Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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WordPress posts (archive 1)


This is an archive of some posts made at my WordPress accounte. You may prefer reading them there—in particular, if you want to give feedback. I strongly encourage you to never link here, but directly to the WordPress account. For more current entries and other archives, see: current, archive 2, archive 3

Commercial language

It is usually obvious when someone has written a text to inform his readers and when to convince them to do something—and in the latter case, the readers tend to be loath to comply. Whether these “convincing” texts bring a net benefit will depend on the readers’ intelligence, education, and experience; but I note that ad writers (and writers of “corporate” texts) naively tend use the same cheap language tricks irrespective of target group—in particular, failing to consider that many of the readers will be smarter than the ad writers themselves are...

This type of writing seems to be spreading further and further, even be it in a less intrusive form than in advertising. Nevertheless, this increase in self-serving language is an annoyance, while, in fact, serving no-one: On the contrary, I fear that it reflects a lack of humility and self-perspective (or may, conversely, affect thinking).

For instance, in my recent exploration of free (legal) sources of music, I found the following snippets on an overview page for the Internet Archivee:

muzic is proud to share their collection with the world in partnership with the Internet Archive.

Why “proud”? Any pride that could be relevant here is the type of pride to be avoided.

Download free recordings of classical music performed live in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Tapestry Room. These exclusive recordings from the museum’s regular concert series feature...

The first sentence uses an imperative—a big no-no. The second uses the word “exclusive”; which is not only ad language, but also hackneyed.

Listen to this collection of 78rpm records and cylinder recordings released in the early 20th century.

Imperative again.

RadiOM.org is a unique new music resource providing access to historical and contemporary material recorded over a fifty year-plus span.

“Unique” is another hackneyed ad word—and one that tends to be used untruthfully to an even higher degree than most others. In addition, the sentence as a whole gives a negative impression, e.g. by use of “providing access”. Consider instead:

RadiOM.org provides music recorded over the last fifty-plus years.

If these had been adverts in a newspaper, I would had said nothing, possibly even thought myself lucky; however, consider the context they were in.

Some articles on my website deal with similar topics, notably Idiocies of ad writing.

(For those unconvinced, consider whether the addition “I am proud to exclusive share this unique article with you. Read it NOW!” would increase or decrease your wish to read it.)

Avatar, box office, and the development of records

Comparing box office numbers is a tricky thing: US domestic box officee has Avatar as the clearly highest grossing film in raw dollars, but it reaches only place 15 in an inflation adjusted viewe—behind all three original Star Wars movies and Gone with the Wind, the 71. y.o. queen of the box office. (Retrieved on 2010-02-25; in both cases beware that box-office figures change over time.)

Still, such comparisons provide an excellent illustration of a common phenomenon that applies much more generally:

Records tend to be smashed, with the new record standing out for a long time, while the rest of the world slowly closes up, possibly even surpasses the record—and then the record is smashed again.

This is by no means an infallible rule, but surprisingly often, it is correct. (In particular, when correcting for e.g. phases of rapid natural growth due to changing circumstance or a period of weak records, say because a new technique or material has dramatically changed the circumstances).

Consider the list of Highest-grossing films (US and Canada)w provided by Wikipedia, and note how the number one spot tends to reside with a clear all-time leader, with the occasional series of several breakings leading up to a new clear number one. (This is even more obvious if we compensate for the extreme inflatione between Star Wars and E.T.)

A similar principle appears in the world-wide box office, but less clearly (and with a lot more leg-work).

For other examples look at Wikipedia’s Timeline of world’s tallest freestanding structuresw or some of the world record progressions in athletics present at http://www.athletix.org/e (but beware that what is considered a smashing in athletics is very different from in the box office; also note some counter-examples like the men’s high jump until Sotomayor). Alternatively, try your hand at an arcade game and note how your high score develops over time.

The yearly Swedish book-sale

Every year, towards the end of February, the yearly Swedish book-sale takes place: All the bookstores in the country lower the prices on parts of their respective line of books, often considerably, for a fix time period.

Understandably, this sale has been very popular among book-lovers. Today, however, I read a Swedish articlee lamenting, among other things, that books that were “traditionally” a part of the sale are no longer so, and noting that its popularity has decreased considerably in just a few years (e.g. due to competition from Internet-based bookstores).

Well, the latter is easy to understand: The previous popularity was a direct effect of the overly high prices charged the rest of the year. In effect, the sale was an attempt to eat the cake and have it too: Prices were held artificially high through most of the year, giving a nice profit margin; and then dropped for a time to ensure that a sufficient quantity of books were sold on a yearly basis. While this scheme is dubious ethically, it is also quite clever—provided that cheaper books cannot be procured elsewhere during the rest of the year. With most Swedes having Internet access this condition is no longer true (in particular, as many Swedes are good at English, which makes online bookstores targeted to the UK or the US an alternative).

Obviously, the book industry has never admitted this scheme. Instead they try to deceive people with claims about getting rid of surplus or unsellable books, that the books sold off are often cheaper special prints, or similar.

The first may have been the historical reason, and to some part remains true today, but is certainly not the main reason—except to the degree that the system is rigged to yield such surpluses (cf. above). Besides, if an involuntary surplus was the problem, how come some books are sold off every year? Would this not imply a considerable lack of judgment?

The second points to one of the biggest lies of book selling everywhere: That the cost of printing makes out most of the book price. (Also used to justify the drastically higher prices for hardcover editions over pocket editions.) This simply is not true (with some reservations for luxury editions): numbers around 10 %e have been mentioned as realistic estimates. Even if we manage to cut the printing cost in two, e.g. by using cheaper paper, this would only allow a 5 % reduction...

Germany uses another somewhat perverted system to fool its book buyers: The “recommended” cover price is legally binding in Germany. Every bookstore must sell the books for this exact price, which eliminates competition and allows for an artificially high price. Instead, books deemed too poor sellers are eventually remaindered. In addition, long term price reductions can often be reached by issuing new editions of a different quality, allowing for some amount of price segmentation.

How I and others comment

I do my fair share of blog reading, and naturally drop off a comment here and there. (Increasingly so after registering my own WordPress account, which gives me this ability on more blogs than previously.)

An interesting difference between how I and many (most?) others comment, is that they tend express agreement on posts they concur with, while I tend to comment on those posts I find fault with (be it overall or in detail). This arises from a wish to improve things: If I see something that is suboptimal (let alone wrong), I tend to comment. If I see a post which ask for opinions and I have a relevant opinion, I tend to comment. Etc. OTOH: If a post is already impeccable; if it expresses the opinion I, myself, happen to have; if it open my eyes to a new aspect of something; then I am less likely to comment—why should I, when the need for improvement is not there?

I try to deliberate make a few agreeing posts from time to time, having learned from professional life that my natural attitude comes across as overly and one-sidedly critical to most others. (This is an error on their part, but a very understandable error, and I would advise anyone with a similar natural attitude to bear this in mind. Also note the Tall Dancer issue.) Similarly, I sometimes refrain from commenting on a post where I wanted to comment. Still the bulk will likely remain in my usual style for the foreseeable future.

In particular, should I have commented negatively on one of your posts, it is rarely because I consider you an idiot (although this can happen on rare occasions), but because I try to, in my own way, help. Sometimes it is the poster that I try to help, sometimes it is the other readers; but the intention is almost always constructive.

Returning to how others comment, there are also others that tend to be critical in their opinions. A few are like me, others just like to comment (and are positive or negative according to whether they agree or disagree), some are trolls looking for a fight with anyone, others yet simply react strongly to people of the “wrong” opinion (often with the automatic conclusion that the latter are, ipso facto, idiots).

My advice to both posters and commenters: Apply Hanlon’s razor and never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence. (At least not on a first offense.)

Further notes on WordPress

As hinted at in my last post, I have been fairly active in exploring WordPress recently. In particular, my excursions into the blogosphere have, until recently, mostly consisted of stumbling onto various blogs during researches, often followed by just reading that blog from beginning to end (skipping entries that turned out to be uninteresting, obviously): This way, I have built up a great mass of read blog entries, but without any continuity, little “compare and contrast”, and no view of the writers side (apart from the very different platform of OpenDiary)—and my recent activities here have given me much deeper insights into WordPress, how different blogs come across, how the writers side works, etc.

A few observations (with a tendency towards griping) on the more technical side:

  1. The whole “theme” thing is done the wrong way around: The themes should not be applied by the authors to their own blogs, but by the readers. This would make for greater consistency, make life easier for the readers, and avoid many annoyances. An article on my website on Separation of content and layout can provide a bit more information about what I mean.

    As an aside, OpenDiary has the same problem—and there I usually used Opera’s UserCSS functionality to just override anything the diarists had concocted. (Note that the themes there are not professionally ready made, like here, but entirely the work of the individual diarists. The result is a high frequency of truly abhorrent designs, with extremely bright and contrasting colors, red text on black backgrounds, and other variations that make the readers eyes hurt.)

  2. The administrative area is abysmally slow—a price to be paid for the extensive functionality. In the weighing of costs and benefits, I am the opinion that WordPress should have been content with less. (Reservation: My time here is sufficiently short that this could conceivably be a temporary shortage in band-width or server capacity. If so, I may have to revise this statement. Under no circumstances, however, would I like to deal with WordPress over a cell phone or a dial-up connection.)

  3. For some reason, HTML text entered with line-breaks is distorted by the artificial addition of paragraphs according to these line-breaks. Really unprofessional: The point of HTML (as opposed to Rich-Text or WYSIWYG editors) is that the actual HTML code can be entered (typically pasted from elsewhere) and be interpreted in the same manner as if it had been written in a plain HTML document.

  4. The Snap previews of links are evil. Compare a discussion on another bloge. I urge my fellow bloggers to follow the advice of that post and turn Snap off. Further, I re-iterate my comment on that post that this is a functionality that should be provided and configurable on the browser level, not on the blog/website level (similar to themes above).

    For users, I have not found any foolproof way to counter this. I tried a few alleged solutions using user-side JavaScript/CSS, but they proved ineffectual for some reason; the same was true for the alleged solution in the Snap FAQ. (And, upon inspection the source code was sufficiently convoluted that it would have taken me more time than I intended to waste to reliably find the right counter-measure.) Currently, I simply have JavaScript turned off per default. This fixes the problem, but can have negative side-effects elsewhere. It may, in particular, be necessary to re-activate it when doing something in the administrative area.

  5. I am puzzled as to why the statistics in the administrative area have a piece of Flash were a conventional image would be expected. There may be some additional functionality present that is not possible with an image, but hardly any that would justify the use of Flash (evil!); in particular, when considering that normal links, CSS, and JavaScript can do most (all?) things that could reasonably be wished for in this context. (Because I have Flash turned off in a very categorical manner, I cannot say what this hypothetical additional functionality would be—or if there is any at all: It could well be that the contents are static, and that the developers simply find generation of Flash easier than of an image.)

Humor sites

I try to combine education with pleasure; and have found that humor, in various forms, is not only useful as entertainment, to induce laughs, or to make people happy, but can also give insights into human thinking and behaviour, hold up a mirror of self-criticism to the audience, remind how many deeply stupid people are out there, or otherwise serve a practical purpose.

Correspondingly, I have published a list of humor sites with educational benefits on my website. Your visit is welcome—as are your suggestions for new additions.

The International Women’s Day...

...has been a major annoyance to me for roughly the last week. The reason: Swedish newspapers.

While women have a very rough deal in many countries, and while an international women’s day still has legitimacy, the situation is very, very different in Sweden. Feminists (in particular gender-feminists) have had an enormous influence both on politics and on various media—and society has been transformed to such a degree that men are now (on average) the disadvantaged. All the while, pseudo-scientific “gender-studies” are given public financing, media keep spouting a “women are disadvantaged” message, and any man who dares to speak up for equal treatment (note: “equal treatment”—not “restoration of a medieval patriarchy and oppression of women”) risks being branded as a misogynist. Looking at my own early years, through the lens of my far more nuanced adult world-view, I would go as far as say that the joint effect of the school system and news reporting amounted to feminist indoctrination.

Even during a normal week, there are some feministic gripe being spread through the newspapers, topics not inherently related to men and women are given a “gender spin” (e.g. by high-lightning the proportion of women involved or by writing a separate article on the break-through this or that means for women), men and women are given different treatments for doing the same thing, etc. A typical example is that whenever women have less than 50 % of something (e.g. a particular job or award), the reporting goes in the direction of “failure”, “we have a long way to go”, “men must learn to leave space for women as their equals”, or similar—this completely disregarding actual accomplishments, who is interested in doing what, and other factors that legitimately affect the selection. No such statements are made when men are in the minority: On the contrary, when the University of Lund recently gave a few men preference based on their sex to compensate for a clear over-weight of women in their psychology program, the newspapers raised hell about women being discriminated against—and the courts found it to be illegal. Apparently, however, the same kind of discrimination, favouring women, is perfectly acceptable for “Militärhögskolan” (“Military College”, where future officers of the Swedish military are educated).

In the last week, this has taken so ridiculous proportions that SvD and DN (the two leading morning newspapers) had about as many articles on women, the Women’s Day, “gender issues”, and various artificially angled articles, as they did articles on other topics put together. (Looking at their respective website entry-points when it was at its worst; for several days it must have been roughly a quarter to a third of the total.)

In contrast, I did not even notice when the International Men’s Day (November 19) went by—in fact, I only became aware of it when looking up the Women’s Day in Wikipedia today...

I have so far not paid much attention to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for my website: I find greater enjoyment in thinking and writing than in actually being read, and SEO is just a necessary evil along the road. (Just like many engineers would prefer it, if they could fire the entire marketing and sales departments, and hire a few new engineers in order to build more and better products—but find their hands tied by the economic reality.)

However, I have gone to great efforts to “keep a clean slate”, avoid shady practices, deploy HTML that validates and is widely browser conformant, and so on.

As you can imagine, I was not thrilled to discover that I appear to have a “Google penalty”, i.e. a handicap that Google puts on sites that they suspect of being less-than-kosher in their SEO practices.

This is a very tentative estimate, because Google it self keeps quite on such issues; however, the original heuristic claim by one checkere was verified by a seconde. (Then again, web-based checkers are often unreliable.)

After reading up on the topic, the most likely reason seems to be that I link to some sites that could be considered shady, which would draw my own credibility down: I discuss many topics and tend be liberal with linking to sites that could be of interest to the readers—including by serving as negative examples. (Another possibility is that a disproportionate part of my incoming links are from comments on various blogs and newspaper articles, just like comments made using a WordPress account link back to that account. These could be misinterpreted as some kind of comment spam or link exchange—both of which are frowned upon.)

As for my own experiences, I did note a surprising drop (30 %?) in the number of incoming hits from Google in December; however, not one which had me in panic: This could happen e.g. because of an algorithm change or a seasonal variation—and need not be a cause for alarm.

For the time being, I have added a rel="nofollow" to all external links (which effectively tells search engines that I do not endorse the linked to page). This is obviously unfortunate with the sites that I would actually want to see get more traffic, but I prefer to save more flexible changes until a later date. (I currently use a very basic template language which is transformed directly into HTML. I plan to add an intermediate XML stage in the near future, which will make extensions and alterations much easier.) This in particular as there are some other possible attributes of the HTML anchor-tag that may be useful—and adding them all in the current system would be very messy.

In conclusion: I would recommend others to link with care and to use rel="nofollow" when linking to sites they suspect of being shady—or simply disagree with: There is no reason why Google should include a “thumbs up” for a site in their algorithms from those who disagree with the site’s message or methods.

However, beware that I am not certain whether I, specifically, have a real problem or just a false alarm—or whether I have the right cure for this particular problem. As a further disclaimer: There is much speculation and little true knowledge of what goes on “under the hood” with Google. Claims in this area should be taken with a greater pinch of salt than statements in more well-researched areas; and SEO is, in my mostly theoretical understanding, partly a game of trying to experimentally find out what currently works, to reap the benefits until the rules change again.

Continued discussion of creativity

Preamble for third parties:

I recently commented on a post discussing creativitye. This lead the author to elaborate his opinions in a second poste.

Seeing that he had gone to considerable effort on my behalf, I wished to give sufficient comment, and decided to do so here, rather than within the limitations of the comment field.

Some original formatting has been lost in quoting.

Preamble for cpsinclair:

First off, thank you for your efforts in elaborating on your opinions. Below, I give my feedback to your text. In addition, for completeness, I would like to provide three links with three different takes on creativity, which I just found via Google:




(Comparing and contrasting different opinions is usually a good way to get an understanding of the meaning of a word or phrase.)

I regret that I will likely not be able to continue an in-depth discussion after this, for reasons of time.

Main analysis:

If it was possible to define creativity in any meaningful way, restrictions would have to be placed on the idea, in order to contextualize it within bounds. How to isolate creativity? If it was possible to isolate creativity, then creativity itself would not be necessary.

Here you point (I think) to a very general problem, namely that it is near impossible to make good definitions where “natural” concepts are concerned. (Where I differ between concepts that have arisen by natural development and those that are defined in an ad hoc manner for a specific context.) I fully agree, and consider many attempts to define something like trying to find a rectangular box that is a perfect fit for a highly irregular object (e.g. a tree).

What you say about isolating creativity, however, I do not quite follow—and I am very unsure whether I would agree. How could creativity become unnecessary?

Creativity is so ubiquitous throughout the history off mankind that it isn’t helpful to ask “what actually is creativity”? A more effective question is “what actually isn’t classed as creativity”? That is a more creative question – the question of creativity requires a creative answer.

Negative definitions are indeed often useful; however, mostly when it comes to resolving border issues and special cases, or to clarify ambiguities in language. Then again, there are many roads to Rome, so will play it your way.

* Creativity is not a response to a challenge where everything that needs to be said or done is known in advance. In other words, creativity is not the ability to follow instructions.

I agree.

* An antonym of “creation” is “destruction”. But destruction can be creative as well as destructive, as I’ll discuss later on at some point

I agree, with the minor reservation that “annihilation” might be the better antonym.

