Etc.

This brought to my mind an incident with a colleague* some years ago, which well illustrates the problems of such information suppression—and does so even in the face of the most stubborn PC objections**.

*And, yes, he was fairly strongly PC. In another incident, he tried to defend the throwing of eggs at immigration critics when we discussed free speech—he did not seem to see the contradiction with his alleged support of free speech…

**E.g. “that the implications of a male crying are different is just a result of societal brain-washing; ergo, it is even more important that we leave such information out, in order to reduce the brain-washing”.

Our discussion (paraphrased from memory and into English):

He: Huh! It says in the paper that a German killed his daughter over pre-marital sex.*

*Or something similar of the “honor” variety, e.g. having the “wrong” boy-friend.

I: Really?!? Was it a “German German” or a Turk* or something?

*Contextually taken to be someone of Turkish ethnicity living in Germany.

He: Yeah, well, um, yeah, I mean, it waaas a Turk, but I did not want to, um, say it like that…

Firstly, such attempts at censorship waste time, can cause unnecessary confusion, and can make something seem more “newsworthy” than it actually is. (Note the idea that “man bites dog” is news, while “dog bites man” is not. In this case: while honor killings are rare even among Turks, they are virtual unheard of among “German Germans”.)

Secondly, and more importantly: by not providing such information, limits on (in this case) the group of perpetrators are removed and a greater number of innocents are potentially implicated. It is true that those uninformed or weak in critical thinking might build an image of the typical Turk as an “honor murderer”, and I can at least understand the PC case for wanting to avoid this.* However, by not keeping the limiting information, aspersions are now cast on the group of men or the group of fathers: if there was a danger before, it remains and it is extended to a larger group—and the proportion of the innocent in this group is higher yet. This is particularly unfortunate in this specific case, because of the great amount of Feminist propaganda directed at painting a faulty** picture of men as abusers of women—to the point that “mäns våld mot kvinnor” (“men’s violence against women”) is one of the most common phrases in Swedish politics, bordering on being a slogan. To boot, this abuse is often implied to serve the deliberate purpose of oppressing women, for which the above killing would have been a splendid example.

*But I stress that I do not agree with it: Presuming to be a filter of information or an arbiter of what others are allowed to know is inherently dangerous. (If in doubt, because it rests on an assumption of knowledge and understanding on behalf of the presumptive arbiter that could be faulty—and, indeed, virtually always is faulty with the PC crowd.) Moreover, I very strongly disagree with denying knowledge (or e.g. self-determination) to those with a brain in order to protect those without one. (And if we try to separate people into groups by e.g. the ability to think, how can we be certain that the arbiter and the criteria are sufficiently good?) Then there is the issue of filtering out information that does apply to a very significant portion of the group. (E.g. through denying that crime rates in a certain group are far higher than in the rest of the population.)

**In reality, women are violent towards men slightly more often than vice versa, and men are far more likely to be victims of violence overall.

From another perspective, if he had been right in censoring the ethnicity of the father, why was he not obliged to leave out “father” (and the implied “man”)? Why not say “parent”? What makes the one piece of information acceptable/relevant/whatnot and the other not?

In some cases, information is sufficiently prima facie relevant or irrelevant that a decision is easy. For instance, that is was a parent (or other close relative) has an impact on the type of crime, and that it happened in (or in relation to) Germany made the incident more personally relevant* than had it happened in some random place in the world. On the other hand, the hair-color of the involved persons would almost** always be irrelevant, except in as far as it revealed*** something more significant. More generally, it can be tricky—especially, when different people have different priorities, interests, and “open questions”.

*At least for some people and/or for some types of news.

**I point to The Red-Headed League for a fictional counter-example, and note that there might, in real-life, e.g. be situations where violence involving people of rarer hair-colors might be more likely for personal reasons.

***For instance, if the hair-color is locally rare, it might point to a tourist or an immigrant, either of which has a considerably higher degree of prima facie relevance. (While this is unlikely to apply to Germany, it might very well apply to e.g. Nigeria and Japan.)

