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This is my web log which contains all sorts of random thoughts I felt it necessary to record for posterity here. I've recorded ideas on all sorts of topics in here so I hope you find something interesting, and maybe even useful!

Show entries, about containing for the year


I Can Lead Myself

2020-01-21. Comments. Rating 4. ID 2023.

In recent years I have noticed increasing resentment to the draconian rules implemented by our "leaders". I put that last word in quotes because I really don't think these people are leaders at all. Before I discuss this, I should say who I am talking about. I am referring to authority figures at all levels: government, city councils, law enforcement, and management... especially management.

I was sitting in a cafe recently, and heard some fellow coffee drinkers talking about their job. There were two comments about their managers which particularly resonated with me. The first was something like "they're not living in the real world; they live in a cocoon", and the second was "there was a horrible little man walking around the site taking photos".

And I heard a staff member of a large organisation saying that she had "lost the will to live" after spending all morning and still "getting nothing done" when carrying out meaningless, and excessively bureaucratic procedures for a task which was simpler before a new regime was implemented by management.

Finally, I have encountered numerous instances of staff just not caring at all about the organisation they work for, because the managers make doing a good job almost impossible, and they have reached the stage where there is no point in even trying any longer.

In fact, with all my dealings with various larger organisations I have found almost no one who has any respect for their "leaders". They are seen as a nuisance who have no ideas what they are doing, and are viewed with attitudes which vary from mild amusement to outright hate and disgust.

Of course, the leaders seem to view themselves in a quite different way. Unbelievably, they actually think they are virtuous, well-informed, tireless campaigners for a better world. They think that their staff admire them, and in the rare cases where they feel the lack of admiration just they dismiss it as the result of the people at the lesser levels being incapable of seeing "the big picture" or being unwilling to "accept change".

In fact, there is a complete area of management dedicated to change management, which effectively reduces down to three actions: produce plenty of propaganda pointing out the alleged advantages of the new system, threaten anyone who doesn't comply, and finally rid the organisation of anyone who doesn't accept the new regime by firing them or implementing various dirty tricks to force them to leave.

So clearly "management of change" is an intensely dishonest and immoral activity, not that there would be any surprises there.

I should say here that change isn't always bad. Sometimes change is necessary for the efficient running of an organisation, especially if the conditions the organisation operates in have changed, such as the appearance of new technology, competition, or markets. And sometimes the necessary changes are difficult for existing staff to cope with, and maybe sometimes they really do resist necessary change.

But that doesn't cover the vast majority of cases I am aware of. In most cases the changes involve attempts at increasing efficiency by introducing more layers of bureaucracy, reducing staffing levels while increasing the number of managers, and allegedly improving processes by implementing hopelessly poorly defined and complex new procedures.

So generally anything created by a "leader" works incredibly badly - but why? Well, the big problem, as insinuated by the comment about "cocoons" above, is that managers have no idea how the real world works, and despite their reassurances of consultation, they make changes from a position of extreme ignorance.

In most cases I know of, after a few years the organisation does start working fairly well again, and will generally return to a similar level fo efficiency it had before the change. So the assurances the "leaders" provide that the new system will eventually start working properly are generally true.

But not for the reasons they think.

I guess the leaders thing the new system starts working properly because people get used to it, and start using it as was intended. But what actually happens is that the state of complete chaos which everyone finds themselves in by following the new rules gradually improves as people find work-arounds and short-cuts which bypass the system. After a while most of the staff will be working in ways which have little to do with the new system and more closely resemble what was happening before the change.

I always imagine it like this: it's World War I and the general is courageously standing well back from the front lines giving out orders to advance on the enemy. He gives the orders and sees his soldiers advancing on the enemy machine-gunners. His job is done so he quickly retreats to his office to start his next great plan. The soldiers advance on the enemy but realise the orders are suicidal, so as soon as the general's back is turned they take cover, plan an attack on the unprotected flank of the enemy, and generally ignore their orders in favour of action which has a chance of being successful. The general hears about the success of the operation and congratulates himself on being a great leader. The soldiers think he's a dangerous idiot.

Is the general a leader? He might think so, but no one else does. We don't want or need leaders. They are just a nuisance we need to find a way to bypass. But they can do a lot of harm before that happens. I'm an intelligent adult: I can lead myself.


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That Ricky Gervais Rant

2020-01-15. Comments. Rating 3. ID 2022.

British comedian, Ricky Gervais, certainly made some interesting comments during his recent opening monologue for the Golden Globe awards. He has been controversial in the same role in the past, but this time he seemed to get right to the core of the problem with many parts of modern culture, including the status of celebrities, and there has been a significant amount of discussion and analysis of his speech.

So not wishing to miss out, I will present my own analysis of his speech here, first by stating what he said, then by offering my thoughts...

Gervais: You'll be pleased to know this is the last time I'm hosting these awards, so I don't care anymore. I'm joking. I never did. I'm joking, I never did. NBC clearly don't care either - fifth time. I mean, Kevin Hart was fired from the Oscars for some offensive tweets - hello?

Comments: I an also surprised that the organisers of this show keep inviting him back. There has been some open hostility towards him in the past, so I do commend the person who made the decision to have him back again for taking such a risk. Gervais does make a good point though, in saying that other people have been fired for far less than what he has said. One point which might explain the phenomenon: would anyone care about this silly award show if Gervais wasn't there? I mean, I wouldn't have a clue who won any of the awards, but I could quote parts of his speech. Maybe that's why he has presented at this show 5 times.

Gervais: Lucky for me, the Hollywood Foreign Press can barely speak English and they've no idea what Twitter is, so I got offered this gig by fax. Let's go out with a bang, let's have a laugh at your expense. Remember, they're just jokes. We're all gonna die soon and there's no sequel, so remember that.

Comments: He makes these points in a flippant way, but the essential validity of them is still obvious. They are just jokes - although like most good humour, the jokes have an uncomfortable underlying layer of truth - and in the greater scheme of things, offensive comments aren't that important. That, of course, is exactly what the "woke culture" most of the celebrities indulge in can't seem to accept.

Gervais: But you all look lovely all dolled up. You came here in your limos. I came here in a limo tonight and the license plate was made by Felicity Huffman. No, shush. It's her daughter I feel sorry for. OK? That must be the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to her. And her dad was in Wild Hogs.

Comments: Felicity Huffman is a celebrity who was found guilty of fraud, in relation to college entry for her daughter, and was sentenced to 14 days in prison. I believe license plates used to be made by prisoners in the US, so that is the joke here. It is pretty disrespectful to a previously well thought-of celebrity, really... which is great!

Gervais: Lots of big celebrities here tonight. Legends. Icons. This table alone - Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro Ö Baby Yoda. Oh, that's Joe Pesci, sorry. I love you man. Don't have me whacked. But tonight isn't just about the people in front of the camera. In this room are some of the most important TV and film executives in the world. People from every background. They all have one thing in common: They're all terrified of Ronan Farrow. He's coming for ya. Talking of all you perverts, it was a big year for pedophile movies. Surviving R. Kelly, Leaving Neverland, Two Popes. Shut up. Shut up. I don't care. I don't care.

Comments: From what I understand (I'm no celebrity expert) Joe Pesci is short (5' 5") so this is just a personal insult more reminiscent of older shows. Ronan Farrow is a journalist who uncovered alleged acts of sexual abuse among Hollywood celebrities, and this is just a little reminder that the PC culture the celebrities support can also be used against them. The crack about "Two Popes" is just a reference to the constant uncovering of sexual misconduct amongst members of the Catholic Church - so another big, corrupt institution got hit, not just show business.

Gervais: Many talented people of colour were snubbed in major categories. Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about that. Hollywood Foreign Press are all very racist. Fifth time. So. We were going to do an "in memoriam" this year, but when I saw the list of people who died, it wasn't diverse enough. No, it was mostly white people and I thought, nah, not on my watch. Maybe next year. Let's see what happens.

Comments: This is an attack on the identity politics common amongst celebrities. It seems that it is more important to get a good variety of genders and races in any group today rather than use any traditional criterion, such as competence or appropriateness. Does this even extend to who died during the previous year?

Gervais: No one cares about movies anymore. No one goes to cinema, no one really watches network TV. Everyone is watching Netflix. This show should just be me coming out, going, "Well done Netflix. You win everything. Good night." But no, we got to drag it out for three hours. You could binge-watch the entire first season of Afterlife instead of watching this show. That's a show about a man who wants to kill himself 'cause his wife dies of cancer, and it's still more fun than this. Spoiler alert: season two is on the way so in the end he obviously didn't kill himself. Just like Jeffrey Epstein. Shut up. I know he's your friend but I don't care.

Comments: Netflix appears to be taking over from traditional TV and movies, but it is just as vacuous, politically correct, and unimaginative as what it is displacing, a point Gervais failed to capitalise on unfortunately. I love the crack about Epstein though, the memes about him being killed - usually by either Bill or Hillary Clinton - rather than committing suicide were beginning to come up less often, so it's good to see the conspiracy renewed here, especially since so many celebrities are also allegedly involved.

Gervais: Seriously, most films are awful. Lazy. Remakes, sequels. I've heard a rumour there might be a sequel to Sophie's Choice. I mean, that would just be Meryl just going, "Well, it's gotta be this one then." All the best actors have jumped to Netflix, HBO. And the actors who just do Hollywood movies now do fantasy-adventure nonsense. They wear masks and capes and really tight costumes. Their job isn't acting anymore. It's going to the gym twice a day and taking steroids, really. Have we got an award for most ripped junky? No point, we'd know who'd win that.

Comments: I totally agree. The type of movies being made currently really are just the most terrible derivative and inane nonsense. I know people have been conditioned to make a big fuss of this stuff, but really: what level of intelligence to film-makers think the viewing audience have?

Gervais: Martin Scorsese made the news for his controversial comments about the Marvel franchise. He said they're not real cinema and they remind him about theme parks. I agree. Although I don't know what he's doing hanging around theme parks. He's not big enough to go on the rides. He's tiny. The Irishman was amazing. It was amazing. It was great. Long, but amazing. It wasn't the only epic movie. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, nearly three hours long. Leonardo DiCaprio attended the premiere and by the end his date was too old for him. Even Prince Andrew was like, "Come on, Leo, mate. You're nearly 50-something."

Comments: As I said above, I also think movies - especially the superhero genre - are kind of pathetic, so I would agree with Martin Scorsese here - hey they can't be wrong all the time! I like the little dig about Prince Andrew there too. Another useless celebrity getting the criticism he deserves.

Gervais: The world got to see James Corden as a fat pussy. He was also in the movie Cats. No one saw that movie. And the reviews, shocking. I saw one that said, "This is the worst thing to happen to cats since dogs." But Dame Judi Dench defended the film saying it was the film she was born to play because she loves nothing better than plunking herself down on the carpet, lifting her leg and licking her ass. (Coughs.) Hairball. She's old-school.

Comments: The "Cats" movie has been severely criticised, which is unusual, so it must be really bad. I have never understood the popularity of the Cats musical. I don't know what Andrew Lloyd Webber was on when he wrote it, but it wasn't good! One famous (and really good) song is about all there is to it, apart from a bunch of actors leaping around pretending to be cats. Huh?

Gervais: It's the last time, who cares? Apple roared into the TV game with The Morning Show, a superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China. Well, you say you're woke but the companies you work for in China - unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service you'd call your agent, wouldn't you?

