Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
Home » Misc. » Blog | About me Impressum Contact Sitemap

WordPress posts (archive 2)


Meta-information:

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 1, archive 3


Comment censorship and comment policies IVd: Wrap up

The blog entry by Antje Schruppe that forms the basis for installment IV of this article series has proved a great source of material, both to illustrate my own thoughts and to discuss new areas—largely through exactly the kind of clashes in opinions that feminist blogs so often try to suppress. However, some two weeks after the initial encounter, it is high time to wrap things up. I will try to condense the remaining loose ends into one post, even at the cost of wandering between topics and not working everything out in deserved detail.

Originally planned, as a first follow-up to my original discussion, was a post with the preliminary title “To comment or not to comment—that is the question”. Let us start with the half-completed draft of this post, with some minor comments in square brackets:

Developments have left me with an unpleasant dilemma—and a good illustration of why the statements made by Antje are misguided.

To give a brief re-cap of comments (as far as relevant for the current post):

  1. There have been a number commenters expressing similar sentiments to mine.

  2. The overall tone has been reasonably pleasant and one recurring visitor has offered that Antje’s blog is an exception to the feminist standard. This has the dual complication that the commenters above (including me) may be unfair regarding specifically Antje (but not feminism in general), while she, in turn, may be unfair towards the commenters her original post was directed at. [With hindsight, my interpretation may have been too generous towards Antje, cf. the following topic.]

  3. One specific commenter seems to follow a more traditional feminist agenda and/or have a poor understanding of the underlying issues.

Specifically, this last commenter was of the kind that more-or-less necessitates answers: They (as a group—judging any individual in this regard may be too far-going) simply give a distorted image of what their opponents say, what scientists say, and generally appear to be more opinionated than informed. They are particularly common among feminists (but do occur in all camps). Naturally, a debater who has an interest in correctness will give answers pointing to e.g. distortions or misunderstanding of opinions, factual errors, and mistakes in reasoning—and will try to expound on his own position for clarity, use larger examples, try to point to issues in a bigger picture, whatnot. (In addition, the question of fairness and intellectual honesty can also arise. The recurring reader will know that I have, at least occasionally, defended even those whom I do not agree with in this regard.)

Making such corrections do not only affect the transgressors (in fact, they will typically not be affected at all, through their resistive mentality), but are valuable in that an uninformed or easily lead reader is given a less one-sided perspective. Additionally, they can be highly beneficial both for the author, himself, and for any critical readers looking for a more solid understanding.

I strongly suspect, however, that exactly this type of clarification is what many of the feminists confuse with e.g. “wanting to have the last word”, “mansplaining”, or similar—to the detriment of themselves and their readers, and to the annoyance of those who are unfairly given the label. (Notably, there is a large difference between a constant repeating of the same arguments in louder and louder tones and an actual elaboration, clarification, and extension.)

Feminists to a large part provoke the behaviour they legitimately complain about, e.g. through their censoring of and attacks on the behaviour they illegitimately complain about.

Similarly, I once had a boss whose standard reply to feedback during meetings was “Let us save that discussion for a smaller circle.”—a reasonable suggestion, except that these smaller circles usually never happened, and, when they did, almost always consisted of a standard group of “yes men” (rather than those who could and were willing to contribute, including the original issue raiser). In his case, I strongly suspect that this was deliberately ploy to sweep things under the carpet without being too obvious.

Notably, many feminist blogs work on a guilty-until-proved-innocent principle. [Cf. my previous entry or the case of “blue milk” for extreme examples. Beware, however, that the same overall tendency is quite common, even if less obvious, on less misandristic feminist blogs.]

The dilemma mentioned was this: A previous comment by Antje read

@Michael – das war jetzt übrigens die „zweite Runde“, von der oben in meinem Blogpost die Rede war :) -

(@Michael—that [my preceding comment] was the “second round” that I discussed in my blog post :) -

Her original discussion of “second round” could be summarized as

dass ein Kommentator immer das letzte Wort behalten will und dadurch die Diskussion in eine bestimmte Richtung drängt und auf ungute Weise dominiert.

(that a commenter always wants to have the last word, and thereby forces the discussion in a particular direction or dominates it in an ungood manner. [The German word “ungut”, unlike “ungood”, did not originate as Newspeakw, but seeing that it only survives in the expression “nichts für ungut”/“no offence” the literal translation is the most fitting—and the reference is a striking, if likely entirely unintended, match in the context it appeared in.])

I now saw myself caught between two alternatives: Either I would let statements that should be confronted stand unconfronted—or I would provide “proof” that Antje was right by enabling her to talk about a “third round”. (This type of “damned if you do; damned if you don’t” situations have been relatively common in my own experiences with feminists. Whether they use it as a deliberate trick to preclude objections, is unclear to me.)

At that time, I decided not to comment, but instead to discuss the general problem in the originally intended follow-up. Some discussion of why the blog owner is, in fact, wrong is present in the quoted draft. (Further, arguments can found in previous entries or e.g. in the Wikipedia article on selective exposure theoryw.)

As time went by, other topics surfaced, and I chose to comment on one of these—after all, to claim a third round based on a different topic would be absurd. Shortly after submitting this comment, I received a notification email that another commenter had made a similar reply (meaning that Antje was at that moment moderating); however, my comment was for some reason not let through. I now grew suspicious, bearing in mind a previous statement implying that comments were possibly being held back:

Für mich selber seh’ ich nun leider auch nicht, wieso z.B. der letzte Kommentar, den ich hier ( zum Thema „Moderieren“ ) geschrieben habe, nichts mit dem Thema zu tun hätte, oder sonst etwas, so dass er gelöscht werden musste.

(For my part, I do not see why, for instance, the last comment that I wrote here (on the topic “Moderation”) was considered off-topic, [or otherwise was unsuitable], and had to be deleted.)

(http://antjeschrupp.com/2010/07/25/warum-es-hier-keine-netiquette-gibt/#comment-2485e)

Before choosing my next action (or, possibly, non-action), I decided to investigate the “second round” issue—possibly, my interpretation, with several days between the mention in the post and the mention in a comment, had been too optimistic.

Indeed, a few sentences later in the post, Antje says:

Ich handhabe das inzwischen so, dass ich nach der zweiten „Runde“ weitere Kommentare des Betreffenden dann nicht mehr freischalte.

(By now, I have a policy of not approving more comments from [the person in question] after the second “round”.)

This lead me to re-publish the comment on my own blog (further information is present on that post).

Blogroll update

I recently stumbled upon a very interesting book, Mansförtryck och kvinnovälde [pdf, Swedish]e, which gives an excellent description of many of the problems caused in Sweden by gender-feminism, including application of different standards in many contexts, news reporting that is severely distorted in a men-are-evil/women-are-victims direction, how grossly flawed “research” is taken as truth, and similar. As the recurring reader knows, these are topics close to my own heart, and I have decided to add this book to my blogroll. (Foregoing my usual PDF-files-have-nothing-to-do-on-the-web stance.)

The download is free from the given URL.

By the FIFO principle, Inteutanminasoner’s Bloge is removed. That blog was first discussed here.

Unfair argumentation methods VII: Follow-up, rape charges against Assange

Not quite two months ago, I had an entry on a gender-feminist, Anna Ardin. As I gather from several blog entries by others (examplee) today, Anna is one of the two women who raised (presumably false) rape charges against Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder.


Addendum:

The topic of Anna Ardin has brought a sudden surge in hits. Following a few links, I found a better English treatmente, which I recommend above the original half-English/half-Swedish example. The lengthy discussion provides much information on various aspects, but I warn that some of it is speculative or based on Google translations. (There are a number of Swedish participants, however.)

On the balance, it can now be stated with near certainty that Anna Ardin is the culprit; further, that this is not the first time she has been involved in a similar scenario.



Addendum:

A few weeks later (2010-09-13), I made a search to receive updates. Among other things, I found a long and detailed discussion in Englishe, which is better than the above two sources (the first of which even appears to have first been deleted and then replaced with a very different version).


Two articles on feminism

The large presence of feminism in the blogosphere and in the Swedish society has had a natural impact on my own blogging (very noticeable in the last few weeks). While I am certain to revisit this topic on many occasions in the future, I will try to scale it back for now—there are many other topics worthy of attention. Before doing so, I have written two new articles for my website on, respectively, “mansplaining” and the Swedish “genusglasögon”/“gender-(eye-)glasses”.

Comment censorship and comment policies V: Selective distortion of debate

One of the main reasons why I object to comment censorship (cf. earlier entries) is selective distortion of debate. This is comparatively common on “image building” blogs—together with censorship for the purpose of not to having ones “wisdom” or “expertise” questioned.

Those who spend a lot of time in the blogosphere have probably noticed that there are many blogs that are more geared at building the image, brand, reputation, whatnot, of the blogger than at anything else. Usually, the individual entries are relatively poorly written, high on over-use of “you”, and consist mostly of information that anyone could get from an introductory book on the topic at hand—or that is so trite that even the educated layman already knows it. This, however, is presented as the supreme knowledge of a leading expert.

(For examples, see e.g. the marketing tage at WordPress; in particular, entries with titles like “10 ways do X”, “5 common errors in Y”, and similar.)

While I have been a victim of censorship comparatively rarely, disproportionally many cases have occurred on this type of blog—probably, because I often question the content, point to errors in reasoning or fact, show an alternate view point, or similar.

A recent poste that I found on the WordPress frontpage provides both a good example of this and an illustration of why it is dangerous. (It should be noted, however, that this blogger is not a perfect match for the profile above. That he actually tries to give some, if specious, justification for his censorship, is what makes his entry a superior illustration.)

The blog entry, author mrl8nite, contains a legitimate discussion of what formats to use for resumes and the like, ending with the conclusion:

Bottom Line – Stick with the Word 2003 “.doc” format for now, as it is still the de facto standard document format.

My first comment (published):

PDF should be the default, unless the prospective employer explicitly requests something else. For some reasons why we should never send (specifically) MS-Office formats without the receivers explicit consent, see http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/no-word-attachments.htmle

As an aside, it is important to differ between application and format (although Microsoft has done its best to obliterate this definition): Even if someone has to send a Word-2003 document this need not be done in MS-Word: OpenOffice can handle that just as well (with reservations for some features that do not belong in a resume in the first place, like complex macros).

mrl8nite’s reply:

Thanks for the remarks. I understand your point, and I mentioned some of this a bit in the posting. However, I want to make sure the readers understand that when it’s about a resume, it’s not their choice, it’s what most of the recruiters and job sites and corporations want to receive. We need to make sure that our preferences for “document storing and sharing” don’t get confused with what needs to be done to have the highest chance of getting an interview. While I don’t disagree with your point about Open docs and I respect your preference of PDF (also a proprietary format), it’s about job search success and not diminishing the opportunity to get to the next step in the job search.

So far, a perfectly acceptable and constructive exchange which could be beneficial to the reader who wants to make an informed choice. The problems begin when mrl8nite decides not to publish my following comment. Unfortunately, due to an unexpected browser crash in the interim, the text is lost to me, but the gist, from memory, was:

  1. PDF is the generally recommended standard for exchange of documents and is the “smallest common denominator” to be preferred as a default. (Assuming that plain-text and HTML are not acceptable in the context.)

  2. Those who require a different format have the opportunity to state so.

  3. MS-Word is actually seen as unprofessional by at least some companies. (Due to problems with viruses, information leaks, compatibility problems with different versions, and poor printability.)

  4. PDF (unlike what mrl8nite implies) is far from my first choice: I would go with LaTeX and PostScript or a more “semantic” approach—if I had the choice. The reason why I go with PDF is that I do not have the choice, and that PDF is the safest bet, with regard to compatibility, courtesy, whatnot.

The problem here: It may be that, specifically for job applications, MS-Word is the better choice (mrl8nite repeatedly emphasizes tracking systems and claimed problems, to which I am skeptical, with information extraction from PDF files). It may be that PDF is the better choice. It may be that it is toss-up. However, by cutting off the discussion we are not given the opportunity to find out. Notably, an uninformed visitor reading this page will likely, by default, be convinced by mrl8nite’s position—not because it is the correct one, not because it is better argued, but merely because it is the only one given free reins.

Importantly, we also have no idea how many other dissenting comments by others, using what arguments, were disallowed. As a result, the page is nearly valueless in the quest for the best format. (Just like a sales pitch for X brings very little value for someone wanting to make an informed decision between X and Y.)

While I, obviously, do not know what the degree of censorship was, others were censored too. I quote a private email (in response to a “reminder” comment from me, wanting to eliminate the risk that my second comment was simply stuck in the spam queue or similar):

> At the time of writing, my comment from “August 23, 2010 at 9:16 pm” remains unpublished. I kindly ask you to correct this.

Thanks. I am working through numerous replies. I am also trying to make sure that the discussions remain beneficial for my core readers and provide a clear guidance on the resume/jobhunt process.

Further, the concluding comment by mrl8nite (my emphasis):

[...]

I haven’t approved all of the feedback, as just another “thanks for the article” posting, while appreciated, would deter from the good discussions taking place here. Also, I’m trying to keep the discussions focused on helping job seekers and as such have limited extended discussions where we might confuse the job seeker, avoid commercial advertising, or get us too far away from the key point (yes, I think PDFs are a good alternate choice; yes, I like Open products; yes, Word files have limitations; yes, I like html resumes; yes, update your LinkedIn Profiles; yes…).

For this post, the focus of the article was, based on my research and feedback from many recruiters, that Word 2003 .doc files are still the most accepted, the lowest common denominator [stealing a formulation I used to refer to PDF in my unpublished comment], the most beneficial to recruiters/managers, and thus the best choice (for now) for you to share your resume when a file needs to be sent. [...]

From the above, it is clear that mrl8nite had a very clear agenda of pushing his pre-formed opinion—with only marginal room for discussion. This is, obviously, contrary to the spirit of good blogging and the (ideally) productive discussions, back-and-forth, refinement of opinion, etc., that is an integral part of blogging.

In the end, the readers that mrl8nite claims to want to help are the biggest losers from his distortive censorship.

The misconception of defensive statements as proof of guilt

I recently encountered a (sub-)discussione that well illustrates a common misconception: That a defensive statement equals admission of guilt. (The main discussion circles around an anti-Islam academic, does not interest me, and seems to be the same old arguments from both sides.)

Consider the following statements:

(Danny)

I think its fair to say that if you have to end a sentence with “…this statement was not racist,” it was probably a racist sentence.

(Sheikh Jahbooty)

Easy logic.

You communicate. They hear a racist idea. Either you are total crap at communicating or you were communicating a racist idea.

Then you attach, “…this statement was not racist.”

It can mean

1) You are incompetent. (Let’s assume that NYU doesn’t give PHDs to people who lack competence in communicating, although I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption.)

2) You are terribly racist.

(My reply)

Faulty logic:

As case has it, many people abuse the word “racism” to include things that are not racist out of ignorance, while others use it as a (deliberate) personal attack in order to discredit the speaker.

In my native Sweden, e.g., a minority of all uses of “racism” that I have seen the last few years have been justifiable.

In the US, in turn, there are nowadays cases when e.g. criticism directed at Obama or his policies is denounced as racist—despite the fact that Hillary would have been met with the same criticism. (Notwithstanding the possibility that a minority of the criticism does have a racist base.)

See e.g. http://www.aswedeingermany.de/50LanguageAndWriting/50Racism.html for more information.

(Lòt Poto-a)

Well, I always have doubts about the validity or authenticity of someone’s perspective when they are unnecessarily defensive. Think about it. The subject of race comes up in a conversation and the first thing someone says is “I don’t hate white people,” or “I have a black friend” (Just ONE black friend! Ha!).

If you have nothing to hide, then you have no reason to try to defend yourself. End of story.

What happens is simply something very different: There are great groups of people (including racists, anti-racists, Swedish leftist, and feminists) who often fail to argue their case by arguments, but instead tend to use personal attacks, undue generalizations, and distortions of their opponents opinions.

The result is that the opponent again and again sees himself confronted with the same, usually unfair, accusation of e.g. mansplaining. The case of racism is dealt with by the above link, but also in e.g. my discussion of Sverigedemokraterna—the core being that being a racist is not to be confused with (above) being anti-Islam(ism), anti-immigration, or justly criticizing an individual member of a minority on objective grounds. My article series on Unfair argumentation methods has some discussion of the more general topic of name calling instead of arguments.

Now, when again and again confronted with such accusations, it is only natural that one learns to expect them—and this is the reason behind such statements: Not knowledge that one is X, but knowledge that one regularly will be accused of being X.

The above tendency to name calling is sad enough, but the sickening part is that when someone either tries to preempt the unfair accusations or reacts negatively to them—then this is taken as further proof against him! In combination, these argumentless debate methods bring the opponents into a “damned if you do; damned if you do not” situation—either they remain silent and see themselves vilified through a misrepresentation of opinion; or they speak up and are vilified with the very fact that they spoke up as “proof”.

I note in conclusion that some of the most narrow-minded, intolerant, biased, and over-generalizing people I have encountered in the blogosphere and in Swedish politics have been self-declared anti-racists, anti-bigots, and similar—exactly those people who the most loudly complain about narrow-mindedness, intolerance, whatnot, in others.

Not getting women in(to) technology

I just stumbled on a blog entry discussing the low proportion of women in technologye and related issues. This article started in a very promising manner, making several good (if not new) points. However, in the continuation, it ultimately revealed it self to entirely miss the point, by spreading feminist misconceptions and half-truths like:

We could just as easily say today, “Give me a child until she is seven, and I will give you the female engineer.” But we don’t say that; we as a culture don’t encourage little girls in their most formative years to be engineers. We encourage them to be mothers, caretakers, cooks, designers, aestheticians, seamstresses, communicators, hairdressers, and everything but engineers — or generals, mechanics, and anything else that, harking back to the beginning of this essay, requires the slightest bit of scientific, mathematical or technological skill.

The vast majority of playthings for little girls encourage them to think about nurturing others and caring for themselves — including, to a large extent, their appearances. These aren’t inherently negative lessons to learn, except for the fact that these lessons exclude others that deal with problem-solving, strategy, physics… you know, the kinds of things you learn from playing with Lego, K’nex, Stratego and other male gender-coded games and toys.

We are misguided to demand more women in tech when there simply isn’t an adequate supply of competent technological professionals to support gender parity. Women in tech begins with little girls playing with science- and math-related toys, and it takes much longer than just a few months or a few years to undo the sociological mores of a few millenia.

When push comes to shove, girls are not girlie because they are given girlie toys—but they are given girlie toys because they are girlie to begin with. (Cf. my points on Disney’s princesses.)

Certainly, all girls who are interested in technology should be given both corresponding opportunity and encouragement. We must, however, not disqualify them from being girls based on naive ideas that biology is a non-factor and that every girl who is girlie is so due to external influences that robbed her of the chance of being a tomboy.