While I can see the case against providing too much information, I see a stronger case against providing too little and would prefer if e.g. journalists erred on the side of too much. Say that a man has beaten a woman: What is the effect of just saying “man” and what of saying “an uneducated, unemployed male alcoholic with a prior criminal record”?* Whether that much information will always be relevant, I leave unstated, but more information would help to build a more nuanced world-view and to foil attempted distortions of said world-view, e.g. by countering propaganda claims like** “all men are rapists” and attempts to hide negative information about certain groups***.

*When e.g. “college professor” applies, it is no less worthy of mention.

**Note that this works in the context of Turks too. For instance, the (hypothetical) knowledge that this was a first-generation immigrant would have lessened the risk of unfair suspicions against those with a longer familial history in Germany. An (equally hypothetical) knowledge of alcoholism would have lessened the risk even for many first generation Turks. Etc.

***For instance, hiding the ethnicity of criminals does not just protect the innocent members of that ethnicity from unfair suspicions—it also creates a too positive view of the group as a whole. Such a view can lead to poorer decision making, especially in politics. To boot, it can lead to unnecessary personal or group conflicts, e.g. when person A has access to information that person B lacks and B incorrectly assumes that A bases his opinion in the overall issue on bigotry/racism/sexism/xenophobia/… or lack of information. (Ditto, m.m., for groups A and B.) I note that both the Swedish and the German press appear to systematically suppress the ethnicity of perpetrators and suspects.

From yet another perspective, these tactics need not be very helpful. For instance, above, I immediately considered it more-likely-than-not that a non-Western immigrant was involved—even in the face of an explicit mention of “German”*. I asked; many others would have jumped to the conclusion and kept it to themselves. Moreover, even I might have asked the wrong question… Was ethnicity the core issue or might it have been religion (or yet some other factor)? Here I saw another case of a Turkish honor killing, where it might (or might not) have been better viewed as a Muslim or a Turkish Muslim honor killing. Having more information, e.g. not just whether the father was a Turk but also whether he was a Muslim, would, again, have given me a more nuanced world-view. This applies the more to those who jump to the conclusion, because even when their conclusions are correct (e.g. “was a Turk”), they need not hit what was actually important.

*While the use of “German” (or “Swede”) to refer to ethnicity is increasingly (and irrationally) frowned upon, the context made ethnicity more likely than nationality, because the clear majority of all people in Germany are German citizens, leaving ethnicity as the natural intention with cases within Germany. Similarly, I suspect, an “Italian-American” is more likely to spontaneously mention that he is Italian (even when not a citizen) than that he is a U.S. citizen (unless he is abroad).

As to what to do instead, if the PC fears are valid? Focus on developing critical-thinking skills, raise awareness of fallacies (e.g. “confirmation bias”), and further the understanding of some very basic ideas like “what applies to some group members do not necessarily apply to all group members”, “that most members of group A are also members of group B does not imply that most members of group B are also members of group A”, “individual variation very often trumps group membership”, “correlation does not imply causation”, and variations. A greater ability to discriminate would also be positive, notably in knowing what criteria are important and what unimportant—but also including ensuring that everyone knows some basic differentiations, e.g. that “Arab” and “Muslim” are not synonymous, that neither (ethnic) Turks nor (ethnic) Iranians/Persians are Arabs, and similar.

Excursion on information and identification:
One concern with being liberal with information is the increased risk of someone intended to be anonymous becoming identifiable. This is a legitimate reason why e.g. journalists should show some restraint, but they should do so on a case-by-case basis. (And I cannot recall ever having heard either the PC crowd or a journalist raise this concern as a reason to censor ethnicity.) For instance, the number of Swedes living in Wuppertal is unlikely to be very large, and just combining “Swede” with “Wuppertal” would limit the candidates correspondingly. Throw in just one or two additional facts and that might be enough to pin-point me—and if it does not, the number of candidates will be small enough that each of them could be considered the match by third parties. I point to the case of a physically assaulted innocent man as just one example of why this can be dangerous.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 6, 2019 at 1:23 pm

A few comments after re-watching “Breaking Bad”

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After mentioning “Breaking Bad” a few weeks ago, I was motivated to re-watch the series—especially, the last season, which I had only seen once in the past.