* Creativity is not a polar opposite of logical reasoning. Some people think it is.

I agree. I would further argue that creativity and logical reasoning are not even on the same spectrum, in the same way as e.g. humor and prose are on different spectra. (Possibly, I abuse the word “spectrum” here; in a mathematical or physical context, I would likely speak of “dimension”.)

* Creativity does not answer questions without there being a context within which other solutions a possible. Creativity is not the realm of 100% possibilities.

I am not quite certain whether I understand you. In particular, do you mean “probabilities”, rather than “possibilities”?

At any rate, I would opine that every situation/problem must be seen within a context in which many solutions are possible—or, if not, that there will be situations where creativity does underly a one-solution only situation. (The latter, however, would be very rare and of little practical importance.)

* Creativity is not realistically confined to dictionary definitions or encyclopaedic entries, especially not Open Source Software platforms like Wikipedia.

Partially agreed, as discussed above. IMO, the elaboration from Wikipedia given earlier is a reasonably good attempt. Further, if we look at the article as a whole a more differentiated and useful image is given. Notably, the very openness of Wikipedia makes it unusually well suited for such purposes, compared with a traditional encyclopedia. (In principle: Whether that particular article was up to Wikipedia’s normal standards can be disputed.)

* Creativity is not an idea to be applied in financial accounting. This could land you in prison!

Not necessarily: I understand what you mean, and in that meaning I agree. However, there are perfectly legal cases of creative accounting. In most countries the accounting laws are so convoluted and/or give so much leeway and flexibility that a good accountant can be both creative and law abiding.

Looking at your items taken together, I still do not have a clear image of what you mean by “creativity”. What we have now is roughly “A computer is not a car, not a calculator, and not a collie.”, which does not exclude the possibility that it is a lobster.

In contrast, I would likely have started with the word “creativity” and worked my way forward by giving positive examples. A possible result (without working through the details) would be “The ability to create new knowledge of sufficient originality, quality, and quantity.”; where “knowledge” is taken in a very wide and non-standard sense, including, but not in anyway limited to, mathematical theorems, literary novelties (“novels” in an earlier sense), and methods to do something. “Originality, quality, and quantity”, are necessarily somewhat subjective—just like “creativity”. (Is “L.H.O.O.Q.” a creative piece of art or a disrespectful and trivial piece of junk?) Their interpretation may further depend on context, and it is certainly possible that even a comparatively simple action by a layman is creative in the right context.

(I stress that this should not be seen as a complete discussion, but as the general direction in which my approach would lead.)

The best way to deal with the question of creativity is not to ask what it is, but rather what it is not. How creative was this post? The answer to this question is another question: How creative are you? This is both a question and an answer. A creative person can work out how this post relates to creativity, because to ask what doesn’t come under the banner of creativity was paradoxical enough to be classed as creativity. There is indeed a relationship between paradox and creativity, which will be elaborated on at some future point. Although creativity is not universally paradoxical, and in fact paradox may be just one form of creativity, but there is a strong connection between the two. Creativity most definitely is about making connections between things, especially the right things.

Here you are little to zen-ny for my taste (and, again, I do not quite catch your meaning). As with a koan, your post could be something beneficial to contemplate in order to improve ones own understanding, but is not well suited to communicate what your understanding is (nor to formally define “creativity”). In addition, gaining this private understanding may, in it self, take some considerable creativity—which limits the use of the text.

I agree, however, that your approach in this post is an example of creativity; further, that making connections is a very common aspect of creativity (but not, necessarily, all there is). I disagree, as discussed above, that it is the best way to approach the issue.

Returning to the questions originally raised, I am still not certain how you land at the claim “Members of the scientific community stereotype creative people as hippies and air-heads.”, although (re-reading the latter part of that post more closely) I suspect that you might have had something like the “Dead Poet Society” in mind. My thoughts upon reading “scientist” go more towards the natural scientists, and I assumed that you were referring to the stereotypical division into “Spocks” and “Byrons”. Either way, I fear that you over-generalize and/or misunderstand.

Free news or censorship?

This blog is intended to deal with a great variety of topics, but here I find myself writing about Sweden, newspapers, and blogging—again:

Firstly, I would like to comment on the presence of Fria Nyhetere (“Free News”) on my blogroll: Why would I add a Swedish news-blog that I had (at the time) only visited twice onto the blogroll, while writing for an international audience?

The reason is simple: The abysmal quality and strong political/ideological distortion of Swedish news-reporting. This is not unique to Sweden, but it appears to be both stronger (on average) and more uniform in direction than in other countries. The most blatant problems include an exaggerated political correctness and the gender-feministic reporting discussed in an earlier entry. Generally, I often have the impression that there is an “official truth” on many subjects that is uncritically propagated in a manner indicating quasi-religious blindfolds (similar to those worn by e.g. creationists).

To make matters worse, the two papers (DN and SvD) that I regularly visit, have been known to delete user comments that are too far from this official truth. (Notwithstanding that the remaining comments are often in aggressive disagreement with the articles they are attached to—the people does not appear to be as easily led as some would like it) In particular, I have made a rare comment of my own to point out the lack of objectivity that the paper it self has—these have without exception been deleted.

Here Fria Nyheter plays an interesting role as a news medium which is not bound by political correctness and official truths, but instead often focuses on the spots that the normal newspapers gloss over. I do not always agree with or identify with what it says, but I feel that it could become a very valuable counter-weight to the newspapers—and would like to give a small help in doing so.

Secondly, I would propose an extension of the freedom of speech to, among other things, combat the selective deletion of comments. To paraphrase what I recently said in reply to a Swedish anti-censorship poste:

I would consider an extension of freedom of speech to a point where even a natural person or a business is not allowed to suppress opinions in a selective manner: If one has a comment function, one is only allowed to filter out statements that are illegal, are an abuse of the comment function (e.g. spam), or are offensive in their form (e.g. through personal attacks or bad language)—but not because thy are “unsuitable” or “politically incorrect”.

If this is not acceptable, one has to live without a comment function (and take the risk of losing readers or that Google comments [by which I meant “Sidewiki”] are used instead).

The details of this can be discussed, e.g. whether a natural person (say, an individual blogger) should underlie these restrictions, or whether the list of criteria that allow deletion is complete; however, by and large, I would see it a clear improvement on the current situation.

A case could be made that blogs should underlie the same restrictions: As I gather by hearsay, there are many bloggers (in particular those belonging to exactly the PC or gender-feministic factions, or those with a strong religious conviction) who delete too disagreeing comments as a matter of course—even be they comparatively polite and factual. Just like with some newspapers, it is dangerous to deviate in opinion, point out errors in reasoning and facts, or otherwise criticize the credo. (Unlike with newspapers, however, this issue is complex and has many other aspects.)

The trial of the year

Right now, a trial of great importance is underway: The battle between Novell (the good guys) and SCO (the bad guys) concerning the rights to Unix. Unfortunately, most people seem to be entirely unaware of it.

Why is this battle so important?

In order to understand this, a brief overview is needed, and will be given below. By necessity, it will be an over-simplification: The story is extremely convoluted, involves many parties, and is stretched over a very long time. For those interested in more details, I recommend Wikipediaw; for those truly interested, there are enormous amounts of material present at Groklawe or, in German, Heisee.

Some forty years ago, the operating system Unix takes its first steps at AT&T. This little toddler is to grow into one of the dominating server and workstation operating systems for several decades—and to be the progenitor of both Linux and Mac OS X.

In the early nineties, AT&T sells the rights to Novell (the first of the combatants). In 1995, some of these rights are sold to SCO (confusingly, not the second combatant). Here however, we encounter the point of contention: Which rights, exactly?

Only in 2000 does the second combatant, then called Caldera, enter the arena by buying the Unix business of the original SCO. Not long thereafter, Caldera changes its name to SCO Group, in an effort to capitalize on the strong brand-name of the original SCO, which it has also bought. Meanwhile the original SCO departs from our tale.

Having had a few less than successful years, SCO looks for a solution to its money problems, and in 2002 it begins the dangerous gamble of claiming more extensive rights to Unix than it was acknowledged to have—and that Linux would contain significant portions of unlicensed Unix code. Calls for proof are raised; none is given.

In 2003, all hell breaks lose. A slew of law suits are started: SCO v. IBM, Red Hat v. SCO, SCO v. Novell, SCO v. AutoZone, SCO v. DaimlerChrysler. Claims and counter-claims are made, and litigation that lasts until at least 2010 ensues. SCO’s most noteworthy claim: IBM owns it one billion dollar (yes, billion) relating to its alleged and allegedly illicit use of intellectual property allegedly belonging to SCO. This amount was later increased to five billion... To make matters worse, this has the appearances of pilot case, with more to follow upon success.


The above paragraph has been revised for two errors since the original publishing:

  1. When checking the numbers, I overlooked the increase to five billion dollars.

  2. I claimed that even one billion was far more than SCO was every worth. While I still hold this statement to be true, it is technically wrong, seeing that Caldera had a market capitalization of more than that shortly after its IPO. That number, however and IMO, was severely hyped, did not reflect actual sales and prospects, and dwindled soon afterwards. (See also CNET on the IPOe or historical share-price informatione of SCO.)

Generally, I gathered most facts from a few timelines on the given links, without revisiting the case to a greater depth. (I followed the case with great interest in the early years, but with the passage of time...) Correspondingly, there may be other errors in detail—not, however, in the big picture.

In parallel, SCO tries to leverage its claims in other ways, e.g. by trying to bluff companies merely using Linux into purchasing “anti-dote” licenses as protection against potential law suits for larger amounts.

As time goes by, SCO becomes more and more focused on these lawsuits, seeing the rest of its business disappear. It is now in a do-or-die situation—win the jackpot in court or end up in bankruptcy. It has become a company effectively geared at just one thing—litigation.

Because SCO is never able to produce evidence, it has little success, often see its claims struck down by summary judgments, and only manages to stay above the water-line through injections of additional capital, including from Linux’, Unix’, and Apple’s archenemy—Microsoft. Those claims that are not struck down are often stayed awaiting one of the other cases, either SCO v. IBM or SCO v. Novell.

In the autumn of 2007, the issue seems to be concluded: A summary judgment falls, stating that Novell is the rightful owner of the relevant Unix rights, which pulls out the carpet from all other cases; and SCO is effectively bankrupt.

However, hanging by a thread and protected by Chapter 11, SCO manages to remain to in the fight—and in August 2009, an appeals court finds that parts of the summary judgment were premature and must be treated in a full trial. This trial is now underway, expected to be concluded in the coming week (knock on wood).

As should be clear even from this greatly simplified overview, the situation has been highly chaotic, and great stakes are involved. Those who dig into the sources given above will find more chaos yet, including many other examples of highly disputable behaviour on the part of SCO—and many cases of infighting and internal intrigues.

Now, why is it important that SCO lose this trial? Mainly, were SCO to win, it would set a dangerous precedent with regard to making legal claims bordering on the frivolous, extorting money by means of legal threats, and making grossly misleading accusations against other organisations: The justice system is abused often enough as it is—with a SCO victory, we could see a flood of lawsuits where failing companies try to ensure their survival by suing wealthier companies, possibly causing immense damage to third parties along the way. In addition, it is still conceivable that a SCO victory could do great damage to the companies and communities involved in developing Linux, and similar lawsuits against other members of the extended Unix family would not be inconceivable—and consider if Linux takes a severe hit at the same time as Apple is locked up in ten years of costly litigation: All of Gaul could well be conquered by the Redmonds this time.

Notably, while the probability that SCO will win sufficiently many battles is small, the stakes are sufficiently high that there is still reason to be nervous. In football terms: We may be a few minutes away from the end of the fourth quarter and have a two-touchdown lead—but the game is the Superbowl.

The issue of ObamaCare may be more important, but neither the OJ trial(s) nor the actual Superbowl holds a candle.

On the importance of tabbed browsing

One of my pet peeves is sites that screw up tabbed browsing. I have already written an article on How incompetent webdesign breaks tabbed browsing, and will not repeat this discussion here.

However, I am currently in a less than brilliant mode after having added two pages to my blog, despite the anti-tab behaviour of WordPress, and I tend to get rid of my annoyance at things by writing about them:

Carelessly, I clicked on “Add new post” when I wanted to add the first. I soon realized my mistake, and moved on to “Add new page”, keeping the old tab open to copy the contents of the title and main text. So far so good.

Next I proceeded to add the second page, making sure to use “Add new page” to begin with. I made some previews and corrections, was about to hit “Publish”—and noticed that I am somehow on the “Add new post” page again! (Notably, my first attempt at a preview somehow started to reload the wrong tabs.) Now somewhat annoyed, I repeated again, making very, very sure to click on “Add new page”, made another preview, published, and proceeded to make sure that all links are as they should be in the various link listings. To my surprise they were not. I investigated further—and found that the page was somehow published as a post... I delete everything, start over again, and, fortunately, the third time was the charm.

Add to this that the “Preview” functionality is somewhat annoying, using an explicit target page in a manner that also breaks tabbed browsing. Notably, the natural way to open it for an experienced surfer is to manually open a separate background tab and only switch to that tab when (the lengthy) loading is over. The resulting page will, however, not share the target id, which makes for chaos. It would be better to leave these decisions to the user.

(The action names used above are a little approximative, for simplicity.)

The trial of the year—Victory!

I recently wrote about the SCO vs. Novell trial the verdict of which is now, with some delay, in:

A unanimous jury rejected SCO’s copyright claims, which likely means the end to this threat once and for all. Virtual champagne all around!

Of course, looking at the preceding decade, SCO has been harder to get rid of than Jason Voorhees; however, unlike Jason, it is not actually supernatural.

Never listen to your customers

I just ran across an entry on another bloge with a very dangerous message: Never listen to your customers.

The rationale for this very drastic statement: Customers will only be able to tell you what is wrong, not what is possible—and in order to be the best in the long term a more visionary and actively future-shaping approach is needed.

In this, the post is not entirely wrong; however, it is still highly naive. For one thing, listening to the feature wishes of the customers is not the same thing as listening to the needs of the customers. For another, following this advice would perpetuate many of the bad habits of today’s software makers (including those that are responsible for the third-rate software delivered by e.g. Microsoft). A likely incomplete list:

  1. Neglecting bug-fixes and improvements of the existing features, in favour of adding new features.

  2. Featuritis, where feature after feature is added—most of which will eventually not be used by the typical user, and many of which may even be hindrances. (This with a number of side-effects, including greater complexity and more bugs.)

  3. A “pin the donkey” approach to features, where ten features are added and only one eventually sticks.

  4. A thinking that makes marketing more important than quality, to the detriment of the customers.

This is particularly interesting with regard to the sometimes heard claim that open-source software would be lacking in innovation (and, in the rhetorical context, ipso facto be unworthy of attention): Open-source products are typically written by the users for the users, on the basis that if someone has an itch to scratch, he is given the opportunity to scratch it. If someone is hindered by a bug, he can fix it—he does not have to wait until some manager decides that the bug is worthy enough to be fixed. If he lacks a basic feature, he can add it. If he sees a room for innovation, he can innovate. Etc. (It should not be denied that this road is closed to many users because they, unlike the majority of earlier users, lack the programming skills; however, this does not mean that these products are unsuitable for the man on the street—as proved by e.g. Firefox.)

Notably, however, open source is by no means lacking in innovation—it just tends to eclectically add what has been found to work, be needed, and bring benefit to the users. As for true innovations, they have very often been made in a research context, an open-source context, or in a context that today would be considered open source. The “innovators” in the major software makers have very often just copied, modified, or extended an idea that was made by someone else years earlier.

I agree that innovation is necessary to move beyond the borders of the known. Innovation, however, should not be made at the cost of “due diligence” towards existing features. It should not be confused with implementing a dozen ideas and see what sticks. It does not equal success. In fact, the world is full of innovative companies that ultimately failed, because they lacked the marketing, resources, timing, or business prowess to succeed—and, arguably, the greatest benefit of innovation (from a business POV) is just that it allows for better marketing.

Not listening to the users can make for more commercially successful software—it does not make for better software.

Hypocritical media

I have already written about the Swedish media, its very hypocritical stance towards free speech, and its intellectually dishonest reporting. Today, I encountered an article series in DN, Sweden’s leading morning newspaper, that forces me to take up the question again:

While strictly filtering their own reporting through an overly politically-correct sieve, while writing with a clear gender-feministic bias, and while suppressing comments on their websites that are too deviating from the “correct” opinion, DN now launches at all out attack on the blogosphere and racism on the Internet.

Notably, this “racism” is often nothing but an irritation at the situation in Sweden, where a disproportionate number of crimes are committed by immigrants, where many immigrants live on Swedish welfare, and where many see a danger (whether real or not) that “the Swedish way” will go under. This is conceptually something different from racism and should be treated just like other political opinions: Fair evaluation, fair debate, and the right to free speech—not pre-conceived rejection, exclusion from the debate, and defamation. Even opinions that are, in a strict sense, racist are not automatically a cause to limit free speech—just as being a Creationist or Communist is not a reason to be forced to silence.

(Note that I am myself an immigrant, having lived in Germany for more than 12 years. My basic opinion on free migration is positive—and many of the views expressed e.g. on Fria Nyheter (cf. the above link) are incompatible with my own. The issue here is one of intellectual honesty and fairness, and the dangers of suppressing free speech and debate. This in particular as there are legitimate arguments both pro- and anti-immigration in Sweden’s case.)

Consider a few comments (from a few of the long articles, which are mostly more of the same):

Internet har blivit de främlingsfientliga gruppernas plattform. Bloggar, sociala medier och nyhetsartiklar svämmar över av rasistiska kommentarer.

(Internet has become the platform of the alien-hostile groups. Blogs, social media, and news articles [presumably referring to the comment functions of the traditional news papers] are flooded with racist comments.)


I have spent a very sizable part of my spare-time reading blogs in the last few weeks, and the statement is an exaggeration at best. As far as “racist” goes, it is down-right wrong: Most are opposed to the current rate of immigration or the behaviour of the immigrated population, but not racist. The same applies to my experiences of the Internet, in general, since 1994.