Another quote from the post is highly ironic, because it his happens to attack the exact error that the author herself makes:

We must stop treating girls as gender-crippled, pink-collar versions of ourselves and start treating them like the facsinated young minds that they are,[...]

In the bigger issue of the article, another important point is missed: Is it a given that we should strive to increase the number of women in tech? (Ironically, the beginning of the article gives the impression of really having understood this point...) My personal view: No. It is important that there are sufficiently many techies and it is important that we all can chose our own occupations and interests (to the degree that we have the ability—not everyone can be a professor of mathematics). The exact composition of the corps of techies, nurses, garbage collectors, and professors of English literature, however, is near irrelevant when the other goals are met.

Note: I chose to make this a post instead of a comment for two reasons. Firstly, the original post did not provide a comment field. Secondly, I spend more time writing comments than own entries, and I intend this as an experiment to see whether a part of these comments can be turned into posts. (With the dual goal of increasing my post count and having my opinions on the topics at hand reach a wider audience.)

The absurdities of life (and tennis)

A few hours ago, the women’s US Open final in tennis was played:

Kim Clijsters destroyed Vera Zvonareva with 6–2, 6–1.

This will have an effect on their respective ranking:

Zvonareva rises from place 8 to place 4, while Clijsters ... falls from place 3 to place 5—one place behind Zvonareva. (Assuming that I read the preliminary numbers provided by Wikipediaw correctly.)

The explanation for this seeming (arguably, actual) absurdity is simple:

Clijsters was the defending champion. Her victory merely maintained her point score.

Zvonareva lost early in last years edition—and saw a significant increase in points. (Semi-finalist Venus Williams passes Clijsters for the same reason.)

Obviously, the scoring system is not based on one tournament, but on the performances over the last year, on several surfaces, in different weather conditions, and with varying other circumstances. Zvonareva’s overall performance in this year has simple gathered her a higher score—even though she stood no chance today. (Nor, looking at historical performances, has a comparable single’s record. I rarely follow women’s tennis, but I do have the impression that Clijsters is one of the best there ever was—when she is not injured, retired, or otherwise off her game.)

The lessons: Be careful by what signs success are measured, be wary of both one-dimensional indicators and impressions from single instances, be prepared for life to be absurd or even unfair, and keep in mind that unfairness is often a matter of perspective.

Comment censorship and comment policies VI: Distortive editing of comments

Today, I encountered what I had long feared: Distortive editing of comments to entirely misrepresent what the commenter (me) actually said. The perpetrator of this inexcusable act is one Emvie Martine. I note that several comments by others on the same page have been edited too, which is an indication that Emvie is a repeat offender; however, obviously, I cannot categorically rule out that these edits had a valid reason or that they were non-distortive.

Seeing that this was a Swedish blog (and the topic not close to my heart), I will not go into details about my statements. However, my first comment (for no discernible reason, including length, topic, or anything else discussed in previous entries as potential comment-policy pit-falls) saw half its contents cut away, part of the remainder distorted, and the rest filled with remarks by emvie that further distorted the message of the comment.

I wrote a second comment protesting this behaviour and addressing the one actual point that emvie actually seemed to make in her editing: Whether the German and Swedish Christian-Democrats should be considered the same. I agreed that there were similarities, and then continued to explain that there were also differences. This comment was reduced to a seven word version—containing only the part were I agreed to similarities...

(Later a thoroughly misleading moderator’s note was added, claiming that “silliness”/“trams” had been removed, and that I should be “factual”/“saklig”—despite the fact that I was.)

The first occurrence could have been explained simply by Emvie being highly incompetent or lacking in judgement (Hanlon’s Razor), including being unaware of the standard rules for quoting that are an obvious analogue; however, by so blatantly repeating her crime in direct response to a protest against that crime—that is not merely incompetence but actual and deliberate malice. Further, it is malice of a very childish and spiteful kind.

A third comment demanding the immediate re-instatement of the original version has lead only to the addition of the aforementioned moderator’s note on the previous comment. As a consequence, I am writing this post. In addition, I am filing a formal complaint with WordPress requesting a stern warning. (I sincerely doubt that they will consider this within their jurisdiction; however, there is no harm in asking, and there are behaviours that are simply so outrageously wrong that they must be brought to the attention of whomever could correct them.)

In the big picture, the obvious conclusion is that is impossible to trust what various persons appear to say in blog comments—something which is particularly important to bear in mind in situations like Sweden’s around Sverigedemokraterna or on many feminist blogs, where attempts to severely distort opinions are quite common: What better way for an intellectually dishonest blog owner than to simply edit the comments made? After all, if they already “know” that a certain commenter has a certain opinion, despite claiming something different, then a “clarifying” edit would be a good way to convince those who actually apply critical thinking, listen to what people themselves (not just their opponents) say, and so on.

It would be highly beneficial if there were technical aides to reduce the risks involved, e.g. an non-deletable indicator specifying how many characters of a comment were changed when by whom. In the second case above, for instance, other readers could then at least see that the original version was more than ten times as long and that the edited version was highly unlikely to correspond to my actual statements. Further, an extended notification system, where subscribers (or, at a minimum, the comment author) were notified about post-publishing edits, would be highly useful. This way, the author would at least know about misleading edits.

The great IT fiasco of Stockholm city

Earlier this year, there was a lot of attention given to a deal that Stockholm city made with Volvo-IT: Basically, the city’s entire IT would be outsourced in a project called GS-IT, including the local schools. Here I will give some background and opinions of others, and then turn to a recent article on the failed implementatione.

Notably, there was a storm of protests from the schools themselves, who claimed that GS-IT would cause a lot of extra costs, reduce the service quality, and otherwise be more trouble than it was worth; in particular, as the services provided and the underlying concepts were intended for an office environment, but unsuitable for schools. A common sentiment could be paraphrased with “We have things under control. If it already works do not try to fix it.”—combined with the feeling that the fix would break something.

A particular complaint was that GS-IT would make it harder to use (often superior and almost always cheaper) open-source alternatives to e.g Microsoft, with the installation of any piece of software requiring a one-time fee of SEK 8,000 (EUR 800–900) to Volvo-IT—in addition to any license fees. Now, if someone wants to install a few thousand MS-Office packages, this fee will be a drop of water in an ocean of license costs; however, for the teacher or individual school who wants to evaluate a free-of-charge software on a small scale or install it for use during two weeks of one class, this fee can be preventative. Schools are on a budget— often a tight budget.

A particularly scary quote from an earlier article by the same papere:

Hon var särskilt glad över att staden nu helt kommer att gå över i Microsofts värld. Alla får Officepaket av senaste snitt och samtliga elever får [tillgång till Microsofts Live@edu]

([Annette Holm, in charge of IT for Stockholm City] was particularly pleased that the city would now move entirely into Microsoft’s world. Everyone receives Office packages of the latest edition [lit. “cut”] and all students [are given access to Microsoft’s Live@edu].

Well, those who know about more about the IT business than Annette will know that moving into the world of Microsoft is costly and that it is hard to leave it at a later date—and that Microsoft is interested in grabbing money by whatever means possible, while not giving a second thought to quality or customer service for any other purpose. Notably, there seems to be an increasing tendency elsewhere in education and public service to move away from Microsoft and towards open-source alternatives. As for Live@edu, I am not personally familiar with it, but have repeatedly heard claimed that it is much-ado-about-nothing, just a Microsoft-branded variation of things freely available elsewhere, and/or an attempt to bring children into the Microsoft fold under a pretense of charity.

The blog of Lotta Edholme, the “minister of education” for Stockholm city shows the great difference in opinion between the politicians and those actually involved with the schools. To quote for some of Lotta’s statements and then some of the dissenting comments:

Lotta:

Jag är övertygad om att GS-IT är bra för Stockholms elever, lärare och skolledare.

(I am convinced that GS-IT is good for Stockholm’s students, teachers, and school administrators.)

[They seem to disagree, both then and now...]

För det första skapar GS-IT en garanterad grundnivå när det gäller datorutrustning på alla skolor.

(Firstly, GS-IT creates a guaranteed base level for the computer equipment of all schools.)

[While this may be true in that a few lagging schools see an improvement, it also implies that other schools will be forced into the same one-size-fits-all. Notably, all the existing computer equipment is, apparently, given over to Volvo-IT for second-hand sale or to be thrown away, with the result that schools who have already invested in computers will find themselves with the same computers as those who did not invest—but with no reimbursement. Further, some of the schools not-up-to-date may have had legitimate reasons to give computers a lower priority. Indeed, I am myself somewhat skeptical to the number of computers and the computing power needed in good education.]

För det andra innebär GS-IT att stadens skolor får en gemensam struktur.

(Secondly, GS-IT implies a common [IT] structure for the city’s schools.)

[This is only positive in as far as it ensure abilities (and does so at a reasonable cost); however, a great part of this is simply limiting those who want to do something different.]

För det tredje innebär GS-IT en rejäl modernisering och utökning av datorparken på stadens skolor.

(Thirdly, GS-IT implies a considerable modernization and increase of the computer park of the cities schools.)

[Some considerable doubts has been raised as to whether this is true. Further, this does not take the question of cost-effectiveness into consideration. The reader may also note that there is a considerable overlap between these three given reasons—another author may have chosen to make them one single reason.]

Others:

(Mikael)

Du är helt verklighetsfrånvänd! Besök vilken skola som helst i stan som bedriver någon form av mer avancerad IKT än att skriva Word-dokument och surfa, så kan de berätta för dig att GS-IT är inget annat än en ren katastrof för och en enorm fördyring (och därmed begränsning) av verksamheten.

Och snacket om ”nya” datorer är rent nys. De datorer vi kommer att prackas på (eller ha råd att köpa) av Volvo-IT kommer att vara från ett tre år gammalt restlager som Volvo-IT nu ser sin chans att bli av med.

(Your are really out of touch with reality! Visit any school in town that has a more advanced form of ICT that writing Word documents and surfing, and they can tell you that GS-IT is nothing but a pure disaster for and an enormous expense increase (and therefore limitation) of the running. [I am grateful for a better suggestion for “verksamhet”, effectively what an institution does, than “running”.]

And the talk about “new” computers is pure BS. The computers that are dumped on us by (or we can afford to buy from) Volvo-IT will be from a three year old surplus depot that Volvo-IT sees its chance to get rid of.

(Seth Norberg - RTG)

Jag är ledsen Lotta, du har bara helt fel! Inga skolor har råd med en fördubblad IT-kostnad utslagen på 8 år. Vi larmade om detta redan från början och när förvaltningens controller kom fram till att det till och med var värre än vad vi befarade blev alla chockade.

(I am sorry, Lotta, but you are entirely wrong! No schools can afford a doubled IT cost over 8 years. We raised alarms about this from the very beginning, and when the controller of the administration found that it was even worse than we feared, everyone was chocked.)

[...]

GS-IT är mycket dåligt för lärare och elever!
Ett exempel från RTG: som du helt säkert vet använder vi oss av ett 1 till 1 koncept som det nu blir svårt att behålla pga fördyringen. Vi har idag ca 70-80 support ärenden varje dag. GS-IT har tänkt att lärare ska ringa när elever har tekniska problem. Det är inte måttligt arrogant mot lärarnas yrkesutövning. När läraren startar lektionen så är han/hon i princip alltid uppkopplade eftersom man arbetar med tidsenliga och motiverande resurser. Om då ett par elever har något tekniskt problem kan de snabbt få hjälp i vår helpdesk. Läraren kan fortsätta lektionen och eleverna kan komma in igen när problemet är avlöst, vilket kan ta 5-10 minuter. Som du själv delvis såg igår kan vi på RTG med stolthet säga att vi har världsklass 2010. Det finns det säkert andra som kan säga också, men nu tar GS-IT oss tillbaka till 1995.

(GS-IT is very bad for teachers and students!
[RTG has 70–80 support issues per day that can be handled in a timely and competent manner internally, without disturbing education, in 5–10 minutes time—with the implication that using the new support will take longer, which seems plausible to me (Michael) comparing with other support hotlines.] As you partially saw yourself yesterday, we at RTG can with pride say that we are world class 2010. There are definitely others who can say the same, but now GS-IT takes us back to 1995.)

Fördyringar
RTG kommer att tvingas att betala stora kostnader för elevkonton. 50 kr x 12 mån x 700 elever = 420 000.- per år. Vi skapar idag dessa konton själva på några få dagar, och har då dessutom en vuxen kunnig levande människa på plats som deltar i det pedagogiska arbetet som ger en digital kompetens till både lärare och elever.

(Higher expenses
RTG will now be forced to pay high costs for student accounts. 50 kr x 12 mon[ths] X 700 students = 420,000 per year. Today, we create these accounts ourselves in just a few days, and additionaly have an adult, knowledgeable, living human on the premises, who participates in the pedagogical work and provides a digital competence to both teachers and students.)

(Peter Lissenko)

Jag har arbetat som Data- och medielärare sedan -97 på en av Stockholms största skola för vuxenutbildning. Sedan den första dagen har jag tillsammans med IT-teknikerna kunnat utforma den arbetsmiljö som passar bäst för att svara mot de krav en modern arbetsmiljö kräver vad gäller programvaror och maskiner. Detta inbegriper även Öppna programstandarder eftersom jag tycker att det är viktigt att visa kursdeltagarna alternativ till de proprietära lösningar som finns.
Det som erbjuds i höst är låsta maskiner med förinstallerade program. Vill vi visa alternativ får vi lärare släpa dit egna datorer och projektorer….eller be Volvo IT att peta in de önskade applikationerna till det facila priset av 8500!! per styck även om programmen är fria att ladda ned och installera

(I have worked as computer and media teacher since 1997 on one of Stockholm’s largest schools for adult education. Since the first day, I and the IT techs have been able to shape the working environment that best fits the demands that a modern working environment raises regarding software and machines. This includes open programming standards, because I think that is important to show the course participants alternatives to the proprietary solutions.
What will be offered this autumn are locked machines with pre-installed programs. If we want to show alternatives, we teachers have to drag our own computers and projectors there...or ask Volvo IT to add the wished-for applications at the simple price of 8500!! per item, even when the programs are free to download and install.)

(With another one or two dozen critical comments not included here.)

To turn to the recent articlee (some more negative and some positive material is present in the article—I try to cut down to the core to avoid a copyright issue):

Billigare och bättre skulle det bli. Men för många av användarna, 80 000 elever, är det fortfarande precis tvärtom: dyrare och sämre.

( Cheaper and better was the idea. But for many users, 80,000 students, it is still the exact opposite: more expensive and worse.)

Den trådlösa uppkopplingen fungerar inte. Inloggningsuppgifterna stämmer inte. Batteritiden på de bärbara datorerna är knappt tre timmar[...]

(The wire-less connection does not work. Log-in data are not correct. The battery duration on the portable computers is just short of three hours, [...])

På Spånga gymnasium står därför de nya, bärbara Delldatorerna i princip orörda i ett bokförråd.

(In Spånga high school, the new portable Dell computers, therefore, stand basically untouched in a storage area for books.)

Sedan höstterminen startade har många av lärarna ägnat en stor del av sin arbetstid åt att agera datasupport åt eleverna. Skolans IT-tekniker fick gå redan i våras, [pga merkostnader för GS-IT och besked från stadsledningskontoret att han inte skulle behövas].

(Since the fall semester started, many teachers spend a large part of their working hours doing computer support for the students. The schools IT technician was let go already in the spring, [due to increased cost through GS-IT and claims from city administrators that he would not be needed].)

– Katastrof. Dels för att tekniken inte fungerar, men också för att avtalet gör oss bakbundna och försämrar våra möjligheter att jobba pedagogiskt med IT, suckar Olof Linton, lärare på skolan som fick en merkostnad på en halv miljon kronor per år trots att man sparkade IT-teknikern.

(- Disaster. Partially, because the technology does not work, but also because the agreement binds our hands and reduces our possibilities to work pedagogically with IT, sighs Olof Linton, teacher at the school, which received additional costs of half a million crowns per year, despite firing the IT technician.)

Men Spånga är inte ensamt om problemen. [...]

(But Spånga is not alone in having these problems. [Discussion of derogative formulations like “the emperor’s new clothes” being used and that the goal of one computer per student is unrealistic, because the schools can no longer afford it.])

Reflections on the blogosphere and the Swedish election

Today, the Swedish parliamentary election takes place. Unsurprisingly, this has affected the contents of the local blogosphere.

Looking back over what I have read today, the last week, and the last month, there is a clear tendency for individual bloggers to have very partial and biased views of events, persons, and parties. At the same time, various party supporters use more-or-less the same arguments against each other.

A few examples:

  1. Whenever there was a television debate, the proponents of both parties talked about how their hero had torn his opponent to pieces.

  2. The argument has been raised both that a vote on the incumbent centre-right alliance and a vote on the historically dominating left would also be a vote for the much hated Sverigedemokraterna.

    The pro-incumbent argued that a vote on the left diminishes the chance for a majority victory for the poll-leading centre-right, which would allow Sverigedemokraterna to act as “vågmästare” (lit. “scale master”, a minor, unpledged party that can manipulate the political balance for its own gain by making its support a matter of tit-for-tat). Unfortunately, in Sweden’s multi-party system and its obsession with coalitions (as opposed to issues), this is a recurring, actual problem—but one that would be easy to avoid with more sensible politicians. Effectively, he reasoned that voters should vote against their own convictions to prevent this minor party from gaining influence...

    The pro-left argued with even less reason, claiming that because the left had unequivocally ruled out a cooperation with Sverigedemokraterna, while the centre-right had not, it would be safer to vote left. In my impression, this was just a second-rate excuse for not having to apply the same reasoning to the left (resp. avoiding the conclusion that a centre-right vote was called for, following the pro-incumbent’s reasoning).

    In addition, one supporter of the even smaller Piratpartiet argued (jokingly?) that it was safest to vote for Piratpartiet, so that it could become the vågmästare—relieving the main competitors from reliance on Sverigedemokraterna.

  3. The opposing parties are regularly accused of the same things or ascribed the same motives or feelings, including being opportunistic, lying, getting desperate (when trailing in the polls), and using unfair methods.

Silly, narrow-minded, and self-righteous people? Probably. However, also quite ordinary and normal people who often genuinely believe that it is the rest of the world which consists of silly, narrow-minded, and self-righteous people—which raises the question how many of us, without realizing it, are also one them... (Be it in general or with regard to specific pet issues.)

My recommendation (and what I, myself, do) is to regularly put ones own opinions and behaviours under scrutiny. In particular, when seeing something that appears really silly, it pays to stop and ask questions like “Is this something that I, myself, have done on other occasions?”, “Is this a behaviour that I would be less hostile too, if it came from the party/ideology/religion that I support?”, and similar. Among the benefits is a better self-knowledge and a more nuanced view of right and wrong, who does what, and so on.