Among the differences of the last season compared to my recollections was the relative innocence of Walter in the death of his brother-in-law (Hank), and in this the prior text was unfair. Walter and his dealings did cause Hank’s death, but very much against Walter’s will: He called in an attack unaware that one of the three intended victims was Hank, immediately (but unsuccessfully…) called it off as soon as he noticed Hank, and he later (again, unsuccessfully) tried to bargain his entire fortune for Hank’s life. This to some degree lessens my criticism of Walter. (And gives another example of the weakness of human memory. In my recollection, Hank’s death had resulted through a personal altercation between the two, possibly influenced by a prior physical, but non-lethal, altercation that did take place.)

On the down-side, Walter’s behavior in other regards was more psycho-/sociopathic or otherwise disturbed than I had remembered, which is cause for increased criticism, and his concern for human life seems to have dropped very rapidly outside his inner circle. Then again, some instances might go back to Walter simply playing a part, as he did with the phone-call placed to his wife in order to mislead the police (that he correctly assumed to be listening in). That instance was quite obvious, but there might have been non-obvious instances in the past. Of course, Walter was never as bad as the character Todd, who seemed to give human life no more value than that of an ant. Comparing him to Dexter of “Dexter”, a radical difference is that Dexter was very well aware of what he was, while Walter often seemed blind.

A few random observations on other topics:

References were often made to percentages (notably, purity of meth), e.g. comparing numbers like (possibly) 70, 90, 95, and 99 percent. These comparisons seemed to be made from a perspective of “99 percent is ten percent better than 90 percent”* (with variations). However, there are many instances when a reverse perspective gives a better impression of a difference—“1 percent short of the full 100 is ninety percent better than 10 percent short of the full 100”. Which perspective is more appropriate specifically for meth, I leave unstated; however, I would strongly recommend being aware of the reversed perspective in general. For instance, is a bowler who hits a strike 90 percent of the time roughly as good as a 80-percenter, or is he roughly twice as a good?

*Ten percent of 90 percent is 9 percent of the original measure, respectively 9 percentage points. Unfortunately, the dual use of percent can lead to some confusion here. I try to lessen it by keeping the percentages-of-percentages in letters and the “plain” percentages in digits.

During the later stages of the series, I found myself thinking of Walter as a man with a barrel—and immediately associated him with Diogenes*. While some similarities between the two can be argued, there might have been more opposites, including Walter’s barrel containing millions of dollars (and his low living standard being forced upon him), while Diogenes spurned riches for a life in poverty.

*Although his commonly mentioned barrel was actual a wine jar (or similar).

As mentioned in another text, the fifth season had been fraudulently split in Germany, into a fifth season and a last season, each covering roughly half of the true fifth season. Looking at the actual DVDs, I find that the “last” season carried the absurd title “die finale Season”, instead of the expected “die letzte Staffel”. Not only is the use of both “finale”* and “Season”** non-standard and likely taken over from English for the sake of sounding English, cool, or whatnot, but the use of “Season” implies a renewed and entirely unnecessary borrowing of a word that already exists as “Saison” (albeit from French). Thus, if this road had been taken, it really should have been “die finale Saison”, which, while stilted and unnatural, at least could pass for (poor) German. Unfortunately, such excesses, where existing and established German words are arbitrarily replaced, are quite common, as e.g. with buying “ein Ticket an der Counter” instead of “eine Karte an dem Schalter” (cf. a more generic discussion).

*Off the top of my head, I can recall no use of “finale” to imply “last” outside of DVDs. Use of “Finale” (as a noun) to imply e.g. the final game of a knock-out tournament is relatively common, but more “native” solutions are usually preferred, e.g. “Endspiel”.