Nyhetssajter som DN.se är på inget sätt förskonade från rasistiska kommentarer. I allt större utsträckning tvingas DN.se stänga av kommentarsfunktionen eftersom de medverkande bryter mot lagen.

(News sites like DN.se are by no means protected from racist comments. To an increasingly higher degree, DN.se is forced to turn of the comment function, because the participants break the law.)


I have seen comments that were perfectly legal being deleted—including those that were merely critical of the news reporting, e.g. by mentioning biases shown by the journalist...

På DN.se gillar vi debatt – kärlek till det fria ordet är en förutsättning för att jobba på en plats där just det fria ordet är kärnan i verksamheten.

(At DN.se we like debate - love of the free word is a prerequisite to work in a place where the free word is the core of the business [occupation?].)


At best hypocrisy, at worst an outrageous lie: DN does not practice what it preaches—free speech applies only to journalists and those who do not deviate too far in opinion. Note the next quote.

Läsarkommentarerna på DN.se ska ligga inom ramen för vår policy, exempelvis plockar vi bort inlägg som är rasistiska eller sexistiska.

(Reader’s comments on DN.se must be within the limits of our policy, for example we will remove opinions that are racist and sexist.)


Apart from this policy, by its nature, being arbitrary, this explicitly rules out racist and sexist opinions. Notably, the definitions of “racist” and “sexist” in Sweden (like in the US) typically go beyond what is justified. It is not uncommon that negative statements about women and foreigners are called sexist or racist in a blanket manner—even when they happen to be true, respectively the maker of the statement has reasonable grounds to believe that the statement is true. The Swedish attitude towards sexism is notably of the same kind that got Lawrence Summersw thrown out of Harvard for stating established science.

Efter dödsmisshandeln av en 78-årig kvinna i Landskrona exploderade rasismen på nätet. Skitsnacket flödar, samtidigt görs så mycket information som möjligt tillgänglig för allmänheten – sann eller ej.

(After the man-slaughter of a 78 y.o. woman in Landskrona [apparently perpetrated by an immigrant over a parking disagreement] the racism on the net exploded. The bull shit [literally, “shit talk”] is flowing, at the same time as much information as possible is provided to the public - true or not.)


I note that Swedish papers are rarely keen on limiting themselves to true information. Further, that they artificially (try to) limit the access to information. Further, that the omissions they make are often as bad as lies.

In the end, the relevant question to ask is “Why are these opinions voiced on blogs?”—with the, at least partial, answer “Because they are suppressed in conventional media.”. Worse, there is a fair chance that this suppression drives those with a limited negative view on foreigners, based on reason, in the arms of unreasonable movements, e.g. of the Neo-Nazi kind. (Which, I stress, also have a right to free speech—and should be met with arguments ad rem.)

Quality vs. success—illustrated by the preceding post

I have often made the observation that highly talented people, high-quality products, excellent ideas, whatnot, are not necessarily successful–while less talented people, lower-quality products, ..., can be so to a high degree.

The explanations are many, some “worthy” (e.g. that hard work can make a considerable difference), many “unworthy” (e.g. better marketing, luck with timing, knowing the right people).

My Friday post provides an excellent example: I read an article series in a newspaper that I found offensive, threw together a counter-post without deliberation and planning, and probably spent less than half the time on the actual writing than I do on the average text of that size. In fact, the day after publishing, I spotted no less than five very obvious typos that I felt forced to correct after the fact. I often make errors even in published texts, but in this case my proof-reading cannot have deserved the name.

Still, my post took less than 24 hours to become the most visited on my two-months old blog. (Whether the most read is another question: Other articles may have accumulated a larger number of reads while on the home page.) Further, Saturday broke my daily-hits record by a full 50 %—two thirds of the hits landing on that one post.

How did this success (relative to earlier posts) come about? Simple: A link to my post showed up on one of the articles discussed (possibly through a trackback)—and a small portion of the newspaper’s visitors proceeded to visit me.

In effect, I did not see this traffic because I wrote a post that was more valuable or better written than my other posts—but because I accidentally rode on the “popularity coattails” of the newspaper.

(Similar stories are not unusual on WordPress. I have heard of a few cases where a blog got a months worth of traffic in a day, after a high-traffic site linked to it.)

What makes a blog reach the front page?

In my last post, I discussed how one of my own entries rather arbitrarily, and without my control, became a success. (By the current standards of this blog—there are many established blogs that would consider the same traffic a letdown.)

In a next step, this lead me to reflect on the disappointing quality of the blog entries published on wordpress.com’s homepagee: While some are good, most are superficial, have no depth or insight, lack an edge, are not thought-provoking, ... The posts that I really consider valuable, I have typically found buried in the tag listings.

What do these posts have that brings them to the homepage? I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes, but a few impressions of beneficial factors:

  1. They are often noticeably longer than the typical post, sometimes approaching the length of a magazine article. However, they do not necessarily say more in the space used than many shorter posts.

  2. They tend to be above average in language quality, measured in e.g. typos; however, are often written in a very bland and populistic style, not entirely unlike e.g. an airplane magazine.

  3. The average number and quality of pictures is far above the overall average. Arguably, however, most pictures have no informational value and many have their only benefit in making the visual impression of the page more pleasing (occasionally, they fail even there). This is, again, reminiscent of how many magazines directed at the masses work.

  4. Most have a picture that fits the homepage entry format well and is of unusually high quality—but which says nothing about the actual article.

  5. Similarly, most have a catchy, but uninformative, title. (Typically, clicking on one of these entries is something I do in complete ignorance of what I will find on the other side. Notably, the homepage does not publish the excerpts that can be found in e.g. the tag listing.)

  6. They often have content that, IMO, will appeal sufficiently to most readers that they are an adequate time killer when nothing else is available—however, they rarely have a great appeal to any individual group. Again, not dissimilar to an airplane magazine...

All in all: If an author could write for an airplane magazine, he might have a good shoot of getting to the homepage. But: How many of us would actually read, let alone pay for, an airplane magazine when something else is available? Do not judge a book by its cover, but by its content—and do not select a post based on how “polished” it is, but look at the actual ideas and insights present.

(Disclaimer: While I have read a few dozen homepage posts in the last two months, I cannot guarantee that I have a representative sample—or that WordPress will continue to make choices matching these criteria. Further, the above analysis is likely incomplete.)

Website changes

Yesterday, I deployed a version of my website that uses a new generation system. Your visit to check for any bugs that may have been introduced is very welcome; in particular, if you have a non-Opera browser. (Unfortunately, there are still differences in standard conformance between various browsers—and for one individual to test them all...)

Previously, the XHTML code was generated directly from the private template language I use; now, an intermediary generation of XML has been added, which is later transformed to XHTML using XSLT (which now does most of the work). Apart from the general advantage of having a more “pipe-lined” processing, this solves a number of problems caused by the lack of context-awareness of the original shell scripts and has given me an excuse to refactor a few ugly solutions. Further, the new system will be far easier to extend and adapt, should the need arise.

(More background information can be found in my technical notes. Note, however, that this page describes a state before a number of extensions had been made—and, in particular, has not yet been updated for the major recent changes. This will change with the next deployment.)

Unethical ToS and similar documents

I am one of the rare exceptions who often actually takes a look at the contents of the ToS and related writings, before I sign up for a service. The result of this is, more often than not, that I choose not to sign-up... Such is the character of the typical ToS.

A particular annoyance is the common combination of claims that use of a service implies acceptance of the terms, that the terms are subject to regular change, and that it is the responsibility of the user to regularly re-visit/re-read the terms. While the first two, alone, may be acceptable, the result of combining them with the third is unconscionable—and, likely, a deliberate attempt to make sure that the users do not know what they agree too at any given time. Notably, it is not practically possible to keep up-to-date with all the services of today, re-reading the entire documents after each update is a disproportionate amount of work, and there will almost always be some window of unawareness after every change—even for those who do try to keep up (or else every single use would require re-reading the ToS).

With some over-simplification, we have two occurring cases:

  1. The user has entered some kind of formal or semi-formal association, including having provided contact information or having a fix account which he logs into. In this case, it is very obviously the responsibility of the service provider to use these mechanisms to explicitly make the user aware of the changes. Doing so is cheap and easy—and since the same mechanisms are typically used to force various forms of advertising down the users’ throats, they are within what the provider must consider reasonable.

    Not doing so? That is based on the wish to not inform the user of changes to his disadvantage. Notably, I have repeatedly received on-paper messages from e.g. banks along the lines of “Our ToS have changed. If you do not consent please object within two weeks. The new ToS can be reviewed in our locales.”—where it would have cost nothing to just quote the changes in the letter...

  2. The user is not formally registered, but e.g. an ordinary visitor of a website. In this case, the most reasonable interpretation is that the ToS simply do not apply, that they have not been brought to the users attention in a manner that is sufficiently obvious to be binding.

Between these, there are obviously various mixtures and variations. Most (not necessarily all) will be invalid for reasons deducible from the above.

Generally, deliberate attempts to make the users not read these documents are common. Consider e.g. the common practice of putting parts of the text in near unreadable all-caps, the use of fine-print or footnotes for vital information, or the absurd practice of putting a text that should fill a long HTML page in a minuscule and entirely unnecessary text area. This if the text can, at all, be found: Even today, it is not entirely unheard of that e.g. the ToS are so well hidden that the user has to deliberately search for them, should he wish to view the contents.

Among the many other evil tricks, we have the in-the-ToS clause that allows the service provider to abuse the users data in more or less anyway he sees fit—something which should always be solved by a separate, explicit query as to whether the user is in agreement. (Further, something that is usually sufficiently irrelevant to the service it self that a “no” should not have any effect on the users possibilities to use the service—in particular not, when he is actually paying for the service.) We have the “we may spam you” clause, the “we may irrevocably delete your contents or terminate you account on our whim” clause (as opposed to e.g. a “we may block your contents/account pending a clarification on our whim”), the “no matter what we do wrong, you have no rights to indemnification” clause, the “if someone hacks your account, you bear the full responsibility” clause, etc.

Some of these have some justification at least some of the time; however, the way they are formulated (and, typically, applied), the balance between legitimate interests is tipped far beyond what is conscionable and ethical. In fact, at least in Germany, it is relatively common that even the ToS of a major off-line business (a bank, a telephone provider, whatnot) are found to be in violation of the applicable laws—typically, in my impression, not through oversight, but through a deliberate attempt to trick the users into believing that they have less rights than they actually do have. I even recall one instance when Amazon tried to rule out my legal right to return a mis-order by pointing to, believe it or not, statements on their help pages... (Which, even had they conformed to the law on this point, would not have been legally binding in any way, form, or manner.)

First blogroll replacement

As discussed in my blogroll policy, I have a five-entry temporary blogroll with the rule that a new entry leads to the removal of an old.

Today, this rule is applied for the first time, and I will take the opportunity to give some information about why the respective entries are/were included:

  1. Fria Nyhetere (Swedish):

    Is discussed in an earlier post.

  2. Inteutanminasoner’s Bloge (Swedish):

    Deals with issues relating to parental rights, kidnapped children, and similar, with a particular emphasis on how fathers are given lesser rights in courts and media. A recurring topic is the case treated in the book “Inte utan mina söner” (“Not without my sons”; by the author of the blog), about a man’s fight to retrieve children kidnapped by the mother.

    This blog is a very refreshing exception to the “women are always the victims; men are always the villains” propaganda seen so often in Sweden (and many other politically correct countries). The underlying issue of the rights and well-being of the children is equally important.

  3. olcrankye:

    Simply a lot of interesting reading on the author’s take on the world we live in, political issues, etc., written in a reasoned and common sense way. (Which is not to say that I always agree with his writings; however, even when I do not, there is often a something of value to be gleaned—whereas many other blogs on similar topics are worth nothing to those who do not already belong to the choir.)

  4. Spreeblick on Primacalle (German):

    This is a link to a specific blog post dealing with the highly dubious, likely illegal, business methods of the German company Primacall. I was lead there by a follow-up poste, which discussed how the blog had been pressured in an unethical way to remove an interview that it published. In particular, Primacall made the absurd demand that the blog author should ensure that pages on external and independent sites dealing with the original post were removed. My decision to link is a direct protest against this absurdity.

    I now choose to let this link be the first to move off the blogroll (as an exception to the typical first-in-first-out guideline), because it provides less value to the readers than the other current links.

  5. The Thoughtful Animale:

    A wealth of interesting readings on e.g. animal psychology. Unfortunately, there are too many attempts to “be cute” and a very varying quality.

  6. Then we have the newcomer, Ethics Alarmse:

    This blog deals with various cases of unethical behaviour, e.g. disparate treatment, intellectual dishonesty, doing what is profitable instead of what is right, ...

    A particular benefit is that it can help the reader to become better in spotting ethical aspects of various issues.

Referrer spamming

In the few months that I have been on WordPress, I have seen a steady increase in referrer spamw. Today, e.g., I have no less than six entries from digg.com/[sitename] alone (and the day is not over yet).

The trick here seems to be to arouse the curiosity of the owner of a blog so that he clicks on the link in his statistics view—with an unintended (from his POV) “digging” of the link as a consequence.

With a bit of luck, WordPress will install some type of central filter to block this kind of spam from the statistics (which can be distorted in a non-trivial manner). Until then, I strongly advice my fellow bloggers to under no circumstances reward the spammers by following links to digg.com—nor any other link with a suspect name (e.g. “onlines-accounting-degree-info[...]”).

Internet anonymity, Tor, and the German justice system

The last few days, I have been looking into various anonymization solutions for the Internet, in particular Torw, with the adage “better safe than sorry” in mind. Apart from the traditional arguments (that may or may not actually apply/be paranoia in the individual case) about being spied upon by the government, the advertising industry, or similar, I would get some satisfaction from helping in thwarting the current Nineteen Eighty-Four developments. Further, I occasionally engage in some activities that are perfectly ethical, but could, in at least some circumstances, technically be illegal—or be misinterpreted as illegal. (Exactly what those are, I will obviously not mention here. Let us just say that anyone who occasionally jaywalks should think twice about throwing the first stone.) Notably, much of the policing of the Internet (possibly policing in general) is more focused on making the numbers look good or catering to special interest groups than on proper policing (i.e. preventing crimes and finding the guilty with a minimal disturbance to the innocent)—catching a metaphorical jaywalker is often prioritized over attacking actual criminals.

Tor is a collaborative network that re-directs the request for e.g. an HTML page over several network nodes in order to ensure that the end-user cannot be identified without snooping between the requester and the first node (assuming that the end-user is careful, that the nodes are not manipulated, and similar) Obviously, this only works when sufficiently many users provide nodes; in particular, “exit nodes” that interact directly with the servers, and whose IPs are the ones that eventually end up in various external log files. With too few nodes, as is currently the case, Tor is slow—and, naturally, the “fair” user tries to give something back by providing a node of his own.

However, looking at the issues involved with providing a node in Germany, I was appalled: Apparently, there have been a number of instances where the computers providing exit nodes have been confiscated by the police, where accusations of surfing for child pornography or violating copyrights have been raised against the users providing the nodes (based on something a third-party user has done), and other cases of harassment. This despite Tor it self being perfectly legal—and despite there being no way to extract the identity of the original requester from the exit node. (With some reservations for “Vorratsdatenspeicherung”e; which, in my understanding, did not apply to Tor, as it is non-profit, and which has recently been ruled unconstitutional.) See an English language accounte for one of the more harmless examples; most other accounts are, understandably, written in German.

Even a small risk of this kind of harassment is too much for me at this particular time, and I will therefore not be setting up an exit node. (I may still decide to set up a non-exit node, however; and if I someday have a server at an ISP, the situation will be different.) This in particular considering that a police investigation would (potentially) not merely involve the police accessing my private files, nor even just taking my hard-drives, but actually taking the physical computers as a whole—with no telling when and if they will be returned. The more absurd, because just physically removing the hard-drives would be less effort for the authorities themselves in the long run—not to mention how much time and money the owner would save.

For those in Germany who can take the risk—please do. If the authorities find that their behaviour (be it caused by sheer ignorance or by a deliberate scare tactic) is just a waste of time and energy, then there is a hope that they will eventually back down.

Of course, we have to consider the issue of anonymization being abused by various criminals. Could counter-measures against e.g. Tor be justified? In my current understanding: No. Firstly, the value of the legal uses, say to avoid being spied upon, is potentially considerable (notably, Tor is even used by some companies who want to increase the security of their professional communications). Secondly, the tendency for greater government “Big Brotherness” is a great mid- to long-term threat, which necessitates resistance of various forms. Thirdly, criminals benefit comparatively little compared to the average citizen, because they have other means available to them. (Cf. e.g. Tor’s abuse FAQe.) In many ways, attacks against Tor are similar to saying that “A criminal could use or has used your private road to commit a crime; ergo, you, yourself, are a criminal and your road must be closed.” (while the same claim concerning a public road would resemble closing the Internet as a whole).

We should further remember that those types of Internet criminality that actually are under heavy attack from the authorities (mostly child-porn and movie/music piracy) are far lesser problems than propaganda tells us—there simply are no 14 million child-porn sites. (A claim I discuss in my discussion of pedophile hysteria).

What do Courtney Love and Astrid Lindgren have in common?

On a first look, they seem to be diametrical opposites: The former is a rock/punk musician with a history of drug use and a criminal record; the latter was an idealistic writer of children’s book—and, at least in Sweden, was considered a third grand-mother in many families.

However, during my readings on issues relating to Internet anonymity (cf. my previous entry), I stumbled on a speech by Courtney Love criticising the music industrye. Written ten years ago, her piece has likely been encountered by some of the readers already; but few non-Swedes will be aware of Astrid Lindgren’s 1976 story Pomperipossa in Monismaniaw, which allegorically tells of how she found herself confronted with marginal taxes so high that more-or-less everything she earned went to the Swedish government—while her own after-taxes income was reduced to almost nothing.