The results of the Swedish election

The preliminary numbers are in (finals will be available in a few days time). There are several interesting observations to make:

  1. The centre-right alliance increased its percentage of the vote from 48.2 in the last election (2006) to 49.3—but loses its majority in parliament, because ...

  2. ... Sverigedemokraterna received 5.7 %, which is above the 4 % limit for representation. (To be compared with 2.9 % in the previous election.) This is the first new entry since 1991—and they actually moved ahead of Kristdemokraterna and the former Communist Party, which both landed at 5.6.

    While not myself a supporter, I am mildly positive to the result for three reasons: Firstly, this is the one party that clearly distances itself from the evils and irrationality of gender-feminism. Secondly, there are issues concerning themes like immigration where pre-conceived opinions rule and no room for discussion is present. Irrespective of who is ultimately right or wrong (and I do not say that Sverigedemokraterna are right), their mere presence will challenge the orthodoxy—which is positive. Thirdly, it proves that undemocratic methods (including throwing eggs, threatening candidates, media refusing to publish election commercials, and similar) need not prevent democracy.

    The controversy around Sverigedemokraterna has been discussed earlier.

  3. There will now be eight (!) parties with parliamentary representation, which starts to seem excessive. Notably, six of the eight are at or below 7.2 %, making most of them satellites to the two major parties:

  4. Socialdemokraterna reached a “mere” 30.9 % in their worst election since 1914. At the all-time high (in 1940), they reached 53.8 %; and had 45.3 % as late as 1994. They, just barely, remain the largest party, however.

  5. Moderaterna reached an all-time high of 30.0 %—the highest non-Socialdemokraterna percentage since 1914. (Notably, the numbers from the first three elections, in 1911 and the spring and autumn of 1914, have a different character from 1917 and onwards, gradual later changes notwithstanding.)

Overall, the alliance will likely remain in government, but with the vågmästare scenario of the previous entry. (As for me: I did not vote, but feel that the lesser, by a considerable margin, of two evils won. A majority victory would have been preferable, obviously.)

All numbers are taken from the Swedish Wikipediaw:sv.

The Swedish election, equality, and Sverigedemokraterna

The news reporting after the election showed the many typical and predictable articles, including one that is typically Swedish: As the second headline at Sweden’s largest morning paper (DN), I found an article highlighting that the proportion of women in parliament had sunke—and that this was caused by Sverigedemokraterna/SD (cf. the two previous entries).

We have an election that brought potentially very far-going changes to the political landscape (cf. the previous entry; in addition, some speculate on an end to Sweden as a leftist nation), and what is put in the spotlight? A minor change in the proportion of women...

One quote of the article well summarized the one-sided attitude of Swedish media:

Att skapa en jämnare fördelning mellan könen i Sverige riksdag har varit en långsam process under de sista hundra åren och först under sista 15 åren har kvinnornas andel av antalet riksdagsledamöter hamnat på en någorlunda jämn fördelning.

(To create a more equal distribution between the sexes in Sweden [sic] parliament has been a slow process during the last hundred years and only in the last 15 years has the women’s share of the number of MPs landed on a relatively even distribution.)

Apart from further support for the observation that Swedish journalists are poor writers:

  1. The quote presupposes that an even distribution is better or fairer than an uneven one. There is, however, not one shred of evidence for this being so. On the contrary, there are strong signs that equal numbers only arise when women are given a leg up. (Reasons include typical priorities of men and women, e.g. career vs. family; the distribution of ability in the high-end of the spectrum; and who is at all interested in doing what.)

  2. It creates the impression that a deliberate attempt at change has taken a full century. In truth, deliberate attempts have only been present in the last two decades (or so)—which corresponds conspicuously to the 15 years of near sameness.

Among the more factual claims of the article, we have that Sweden is currently the nation with the second highest proportion of women in parliament, after Rwanda (!)—but will now fall to fifth or sixth roughly on par with Iceland and Cuba. (As can be seen, a high proportion of women is not the same as success and enlightenment...) In numbers, the drop is from 46.4 % to 43–44 %—which I would consider worthy of a single line of text together with other information about the overall numbers.

I note that the high number of women is largely due to the left, which has brought women to the top even when they were entirely unsuitable, including disasters like the Social-Democratic PM candidate, Mona Sahlinw (abuse of government expense accounts, tax evasion, parking tickets galore, failure as a business woman, low “confidence ratings” even among the party’s supporters), and the former leader of the once-communist party, Gudrun Schymanw (severe drinking problems, tax fraud, out-of-touch-with-reality feminism).

The change is ascribed to SD in a neutral manner (far from a given), but it should be noted that there have been attempts to focus on them as a party of angry young men, with common allegations of sexism and misogynism—indeed, that the typical voter is a young man, low in education, and often unemployed, is explicitly mentioned). As a counter-point, a few numbers taken from a Swedish blog on similar topicse: 5 % of the men and 3 % of the women voted for SD, leaving plenty of room for angry young women. Further, there were almost three times as many women who voted for SD as for Feministiskt Initiativ (a radical feminist party led by the aforementioned Schyman)—so much for misogynism.

More on the aftermath of the Swedish election

As was easy to predict, the politically correct in Sweden have been outraged over Sverigedemokraterna’s (SD) gaining a representation, including many bloggers making “I am ashamed [...]” statements similar to those heard from the US after the re-election of Bush. (Annoyingly, these statements often come from the more hypocritical, unreasoned or uninformed, and intellectually dishonest bloggers—the kettles calling the pot black.)

There have been four particularly egregious cases, however:

  1. Someone has broken into a database kept by the SD containing data on people who have requested information on the party—and published this list on the Internet as a list of supporters of SD.

    Not only is this a gross violation of the rights of the involved individuals and SD, but also, in very many cases, direct libel: To request information does not imply support. Indeed, when I was politically active in my youth, I read more material from the political opponents (including the communist party) than I did from “my own”. (This for two reasons: Firstly, it is a good idea to know the enemy. Secondly, it pays to know other perspectives—in particular, before presuming to criticize those perspectives. Sadly, the latter reason is something that appears lost on most politically active, who attack perspectives and opinions that they mostly know in a distorted version told by their own party.) Unsurprisingly, this list contains many entries that have nothing to do with support, including people wanting to learn SD’s perspective, find out how to fairly criticize them, or similar—and a fair number of fake entries of a joking or insulting character (presumably, the data was originally gathered through a form on the Internet).

    The message (be it intended or not): Have anything to do with SD and you will be publicly denounced. Similarly, I have, myself, repeatedly been called an SD supporter/voter, a xenophobe, or similar—just because I stand up for SD’s right to a fair debate.

  2. There is currently a discussion among the established parties to change the procedure for creating (common and influential) parliamentary committees in order to exclude SD from them—while allowing the other parties to be represented. This may be within the realms of what they can legally do, but it is certainly contrary to democratic principles.

  3. News sources have seen it fit to complain that SD (as a result of local elections in parallel to the parliamentary) will be able to supply more lay-judgesw. Apparently, SD’s stance on immigration issues will increase the danger that biased judgements are made—while the same risk is not present when e.g. communists are involved.

    (As pointed out by others, the real problem is not SD, but the highly disputable system of politically appointed lay-judges [1]e, [2]e.)

  4. A large-scale Facebook campaign is under way, where users post the explicit message that anyone who voted for SD has to “unfriend” them. Apart from being a disproportionate reaction based on a lack of thought of what can have moved someone to vote for SD, this is also a violation of the spirit behind the secret ballot.

Some related earlier discussions:

The results of the Swedish election

The Swedish election, equality, and Sverigedemokraterna

Unfair treatment of Sverigedemokraterna

The “77 cents on the dollar” fraud

One of the most common propaganda tricks from feminists is the claim that women only earn x cents/öre/pence/whatnot for every dollar/krona/pound/whatnot a man earns—in a US context, 77 cents is the most common number. (See also my article on the infamous Anna Ardin for a related example.) This highly misleading claim is either given alone, without context, or made into a direct lie by adding claims about equal pay for equal work. The hitch is that the measurement used compares apples and oranges—it shows unequal pay for unequal work: Women already have equal pay for equal work. (In many advanced countries, including Sweden, the US, and Germany. Indeed, I have heard some claim that women earn more than men in Sweden.)

If we were to alter things so that women, by this twisted measurement, earned a dollar on the dollar, then men would be severely discriminated against. The claim for equal pay amounts to “All employees are equal, but some are more equal than others.” and wanting to eat the cake and keep it too.

The 77 cents arise from a misleading comparison, ignoring factors like hours worked per week, educational level, area of work (including factors such as physical dangers and qualifications needed), and time with the company.

For two very good articles on the subject, see Do Women and Men Earn Equal Pay in 2007?e and 77 cents on the dollar? The truth about the gender wage gape.

A particular interesting partial explanation is simply prioritisations and risk-taking when choosing jobs and negotiating salaries: Men have a higher unemployment than women (incidentally, something which does not bring the feminists to the barricades...) and it is quite possible that men are simply more prone to pick unemployment over a low-paid job, to go through temporary unemployment while looking for the right position with the right company for the right pay, or to make a negotiating gambit for a higher pay (with the risk of not getting the position). Any individual woman could chose to take the same risk for the same chance at the same gain, and those who do not have to live with their choice—just like the men who make the gamble and lose...

For that matter, making a comparison of pay without factoring in involuntary unemployment is inherently misleading.

“But discrimination is real! I have seen it myself!”

That may be. However, individual cases mean comparatively little for numbers like these and, while individual cases need correction, they are not a support for claims of a systematic problem of this alleged size. Further, many cases that are called discrimination are, in fact, not: Different people, be they men or women, earn differently based on a number of factors, including education, experience, dedication to the employer, self-presentation skills, etc., and any one individual woman earning less than any one individual man (or vice versa) is not an indication of discrimination—no matter what propagandists may want us believe. Further yet, unfair pay is nowhere near being the reserve of women, and it is quite possible that even an objectively unfair pay to a woman is not discrimination: A man in the same position in the same company, likely the one in the cubicle next to hers, stands a high risk of being equally unfairly paid.

For a good example of how not to do it, see e.g. the blog entry which prompted this article to be writtene. (If visiting it, also note the flawed reasoning and ad hominem take by the blog author in the comments, and beware that she kept my first two comments unpublished—including my pointing out that the “women are not worthless” slogan is a straw-man attack: The implicit claim that even a sizable part of the population would consider women worthless is grossly incorrect.)


Addendum:

I note that she has subsequently deleted all comments and also “closed” the comments. Unethical and cowardly, if you ask me.


What an eBook is and is not

The topic of eBooks is common in the blogosphere—often as a discussion of whether eBooks are better or worse than regular books, which has the better future, or similar. (An examplee.)

This is all fine and dandy. What disturbs me, however, are the many incorrect assumptions made about eBooks. Typical mistakes include believing that eBooks are read on a Kindle (or a similar device), have a particular format, or are DRM infected.

If Amazon and its likes had their way, this might be the case; however, an eBook is simply a book in an electronic format—no more, no less. An HTML or plain-text file can also be an eBook, eBooks are regularly read on normal computers, and there are many, many eBooks that are free from DRM restrictions. Notably, a very sizable part of the classic literature is available free-of-charge on websites like Project Gutenberge.

My advice:

  1. Make sure to not confuse eBooks in general with the heavily restricted and user-unfriendly eBooks that make out a sizable part of the commercial volume.

  2. Take advantage of the many user-friendly, DRM-free, and free-of-charge eBooks that are available. Yes, if you want to (legally) read the latest Stephenie Meyer, you may have to shell out money; but, as a counter-weight, everything up to and including (most of) the Victorian era is in the public domain—as are many works of the 20th century and even a few of the 21st. (Including works dealing with vampires, fairies, and romance—and works that have stood the passage of time, where Meyer may be a mayfly.)

  3. When you do buy eBooks try to stay away from those that are DRM-infested or in non-standard formats (safe alternatives: plain-text, HTML, PDF) to the degree possible. If sufficiently many do so, there is a chance that the industry will see the light.

Comment censorship and comment policies VII: An interesting discussion on another blog

A very interesting discussion on this topic has arisen on another bloge.

A few issues of note:

  1. A number of commenters feel that it is in order to delete comments that are too rude, lacking in constructiveness, or fall in e.g. the category of racism.

    To a part they are correct; however, great caution must be taken to avoid over-interpretation and highly subjective deletes. Deleting based on opinion (e.g. alleged racism) is something that I emphatically advice against (see previous entries); in particular, as this is a highly subjective area and an area where many systematically abuse accusations of e.g. racism or sexism to distort the debate.

    As one commenter succinctly expressed it:

    (enleuk)

    Nobody knows the truth. Therefore it’s wrong to disallow any opinions at all. You should debate to reach constructive insights instead of making subjective assumptions about what is right and wrong.

  2. An illustrating quote that shows the common sentiment of “my blog; my rules”:

    (thomaschalfant)

    I delete absolutely any comment that I feel like deleting, and I allow absolutely any comment I feel like allowing, and I don’t feel even slightly, remotely, even a tiny little bit inclined to justify or defend it anytime in any way.

    Conversely, I don’t feel that anyone is in any way obligated to post any of my comments to their blogs (including this one). In the same way that you can walk up to me in a bar and start talking to me but I don’t have to listen, and vice versa.

    What this overlooks: A comment on a blog is not (generally) a statement made to another person, but to the public. It is, in particular, not something that must be directed at the blog author—often the target is the readers of the blog. By restricting the opportunity others have to express their opinions on the matter, the public suffers. A better analogy would be a speech in a public place: The speaker has his say (the blog entry), invites the world to voice its opinions (the comments)—and when someone has an opinion that is unsuitable, poorly expressed, or similar, a “The world, but not you!” comes from the mouth of the speaker. (Other reasons why this attitude is problematic is discussed through-out this article series.)

    As a general rule of life: That one has the formal right to do something does not automatically mean that one has an ethical right to do so—let alone should do so. A blogger should feel free to consider himself an aboslute ruler; however, he should make sure to be a benevolent dictatorw—not an arbitrary tyrant.

  3. The topic of spam comments comes up repeatedly. The need to delete spam, however, is a different issue from deleting “real” comments—sufficiently different that they are likely best off being discussed separately. Consider, in the above analogy, that the speech is ended and someone stands up to say “Beautiful speech! Now that you all are here, I would like to invite you to my store where you can buy glass figurines for only $199.99!”—just a different beast.

I made a few comments myself, including two points that I likely have failed to emphasize enough in this series:

  1. I have spent much time reading various discussions on various topics, including the talk pages on Wikipedia. I have found that it is often the back-and-forth, the contrast between different ideas and opinions, arguments and counter-arguments that best help me build a better understanding of the topic.

    This does require a receptive reader and it does require reasoning and knowledgeable debaters; however, when it works, it works extremely well—far better than a one-man pulpit.

  2. We should, as bloggers, have the humility to recognize that we have something to learn from our commenters. Disabling comments increases the risk (emails notwithstanding) that we miss what they have to teach.

A regular occurrence nowadays is hysteria over child porn—often coupled with cries for increased policing, reduced civil rights, Internet blocks, or similar. A disturbing case was the FAQ of the Cologne policee, which dealt at length and almost exclusively with child porn when I visited it about a year ago—at the moment, the contents are far more appropriate and helpful (just possibly because of the email I sent to complain). Even everyday citizens without agendas are obviously influenced by the bogeyman-propaganda. (Cf. e.g. a post where I recently commentede.) This entry is written partially to have an easy link to give to these people.

The scope of the problem is often exaggerated by several orders of magnitude. A previous article of mine puts the absurd claim that there would be 14 million (!) child-porn sites under the loupe of basic reasoning—I have later seen numbers that indicate a true figure somewhere between one and two thousand. (That article discusses several other issues, including the dangers of counting IP addresses as individual people, and the problems caused by an ever expanding definition of what is considered “evil”.)

A highly illuminating external sourcee investigates and debunks a number of common claims, including a 200,000-websites (let alone 14 million...), a 20,000-images-per-week, and a $3-billion-a-year claim. (A number of other interesting articles are linked to from there.) In particular, it makes the very important point that a “hit” is not the same thing as an access attempt or a page view: Each image (including those used in the page design), JavaScript file, CSS file, whatnot, on a page causes a separate hit; for a page with pornographic contents, several dozen hits per page is on the low side. This fundamental distinction is rarely made in the discourse (be it out of ignorance or out of a deliberate wish to use exaggerated numbers), resulting in claims that are dozens, possibly even hundreds of times too large.

A very disturbing tale is that of Operation Orew. (For more information on the miscarriage-of-justice/witch-hunt issues see e.g. [1]e, [2]e, [3]e, [4]e, [5]e)

(As an aside, looking at Operation Ore, digital evidence is not only so easy for the layman to misinterpret, but so exceedingly easy to plant that I would personally recommend strong limitations to its use in courts—including entirely disallowing computers/hard-drives that have been confiscated by the police.)

An issue recurring repeatedly (at least in Sweden and Germany) in recent times is that of Internet blocks, e.g. that ISPs become legally obliged to filter out pages on a governmental blacklist—this despite expert statements and practical experiences indicating that this is an inefficient and intrusive approach. (Source in Germane.)

Generally, there is a lot of FUDw, exaggeration, and fear-mongering going on in the area of sex and sex-related crimes. Consider e.g. traffickinge, pimpse, satanistic child-abusee, and campus rapese.

Say no to abuse of children—and to exaggerated, unfounded, and destructive claims around child-porn.

Admission criteria to higher education

An interesting post (unfortunately in Swedish) on SAT-like tests vs. GPAe as admission criteria to tertiary education has started an equally interesting discussion. Here I will elaborate on my own take on the issue, as well as discuss some opinions of others. (Note that the discussion is valid outside of the original Swedish context too.)

  1. A cognitive test (CT) is a better predictor of academic potential than GPA. GPA measures a mixture of potential, achievement of potential, and external factors, e.g. industriousness, motivation in high school (which need not be the same thing as motivation in college), how popular one is with the teachers, ...

  2. Whether a CT or GPA is the better predictor for academic result will depend on a variety of factors, including the proportions of head-work (CT) and leg-work (GPA): Future mathematicians will likely be better filtered by a CT; lawyers by GPA.

  3. GPA becomes increasingly misleading, the higher the cognitive ability of the student. The raw brains needed to get a very high GPA are not stellar (high, but not stellar—and even less so in a time of grade inflation), while even the most intelligent cannot reach the very top without a considerable amount of leg-work or skillful manipulation of teachers.

    Add in that the most intelligent are less likely to have developed manipulation skills, are more likely to find exercises under-challenging and boring, often have their own intellectual interests that school gets in the way of, etc.—and a cognitive ability above a certain limit can actually be a hindrance for getting a good GPA in high-school, when compared to those somewhat below this limit.