**The correspondent of “[TV] season” is without exception “[Fernseh-]Staffel”. References to spring/summer/autumn/winter are preferably “Jahreszeit”. Other cases, like “bathing season” and “opera season”, can be translated with “Saison”, but are probably solved differently in most cases e.g. as “Zeit” (time, time period) or “Spielzeit” (opera/theater/whatnot season).

Written by michaeleriksson

May 29, 2019 at 12:33 am

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TV, ethics, crime, and the portrayal of men

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My recent watching of a part* of the third season of “Santa Clarita Diet” brings two major problems with television** to my mind—-problems shared by much of society:

*The developments brought my interest to a halt: Neither do I wish such unnecessary annoyances in my life, nor do I wish to support series with such problems.

**At least over the last two decades of the U.S. dominated main-stream television. It might or might not be/have been better in the past, in other countries, or outside the main stream.

  1. There is a lack of ethical and moral reflection, a too strong belief in “we are the good guys”, an abundance of the-end-justifies-the-means thinking, excuse finding for harmful behavior, denial of the rights of others, double standards, and similar.

    For instance, the protagonists of “Santa Clarita Diet”, the zombie Sheila and her (human) family murder people to satisfy Sheila’s need for human flesh—and do so with little reflection, in an always-sunny world of smiles and laughter… They might not like doing what they do, but when push-comes-to-shove the sole life of Sheila and the well-being of the family is prioritized over the lives of many others. That, e.g., it might be best if Sheila died and the others lived, is not truly considered. Consider, analogously, if someone in need of a transplant killed a potential donor to get his organs—and did so again and again, every few weeks, for a life-time.

    To the degree possible, they try to limit themselves to “bad guys”, but their standard is odd and there is no awareness of the “Who decides?”* problem. Unlike the eponymous protagonist of “Dexter”**, they do not limit themselves to murderers, or even just hardened criminals. One of their main sources had been a local group of Nazis, who were effectively eaten for having the wrong opinions. Notably, none of the Nazis had killed Jews or invaded Poland. To the best of my recollection (but I might be wrong), they had not even committed any crimes that the protagonists knew off. Their last intended victim was an allegedly abusive husband, who was picked without clear evidence, without a chance to tell his side of the story, and based on a “her side” that left me skeptical. Again, contrast this with Dexter, who tries to make absolutely certain before he kills someone—and who was deeply distraught when he once screwed up and put a non-murderer under the knife.

    *“Who decides?” is one of the most useful questions to ask before e.g. pushing for the death penalty, condemning opinions as evil (as opposed to factually wrong), enforcing a certain way of life, etc. All too often, people who are absolutely unqualified take it upon themselves to make such decisions—be they ignorant, stupid, ideological fanatics, … Even those of much greater intellectual development should tread very carefully in such areas.

    **“Dexter” has somewhat similar problems in principle, and I contemplated giving it as another example. However, the attitude of Dexter is very different, he is much more aware of his actions and the moral issues around them, he is much more conscientious, etc. Indeed, he does not just focus on murderers—but on murderers who slipped through the cracks of the justice system and might well have been executed, had they not. (As Lord Montague put it: His fault concludes but what the law should end, / The life of Tybalt. [1].) From that point-of-view, the main issue with Dexter is not necessarily murder but vigilantism. Similarly, the tone of the show is much darker and is much more likely to leave the viewer with incentives to think about right and wrong, means vs. ends, etc.

    Cop shows provide a great many examples, including investigations that use illegal methods or unwarranted and disproportionate violence (the paradoxically-named Temperance of “Bones” is a good example). Interrogation techniques are often grossly unethical, as e.g. in many scenes of “Castle”.

    Supernatural shows, notably “Buffy”, often have a very blanket division into “us humans” (good) and “the non-humans” (evil, feel free to kill at sight). For instance, a major plot-point in the Buffy–Faith relationship and Faith’s development is the killing of a minion of evil who turned out to be a human (rather than the vampire of Faith’s assumption).