Comments: My readers will know I am a fan of Apple products, but I fully realise Apple is just as bad as all the other big corporations when it comes to their unethical stance on labour, payment of taxes, freedom of speech, etc. Tim Cook is a particularly politically correct leader who I find quite annoying on many occasions, so it was great to see Apple taken down this time. Whether "The Morning Show" really is superb or not, is hard to establish, but judging by the description he gave I think maybe Gervais was just trying to be sarcastic.

Gervais: So if you do win an award tonight, don't use it as a platform to make a political speech. You're in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.

Comments: This is the core point of the whole speech, I think. These celebrities really are arguably the worst possible group to be lecturing to the public. These are the people who are amongst the most privileged in society, yet lecture a lot of us about the privilege they claim we have. These are some of the richest people in the world, who really don't work particularly hard but still feel entitled to offer condescending advice on how to succeed. These are the people who say they want to see the poor and underprivileged succeed, and to see the country do better, yet hire the best accountants to avoid paying tax which might make those goals possible. In other words: these people (with rare exceptions) are the most ignorant, hypocritical, self-centered scum anywhere. Yet they still think they can lecture us? I would have been a lot more critical than Gervais was!

Gervais: So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, and your God and F off, OK? It's already three hours long. Right, let's do the first award.

Comments: I love the phrase "little award" here. It's very condescending, and a bit like comparing this event to one where young kids get meaningless rewards for participating in some sort of pointless competition. Most people don't know who got the awards, and most couldn't care less. Unfortunately I believe some of the winners did make political speeches, not that many would be listened to because, as I said above, I know plenty of people who listened to Gervais rant, but none who watched the actual awards.

So yes, I really liked that Ricky Gervais rant. He did a great job of using humour to criticise the rich and powerful, in a similar way to how the court jester used to be the only one who could criticise the king - at least that's how I remember it from my study of Shakespeare in high school!


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Australian Fires News

2020-01-11. News. Rating 2. ID 2021.

A few weeks back the sky here in New Zealand was coloured an ominous dull yellow by the smoke from the bush fires in Australia, two thousand kilometers away. The lack of light and general eerie feeling was almost apocalyptic, and the end of the world - brought about by climate change - seemed like a real thing.

But since then the smoke has gone from this area, although the fires are unfortunately continuing unabated back in Australia. So, if you ignore the news and some social media, you wouldn't even be aware that anything is happening.

But even if you did follow the news, you might be somewhat mislead about the phenomenon. A younger person I talked to the other day told me "Australia is on fire". I said, it is certainly bad, but saying Australia is on fire is a bit of an exaggeration. She told me the fires covered at least half of Australia, according to reliable maps she had seen.

I was skeptical, and said that, as far as I knew, only a few percent of the continent was directly affected. I'm not trying to minimise how serious the fires are, I just want the facts. So I did some research today to find out exactly how much of Australia is affected by the fires.

I found the area affected from the BBC. I used that because that company takes climate change very seriously and was likely to overestimate rather than minimise the problem. So this number was likely to be the worst case, and it was also at a point of time (8 January) and the fires are still burning, so it will get worse, but those caveats aside, the number is 10.7 million hectares.

Then I looked up the total land area of Australia, which is a well established and uncontroversial number, and is 7,682,300 square kilometers. A hectare is 100 x 100 meters and a square kilometer is 1000 x 1000 (you've got to love the metric system) so the area of Australia in hectares is 100 times the area in square kilometers, or 768,230,000.

Do the division and it turns out that about 1.4% of Australia has been affected. That's not what is burning now, it's what has been affected during the whole period of the fires existing this season. I'm not saying that it's all OK, because just over 1% doesn't sound like a lot, but I am saying that the common perception, encouraged by misleading maps, is overly dramatic.

There are other controversies associated with the fires too. The first is the connection to global warming. Many people point out that the fires started as a result of conventional events, such as lightning strikes, accidents, and arson, and that these have nothing to do with climate change. Well fair enough, that is true, but the conditions which lead to the fires being worse than usual have been exacerbated by the climate. To pretend that climate change isn't a major factor in the magnitude of the fires is delusional.

Another controversy involves the claim that regular clearing of excess trees and undergrowth has been neglected, and that if regular controlled burning had been allowed the fires might have been able to be controlled. Additionally environmentalists, and especially the Australian Green Party, are blamed for this lack of clearing, because they see it as unnecessary destruction of native forests.

This claim is a bit more difficult to evaluate. There is still some clearing going on, but not as much as in the past. That might be because of pressure from environmentalists, or it might be due to budget cuts by the current government, or it might be because controlled burns are far more dangerous to perform now than in the past. Most likely there is some contribution from all of these factors.

Some people have partaken in a certain amount of schadenfreude at Australia's expense, because of the contribution their coal production makes to CO2 emissions, which in turn has increased the damage from the fires. Australia does produce quite a lot of coal, of which 90% is exported. But the 481 million tonnes produced last year is only 6% of the world total of 7727 million tonnes, and only about a third of global carbon emissions come from coal. So if Australia stopped coal exports now, it would make very little difference to global warming and to the severity of fires.

Finally, I was told that New Zealand's prime minister had been secretly sending her own money to help the victims of the fire. I could find no reference to this happening, but it might be a story confused with the NZ government sending resources to Australia to help, just like every other government has done in the past. It is possible that the PM has contributed small amounts to various appeals for help, but the majority at least seems to come from the taxes which we all pay.

So 5 minutes of research - all from reputable sites I should emphasise - has showed me the real facts, rather than the propaganda, deliberately misleading stats, conflation of real and imagined events, and outright lies prevalent from the news and social media. It's not that hard, really. I'm not saying ignore those sources, because most of the time they are roughly correct, but a little bit of extra research from neutral sources sure can change your perspective!


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Movies and TV Suck!

2020-01-06. Comments. Rating 2. ID 2020.

Movies and TV are an important part of existence for many people. When new movies are released a lot of people get quite excited about it, and TV series seem to be a highlight of some people's lives. But when I am asked what I thought of the latest movie or TV series I usually say something like "I didn't see it because I'm just not interested" or "I saw it and it was rubbish" or "I sort of half watched it on Netflix while surfing the web looking for some technical information, arguing with someone about politics on social media, or reading an article about World War II tanks on Quora".

The mainstream media seem to spend more time than they should covering "news" about movies and TV, and especially celebrating the lives of the actors and directors who make them, so that might be one reason why these forms of entertainment seem to hold a more important place in society than they really should. But what am I really saying here? Basically, that I can't be bothered with this stuff and I think a lot of people would be better off if they joined me in my dismissive and apathetic attitude.

So, why am I so negative? Well, there are several reasons. First, watching TV and movies is just so passive. Second, most of the material is very unoriginal, especially what comes from the "sausage factories" like Hollywood and Netflix. And third, the majority of the stories we see are extremely tame, predictable, and (you didn't think I would get through a post without mentioning this, did you?) politically correct.

I particularly dislike some of the more popular genres today, such as superhero movies. The problem there is that there are generally obvious good and bad characters and the good guys almost always win. This means I know the outcome before it happens, making the whole experience rather mundane, and making me feel like the writer or director is insulting my intelligence. And in these movies, along with others in the fantasy genre, there are no laws of physics to worry about, so the plot often involves the lamest "deus ex machina" contrivances, further making me feel like I've been insulted.

The next questions which should be answered regarding this subject are: even if this stuff is as bad as I say, what is the harm; and what should people do instead of watching movies and TV?

To answer the first question: the harm is that people spend a lot of time watching without gaining many benefits. They are wasting time that they could spend doing something more creative or active. And they are influenced in subtle ways to acquire the beliefs and attitudes of the people who made the programs, meaning they are being assimilated into the extremely "woke" culture of the entertainment industry.

And here are my thoughts on the second question: people should do something creative or at least guided by themselves instead of by whatever societal trends might be popular at the time. The best option for me is to create, which I do through writing for this blog, recording podcasts, or building web sites. Of course, there are plenty of other possible creative endeavours too, such as writing or performing music, participating in an inventive hobby, or playing a game or sport.

In fact, computer games are a great alternative to movies, in my opinion. At least they involve some input from the player, so they aren't completely passive. Actually, maybe I'm not the only one who thinks this way, because computer games are rapidly overtaking movies as an entertainment industry.

But games don't suit everyone, so what other possibilities would I recommend? I believe YouTube is a better source of material than conventional TV or movies (and these include streaming). YouTube offers a huge variety of material and, while its censorship rules are far from perfect, at least a variety of opinions can be found there. The "Up next" section has some great, unexpected material, so its possible to accidentally find some excellent videos which might never be viewed otherwise. And because a lot of YouTube material comes from "amateur" sources the bias and predictability found in standard TV and movies is often absent.

So the internet offers options whatever your tastes. You can watch the mundane stuff churned out by the conventional sources (and that includes Netflix now) or you can choose something different and more participatory. Of course, you can also do both, because watching inane drivel on mainstream broadcast TV or Netflix isn't all bad. We should just leave some time for doing more interesting and creative stuff too.


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They Think They're Right

2019-12-23. Comments. Rating 3. ID 2019.

I'd like to tell you about three aspects of human behaviour that I have particularly noticed recently. First, many people like power. They like to control others, and tell them what they can say and do. Second, people like to belong to a group of others who they agree with and who give them support. And third, people like taking on issues which they feel strongly about, and often they like to tell others what to do as a result.

I have often wondered why so many people feel so strongly about various social issues, which don't really affect them personally, and may not even be a particularly big problem to those who are affected. For example, why do so many people of European descent care (or at least pretend to care) so deeply about the alleged disadvantages of black and indigenous people? And why do so many straight individuals want to make so much effort to support the rights of those in the LGBTQIA+ community? And why do so many men identify as feminists?

It's possible that there are cases where the person exhibiting this behaviour is totally genuine, but I doubt whether that is very common. I have watched the way these people act, and I think there are other explanations, which maybe even the person involved might not truly be aware of.

As you might have deduced from the introductory paragraph of this post, I think the first two factors explain the third. In other words, people like to participate in social justice issues for two primary reasons: so that they can control others, and so that they can gain recognition and affirmation from their allies in the relevant cause.

There is one further factor which I need to mention at this time, which elevates these groups from annoying to dangerous. That is that they are totally convinced they are right, and that they are "doing the right thing" and that anyone with contrary opinions is inferior in some way; especially that they might be ignorant or evil.

Being convinced you are right is an almost sure way to provoke extreme behaviour. I mean "right" in two different contexts here: first, right in the sense that they think they are correct, that they have some special knowledge that others either have never discovered or refuse to accept; and second, that they are taking the moral stance and that they are right in the sense of being ethically superior.

Anyone who thinks that they are not only factually correct, but also have the proper moral position might be excused for taking a fairly strong stance in supporting their own views. But the problem really arises when we consider the initial assumptions that they are right in the first place - and even if right and wrong, or right and unjust are the proper way to think about many social issues.

We should all be able to think of examples where people might fit the description I have offered here. If you are a leftist you might think of people on the right who want to control women's right to an abortion, for example; and if you are on the right, you might be thinking of rabid leftist mobs who shut down discussions on gay rights and who have people banned and even fired for offering an opinion on that topic.