    If more practical subjects (e.g. physical education or arts) are counted towards the GPA, the discrepancy grows even wider.

  4. Re-visiting the former item on the college level, we see that there is less direct interaction with teachers/graders, that courses tend to be noticeably more stimulating, and that the ability to choose courses is greater. The latter has a dual positive effect, in that 1. problems with motivation will diminish 2. problem areas of low relevance can be avoided: A mathematician does not need to be fluent in a foreign language, the historian does not need a head for math, and the professional translator who is bored by history need not be a poor translator.

  5. Combining the two previous items there is a distinct problem with popular educations: By the sheer number of applicants the GPA-cutoff will rise to a hard-to-reach level—and many of the best suited applicants will find themselves excluded in favour of industrious teacher’s pets. A CT provides a very valuable second road for these.

    I can cite myself as a case in point: I had a very good, but not extraordinary, GPA and it is quite possible that I would not have been able to get into the program and college I applied to based on GPA (the university, KTH, being Sweden’s MIT; the program being one of the most prestigious). I did have a stellar score on the Swedish equivalent to the SATs, however—and, once admitted, I turned out to be one of the very best students of the program.

  6. The original post is critical to the use of CTs on the basis that GPA is a better predictor for success. Apart from the discussion above, this reasoning has the very critical flaw that it is a statement about aggregates, not individuals: It is quite possible that he is right about the aggregate numbers, but relying only on GPA would result in an unfair assessment of many individuals; in particular, those of unusually high cognitive abilities. Notably, the purpose of an admission system is exactly to select the best suited individual applicants—not the best suited group.

  7. Looking at some comments, an attitude seems to be present that a “CT student” would steal an admission from a “GPA student”, having been to lazy to do his job in high-school and kicking someone out who was more deserving (i.e., in this limited view, working harder). This is a grave misconception for the reasons mentioned above, but also seems to go hand-in-hand with a too positive take on the value and forms of secondary education (respectively, the pre-tertiary school system in general). Education is good; conventional schooling need not be, and if someone finds more meaningful ways to educate himself, why should he be punished for that? (Cf. e.g. Issues relating to education.)

  8. There also seems (but here I speculate) to be a false impression that admissions would first be given to those with a high GPA and then to those with mid-range CT scores, unfairly leaving those with mid-range GPAs outside. In fact, it is better to view the system as a two-pronged admission, which simply reduces the risk for the better suited candidates to filtered out. The presence of a CT makes the system fairer and gives those who deserve it better opportunities—without hurting others of equal suitability. (Except in as far as every system can be unfair to the odd border-line case—while a GPA-only system will hurt many clearly on the right side of the border. Further, with reservations for implementation problems. Should such occur, however, they only imply that the implementation should be improved.)

  9. An interesting twist is the misinterpretation that problems with personal chemistry with teachers would be the students fault, that he would be less inclined to do the work assigned because he disliked the teacher, and, by implication, has himself to blame form not biting the bullet (“bita ihop”). Such cases may well exist; however, the actual argument focuses on teachers who like or dislike students and give correspondingly faulty grades—even if unconsciously. This has nothing to do with hard work, but is a problem with the teacher. (And, make no mistake, this is a very real issue, which can be positively deadly for someone in need of a US-Style 3.8–4.0 GPA.)

Blogroll update

Last week, I was directed to a page wishing to prove that more than 1 % of all desktop users use Linuxe. Considering its approach of actually trying to get sufficiently many Linux users to announce themselves, this is a herculean task, which can benefit from a little help—like the inclusion in a few blogrolls.

I recommend any Linux user to drop by to increase the statistic.

(Note: An email address must be given. While the site looks legitimate overall, I recommend the precaution of using a disposable address.)

By the FIFO principle, The Thoughtful Animale is removed. That blog was first discussed here.

Doubt: A parable

A few days ago, I watched Doubtw, a very gripping and thought-provoking movie, which partially ties in with a previous post.

Subsequently, I searched the Internet for more background information, seeing that the movies dedication hinted at a real-life story, which could have shed light on the central unanswered question: Whether Father Flynn was guilty of the implied “improper relationship” with one of the school’s boys (Donald).

I had no great luck with that question (and the very fact that the viewer never learns the truth is arguably central for the movies purpose); however, I found a very interesting, yet slightly disturbing, discussion among some real-life nuns and members of the publice:

Apparently, many of them view Sister Aloysius as the hero and Father Flynn as clearly guilty—something which I find hard to understand and which parallels the real-life problems with presumptions of guilt. Now, let us throw an eye on these two questions:

  1. Sister Aloysius is very clearly portrayed as a reactionary/conservative, overly strict, and “no fun” nun. It can further be argued that she is too willing to let the means justify the end, acts on faith over reason, or even over-compensates for her own doubts. The main dispute should not be whether she was the good guy (she was not), but whether she was well-meaning and misguided or just the stereotypical bitter old head-mistress (a superficial impression could point to the latter, but there are plenty of signs indicating to the former). The road to Hell...

    Notably, in a comparison of attitude towards life between her and Father Flynn, I am reminded of e.g. Dead Poets Societyw and Chocolatw—with Father Flynn as Robin Williams’/Juliette Binoche’s equivalent.

  2. The movie is highly ambivalent on the guilt or innocence of Father Flynn: There are some signs that are highly incriminating—most notably, his unwillingness to answer questions and his sometimes hesitant answers. Then again, he may have been hiding something completely different: His story about the altar wine is far from implausible and what lies in his past may be something entirely different (e.g. having had an affair with a nun or being a homosexual).

    On the opposite side, Sister James (who has more inside information than the viewer) believes in his innocence—and even Sister Aloysius, the accuser, confesses to having severe doubts at the end of the movie. (In this highly multi-layered work, it is possible that Sister James merely wanted to believe and that Sister Aloysius actually spoke of more general doubts; however, in the interpretation most likely to me, the former believed in Father Flynn’s innocence and the other doubted his guilt.)

    Going a step further, there was no indication whatsoever that Father Flynn was (emotionally or physically) hurting Donald. On the contrary, he appeared to provide a valuable emotional support to a bullied boy with a physically (non-sexually) abusive father. It is possible that a hypothetical sexual relationship between the two would have been damaging per se; however, no such damage is indicated in the movie and the damage done by removing Father Flynn may well have lead to a negative net-effect. Certainly, Donald (per hearsay) seemed to take Father Flynn’s departure poorly.

    Finally, anyone who takes a sense of certainty with him from this movie has not understood it—doubt, questioning of truth and perceptions, and awareness of different possibilities and consequences, are at its very core. Even the individual signs that seem to imply this-or-that are themselves ambiguous and sources of doubt (cf. above). In my opinion, the main benefit of watching this movie is a greater motivation to question ones own believes and the way one draws conclusions.

In a bigger picture, referring back to my earlier post, it is very important to not act out of fear (it is hardly a coincidence that the class discusses the phrase “There is nothing to fear but fear it self.” in an early scene), to give the benefit of a doubt, to use due procedure, etc. A related danger is that if someone tries to bend the facts to fit the hypothesis, this is all-too-often possible—as with the Swedish gender-glasses. Notably, Sister Aloysius produced not one single piece of evidence, but relied on interpretation of ambiguous events and statements. Further, she failed to actually ask Donald for his version... She did talk at some length to the mother, but apart from being removed from the events, her testimony only gave a few non-conclusive hints—even, possibly, indicating Donald as the pursuer. (Strong hints that he was a homosexual are given; his admiration for Father Flynn is stated outright.) Certainly, a platonic friendship between two gays in a world looking down on homosexuality is a quite plausible interpretation.

I strongly recommend those interested to visit the above discussion and its neighbouring pages: There a great number of differing views, interpretations, and speculations can be found.

As an aside on the acting: While there were a number of truly excellent performances, I advice the viewer to watch Amy Adams (Sister James) in particular—the more often praised performances by Meryl Streep (Sister Aloysius) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Father Flynn) are not superior. Some of Adams’ scenes against Streep are especially noteworthy. For those (like me) who have mostly seen her playing shallow pretty-girls, her performance was an eye-opener. Viola Davis (the mother) also received considerable, justified praise for her performance; however, her effort is limited to a single scene.

Integration, assimilation, and the mixture of fluids

As the recurring reader knows, one of the main political topics in Sweden this year has been immigration. One particular sub-issue (especially after Angela Merkel’s recent remarks on the German situation) has been that of integration: Should immigrants integrate themselves into the existing society or should society develop into a highly inhomogeneous mixture of different cultural groups and traditions.

I have for some time been pondering the analogy of integration and the admixture of fluids to an original fluid:

On the one hand, we have integration, as in the traditional US melting potw or a regular mixed drink, where the various cultures are mixed in with the pre-dominant culture, the immigrants adapt to society, and the result is comparatively homogeneous.

On the other, we have Multikultiw, what amounts to a layered drinkw: Immigrants keep their ways unchanged, often over generations, and society instead adapts and accommodates to allow for new niches.

Now, I am not going to state that the one is necessarily better than the other—they both have advantages and disadvantages, and the extreme versions of both are likely best avoided. (Personally, I am strongly in favour of immigrants adapting with regard to laws, etiquette, and, when in public, behavioural norms; but see religion, musical taste, behaviour in the own home, and similar, as distinctly private decisions. The border-line areas can be quite tricky.) I am, however, going to stress that the propaganda by e.g. the Swedish Left that multikulti is the only fair and workable solution is wrong: Most notably, as with fluids, it is wrong to claim that society would be unaffected by integration or that society would not be enriched by other cultures in this manner: Each new drop/immigrant subtly changes the whole, and many drops over a long time can have an enormous effect.

(As an aside, this propaganda includes the rhetorical trick of co-opting the word “integration” to mean multikulti and to attack those espousing integration, correctly using “integration”, for trying to deceive the public—the Newspeakw demands “assimilation”. As discussed above, the one-sided adaption implied by “assimilation” is highly misleading—as if the dash of lemon added to a cup of tea would magically turn into tea... Also see the etymologies of integratee and assimilatee.)

The greatest benefit of analogies is not their value as illustrations, but that observing one side of the analogy can lead to insights and ideas about the other side. I invite the reader to spend some time contemplating the mixture of fluids and whether some of the same issues are relevant for immigration policies. Consider, e.g., that integration depends on the cooperation of the “integratees”—some fluids can be mixed temporarily through external forces (e.g. stirring), but will separate again when the stirring ceases. Or: Mixing too “antagonized” fluids can result in an explosive.

After five years, the German computer magazine C’te has won a supreme courtw decision with the general content that it is allowed to publish links in its articles.

That this would take the involvement of the supreme court may seem absurd (and, certainly, many have marveled at the complete ignorance of the Internet and linking that previous instances have displayed).

The background story is roughly this: In 2005, C’t published an article about AnyDVDw—a tool whose abilities includes being able to circumvent the copy protection of DVDs. (A protection, which I, personally, consider unethical: There are legitimate uses being blocked, e.g. making a back-up copy or playing a DVD on a computer, while the commercial pirates have the resources to work around any protection.) The article contained a link to the website of AnyDVD-maker SlySoft. This caused the DVD-industry to go berserk: The aim of the link would be a simplification of access to a (in Germany, technically and regrettably) forbidden program and an instigation to its use.

The highly disputable justification of the software ban aside, this overlooks the very nature of links as a reference to other material—and the fact that anyone could have found the website over Google in less than a minute. Further, having followed the industry’s antics, I suspect that the there is an element of bad faith and litigation for the sake of intimidation involved—as well as a willingness to use undue means and cause undue disadvantages for others in order to gain comparatively slight advantages for itself.

Regrettably, lower instances went with the DVD industry’s take on the issue. Fortunately, with its decision from 2010-10-14 (as I gather from the last C’t, #23/2010) the supreme court has over-turned these decisions.

In a bigger picture, the issue arises when and whether a ban on links is a good idea. (Indeed, even after this decision, Germany does not have a complete freedom to link. In the above case, e.g., the interpretation of underlying intent is relevant.) My own view is that bannable cases are rare and that it is better to err on the side of too much permissiveness. In particular, I utterly reject the idea that a mere linking should be seen as an endorsement or a support of opinion/methods/whatnot. (I, myself, regularly link to content that I strongly disagree with.) Further, forbidding links will often be a slight inconvenience to those with a strong motivation—but a disproportionate obstacle for those with a fleeting interest or who merely want to check a few underlying details.

Encounter with a real-life leftist feminist

As the recurring reader knows, I am less than thrilled by some of the people I meet online. However, based on my experiences so far, I have assumed that they are more moderate or more varied off-line—just like a basket-ball player does not run to-and-fro, jump up-and-down, and throw balls around in daily life. Even when I was myself politically active (and had a greater in-person exposure to others active in a variety of parties), I found this to be the case.

Yesterday, however, I encountered a woman who was a caricature of a leftist feminist—to the point that I actually considered the possibility that she was an actress trying out a character on the group (the participants of a one-day seminar).

Picture a middle-aged woman; hair semi-unkempt and tied behind her head; little make-up, but a contrasting red lipstick; horn-rimmed glasses; an odd red dress; and an unhappy, often angry, face.

During the individual presentations, she mentioned that she had once been a member of the German autonomew movement (known for its extreme opinions and methods—including violent confrontations with the police)—but that this was a thing of the past, from which she had repented.

As the day proceeded, however, it became very clear that was still strongly convinced leftist, who turned every discussion onto some angle of a leftist or feminist agenda—regularly interrupting the leader of the seminar and, on balance, talking about as much as he did (and more than the other participants put together). Now, I have nothing against a discussion or an excursion into an interesting side-topic (quite the contrary, as those who know me can testify); however, she moved off the actual topic and went off on long rants with such persistency that the situation become untenable. Without her presence, 1–2 hours of the 6-hour seminar could have been saved or filled with more valuable content (even allowing for other discussions ensuing). Further, her aggressiveness often made it hard for other participants to get a word in.

As for the content she provided, the general impression that I have from leftist and feminist blogs was affirmed, including:

  1. An underlying anger/moral indignation and little insight into other perspectives than her own.

  2. The stating of very trivial insights as great truths that needed to be brought to the people. For instance, she correctly, but tritely, stated that the concept of a citizen as a “customer” of a governmental agency differed from the common connotations of the word—and then forcefully went on about how this was something that needed to be explained to the masses...

    (As an aside: While I too find this use of “customer” annoying, it can possibly be justified by considering it an abstraction. Notably, I have seen academic discussions where even those selling have been considered customers, e.g. making both the person buying an apple from a store and the company selling the apples in bulk to the store “customers” of the store.)

  3. Jumping to negative conclusions about what others said and meant. Most notably, the seminar leader related an anecdote about how he had once been confronted with an epileptic attack in one of his employees. As he stated that this was something he hoped never to witness again (with the clear contextual meaning that he merely wished to stress how unpleasant such a situation was), she immediately accused him of not wanting to hire more epileptics... This interpretation was not only far-fetched (and explicitly denied by the him), but also effectively the opposite of Hanlon’s Razor.

    At some point, she even started to discuss how she disliked how several of the other participants were sitting quietly, without “revealing anything about themselves”. (Her emphasis on the latter part was heavy, leaving the impression that she saw this as more-or-less immoral.) I only barely managed to refrain from citing the adage that it is better to remain silent and be thought an idiot than to open ones mouth and remove any doubt (implying that she, herself, would do well to heed this statement). As I did try to explain to her, there are a number of reasons why hers is an unfair sentiment: Different people learn in different ways—and we were there to learn, not to reveal ourselves to strangers. (In a deeper discussion, there would be a number of other factors involved, including that some may simply be shy among strangers, unwilling to interrupt others, having had a sleepless night, which negatively affected their abilities, whatnot.) Certainly, her own participation brought a negative net value to the group, and we would have been better off, had she kept quiet.

  4. Showing signs of great prejudice and indoctrination. For instance, she went on at length about some phenomenon she did not like (I was a bit tuned out and missed the details, but the area was unethical or illegal business methods) and ending with the (incorrect) claim that this would be neo-liberalism. Similarly, she went off on a rant about how the immigrants in Cologne were to insecure to stand up for themselves (something I have not noticed...) and too willing to adapt to the German way (ditto), and how Cologne was unusually “patriarchal” (a word that is one of biggest red flags around).

Oh, and she was also very loud and waved her arms around well into the personal space of those around her—often without even looking in the direction of the wave.

Comment censorship and comment policies VIII: Coloured bloggers in need of a reality check

Recently, I encountered a blog discussing censorship of commentse (a recurring topic on my own blog). After leaving a comment and a follow-up, I have received email notifications about a number of comments that would need addressing.

Notably, statements like those by AfroCan are likely to have a negative effect on the cause and on society, by antagonizing many who would have been supportive, by making others less likely to pay attention when true issues are raised (if one cries “wolf”...), and by causing unnecessary rifts in society between the “true believers” and the rest of the world.

To give these their due attention is not within the scope of the time I have, so I will give a selective overview of some issues:

  1. The initial post has a very one-sided and over-generalizing view on the “-isms”. Formulations used include (emphasis added)

    Some people argue that bloggers have a responsibility to moderate hateful comments, but this abstraction often assumes that the blogger is an able-bodied, middle-to-upper-class, heterosexual, white, cis man who is not the target of the hateful comments.”

    (Note in particular the use of the word “cis”, which by the standards applied by the politically correct where women and minorities are concerned must be considered offensive.)

    Through-out, there is an excessive repetition of the word “hateful”—a word that in my experience is usually used with very little basis in fact. (I grant that I have not investigated the general take and justification on this specific blog.) An upcoming post of mine will deal with this topic.

    Generally, I recognize the kind of artificial polarization and division into groups that it so common within many PC-movements. Effectively, one group is cut off from the others by throwing labels at it, to the point that it eventually can be disputed whether the group actually has any members, and the members of this group are called privileged oppressors based solely on group membership—irrespective of their own actual opinions and situations.

  2. The commenter AfroCan proved to be particularly prejudiced and white-people-are-out-to-get-us—the black version of some of the feminists I have written about on earlier occasions. Consider statements like

    It’s critical for People of Colour to have a (relatively) safe space to voice and dialogue on the issues of race, privilege and other intersecting social oppressions. One of our great frustrations is not having a forum or platform to voice any of these concerns/alternative perspectives in the mainstream media.

    (The feminist version of this argument, I have dealt with previously. The same counter-arguments, m.m., apply. [Note: Wrong link, I will dig up the right one later.])

    [...]yet another demonstration of psychological privileges and “terror” dominant Whites wield over people of colour.

    (Yet another demonstration of feminist-style lack of perspective and insight.)