    Two shows particularly worthy of mention are “Breaking Bad” and “The Americans”: While both do give some attempts at thinking of ethics, they are not that thorough; and they both give good examples of how trying to achieve (what the protagonist considers) good brings a lot of evil.

    “Breaking Bad” shows a man in a somewhat similar situation to Sheila: Walter suffers from cancer and tries to earn sufficient money to secure his family and/or save his own life through cooking meth—and as things get out of hand, he ends up with death after death on his tally*. The victims eventually include his own brother in law, a DEA agent and family man. While I understand both why he, as low-earning chemistry teacher, was moved to cook meth and how he lost perspective over time, my sympathies grew smaller and smaller through-out the show: a better man would at some point had sat down and realized that the consequences were too severe for too many people to justify his actions. Even his family would likely have been better off, had his early suicide attempt succeeded (gun that jammed? safety on?).**

    *As in: he killed them, ordered them killed, assisted in their killing, … As opposed to: the more indirect deaths that might have resulted through meth abuse.

    **It is, however, conceivable that the world as a whole benefited through the conflicts and disturbances on the drug market. Because these arose as side-effects, I do not give him credit on his karma account.

    “The Americans” deals with two Soviet agents, deep under-cover in the U.S., who fight actively in the cold war. They take any human life, even that of an ally, when it is needed to support the cause or to protect the safety of the family. There were some points when it seemed that they might leave off their ways, but, ultimately, they did not. The husband was somewhat prepared to question his own behavior, but the wife was a fanatic till the end. (With reservations for late events: I stopped watching early in the last or late in the penultimate season.)

    As an aside, the number of shows dealing with criminal protagonists in the recent one or two decades would likely have been unthinkable in earlier eras of television. To me, the potential value of the different perspectives and scenarios is sufficiently large that I will not object on the “criminal” factor alone; however, when combined with weak ethical thinking in the series, it could contribute to lack of ethics in the overall population: I need money—I’ll cook meth! That guy is a problem for me—I’ll murder him! Etc.

  2. Men, the men’s rights movement,* and similar are often portrayed in a manner that deviates extremely from reality, shows great prejudice and ignorance, and might sometimes even raise suspicions of deliberate attempts to manipulate opinion.

    *To avoid misunderstandings, I stress that while I have great sympathies for at least parts of the MRA movement and their goals, I do not consider myself one of them. However, as an intelligent, well-informed critical thinker and a proponent of reason, I do identify as anti-Feminist.

    Consider the last episode of “Santa Clarita Diet” that I saw (at least a portion of—I switched off mid-episode):

    Sheila and her husband lured the aforementioned allegedly abusive husband to a fake “men’s rights” meeting, lead with questions like “How have you been hurt by women?”, implied that the (fictive) other members have restraining orders, pointed to squeaky voices as a reason why women would be disliked, and the victim then went off on something like “I try to tell my wife that she is wrong all the time, but is she grateful?”—all of which have nothing do to with the men’s rights movement and displays more common prejudice about men than about women.

    The connection between men’s rights and dislike of women, being abusive, and whatnot is not only misleading—it is outright offensive. A much better and much more realistic take would have been to let the protagonists spout their prejudice and then have the victim reveal himself as quite contrary to that prejudice.

    For those who actually look at the facts and numbers (not at Feminist propaganda) there are very real issues* for men in today’s society that are constantly bagatellized. More or less any of the females issues is given significant weight, including some that only exist in Feminist propaganda.** Indeed, there are issues where men are the disadvantaged party and Feminists still paint women as the disadvantaged…*** As with any movement (especially an ostracized one), there are some nut-cases and extremists among the MRAs; however, by and large, MRAs try to be the voice of reason in the debate about men, women, and equal rights, to bring in a different perspective, to look at facts instead of prejudice and propaganda, … Still, ever again, those who attempt to be the voice of reason are ridiculed as the voice from the loony bin…

    *The below implicitly contains some examples. For many others, please read up.