So let's look at the abortion example. Those who support abortion really believe they are right and that a woman should control her own body. But their opposition are equally convinced that they are right because they are protecting an unborn human from being killed. When both sides are so convinced that they understand the facts, and hold the moral high ground it's not surprising that they find anyone with opposing views problematic, or even reprehensible.

And in this case at least, I think that both sides can make a good argument supporting their views. All other things being equal, a woman should control her own body. And in the most simple case, killing an unborn child is an immoral action. But note that I qualified both of those points, because both arguments are superficial and are only valid in their simplest form.

Because a woman can control her body, but in the case of abortion a second body is involved, which she doesn't have the right to control completely. And terminating a pregnancy is the most moral action in many cases, such as where the mother's life is credibly threatened by the pregnancy. So both groups, who are totally convinced they hold both the correct and the moral view, are wrong.

But, in this case, am I falling onto the same trap by saying that I know the truth and have the most moral perspective? Well, no. I am pointing out the nuance in both sides of the argument and showing how neither extreme view is correct or moral.

By doing that I am not going to exert any control over anyone. I'm not saying that abortion should be legal or illegal; I'm saying that there are situations where both views have merit, but more importantly, that neither is a good perspective to take. And I'm not going to get a lot of support from other people holding the same position as I do, because they aren't the types to indulge in that sort of behaviour. It's generally only people with more well-defined views who build communities around those views.

In fact, in the rare cases where I do get positive feedback for my position I feel almost embarrassed. I don't comment on contentious issues to try to control people, or to indulge in the cordial sociability of being in the in-group. And I definitely don't feel completely confident that I am right. It's more fun debating subjects I am less certain about. That's why I am constantly reviewing my thoughts on so many different subjects.

Except free speech. I'm moderately convinced that I am right about that one. Why? Because that is the basis for all other discussions. We need free speech to allow reasoned discussions on every other topic. It is a sort of meta-phenomenon: an undertaking which allows progress to be made on other subjects. So, in that context I do want to control others, I don't mind if I get support from others with the same belief, and I think I am right. Hey, no one's perfect!


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Loony Left Losers

2019-12-17. Politics. Rating 3. ID 2018.

It has happened again. The left have failed miserably in an election that they should have at least been competitive in, and perhaps won. I'm talking about the recent UK general election, obviously, which surprised almost everyone with how conclusively Boris Johnson's Conservatives defeated the left, represented mainly by Labour. And they didn't just win; they obliterated the opposition.

Despite the title of this post, I'm not celebrating this win. While I have spent a lot of time criticising the left recently, I do identify as mainly leftist myself. But note that I do prefer not to think of myself as belonging to any particular camp, because I see good and bad ideas in every area of politics, and think the left and right are both necessary to keep most countries stable while still improving societal and economic elements which aren't working well.

I have made previous posts on this same subject, where I have presented the opinion that, in most cases, the right doesn't win, instead the left loses. And it just seems to keep happening, because they seem to have big problems in learning from their mistakes. My favourite teacher used to say that "everyone makes mistakes, but only a fool makes the same mistake twice". Well, the left keep making the same mistakes many times, so the conclusion is obvious!

But what are these mistakes? Well, politics is like a game of chess: you must control the center. The left has gone so far to the left, especially on social issues, that they have created a huge space in the center where the right can take over, and the results are obvious.

I hate to harp on about my favourite subject for complaint in recent times, but the primary social effect the left over-indulge in is political correctness. I realised Jeremy Corbyn was going to lose the election when he announced his preferred pronouns (he and him). That might impress a loud and obnoxious minority of social justice warriors, and Corbyn might get a lot of positive feedback from that particular crowd, but I think most people would just sigh and think "not this crap again!"

Just to be clear, I don't see a lot of harm in trans and gender diverse people wanting to tell us what pronouns they prefer, but I think many people are sick of politicians making a big deal out of something which is both rather trivial, and is often weaponised to exert socio-political control over others. They might see this as simple virtue signalling, and I think they would prefer that more important issues might be discussed instead, such as whether the UK should leave or stay in the European Union. Corbyn wasn't so keen on sharing that!

I have to ask myself why the left insists on destroying itself with political correctness of every type. I think they genuinely believe the fantasy world they find themselves in. They really think that most people support their ridiculous ideas, like apologising for the past transgressions of western civilisation, like allowing increased immigration and protecting the immigrants even when they prove to be far from ideal citizens, like giving "disadvantaged" groups special privileges.

And this illusion seems to come primarily from two places: the mainstream media and universities. I try to source news from a wide range of places, yet I don't see a lot of diversity of opinion. Boris Johnson was seen as an amusing buffoon for along time, when as a quite incompetent politician who wouldn't last long, then as a sort of extreme right-winger who could never win an election. Well, none of those things really turned out to be true. He was grossly underestimated and now his party has achieved a huge win.

A similar opinion usually appears when academic "experts" are questioned on subjects related to politics. Academia is grossly biased towards the left, and they don't seem to be capable of looking past that and giving an objective appraisal of the true state of the world. Social "science" in modern universities is often laughable.

So it's no surprise that the left might think their more ridiculous programs are more widely supported than they really are, when the mainstream media and academia seem to be on board. Unfortunately for them, the media and academics don't account for the majority of votes. And while there are plenty of noisy leftists encouraged by this apparent support, there are a lot more voters who can see through the illusion and never have any intention of supporting it.

The parties of the left undoubtedly do their own polling on what they could do to gain more votes, but if they are, then they are clearly getting something wrong. Maybe they are just asking the wrong questions, or not taking enough notice of the results. Whatever it is, they need to change something.

Even New Zealand's own famous leader from the left, Jacinda Ardern, seems to be susceptible to this problem. She is the ultimate BS artist. She has gained a lot of admiration around the world for her compassion, youth, and charisma. But her government is slipping in the polls and she could easily lose the next election, despite the leader of the opposition having great difficulty in gaining much support.

Why? Because she is more interested in appearing on crappy American TV shows, of trying to suppress freedom of speech with her terrible "Christchurch Call", and of acting like a Muslim and pretending "they are us". It's all superficial, politically correct nonsense, and many people have been taken in by it in the past, but clearly that is changing despite the fact that the media still mainly support her. She is a very superficial person, but the voters can only be fooled by that temporarily, and her government might be the next victim of the anti-left trend.

And that would be unfortunate, because the left do have something valuable to contribute. Without them, little progress would be made. Sure, they have some stupid ideas and often go too far, but that's why the right comes back later on to tidy up. As I said above, the two sides work synergistically to create a fair balance.

So I really hope the left can escape their little bubble of PC fantasy and get back to the center, because we don't need any more loony left losers!


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Get Some Perspective!

2019-12-10. Comments. Rating 3. ID 2017.

The world seems to be getting more out of touch with reality with each passing day. Specifically, by that I mean, more people seem to be becoming more outraged by less. You might think that isn't a big problem, because it's easy to ignore these phenomena and just get on with life, but I don't think it is that easy, because the more time which is wasted on trivial stuff the less time remains for subjects which are more consequential. And there is a constant danger for anyone offering certain types of opinions to find themselves dragged into a time wasting controversy over that opinion.

Let me give a few examples of this effect...

Recently, my local newspaper published a cartoon which referenced the measles epidemic in Samoa. The cartoon showed two women leaving a travel agency and the caption was this: "I asked, 'what are the least most popular spots at the moment?' She said, 'the ones people are picking up in Samoa'."

So the text was a play on words, where the word "spot" has a double meaning (a place you might holiday in, and a mark on the skin caused by measles). Is it a particularly funny joke? Well, no. Is it an example of brilliant satire, or deeply meaningful political commentary? Again, no. Is it insulting, vicious, or an attack against any part of society? Of course not.

Yet this cartoon lead to a noisy protest outside the newspaper's office, an official apology by the editor, an inquiry into the selection process for cartoons, the suspension of that cartoonist being able to publish work, and a nation-wide sense of outrage, including a "news item" on the subject leading the TV news that day!

You know, there's only one word for this: pathetic. Even if the cartoon crossed the line into bad taste, so what? The cartoonist is well known for pushing the boundaries, and it's inevitable in that case that sometimes he might go too far. Whether he went too far this time is debatable. I personally don't think so, but even if he did, was the reaction in proportion to the "crime"? If you think so, then I believe you really need to re-examine your sense of proportion!

I spent quite a lot of time that day debating with people about the cartoon and the reaction to it, and a lot of other people also spent a disproportionate amount ot time talking about it. But, instead of debating something so utterly trivial, why were we not holding the Samoan government to account over their failure to implement an effective vaccination program? And why were we not asking why the victims (or, in most cases, the parents of the child victims) of this disease were often against vaccination and often preferred traditional natural "cures" (which are ineffective) instead?

To be fair, that has happened to some extent since the cartoon furore finally calmed down, but even then it seems that there is less condemnation over those failures than there was over a harmless cartoon.

There's another example, which happened a few months back, which I was just reminded of today. Well known astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, tweeted this after a weekend where there were two mass shooting in the US: "In the past 48hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings. On average, across any 48hrs, we also loseÖ 500 to Medical errors, 300 to the Flu, 250 to Suicide, 200 to Car Accidents, 40 to Homicide via Handgun. Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data."

The numbers are difficult to establish with any certainty, but they do seem roughly correct, so any debate over this isn't a matter of whether it is factual. But Tyson was slammed on social media and eventually issued an apology. Here's a widely quoted reaction: "Smash Mouth: F OFF!!!! There's your data!!!!" (the full word was used, not just "F", but I try to avoid "offensive" words in this blog, which is sort of strange, now that I think about it!)

Notice that the reaction isn't really a reaction at all, it's just mindless cursing. I presume other people made more coherent criticisms of the tweet, but why? First, he acknowledged the mass shootings were bad when he said "the USA horrifically lost 34 people". Then he quoted some facts which were relevant to his point. Then he made a comment which is an interesting basis for discussion.

So I think he did make a good point. People do have an unreasonable fear of shootings in the US, even though they are far more likely to be the victim of other forms of harm. Of course, mass shootings are a terrible thing, and we should be aware of them, but how aware? Well, it's not going to be easy to know what the most sensible way to react is if we can't even talk about it!

And here's another point I should make: those same people criticising Tyson - who were primarily leftist social justice warriors - criticise others for paying too much attention to terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists. That form of mass murder is conveniently minimised, and the motivation and relevance freely discussed, but apparently applying the same standards to events not inspired by Islam is put into a different category.

My final example happened just today. Apparently some minor celebrity (who featured on a TV reality show called "Married at First Sight", so he really is minor) posted an Instagram selfie with the caption "I might want some Airpods". His "crime" was setting his location to White Island, the location of a volcanic eruption which resulted in several deaths that same day.

Again, social media went crazy, and the "news" even leaked into mainstream media. It's barely possible to believe, but this seems even more pathetic than the cartoon example above!

What is wrong with people? Are they really so utterly fragile that they cannot handle anything which looks like it has even a peripheral relevance to some unfortunate event? Are we all supposed to react the same way, with fake comments involving "thoughts and prayers" or "deep sorrow of all people" or other inanities which seem to be part of a script? Do people not see through this extreme sense of concern? Is it not obviously just a way to virtue signal to your followers?

It would be a very sad world if everyone reacted the same way to traumatic events. I welcome alternative views, even if I disagree with them. Surely a range of different perspectives is valuable in these cases. Yet, if anyone dares to transgress against the politically correct standards established by the self-appointed arbiters of good taste, they are bullied until they apologise, are fired, or suffer other forms of social vilification.