This, interestingly, is almost exactly the story Courtney Love tells about a hypothetical group of musicians—except that the bad guys are not the 1970s Swedish Social-Democratic government, but the modern day US music-industry. They even use the same enormous-seeming figure of two millions to reach an eventual net of approximately zero (in 1976 SEK and 2000 USD, respectively).

Some claim that Lindgren’s story was instrumental in removing the Social-Democrats from power for the first time in almost half a century (the pen can be mighty indeed!). Alas, Love’s speech has not had the same impact: The unholy alliance of record industry and politicians, against consumers and artists, still has the upper hand. Even so, there is considerable hope: With the spread of the Internet and alternate channels of distribution, the old system of exploitative middle-men becomes harder and harder to justify, and is accepted to a lesser and lesser degree.

Now that the original question has been answered, I leave it to the reader to answer the next question: What do the US music-industry of today and the Swedish Social-Democrats of 1976 have in common?

Focus stealing—one of the deadly sins of software

Experimenting with the (currently very immature) browser Aroraw, I re-encountered one of the deadly sins of software development: Presumptuous and unnecessary focus stealingw.

While I, as a Linux user, am normally not met with many instances of this sin, they are the more annoying when they do occur. Notably, they almost exclusively happen when I am off doing something completely unrelated on a different virtual desktopw, with the deliberate intention of finishing one thing and then revisiting the (as it eventually turns out) focus-stealing application once I am done or in five minutes. This re-visiting would include checking any results, answering any queries, giving confirmations, whatnot. Instead, I am pulled back to the focus-stealer mid-work, my concentration is disrupted, I have to switch my own (mental) focus to something new in a disruptive manner, and generally feel as if someone has teleported me from a (typically pleasant) situation to another (typically unpleasant).

There are other very good reasons never to steal focus, including that a typing or mouse-clicking user can accidentally cause an unwanted action to be taken. Consider, e.g., the user who is typing in a document, hits the return key—and sees the return being caught by a focus-stealing confirmation window, which interprets the return key as confirmation. In some cases, the user would have confirmed anyway, but in others he would not—and sometimes the results can be down-right disastrous.

Focus stealing is stealing: If an application steals focus, it takes something that is not its to take. Such acts, just as with physical property, must be reserved for emergencies and duress. Normally criminal acts can be allowable e.g. if they are needed to avert immediate physical danger; in the same way, focus stealing can be allowed for notifications of utmost importance, e.g. that the computer is about to be shut-down and that saving any outstanding work in the next thirty seconds would be an extremely good idea. Cases that are almost always not legitimate include requesting the user’s input; notification that a download is complete or a certain step of a process has been completed; and (above all) spurious focus stealing, without any particular message, because a certain internal state has changed (or similar).

“But some users want to be notified!!!”: This is not a valid excuse—we cannot let non-standard wishes from one group ruin software for another group. If there is a legitimate wish for notification (and most cases of focus stealing I have seen, have not been in situations where such a wish seemed likely to be common—even when allowing for the fact that different users have different preferences) other ways can be found than unwanted focus stealing. Consider e.g. letting the user specifically request focus stealing (more accurately, in this case, “focus taking”) for certain tasks by a checkbox or a configuration option (which, obviously, should be off per default), using a less intrusive notification mechanism (e.g. a notification in a taskbar or an auditory signal; may be on per default, but must be deactivatable), or the sending of an email/SMS (common for very long-running tasks and tasks on other computers; requires separate configuration).

As a particularity, if something requires a user involvement (e.g. a confirmation) before the application can continue, there is still only rarely a reason for focus stealing. Notably, users working on another desktop will almost always check-in regularly; those on the same desktop will usually notice without focus stealing; and there is always the above option of notification by other means. Further, for short-running tasks, it is seldom a problem that the user misses a notification—and he may well have physically left his computer for a long-running task.

Finally, any developer (in particular, those who feel that their own application and situation is important enough to warrant an exception) should think long and hard on the following: He may be about to commit one of the other deadly sins, namely over-estimating how important his application is to others. (Come to think of it, the applications that have stolen focus from me under Linux have usually been those of below average importance—the ones I use every now and then, or only use once or twice to see if they are worth having.)

Yahoo tries to pull a Facebook?

I have long had an email account with Yahoo for various and sundry (including as a backup, in case the addresses that come with my domain are temporarily not reachable). So far, this has been an extremely frustrating experience: Yahoo is one of the worst thought-through and poorly programmed websites that I am aware off. Whoever is guilty of this atrocity should be lead to the next wall and put before a firing squad.

Today, however, the worst of many, many user-hostile idiocies from Yahoo came to my attention: They appear to have “pulled a Facebook”, and installed various publications and notifications behind the back of the users—utterly ruining any remaining credibility.

To make matters worse, when I try to disable one of these settings, I am met with an error message—and the setting returns to the share state...

My advice to anyone using Yahoo for anything non-trivial: Do not. Reduce your account activity to near zero, remove all contacts, etc. Instead find yourself a good ISP with your own email addresses or, if that is too costly, a decent independent and pure email service. (For those in Germany: My own ISP, bytecampe, has so far been very satisfactory at < 10 Euro/month, including domain, webserver, and unlimited email addresses.)

The same advice applies, obviously, to other services of a similar character, including Gmail and Facebook. The latter already has a large number of “delete your account” recommendations here on WordPress.

I2P and Internet anonymity

A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry about Tor and anonymity. Since then I have continued my experiments with a related service, I2Pw.

Conceptually, I2P works differently from Tor: It is not a tool to surf the Internet anonymously (although this is possible through a gateway), but a private and anonymous sub-net within the Internet. Effectively, this is an Internet in miniature with its own search-engines, email systems, blogs, file-sharing and torrent services, and similar. Unfortunately, the amount of content is still far too small for it to be a complete anonymous replacement for the Internet. Then again, the growth appears to be decent and the future may be different. (Certainly, and unsurprisingly, the file-sharing community appears to be flowering.)

Notably, the high degree of anonymity provided can be very valuable for those who live in fear of prison for criticizing their respective governments, wish to communicate anonymously within a smaller group, or similar.

As with Tor, just running a local node can be a great help to the community—and, unlike with Tor, there is no risk of landing in the eyes of the police for having relayed someone elses surfing.

On the need for balanced thinking

During the last half year (or so), I have done extensive readings on politics, issues in society, religion, and similar, through the lens of the blogosphere. Notably, this gives a very different perspective than when keeping to newspapers, what individual parties say, etc. Difference include not just opinions (a much wider spectrum and more freedom for those who do not adhere to the Official Truth or PC propaganda), but also very different quantities. For instance, I have read or been involved in more discussions concerning immigration issues since delving into WordPress than in my entire previous life—in fact, without actually being very interested in immigration per se, but mostly in intellectual honesty and critical thinking, I find that even my own blogging has had a disproportionate focus on this topic (including a long entry currently in preparation).

One central observation is the need for balanced thinking: We humans are naturally imperfect in knowledge and understanding (and certainly lack Sybillic skills). The implication of this is that it is very hard to say what opinion amounts to being clear-sighted and what to being paranoid; when a “slippery slope” warning is justified and when a fallacy; when a perceived danger is real and when a result of undue pessimism; whatnot.

Consider e.g. the privacy issue: With the recent behaviour of Facebook, the enormous amount of data available to Google, and the possibility of espionage through governments (at least here in Germany), it is quite possible that we stand at the brink of losing any reasonable informational self-control and will see our rights as consumers and citizens severely reduced. It is also possible that we will in ten years time notice that life has gone on more or less as before. Here it is important to be aware of both possibilities and to try to make an informed decision on how to proceed and react. For my part, I recommend that we err on the side of caution and remove the temptation for abuse by removing the ability for abuse (e.g. by blocking referrers, unneeded cookies, and similar when browsing; or by running servers for Tor or I2P—noting that there already are people, e.g. political dissidents in dictatorships, who will legitimately benefit from our doing so). Others may see the risk as sufficiently small that such efforts are not warranted. Others yet believe that I am overly optimistic, and that more drastic measures (e.g. surfing exclusively with various anonymity services) is a good idea. Irrespective of personal belief, they all benefit from gaining an understanding for the other side and its arguments, and from making an informed and unprejudiced evaluation—explicitly bearing in mind the possibility that their current opinion may be naively over-optimistic or ridiculously paranoid.

(At the same time, I must warn for the gut reaction many of my fellow Swedes seem to have: The blanket assumption that the truth is half-way between two opinions, without in any way investigating the plausibility of the individual opinions.)

In other cases, we have conflicts of interest, where one perceived threat has to be compared to an other, while considering questions like whether the threat is real, how great the potential damage is, what the probabilities are, which issue is the more urgent in what time-frame, etc. Immigration is an excellent illustration of this: Looking just at my own perspective (let alone those of others), I am caught between, on the one hand, the ideological view that each individual should have the right to himself decide where he lives, the knowledge that emigration from some problematic countries can be a necessity to enable a reasonable life, the belief that exposure to different cultures can be highly valuable, the conviction that many immigrants bring a net benefit to their adopted countries (I hope to belong to this category myself), etc.; and, on the other, complications like rates of immigration that makes integration impossible, significantly higher crime rates in some immigrant groups, the many immigrants that abuse the welfare systems (at least in Sweden and Germany), etc. Again balanced thinking and openness to others viewpoints are of paramount importance.

I would, in particular make the plea that debaters in all issues try to avoid the moral high-horse, try to understand both sides of the issues (note that understanding does not automatically imply agreement), and focus on argumentation ad rem. Above all, that they stop generalizing about their opponents, and realize that there is a spectrum of opinion in all groups. The last thing a debate needs is “You X are all Y!”—in particular, when this is abused as an ipso facto “proof” that the opponents are wrong (e.g. by the calls of “Racists!” or “Misogynists!” that are so popular in the PC communities). Achieving these items is not easy (certainly, I occasionally err myself), but even just starting with the right mentality could lead to an enormous improvement.

Comment spam

One of the best ways to get blog traffic (at least in the short-term and on a small scale) is to comment on other people’s blogs. Some people do follow the link (on the commenter’s name) back to the blog of the commenter, if the comment is sufficiently interesting, and there is some chance that the link helps with search-engine attention. This is something that I have myself done to a great extent—partially to get traffic, but mostly because I read a lot of blogs and often find something that I actually want to comment upon.

This is all fine and dandy; however, unfortunately, there is another breed of commenters—the comment spammers. Akismet catches a lot of these; in particular, those who have a message of “Please buy my stuff at http://www.xxx.com”. Many others fly below the radar, and can be hard to differ from legitimate (but useless) comments, having a body of e.g.

Just want to say what a great blog you got here! I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

Thumbs up, and keep it going!


This comment (associated with one ondiluss/http://www.turkeyphototour.com/) is one that I have seen on a very great number of blogs recently. (Typically, as a result of my having subscribed to comments on a post that I have myself commented upon).

Other negative examples of a similar character can easily be found by going to the WordPress homepagee and having a look at the comments of the featured blogs—which obviously are targeted by spammers to a higher degree than the average blog.

I strongly suggest to my fellow bloggers to mark these comments as spam. There is one obvious problem: How should an individual blogger differ between merely useless comments and spam comments? There is no reliable and fool-proof way to do this, but looking at the name or contents of the linked to blog/website can help. As an alternative, I would consider deleting/unapproving (but not necessarily marking as spam) any comment that does not have at least some value to someone. Common to these spam comments is usually that they are given out en masse with little thought, presumably often without reading the post that they are attached to, and correspondingly they tend to lack any value outside of flattery. The use of a foreign language is a particular warning sign.

Conversely, I urge my fellow commenters to only comment when they have something (even be it something small) in terms of content, reasoning, constructive feedback, corrections, whatnot, to contribute—or, obviously, if they wish to ask questions, communicate with the blogger, or similar. The wish to gain links or just to spread flattery, however, is not enough.

In response to these observations, I have revised my comment policy and retro-actively thrown out a number of comments.

Blogroll change

Severely annoyed by a recent discussion (in Swedish) with an intellectually dishonest socialist/feministe, I have decided to add

Tanja Bergkvist’s bloge

to my blogroll. Tanja is a very intelligent young woman (doctor of mathematics), who has taken it upon herself to show the errors of the Swedish gender-feminists and -theorists to the world. In this noble cause, she deserves every help she can get.

(I will likely expand on the aforementioned discussion in the long post on racism that I promised some time ago. Unfortunately, I am unlikely to find the time to complete it until sometime next week.)

According to the first-in-first-out rule, Fria Nyhetere (original discussion) is removed. (With some hesitation, seeing that it too are among those deserving support against the many intellectually dishonest Swedish political activists; however, Fria Nyheter has already received one exemption from the FIFO rule, and two would be pushing it. Further, having three out of five links be to Swedish pages would be odd on an English-language blog.)

Unfair argumentation methods I: Preliminaries

As the recurring reader knows, I have an article on misuse of the word “racism” (and some related issues) in the workings—but it does not seem to actually become written and, further, is branching out in scope.

To counter this, I have decided to make a series of somewhat shorter articles dealing with unfair argumentation methods. The preliminary schedule is (within, possibly, the next week): This entry dealing with preliminaries; a discussion of this problem in general and on the Swedish left; a discussion of the Swedish party Sverigedemokraterna, and how they are treated; three specific examples from discussions I have myself been involved in recently from respectively Germany, Sweden, and the US; and the originally intended article (maybe split in two, depending on developments). Possibly, I will throw in a post with links to my previous writings on related topics or interesting discussions by others.

Obviously, this series of articles can only cover a few aspects of a very wide topic—and the reader is cautioned to be wary of the incompleteness of the discussion.

Considering the topic (and for reasons that will be clear in due time), I will use a stricter comment policy than usual for this series of entries. Notably, comments containing any form of bad language or personal attacks, controversial claims not supported by links, misrepresentations of others opinions, or any indication of foul play or ill intentions (regardless of the target), will be blocked or edited.

Unfair argumentation methods II: The Swedish left

Something that has long annoyed me is the way leftist parties and organisations (at least in Sweden) tend to argue, with strong preferences for personal attacks, specious (or even obviously incorrect) arguments, confusing reasoning, etc. In particular, they often seem to have the attitude that an opponent who cannot be convinced must be discredited in the eyes of others—while respect for his opinions, attempts to convince him and others with ad rem argument, and (above all) openness to the possibility that he could be right, are far to rare. (The issue has to some degree already been raised e.g. in my discussion of hypocritical media.)

This is not in any way unique to the left; however, the problem seems to be unusually bad with the left and some related movements (notably feminism). Other common problem groups/individuals can be found at the fringes of non-leftist opinions, in some strongly religious areas, and similar; and even the non-leftist main stream is occasionally affected—but to a far lesser degree.

A particular annoyance is the common use of a (typically misapplied) word as an ipso facto “proof” that the opponent is wrong, e.g. “racist” or “sexist”. Effectively, one party makes a certain statement of opinion, e.g. “It is unfair to apply quotas on how many of each sex must be on the board of a public company.”, a reply of “Sexist!” follows, and the discussion is effectively closed without anyone from the feminist/PC side providing any kind of argument for their position—let alone an argument to prove their far-going claim about their opponent(s). (Real arguments could have focused on a discussion whether we actually have equality of opportunity, whether there are any justifying benefits in other areas, or similar. These, however, are the exception—and typically very flimsy when they do occur.)

Another is the use of reasoning that is obviously faulty to any reasonable thinker, but where the very flimsi- and faultiness makes it hard to attack, where there are so many holes that it is hard to know where to start, or where an analysis would take disproportional long. There is basically a series of sentences that to someone dumb enough may seem to form a chain of arguments and conclusion, but, in reality, are just loose, individual links that do not fit together. (Not to be confused with e.g. those cases where different priorities or basic ideological principles makes a line of reasoning untenable for the opponent, or those who merely suffer from the imperfection of knowledge and stringency almost all discussion underlie.) Consider something like:

I agree with your statement, “If the rich don’t throw in to help out the country out of a strong sense of patriotism and optimism for our future, I think we’re going to be hurting for a while.” However, when the economy was strong, the rich seemed to demonstrate little need to improve the conditions of their fellow citizens. Instead, the gap between the rich and the poor grew to disproportionate levels. I think we’re going to be waiting a very long time for the wealthiest segments of the population to grow a conscience.

(actual comment found in my inbox while writing this articlee)

If you read the original post (not by me), you will find that the apparent agreement in the first sentence goes together with a strong overall disagreement. The second sentence misses the point of the post; is an over-generalization; overlooks that the conditions of the poor likely improved during the strong economy; and is somewhat of a non-sequitur, because there is no reason why the rich should feel such a need (in particular considering that the poor are already benefiting from high taxes on the rich, that the actions of the rich can have positive effects on the poor even without active “philanthropy”, and that at least some part of the explanation for the poor situation can be found with the poor themselves—not to mention that a strong economy is a time when there is less reason to try to help others). The third misuses the word “disproportionate”; is disputable in its content; and is unlikely to have been connected to the willingness of the rich to help (to the degree that it was, at all, true). The fourth presupposes that the “wealthiest segments” do not have a conscience (which is disputable) and that having a conscience would make them change their behaviour (ditto)—not to mention the likely implicit assumption that they could make major changes (which need not be the case, depending on the exact circumstances).

In addition, it appears that the author has simply not understood how capitalism works. (Having capitalism is not a must, but anyone who attacks a system should have at least some basic understanding of that system.)

This (likely incomplete) analysis turns out to be almost thrice as long as the comment, even though the faultiness of the comment is obvious at a glance—and this is not even a good example, just one that happened to fall into my lap at the right time. I have from time to time seen entire articles filled with long series of non-sequiturs, this-or-that fallacy, and grossly incorrect logic.

Generally, I would conjecture that there are several contributing factors that make an individual tend to this kind of argumentation, a sub-set of which is:

  1. Great conviction of opinion.

  2. Limited intellectual development.

  3. Exposure to a (sub-)culture or history of similar methods.

Notably, these are all issues that (at least in Sweden) tend to be common with people of leftist opinions; and from my readings on gender-feminism/-theory, these are affected globally. (But, yes, the issues do occur more often than they should in the population as a whole—not just on the left.)