    **Including alleged and/or misinterpreted income disparities, the Swedish hate-rhetoric of “men’s violence towards women”, the invented U.S. college rape epidemic, “rape culture”, and whatnot.

    ***Including domestic abuse (cf. below), allegations that rape or rape victims are not taken seriously enough (while the rights of the, often innocently, accused suffer), that women are treated more harshly in court (while family courts favour them massively and they routinely receive much more lenient punishments in criminal trials), etc.

    Worse: Looking at a larger time frame of the series, we now have MRAs as the possible replacement source for Nazis, effectively putting the two groups on comparable levels of “evil”.

    Of course, the meme of the abusive husband is it self a common misrepresentation. On TV, domestic abuse is usually a one-sided affair of husband abusing wife, and the proportion of victims and perpetrators is ridiculously large, In real life, few men are abusers, about half of all domestic violence is reciprocal, and men are the victims and women the perpetrators slightly more often than vice versa.

    Similarly, the proportion of men on TV, who, e.g. as bosses, are unfair towards women because they are women is extremely out of proportion with what I have seen in real life—it is as if someone was trying to imprint the existence of “discrimination”, “Patriarchy”, and whatnot through TV to over-come its absence from real life… A particularly absurd example is an early scene of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, where an absolute caricature, a Feminist masturbatory fantasy, of a male Patriarch talks down to Sabrina over an alleged* sexual harassment incident. I turned the (otherwise also unimpressive) show off then and there. I have not kept record**, but I have a suspicion that some TV shows try to build up a female protagonist as a “strong woman” through pitting her against such straw-men and giving her an opportunity to stand up. Usually, it fails, because either the male character or his behavior is too exaggerated or unusual, which makes the makers of the show look bad (instead of the female protagonist good) or it forces the female character to make assumptions that could equally be the result of her own prejudice—in which case she looks bad e.g. through jumping to conclusions or being unduly belligerent. (And potentially sets a negative example for real-life women, making them too jump to the conclusion of “sexism” instead of e.g. “greed”, “general ass-holery”, “misunderstanding”, whatnot.)

    *The scene was also unfortunate in another regard—it provided a perfect opportunity to push issues like the need to talk to both parties of a conflict, to not automatically believe friends over non-friends, the need for the presumption of innocence, and similar: Sabrina’s friend complained about one or several sport’s team members having (IIRC) looked up her skirt in Sabrina’s absence—and Sabrina promptly rushed to the principal’s office and demanded that the entire sport’s team be interrogated. In contrast, she did not, e.g., go talk with the team members to hear their story or to limit the number of suspects. Instead of having the principal giving her a kind talk, pointing out how to proceed better, the show makers presented the aforementioned caricature, who ridiculed her, suggested that she might want to leave school, and failed to mention the legitimate concerns about e.g. presumption of innocence. Similar missed opportunities are, unfortunately, quite common on TV.

    **Among the many somewhat similar (but none so extreme) scenes that I have seen over the years, the first (?) respective episode of “Stargate SG-1” and “Fringe” springs to mind.

Excursion on other portrayals:
Unrealistic, exaggerated, or whatnot portrayals are obviously common in general*, which can be a more general problem when people draw too much on TV (or other fiction) rather than own experiences, science, whatnot. In some cases, e.g. concerning very rich people, fiction might be the dominant source of information (or “information” ) that most of us encounter. My own field (IT, software development) is distorted in a ridiculous manner on most occasions, and might leave outsiders with extremely naive opinions.

*Including of women, nerds, jocks, scientists, … as groups; and e.g. of the frequency of murder and love-at-first-sight as events.