There are many things wrong with the world today, and we should be discussing these problems in a mature and candid way. If the only way we are allowed to refer to disasters is to ramble on about how sad it is, and make the same fatuous comments we have all heard a dozen times before then what's the point? We could just design a program to choose a few random phrases like "words canít describe how sad we feel about this whole disaster" or "I can't believe these atrocities keeps happening. Our thoughts and prayers to those affected", or "we need to make sure this won't happen again".

But you know what? Unless we can discuss these things freely, they probably will happen again. Everyone should choose their battles, and listen to alternative views, even when they aren't PC - in fact especially when they're not PC. And please ignore cartoons and social media posts - try to get some perspective!


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The Wisdom of Age

2019-12-03. Comments. Rating 3. ID 2016.

From "OK, Boomer" to "pale, male, and stale" to "how dare you?", there seems to be a lot of bigotry aimed at older people today. Of course, it is also aimed at white people, and males in particular, but on this occasion I want to concentrate on the ageism we regularly see demonstrated today.

Before I am accused of being one of those extremely privileged people who still complains about the exact thing I criticise other people for complaining about, I do want to say that I'm not really doing that. I think people should be free to say that older people's opinions are invalid, or should be ignored, or whatever else they might want to say, just like I want the opportunity to challenge social justice warriors in a similar way. But I do think that I have the right to answer those comments, and to point out where they are wrong.

But are they wrong? Well, it actually goes beyond mere wrongness. You might say they are not even valid enough to be wrong, because these arguments are so superficial and meaningless that they are neither right nor wrong... they are nothing. If I offer an opinion on a controversial subject, like free speech or abortion, and my thoughts are rejected through a comment like "oh, you're just an old white guy, you can't comment on that", then is that an effective riposte to my thoughts? I don't think so. We haven't actually learned anything from that response because it isn't a counter to anything I have said - it's just irrelevant.

If a young person had made the same comment as I did - and that is possible, because some younger people do share my views - what would the response have been then? It would need to be something different, which shows the person isn't really honestly answering the actual point; instead they are offering a meaningless ad hominem, which many would say is the most basic type of logical fallacy.

So I think it is clear that those types of responses are worse than no response at all. The fact that the person has to resort to an attack on the person, rather than the point that person is making, to me shows how weak their opinions really are. At least if they had remained silent we might generously assume they have real arguments, but the personal attack suggests maybe they don't, because if they did wouldn't they have used them?

So I think it is clear that attacking a person based on their age instead of trying to counter their ideas is grossly lazy and intellectually dishonest. So the next question might be, do older people's opinions make sense; are they relevant; and are they applicable to the current time, or are they out of date?

As an older person myself - having just celebrated my 60th birthday - I unsurprisingly am going to say they are relevant. In fact, I think older people have more wisdom from the experience they have gained over their lives, and might be less susceptible to group thought - in other words they are far less likely to base their beliefs on what is currently trendy, and more likely to think for themselves.

There is a well-known phenomenon where people in their teens and twenties do put a lot of effort into fitting in with their peers, so after growing out of that tendency a person's thoughts are more likely to be their own. That doesn't necessarily mean they are more likely to be right, but it is a factor to consider when you see younger people all parroting the same platitudes.

Numerous studies show that older people have better judgement and make better decisions, based on the lessons they have learned during their life. This compensates for a reduced ability to learn new information - in fact it exceeds it and means older people actually have an advantage. It also just makes intuitive sense that an older person will have had time to consider more ideas and will have a far greater sense of nuance than someone who is younger. Of course, this is just on average and I'm sure there are some every wise younger people, and some ignorant and unreasonable older ones.

In my own case, I know that I have a more subtle and reasonable view on the world than I used to, and I am certain that I am less affected by what my friends and colleagues think, and that most of my views have come from personal experience and thought. My blog goes back almost 17 years and a reading of that demonstrates this principle quite well. I have definitely drifted towards being more conservative, but I also recognise the good and bad aspects of every political philosophy far more than I did in the past.

And that is an interesting point: as people get older, they often do become more conservative. Why is that? Some might say it is because older people are less able to accept new ideas and want to return to the past. Others might say that they gain advantages from the system staying the same, so their selfish response is to resist change. But I think it is because of a more reasoned and nuanced approach. I have better understood the role that conservatives play in society recently. I also understand the role liberals play. So it's not so much that I am a conservative, it's that I am rational and can see the good and bad aspects of both political views.

And I really think it is a simplistic, dogmatic view that the younger people have which leads them to favour more radical ideas and to reject those which have already been proved to work. Of course, we should welcome change when it can be clearly shown to be advantageous, but change for the sake of change is generally not a good strategy.

Finally, don't assume that this means that older people are more boring. In fact, you could make a case to say that it is the others, who jump on every new fad with the predictability of mindless automatons, who are really boring. I can still engage in a political rant like the best of them! But I just do it a bit less often now, and am self-aware enough to know that my rant is fairly humorous, because I don't take myself too seriously any more.

So, it's not so much that I have changed my mind on most issues, it's more that I can now see both sides. For example, I still think democracy is a deeply flawed system, but it has many good points too, and those shouldn't be ignored. Similarly for capitalism: it has caused a lot of harm, but a very good case could be made to say that it has resulted in a lot of good too, and states practicing more pure forms of socialism have been an obvious failure in every case (at least, as far as I am aware). And political figures I don't like aren't automatically wrong about everything. I have doubts about Donald Trump's presidency, but I think the Trump bashers are often wrong, and I admit when he does something good. The same applies to our PM, who I don't like as a person, but I am prepared to admit that some things her government have done have been quite beneficial.

These attitudes might sound just like common sense, and you might ask what's the big deal. Well, here's the deal: they are common sense, and that is exactly my point, because many people don't use common sense in forming their opinions, they are too swayed by popular trends and dogma.

And maybe I was in the past too, but not any more. I am now enjoying the wisdom of age!


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Apple, AD 8

2019-11-25. Computers. Rating 1. ID 2015.

As I write this post it has been 8 years since the death of Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs. You could say that in Apple's history, it is the year AD 8. There has been a lot of speculation over that time about whether Apple can survive the loss of its visionary leader, but most of the negativity has been proved wrong, and Apple continue to succeed in all the major areas they are involved in.

At one point Apple was the biggest company in the world, by market capitalisation (and the first to be worth a trillion dollars), ahead of competitors such as Alphabet (Google) and Microsoft, and although that number varies over time, thanks to the vagaries of the stock market, Apple is in no danger of failing financially. But maybe it never was, because if you search for "Apple death knell counter" you will see a series of ridiculous predictions of the company's demise, and suggestions for how to avoid it - all of which they did the opposite of to become one of the most successful companies of all time!

So what is the current status of Apple products? Well, the iPhone is the premium smartphone in the world, and while some companies sell more units, that is only because they have extremely cheap offerings; the iPad is the clear leader in tablets; the Apple Watch is the world's biggest selling watch of any kind, and by far the best selling smartwatch; and the Mac, while still a long way behind PCs in total sales, is still significant in desktop and laptop sales. Plus Apple's main future growth area, services, is doing well. For example, Apple Music is the second most popular music service in the world, but only because Spotify offers a free alternative.

So where others have taken the lead in sales it is usually because of a cheap option. I wonder if it would be a good idea for Apple to also offer a cheap model in each of those product categories, then they might take the number one spot with a low cost, mass market version of their more expensive premium products which would continue to bring a higher profit margin.

You might say they are already doing that, because there is a "cheap" option in most categories. Of course, what Apple call "cheap" many other companies would call mid-priced or even expensive, so I guess it is all relative. Also, Apple do have a reputation for producing high-quality, premium products, and a truly cheap option might damage that reputation. Note that I think that reputation is mostly well deserved, although there is also room for improvement.

It might be a bit like Pagani, Ferrari, or Lamborghini offering a Toyota Corolla look-alike. Not only would that drag their reputation down, but they would also probably create something which is nowhere as good as the Toyota they are trying to imitate. Of course, the leadership of those companies don't even intend to try to take on Toyota in sales, and rightly so.

Recently Jony Ive left his CDO (chief design officer) role at Apple. There is no doubt that his designs were beautiful aesthetically, but there were questions around the usability of his creations, and there is little doubt that maybe not enough emphasis was put on practicality with him in charge. Since his departure Apple products have become a bit more practical, with the latest phones and laptops being slightly thicker to accomodate a bigger battery, for example. It's important that the visual design of Apple products is maintained as a major objective, but I welcome the small compromises to make the ergonomics and overall usability better. Design is more than just what something looks like.

As I said above, when Tim Cook took over from Steve Jobs as CEO, there were predictions of doom for the company. That wasn't totally unreasonable, because on the previous occasion that another person was CEO - when Jobs was forced out of the company in the mid 80s - things did go badly. As I said above, there were plenty of predictions of doom, but all of that was averted when Jobs returned to the company in the late 90s and was mainly responsible for the creation of the iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Store - which were all incredibly successful and innovative.

I think Cook is very aware of what happened on that previous occasion and he seems to be very mindful that the Jobs style of leadership shouldn't be compromised too much. I'm no huge fan of Cook - he's a bit too politically correct and he just seems a bit disingenuous to me - but he is doing a fairly good job so far, maybe because he is not trying to change the overall culture at Apple too much.

The world of technology is a difficult one to predict, because of the constant change, unexpected successes and failures, and new products which seem to appear from nowhere. So I think making long term predictions about where the future will lead is unwise - therefore I won't do it. But I will say that Apple do need to be careful where they go in future, but not too careful, because audacious new moves are what has given them success so far.

So, for Apple, AD 8 is looking pretty good, but who knows what the future will bring.


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Evil Greens

2019-11-22. Politics. Rating 3. ID 2014.

Many people who support environmentalism, social justice, and other broadly "leftist" issues think that green parties and environmental organisations are primarily concerned with the best outcomes for the majority of people and the planet as a whole. Even those who oppose these groups tend to think they are just misguided loonies, or poorly informed or motivated, and that they just need a bit of common sense. But there are ways that pro-environment parties and organisations could be seen as destructive, and even cruel and barbaric.

Is this just mindless rhetoric from a right-wing nutter? Well, no, because I am a center-left voter myself and am broadly in favour of many pro-environment initiatives. So what am I talking about then? Let me explain...

Basically, the problem is that the green movement needs a bit of balance. They lack this because they tend to form their arguments based on ideology rather than evidence. Of course, they are definitely not the only group guilty of this error, but a case might be made to say they are the worst. Also, like all groups, they claim that their biased opinions are based on facts, but those facts are very selective and they decide what the conclusion is before looking for supporting facts, again a process shared by most other groups.

So let's cut to the chase. What particular beliefs do environmental organisations have which I particularly object to?

Three significant problems (and I'm sure there are more) are their rejection of nuclear power, inorganic farming (by that I man "normal" farming as opposed to organic farming), and genetic modification,.

Many environmentalist would claim the biggest challenge today comes from climate change. Whether this is the biggest problem or not is a matter of opinion, but it is definitely significant and shouldn't be ignored. But when looking at ways to reduce carbon emissions one of the best options is rejected out of hand by most green groups (by that I mean green political parties, organisations like GreenPeace, etc).