    At the heart of many rebuttals disputing the existence of White male privilege/domination, is the “blind spot” of perception, where the White privileged naysayers can recognize only their own oppression in a refusal to recognize intersectionality, an inability to see across and evaluate social categories/ oppressions of gender, sexuality, class, and ability. They also fail to see they ways in which their very language/rhetoric is actually exposing the deep rooted White domination, arrogance and contempt POCs are trying to identify and dismantle. They are providing the EVIDENCE of racism in Canada’s so-called multicultural egalitarian society.

    (As with feminists: “Either you recognize our claims—or your failure to do so is proof of our claims!”. Now, unlike with e.g. Swedish feminists, I am not qualified to judge whether there is at least a partial truth behind this statement; however, it is at best a gross over-generalization and exaggeration. Further, it is AfroCan, himself, who demonstrates the blind-spot of perception, living in his own reality.)

  3. AfroCan, in a later comment, goes on to say that he is

    [...] still a male feminist committing myself to anti-racist feminist thought, through READING feminist works and BECOMING an ally.

    (The feminism of today is an anti-equality movement, filled with bigotry and based on an extremely twisted world-view. See a number of previous entries.)

  4. Other statements by him include rhetorical nonsense like

    Many of the uncritical bloggers are mobilizing false rhetorical “freedom of speech” and “censorship” claims to subvert discussion, not recognizing that these practices are in part what racism, privilege and White domination are all about to begin with.

    (Apparently aimed at giving a pseudo-justification for the unethical censorship discussed in many of my previous entries.)

  5. With the following, utterly absurd claim, he really takes the Orwellian prize

    Another curious I discourse I see going on in these blogs, is calling [people of colour] racist—an utterly absurd rebuttal. Granted—some POCs can be “prejudiced” but not “racist”.

  6. Commenter Jennifer Kesler gives a number of flawed arguments in favour of censorship. Some of these have been dealt with in earlier installments, some do not make sense, others go against common sense, constructive behaviour, or Hanlon’s Razor. (I do not rule out a partial justification of some of them in at least some contexts, however. Even so, they would make for a very poor comment policy on the vast majority of all blogs.) In the main, they would tend to reduce exposure to alternate ideas and arguments—the very lack of which is a major reason why the PC movement actually is one of the bad guys.

    (Ironically, the blog owner explicitly mentions the danger of groupthink—but he does so with the prejudiced and role-reversed claim that “[...]tech news readers tend to boost the signals of sexist or misogynist comments.”, proving that he does not know many of these and that he has a severe blind spot for the sins of the PC movement.)

Abandoning Opera

For at least eight years, I have been an Opera user—and for much of that time, I have considered it the best browser around and strongly recommended it to others.

Today, I throw Opera at the metaphorical garbage heap, to focus instead on Firefox. This following a transitional period of roughly six months, where I have been using Opera and Firefox in parallel.

Why so?

Well:

  1. Firefox has improved over the years. Most importantly: It no longer deletes (!) the config files when it crashes—an inexcusable programming error, which was present for at least several years (and which has been a strong influence in my repeatedly interrupting experimental Firefox use in the past).

  2. Firefox has a great number of plugins. While most of these are of no value, some are extremely useful, notably Vimperatorw and NoScriptw. Opera has very little “external” functionality, which makes it crippled in comparison (a plug-in framework of some sort was recently announced, but the success is too uncertain and the time frame too long to sway me).

  3. On that line: Firefox has Vimperator...

  4. Opera has a number of annoying behaviours, e.g. concerning the address bar (which tends to grab focus when it should not and keep focus after it has been told to let go).

    Specifically, the last straw that now makes me abandon Opera: Today, I loaded about a dozen tabs from an unusually slow website. I moved onto the first tab, with a half-loaded page, pressed the space bar to jump over a contentless introduction—but instead of jumping downwards, the address was overwritten with a space. (Incorrect initial focus.) I then clicked on the page, switching the focus to where it belonged, and pressed space again—only to see yet another space added to the address bar. (Counter-intuitively, two clicks are required to “unfocus” the “activated” address bar.) Within a few minutes, this repeated on most of the remaining tabs—and since this was the umpteenth time this happened, the last straw was in place.

    (Should I not have known better and adapted? Possibly, but using a computer is a largely automatic procedure with me: If I wish to scroll down, my fingers do the right thing without thought, just like my legs do the job of turning a corner without thought. If someone or something screws with standardized behaviour, I am thrown off. Consider trying to turn a corner when the legs go in the opposite direction of what they do on a normal day...)

  5. Opera has a user-despising attitude to features of “we know best”, “the more, the merrier”, and “let us shove the features down the users throat”. (A common problem in world of software, see also my writings on software development.) Notably, these problems have become worse from release to release, and (in some ways) Opera is actually deteriorating.

    The worst example is possibly “fast forward”—a function that when activated tries to jump to the next page (according to some heuristic). This is not a bad thing in itself (at least, were it more accurate...); however, this function has been mapped to a number of keys in a non-standard way—including the space bar. The space bar, in a text-reading context, means “scroll one page down in the current document”, in a tradition going back to at least the 80s and used in all browsers I have ever made more than casual use of. In Opera, the meaning has been altered using fast forward to “scroll down or skip to what I incorrectly believe to be the next document”. Not only does this break standard in-document navigation, but it is also extremely confusing, because the user is never told about this non-standard behaviour.

    (Generally, Opera has many odd and unexpected key mappings.)

    A more subtle, and largely unknown, example is “fraud protection”: Unless explicitly de-activated, this feature “dials home” concerning every site visited (!) to check the credibility of the site. This is done with good intentions, but causes unnecessary time delays, opens a very wide gate for abuse, and brings little benefit in practice: Before I found out and turned it off, I cannot recall it giving me as much as one single warning...

  6. Two strong arguments for Opera in the early days, speed and tabbed browsing, are moot today: Tabbed browsing is standard, and any speed advantage Opera has is rarely detectable in practice—and Chrome is alleged to be even faster. (Do no use Chrome, however: There are too many potential security problems.)

  7. Opera is a commercial tool, while Firefox is Open Source. Now, I am not ideologically bound to the use of Open Source software, let alone Free software; however, my experiences have shown great advantages with Open Source, including faster bug fixes, higher quality, and a greater consideration for power users. Further, while I have seen no signs of malicious abuse using Opera (e.g. spying on users), it can never be ruled out—and is a very real possibility for the future. Firefox, in contrast, would be exceedingly unlikely to even try something like that—and would be unable to do so for long without being exposed.

  8. If I have not made the point: Firefox has Vimperator.

The two things still speaking for Opera: Firstly, it has a few very handy functions (e.g. “fit to width”), which Firefox still lacks or only gives an inferior emulation of, with our without plugins. However, these are things that can be sufficiently worked-around to avoid a knock-out victory’s over-coming the heavy point deficit in the twelfth round. The one severe weakness that Firefox has is the lack of a decent tool to match keys to functions—but Vimperator solves parts of that problem. Secondly, Opera does run better out of the box (after some time has been spent on de-activating various features) and has an easier configuration. However, this short-term advantage does not carry-over to the long-term.

Haters, haters everywhere

Words often have little to do with reality. Consider the pick-pocket in Casablanca, who kindly warns people against the (metaphorical and human) “vultures, vultures everywhere”—while having his own hand wandering into their pockets...

Similarly, the people who complain about haters are often themselves the true haters—and in most other cases they are misguided, over- and misinterpret, or otherwise unfairly accuse.

To recap and expand upon a recent comment of minee:

  1. Many cases are totally unfounded blanket-accusations: Those opposed to feminism do not automatically hate feminists—let alone women. Those wishing for lower taxes do not automatically hate the poor. Someone committing a crime against a member of a minority or against a woman does not automatically hate the group the victim belongs to—a wish to get easy cash (or whatever the crime was aimed at) is a more likely explanation. Etc.

    Yes, even outright racists do not necessarily hate people of other races: A number of other feelings are possible, including indifference, loathing, a “we are better, but in the end we are all human” (similar to what followers of different sports teams, employees of different firms, students at different schools, whatnot, can feel), and charitability akin to “The White Man’s burden”. In a twist, I have so far seen far more dislike of “anti-racists” than of coloured people in the blogosphere—and there certainly appear to be far more people around hating racists (or those claimed to be racists...) than either.

    Yet, these are accusations that I have seen levied many times on no better grounds than above. I have even seen cases where someone has been condemned as sexist or misogynist for using the word “bitch”... What kind of utter mental disconnect is needed to arrive at this conclusion!

  2. A very good example is fans (of mostly athletes) who call other fans “haters” on very unjust grounds. (In my observations, many fans of Rafael Nadal and Usain Bolt fall into this category). Notably, the alleged hate of the athlete, or the jealousy at his success, is not even actually related to the athlete—but to his obnoxious fans. Basically, the latter behave like complete idiots, belittle other athletes, taunt other fans, fill their comments with annoying repetitions of all-caps statements (“VAMOS RAFA!!!!!!!!”), whatnot. Then, when other participants start to show their natural annoyance, this annoyance is written of as “hate” towards the athlete and taken as an excuse for more obnoxious behaviour...

    For examples, see e.g. http://www.tennistalk.com/en/e.

  3. The Swedish retort “den som sa det, han var det” (“he who said it, was it”, similar to the English “he who smelt it, dealt it”) is often the appropriate response to accusations of hate:

    The accusation usually says more about the accuser than the accused. Notably, it is often stemming from an intense emotional involvement and a presumption of guilt on behalf of the former.

  4. The accusation of hate is usually combined with a lack of actual arguments—both concerning the alleged hate and with regard to the actual statements that lead to the accusation. If a motivation is given, it is usually entirely lacking in reason, e.g. “How can you say something like that and deny your hatred!”.

    In this, “hate” joins a number of other words, most notably “sexist” and “misogynist”, but also “racist”, “xenophobe”, “homophobe”, “fascist”, “communist”, “capitalist”, “imperialist”, ... (With a great variety on the context, e.g. year, country, audience. Notwithstanding that the accusations are occasionally justified.)

Finally, a little gem that provides a beautiful illustration of my pointe.

Comment censorship and comment policies VIIIs: Coloured bloggers in need of a reality check (follow-up)

To give a better perspective of the kind of thinking that goes on at the blog discussed in the previously installment:

  1. The following post is titled I blame the Patriarchy for my technical incompetence.e, giving a clear indication of the closeness in thought to harmful variations of feminism.

  2. Before I (relatively soon) left the discussion on the page, AfroCan made a number of illogical or ad hominem statements confirming my earlier opinions. These included (among many others) attacking me for using “racism” in its correct meaning instead of his own Newspeak distortion of the term, which, per definitionem, would make it impossible for coloured to be racists and near unavoidable for white to be so. (An evil rhetorical trick, which I recently saw echoed on the blog of a participant of a brain-washing seminare. For more on abuse of “racism”, see a previous article.)

    It is also clear that AfroCan has not actually bothered to understand what claims I actually make or the greater context of those claims.

    The following statement is downright scary:

    That is part of your White arrogance right there! Everything Whites extol is “truth” but the experiences of people of colour are “fabrications”, “lies” and “rantings”!

  3. Further misleading statements were made by Jennifer Kesler, including

    Michael, the argument that bigotry is perpetuated by angry marginalized people yapping excessively (which is what your quoted statement here boils down to) is an old silencing tactic. There’s a huge amount of privilege baked into the very idea.

    Here an argument that I have never made is associated with me as an excuse for the accusation of using a silencing tactic. This is the more absurd, seeing that silencing tactics are the speciality of the PC movement. Indeed, Jennifer’s own statement is exactly that—a silencing tactic. (Criticism of the “truths” of the movement are “proof” of being bigoted or “privileged” and, ipso facto, invalidate the criticism.) Further, an entirely irrelevant and factually incorrect claim about privilege is made.

    Further

    You’re attempting to show AfroCan what his place is. How textbook racist is that? No one’s alienating you. You’re just looking for rationalizations to back up what you’ve already decided.

    Again a highly misleading representation of my statements—followed by a grossly incorrect conclusion: I do not care the least about AfroCan’s skin color. What I care about is his destructiveness, lack of objectivity and insight, and flawed reasoning.

    I have never spoken about alienation concerning myself, but, irrespective of intentions, I am being alienated by the unreasonable behaviour shown by large parts of the PC movement.

    I am certainly not looking for rationalizations—even more certainly not for the alleged racist views that Jennifer tries to ascribe to me: My topics are evil rhetoric, lack of critical thinking, the harmful misguidedness of the PC movement, and similar. Criticizing idiocy among self-proclaimed anti-racists is not racism! I note that her claim about rationalizations amounts to directing the criticism against the PC movement (with its ideological blindness, rationalizations, and unwillingness to listen to factual arguments) back against those who raise the criticism in the first place. (More generally, I have noted that feminists are very prone to attack their opponents for exactly the sins that they, themselves, are the worst perpetrators of. A notable example is härskarteknikerw, including ridiculing and shaming, which are used on a very large scale by many feminist groups, debaters, and bloggers.)

Blogroll update

Between my recent encounter with AfroCan et co. and a very interesting linke given by visitor WTPe, I have spent some time both writing and reading about issues relating to political correctness, with my reading heavy on the issues of academic freedom, free speech on US campuses, and similar. (See [1], [2], [3] for the writings.)

As a result, I am giving my temporary blogroll an overhaul with two additions:

  1. http://durhamwonderland.blogspot.com/e

    deals with the prolonged aftermaths of the false rape-accusations raised by Crystal Mangum against several members of Duke University’s Lacrosse team, including the condemnations and assumptions of guilt directed at the innocently accused by strongly PC faculty members and students—who seemed to be stuck on the idea of privileged, sexist, and racist white men raping and abusing an innocent black woman.

    At first, the topic of the Duke false-rape charges and the ensuing witch-hunt may seem to be a waste of space—years after the events. However, the blog manages to provide a wealth of interesting reading on related topics, including the lack of repenting and repetition of errors on behalf of Duke University, the highly destructive take that the PC crowd has on rapes, the lack of scientific-mindedness among the leftist (pseudo-)intellectuals on US colleges, and the new adventures of the “Group of 88” (88 faculty members at DU who presumed to declare the innocent guilty long before the matter reached the courtroom).

    This blog is particularly revealing to those who naively try to justify feminist ideas on e.g. “gender issues” by referencing academic research and authoritites—indeed, the absurd application of such ideas on the case at hand, aiming to justify the prosecution or saving the honor of the false accuser, Crystal Mangum, is another severe blow to their plausibility: Here cries of “Wolf!” are raised, where there definitely is no wolf present. (While many other applications occur in areas where the presence of a wolf is merely highly unlikely and unproved—not positively disproved.)

    As an aside, the attitude displayed by universities towards their students, both from the writings of durhamwonderland and what I have read and myself experienced elsewhere, is highly disturbing: They fail to realize that they are well-paid service providers with obligations towards the students—not feudal lords to whom the students have obligations. Indeed, outside of matters relating to academic success/failure and intrusive behaviour within the schools walls (in the same manner as a store may act against poorly behaved customers), the students’ behaviour and opinions are no business whatsoever of the school. If something is illegal, it is in the jurisdiction of the authorities (and should be left exclusively to them); if not, the school has no justifiable reason to interfere in the first place.

  2. http://www.thefire.org/e

    is the homepage of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organisation promoting freedom of speech and opinion on US campuses.

    Even taking the large number of universities in the US into consideration, the sheer number of violations of constitutional rights is surprising. Notably, if even students are exposed to restrictions of this kind, it is not surprising that outrages like the crucifixion of Larry Summers for engaging in legitimate scientific discourse (with claims that have great support in scientific results) or the Duke scandal take place. Nor is it surprising that universities increasingly lack critical thinkers on the faculty level.

    The range of problems is large, from a student being excluded from a class for using the F-worde outside (!) of class to forcing students to commit to PC ideologye.

Regrettably, both of these sites (the former more so) occasionally engages in undue rhetoric themselves: Too much rhetoric does not add, but diminishes, the persuasive power in the eyes of a rational reader—and adapting evil methods in order to fight evil is self-defeating. (The PC movement, the gender-feminists, the Spanish Inquisition, even the Nazis, did not actually set out to be evil, but honestly believed that they did were the good guys. Great vigilance is necessary for those with strong idealistic opinions, lest they fall into the same trap.)

The following entries are removed based on the FIFO principle:

  1. Tanja Bergkvist’s bloge first described here.

  2. me-vs-corporate-americae first described here.

The reader will note that I have not added the original link from WTP. This for two reasons: Firstly, the blog contains much content (e.g. art photos) that is simple not relevant for my purposes with this update—no matter how valuable they may be in another context. Secondly, I do not want to give others the impression that I take suggestions for my blogroll. (This could lead to spam.) Still, there is much interesting reading to be found there (including links to other sites), and I do recommend a visit.

More on FIRE, PC brainwashing, and abuse of the educational system

I have long been aware of problems within the education system of Sweden that impose or try to impose certain beliefs on the students: To a part from own experiences uptil high school, to a part from accounts of brainwashing to a PC or feminist doctrine from those who have taken courses in e.g. social sciences, to a part from second-hand accounts from others who have heard similar first-hand accounts, to a part from oddities in public debate.

Unfortunately, more solid proofs have been hard to come by—and the question of large-scale abuse vs. mere unconscious bias or the odd rogue professor has not always been clear.

Similarly, I have heard accounts of abuse in the US, and I have repeatedly read about the unfair attacks on e.g. The Bell Curvew Lawrence Summersw, and Christina Hoff Sommersw.

My readings at FIREe (and durhamwonderlande) have been most illuminating, however. Indeed, among the many, many cases of abuse there are a number of stories involving systematic and official (or near-official) attempts at brainwashing students or discriminating teachers and students that have the “wrong” opinions. One example is how “disposition” investigationse are used to exclude future teachers who are not PC enough. Not merely are there attempts to ban them from teaching, but actually to deny them the degree that they have studied for—irrespective of their academic results, based solely on their private opinions.

To make matters worse, some of the “correct” opinions are highly disputable: Most notably, “social justice” tends to be intrinsically linked with equality of outcome. This, in turn, is inherently incompatible with equality of opportunity—and equality of opportunity is to me the corner stone, the sine qua non, of justice (in the true, “non-social”, sense), equality, and fairness. http://www.thefire.org/article/11420.htmle

Lack of consistency between ethics and actions—“You would do the same!”

It is far from uncommon to be met with the argument “You would do the same in that situation. [Implicitly: Therefore, there is nothing wrong with doing so.]” (with many variations) when discussing the ethics of a particular behaviour. This post is mostly intended as standard answer to give to those who follow this, in my eyes, highly naive line of argumentation.

I argue the following:

  1. That someone else would also act in a certain manner in a certain situation does not make that action ethical—it can equally point to human fallibility. Speaking for myself, I make no pretense of being infallible, and I readily admit that it is easier to preach than to practice.