In some cases, such portrayals can have a degree of justification to get the plot moving, for comic effect, whatnot. However, care should be taken, especially when deviating from reality (as with e.g. domestic abuse): it is one thing e.g. to exaggerate a stereotype that broadly matches reality—an entirely other to push a stereotype which does not match reality. (As a special case: Pushing a false stereotype to fit an agenda is obviously inexcusable.) Similarly, using exaggerations that are recognizable as exaggerations and stereotypes that are recognizable as not-necessarily-true can be a legitimate way to achieve a comedic effect. For instance, “Modern Family” drew many laughs on obvious exaggeration—and did so over the entire line of characters, including men and women, heteros and homos, adults and children, U.S. citizens and immigrants, book worms and party people, … Even here, however, there must be sufficient truth in the (pre-exaggeration/-generalization) core that the core is recognized (or the humor will not be funny) and that the truth is not turned on its head (or ethical issues arise).*

*However, room must be left for individual weirdness, e.g. in that having a single specimen from a certain group displaying a certain behavior can be funny without reference to stereotypes and without being harmful. Doing so with two or more people on the same show is different because it would imply a norm for the group. (Ditto if the same behavior is displayed by several group members on different shows.) For instance, Doc Brown (of the “Back to the Future” franchise) works well as a stand-alone character—he is a scientist and a screwball. However, if one or two other scientist, behaving the same, had been added to the movies, this would have risked the imposition of a norm for scientists—he is a screwball because he is a scientist.

Unfortunately, not all these groups* of portrayals are harmless. Looking at the case of a wife-beating husband, e.g., we have a harmful stereotype that does not match reality and which is taken at face value by most viewers—it helps with creating or cementing a misguided world-view. (While, in contrast, the stereotype of a man who forgets his wife’s birthday, while not necessarily more truthful, is neither very harmful nor taken at face value in the same manner.)

*Looking at any given individual portrayal as a stand-alone choice, it might be beyond reproach, e.g. because there are men who beat their wives (even non-reciprocally), which would make a ban on such portrayals unfairly limiting. However, when the same show has an undue frequency of such portrayals (e.g. when the topic of wife-beating arise with multiple men throughout the run) or when the overall media repeats such portrayals again and again in undue proportions (e.g. in that wife-beating husbands outnumber husband-beating wives ten-to-one or that the frequency exceeds the real-life frequency in an undue manner), then we do have a problem. This applies in particular when the portrayed character belongs to a group rarely featured. (Contrast e.g. the effect of having an individual gay character being a child molester today vs. forty years ago: today, it would be seen as an individual flaw; back then, it might have been seen as a gay flaw.) Also cf. the previous footnote.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 11, 2019 at 10:39 pm

Follow-up III: WordPress and more post-by-email distortions

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I have repeatedly written about WordPress and how it distorts texts posted by email in a user hostile and unethical manner (e.g. in [1], [2], [3]).

Now, I have to add another complaint:

In a text from earlier today, I referenced several web-sites. I deliberately did so without linking and mentioning just the name, e.g. “www.conrad.de”—no link or “http(s):” present. (Should you see one, it is a distortion by WordPress; however, in the past, things within quotes have been left alone.)

Nevertheless the published version appears with full links, including a spurious “http:” at the beginning of the display text of every single instance.

In addition to the general issues already discussed, I note that (a) it is not a given that “http” is a safe choice and “https” would be better in the clear majority of cases;* (b) it must be possible to discuss server (or domain) names without actually linking to them; (c) not everything that looks like a server (or domain) name actually is one and not all servers are necessarily present on the web, which could lead to grossly misleading linking; (d) not linking can be a deliberate choice that is nullified by this idiocy. Notably, considering the odd court decisions that have taken place over the years, a situation could conceivably even occur, where this added link to an address makes someone legally liable in a different manner from merely mentioning the website. Other reasons not to actually link can be related to e.g. search-engine rankings.

*But not always, implying that there is no good choice, and giving a further argument to leave them alone.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 26, 2019 at 10:01 pm

Follow-up: WordPress and more post-by-email distortions

with one comment

Looking at the actual results of the WordPress-spelling issue just mentioned, it seems that all-but-one occurrence of “Wordpress” were indeed turned into “WordPress”—the one that actually was in quotation marks.