That option, of course, is to replace coal fired power plants with nuclear power. Obviously truly renewable plants, like solar and wind, are an even better option, but those cannot fill all the required capacity, so nuclear should be considered a viable option. But it isn't. Why? Because nuclear is seen as unnatural and scary, and it doesn't fit in with green ideology.

But while they are right to be cautious about nuclear power, totally rejecting it is a very harmful attitude. Sure, that might stop potential nuclear accidents but at what cost? Probably more deaths by orders of magnitude because of all those coal plants still operating (see my blog post "Give Nuclear Respect" from 2019-07-02 for details about how safe nuclear really is).

What about organic farming? A recent report showed that if England and Wales converted all their conventional (inorganic, chemical based, or whatever you want to describe it as) food production to organic they would get 40% less yield. So to feed the same number of people a lot more land would be needed. Organics really has very few practical advantages at all (against properly done conventional production) apart from the sometimes significant marketing advantage when selling to naive consumers who believe organic production has major benefits when it clearly doesn't.

Yet green organisations are strongly behind organics. Why? For the same reason I mentioned above: pure ideology getting in the way of facts.

Finally, what about genetic modification? That is possibly the worst mistake these people make, and one which arguably has lead to millions of deaths. GM is a subject many people feel strongly about because it has that sort of "Frankenstein" aspect to it. But most new technologies have significant potential problems, and picking out this one as being worse than others is really the result of an emotional reaction rather than a rational one.

Maybe the most significant example of the rejection of an almost certainly revolutionary and very positive application of GM is golden rice. This is a new variety of rice (actually first introduced about 20 years ago) genetically engineered to have a high vitamin A content. Many people in third world countries suffer from blindness and death as a result of having insufficient vitamin A in their diets, and because rice is already a staple food in these countries adding the vitamin to rice was a very clever and sensible move.

But the introduction of golden rice has been slow or non-existent. To be fair, that is partly because the initial version had lower levels of the vitamin than would be ideal, but that has since been fixed. The primary reason for it not being used is opposition from various groups, especially those with a green agenda.

Do they object because the rice is dangerous? No, because it is just normal rice with more vitamin A. There is no reason to suspect anything negative, and even if there were issues, would they be greater than all those people suffering from the deficiency?

So maybe they object because they don't want big corporations controlling and profiting from the use of this product in the third world. Again, no, because the whole project is being managed by the "International Rice Research Institute" and the project is non-commercial, meaning no company involved would receive a royalty or payment from the marketing or selling of any golden rice varieties.

So what is it? Why do organisations like GreenPeace not want to try to save lives in the third world? Because of mindless ideology, apparently. They say that if golden rice is allowed to be used, and turns out to be successful, it will make it easier for other GM products to be introduced in future. So they are worried about GM working really well, and that would expose the errors in their organisation's dogma. It seems that ideology is more important than saving the sight and lives of hundreds of thousands of children. How corrupt and evil is that?

So, while I support a lot of green policy, I refuse to give any sort of blanket support for organisations like GreenPeace, and I tell them that when they ask for donations. Interestingly, most of their people don't know a lot about these issues, and those who do have no answers.

Fanaticism and unthinking commitment to ideological beliefs exists in many organisations, but I doubt whether there are many others which lead to so much suffering and death as these anti-science beliefs of the greens.


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Who Needs That?

2019-11-20. Comments. Rating 4. ID 2013.

It has been a while since I have talked about Fred. He is my friend and colleague, and Fred is not his real name, but I keep that secret to avoid repercussions - and that's an interesting point in itself, because why do I need to do that just because he is expressing an opinion? He works in a similar role to me in a similar large organisation (it could be anywhere in the world, so don't try to guess!), so I find his opinion a useful way to evaluate whether my experiences and ideas have any parallels elsewhere. Note that I don't necessarily agree with all of Fred's opinions, although (for obvious reasons) there is some consistency between his and mine.

So after that introductory disclaimer and explanation, I will get on to the issue at hand...

Fred's organisation has recently gone through a major reorganisation, and many people affected by that don't think it has been particularly successful. In fact, the words such as "unmitigated disaster" often come to the fore in discussions on this subject. I suspect that is an extreme opinion, because even changes designed by the most incompetent managers generally bring some benefits, even if it is purely by accident, but the fact that people feel the need to use that phrase does show the level of frustration and disgust involved.

In fact, Fred has told me that the magnitude of dissatisfaction has got so great that even the management have realised that something is wrong. When he says this, he is not just trying to make a rhetorical point, because managers generally are blissfully unaware of the level of loathing the workers have for them, and tend to have few clues about how their decisions affect other people's work.

For example, Fred recounted an incident where a moderately senior person in the new regime met him in the corridor and asked how much he was enjoying the new system. She was utterly astounded when he told her that he thought it was hideously inefficient, bureaucratic, and that almost no one liked it. When asked what a solution might be he said "go back to what we had before" but was told that is not an option. He thinks this is most likely because then the managers would have had to admit they were wrong, and that never happens because it might destroy their fantasy world perception of their own competence.

But it would seem that any reasonable person should have already known about these problems, but apparently the management rarely do, so it is a minor miracle when they do understand what is happening amongst the unfortunates who have been forced into trying to make their terrible systems work.

And they seem to have taken it seriously, because they have hired some expensive consultants to find out why things aren't working as expected. Fred says that the very fact that their first reaction to a situation like this is to hire some consultants should give them all the answers they need. And the type of questions these consultants are asking makes it clear that only an answer involving deficiencies on the part of the employees will be accepted, because there isn't a lot of opportunity to criticise the management. Obviously, a company being paid a small fortune by management is only going to give them the answer they want, or they might not be hired again.

So, according to Fred at least, the entire process, from the first fake consultation, to the last examination of what hasn't worked as well as expected, is a farce. I'm sure the management could give an alternative explanation of what is going on, so the situation probably isn't quite as one-sided as Fred makes out, but clearly something fundamental is wrong with the system.

I think the problem he describes is related to a phenomenon I have commented on myself on occasions. That is that ignorance and arrogance are a dangerous mix. I can understand a person or group being ignorant, because it's impossible to know everything to a high level, making some degree of ignorance inevitable. And, while arrogance is often seen as a negative characteristic, I think it is understandable if the person involved has good reason for it. You might argue that someone at the peak of their profession has a right to be arrogant, for example.

But the danger comes when those two attributes are combined. Arrogance from ignorant people is really problematic. And research shows that ignorant people are often lulled into a false sense of their own infallibility, which could easily lead to arrogance. So anyone who is ignorant can easily overlook the facts showing their own lack of competence, leading to more arrogance, and that in turn leads to the inability to recognise the need to improve, which creates more ignorance. It's a vicious circle of self-delusion.

The other source of many of these problems is the echo chamber effect. People at the top of most hierarchies only interact with people at similar levels to themselves. They are all part of the defective system which almost inevitably leads to an even greater level of self-delusion. These people all want to support the hierarchy as it is, because they are doing well out of it, and the occasional person a bit further down who might be involved is unlikely to be too critical because their chance to rise to a higher level depends on them saying what their "superiors" want to hear.

You might think that the victims of these systems are also in an echo chamber, but that isn't usually the case. The people near the bottom are constantly impacted with the consequences of what those at the top are doing, so it is a one-way process.

And do you know what the saddest thing is? According to Fred, one reason those people at the top think the situation is under control is that their incompetence is being disguised by the people at the bottom working longer hours, finding clever ways to minimise the disruption from the changes forced on them, and generally getting things done despite the changes inflicted on them from the top.

So it really is a mess. How widespread this sort of problem is can be difficult to ascertain, but I do hear a lot of complaints from people in other large organisations, just one conspicuous local example being the health system in this country, which seems to suffer from similar issues to those Fred describes.

Fred often becomes quite dispirited regarding these issues, because he actually cares about the organisation he works for, unlike (he says) the management. But I advise him to protect his own mental stability and let it go. There's not a lot he can do, and constantly fretting about these issues can lead to depression and stress. So I hope he takes that advise, or I will be listening to a lot more bitter complaints from him in the future, and who needs that?


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Dunbar's Number

2019-11-16. Comments. Rating 4. ID 2012.

Why are there so many bad systems, organisation, and processes in the modern world? Why are governments so incompetent, inefficient, and often corrupt? Why are big companies and institutions so poor at innovation, so good at creating huge bureaucracies, and so bad at balancing factors such as profit and social responsibility?

First, we must establish that my claims against these organisations are true. That is difficult, because there is no valid basis for comparison, and no good objective way to measure good and bad attributes. But I think most people know through anecdotes, or just through their own personal opinions, that what I said is true, at least in the vast majority of cases.

I work in IT, so that is the perspective I often approach these questions from. Many of the worst products and services I know of are created by big organisations. I had the misfortune to have to use an NZ government web site recently and it was a shambles. And the most buggy, confusing web service I use regularly is probably Facebook, which is run by a large company. Also, I seem to have to fix a lot of problems with software designed by big companies in my work.

In contrast, many sites I use from smaller companies work really well. And I avoid software written by big companies. For example, I have a set of Microsoft and Adobe software on my Mac, but I almost never use them, because I find software written by smaller companies is much better.

So let's just assume that "big is bad" and think about why this might be. I think it is about two things: first, as an organisation gets bigger its most important functions tend to be handed over to professional managers, and that almost always results in incompetence and inefficiency; and second, bigger organisations have too many people involved to allow efficient communications and cooperation to occur, so large projects involving many people tend to result in poor outcomes.

In the bigger organisations you tend to see a large number of incompetent managers trying to control far too many people to work together efficiently. Why do I think the managers are incompetent? Because all managers are incompetent or corrupt - if they weren't they would be doing something useful instead! Clearly this is a controversial view, but exceptions are rare in my experience.

But what about the size of the group working on the project? What's the deal there? Well I think it relates back to Dunbar's Number. This is a theoretical upper limit to the number of social relationships an individual can maintain. It was first proposed in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He used the brain size of different species in relation to the number of interactions they maintained, and extrapolated that to humans. His conclusion was that humans can maintain a maximum of 150 successful relationships.

So my hypothesis is that this number also applies to the size of groups in a successful workplace. I suspect it should be a lot lower than that, because people establish relationships in places other than work which must also count towards the total. Whatever the number should be, there can be little doubt that small groups are likely to work far better than big ones.

If that is the case, smaller groups of workers, along with the lack of a professional management class, gives smaller organisations a huge advantage over bigger ones. And that might explain why huge bureaucracies, like governments, seem to always be badly run. And it might explain why small companies usually produce better products and services than big ones, and why big companies tend to gain innovative new products by acquiring them from smaller companies instead of creating them themselves.

You might ask why - assuming my theory is correct - so many large companies are so successful. I would say they are successful for the wrong reasons, and despite their incompetence. For example, when I ask why people use Microsoft products they almost never say its because they have evaluated the options and found that company's software is best. It is almost always because that's what they were told to use (generally by incompetent managers), or its all they have, or they were not aware of the alternatives.

People like me who do use lesser known products tend to have migrated to them as a result of frustrations with attempting to use the "default" options from the big companies. So you could say that Microsoft's success is due to laziness and ignorance on the part of its users. Also, once a "critical mass" is reached it is difficult to escape from the trap of the dominance of big companies. Even I occasionally have to use Microsoft Word, for example, to open difficult documents, even though it is a truly hideous piece of software and I hate myself for even touching it!