As an aside, I stress that the fact that many leftists debaters appear to be complete idiots does not automatically make all leftist ideas idiotic: Many of them do make some amount of sense, or can be understood when seen from the right perspective (in particular, with an eye at history, the society of yore, and similar) or assuming a particular set of priorities. The ideas should be judged on their own merit—not based on who proposes them. (Cf. e.g. an article on judging issues based on perceived intents).

(If you wish to comment, please make sure that you have read Unfair argumentation methods I: Preliminaries first.)

Unfair argumentation methods III: Intermezzo on rape debates

After posting a new article, I usually have a look at the WordPress pages for the tags I have used. This I did yesterday too, and stumbled onto an excellent example of some of the issues I discuss in this series of articles:

A discussion of rape, blame, and responsibilitye was started by what appears to be a reasoned good-faith comment landing in the eyes of an active feminist, who responded with a long, mostly irrelevant post (but probably still a good faith post). Critically the post-author (blue milk) did not seem be understand the semantic differentiation the original commenter (Darsh) made—thereby basing her attacks on him on entirely faulty assumptions. The same applies to many of the subsequent commenters. In my one comment (so far), I tried to give some help in understanding it by quoting a very thought-worthy poem:

Here lies the body of William Jay
Who died maintaining his right of way
He was right, dead right, as he sped along,
But he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.

(Attributed to the Boston Evening Transcriptw)

Unfortunately, after the original post, things went out of hand more or less immediately, including comments (my commentary in brackets) like:

(If you wish to comment, please make sure that you have read Unfair argumentation methods I: Preliminaries first.)

Unfair argumentation methods IIIa: Follow-up to preceding post

Looking at some further comments, the situation has changed in character, but remains bad: After reconciliatory statements by Darsh (a born diplomat, it appears; taking a very “New Testament” approach) the tone of the comments have gone from “You are an evil idiot.” to “You are horribly misguided and should do your best to benefit from our wisdom.”—something so absurd that I do not know whether I should laugh, cry, or get mad. (In fact, I will be unsubscribing to the comments, seeing that there is little knowledge and information to be gained, but much aggravation.) In many ways, it is like a group of average fifteen y.o. school girls trying to lecture an intelligent adult. Certainly, these women would do well to read up on the Dunning-Kruger effectw...

These follow-ups demonstrate several other common components in similar discussions (mostly from a larger context than, specifically, rape):

  1. An undue and over-large tendency to claim the moral high-ground. (While everyone tends to make this erroneously at least some of the time, those whose who are bit further in their development tend to do it less often and for better reasons—and stand a far greater chance of legitimately doing so.)

    Similarly, some people (in particular women, for some reason) have a tendency of considering someone who (in their opinion) is factually wrong to, ipso facto, also be morally wrong.

  2. Claims along the lines of “We are so tired of explaining this again and again.” or “It is not our responsibility to teach you. You have to learn for yourself.”:

    Firstly, if person A wants to convince person B, it is the responsibility of person A to provide the corresponding arguments. It is not acceptable to just claim to be right and ask the other party to educate himself. If the issue is recurring, write an article on the issue for future linking—or link to a pre-existing one.

    Secondly, many of these claims, in my experience, have been made in cases were the point to be explained is either flat-out wrong or, at best, implausible or just applying in some special cases. If someone goes around claiming, e.g., that the world is flat, then he has to live with repetition—other people will want to know what leads to this claim, before they give it any credibility.

    Thirdly, there are many, many issues where more rational and better informed people have gone to lengths explaining e.g. that the “women earn 70 cents of the dollar” claim is at best highly misleading, at worst completely bogus—yet this does not stop feminists from repeating it again, and again, and again. (This specific issue will be discussed in one of the upcoming articles.)

  3. Reversal of Hanlon’s Razor and presumption of guilt, even to the point of considering someone guilty in the absence of any sign or indication of a crime. (As if a police officer would arrest a man with the claim “He has a criminal face, so he is bound to have robbed the little old lady next door.”—even when there is no indication whatsoever that the little old lady has actually been robbed...)

  4. The common “If you have not been raped, your knowledge in any related question is, ipso facto, inferior.” theme of rape discussions (often extended to any and all aspects of the discussion in question, even if not actually rape-related):

    Obviously, this is a grave fallacy, because this only relates to a part of the subject—and, in fact, seems to cause more clouding of reason than enlightenment. In what way, e.g., does being raped increase a woman’s ability to judge the risk of any particular man being a rapist? (On the contrary, in many cases, her ability will decrease due to an irrational fear—as is the case with other crime victims too.) In what way would she be better able to judge a semantic difference between blame and responsibility? What constitutes a reasoned argument and what a vicious personal attack?

Notably, while being a rape victim is horrible, it is not an excuse for an adult woman to behave like a child, to ignore what others actually say (as opposed to interpreting in something completely different), to use unfair argumentation methods, to use personal attacks, or similar. If she cannot abstain from this, then it is in the best interest of the discussion that she voluntarily abstains from taking part in it at all. In fact, while I am very much in favour of free speech and debate, such excesses as those by violent rabbit (possibly also blue milk, herself) are justifiable cause for a forced exclusion from the debate. In contrast, there is nothing in any statement by Darsh that would warrant an exclusion. (Note that the critical issue is not what opinion is held, but how it is promoted, how others and their opinions are treated, etc.)

Of course, in the end, these women do more harm than good to their cause by antagonizing men who might have been sympathetic to it, diminishing their own credibility severely, or even (depending on whom and what discussion) appearing as man-haters, fanatics, or rabid feminists.

Statements like the following certainly do not help:


I tried to comment on this post earlier today, because it made me think about the parallels with how female victims of homicide are accorded some ‘responsibility’ for provoking their male killers (by trying to leave them, for example), while male victims are not (despite having threatened the life of the female perpetrators and subjecting them to years of violent abuse).

In reality, to all evidence I have seen so far, it is exactly the other way around: Women are given a systematically more lenient treatment and are given access to the provocation excuse (in various forms and shapes) to a higher degree—even to the point that some feminists have argued for the inclusion of this systematic difference in the law it self (including, IIRC, Harriet Harman). Cf. e.g. the related categories at http://www.mens-links.net/home.aspe.

As an aside, I use the phrase “ipso facto” in this article series at a rate far higher than I usually do. This is for the simple reason that faulty “ipso-facto thinking” is common in many of the situations and groups discussed.

(If you wish to comment, please make sure that you have read Unfair argumentation methods I: Preliminaries first.)

The trial of the year—Victory! (Follow up)

As I wrote in March, a jury ruled in favour of Novell in the fight against SCO, whose widely-considered-faulty claims had caused great costs and uncertainty for a number of other parties (including, obviously, Novell).

There was still some remaining uncertainty in theory (considering the overall situation and previous judgements, a practical problem was unlikely), because there were further “findings of facts” and various motions to be decided by the judge. As Groklaw now reportse:

Judge Ted Stewart has ruled for Novell and against SCO. Novell’s claim for declaratory judgment is granted; SCO’s claims for specific performance and breach of the implied covenant of good fair and fair dealings are denied. Also SCO’s motion for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial: denied. SCO is entitled to waive, at its sole discretion, claims against IBM, Sequent and other SVRX licensees.


Maybe I should say cases closed. The door has slammed shut on the SCO litigation machine.

Unfair argumentation methods IV: The party Sverigedemokraterna

Originally, I intended a post on the Swedish party Sverigedemokraterna and the way it is maligned and attacked. The post rapidly grow out of the size suitable for a WordPress entry, and I chose to instead write an article for my website on the same topic.

Unfair argumentation methods V: Intermezzo on Hitler und Mein Kampf

With the debate around Sverigedemokraterna, I decided to finally read Hitler’s Mein Kampfw, in order to better judge the sometime claim that SD is a Nazi-organisation. (I have also found it useful make an effort to read books that are or have been influential, even if their intrinsic value seems dubious.)

About one third through, I have found many statements that are pertinent to this article series, most notably in Chapter 6, “Kriegspropaganda” (“War propaganda”), showing Hitler’s conclusions about propaganda with an eye on the German left and the respective British and German efforts during WWI. These conclusions not only go some way to explain the success of unfair reasoning (and, possibly, its popularity on the left), but also many of Hitler’s and NSDAP’s own later actions. (And what else may be said about Hitler, his success in the area of propaganda was immense and indisputable.)

I would advise all who have strong opinions about people from different groups (be they determined by race, class, sex, opinion, ...) to read this chapter very closely—and ask themselves whether they are pawns blindly following manipulators using these strategies. (Online editions can be found following the Wikipedia link. Check your local copyright situation before use.)

A few core issues:

  1. Propaganda is to be directed at the masses, who are sufficiently easily fooled and led by it. In contrast, those who are of higher intelligence should be met with a different approach based on actual reasoning and facts.

    While this is something which we can observe in everyday life (politics, commercials, whatnot), few politicians today would dare say it. Mona Sahlinw, the leader of the Swedish social-democrats, is an excellent example of this—in fact, she may take it too far, literally talking to adults as if they were little children, including tone of voice, and taking dumbing-down to an extreme where there is more-or-less no content left.

  2. There is much to be gained in portraying the enemy as a dangerous and evil monster.

    This is a common technique in propaganda, which can be readily observed in a wide variety of contexts. Consider e.g. Swedish leftist propaganda, Bush’s “Axis of Evil” (which has some justification, but that is beside the point in this context), the Arabic/Islamic “ Great American Satan”, or, indeed, the Nazis on Jews).

  3. Propaganda should be one-sided and not concede any good points in the enemies positions.

    While Hitler makes a decent case for this item, it is not necessarily one that I recognize as being systematically used—or as necessarily being effective outside of “preaching to the choir” contexts. (Then again, I may well be over-estimating the masses—which I have a long history of doing.) However, in Sweden many such examples can be found, e.g. in the attacks on Sverigedemokraterna (cf. the previous post).

  4. Propaganda must be limited in content and constantly repeat this content.

    This is certainly something that the advertising industry has taken to heart. Similarly, if we look at the political messages displayed to the masses during election campaigns, they tend to focus on just a few core issues.

Another highly pertinent theme:

Daher muß eine Vielzahl von innerlich verschiedenen Gegnern immer zusammengefaßt werden, so daß in der Einsicht der Masse der eigenen Anhänger der Kampf nur gegen einen Feind allein geführt wird. Dies stärkt den Glauben an das eigene Recht und steigert die Erbitterung gegen den Angreifer auf dasselbe.

(For this reason, a multitude of internally different opponents must always be joined together, so that the fight is only against one enemy in the understanding of the mass of own supporters. This will strengthen the faith in ones own right [righteousness?] and increase the exasperation against those who attack it.)

Here we have many of the problems I discuss in a nutshell: Anyone who criticizes immigration policy is a racist, anyone defending Sverigedemokraterna’s right to fair debate is, himself, one of them, those who want lower taxes for ideological reasons, or to stimulate the economy, are grouped with the (likely, very small) group of those who want to get rich on the cost of the poor, etc. (Similarly, it is not uncommon that right-wing USanians group all leftists into the communist category.) That this is taken to the extreme that Hitler recommends is unusual, but at least the gender-feminists tend to do so, with their ever present “Patriarchy”.

Hitler himself is a very notable user, e.g. by reducing Marxism and Social-Democracy to parts of a larger Jewish machinery—effectively making sure that there is just one enemy (the Jews), not several (Jews and Marxists/Social-Democrats). (Incidentally, this raises some question as to whether Hitler’s stated views on the Jews were honest, or whether he largely used them as a near-ideal scape-goat and main enemy.)

In case this post is read by some of the people I write about in this article series, I see myself forced to add: Reading a work by Hitler does not make me a Nazi—neither does the fact that I have read the Communist Manifesto make me a communist, that I have read the Bible make me a Christian, or that I have read the US constitution make me a USanian. For that matter: The fact that you have read this entry does not make you me.

Unfair argumentation methods VI: German example

I have promised three examples of the discussed problems, which I had in mind when I started this article series. Due to the growth in scope, I have not gotten around to them until now; however, here I present the first:

I commented on a German blog named after a leading GDR womane, requesting actual arguments to support an almost nonsensical and definitely absurd thesis. The resulting counter-comments included e.g.:

Was willst Du hier dauernd mit »Argumenten«, »Erklärungen«, »Nachweisen« und »Begründungen«? Am Ende vielleicht noch Tatsachen? Die Partei hat immer recht und basta! Oder bist Du vielleicht Kulak oder trotzkistischer Troll, daß Du das in Frage stellst? Es sind schon Leute für weniger Nachfragen nach Workuta gekommen, oder wenigstens nach Bautzen.

(What do you want with “arguments”, “explanations”, and “proof”? In the end possibly even facts? The party is always right and basta! Or are you possibly a Kulak or a Trotzkistic troll, since you put this in question? People have been sent to Workuta [Gulag labour camp], or at least Bautzen [similar character], for less.)


Und wenn man schaut, was mit solchen zersetzenden ElementInnen, die sich in der Vergangenheit tatsächlich über unsere gemeinsamen Ziele lustig gemacht haben, gerechterweise widerfahren ist, würde ich ein solches Tun auch nicht unbedingt empfehlen. Nur so viel an michaeleriksson: Sei Du jetzt mal ganz vorsichtig!!!

(And when one considers what has rightfully happened to such disturbing elements, who have made fun [a characterization of my comments that I do not agree with] of our common goals in the past, I would not recommend it. Only this to michaeleriksson: Be very careful!!!)

Notable are the lack of actual arguments, the thinly veiled threats, the unpleasant tone, and the absence of self-insight/-critique. Even by the standards of political blogs, this is a horrifying example.

For some time, I actually thought that this page was a parody; however, the continued reactions of the other commenters soon made me rule this possibility out—the likelihood that someone would go to such extreme efforts to keep pretenses up is smaller than that of extremest stupidity. (The razors of Hanlon and Occam both apply in this case—Sacha Baron Cohen notwithstanding.) Notably, there are many other similar pages on the blog, and Google yields other pages yet that seem to take the blog seriously.

(If you wish to comment, please make sure that you have read Unfair argumentation methods I: Preliminaries first.)

Unfair argumentation methods VII: Swedish example

We now move on to the post that provided the original triggere for expanding the one article on racism to an article series:

A woman wrote a post complaining that an online test by Swedish paper SvD had identified her as having a match in opinion with the “wrong” parties. The telling title in translation “SvD lies about me (SD is not a center party)”.

(For more information on SD/Sverigedemokraterna and related cases, see Unfair treatment of Sverigedemokraterna.)

I suggested that she should not jump to the conclusion that the test was faulty (let alone lying), but that the opinions of the parties might have drifted over time, that she might simple not be aware of the current opinions of various parties (notably, my own image of the parties is still heavily influenced by what they were when I first informed myself as a teenager; further, it is not uncommon that the opinions of parties are misrepresented by their opponents), and that she, in particular, viewed Sverigedemokraterna through the flawed one-issue lens of immigration.

She (aided by a similar minded debater) went through several iterations of decreasing rationality—and ended in complete idiocy. In fact, her idiocy was such that I have to admit that my annoyance partially got the better of me when I answered. Most notably, she repeatedly misrepresented the stated opinions of Sverigedemokraterna. However, she also ended up wanting to brand me as a supporter of that party, attacking me for allegedly wanting to ban gender-feminism/-theory (while I, in actuality, have the very different wish of removing the artificial support it is given and making sure that its distorted world-view is not uncritically repeated by naive journalists, politicians, whatnot), and starting a tirade about how much worse women have it than men.

The latter, in a Swedish context, proves that she was clueless (and, notably, her CV is heavy in gender-studies, which are well-known for gross misrepresentation and reality distortion). Specifically, she re-iterated a number of oft-repeated feminist myths:

  1. Women still have lower pay for the same work:

    This is not true when we actually look at the same work, the same qualifications, the same experience, etc. A Swedish source (details in the comments)e has made the comparison—as have other sources in other countries, e.g. Marilyn vos Savante. In the end, obviously, the claim is nonsensical already because market forces would make organisations hire more of the (allegedly) cheaper women, pressing their pay upwards and the men’s downward—unless, obviously, we assume that they very deliberately try to oppress women...

  2. Women are abused and murdered by their men more often than vice versa:

    Modern research shows the exact opposite, cf. e.g. http://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htme.

  3. Women are raped, exploited, and forced to sex infinitely (“oändligt”) more often than men:

    This statement is obviously very hard to check in any detail, because of matters of definition, lack of statistics, etc. I note, however:

    1. That while more women than men are raped in everyday life, rape is a very rare occurrence even among women: A clear majority of all women will never be raped—and common feminist “statistics” like “One in four women are raped in college.” have no connection with reality (cf. What campus rape crisis?e).

    2. In at least the US, the number of raped men within the prison system is very high. So high, in fact, that some speculate that the numbers for the population as a whole show more men than women being raped.

    3. Men are forced to sex by women quite often: It is true that these instances seldom involve physical violence (or threat thereof), but overall I would not be surprised if men are forced more often in other ways—many of which would qualify as rape in the extremely over-extended meaning sometimes applied by gender-feminists. See also e.g discussions of the likelihood of men being coercede and men’s reactions to coercione.

    4. Under no circumstance is the formulation “infinitely more often” justifiable.

  4. Women are worse off in terms of physical and mental well-being:

    A highly dubious claim, considering e.g. that women live longer and men’s suicide rates are higher—however, above all, an irrelevant claim: Unless it can be made plausible that these factors are rooted in mistreatment of women, they are irrelevant for the topic at hand.

    In particular, in my impression, women are more prone than men to create problems for themselves, e.g. by doing some form of inverted CBTw.