  2. Such hypothetical situations can be dangerous; in particular, because there is often a great difference between what people say that they would do and what they actually would do. (For a number of reasons, including lying, honest mis-estimation, inconsistent actions and opinions from event to event, considerable dependency on circumstances, and the possibility that an unthinking “auto-pilot” action takes place.)

    In contrast, the use of well-formulated ethical dilemmas asking for what is right and wrong (not “What would you do?”) can be a valuable guide.

  3. Similar dangers arise from the fact that behaviour in specific situations will vary from person to person. For the same reason, “You would do the same.” is often even an incorrect argument, and certainly not generally convincing.

    Individual opinions on ethics are perfectly legitimate, and unavoidable, but more abstract reasoning can make them smaller and less arbitrary.

  4. There is typically more than one side to any issue and merely focusing on what one party would do cannot generally lead to a conclusion about what is right and wrong.

    A specific example: Picture yourself on an aeroplane with all engines malfunctioning. As one of two passengers, you have the opportunity to grab the one parachute and survive—or you can give the parachute to the other passenger and take a (hypothetically) 10 % chance of surviving the emergency landing. In this situation, the “You would do the same!” argument may seem plausible to you—but now picture yourself in the shoes of the other passenger instead...

    Note in particular the Golden Rulew.

  5. Case specific reasoning can easily create an inconsistent “system” of ethics, with analogous situations being treated very differently based on unimportant circumstances and superficially differences, and where broad and general rules are replaced by a large set of detailed regulations. Compare the following hypothetical rule sets:

    It is wrong to steal, unless considered necessary in order to avert a danger to life and limb or damage which is disproportionally larger than the damage caused by the theft. In the latter cases, due care must be taken to minimize the damage to the owner.

    It is wrong to steal, unless the theft is of a boat to rescue someone drowning, but only if there is no other means to save him; or of a chainsaw to cut someone out from under a fallen tree, but ...; or of ..., but ...; [and so on ad nauseam].

  6. Humans are generally far too driven by instinct and egoism for them to be considered (naturally) ethical, and ethics is therefore best agreed upon in advance, from an abstract and disengaged “ivory tower” POV, and not left to the individual in the moment. (Where “ivory tower”, in this specific use, should not be taken to deny the value of previous practical and personal experiences of various sides and issues—quite the contrary.)

I stress that the above is directed at those who look for ethical justification or try to divert criticism—not those who are willing to admit to ethical fallibility or to egoism. (Nor those who can give an ethical justification by other means.)

In a close parallel, I have heard the dangerous variation that ones “true” ethics, what one truly believes to be right and wrong, would only be revealed in a time of need. This, of course, makes a mockery of the concept of ethics—and is often hypocritical: It amounts to saying that the speaker never violates his ethics, never commits a wrongful act, but only adapts his understanding of right and wrong. A more self-insightful approach would be to realize that he is not perfectly moral, that he is human, that he occasionally does things that he should not do.

Calvin and Hobbes—the problems with schooling

I am a regular critic of the traditional school system (cf. e.g. [1]), and the topic has surfaced very often during my blog readings the last few months. Correspondingly, it was on my mind as I re-read some Calvin and Hobbesw comics, and I was struck by how well Calvin illustrates some of the common problems. This is particularly clear when we compare Calvin (exaggerated boy) and Susie (stereotypical girl) with an eye on how the school systems in many countries are systematically to the disadvantage of boys.

Susie does what the teacher says, she wants (or feels compelled by external forces) to excel in school, and she has the ability to sit still and concentrate for the required time (unless disturbed by Calvin...); further, on the balance of probabilities, she appears to enjoy school or, at least, have no major non-school interests that are compromised by school.

Calvin, in contrast, overflows with energy and ideas, has an extraordinary fantasy, countless interests—and is bored to tears by school. Notably, even when he is physically present in class, he tends to be mentally absent—and he does not appear to learn anything near what would be needed to justify the time spent.

School may be adequat, possibly even good, for Susie; however, for Calvin, it is a waste of time and energy, a dreadful dreariness that likely even hinders his development.

Calvin would, at least at the age depicted in the comic, be better of outside of school (and so would school, I suspect). To put him on Ritalin would be a horrifying crime, a chaining of a tiger that should roam free—yet, Ritalin is what many schools would demand by default, in order to “treat” him.

What Calvin needs is not school, but education—and this education can be reached by other means, adapted to his specific characteristics. Notably, he has a very sharp mind when he applies it, and his knowledge of dinosaurs shows that he does not have a learning problem when he is motivated to learn (and that he is capable of learning without a teacher).

Predicting the future success in life and intellectual development of two fictitious 6 year-olds is chancy; however, I very, very strongly suspect that Calvin is the one who will achieve more of the two. This unless poor school grades, lack of conformity, or a preference for his own company give a too poor impression among superficial judges in his surroundings—or school breaks his spirit and hampers his development... Susie, on the very outside, could become a middle manager (and probably a poor and rule-bound one). More likely, she would be a dull teacher or a comparatively entry level office worker or civil servant. Calvin could be so much more, e.g. a successful author, a (good) politician, or a college professor (paradoxical only to those narrow-minded where schooling are concerned)—of course, depending on his exact abilities and interests later in life.

When similar points are made by me or others, a common counter-argument is that school is just a matter of biting the bullet, and that he who does not only has himself to blame. (Disturbingly often by teachers...) This argument is faulty on at least three counts: Firstly, it presumes too much of younger children. Secondly, it need not be a realistic strategy for humans of any age (they are, after all, humans—not robots). Thirdly, school is extremely inefficient even for those who do bite the bullet. Those who do not happen to be in the ideal range of the one-size-fits-all-poorly schooling (or happen to receive special attention, home schooling, acceleration, whatnot) will have a poor return on the invested time—no matter how hard they bite the bullet. Indeed, the possibly gravest mistake of those in favour of traditional schooling is to fail to consider the horrifyingly large opportunity costw of school—be it with regard to other ways of spending time (in general) or of gaining an education (in particular); or to how the tax-payers money are spent.

As odd as it may seem: I strongly recommend that anyone who intends to state an opinion on schools or the educational system first reads up on (and actually gains an understanding of) Calvin, his world-view, his school situation, whatnot.

Price segmentation

About six months ago, I encountered a blog on price discrimination at hair-salonse. With one late-comer stating that “This is an aspect I hope to explore in my research on gender-based price discrimination for my microeconomics class at Harvard University.”, it is high time for me to write a long-planned post on price segmentation—which is the true explanation behind this discrimination: Women, as a group, are willing to pay more, and that is the reason for the difference in prices. (See also below and some of my comments in the original discussion.)

To illustrate the principle of price segmentation, assume that a company manufactures a three-geared bicycle and wants to determine the right price: If a higher price is chosen then each bicycle sold will give a higher profit—but fewer people will be willing (or, at all, able) to buy it. Assume that the number of bicycles sold at a certain price in Euro is n(p) = 100,000 - 200p and that the total cost of manufacture, marketing, etc. amounts to 300 Euro/bicycle. (These are unrealistic and simplistic assumptions, but they serve well as an illustration.) We can now write the profit as (100,000 - 200p) (p - 300 ) = 160,000p - 200p^2 - 30,000,000

Starting with a price of 0, we have a pleasing 100,000 bicycles “sold”—but a horrifying loss of 30,000,000 Euro. No wonder: Each bicycle gives a severe minus. Using the realistic minimum price (= the cost) of 300 Euro, we see a profit of 0, at 40,000 units sold. Now, by increasing the price by 1 Euro, we can increase the profit by almost 40,000 Euro—gaining 1 Euro from each of 39,800 bicycles, instead of 0 Euro from 40,000. Another price increase brings almost the same amount (39,400), for a total of 39,600 bicycles at a gain of 2 Euros each and 79,200 Euro in all. Another Euro gives another 39,000 and a total of 118,200. Etc.

Increasing the price further and further gives a growing profit—we have fewer buyers, but a greater profit per buyer. At a price of 400 Euro, a full 2 million Euro from 20,000 items is reached. Here, however, we have a maximum: Increasing the price further leads to a smaller profit, as the loss of customers has a greater effect than the price gain. Indeed, at 500 Euro, the profit is back at zero, because not one single bicycle is sold. (The mathematical function works for even higher prices, with an increasing loss, but is now entirely unrealistic—we cannot sell a negative number of bicycles.)

This makes the manufacturer very sad: He knows that there are people willing to pay more than 400 Euro—but he cannot charge them more without losing other customers and reducing his profits. He also knows that there are people who do not buy at all at 400 Euro who would be willing to do so at a lower price—but he cannot lower the price without lowering his profit on the existing customers.

Or can he? Yes, he can! This is where price segmentation comes in: People with different willingness to pay are charged different prices for varying reasons, some based on actual value added, some on different needs, some on stupidity or gullibility on behalf of the customer, some on border-line (or outright) fraud.

Among the many options available to the manufacturer, he chooses the following: He manufactures an ungeared basic model for 250 Euro to be sold at a price of 300 Euro, the old model at the old cost and price, and a “de luxe” bicycle with twelve gears at cost of 350 and a price of 500 Euro. Now he has his previous profit, plus the additional profit from those willing to pay extra, plus the additional profit from those who can now afford the inferior bicycle. (However, also with a minus from those who would previously have bought the mid-ranged bicycle, but now opt for the low-end one. Minimizing such losses is a question for another discussion, but take note of factors like perceived status, brand recognition, deterrents in form of artificial quality reductions, whatnot.)

To give an indication of how powerful price segmentation can be: What profit would result if every potential customer bought a bicycle at the highest possible price using the original function? We then have to add 200 * 0 at 500 Euro, 199 * 200 at 499, 198 * 200 at 498, ..., 1 * 200 at 301, and 0 * 200 at 300—amounting to 4 million Euro, to be compared with the original 2 million. (Where we assume that all prices are integers. Allowing prices like e.g. 300.94 makes no change in the big picture, but would lead to more complicated calculations and, possibly, the need to discuss assumptions about fractional bicycles.)

Examples of price segmentation can be found everywhere: In the cereal aisle in a supermarket, in a computer store, at the hair-dressers, ... Some examples can be less obvious, my two favourites being DVDs and books:

DVDs are originally sold at very high prices, often more than 20 Euros at release. Those very eager, irrational, or wealthy buy at that price. The price then drops by and by, with those less eager, irrational, and wealthy eventually buying at a lower price. In the end a DVD may be dumped for 5 Euros or less, before it disappears from the market—or is marked up again, because the decision is made that it is better to refocus on the true fans and late comers willing to pay a higher price than on the masses.

Books, OTOH, are divided into hard-cover and pocket books: They both have their advantages and disadvantages (and I, personally, consider the pocket book to be the superior format in most cases), but the former sells for thrice the price of the latter. Why then does anyone buy hard-cover? Easy: The hard-cover books are released about a year earlier, and the true segmentation (as with DVDs) is one of time: The customer pays for the privilege of reading the book earlier—not any inherit superiority of the hard-cover format.

Even rebates to seniors, children, and students are usually done with an eye at price segmentation (although altruism and PR can be factors): Customers who would otherwise be hard-pressed to pay are given a leg up; others still pay the full price.

Returning to the example with hair-cuts: Why would women be charged more? Because of a patriarchal conspiracy? No. The true reason is simply that men and women, as groups, are willing to pay different amounts of money for a given hair-related service (and that they often want different services). Correspondingly, it makes good business sense to segment the market based on the sex of the customer: Increase the price for men and they will desert to self-service land; do so for women and they will remain as customers—with the occasional complaint about too high or unfair prices. Similarly, women are more likely to go to a fancy “hair architect”, while men tend towards someone who admits to being a cutter of hair; women want extras of various kind; men want it plain and simple; etc.

As an aside, the issues of competition and niches is very important in practice. For instance, in the original example, the presence of a competitor selling an equivalent or superior bike at 390 Euro could give the function n(p) a radically different look when that price was approached, possibly making the original “ideal” price of 400 Euro entirely unrealistic. It would also be possible that the three given market segments would each be dominated by a different manufacturer.

Trolling or honest interest?

Every now and then, I encounter a particular type of commenter who puzzles me:

She (women appear to dominate) asks a vaguely formulated (or otherwise open to interpretation) question, without giving any actual input to the discussion, awaits the resulting answers—and limits her involvement to statements like “Please clarify.” and other means of eliciting further reactions from other readers. Often this is combined with a statement of having an “honest interest” in others opinions.

Now: Is this a subtle form of trolling or really a sign of honest interest?

To give a specific example: I am currently semi-involved in a Swedish discussion on objectification, how women’s looks affect their career chances, and similare. A late-comer to the discussion is the commenter “Tanja”, whose three comments to date (in translation, no attempts to improve the original language) consist of:

I have not had managed [bothered, had the endurance] to read all the comments right now, but I wonder one thing. You men who are annoyed [angered] about good-looking women having advantages - how much time, work, and money do you invested in looking good? [I contend that she has misunderstood what the men actually say, but that is a different matter.]

Michaeleriksson:
The thinking with me is that there is obviously an opinion that men are disadvantaged in the area “get advantages for being good looking and sexy”. I wonder how many of the men who complain over not having access to a lot of privileges like good-looking women have themselves tried to look good. I am genuinely curious.

AW:
As exalted as over what? Feel free to explain.
Besides this I still would like to have an answer to my question.

This with regard to a long comment thread and three comments (two by me) explicitly addressing her—the shortest of which is longer than her own longest.

Publishing of censored comment

I am currently involved in a discussion on a German bloge, where the following comment has been censored without a stated reason:

Ich habe selten so viele Fehlschlüße, Faktenfehler, offensichtlich inkorrekte Argumente, und Weigerungen Argumente anderer zu entgegnen gesehen, wie bei dem Piratenweib. Mit diesem üblen Kreationismuspropaganda, die Evolution ist ein Theorie—und somit, per Implikation, nicht Fakt!—geht es aber langsam zu weit.

Ich weise auf http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory hin, wo erläutert wird, was eine Theorie ist. Ich zitiere insbesondere, aus dem Zweiten Hand, eine doppelt relevante Aussage:

A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not “guesses” but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than “just a theory.” It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

To do damage control, I re-publish it here. I note that the author would have done very well to pay attention to this comment—but that she utterly fails to do so.

I may or may not write a later blog entry detailing some of the disturbing ideas and errors of reasoning she has presented in her post and the ensuing discussion.

International Men’s Day

In March, I wrote about the intense attention the International Women’s Day received in Sweden, also stating

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...

Well, November 19 is at our door again—and I almost missed it, despite having intended to write a post on the issue... In all fairness, I have not really paid attention to media the last few days, but I doubt that I would have missed a media attention of the size the Women’s Day had.

I recommend that those who are interested throw an eye at the Wikipedia articlew. To everyone I give the recommendation to use the 19th to contemplate that there are men in this world who have problems too—indeed, in some countries, e.g. Sweden, a strong case can be made that women have the better deal.

Two measures—both alike in quackery

When I land in discussions of IQ, it is often manifestly clear that two thirds of the debaters have no clue about the topic. In an attempt to straighten out a few question marks, I will below present an analogy. The topic as a whole is far too wide for a single blog post, but I can recommend IQ Comparison Sitee and some of La Griffe du Lion’s writingse to those who want a basic introduction respectively some discussion of other aspects. (There is plenty of more material on the Internet, including academic papers. Google is your friend.)

Now, one of the most common ways of dismissing IQ is to point out that there are high-IQ people who have failed utterly and that there are low-IQ people who have succeeded—“obviously” IQ is just quackery.

IMO, a very appropriate analogy is height in basket ball. Consider that:

  1. Countless other factors play in, including how hard and well the athlete trains (the two are far from the same...), what his physical characteristics in other areas are, how he fits in the team—and whether he is at all interested in basket ball.

  2. It is possible to be an NBA player without being tall: Muggsy Boguesw played for 14 seasons at a mere 5 ft 3 in (1.60 m). (Numbers here and elsewhere copied from Wikipedia.)

  3. Great height is no guarantee for anything: Robert Wadloww stood a full 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m)—but was hard-pressed to walk. Despite being the tallest man on historic record, theoretically able to dunk while keeping his heels solidly on the floor, he never played an NBA game.

  4. Michael Jordanw, by many considered the greatest player of all times, was far shorter, at 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m).

Obviously, height in basket ball is just quackery...

No: As anyone who thinks the situation through, looks at more statistics about height (e.g. heree), considers the advantages under the basket, whatnot, soon realizes, great height is a major advantage and lack of height is corresponding disadvantage. This in particular when considering the statistics in light of how few men reach 7 feet compared to those who reach 6 feet.

In conclusion, I will look at two side-issues:

  1. I have seen speculated that there is a certain “comfort interval” of roughly 30 IQ points within which people are sufficiently compatible to handle each other well: Someone with an IQ of 130 gets along well with people down to roughly 100, but has problems with those at 90; someone with an IQ of a 160 plays well down to 130, but has problems with someone at 120; etc. (Obviously, there is unlikely to be an abrupt change, but rather a gradual worsening.) This can go a long way to explain why many of the very highly intelligent have problems in life, including mental issues, problems in romance, surprisingly poor career developments, whatnot. (Speaking for myself: Yes, I find that when I am too far ahead of someone else, communication problems, differences in interests and world-view, etc., become disproportionally likely.)

  2. Feynmanw is often taken as an example of an “ordinary” man who became a Nobel-prize winning physicist—his IQ being “only” 125.

    Apart from 125 being more than one-and-a-half standard deviations above the mean, this number is highly likely to be misleading. Consider e.g. that anyone can have a bad day and score low, that he may not have taken the test seriously, or that he may have had his mind elsewhere, causing careless mistakes. Notably, I have spent a lot of time solving puzzles of various kinds (including questions from real IQ tests), and have found it to be important to know what level of difficulty the puzzle has: Different difficulties require different approaches and meta-reasoning—and a world-leading physicist could easily have over-estimated the difficulty of the questions.

    Most notably, many IQ tests have a strong verbal component (the more so in the past) and there is reason to suspect that Feynman’s verbal IQ was far from stellar. At the same time, a physicist needs math ability, spatial thinking, and similar. Going by the books by him that I have read, I would only be mildly surprised to hear him going below 100 in verbal IQ—and shocked if he went above average + one standard deviation (i.e. roughly 115). He may then very well have had mathematical and visio-spatial IQs and a “g” on a genius level while still scoring just 125 overall.

    Certainly, based on his books and accomplishments, Feynman was very, very far from average in raw intelligence—and a claimed IQ of 125 would point to a test that needed refinement or something having gone wrong. (Note that this would hold true even if IQ was a more flawed proxy of intelligence than I consider it to be: A man on his level should have no problem scoring higher on a well-made IQ test, be it in my world or in the world of Stephen Jay Gould.)