It's difficult to see how this can be fixed, because any central authority which might need to make new rules to encourage more diversity in this area is itself a victim of the results of Dunbar's Number. But, even though there's not a lot I can do about it, at least I have an idea of why things are so bad. That's slightly reassuring, at least!


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Relax: It will be OK

2019-11-07. Comments. Rating 3. ID 2011.

If you still read or view mainstream media you might be excused for thinking that the world is in a really dark place, that we have unprecedented problems, and that society in general is worse than it ever has been before. But, while there are certainly problems which we need to be cognisant of, things really aren't that bad. The issues which are being highlighted tend to be either nowhere near as bad as they are portrayed, or not really issues at all because we are just paying attention to things which were ignored in the past, or they might even completely non-existent.

So many of the apparently serious problems we are facing are more the result of increased sensitivity and vigilance - sometimes to the point of creating problems where none really exist - rather than anything genuinely serious. And the real problems are so misrepresented and trivialised that they are difficult to take seriously for many people.

Sometimes the truth of a matter is well illustrated in fiction, satire, or humour. And in this case I have several political cartoons illustrating this phenomenon which I think are useful...

In the first one, the main character is sitting in front of his TV watching the news and the news presenter is demanding to know "what can we do to lessen the grip of fear from terrorism?". The character simply turns the TV off, followed by a smug grin.

There is little doubt that the mainstream media horribly distort the relative importance of events. Why they do this is difficult to establish, but creating sensational headlines to get more clicks and greater ad revenue must be one reason. Another might be that most media are very politically biased and emphasise stories to reflect this. The danger of terrorism in most Western countries is very small, so the news media are certainly responsible for a lot of the fake fear, as the cartoon suggests.

Then there's a comparison of feminists now and in the past. The first photo shows an historic photo, titled "feminism then" with a woman holding a sign reading "votes for women." The second photo is titled "feminism now" and shows a "feminist" holding a sign which reads "proud slut."

As I have said in past posts (especially "St George in Retirement" from 2019-10-04), feminism has basically run out of real issues to try to fix, so it has now been reduced to demanding solutions to problems which don't exist, or looking for more and more obscure and trivial problems to deal with. The cartoon shows an example of this (note that this is actually two real photos with captions rather than a traditional cartoon).

While we're on the subject of ridiculing feminism, the next shows an hysterical and clearly traumatised woman. The text states: " New feminist study: 7 out of 3 men will rape in the next 15 minutes. Feminist: I already got raped 3 or 4 times today, and it's not even 8 o'clock yet!"

I don't want to minimise the traumatic effect of genuine cases of rape, but the word, and its close cousin, sexual assault (which can mean a lot of different things), has been expanded to try to make the problem seem worse than it really is. So we get ridiculous statistics based on actions which are never well defined, and are often not rape at all, and might not even be lesser crimes.

Then there's a cartoon featuring our old friend, Greta Thunberg. In the first frame it shows her saying "Yet you all come to use young people for hope. How dare you!" The second frame shows some bad-ass looking action movie actor (sorry, I don't know who, I'm not good with celebrities) saying: "I don't remember asking you a goddamned thing."

This is a good point, isn't it? Greta seems to think the older generation have made a mess of things and are running to her for solutions. What utter drivel. She is a tool being used for political influence, and most of us would prefer to listen to sensible adults, rather than a silly, hysterical child. But again, things look bad if you take too much notice of this neurotic nonsense. (Just for clarity here, I believe global warming is real and primarily caused by humans - I just object to the frivolous and ridiculous political rhetoric from people like Thunberg).

My favourite is this. Multiple frames show young people from different eras. The first shows life 700 years ago and the text reads "1300s: I'm dying of black plague." Next is: "1800s: I'm working 16 hour days." Then: "1900s: I'm off to fight a war." And finally: "2000s: I'm offended." The first 3 frames show people demonstrating grim determination as they try to survive plague, struggle to complete 16 hours of hard work, and march off to war. But the final frame shows a bunch of teenagers sitting around and dramatically crying over nothing.

A similar sentiment is shown in my final example. Two frames show young people from two different eras. The first shows young soldiers, with the text: "1944: 18 year olds stormed the beach at Normandy into almost certain death." The second shows some pathetic modern teens with the text: "2019: 18 year olds need a safe place because words hurt their feelings!"

I've heard the idea many times that people need some element of danger, risk, or adventure in their life. When there is no genuine source for these, something fake needs to be created as a replacement. People returning from war report they can't cope with the mundane sameness of everyday life. They actually miss the fear, companionship, and excitement from living in a situation where death is imminent. Maybe being insulted by someone using the wrong language is the closest thing the modern generation can find to having any sort of genuine struggle. If so, it's kind of pathetic.

There is one other related cartoon I should mention while I'm here. The caption for this one says: "Guess what happens after you're offended. Nothing, that's it! Now be an adult and move on!"

And that's another good point. If someone says something you don't like, you could do one of two things: first, ignore it and move on; or second, get really upset about it, start a major argument, and try to get the person who said it banned or fired. Which one is more sensible in the end? Which causes the least trauma for all concerned?

I do feel a bit like an "old fart" when I criticise the younger generation like this, because older people have always done this, and often not looked particularly credible in the process. But I can't see why the criticism isn't valid. I can remember when I was that age I was also politically naive and supported many of the trendy issues of the time, but I really hope I wasn't as presumptuous and overconfident in my own infallibility as the current generation is. And even then older people told me similar things to what I am saying now, and - although I usually didn't accept it at the time - they were often right!

So it seems to me that the stress and anxiety that many, especially younger, people today feel is really their own fault. Things aren't as bad as we are often told. They should do what the character in my first cartoon did: turn off the TV. Note that I mean that figuratively. They need to disconnect from all overwrought, exaggerated portents of doom, and relax: it will be OK!


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OJB's Law

2019-11-01. Comments. Rating 4. ID 2010.

Many people have heard of Godwin's Law. Some don't know it by that actual name, but are still aware of the ideas behind it. And still others might not have heard of it at all. If you are the last category, here it is: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1. By "1" here, we mean 100%.

The rule is a humorous observation made by American attorney and author, Mike Godwin. It is often extended to say that anyone invoking Hitler in a debate automatically loses the debate, but that was not the original intent. However, I think it is fair in most cases to say that anyone in that situation (invoking Hitler to try to make a point) might have overplayed their hand and might have weakened their argument as a result.

So in summary, the law states that as a debate proceeds it becomes certain that Hitler will be mentioned, and the common extension is that when that happens the guilty party has either weakened their case, or lost the debate, as a result.

I often invoke the extended version of the law to point out where my opponents are drifting into the area of poorly supported supposition or extreme rhetoric. Note that mentioning Hitler doesn't really make anyone wrong, it just raises suspicion about why they feel the need to include such a trite and cliched point instead of using a more directly applicable one.

Perhaps because of the widespread knowledge of Godwin's Law, I don't see a lot of references to Hitler and Naziism in debates any more, but there are other, equally inane, points which are still being made.

So I would like to announce a new law, which I have (modestly) called "OJB's Law". That is, that as a debate proceeds on-line between a far-left, woke, social justice advocate and a more moderate person, the chance of the concepts of "racist" or "misogynist" or "mansplainer" being invoked approaches 1 (that is 100%).

I think most people would concede that racism and misogyny really exist. The case for mansplaining is a bit weaker, because that is a newer, less formal term, but I will allow that too, for the sake of this argument. So, sure, there are real cases where those words are fair, just like sometimes comparisons to Hitler and Naziism are fair, but in the vast majority of cases they are invalid and simply used as lazy and unsophisticated way to shut down a debate, especially when the person might be losing.

So I commonly see statements like "I'm not going to talk to you any more because you are just a racist", or "your opinion is irrelevant because you are a misogynist" , or "Just shut up, we don't need mansplainers here". When I see these I consider it a win, because the person is attacking me, or what they perceive to be a defect in my personality, instead of attacking my points, which presumably are much harder to counter.

Are there occasions when I actually am a racist, misogynist, or mansplainer? Well, not in my opinion, but these words do have quite flexible meanings, or at least their real meanings are open to interpretation, so it is possible that by some people's interpretation I am. But I think that, according to the strict definitions of these words, most people share these deficiencies to some extent.

For example, the dictionary definition of "racist" is: "a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another."

There are differences between races so it is inevitable that some will be better than others in some ways, while probably being inferior in others. But that idea is weakened by these points: many people now aren't purely one race, the difference in abilities within the human population as a whole is greater than the average difference between races, and cultural differences are likely to create greater effects than biological variations.

So if I say black people must be superior because they are the best at basketball, or sprinting, or marathons, is that racist? And if I say that Asian people must be superior because their average IQ is higher than any others, is that being racist? Oh, what about this one: white people have developed the greatest civilisations, systems of government, philosophical and scientific methodologies, and technological advances, so they are superior.

Are those examples racist? Very few would say yes about the first example, a few more would claim the second is, and a lot would claim the third is. But are they really any different?

In fact, I wouldn't make any of those claims. First, because they aren't always true, and there are numerous exceptions. And second, because I just don't think race is important enough to worry about. But I will debate the relative merits of different cultures. For example, I think Western culture is far superior to Islamic culture. Is that racist? Not according to me, but according to my opposition? I don't know, and I don't care.

At this point I should admit that a case could be made from the point of view of my opponents against me, along very similar lines. They might say that as soon as I mention words like "social justice warrior", or "the far left", or "the woke crowd" I have equally strayed from the real substance of the debate.

But there is a difference. I just use these words as a general description of a group, and try not to assign any value to them. I also don't use them as an excuse to dismiss an argument. So I would never say "I don't need to answer your points because you are just an SJW". But I might say "SJWs often make that point but I think it is invalid because...". And yes, I would explain why, and not just end with an ellipsis!

I am getting pretty tired of asking people not to use those words in debates, and in pointing out how they just destroy what little credibility they might have had to start with by using them. But I still often do persist in commenting, or just ignore the fact the word was used, or use their insult in a humorous way against them. Here are a few examples...

Opponent: He is a racist... why you feel bad when Australians say that kiwis should go back to New Zealand...
Me: This word racist is very over-used. I suspect everyone's a racist by your definition. Most people just don't care about that word any more.

Opponent: I object to smarmy racist pricks like you
Me: Well thatís OK, because youíre probably not the sort of person I seek approval from.

Opponent: So really you donít have the choice in how itís supposed to be pronounced, either learn it or be deemed ignorant and racist.
Me: Stop trying to inflict your opinions on everyone else. And please don't make these groundless accusations of racism - this sort of thing is getting tedious.

Opponent: and as for saying the silly Maori version, thatís quite open racism on your part
Me: Excellent. I was wondering how long it would be before I got called a racist. You didn't disappoint! Thanks.

So I think I will be invoking OJB's Law quite a lot in future, because poorly supported charges of racism, misogyny, and mansplaining don't look they will be going away any time soon!


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Simple Advice for Apple

2019-10-31. Computers. Rating 2. ID 2009.

I've got to be honest with you: sometimes I'm not proud to say that I am a computer consultant and programmer. Why? Because so many of the products and services which people use and are created by IT geeks (my informal generic term for several different specialties in information technology) aren't that great, and could easily be made better with the simple application of a bit of common sense.

To be fair to my colleagues, there are often good reasons - some of which might not be obvious - for some piece of computer technology not working as well as it should, but there are also a lot of what I suspect are really bad reasons for things not being optimal (such as policies enforced in large organisations, taking shortcuts to reduce costs, and being more focussed on making money than making good products).