  5. Women do “djävligt” (one of the nastiest expletives in Swedish) more unpaid house-work than men.

    Firstly, highly dubious in Sweden, were the rates of house-work are comparatively close. Secondly, this does not take into consideration that men spend more time earning money for the household than women do—nor that the work done by men is often more strenuous or dangerous than house-work. Thirdly, it overlooks that women voluntarily do much house-work that men simply consider superfluous or pre-mature, e.g. washing, vacuuming, whatnot, twice or thrice a week, when once would suffice perfectly—if women create unnecessary work for themselves, they have only themselves to blame. (In fact, I have repeatedly heard joking statements along the lines of “How come the house-work went from a few hours a week to a full-time job when my girlfriend moved in?”—where one would actually expect the per capita house-work to decline when moving to a two-person household.)

    Some illuminating US numberse.

  6. Women have noticeably fewer positions of influence in politics, business, and government:

    The part about politics is, in Sweden, highly dubious: The 2006 proportion of women in the Swedish parliament is 47 % (according to the parliament’s homepagee). Sweden’s largest party and the extremely powerful Central Labor Union both have a female leader. The number of male and female ministers are roughly the same. Several parties have more women than men in important positions.

    According to official statisticse women actually dominate among public service bosses, with 58 % to 42 % for men.

    In business, there is a significant dominance of men, but this should be seen in the light of different levels of experience, dedication, numbers of male and female applicants, and similar. Only after correcting for such factors, would a comparison make sense—and the chances stand very good that the numbers are roughly fair (or even to the women’s advantage) after such corrections.

    (Those who read my website will know that I consider incorrect promotions to be a major problem; however, in the cases I have seen, there has been no indication that women would be disadvantaged—if anything, the opposite.)

In addition to this, it is noteworthy that cherry-picking allows more or less any “truth” to be presented, and that a far more holistic approach must be taken than just claiming “Women are disadvantaged wrt X; ergo, women have it worse than men.”: Any fair discussion would also include all the areas where men are disadvantaged, including e.g. criminal and family courts, divorces, workplace risks, suicide risks, the current school system, mandatory military service, ...

Indeed, while writing this article, I encountered a Swedish blog post discussing an equality indexe that attempts to give a true measure of equality (whereas those cited by feminists tend to focus on areas where men have, or traditionally have had, advantages). The results included that Swedish women have 54 % more power and 72 % more privileges than Swedish men. If this index (which I have not had the time to investigate) is even remotely reliable, then the gender-feminists’ case can be summarily dismissed. Certainly, the outcome is in the general direction that I and many others have anticipated—in fact, noticeably further down the road than I thought.

Unfair argumentation methods VIII: US example

Finally, we arrive at the US example:

An incautious Harvard student made the following statement in an email:

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.


This appears to have caused a flood of unjustified criticism (cf. the given link), including one completely intellectually dishonest blogger, who made claims like:

[...]my head shook and my eyes rolled as I read the ignorant comments of someone who clearly wasted their money on an attempt to become educated.


[...] she wanted them to understand that she was not wavering and adamantly [sic!] believed that “African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.”


The blog entry, if anything, proves the opposite, namely that its author is the one to have wasted her money...

I have made several comments on that entry, and ethicsalarms has also subsequently dealt with it, so I will not go into a deeper analysis here—in particular, since the “intermezzos” and the unexpected length of at least one planned entry has caused great delays in this article series. Instead, I have directed my efforts on the following entry on “Ships to Gaza”.

Unfair argumentation methods IX: Ships to Gaza

On May 31, the evil Israelis boarded a ship with selfless pacifists, killing nine of them. This to uphold an unlawful and inhumanitarian blockade against innocent Palestinians.

Or so the story goes, in many news sources, on many blogs, and from the mouths of many politicians. Certainly, this version is the one used to start a new wave of anti-Israel propaganda in Sweden—“Ships to Gaza” (“Skepp till Gaza”; the name used by the Swedish anti-blockade movement for the attempts) being a phrase turning up everywhere the week after the events. (Notably, most Swedish media and leftist organisations seem to operate under the assumptions that Israel is evil and to automatically and uncritically blame anything that goes wrong in the on-going conflicts on Israel.)

The reality may be something completely different—and under no circumstances is the issue as clear-cut as it is often painted.

Consider first the legality of the blockade:

Here it is highly notable that the opinions among experts vary, with many considering the blockade legal. Certainly, this is the position of the Israeli government; certainly, a strong case can be made.

Take e.g. these blogs explaining why the authors feel that the blockade is legale, that it is necessarye, and that Hamas, not Israel, is the probleme. (There is also some discussion of the raid it self.)

Consider then the legality of the raid and who is to blame for what: Again legal opinions differ considerably, but it is at least highly likely that Israel acted in the belief (whether correct or not) that it had the law on its side. Lacking omniscience, I can only go by what other sources have written about the events, but, yet again, highly different opinions exist. The Israeli version certainly paints a very different picture from the activist version.

An import question here: Assuming that Israelis deliberately set out to use the excessive unprovoked violence they are accused of—why did they do so? They must have been aware of the reactions that would follow. Further, they (allegedly) went berserk on one single ship out of six. Why just one? Further yet, according to Wikipedia, this was the “ninth attempt since 2008 to break the blockade by sea, but the first that resulted in deaths”. Why this time around, and not before?

It is simply highly implausible that the result was deliberate (or even what may be considered “grossly negligent”)—Occam’s Razor. Possibly, there was an unfortunate miscommunication somewhere. Possibly, a few individual soldiers had their own agenda. Possibly, things just went out of hand due to an unfortunate chain of events. In any reasonably likely explanation I can think of, however, it would be a misfortune rather than state-sanctioned murder.

There is another explanation: The Israelis did not cause the problem, but the activists did. Possibly, the activists on board this one ship were of a different kind than on previous/other ships. On the balance, again using Occam’s Razor, this is what appears most plausible to me—and this well matches the Israeli version of the events.

Again, I am not omniscient: I know neither the true version of the events, nor the intents of the involved parties. However, and this is the important part, neither do the members of the chorus of condemnation. Notably, even most participants of the flotilla will not know, and the claims of some participants that they were on a mission of peace (or similar) are specious: Even if this applies to some or most of them, there is nothing to prevent another group from having a very different agenda—with the pacifists being “useful idiots”.

Going through the Wikipedia page on the “Gaza flotilla raid”w (revision 371402678), it is possible to get a good overview of what various people claim. Below, I have extracted a number of statements that tell or support the Israeli version (all emphasis added by me):

Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, Chicago Law School Professor Eric Posner, and Johns Hopkins international law Professor Ruth Wedgwood, said that the naval blockade and the boarding in international waters were in accord with long-standing international law, and comparable to other blockades in unrelated, historical conflicts. Dershowitz and Posner also defended the specific use of force as legal.

Israel requested to have the cargos inspected at the port of Ashdod and items permitted by Israel delivered by land; the flotilla refused this request.

Nine activists, all from the IHH [sometimes suspected of being a terrorist organisation, cf. Wikipediaw] were killed by the Israeli troops

Israeli soldiers said they used their pistols only after their lives were endangered,

Israel seized and inspected the cargo, 70 truck-loads, and requested the UN to oversee its transfer to Gaza.

According to Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration, every day about 100 trucks are allowed to enter Gaza via Kerem Shalom Crossing.

Israel says the naval blockade is needed to prevent rocket attacks against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Israeli prime minister said "If the blockade had been broken, it would have been followed by dozens, hundreds of boats. Each boat could carry dozens of missiles.".

Some supporters of the flotilla announced on 28 May: "A violent response from Israel will breathe new life into the Palestine solidarity movement, drawing attention to the blockade." Some of the activists who would later die during the MV Mavi Marmara clash spoke in terms that suggested they put religious duty before their lives. On 29 May, Aljazeera broadcast footage of some activists on the MV Mavi Marmara participating in a chant invoking battle against Jews.

According to Israel radio the following message was sent by the Israeli navy to the captain of the Mavi Marmara: "You are approaching an area of hostilities, which is under a naval blockade. Gaza coastal area and Gaza Harbour are closed to maritime traffic. The Israeli government supports delivery of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population in Gaza Strip and invites you to enter Ashdod port. Delivery of supplies will be in accordance with the authorities’ regulations and through the formal land crossing to Gaza and under your observation, after which you can return to your home ports." The reply was: "Negative, negative. Our destination is Gaza."

After Israeli warnings that the ships are approaching a blockade, voices responded "Go back to Auschwitz!" and "Don’t forget 9/11".

Ron Ben-Yishai, a veteran war correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth was aboard the Victory, an Israeli missile ship. He said the army planned to land a team on the top deck and rush the bridge and take control. He reported that that the assessment was that the passengers would show "light resistance and possibly minor violence". He said the soldiers were told to confront protesters verbally, use crowd control tactics and use firearms only to save their own lives. The commandos were not able to rush the bridge as planned and another helicopter was sent with a second troop. At first, the soldiers attempted to stop the violence with stun grenades; however, after a soldier was reported injured, the troops then asked for permission to use their firearms, which they received.

Israel has asserted that it did not begin firing live weapons until after the guns of two soldiers on board were taken by passengers,

The IDF said that all of the equipment that was on board was examined and that none of it was in shortage in Gaza.

Robert Mackey of The New York Times suggested that the passengers on the ship may have mistaken the flash grenades and paintball guns for deadly weapons, which enraged them.

Activist Espen Goffeng said that "[t]he defense of the boat was quite well organized".

Mohamed Beltagy, an Egyptian member of parliament who had also been on the ship said Egyptian television program "10 at Night" that the flotilla participants overcame three Israeli commandos and snatched their weapons from them. His admission of employing force against IDF soldiers was accepted as truthful in Egypt, as evidenced by the heavy criticism of him in the Egyptian media, not for exaggerating or lying, but for granting Israel a "public relations gift."

According to the IDF, Israeli commandos prepared to encounter political activists seeking to hold a protest, were armed with paintball guns and handguns as sidearms. The soldiers had orders to peacefully convince the activists to give up, and if not successful, use non-lethal force to commandeer the ship. The commandos were instructed to use the sidearms in an emergency, when their lives were at risk.

The commandos fired warning shots and dropped stun grenades prior to abseiling to the ship. The IDF reported that the commandos were immediately attacked after descending from helicopters onto the deck of the ship, beaten, and stabbed. One soldier was thrown to a lower deck. Two Israeli commandos had their guns wrested away. An Israeli commando said that there was live fire at some point against them from below deck. Two of the commandos suffered gunshot wounds. The troops said later: “We were fired upon, we fired back.” According to Major Avital Leibovich of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, the activists attacked the soldiers with knives, slingshots, spikes, and clubs, and with pistols that were seized from Israeli commandos. The Israeli Navy said they recovered 9mm shell casings of a kind not used by the Israeli commandos, suggesting that the activists had other weapons not seized from the IDF. They were reportedly thrown overboard prior to the Israeli commandos taking complete control of the ship. Israeli commandos also boarded the ship from boats. As the boats approached, activists fired water hoses and threw a box of plates and a stun grenade at them, and beat the hands of soldiers as they climbed on board.

One video shows, according to IDF, each commando being attacked by metal pipes and bats as he was lowered by helicopter. IDF also reported that one soldier was thrown overboard and another to a lower deck. Other videos show at least one incident in which a stun grenade and fire bomb was thrown at the soldiers, as well activists beating one of the soldiers and trying to kidnap him. Another video, edited from the ship’s surveillance footage, is described by the IDF as showing activists preparing for a clash hours before the Israeli Navy made contact with the ship.

One IDF commando who took part in the operation summed up the clash between the activists and the naval intercept team this way;

“They (IHH activists) came prepared for a battle. We came prepared to straighten thongs out, to talk to them, convince them to unboard the ship.”

The cargo of the ships included medical supplies as well as weapons such as knives, clubs, slingshots, bulletproof vests, gas masks and night vision goggles. Israeli Army found the weapons and military supplies only on Mavi Marmara.

Israel reported that seven soldiers were injured in the clash—two seriously. Two of the soldiers sustained gunshot wounds, and one soldier sustained a serious head wound and lost consciousness after being tossed from an upper deck by the activists.

Copyright statement: Due to the great dependence on the quoted Wikipedia page, this article is “copylefted” using the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA)e. My normal copyright terms do not apply.

For the sake of formality, an APA-style reference to the used page:

Gaza flotilla raid. (2010, July 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:32, July 6, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gazaflotillaraid&oldid=371402678

Unfair argumentation methods IXa: Follow-up, German IHH ban

As I briefly mention in the preceding post, the killed activists where all with the IHH—a Turkish organisation suspected of collaborations with terrorists.

Yesterday, I found out that the German off-shot organisation of the same name has been banned in Germany, with the motivation that it

unter dem Deckmantel der humanitären Hilfe bewusst und gezielt Organisationen unterstützt, die der Hamas zuzurechnen sind oder die ihrerseits die Hamas unterstützen

(under a cover of humanitarian aid, is deliberately and specifically supporting organisations that belong to the Hamas or in turn support Hamas)

(German Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, according to Wikipediaw:de)

(While the two IHHs appear to currently deny any closer affiliation, they were, according to the quoted Wikipedia page, the result of a 1997 division into a Turkish and a German version—and, considering the circumstances, I cannot rule out untruthfulness in the denial.)

Disney’s princesses and the wishes of women

Time and time and again, I stumble upon blogs, newspaper articles, and similar, with a thesis along the lines of “Disney and its unrealistic princesses teach little girls what they should like.” (with many variations on who is the culprit, what age the women are, and other details).

Every time I read something like that, I have a near identical comment in mind:

You assume that the girls/women are altered by Disney/whomever. Stop to consider the far more likely explanation that money-makers simply happen to know what women like—and have done the complete opposite: Altered the message to fit the women.

In order to save some time in the future, I have written this post instead, for easy linking. (If you have found this page over such a link, please bear in mind that a one-size-fits-all is rarely a perfect fit: Apply the principles, not the details, to the post in question.)

Disclaimer: I do not claim that this is necessarily a one-way street, but fully acknowledge, e.g., that Disney can affect the girls. My point is rather that the opposite, by Occam’s Razor, should be the default assumption, that the burden of proof is on those blaming Disney, and that, even to the degree that a two-way street is present, the effect of the girls on Disney is likely to be the considerably stronger.

Unfair argumentation methods X: Meaning and (ab)use of “racism”

The long promised article on “racism”—or rather a link to it. Again, a post grew out of the scope for a good blog entry, making me turn into an article for my website.

Unfair argumentation methods XI: Use Wikipedia’s guidelines to better your own argumentation

Earlier today, I answered a comment with a reference to Wikipedia’s NPOV guidelinew. As subsequently struck me, a generalized version of this reference can be a valuable help for anyone who wants to better his own argumentation.

Wikipedia has a plenitude of information and guidelines on how to argue and how to not. While I personally do not agree with all of these guidelines (and many do not apply to anything but Wikipedia, in the first place), I feel that reading and comprehending them can be immensely beneficial to gaining an understanding of the principles of fair and unbiased argumentation.

My advice: Use the linked page as a starting point to explore Wikipedia’s take on the issue.

(Further valuable information can be found by reading up on various fallacies and similar, e.g. on Wikipediaw.)

The previous entry touched upon the question of fallacies. Recently, I have been involved in a Swedish discussion of povertye, which has put emphasis on some of my concerns.

Notably, there seems to be a considerable lack of understanding of questions such as causality vs. correlation, how scientific studies work, and similar. Annoyingly, this problem is very common, even among journalists and politicians (who should know better as a professional requirement)—and, horrifyingly, even the odd scientist.

Let us first look at the concepts of causality and correlation:

Correlation implies that there is a connection of some kind between two phenomena, personal characteristics, or similar—but is says nothing about how the connection works. In particular, it does not say that the one is the cause of the other, or the reverse; and it is quite common that a third something is the cause of both, or that they are partially mutually causing each other. (Technical use of “predicts” is similar: It too is not a causality, but unlike a correlation it can be a one-way street. If I pick out a random person on the street here in Cologne, there is a fair chance that he is German—the first predicts the second, with a high probability of correctness. On the other hand, picking a random German, the chance that he is on a street in Cologne is comparatively small—the second does not predict the first.)

Causality, OTOH, catches just this causing.

To take a few examples of how these concepts can work (and easily be misunderstood):

  1. Height and weight are reasonably strongly correlated. However, which is the cause of the other? An increase in height does (on average—a qualifier that I will leave out below) cause an increase in weight, because there is more body present. However, an increase in weight can also often cause an increase in height: Lack of nutrition can stunt growth and those who eat more are likely to both gain weight through fat/muscle gain and to gain height through a lesser risk/degree of malnutrition. In addition, entirely other factors can cause both weight and height gains (e.g., strictly hypothetically, that those genetically predisposed to tallness are also predisposed to obesity).

    Here we see a complex interaction of factors. We can further note that, although height and weight are correlated, the correlation is imperfect: An obese 5-footer can be heavier than skinny 7-footer. Correlations only rarely allow for predictions about individuals, and instead find their use where aggregates are concerned.

  2. Assume that we consider a large sample of men and women, with and without bikes (and that sex and the possession of a bike are independent of each other). Looking specifically at the three subsets women (X), bike-owners (Y), and female bike-owners (Z), we find that membership of X and membership of Z correlate: Being a woman increases the chance of being a female bike-owner and being a female bike-owner necessitates being a woman. In the same way, membership in Y and membership in Z correlate.

    It would now seem plausible to assume that since both X–Z and Z–Y correlate, then we would also have a correlation X–Y. That, however, is not true! There is (in this model) no connection whatsoever between X (being a woman) and Y (owning a bike).

    Here we see the risk of “chaining” correlations.

  3. Consider the set X of all Finns and the set of Y all people with Finnish as their native language. Clearly, X and Y have a strong correlation. It would now, on a too casual glance, seem plausible that the same applies to any subset of X. However, there are specific subsets which have no or even a negative correlation—notably, the large minority of Swedish descent.

    What is true for a set is not (necessarily) true for all subsets. (Including, obviously, individual cases, which can be mapped to sets with one member.)