Apartment frauds

I am currently looking for a new apartment (my current being both over-priced and provided by a less than white-vested landlord—he, however, is not the topic of this post). Doing so, I stumbled upon an everything-included 65 m^2 apartment at a mere 300 Euro—not entirely unheard of, even in the middle of Cologne, but certainly a rarity where some catch could be suspected: Possibly, the location was smack on top of a discotheque? Possibly, the ad was a bait-and-switch from a dubious realtor?

No: A first electronic contact resulted in a return email, describing how the apartment’s owner, Laurentiu Marian Ganea, had to relocate to London for a few years and needed to let the apartment.

All-in-all, not entirely implausible, but with an added tale of the sole key being in London with the owner and a discrepancy in the names used, the situation remained suspect. I refrained from an early judgement, however: The great amount of detail included seemed to give the offer some realism.

Now, in a first step, I wrote a pleasing email, wanting to live up to the owner’s stated “perfect person” criterion (I would certainly be highly selective in his shoes). Within 12 minutes of sending, I received a surprisingly lengthy answer that made me very, very suspicious: The problem with the key was solved, UPS would handle this through some sort of escrow and, by all appearances, he had settled on me as his tenant. Really? Would anyone in his right mind give the key to an apartment with electronics and furniture in it to a complete stranger? Why was he not more choosy, considering that he could offer an extremely good deal, which should have had the people lined up to apply? Why did he seem to stress the benefits of quick action? Even with his relocation issues...

(Also, the UPS solution is slightly suspect, in and by it self, UPS being a not uncommon tool for fraudsters.)

Next step: See if his name was known to detective Google. It was. One page declared him the new star on the fraudster skye.

Well, as the saying goes: If it seems too good to be true...

As an aside, in the future, I will likely consult detective Google at an early stage as a matter of course. The time wasted on a failed search is shorter than that wasted on writing emails or hunting someone down on the telephone.

Avoid bit.ly and similar services

I find myself writing yet another comment advising against use of bit.ly and other link-shortening or redirecting services. For easier future reference, I publish the core of the comment here instead:

bit.ly and similar services should be avoided: Many of us wish to have an idea where we are going before we click on a link, these third-party services can (at least in theory) be used to spy on or mess with the surfers, and there is an increased risk of phishing, rick-rolling, lemon-partying, whatnot.

The one good thing that bit.ly does is to shorten URLs in contexts (notably plain-text emails) where the length could be a problem. In WordPress this does not apply, however, seeing that normal “a href” constructs can be used. For that matter, speaking for myself, I would rather take the full URL even in an email.

Reversing the accusation

Something that has occurred to me again and again in discussions with feminists, creationists, and similar groups, is that they like to accuse others of exactly the errors they themselves excel in making. Often (but not always) their accusations are also unfounded or very exaggerated. In at least some cases, they even try to reverse criticism in an odd manner. Below, I will give some recent examples by the Swedish commenter “Tuggmotstånd” (“Chewing resistance”), all made on a blog that tries to counter-act the disproportionate emphasis on women’s issue and women’s perspective in Swedish society, when compared to men’s.

From http://genusnytt.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/genusperspektiv-pa-en-jarnbalk/e:

[...] men det känns också som att du frånser förhållanden som många kvinnor lever/har levt under när du anlägger dina sk. ”genusperspektiv”.

([...] but it feels like you neglect the circumstance that many women live/have lived under when you apply your so called “gender perspectives”.)

The blog entry (to which this was a reply) was obviously ironical and pointing to how Swedish feminists apply gender-perspectives and come to the conclusion that women are poor victims. Between the lines, the blog entry said “Feminist gender-perspectives tend to overlook that men have problems too.”, while her explicit reply amounted to “You overlook that women have problems too.”—making the reply almost surreal.

Note: It appears to me, from the sum of her comments, that Tuggmotstånd has not in any way understood the intents and contents of the blog entry.

Jo, men just nu känns det som att Ström söker intensivt med lykta efter saker att haka upp sig på.

(Yes, but now it feels like Ström [the blogger] is intensively searching [original idiom both misformulated and untranslatable] for things to get hanged up on.)

He does not: He picks from the many and easily found examples that illustrate how Swedish feminists, gender “scientists”, politicians, newspapers, whatnot, behave—including how feminists seem to be deliberately searching for things to get hanged up on... (Indeed, in the form of gender-glassese, this search borders on an official recommendation.)

Jag blir frustrerad över att någon som inte har verktygen och perspektiven hänger sig åt denna blogg, men lämnar alla problem orörda på ytan. Det är synd om män bara, men ni vill helst inte ha några svar på varför.

(I become frustrated over that someone who does not have the tools [read: is involved in gender-studies] and perspectives [read: the women’s/feminists’/gender-glassed perspectives, or similar] dedicates himself to this blog, but leaves all problems untouched on the surface. Men are just to be pitied [in her view of the message of the blog], but you do not like to know why.)

One of the main criticisms of gender-feminism is exactly that it paints a picture where women are to be pitied, but an attempt to explain why is often missing (or only filled by a cliche or an unsupported claim). Similarly, one of the main criticisms of gender studies is that its “researchers” are lacking in tools (including scientific methods and critical thinking) and perspectives (other than their own, personal, perspective or that of women as a group—respectively, what they perceive to be the perspective of women as a group).

From http://genusnytt.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/las-juristens-svar-till-genusnytt/e:

Jag har en fråga till er:

Skulle ni ställa er lika negativa till en positiv särbehandling för män inom yrkesgrupper där män är underrepresenterade?

(I have a question for you:

Would you be as negative to affirmative action for men in professions where men are underrepresented?)

This comment was made on a post that discussed the hypocritical treatment of men and women were affirmative action is concerned: When women are underrepresented, affirmative action is seen as positive; when men are, affirmative action is suddenly an inacceptable injustice. (Specifically, this case dealt with an affirmative action program to increase the number of female professors; and should be seen in the light of an affirmative action program to increase the number of male psychology students being struck down earlier in the year—with considerable complaints about unfairness against women.)

In effect, the blogger says “Feminists and the like have a double-standard where affirmative action is concerned.”—and her reply is to imply that the blogger and the majority of the commenters only are upset because men were disadvantaged in this particular instance (i.e. that they have a double-standard). (As with the previously discussed post, I strongly suspect that Tuggmotstånd simply did not understand the message. Notably, she otherwise appears to misinterpret a very significant proportion of the statements others make.)

Detsamma. Mer otrevlig person har jag sällan mött på.

(Ditto. A more unpleasant person I have rarely encountered.)

Her reply to my statement that I would likely leave further comments by her unanswered—after she from go and without any reasonable excuse had used personal attacks and expletives, distorted my statements, and committed a number of gross errors of reasoning. (While my own tone certainly adapted to her behaviour, I did remain factual and ad rem, except as answer to a preceding ad hominem attack.)

Generally, Tuggmotstånd is herself very prone to personal attacks, displays of ignorance, unfounded claims of superior knowledge, errors of reasoning, etc.—and equally prone to accuse others of exactly these errors. In this, she is a muster example for this post.

Rape statistics

Due to the (in my impression so far) absurd arrest of Julian Assange, I have seen a number of recent threads around the topic of rape. There are several oft repeated faulty claims made that I wish to address here, based on a stereotypical comment. Unfortunately, the post and the comment threade appear to have been deleted in the mean time, but to summarize from memory:

  1. Only 2 % of all rape charges are false. [Very, very incorrect.]

  2. Only one in five of all rapes are reported. [Impossible to know, but very likely an exaggerated claim.]

  3. Only 10 % of all reports lead to a conviction. [Semi-true, but highly misleading.]

  4. Rape accusers are treated worse than the alleged rapist, have problems through not being believed, or similar. [Very incorrect and/or misleading.]

My original reply (translated to English):

The “2 %” claim is no longer taken seriously and there is reason to believe that it simply is made up (cf. the links below). Even the claim that only one in five rapes is reported is very far from being a consensus number, and could very well be something that feminists babble about for rhetorical purposes.

A quick search for “false rape charges” gave, among others, the following links:

http://www.falserape.net/false-rape.htme

http://www.falserape.net/falserapeafa.htme

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,194032,00.htmle

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/crimprof_blog/2004/12/2_false_rape_st.htmle

http://www.billoblog.com/?p=134e

(In addition, I recommend http://falserapearchives.blogspot.com/2010/01/false-rape-primer.htmle as a source for further links.)

To dig a little deeper:

  1. Claims about false reports and under-reporting:

    The true rate of false reports is at a minimum 20 % and may be as high as 60–70 % based on the above links. To note, however, is that a false accusation is not always made deliberately, but (depending on the definitions used in any particular piece of research) can include mistakes of identity made in good faith. This distinction is of low relevance when it comes to “innocent until proved guilty”, but is important to bear in mind in other contexts—e.g. when some feminist commenter starts a rant about how misogynistic it would be to claim that half of all rape accusers are liars.

    The “one in five” is possibly caused by feminist mis-definitions of “rape” to include things that the law, a sensible person, and the alleged victim herself, do not consider anything of the kind. Notably, it is not uncommon for such mis-definitions to artificially inflate the number of claimed rapes to several times its true size.

    An interesting perspective is provided by a post that I encountered a few months ago, which contained roughly the following line of discussion (I apologize for not being able to give due credit):

    If the probability of a man committing a rape is p-rape and the likelihood that a woman will raise a false accusation is p-false, and further assuming that the two factoids of 2 % and one in five are true, then the number of reported rapes per male (or female) citizen is roughly 0.2 * p-rape + p-false. Further, by assumption, the quotient (0.2 * p-rape) / p-false would be 0.98 / 0.02 = 49. By implication, p-rape = 245 * p-false. In other words, men would have to be 245 (!!!) times more likely to commit rapes than women to make a false accusation—a claim that is so patently absurd and misandristic that the mind boggles.

    Even running through this calculation with a non-false report rate of 50 % (instead of 20 %) and a false report rate of 20 % (the minimum from serious investigations, instead of 2 %), we land at p-rape = 8 * f-false. In other words, men would still need to be eight times more prone to commit rapes than women to commit false accusations. Based on my experiences with men and women to date, I find this extremely hard to believe, and am correspondingly inclined to assume that the rate of false accusations is noticeably higher than 20 % (and possibly that the report rate is noticeably above 50 %—under no reasonable circumstances can it be the lowly 20 % claimed by some feminist propagandists). Here, however, it can make a difference whether deliberate false accusation or false accusations in general are discussed (cf. above).

  2. Conviction rates:

    I have been unable to find Swedish statistics (the alleged 10 % was with reference to Sweden) on short notice; however, I did find a very interesting article on the British situatione, where alleged numbers of just 10 % and 6.5 % are discussed. In a nut-shell: The true rate of conviction, after removing e.g. instances ruled as “no crime”, is roughly 50 %. The 10 % number is here referred to as “rate of attrition”, to which the article gives the following numbers for murder, rape, and “violence against the person”: 14 %, 6.5 %, and 4 %. Correspondingly, the rate is by no means remarkable. When considering the higher rate of false accusations for rape, the greater practical problems to provide proof that a crime has at all taken place, the possibility that a conviction is made for a lesser crime (cf. snoozeofreason’s comment to the article), whatnot, my subjective impression is that the rate for rape is higher than it should be when using other crimes as a baseline. I strongly recommend reading the linked-to article.

    The greatest error here, however, is to make the a priori assumption that almost all accused are guilty and to claim that a conviction/attrition rate of 10 % would imply that the justice system is defect. Notably, it is equally possible to turn the situation around and see the low conviction/attrition rate as a proof of many false accusations.

    More generally, a high conviction/attrition rate is only good when “false positives” can be kept down: Achieving a “perfect” conviction rate would not be hard, but doing so would fill the prisons with innocent people. Making convictions is not an end in it self—what matters is sentencing so many guilty as possible without putting innocent people in prison.

  3. Treatment of the accusers and the accused:

    Frankly, this sounds mostly like yet another case of feminists claiming the exact opposite of the truth with the philosophy that if a lie is repeated often enough, it is eventually taken to be the truth. (For a discussion of some other common examples, see an earlier post. Note also my recent post on Reversing the accusation, which deals with a similar subject.)

    There may, obviously, be great variations from country to country, but in Sweden and the US (cf. e.g. the Duke Lacrosse casee) the opposite problem of presumption of guilt, lack of due process, findings of guilt based solely on the accusers claims, and similar appear to be more common. Notably, in some countries, rape-shield laws and similar mechanisms can even make an inequality in front of the law (to the disadvantage of men) near unavoidable.

    It is important to note that the alleged “poor treatment” is often nothing more than normal investigative techniques used against anyone raising an accusation of crime: The police, the DA, the defense, must all be entitled to ask questions to probe for contradictions and implausible statements in order to get to the truth—and this must be so for all crimes or the justice system will fail as innocent people are jailed and deliberate false accusations rise. Rape cannot and must not be an exception to this.

    (Indeed, I have even repeatedly heard complaints that use of the word “alleged”, non-use of the words “victim” and “offender”, and similar, would constitute mistreatment—claims that themselves are a horrifying neglect of the legal principle of “innocent until proved guilty”, intellectual honesty, and, frankly, basic human decency.)

    The fact that (in Sweden) 38 % of all judges, 48 % of all prosecutors, and two thirds of all legal students are women makes the claim that rape accusers would be poorly treated even harder to defend—unless we assume that this mistreatement would largely stem from other women... (Numbers from 2008e; the current numbers are likely to be even higher.)

Remark: Note that it is very important to be cautious when interpreting various surveys, statistics, etc., concerning crimes. Not only do we have the problem of feminist distortions, but also one of different criteria and definitions, uncritical handling of sources, and similar. A particular important factor is time: The number (both absolute and relative) of horse and cattle thieves in the “Wild West” is likely to be considerably lower today than two hundred years ago. Similarly, any other statistic that is not reasonably recent must be re-investigated before being brought in as a hard fact—including crime rates, report rates, speculations on unreported crime, etc., from even just a few decades ago.

Blogroll update

During my searches for the last entry, I found one very interesting post titled Rape Laws: dismantling of due process explained step by stepe.

Going through the rest of the blog, aptly named after its topics, Human Stupiditye, I have found a large number of other entries of value, including on e.g.:

Feminist hypocrisye and one-sided “equality”, which ties in well with with many of my own writings, including on Anna Ardin and Reversing the accusation.

PC abuse of languagee, specifically redefinition of rape. See also my entries on e.g. racism.

Critique of feminist anti-prostitution argumentse. This post also makes a point that I have speculated on for some time, namely that the true motivation for the anti-porn/-prostitution movement among feminists (or, possibly, women in general) is the building of a sex monopoly, where men are dependent on having and sucking-up to a girl-friend or wife. See also my article on Sex and power.

Pedophile witchhuntse. Also discussed by me on several occasions (at least [1], [2]).

By the FIFO principle, Ethics Alarmse is removed. That blog was first described here.

Wrong-headed belief in claimed expertise

During my journeys in the blogosphere, I am often confronted with a wrong-headed belief in alleged experts on this and that. Gender-studies (and other variations of PC studies) is a particularly strong source of examples; others include homeopathy, parapsychology, and various charlatans. Typical examples include e.g. “X has spent 20 years doing Y and must know what he is talking about—who cares that scientists claim that he is wrong!”, “It is presumptuous of people from without the field to make judgments about the field or its practitioners.” (see an excellent Swedish examplee; I have a longer piece on this in mind, but never seem to get around to writing it), “Those who have not studied gender-science lack the tools to think about issues around gender/sex [men and women, the male role, whatnot].”.

There are at least three major issues involved:

  1. The claimed knowledge is often not what it should be: Too many “experts” do not actually know much about the field. Too many others draw their knowledge from faulty sources, e.g. by learning about the stars from books on astrology rather than astronomy.

  2. Raw knowledge is rarely enough for true expertise: Understanding is also needed—and all too many ostensible experts lack the intelligence too develop a true understanding. Indeed, it is not uncommon that a new-comer with a better mind can spot errors, misunderstandings, whatnot, after having been exposed to the matter for a small fraction of the time. (Also note that an outsider’s perspective can often be valuable even to true experts.)

  3. Similarly, even understanding is not always enough, but can have its value severely limited if the expert lacks the intelligence to actually apply the expertise in a correct manner, draw correct conclusions when confronted with new situations, understand basic reasoning about various results, and so on.

With some over-simplification, it could be said that expertise consists of two components—intelligence and knowledge. The problem then is that the naive correctly conclude that intelligence alone is not enough, but fail to realize that neither is knowledge alone. Further, as said above, the intelligent new-comer can often outdo the unintelligent veteran in at least some areas. This, obviously, is a reason for why those lacking in intelligence tend to go with arguments by authority, while those with more intelligence tend to wish for actual proofs, explanations, and (ad rem) arguments—a true expert would not need to refer to his expertise, but would actually be willing and able to explain why he thinks he is right.

To take two specific example:

  1. The claim that women earn 77 cents on the dollar when compared to men:

    The point is not whether this claim is true or not—but whether it gives the right picture. (As discussed in the linked-to page, it does not.) It does not matter whether there are even one hundred scientific (let alone ideologically motivated “scientific”) investigations showing the uninterpreted numbers to be correct. It does not matter how many people with a degree in gender-studies who claim that this claim gives the right picture. What matters is that simple thinking, combined with some additional facts, shows the claim to be misleading. If the “true believers” fail to do this simple thinking, or reject the result for ideological reasons, then they only discredit themselves—not the thinking.

  2. The claim that homeopathy works:

    Even a layman can soon gather enough knowledge to make some basic observations that are highly troublesome for homeopaths—including that there is no known mechanism by which homeopathy could have a medical effect; that the higher the quality of the study, the lower the measured value of homeopathy; and that there are a number of mechanisms (placebo effect, better “human” treatment of patients, co-incidence, ...) by which homeopathy can seem to work, while having no medical value, which make anecdotal evidence and trials with weak methodology near useless.

    The above is not enough to rule out that homeopathy works, but it is enough even for a layman to reject at least some pro-homeopathy arguments, to remain highly skeptical, and to lay the burden of proof solidly on the homeopaths.

    (Of course, those who dig even deeper see even more reason to remain skeptical—to the point that homeopathy almost certainly can be considered nonsense.)

Finally, it pays to bear in mind that even the true experts, the best of the best, with the knowledge, the understanding, and the intelligence, are still only human. They are not infallible gods, they are often wrong when it comes to details or new areas of investigation, and they are, themselves, well aware of this.

Muslim Creationists lacking in intellectual honesty

I recently commented on a Muslim blog claiming to have rational evidence for the existence of Gode. (They did not, not even close.) I left a brief comment there—this comment, and those of others, appear to be censored in a grossly intellectually dishonest way.

I quote from what the blog owners say in their own comment:

Es fehlt uns die Zeit allen, welche bei diesem Thema einen Kommentar hinterlassen haben (es sind ca.10), zu antworten.

(We do not have the time to answer everyone (there are about 10) who has left a comment to this topic.)