This has the advantage that it does allow discussions of spelling and correct quoting of others statements; however, it does so at the cost of an inconsistent behavior, and a behavior that is highly unpredictable. To boot, it does not resolve the overall problem. The correct solution is and remains to keep all occurrences the way that the blogger actually wrote them.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 7, 2019 at 10:53 pm

WordPress and more post-by-email distortions

with 2 comments

I have already written about how WordPress distorts quotation marks in “post by email” texts, and why this is idiotic. However, these are not the only artificial problems caused by WordPress. For instance, I have long noticed that line-breaks are often added or removed compared to the display of my HTML original, e.g. in the list entries in my recent blogroll update. Looking at the actual HTML code, I can see that WordPress has simply removed closing paragraph-tags (p) before a closing-listentry tag (li), which is very poor style. Not only does the result indisputably display differently* in my browser, but good code does not rely on implicit closures of that kind.

*Unlike in my original, very preliminary observations, when I first experimented with post-by-email. Then, I had mainly (or exclusively?) seen a removal of tags around the asterisks that I use for footnotes, which indeed did not seem to affect display. (At least in my browser and with the fonts used—there is always a risk that the situation is different in other circumstances.)

Another issue is that I write “Wordpress” (as I attempt here; let us see whether it is changed) with a small “p”, but that this somehow always turns out as “WordPress” (with a capital “P”). WordPress might have its own preferred spelling, but it has no right to impose it on me, especially since the word could conceivably refer to something else in some context (possibly, within a book by Jasper Fforde?). Certainly, there are a few* people who disapprove strongly of such unconventional casing, and imposing something that it disapproves of in such a manner would be doubly unethical—with strong parallels to a recent text on distortion of literary works. Or what about a text (e.g. this one) discussing the spelling, which is now unable to quote the word in variant forms? Or what about an attempt to quote something that someone else said, which simply did not use the preferred-by-Wordpress spelling?

*I am not one of them, but I have sufficiently strong opinions in other areas that I can sympathize and put myself in their shoes in this scenario.

Moreover: What guarantees do we have that no more insidious changes take place (or later will take place)? What if someone decides that words like “nigger” and “fuck” are to be auto-censored*, that all spelling be converted to U.S. conventions to suit the broadest spectrum of readers, or that all occurrences of “he” be automatically replaced by “they” to ensure PC conformity? Also note that there is no notification whatsoever as to what changes have been made, which leaves the blogger the choice between blind trust and entirely disproportionate checks and/or manual corrections.

*In the context of forums, such auto-censorship is relatively common, and often applied in an utterly idiotic manner. For instance, words like “analyst” can be turned into “****yst”, because the filters do not differ between a stand-alone “anal” and “anal” as part of a larger word with an entirely different meaning. (The question aside, whether “anal” is worthy of censorship in any context.) On the other hand, they are typically foiled by variations like “f*ck” or “F-U-C-K”, the censorship of which would be much less unreasonable (but still disputable!) than a plain-text “anal”.

This is all the more annoying, since one of the reasons that I use post-by-email is to avoid the extreme fuck-ups that WordPress causes through its GUI*.

*Cf. e.g. the current state of a text dealing with “Google’s ideological echo chamber”, where a post-by-email malfunction forced me to correct the text in the GUI—with very weird layout results. (Actually, this might be yet another example of consistent idiocy: I used the HR-tag, which has over-time been redefined from meaning “horizontal ruler” to “general content separator”. Because my original posting attempt was cut off exactly where the HR-tag was, I suspect that WordPress has imposed an even further going private semantic of “end of post”, which would yet again be an inexcusable meddling contrary to reasonable assumptions. However, I have made no further experiments with said tag in conjuncture with WordPress.)

The only reasonable solution is to respect the actual words and code of the blogger.

Disclaimer:
In order to avoid additional complications through possible WordPress interference, some of the above formulations are less explicit than they would be in another context, e.g. in that I speak of “paragraph-tags (p)” where I would normally have included an explicit tag example.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 7, 2019 at 10:31 pm