  4. Consider a school class with blond and brown-haired children. The teacher (for reasons of his own) gives the blond children an apple and a chocolate bar, while the brown-haired are given an orange and bag of wine-gummy.

    Assuming that no other edibles are present (and that the children are not extremely voracious...), there are perfect correlations among the children between owning an apple and owning a chocolate bar, an orange and wine-gummy, being blond and owning an apple, and so on. There are also perfect negative correlations between e.g. apple-owning and orange-owning (not all correlations need indicate a connection of X -> Y, but they can also be of the X -> not-Y kind).

    However, there is no causation between apples and chocolate bars or between oranges and wine-gummy. (One of the main rules of science: Correlation does not imply causation.)

    Looking at e.g. being blond and owning an apple, we land in a complicated situation: On the one hand, we could argue that the blond hair did cause possession of the apple; on the other, this could be seen as a spurious thought because the actual cause behind the correlations is the teacher. (What is a causation and what not is often a far from clear decision, and care must be taken when basing decisions on ambiguous causations. In a similar vein, there are often causes and underlying causes.)

  5. Assume the same setting as the previous example, when a second teacher rushes in, confiscates all candies and replaces them with fruit (the bastard!), so that all children have exactly one apple and one orange.

    Here we see an oddity: Causation does not need to imply correlation.

    The first teachers actions did cause the students to be given candies, but the actions of the second nullified that effect. Similarly, the first teacher did cause the children to be given fruit according to a certain pattern, but this pattern (in the sample at hand) disappeared with the actions of the second teacher (without nullifying the actions of the first teacher).

  6. A (hypothetical) study of the NBA is made, with the result that the correlation between height and prowess (by some measures) is low, zero, or even negative.

    Does this imply that height has no effect on prowess? No–here we have the classic issue of a pre-filtered sample. Studying NBA players reduces the variation of ability to a very high degree (compared to the overall population) and the variation of height (to some degree). This makes the sample flawed (for many purposes) and the conclusion invalid.

    Repeating the same study on the overall population, without this pre-filtering, will show a large positive correlation.

    A correlation is only as good as the samples used (in general) and using samples which are “top heavy” (in particular) can hide correlations that actually are present.

  7. Similar to the above, other variations of highly flawed conclusions based on flawed samples can be constructed, e.g. by creating statistics on car accidents for the overall population based on a sample of hospital visitors; by using a conclusion which is true for one population, but not for another; or by making comparisons between samples that may be inherently unequal, e.g. by trying to measure a difference in hockey-ability between Swedes and Canadians by comparing random samples of NHL players. (The entry barrier to the NHL will be lower for a Canadian, which means that the Swedish sample will have undergone a stronger pre-filtering.)

An important conclusion from the above is that if a scientific study claims that “X and Y correlate” (or “X predicts Y”), great care should be taken before assuming a causation or suggesting new policy. In fact, even if the study actually does make claims about causality, great care should be taken: The scientist(s) may be sloppy, driven by ideological motivation or research grants, or seeing what the result “should” be (rather than what it is)—scientists are only human.

The last point is one of importance: Many non-scientists have a somewhat superstitious take on scientists, and assume that they master all complexities in they encounter, take all aspects of a problem into consideration, and so on. This is simply not a correct estimate: Even when a scientist is aware of all aspects (unlikely, bordering on a tautological impossibility), he will still be forced to make simplifications. A social-science study, e.g., may pick out a handful of variables of relevance, try to catch any remaining issues in a generic error term—and then proceed to test these on a sample that is too small, picked with imperfect randomness, or otherwise deviating from the ideals. (This not to mention the many other complications that can occur with flawed measurements, leading questionnaires, whatnot.)


As has subsequently occurred to me, the above examples can be somewhat misleading in that they are mostly “binary” (someone has/is something—or not). This was a deliberate choice to have simple and easy to understand examples; however, it is important to bear in mind that the typical practical case will be of a different character. The first item, dealing with height and weight, is a good example: There is no binary “tall implies heavy”, “short implies light”, but a a gradual increase of expected/average weight as height increases (and vice versa).

This is particularly important when I speak of “negative correlation” above: This should not really be seen as the presense of X implying the absense of Y, but as a decrease of Y as X increases. A good example is speed and travel time: If a vehicle goes faster (all other factors equal) the time taken for it to reach its destination decreases.

Comment censorship and comment policies I: Preliminaries

I have previously written on the danger of censorship, including pointing to the possibility that freedom of speech may need to be radically extended. (More posts can be found by a search.)

Recently, I have seen a number of relevant posts. To deal with some cases and observations, I am writing a new article series. Currently, having had busy day, I have four articles (including this one) that I will publish in short time-span, after some minor polishing; in addition, a fifth article is planned, but may yet be canceled, depending on developments.

While I will leave most of the discussion to the individual case discussions, a few remarks:

  1. Just like unfair moderation can lead to problems, so can e.g. alterations of comments. This, in particular, considering how easy it is to discredit someone even with an out-of-context quote he has made. Even an accidental distortion can have disastrous effect. Deliberate forgeries and distortions, OTOH, are bound to be rare—but the potential for abuse is large. (Notably, this is a particular concern for those who occasionally post on the blogs run by the-end-justifies-the-means fanatics.)

  2. If you, as a blog-owner, decides to block a particular comment or commenter, it is usually a good idea to explicitly contact him with an explanation. There are blogs that have a too large inflow of comments, and there are commenters who simply are obvious idiots (or have built their status as idiots for quite some time); however, in most cases, a notification is appropriate and courteous. In particular, beware of the risk of a misinterpretation influencing your decision to block.

  3. Everyone must have the right to defend and clarify his position, meet attacks directed against him, etc. If you do cut someone off, do so in a manner that does not make him a defenseless victim of an opponent.

  4. Be especially careful with the people you disagree with: The greater the disagreement, the greater the risk that you are being biased and unfair—and the greater the benefit of the doubt you should extend.

Comment censorship and comment policies II: Jotamar’s comment policy

I recently encountered a comment policye that I found highly dangerous (I have, I stress, not made observations of how it is actually applied. The general attitude, which is representative for many blogs, is my target. It may be beneficial too consider this a discussion based on the policy, rather than a discussion of the policy.)

A few quotes (retrieved 2010-07-27) with my analysis:

If you come to my blog and post a comment that does not engage with my post, or with the comment thread in general, I will consider you a troll.

This is a misrepresentation of what a troll is (in short someone who is deliberately out to provoke a fight or otherwise disturb the discussion)—as the recurring reader will know, use of a word with strong negative connotations (arising from a very specific meaning) in a much wider meaning is one of my pet peeves—be the misuse out of ignorance, carelessness, or deliberation.

Further, the applied standards are extremely arbitrary and vulnerable to misunderstandings, with the implication that even constructive and “good faith” comments can fall victim.

Notably, while I have not myself been censored on this blog during my one (?) involvement, both my intentions and what I said was misunderstoode in a highly annoying and mutually time-consuming manner.

After [what amounts to a first warning], I may delete your comments or disemvowel them, depending on my mood.

Deleting comments is one thing, disemvowelling (.g. smthng lk ths) is another matter entirely: Other peoples words should not be distorted unless it is manifestly clear that a distortion has taken place (e.g. by a marker like “[Admin: ...]”. Notably, there are a few people out there (usually considered idiots by others), who deliberately disemvowel their own texts, and the commenter might be taken for one of them.

If you write a condescending comment – especially if you start with a condescending phrase – or if you mansplain (or equivalent) at me, I will probably treat you as a troll.

Condescension too is highly subjective, and many are over-sensitive to it or imagine it where it is not present. This tends to apply in particular to people who use the word “mansplain”: There are two main situations in which I have seen this word used:

  1. A man tries to explain more-or-less anything to a woman who is also a men-are-out-to-get-us feminist; in particular, when she actually is wrong in the underlying issue.

  2. A man tries to explain something to a woman who is also stupid or highly uninformed, and his dumbing-down is interpreted as “You talk to me like that because I am woman!”, instead of the correct “You talk to me like that because I am stupid/uninformed!”. Notably, the amount of dumbing down need not even be so large that an independent observer would consider it condescending, but rather an attempt to be helpful. (When push comes to shove, Einstein would have discussed physics with a layman in a very different manner than with another Nobel-Prize winning physicist—this is in the best interest of all parties, and not in anyway disrespectful or condescending.)

    Corollary: If you constantly find that other people are condescending towards you, the reason might actually rest with you, not them.

As an additional complication, some incorrectly interpret a factual way of writing as condescending, which can be a major obstacle to a fair discussion when combined with a “no condescension” rule. Similarly, even statements that correctly point out that a particular belief is wrong or naive are often taken as condescending. (Depending on the details, this need not be incorrect; however, there is a world of difference between e.g. “That it is common beginner’s error, which does not consider that X.”, even when condescending, and “Do not trouble your pretty little head with that. We do not want it to over-heat, do we?”—there is condescension and there is condescension.)

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that we are all imperfect: Should someone, when faced with an unusual amount of stupidity, eventually become condescending, then that is something very different from someone who is constantly condescending to everyone he meets.

Language which is offensive because it is ableist [presumably, referring to having or not having certain abilities, e.g. sight], sexist, misogynistic, racist, homophobic or anything else of that calibre is not acceptable.

Again, a much too subjective criterion—and one that is very, very often abused to exclude those who dissent in opinion, or that is over-extended in an inappropriate manner. (Cf. e.g. Hypocritical media or Abuse of “racism” (and issues relating to racism).)

If you think this policy is unfair, you are more than welcome to go and comment on some other blog.

While this may seem reasonable at a first glance, this attitude can also be dangerous—in particular, when the censorship starts during a discussion, when one debater’s opinions are left misstated, misrepresented, or when others attacks or arguments are left unanswered. An additional danger is that a good faith post which has cost the author a non-trivial amount of time, e.g. to dig up a few references, is not published.

Comment censorship and comment policies III: Nordic Dervish’s comment policy

Another recent encounter is Nordic Dervish’se comment policy, which contains some other common entries that trouble me. (Most of the policy, however, is reasonable.)

A particular issue is the implicit assumption that the reader has read the comment policy (reflected in several entries below), which is only valid to a part. While this may seem a reasonable assumption (possibly even eliciting a “Duh!” from the reader), it is rarely true, and any unusual rules and consequences should put to the commenters explicit attention in connection with the comment field. By analogy, a country can make whatever laws it wants, but if those laws are unexpected (say, jay-walking being punishable with a minimum of six months imprisonment), it really should explicitly inform tourists at the border—not rely on the tourists to grab a book of law and reading up.

Examples (retrieved 2010-07-27):

Kommentera inlägget. Allt som är off-topic raderas – oavsett hur intressant.

(Comment the post. Everything that is off-topic will be deleted—no matter how interesting.)

Apart from often being a disservice to other visitors (and quite possibly a time waster for the commenter), this is another highly arbitrary regulation. Notably, the border between on- and off-topic can be hard to define, sometimes it is necessary to go off topic to correctly answer concerns raised by another commenter, etc.

In contrast, “Try to stay on topic. Comments that stray too far from the topic at hand may be wholly or partially deleted.” would have been perfectly OK, if combined with sound judgement.

Håll kommentaren så kort som det är möjligt. ”Noveller” kommer att raderas.

(Keep your comment as short as possible. “Novels” [lit., in an odd twist, “short-stories”] will be deleted.

The principle is sound, but the same objections, m.m., as above can be raised.

Rasistiska eller främlingsfientliga kommentarer/formuleringar raderas.

(Racist or xenophobic comments/formulations are deleted.)

The same old problem again that I have raised in several previous entries. (Admittedly, this instance was followed by a disclaimer that some amount of dissent may be allowed.) However, this is nothing compared to:

Är Khomeini/Ahmadinejad dina idoler? Om du skriver publiceras ditt inlägg MED emailadress och IP-nr samt en uppmaning till dig att utföra passionerat fellatio på ett avgasrör.

(Are Khomeini/Ahmadinejad your idols? If you write [presumably “comment”], your input will be published WITH email address and IP-nr, together with a suggestion for you to perform passioned fellatio on an exhaust pipe.)

Publishing email and IP of a commenter without his consent is inexcusable (barring some special cases, say DOS attacks, but certainly not the described one). This applies even if the commenter happen to be an Iranian Islamist, a German Nazi, or a Satanist (in all three cases, assuming that his one crime in context is expressing a dissenting opinion). Further, WordPress assures posters, with regard to the technical implementation, that this information will only be made available to the blog owner(s), which makes a manual publication the more unethical.

The latter part of the quote could be construed as a suggestion to commit suicide...

Comment censorship and comment policies IV: A German feminist’s take on comments

Today, I stumbled upon an entry where a German feminist expressed her opinions on comment moderatione. Her statements included:

Auch an dieser Stelle waren die besserwisserischen Männerkommentare in feministischen Blogs ja schon häufiger Thema, ebenso wie das Phänomen der Trolle.

(Here too, the besser-wissery man-comments on feminist blogs has been a topic, just like the phenomenon of trolls.)

Apart from the overall connection and formulation being less-than-polite, my own experiences indicate that this is an opinion that feminist bloggers tend to have about any and all comments by men that are not positively “sucking up”. In particular, the whole besser-wisser issue is basically their explanation for the presumption of pointing to actual errors in reasoning, statistics that do not agree with The Official Feminist Truth, and similar. Cf. also the earlier discussion of “mansplaining”.

Dass es sich für feministische Blogs empfiehlt, eine relativ strikte Kommentarmoderation zu haben, hat sich inzwischen herauskristallisiert.


Sondern es ist wichtig, um den Raum der Diskussion frei zu halten für die wirklich interessanten Debatten und attraktiv für diejenigen, die gerne konstruktiv mitdiskutieren wollen, aber keine Lust auf langweilige oder sich im Ton vergreifende Diskussionsstile haben.

(It has turned out [original idiom untranslatable] that it is recommendable for feminist blogs to be relatively strict about comment moderation.


Instead, it is important to keep the room of discussion free for the really interesting debates, and attractive to those who want to participate in the discussion, but have no wish for boredom or discussion styles that are off in tone [ambiguous phrasing].)

This is a similar distortion of the “only those who agree are constructive” kind. See also the comment I submitted to the actual post (below).

Eine weitere Unsitte, wie ich finde, ist es, das eigene Anliegen bei jedem neuen Thema erneut vorzubringen. Also zum Beispiel die Meinung, dass es heutzutage gar nicht die Frauen, sondern die Männer sind, die benachteiligt werden, oder dass feministische Analysen nur dann Relevanz und Bedeutung haben, wenn es gelingt, Männer von ihrer Richtigkeit zu überzeugen.

(Another deplorable behaviour, in my finding [opinion], is to bring out an own agenda [pet issue?] again with every new topic. For instance, the opinion that, in today’s world, it is not the women, but the men, who are disadvantaged, or that feminist analyses only have relevance and meaning [or importance], when it is possible to convince men about their correctness.)

And again, dissenters have no right to speak. Superficially, it may seem that it is wrong to bring up such issues again and again, but the point is that these issues are of fundamental importance to the discussion—and the turn-around in male and female fortunes will also undermine very many feminist arguments and discussions. Ignoring these arguments (and if they were not ignored, there would be no need to restate them) is tantamount to discussing biology in a Creationist framework.

Und allen, die dann „Zensur“ rufen, sage ich: Das Internet ist ja zum Glück groß. Ihr könnt also jederzeit ein eigenes Blog aufmachen. Hier aber entscheide ich.

(And to all, who call “censorship, I say: The Internet is, fortunately, large. You can start your own blog anytime. Here, however, I make the calls.)

This dictatorial take has already been discussed in previous entries.

The comment I left there, in full:

Ich kann jetzt nicht spezifisch für Deinen Blog sprechen (noch werde ich verleugnen, dass es auch unter den anti-feministen schlechte Kommentatoren gibt).

Gegen den Grundsatz muss ich mich allerdings mit Nachdruck wenden:

Was ich immer und immer wieder sehe, ist dass feministische Blogs eine selektive Moderation, Personenangriffe, o.ä. benutzen um Andersdenke zum Schweigen zu bringen. Ich habe gar Aussagen gesehen, die in der Richtung „Deine Ansichten stimmen nicht mit der Majorität der Leser überrein, so verzieh Dich.“ gegangen sind.

Eine „interessante Diskussion“ ist dann öfters auf ein gegenseitiges Zustimmen beschränkt, während eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit Sachargumenten, eine gegenseitige Erleuchtung über den tatsächlichen Inhalt unterschiedlicher Standpunkte, usw, nicht stattfindet.

(Im Übrigen habe ich selbst erhebliche Zweifel an die ethische Seite von dieser Art von gezielter Moderation/Zenzur.)

S. auch (auf Englisch) http://michaeleriksson.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/unfair-argumentation-methods-iii-intermezzo-on-rape-debates/ für ein Beispiel von den Methoden, die einige Blogs benutzen.

(I cannot speak specifically for your blog (nor will I deny that there are bad commenters among the anti-feminists too).

I must turn [dissent/object] against the principle [of the post], however:

What I see, time and time again, is that feminist blogs use selective moderation, personal attacks, and similar, to silence dissenters. I have even seen statements in the direction of “Your opinions do not correspond with the majority of the readers, so take a hike.”.

An “interesting discussion” is then often reduced to mutual affirmation, while a critical examination with arguments ad rem, a mutual enlightenment about the actual contents of different views, etc., does not take place.

(In addition, I have strong concerns [lit. “doubts”] about the ethical side of this type of targeted moderation/censorship.)

S. also (in English) http://michaeleriksson.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/unfair-argumentation-methods-iii-intermezzo-on-rape-debates/ for an example of the methods some blogs use.)

I will also distill a spot on comment by another commentere:

  1. The interesting thing with blogs is the exchange of information and the possibility to find weakness in ones own opinion.

  2. Feminist blogs tend to strike exactly those comments that disagree with the underlying opinions of the authors.

  3. Those arguments that tend to convince non-feminists (listed are fellow party-members, co-workers, and family) are those that are deleted.