There is no need to individually answer all comments and not being able to answer is no excuse for not publishing—on the contrary, it is far worse than publishing an unanswered comment. I further note that there is not an excessive amount of work per head involved for several people to answer ten comments (should they see the need). For that matter, why was the solution not chosen to pick a smaller number of comments and reply specifically to these.

The true reason, then, is in all likelihood the suppression of dissent.

Bei allen Kommentaren haben wir gemerkt, dass man gar nicht auf die Punkte eingegangen ist. Eher hat man mit anderen Punkten abgelenkt und lediglich behauptet, dass die Punkte, die erwähnt wurden, nicht stimmen. Bewiesen hat man es jedoch nicht.

(With all comments, we have noticed that no-one has discussed our points. Rather, they have distracted with other points and only claimed that the points that were mentioned were incorrect. Nothing was proved, however.)

Firstly, it is who he makes a claim who has to prove it—not those skeptical of the claim. Further, no-one prevented the blog owners from starting a dialog in the comments, requesting/allowing evidence. Secondly, if the points (all two of them) are wrong, there is no reason to discuss their contents before there correctness has been discussed. Thirdly, even a discussion of the correctness is a discussion and not a distraction. Fourthly, bringing in other points is not wrong (as long as they are reasonably on topic). Fifthly, if all commenters were unanimously in agreement that the points were wrong, then that should be cause to stop and reconsider: Could we be wrong? Have we explained ourselves too poorly?

Wir zwingen keinen daran zu glauben. Doch wer ein offenes Herz an, erkennt die Wahrheit.

(We force no-one to believe this. But who has an open heart, will realize the truth.)

The blog entry alleged to give rational proof. This having convinced no-one, the issue is suddenly made a matter of faith. Further, the reader is insulted through the implication that his heart would not be open.

Group characteristics vs. individual variation

In various discussions, in particular with the PC crowd, I have found at least two recurring errors concerning groups vs. individuals that are worthy of discussion:

Firstly, a highly naive conclusion (based on a correct premise): Individual variation is often greater than group differences (correct); ergo, group differences are irrelevant (very wrong), of marginal importance (very wrong), or only discussed by those who are sexist, racist, or similar (extremely wrong—and, frankly, a misstep that I find hard to comprehend).

To take a recent example from a Swedish discussione (for technical reasons, the means, but not the place, of emphasis have been altered):

I princip alla fysiologiska och psykologiska egenskaper och talanger är normalfördelade i populationen. Om man väljer att skikta det statistiska materialet utifrån kön kommer man att finna att normalfördelningskurvorna ofta skiljer sig åt mellan könen, men man kommer också att finna att de individuella variationerna är större än variationerna mellan könen.
M.a.o.: det är korkat att hävda att män är si och kvinnor så. Lika korkat som att hävda att ”män är långa och kvinnor korta”.
Vill ni tillhöra den korkade skaran kan ni förstås fortsätta att argumentera på detta vis.

(In principle, all physiological and psychological characteristics and talents follow a normal-distribution in the population. If one chooses to compare [original phrasing slightly ambiguous and not translatable] based on sex, one will find that the [distributions] are often different between the sexes, but one will also find that the individual variations are greater than the variations between the sexes.
In other words: it is stupid to claim that men are this and women that. Just as stupid as claiming that “men are tall and women short”.
If you want to belong to the stupid flock, you can obviously continue to argument like this.)

(Note here the strawman of using an unusually strong polarization: The far more typical opinions and statements would be of the type “men are taller than women”. In more detail, the claim is not correct that all characteristics follow a normal-distribution; however, very many do follow a distribution with similar characteristics—at least close to the average.)

Now, why is this line of argumentation, at best, specious? Broadly speaking, even when individual variations are large, the group variations can have a very considerable effect on group outcomes. This applies in particular when we look at groups which are dominated by individuals who (wrt at least some characteristics) belong to the upper or lower end of the distributions. Consider professors of mathematics, convicts, Olympic athletes, ... However, even in daily life, the effects can be large. I strongly recommend reading The Bell Curvew, which discusses how a great number of outcomes correlate with an implicit grouping by IQ and how groups (grouped by other criteria) with different average IQs have different outcomes. (Some of La Griffe du Lion’s writingse are also quite good—and available online.) Notably, the more equal opportunity is, the more important group characteristics become for group outcome.

An additional hitch is that not all differences are dominated by individual variation. Notably, the mere existence of special cases does not imply that individual variation is the greater factor. There are many characteristics where the difference between two groups is so large that the group difference dominates. Consider the attribute height and the groups of 5 respectively 10 y.o. children for an uncontroversial example.

Secondly, the equally naive conclusion (or evil strawman?) that those who claim that group X is Q also believe that all individual members of X are Q—or that those who claim that group X is more/less Q than group Y also believe that all individual members of X are more/less Q than all individual members of Y. There is nothing wrong with statements like “Men are taller than women.” or “Ashkenazi are intelligent.”—even if there are great individual variations: The speaker will almost certainly take the existence of exceptions for granted, assume that the reader is intelligent and informed enough to also take them for granted, and consider it a given that the statement refers to group characteristics that need not apply to any specific individual. (The rare exceptions will almost always be clear from context.)

As an aside, a principally different error with very similar consequences is to assume “all quantification” where “existence quantification” (or a middle step) was intended. During my readings of relationship forums a few years ago, e.g., I saw a great number of cases where a male poster wrote something which most likely was a “some”, on the outside a “most”, e.g. “Why do women like a-holes?”—only to be met with a barrage of “Stop generalizing! We are not all like that, you misogynist!”. The point is that an unspecified quantification is not necessarily an “all” (or even a “most”), that it is highly presumptuous to assume an “all” where it is not actually stated, and that great attention to the context must be paid before raising accusations.

A New Year’s resolution for Christmas

In the days before Christmas, I intended to write a post on gift-giving. Time flew by a little too fast, so let us call it a suggestion for a New Year’s resolution for Christmas and other gift-giving occasions.

This resolution would be: Reduce gift-giving to a minimum and make sure that each gift given actually counts.

I speak here of gifts between adults (children are a different issue altogether) were we today see unnecessary excesses that only bring benefit to various sellers and manufacturers: When a typical adult gives and receives gifts at a cost of hundreds, even thousands, of Euro or Dollar per year something is amiss—in particular, as a single hug often can bring more happiness.

In the following, I will argue based on three aspects of gift-giving, namely as a social act, as a transfer of material benefits, and as a providing of non-material benefits. I will conclude that a sensible person can reduce his own outlays very considerably while increasing the benefit for his counter-parts.

Let us start with material benefits—the most noticeable, but also least important, part:

First, if I want to give someone a material benefit, how do I best do this? There are some cases where an immediate material act can make sense, e.g. when two parents give the child moving into his first apartment some surplus items from the old home. Barring this, there seems to be three popular ways, namely giving newly bought items that cost money, giving various gift-certificates that cost money, and giving money outright.

But why should I give someone a specific item instead of the same amount of money? By buying the item, I unnecessarily restrict the recipients options with regard to what type of item to buy, of what brand and quality, and where to buy it. Further, the search for suitable items can consume quite a lot of time and energy—time and energy that could be spent better. Clearly, he would be better off with the money. (There may be instances where the intention is to direct him to a particular use, e.g., to insure that the child above has house-hold utensils—not an enlarged alcohol budget. This reasoning may be correct in some cases, but is usually off. In a worst case, the items are simply resold at a loss or gather dust without ever being used.)

The issue with gift-certificates is similar: They bind to a particular store or chain of stores, there is always the risk that the certificate runs out before it is used or that the store goes bankrupt, they do not bring any bank interest in the time leading up to the buy, and they often sell at a premium compared to cash. For instance, I have occasionally seen cinemas selling “gift tickets” redeemable for a real ticket to any show. At first look, a good gift for the movie lover, but with the severe hitch that they sell at the price of the most expensive shows—and if they are not used to visit one of these expensive shows, money is lost.

We then have the conclusion that money is (usually) the superior gift—and we end up with two adults swapping money... Obviously, these swaps do not make sense and the giving should cease or be reduced to the larger giver giving the resulting net-amount without receiving anything in return.

Second, why do we at all wish to transfer material benefits? Apart from reasons that I consider poor (e.g. the wish to impress the other party, a sense of obligation, or a wish for reactions of joy or gratitude) and that are mostly covered by the above discussion, we have the real wish to make their lives better. Here too, money is often the superior road. Where not, classical gift-giving is rarely a good solution—a better method is to make suggestions on how to improve something, inquire whether the counter-part would be interested in receiving a certain item, or proposing some kind of trade for a mutual gain (“I heard that you broke your fishing rod. Since I do not have time to go fishing anymore, we could make a swap: You take my rod, and I take your [whatever] in return.”). Obviously, there is no particular reason for such interactions to take place only around Christmas or birthdays—quite the contrary.

Let us next turn to gift-giving as a social act: It is not just a matter of things and money, but also about making a statement of appreciation, love, friendship, ...

But how do we best make such a statement? Usually, things are better than money in this regard; however, if these things have to be plentiful or expensive, well, possibly the relationship needs to be reconsidered—or the princess recipient learn to re-prioritize... If things are in order, it will be the thought that counts—not the price tag. Notably, the gift need not even cost money, but may be a home-made sweater, a bag of home-baked cookies, a loving note, or possibly just a hug. (Here, obviously, it pays to know the recipient sufficiently well to make the right choice.)

As above, the conclusion is to buy fewer presents and to spend less money—there are better ways to reach the wanted effect. In the words of the Beatles: Money can’t buy me love.

Finally, we have my own favourite—the bringing of non-material benefits:

We have all made different experiences, taken different roads in life, read different books, learned different ways to approach problems or situations in life, whatnot.

Why then not let the other party benefit from these differences? There may be a book that has made a difference in the life or world-view of one person, a movie that was an eye-opener on a particular issue, a piece of music that impressed him, a particular activity that opened a new road to enjoyment, ... What is more natural than to gift a copy of this book/movie/music to someone else or to take him to try this activity? To paraphrase the cheesy commercials: A pocket-edition of [x]—5 Euro. Wrapping paper—5 Cents. A new insight—priceless.

Finally, for those who have made it all the way here, a few Dilbert cartoons on related topics:

http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1993-12-24/e

http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2000-12-24/e

http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2009-12-25/e

http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2010-12-25/e

Strawman or hyperbole?

One of the most common problems encountered in debates (in particular, against groups like feminists or creationists) is the use of misrepresentations in the strawman-line: A statement is made that is partially true, but which is distorted, exaggerated, or otherwise made into an easy, but ultimately irrelevant, target. A classic example is the sometime creationist claim that evolutionists think that pure chance is behind evolution—followed by “counter-proofs” like the analogy with the Shakespeare-replicating monkeys or the jet plane assembled by a tornado.

I recentlye encountered a debater who made several statements that I took (and still take, actually) to be strawmen, but where the author claims that they were merely hyperbole. For example, to support the speculation that children would be affected by what they perceive as “gender-adequate” behaviour:

Pojkar leker inte med bebisdockor. Men män tycker (i allmänhet) om att umgås med sina riktiga bebisar.

(Boys do not play with baby dolls. But men (generally) like spending time with their real babies.)

Now, the second half may or may not be true (I suspect very great individual variations and a far lower “saturation threshold” than for the mothers); however, the first is very decidedly an exaggeration.

The most obvious conclusion is that this is simply a strawman: The reasoning is based on a claimed change in behaviour between boys and men—and this change, if at all existent, is noticeably smaller in reality than in the claim. With the exaggerated difference, a point can be made; without the exaggeration, the point is no longer, or only partially, valid.

(As an aside, even if the statements had been true, the proposed conclusion was but one of several possible explanations. Indeed, the opposite conclusion seems more natural to me: Little boys go by their inborn instincts towards babies, whereas fathers have an altered behaviour towards specifically their own off-spring as the result of some bonding mechanism—or through brain-washing about what the “correct” behaviour for a modern man is.)

My pointing to a strawman, however, was rejected by the author: She had merely used hyperbole—or what Wikipediaw describes as:

[...]the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech.[...]

[...]An example of hyperbole is: "The bag weighed a ton". Hyperbole helps to make the point that the bag was very heavy although it is not probable that it would actually weigh a ton.[...]

If we are kind and take the author at her word, she actually meant “Boys rarely play with dolls.” and used the stronger formulation for effect. In a next step, the question arises: What proportion of perceived strawmen are actually strawmen and what is merely incompetent (s. below) reasoning/formulation? Seeing that perceived strawmen are particularly common with feminists and related heavy-with-women groups (e.g. the politically correct or those in favour of social-constructivism) and that women are very prone to categorical exaggeration in arguments (“You never take my side!”, “You always forget to [x]!”, “You never do the dishes!”), the proportion could be quite high. If so, this has non-trivial implications both on how a particular misstatement should be interpreted and on how it should be reject/corrected. (While the details will vary from case to case, greater diplomacy and constructiveness is called for when dealing with errors in good faith and incompetence than with deliberate or malicious distortions.)

Obviously, incompetence is better than malice in this case; however, incompetence is bad enough and hyperbole (and similar forms of exaggeration) should be avoided: Most notably, it becomes hard to tell when a statement should be taken literally and when as exaggeration, which damages all involved parties. Further, unnecessary ambiguity is introduced: When I replaced “never” with “rarely” above, I speculated—possibly, the true back-translation is “less often than girls”/“less often than the men in the next sentence”, “almost never”, “not that often”, ... Because the author did not say what she actually meant, there is no way to deduce the exact intention from the text alone. (See also an earlier text on litotes, a form of rhetorical understatement.)

More generally, rhetoric is largely the art of making people believe things irrespective of the facts—and as such it should be used sparingly: If the facts support a claim, then the facts can talk and the rhetoric be silent; if they do not support the claim, then rhetoric should certainly not be abused to shout the facts down.

(Note: “Strawman” in the strict sense applies to misrepresentation specifically of the opponents opinion. Above, and often elsewhere, I slightly misapply the word to represent a more general group of distortions that have the common aim of making a weak argument/position/enemy appear to be the “real McCoy”.)

A guide on how to handle comments (for blog owners)

A few thoughts on what to do and not to do with comments:

  1. Do not reply to each and every comment. The result is almost invariably low content and low quality, something better left unwritten. Reply when there is an actual reason, e.g. to clarify a misunderstanding, dispute an issue, acknowledge an error, ... Thank-you replies should be limited to those comments that have truly brought value. (Other rules apply if an off-blog relationship to the commenter is present.)

    Yes, there are blogging experts who claim the exact opposite. Their idea is to maximize “followers” by making everyone feel welcome (or similar). This idea is flawed in several regards, most notably that maximizing followers should not be the goal for the typical blogger, but also that quality usually beats quantity and that those readers who actually contribute with insightful comments are not impressed by low-value replies.

  2. Allow for a threaded discussion. Doing so makes it easier to keep an eye on who has said what to whom on what sub-topic. The WordPress default depth of three is well chosen between the wish for good threading and the need to avoid comments that are just a few words per line; and is also a good choice for minimizing confusion—too shallow and too deep threads can both be very confusing when several parties discuss. If you deviate from three, four is likely the second best choice.

  3. Use the “reply” function. Do not, absolute not, add your answer to the original comment. Doing so makes it hard to keep a threaded discussion going, more or less excludes any third party in advance, and screws up the email notifications about new comments.

    If the addition is partial or interspersed in the original comment, there is high risk that other readers will be confused as to who said what. Note that a change in e.g. color, bolding, or similar, will not always be clear to other readers and will not appear at all in the email notifications.

    Do not answer using a “non-reply” comment, for the same reasons as why threading should be enabled.

  4. Think twice about editing others comments at all. If you do, make it very clear what you have changed and why you did so. Be particularly vary of “helpful” language improvements. Not only is there a risk that the change accidentally distorts the original intention, but there is also a great many opinions on what is considered correct/better. If the comment is hard for third-parties to understand, but you feel that you have understood it, then simply write a reply with a paraphrase and inquire whether you are correct.

    Think thrice before deleting selective parts of a comment—and if you do delete make very, very certain that the contents are not distorted. (Valid partial deletions can occur e.g. when a comment contains severe rudeness towards another commenter, but also makes a good point or gives a good argument along the way.)

    There is a special circle in Hell reserved for those who deliberately alter the meaning of someone elses comments.

  5. Err on the side of too little censorship.

    This topic has been discussed in many other of my posts (search for e.g. “censorship”.) As to date, I have myself kept back a whole of two (non-spam) comments in almost a year of blogging—both of a kind that there would have been nothing left if I had tried to selectively delete parts of them (cf. above). 210 have been published.

A very good example of how not to do it can be found at [1]e (no threading, low value replies, replies in the comments, censoring of dissenters). Another example is [2]e (partial in-comment replies and confusing changes to comments in bold).


Addendum:

As I have observed time and again after writing this post, there is another very important rule:

If a blog owner edits one of his own comments (or, in some cases, the original post), he should do so in a manner that does not alter the meaning, extend or shorten the text, or otherwise make changes that moves the comment away from its original state in a non-trivial manner. (Correcting typos and grammar errors, replacing an unfair slur written in heated moment, and similar changes are usually not a problem.) In particular, to deliberately publish a comment in a half-done state (as an equivalent to a save-operation in an editor) and then continue editing, borders on the inexcusable—use an external editor for such purposes.

The reason is that other commenters may read and answer to the original email notification (even editing offline or using a “reply by mail” mechanism), and changes can cause considerable extra work for them, make the reply unnecessary, cause them to give a reply that does not address all relevant aspects or is confusing to other readers, or similar. This applies even more strongly, and for similar reasons of consistency, to comments that have already received replies from others.

A better way is to add a new comment with a clarification or retraction. This way, the original email notification remains relevant and additional notifications are (automatically) issued for the new comments.


Blogroll update

A few months ago, I encountered a twelve-part article series on the medieval witch hunts.e Being swamped with other things, I only read the first few parts at the time. Having now completed the reading, I would like to belatedly recommend it to others. Particular value is found in giving detailed information on the Catholic Church’s actual position on witches, who the typical perpetrators where, etc. Most of us have probably already learned in history class that the stereotypical image of a persecuting church is exaggerated and outdated (numbers of victims rivaling the Holocaust is certainly a fringe view), but the detailed treatment gives a noticeably deeper understanding. In other areas some more surprising pieces of information is found.

Obviously, reading about the witch hunts is also valuable with an eye on somewhat similar modern phenomena concerning e.g. child-porn or satanistic child abuse.

While recommending the series, I also raise a warning that the site (bibleapologetics.wordpress.come) is likely to be partial, which may or may not be reflected in some of the articles (e.g. when comparing Church and Science).

By the FIFO principle, Mansförtryck och kvinnovälde [pdf]e is removed. That entry was first discussed here.