Generally my blog posts are triggered by some experience in the real world which gets me thinking about a particular subject, and when I start down that path I often feel the need to share my thoughts in a post. So what has started this one?

Well, several things actually, but most immediately and annoyingly, Apple's failure to adequately warn users about the consequences of their actions, specifically in this case involving installing operating system updates.

Recently I have had to rescue several users who have upgraded to Apple's latest operating system, macOS 10.15 Catalina. A great thing about Apple is that all users get all the new systems for free indefinitely. In contrast, Microsoft charges users for new major releases of their OS. Apple can avoid this because only people who have bought Apple hardware can use Apple operating systems, so users have already bought expensive hardware which could be thought of as subsidising the development of new systems. In contrast, most computers running Windows aren't made by Microsoft.

Getting new systems for free as they are released is good in many ways, because computers are a relatively new consumer product and their possible uses in the real world change quite quickly. So new system updates can give the user access to these new features, and getting those extra capabilities for free is good. The operating system producers - and there are really only a few systems to worry about: macOS, iOS (and variants), Windows, Linux, and Android - are constantly improving their technology, often by eliminating poorly designed features and bugs from the past.

Again, this is good, but it also creates significant possibilities for incompatibilities between older applications a user might have and the latest system they might have been tempted to install. Additionally, OS producers don't want to support a large number of older versions, so they try really hard to get users to update as soon as they can, and this is often sooner than they should!

Specifically in Catalina, Apple have eliminated support for 32 bit applications. You don't need to worry too much about what that means. I'll just say that Mac hardware has been designed around a 64 bit architecture for many years now, and there is a significant overhead in supporting older programs, which might have originated back in the day before 64 bit hardware was common.

One way to think of an operating system is as a series of functions which programs can use to get things done. So instead of every software developer having to write code to read and write to disks formatted with Apple's file system, for example, Apple can provide libraries of functions to do those operations. This makes writing programs easier and it forces programs to interact with the hardware "correctly". In the example above, Apple could change the file system and as long as they updated the libraries (which they would) the program writers (and users) don't have to care. At least, that's the theory in an ideal world!

There is always conflict between allowing old programs to run, and keeping the system clean, simple, and reliable. The more old stuff the OS supports, the more possibilities there are for bugs, slowness, and security issues. Apple have always been "enthusiastic" about dropping old stuff early and forcing updates, where Microsoft have generally been better at continuing to support old stuff - at the expense of reliability, speed, and ease of use, unfortunately.

Both approaches - trying to move ahead and leave old stuff behind, and trying to maintain the usability of old stuff - have good and bad points, and I'm not judging here: I'm just saying that those two approaches exist.

Apple have a feedback page where anyone can leave bug reports, suggestions on improving products, and ideas for new features. I have used it several times, and left a comment once which applies to the issue I have been describing. I said: when the user is about to install a major update, and not just a minor (but possibly important) security update or bug fix, why not give them an extra warning by showing a message like "You are about to install a major system update. This might cause compatibility issues with applications you already use. If you are unsure about this please talk to your IT support person about it before proceeding".

I even said, facetiously, that Apple could use my brilliant idea for free and I looked forward to seeing it in future system updates! Well, that was a few years back now, and two or three major updates later, I still don't see it being done. That's a bit unfortunate, because while I understand that Apple want to encourage as many people as they can to move to the newest possible system, I would prefer those people didn't move to a system that isn't possible, at least for them!

So that was my simple advice for Apple, which seems to have been ignored, and the lack of that easy to implement warning has caused a lot of frustration for some users. But I'm not really complaining, because fixing all the ensuing issues keeps people like me in work!


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Free Speech Threats

2019-10-23. Comments. Rating 2. ID 2008.

If you follow this blog you will know that there are a few issues which I cover a lot. I mean, I don't just say the same thing over and over, because that would be boring, and this blog isn't boring, is it? But I do like to follow a few general themes and present different perspectives on them, as well as providing commentary on current relevant related issues. So the theme this time is free speech. Yeah, that again. But this time I want to discuss a few personal anecdotes which I think are representative of the underlying problem.

I make a lot of really controversial comments on social media, specifically Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. There are various ways these are responded to. First, there is just no response, either because it just didn't come to the attention of anyone who cared enough, or people decided to "not feed the troll". Second, I get a lot of support from people who believe in similar things to me. Third, I get minor push back and a reasonable debate on the merits of my points. And finally, I get all out aggression, with offensive language, threats of violence, and threats of legal action against me.

But so far nothing bad has ever happened to me. In fact, I have never even got a ban from any of the social media platforms even though other people I know have been given bans for what seem like less offensove comments than mine. Actually, in some ways the lack of a ban is a bit disappointing. Most internet platforms are hugely politically correct and one-sided in their condemnation of awkward opinions, so it is almost a badge of honour to have been banned at least once.

But that may change soon because a particularly pathetic individual I debated recently has threatened to report some comments I made both to Twitter and maybe even to the police. Yeah, I might get banned from Twitter and have the local goons bashing on my door (I'm being a bit dramatic there, because that is really unlikely, and I really hope the police prefer to deal with actual crime and not frivolous attempts at revenge from people who lose a debate).

At this point I should cover a few of the areas where I tend to run into trouble of this sort. These probably won't be too surprising to anyone, and include anything that isn't completely supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community, women, and Muslims. In general I'm not talking about being negative about these groups, it's more about not being overwhelmingly positive.

For example, in the past I said that Israel Folau - the Australian rugby player who dared to say his faith (fundamentalist Christian) stated that gay people (and others) will go to Hell - should be allowed to state his beliefs without repercussions. If you looked at the vicious attacks from my opponents you would think I had organised a private army to eradicate every gay person on the planet. All I had done is say let him state his opinion, then show him why he's wrong (if he is).

And when I dared to suggest that Greta Thunberg's hysterical appeal to world leaders was unlikely to be effective you would think I was the greatest climate denier on the planet, and a vicious thug who dared to criticise a young woman (or child, depending on what is convenient) because of who she is, not what she said.

And in this latest incident, I did one of the most unacceptable things possible: I dared to support someone who made an unfortunate, but not ultimately violent, comment about Muslims! I mean, I could have criticised a young, gay, Muslim, liberal woman and that would have been even worse, but Muslims do seem to be the most protected group at the moment, no doubt partly because of the Christchurch attack against them.

This person commented about an acid attack carried out against a young woman by Muslims, saying he would destroy mosques if a Muslim did that to his daughter. My comment was this: "He said that if his daughter was subject to an acid attack he would destroy mosques. Seems fair. He also said that he made that post when drunk. Big deal. Iíve seen a lot worse than that."

I was then accused of inciting violence against Muslims, but that wasn't my intention at all. To me the words "destroy mosques" seemed to imply damaging the building itself, not any people who might be there. Sure, it might be seen as somewhat insensitive after Christchurch, but I did clarify that I didn't condone violence against people. As I have said many times: I hate Islam, but I don't dislike Muslims. If that doesn't make sense think of it this way: it's like hating cancer but not hating people who have cancer.

So even my clarification wasn't enough for this pathetic individual who threatened to dob me in to the Twitter thought police, or even the real thought police. That all happened several hours ago now and I haven't suffered any repercussions yet, but I guess it takes a lot longer than that for anything to happen. Anyway, if anything does happen I will certainly report it here.

But all of this is just so unnecessary, and actually damaging to society as a whole. We should be able to discuss anything, and if we get the details wrong, or cross the line of fairness, then let's have a reasonable discussion about it, and maybe tone the rhetoric down a bit. On the other hand, a threat to report someone to a repressive authority just makes the alternative view look weaker. If it wasn't that weak, why would it be necessary to shut down the discussion using such dirty, cowardly tactics?

I really can't be bothered having to deal with the real police, so hopefully that doesn't happen, but I do hope I get a week or two ban from Twitter. Then I can report back to my controversial friends saying I have joined them in a ban. What a world we live in, when that's something to be proud of!


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Full Speed Ahead!

2019-10-16. Politics. Rating 2. ID 2007.

I recently listened to podcast which covered the arguments for and against human missions to Mars. Space exploration has always been a subject which has stimulated a lot of conversation, both for and against, and things don't seem any different now, because good arguments can be made for both sides.

So in this post, I should list out some of the pros and cons of manned space flight, and then finish with some more wide ranging thoughts on this, and related subjects.

The first, and maybe most obvious, issue is the cost. People think that spending money on space exploration is a waste, and those significant sums would be better spent elsewhere. They point out that other issues, such as climate change, global hunger, or peace-keeping might be able to utilise that money for greater good.

But others counter this by saying that the actual amount spent on space isn't that high. For example the US spends well under 1% of the total federal budget on NASA. That isn't much more than a rounding error on the military budget, so is the amount of money spent really that critical? Also, there is no guarantee that if NASA's budget was cut that the money saved would be used productively. Maybe it is more likely to be added to what is already spent on the military!

Finally, are those other problems really driven by cost? For example, if a few billion extra could be spent on issues related to climate change, would it make the political situation any different? Maybe not, because the politics would still essentially be the same as they were before the extra funding was available.

So what about issues relating to matters of practicality? Is it reasonable to plan on sending humans to Mars when robots and other forms of automation can do the job far more safely, cheaply, and practically?

Well, that is a good question which could be argued both ways. Robotic probes have been incredibly successful and have often lasted years longer than the initial plan stated. But many scientists point out that humans are still far more flexible than any machine, and that there is still no real alternative for doing detailed exploration.

Additionally, as well as exploration, we might eventually want to start a colony on Mars where humans could permanently live. This would mean the species has a far better chance of surviving existential treats, such as asteroid impact, catastrophic climate change, and global pandemics.

Also, related to matters of practicality, we have to ask whether it is even possible to send humans to Mars safely without significant improvements in technology. Possible issues which might be difficult to resolve, include radiation accumulated during the long journey, provision of life support once the destination is reached, and psychological and physical problems relating to living on a planet with almost no atmosphere, about a third the gravity of Earth, and an average temperature of negative 60 degrees Celsius.

These problems can all be overcome, but would it be better to wait another 50 years until the technology is better before even trying? Again, a case could be made both ways.

So now on to more abstract matters of morality. Do we have the right to take over another world and change it to suit ourselves? If there was life on Mars many people - even great proponents of science like Carl Sagan - have argued we should keep away. This is mainly because of potential contamination from Earth life - especially bacteria and viruses - which might adversely affect existing life on Mars.

Others go further and say we have messed up Earth so badly that we don't have the right to do the same thing to another planet, even if there is no life there. And yes, yet again, a case could be made both ways.

So by debating practical and philosophical points no real consensus becomes apparent. But there is one final aspect of this I should mention. That is that in the past the idea of exploration being necessary was just taken for granted. It was just something that needed to be done, and the fatalities and other disasters which happened to explorers of the Earth are well known. Given the context of the time, were expeditions to the South Pole any more risky than space exploration is now?

It seems to me that we have lost a lot of our confidence and our aspiration to explore and discover. We look at the past and only see the negatives - of colonialism, of environmental damage, of poorly planned exploitation of new lands - without understanding that there were many positives as well.