  4. By this feminism becomes a question of faith.

Finally, a quote by yet another commenter:

Biologische Argumentationen, sachlich vorgetragen und durchaus von einer Mehrheit der jeweiligen biologischen Fachrichtung vertreten, führen auf feministischen Blogs sehr schnell dazu, dass Kommentare nicht mehr freigeschaltet oder gelöscht werden.

(Biological arguments, [even when] brought in a factual manner and supported by a majority of the respective [sub-field of Biology], have the speedy consequence that comments are not approved or are deleted.

Comment censorship and comment policies IVa: Free space for comments on censored page

(Note: This entry will mostly interest German speakers. No translations are provided, even if the main text is kept in English.)

Unfortunately, as suspected, the blog by Antje Schrupp discussed in the previous entry does apply a comment policy that I cannot but consider illegitimate (from an ethical POV).

After one of my own comments have now been blocked, I belatedly note that I been blocked from the discussion as a whole on grounds that have to be considered flimsy at best, and consist in both a high degree of arbitrariness and a misinterpretation (whether deliberate or not) of my actions and intentions.

For this reason, I publish my comment here, in addition:


Diese Einlage war im Kern wirklich gut, denn sie hat tatsächlich auf einige denkbare Gründe gezeigt, worauf es sonst schwierig zu kommen gewesen wäre (und auch nicht von dem ursprunglichen Beitrag Antjes so hervorgehen).

Wenn wir aber eine bessere Analogie suchen wollen, für den öffentlichen Raum: Sagen wir, dass jemand eine öffentlich zugängliche Diskussionrunde (vielleicht auf dem Marktplatz, vielleicht bei einem offenen Stammtisch) startet und anschliessend die abweichenden Meinungen mockiert, beleidigt, zensiert—sicher wäre dies keine gute Sitte. Wenn man die Diskussion „unter den richtigen Leuten“ halten möchte, würde man anders vorgehen, etwa in dem man sich privat trifft. Auf die selbe Art und Weise kann man durch Blogs mit entsprechenden „Privacy settings“, private Mailinglisten, oder gleich durch Email, „die Falschen“ schon im Voraus ausschliessen—bis zu dem Punkt, dass sie die Beiträge gar nicht bekommen. Potentielle Interessenten, die nicht schon zu dem Kreis hören, kann man immerhin auf unterschiedliche Wege einladen. Wenn jemand tatsächlich nur Kirschen verkauft, dann ist das natürlich eine völlig andere Sache.

(Nebenbei scheinen leider einige von den sonst angesprochenen Problemen auch bei Dir durch, z.B. in „Sie diskutieren hegemonial und unterschwellig beleidigend“, „Deswegen bleiben die interessanten Leute schnell weg,“ oder „die kein Bock auf die Beleidigung, die Unfreundlichkeiten “—hier wird erneut, und in Umkehrung zu dem was ich beobachtet habe, die Nicht-Feministen als beleidigend betrachtet, während die Interessanten letzten Endes die Zustimmenden sind.)

In addition, I declare this page a free zone for those whose comments are censored on on Antje’s blog entrye. (Considering the late stage of the discussion, there may well be none; but this still makes sense as a statement of principle.) The one constraint in addition to my normal comment policy: For reasons of symmetry, I reserve the right to selectively censor any pro-feminist entries.

I already have two follow-ups to my original post in the workings (mostly focusing on why Antje’s policy is misguided and destructive; respectively on one particular sub-discussion that would have turned into an external debate, had not the feminist participant backed down rather suddenlye), but have postponed their completion for a few days, having felt a need to take a break from the topic. The new events calls for further treatment, which may be another follow-up or be baked in with the planned discussion. There may be some time, however, before these several follow-ups are published, because there are some thoughts that I need to straighten out for myself first.

Comment censorship and comment policies IVb: Discussion of a semi-reasonable motivation for censorship

In my last entry, I provided a verbatim quote in German of my answer to an insight-giving pro-censorship commente. Below, I will discuss the core points of the latter comment (in my interpretation and from my perspective).

  1. There are feminists who believe that they have heard all relevant counter-arguments, and simply do not accept them.

    With this I will not argue, but I will note that the lack of acceptance is not typically rooted in reason, but simply in stubborn instance that a pre-formed opinion is the correct one—even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

  2. They have the conviction that neither they nor their opponents can be converted.

    To a large part, this too is true.

  3. They do have a wish to debate related topics with like-minded people—not just as the “club of mutual admiration” that I have so often observed, but also in the legitimate wish to deepen an understanding within a particular framework of feminist thought.

    Again, a legitimate statement. It is questionable, however, how often it applies. Indeed, most feminist discussions I have seen have had a different character, most notably as an attempt to convince others, propagate the feminist world-view, or to just gripe about this-and-that.

  4. These discussions are visited by non- and anti-feminist, who bring up arguments already known and rejected, which, basically, “spoils the fun”.

    (See the “cherry example” below.)

  5. Censorship allows the blog owner to focus the conversation on the subset of issues she wants to debate without the framework it self being questioned.

    While also true, this is very often misleading.

    For one thing, a blog debate is not just something for the participants, but also for other readers, and by suppressing dissenting voices, these readers are given a flawed and distorted view of the overall situation. This is particularly serious, because many feminists state their opinions as facts, misinterpret or misstate statistics, or otherwise act in a way that could easily fool the unwary. Indeed, I was myself long an innocent believer in factually untrue claims such as domestic violence being something pre-dominantly committed by men onto women.

    (Notably, with e.g. the situation in Sweden in mind, it is very important that these dissenting voices are heard, lest the extreme dominance of feminist and politically correct views in media are supplemented by a similar dominance in other channels of information.)

    For another, the debates are often cut off in such a way that the feminists “win”, e.g. by letting the anti-feminist make a statement, allowing the feminist a convincing sounding come-back using a factually flawed argument, and then censoring the anti-feminist when he points out that, how, and why this argument was factually flawed.

Based on these points (notwithstanding the critique given above; in particular, as the counter-arguments I give apply to the great mass, but not necessarily to individual cases) my overall impression of the comment was highly favourable—something that actually broadened my understanding of the issues and perspectives involved. Unfortunately, the general tone of the comment contained several highly derogatory and misleading statements and one highly faulty analogy. This analogy will be discussed as a conclusion:

Wenn ich mich auf den Marktplatz stelle und Kirschen verkaufe und jemand zu mir kommt und mit mir über Gott diskutieren will (irgendeine Sekte), dann schicke ich sie weg. Und wenn sie nicht weggehen, hole ich die Polizei.

(When/if I go to the market to sell cherries, and someone wants to discuss God with me (some kind of sect), then I send them away. And when/if they do not leave, I get the police.)

This is her version of an analogy about blogging and debates in public/private that another commenter introduced. While it may seem plausible on a casual glance, it does not hold up to closer scrutiny:

Comments by dissenters on a blog cannot be compared to being pestered by a sect when selling cherries. A better analogy would be starting a free-for-all discussion in a public setting (which is the case with e.g. a blog, but not, say, emails going back-and-forth between two individuals). Now, in such a public debate, would someone consider it acceptable to call the police against a participant whose only crime was dissent? Hardly; and the common feminist tactics of insults and censorship would be equally appropriate. (Note that while there are cases where calling the police may be justified, e.g. if the dissenter also threatened other participants, this does not affect the analogy—I have nothing against censorship of, e.g., threats on a blog either.)

On the contrary, in order to justify such, it would be necessary to keep the discussion explicitly or implicitly private—in Internet terms, to use email, a mailing list, a blog not open to the public (not hard to set up on WordPress), or similar. Notably, those who only want to stand on a podium and scream into a microphone, with no risk of contradiction, can also put up their own website or write a blog where commenting is simply deactivated.

How to write a successful blog

Occasionally, I come across blog entries on how to be a successful blogger. These invariably seem to deal with questions like increasing the number of visitors, gaining “followers”, or similar. While this may seem reasonable, as a first impression (and may well be valid for a minority even on a thorough investigation), my take is very different—success is not automatically the same thing as having traffic, but will depend on what one actually wants to gain and achieve. Worse: Some even equate “popular” with “good”—by which token Henning Mankell would be a “better” author than Heinrich Böll...

Below I will elaborate by quoting (with minor modifications) two comments of mine:

The human element…

You are not wrong in that the human element is highly beneficial for writing a popular and easily digestible blog (or, m.m., book/movie); however, we all have to ask ourselves “Why do I write? For whom do I write? What do I want to achieve?”.

Speaking for myself, I would write even if I was never read by anyone—writing has immediate benefits for me on other planes than just gaining readers. To me, a good blog entry is a blog entry that makes me think and gain insight (be it through writing it or through reading it on someone elses blog). Besides, let us face it, if I wanted to maximize the number of visitors, I would be running a porn site :-)

Looking at others, they may have very particular interests, write for a niche-market, or otherwise have reasons to write in a different manner. Britney Spears is more popular than Andrew Eldritch (by a show of hands: How many of you have ever heard of him?), but I doubt that he would wish to become a superstar if it involved emulating her music—and we should all be thankful that he does not emulate her wardrobe.


(Some more information on the benefits I gain from writing.)

For most bloggers, the audience should be a secondary priority.

Yes, for those who want to make money or fame out of blogging, the audience must be a priority. However, let us face it, very few actually have success in this area, irrespective of what they try.

Yes, those who want to spread their messages and ideas to others need to pay attention to the audience: Terry Pratchett has had a greater impact on the masses with his ideas than Kant for a good reason. However, while success here is easier to reach, the overall impact of most blogs is small—and often they just compete over an already-believing choir, on which preaching is wasted, while the heathens go elsewhere.

What then is left? Writing for ones own sake, to learn, to gain new insights (including into writing), polishing and developing existing opinions, exposing oneself to external critique, etc. While writing in a notebook is also a valuable exercise, writing for a blog is a better exercise. And here is the big advantage: These are gains that more-or-less any blogger can reach—unlike fame, fortune, and influence.

My advice to the typical blogger: Write primarily for your own sake, with the hope that others will be interested as pure bonus. Do pay attention to the audience, but do not consider maximizing the number of hits per day to be the main purpose.


Blogroll update

I have been very lazy with updating my blogroll, mostly because I never really have it mind when running around in the blogosphere. Today, however, we do have an update:

http://messerveyphoto.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/me-vs-corporate-america, a page dealing with a shady company engaging in copyright violations, is added as a support statement and to call attention to this company. Notably, the incident described is a part of a greater pattern of abuse of position, where the party with less to lose can set the rules in an unfair and unethical manner—and often does just that. The many other examples include franchisors that put the majority of the obligations on their individual franchisees, while keeping the majority of the rights to themselves, phone companies that have extremely one-sided conditions for their customers, and even the way most (all?) political/governmental systems work.

olcranky is removed according to the first-in-first-out criterion. (See also the introductory discussion.)

During the discussionse that spawned this part IV, a side-discussion seemed to branch out into a formal debate on nature vs. nurture (or, possibly, epistemology...), but ran out in the sand as the nurture (or, possibly, post-modernist...) participant backed out. It resulted, however, in some private correspondence on my opinions in the area. A summary of these opinions based on the correspondence is provided below:

  1. More or less all characteristics are influenced by both “nature” and “nurture” (and often from the subset “society”).

  2. To say that the one is more important than the other is only possibly within limits. In particular, there are many characteristics that are strongly “nature” (e.g. to have two legs), but can be changed by external influences (e.g. by stepping on a land-mine). This need not be true for all characteristics, however. (Cf. the case of David Reimer on http://www.slate.com/id/2101678e and David_Reimerw.)

    In addition, circumstances can affect the relative strength of different factors. A good example is IQ, which can depend strongly on access to and quality of food in a country with nutritional problems, but will be largely determined by inheritance in e.g. Germany.

  3. I have very strong objections to “Gender as social construct”, as this idea is refuted by scientific studies with a high degree of probability. (With some reservations for the exact definition used, and for the possibility that border-line cases could be moved with ease in different directions.)

  4. This does not mean, however, that society has no influence on “gender-roles”, behaviour, and similar. Based on my own (subjective) observations and basic considerations, it seems plausible to me that the more basic a particular characteristic is, the stronger is “nature” and the harder it is to affect it through “nurture”. Conversely, characteristics are the easier to change, the less basic they are—in particular, when they can be seen as conscious or unconscious choices based on more basic characteristics. (That women wear high-heels is hardly caused by genetics; but the wish to be attractive, which is the cause of the wish to wear high-heels, is a different matter.)

  5. An important, but originally left-out issue: Even, absolutely speaking, small differences can have a very major impact in a narrow context. Men and women pose excellent examples of this, with differences that are far smaller than between humans and mushrooms, spiders, dogs, or even chimpanzees. Yet, these difference have a great impact within the context of human behaviour.

    To take an extreme example, a difference in 100m-time of 0.10 s (a nothing in most contexts) can make the difference between a world champion and an also-ran (as in 1991w).

    The differences between men and women are small, but the context is sufficiently narrow that these differences have a great impact—and, ironically, by narrowing the context further by blurring the roles of men and women, these differences could conceivably grow even more important. (Consider the career of Usain Bolt if he was forced to run long distance or Haile Gebrselassie as a forced sprinter.)

I also discussed a few aspects of the alternate topic that both illustrate common problems with feminist (or e.g. Creationist) reasoning: The claims that we cannot know anything for sure and that it is unfair to give greater weight to non-feminist authorities than to the feminist:

  1. Even in science, it is impossible to reach perfect certainty. It is still possible, however, to make some statements with near certainty or with a high probability. Other cases include “we do not know for sure, but a lot speaks for X”. It is important to not hide ones head in the sand, when confronted with such statements—and a lack of perfect certainty is something very different from a question of faith (“Glaubensfrage”, as was claimed by feminists)—the latter implying holding on to a belief despite a lack of proof, or even a preponderance of negative proof.

  2. Authorities should not be believed because they are authorities, but because (respectively, if) they bring good arguments and facts. If one adheres to this, the question of what authorities to believe is a non-issue (and it is clear why feminist authorities tend to have a hard-time with critical thinkers).

Those who speak German may also be interested in an informal debate on nature vs. nurturee that did take place, without my participation, as an off-shot of a blog entry by the nature proponent dealing with why the formal debate did not take place.

Unfair argumentation methods XII: Stumbling into the hornets’ nest

Some time yesterday, I skimmed through a post discussing the perceived need for a woman to be “fuckable”e. Seeing a common misperception of what men want and who imposes what onto women, I jotted down the following comment:

My view, as a man (and while I cannot guarantee that I speak for the majority, I do speak for many others):

If women would spend less time and money on their looks, I would be quite happy. Apart from shaving, most of what a woman needs to do for men are things that she should do anyway—for the sake of her health and hygien. Break-legs heels, stinky perfume, too much make-up, weight-obsessions, whatnot, have a negative net-effect.

By the by, unlike what is claimed above, there is something that men spend similar amounts of money on—drinks, dinners, movie tickets, whatnot to get women.

Unfortunately, I was too much in a hurry to move onto a topic I had not already heard several dozen times—and overlooked that the page was not a discussion among “normal” women, who happened to have a faulty understanding of the men’s side and might be open to a friendly pointer, but had a strong pro-Dworkin take (for those not in the know, Andrea Dworkinw is the patron saint of men-should-be-gassed-to-death-in-concentration-camps feminists).

(While I almost always read the post, and usually the comments, carefully before commenting, some issues are simply so repetitive that they can be “filed away” too soon and be given a stock answer.)

The ensuing until the point where I unsubscribed to comments:


AaaaaahahahahHahahahahaha! HAHAHAHAHAHHA!! Anyone care to take a crack at this clown? I’m a little busy at the moment. Remember: he speaks for many others. But my guess is, he listens for none.

(That this comment is directed at me is clear from the notification email, but not unambigiously from the page.)

Note the complete lack of arguments, the extremely derogatory tone, the insults and ad hominem attacks, and the wild and unfounded speculations.


Since when is bringing in a perspective that you lack being a clown? Since when is it OK to use vague and unfounded ad hominem attacks against people you do not even know?

(I can, by the way, assure that I listen to far more people and opinions than the typical person.)

A more than polite answer considering the circumstances.


Yes, and you are demonstrating your fine listening skills now. By continuing to talk. I may or may not deal with you later, and others may or may not respond to you as well. In the meantime, this is the sound of you, shutting the fuck up.

Note the oft-observed feminist wish to disallow any dissenting comments and the further use of ad hominem attacks, with the addition of a threatening tone. That she further presumes to, very rudely, dictate to me what I should or should not do is moving into the inexcusable.


I just want to say this, douche lord.


Except, apparently, get schooled in perspectives we “lack.”

The fact that you think you can speak on the experience of women in a definitive way makes you a misogynist.

More of the same old, with the addition of the standard claim that the opponent is a misogynist. To make matters worse, this claim is made based on a very severe distortion of what I actually say (I do not speak on the experiences of women, I speak of a man’s perspective); further, even if I did speak on women’s experiences, this would not in anyway make me a misogynist (and I note that feminists quite often presume to speak about men’s experiences and, worse, intents in a way that demonstrates that they have no clue about what goes on in a man.)

The one point of even semi-merit is the formulation “needs to do for men” in my original comment, which I grant could conceivably be misunderstood—but where any sensible thinker correctly would assume that I in context meant “needs to do for the purpose of getting men” (or some variation of the same). Certainly, anyone applying Hanlon’s Razor would stop to at least ask for a clarification or to qualify her responses—to jump out in all-caps, shouting obscenities, is the act of a child.


“Since when is it OK to use vague and unfounded ad hominem attacks against people you do not even know?”

Oooh! Oooh! I know! I know!

When that person doesn’t have a penis?

Again a very childish behaviour that tries to deflect the issue from the extreme rudeness and unfair argumentation of factcheckme—and turn into yet another men-are-evil/women-are-victims argument. (The more hypocritical, seeing that personal attacks is a standard strategy among many feminists.)

In the end, feminist like these do far more damage than good to their own cause.