We - and by that I mainly mean the Western world - have lost our way as a civilisation. We are too cautious, too easily persuaded by negative arguments, too guilty about our misdeeds from the past. Money is important, technology is important, and some degree of caution in relation to the practical and symbolic outcomes of space exploration should be considered too.

But we need to get our confidence back. We need to return to that sense of curiosity we used to have. We should decide that we want to go to Mars as soon as is practical, then figure out how to overcome the possible problems. That's how progress has been made in the past, and that's the best way to continue making progress in the future. Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes!


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Not Guilty

2019-10-08. Politics. Rating 5. ID 2006.

As a white male of European descent and living in a prosperous western nation, is there anything I should guilty about? Should I regret the colonial past of my ancestors? Should I feel shame for the fact that other ethnic groups aren't doing as well in society as I am?

Well, many people - even those who share my auspicious circumstances - would say yes. But I'm not so sure. In fact, my response to this issue at this point is wavering between "no" and "Hell, no"!

This subject is particularly relevant at the moment, because modern Western countries which now exist after a colonial past seem to be suffering from an attitude of self-loathing, of regret for bad events from the past, and from an apparent need to apologise for succeeding more than some others.

At the same time there is a backlash against this attitude, because while the ideas I described above are ones which are often portrayed by most mainstream media, many governments, and a noisy fraction of the general population, I really don't think they are as widely accepted as might be assumed. The backlash against political correctness of this type should be obvious for all to see - except it isn't for many who continue to enjoy the social justice echo chamber where these views are encouraged.

Here in New Zealand recently the British High Commissioner Laura Clarke said her government "regretted" the death of some Maori people 250 years ago after an altercation with Captain James Cook's crew. In most cases Cook was a quite fair person when it came to his treatment of native people, and the incident seems to have been the result of a misunderstanding, or maybe an over-reaction to the aggressive actions of a Maori war party.

And, I guess it was regrettable, because people were killed unnecessarily, but if we are going to go back hundreds of years looking for things to regret, let's make sure we look at all sides of these conflicts fairly.

For example, in another violent incident involving Cook and a native group, 10 of Cook's men were attacked, killed, and later eaten by a group of Maori. Here's a description of the event...

"On December 17, 1773, Jack Rowe led an expedition ashore to collect food. They never came back. The men waited for them, growing more and more worried as time passed. In the morning, a second group led by James Burney went ashore to find them.

Soon, they found a Maori canoe and the remains of what they hoped was a dog. When Burney came in for a closer look, though, he found a human hand among the torn flesh. It was tattooed "TH" - the initials of Thomas Hill, one of the men who had gone ashore.

Burney and his men ran for their lives. When they made it to the beach, hundreds of Maori ran out to taunt them. Burney looked back. The Maori were roasting the pieces of Roweís dismembered body over a fire. They were devouring the flesh of Rowe and his men and feeding their entrails to the dogs."

So, when are we going to get an apology, or even an expression of regret for that revolting act? Note that this was a deliberate act of murder and cannibalism, and is orders of magnitude worse than anything Cook did. Do we get any indication of regret? No, according to standard politically correct doctrine, there's no need.

In fact, Maori have always been aggressive and violent. The first contact between Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and Maori lead to the following events...

"Maori canoes came out toward the boats again. Tasmanís men figured it was a friendly gesture, inviting them to come to shore - until the Maori started ramming their boats. One Maori clubbed a sailor in the back of the head with a pike and knocked him overboard. Then the others attacked - and killed four men before Tasman's men could get away."

Do we have an apology for this? Again, apparently not.

After the first event, on the next time Cook visited the area, some of the crew wanted to revenge the horrific deaths of their crew-mates. But Cook didn't allow that to happen, because unlike the natives, he was a civilised, forgiving, and decent person.

I was recently debating this subject on Twitter and my opponent mentioned the incident where Cook's men killed some of that war party. I said, sure that's unfortunate, but far worse things happened, and I mentioned the incident of murder and cannibalism. The other person just posted back "that didn't happen LOL". So, I sent her the link to the incident on the NZ government history web site. She never posted back on that one.

But this shows just how insidious this anti-Western propaganda campaign - which starts at the highest levels of government - really is. People are so ridiculously naive that they really do believe the myth of the "noble savage". They really believe that the Western invaders were the cause of all the problems, and the native population were blameless. It's not just pathetic, it's dangerous.

So should I feel guilty for my ancestors' past actions? Well, no, not really. Sure they could have done better, but I think most were good people. The native people though? Maybe they have a little bit more to be ashamed of!


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Criticising Greta

2019-10-05. Politics. Rating 3. ID 2005.

I have received a lot of "feedback" on social media recently after my various criticisms of Greta Thunberg. If you are unfamiliar with her (where have you been), Thunberg is a young (16 year old) Swedish climate activist who has become prominent recently after her "passionate" speeches addressing world leaders on the subject of climate change.

When I say feedback, above, I really should perhaps have said "abuse" or "insults" instead, because her supporters really don't consider any criticism of her to be allowable, and tend to go on the attack against her detractors, generally with simplistic catch-phrases and generic insults, rather than with anything of any genuine merit.

To give you an idea of her style of rhetoric, here is an excerpt from a well-known, recent speech: "This is all wrong. I shouldnít be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet Iím one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"

Clearly this speech is based around false premises, hyperbole, and emotional rhetoric, and it should be completely open to criticism based on those, and other points. And the fact that she is "just a child" is irrelevant. If she wanted to retain the benefits of being a child then she should have kept out of controversial, global politics. She can't have it both ways.

I'm not saying that political speeches, protests, and other activism are bad, in fact I fully support the right to protest. But there are a lot of protests based on very few real facts, and where a clear political view is being advanced, rather than anything more fair and reasonable.

So, sure, protest as much as you like, make as many controversial political speeches as you like, criticise your opponents as much as you like... but don't expect to get a "free pass" to do this without getting some push back from those who disagree with you. People who criticise Thunberg aren't disgusting, child hating, out of touch dinosaurs, they're people who disagree with her political views, and that is a perfectly reasonable view to have.

Note that by disagreeing with Thunberg's views I'm not denying global warming. I think the scientific consensus is probably very accurate, and I think we should be making changes now which will mitigate the effects of AGW. But it is possible to support action on climate while disagreeing with the whining, exaggerated, overly emotional BS people like her prefer to embrace.

If we really want to deal with climate change we need as many people to agree with the need for action as possible. By turning it into a politically contentious issue, being lead by the far left, and based on doubtful basic tenets, we virtually guarantee the right, and even moderte leftists (like myself) are going to feel disconnected from the cause. It's completely counter-productive.

So let's look at that speech again, and I'll reply to some of her "points"...

First, "This is all wrong. I shouldnít be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean." Well you'll find a lot of people who will agree with you on that one! Maybe if you did go back to school and learned a few facts you might be able to produce a more reasoned argument. This is also the classic case of "look at the sacrifice I'm making on your behalf, what a hero I am!" Yeah, don't go to any further trouble on our behalf, thanks.

Then, "Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you!" I don't know anyone who has come to her for hope. The vast majority of the people want nothing from her, apart from maybe just to shut up! Again, this is part of the heroic sacrifice narrative these activists seem to employ. Who do they think they are kidding?

And, "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet Iím one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying." Well, not really. You are extremely privileged and have a great life. If you choose a life of political activism, blame yourself, or those who control you, not the world leaders.

And, "Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth." I do agree with some of this. Major ecosystem collapse is happening, and unlimited economic growth is a major cause of many of our issues today. But what is the alternative? Many states have tried other economic systems and they have all failed miserably. Maybe a more reasoned approach, like moderating the current system, would be more likely to achieve success.

Finally, "How dare you!" Well, considering that the world is less violent, far richer, more fair, safer, and better in almost every way we can imagine, than it has been in the past, I would say we dare because we are doing the best we can. Any utopian dreams of a clueless 16 year old will almost certainly make the world worse overall, not better. That's how we dare!


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St George in Retirement

2019-10-04. Politics. Rating 4. ID 2004.

Many people today have pretty pathetic and meaningless lives. They have good jobs and most of their problems are handled by various mechanisms set up by our modern state. But these people still feel the need to be heroes in some sense, to fight against and overcome great adversaries, and to ultimately enjoy the accolades of their fellow crusaders for the good cause.

In the past, there have been genuine issues for these "heroes" to tackle: sexism, racism, unbalanced political power, economic disparities, and other trendy issues which were real to varying extents. But that's not quite the same today, because the genuine cases of unfairness in these forms are now almost non-existent. But if all of these "important issues" have been resolved, what is the modern crusader going to do? Apparently, they either need to find a new cause or pretend their existing one still exists.

This phenomenon is sometimes described as the "St George the Dragon Slayer in Retirement Syndrome" or just "St George in Retirement". Remember that St George was a real Roman soldier who was martyred for his refusal to recant his Christian faith. But his story was enhanced somewhat hundreds of years after his death through the addition of his exploits in ridding the world of a dragon which demanded human sacrifices.

This real story is itself a good metaphor. St George had genuine beliefs which he wanted to stand up for. Of course, Christianity itself is in may ways a quite immoral and irrational belief system, but let's give him credit for a certain degree of steadfastness, at least. But that wasn't enough, so a mythological element, based on no actual facts at all, had to be added, just to increase the level of heroism.

You can imagine after that heroic event (which wasn't actually real) that poor old St George would be wondering what to do next. I mean, after a while people would have forgotten about his great deeds, and he might start wondering where the next dragon is. He might imagine other dragons exist, just to maintain his status, or he might start seeing dragons where there is only something far more innocuous. You might imagine him killing someone's cow because, in the half light, it looked like a dragon. What a hero!

If the metaphor here isn't already obvious enough, let me list a few situations where this phenomenon is inflicting us with retired St George lookalikes today. Actually, it's fairly easy. Just look for any situation where social justice warriors are campaigning for justice. There's your retired St Georges!

The metoo movement say that men accused of sexual misconduct should always be assumed to be guilty and punished for their real or imagined transgressions without too much consideration of actual facts. Sure, there were one or two people who might have been genuine dragons - although even that has an element of doubt - but now that they have been dealt with by our virtuous heroes who is next? Surely more dragons of that type exist? Or if they don't, why not just imagine that those less harmful species are also dragons?

Feminists have got what they wanted: equal pay, equal rights in law, equal access to all sorts of institutions, but are they happy? Of course not. These champions of epic battles can't retire now. They want more. Women have had equal pay for years, but sometimes still get paid less because they work shorter hours. That's not good enough. Now we must reward their lower productivity, because that's the next dragon. Yeah, not a very fierce dragon, is it?

And indigenous people should have the same rights in society that everyone else has. Who would argue with that? Well, almost no one actually, and they have had these rights for years. But that dragon being banished has left the SJWs with no source for gaining even greater adulation from their peers. So let's all imagine the dragons still exist and keep up the good fight!

Of course, the phenomenon of the deluded hero is well established already, from Don Quixote "tilting at windmills" to modern conspiracies where the conspirator is the only one who can save us from the threat that no one else can see.

But these people are't heroes. They're sad, pathetic, broken down relics of the past. They might live in a group where other past heroes praise their efforts at attacking imaginary dragons, but the rest of us just look at them and laugh.

It's time to move on. Most of the dragons have already been defeated. Find a new dragon to tackle, or admit that what we imagine are dragons are just cute little bunnies which are only breathing fire in the imagination of the fake knights. St George really should give up and find a better hobby!


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