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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


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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Social Engineering

2019-09-24. Politics. Rating 4. ID 2003.

Imagine a company so corrupt, so arrogant, so dangerous, that they were prepared to feed their own warped political view of the world onto all of their users without telling them what they were doing. Imagine this company was by far the most successful in its field and was ultimately the source for most of the information garnered by people in the technologically advanced world. And imagine the people in that world were horrified by how despotic regimes, like that running China, manipulated what its citizens could see, but were too naive to realise the same was happening to them.

Well you don't have to imagine, because it is undeniably happening to most internet users - probably including you - right now, most likely without you even understanding how. That company is called Google, and if you use its products, especially its search engine - which I freely admit is technologically very good - then you had better understand what it is you are really getting, because it probably isn't what you think.

OK, after that ominous - and possibly somewhat hyperbolical - start I had better explain what it is I am ranting about this time. It is that Google has a very obvious political agenda. That agenda is based on extreme political correctness, and extreme devotion to the modern far-left social engineering program. But not only are the leaders of Google personally devoted to this dogma, but they are dedicated to forcing it on their employees (ask James Damore), and on you and me: their users.

No doubt they think they are "doing the right thing", but when people are convinced that their moral standards are better than anyone else's, and that it is their duty to spread those superior ethics to everyone else, well I think we can all see the danger inherent in that.

There is absolutely no doubt that Google are doing this. They are manipulating their users in subtle and not so subtle ways to accept their vision of a brave new world. Other tech companies do it too, of course. In fact, it seems that mindless political correctness is a prerequisite to be part of the new technological elite which primarily exists in California.

Twitter is a well known source of anti-right sentiment, often banning users with non-politically correct views but allowing almost identical, or worse tweets from people with opinions they approve of. And Facebook seems to apply its censorship policies unevenly too, by blocking posts which are inconvenient to its ideology. Apple is very PC, although it doesn't try to control its users so much, apart from stopping certain apps from being available at the app store.

I always knew this was happening, but I was never aware of the extent of the problem until I did some testing. In fact, my attention was drawn to this through the book "The Madness of Crowds" by Douglas Murray, where he explained this exact phenomenon, amongst many others.

Murray is a British author, journalist, and political commentator. His inconvenient views include criticism of modern European society's treatment of Islam and refugees, so he has few friends amongst the social justice warriors. The Guardian published a superficial criticism of the book without really responding to any of the points, or even conceding that the book might be worth reading just as an interesting source of alternative ideas. No doubt the reviewer had made up his mind what his overall tone was going to be before even reading the book.

The Guardian is notoriously left-wing and politically correct, but Murray has actually written material for it, so they should get credit for allowing that alternative opinion, and I still use it as a source, but I am always aware of their biased position on most issues.

To test Murray's claims (because we should never accept anything at face value) I tried similar searches myself. Here are the results...

First, I did a Google image search on the phrase "white men". The results on the first screen showed 10 white men, 3 black men (including the first and third image), 4 women of various ethnic backgrounds (including the second image). So the first actual white man was the fourth image, but the real problem was the uneven material included in the captions that went with the images. Here's some examples: "Biases that benefit white men", "White men are bad; even a six-year-old tells me so", and "White men killed more American police".

Next, I did a Google image search on the phrase "white women" and got the following results: 8 pictures of white women, 3 of black women (including the second image), and 4 black men (including the fourth and fifth). And, even worse, of the items featuring white women, all had negative connotations, such as "The Trouble With White Women", "Racism problem of Liberal White Women", "white women who voted for Trump", "An Open Letter To The White Woman", "How white women use strategic tears", "White women are posing as black", and "Stop Placing White Women on a Pedestal".

Finally, I did a search on "black men". All the results were of black men. There was not a single white person or woman anywhere to be seen, so clearly Google can get the search right if they try (but, of course, they don't). The captions were almost all positive, such as: "Good Black Men", "resilience of black men", "Best Black Men Haircuts to Try", and "Black Is Tranquil". To be fair, there was one negative caption: "Abusive Black Men". After all, they are still men, so deserve some negativity!

I gave up using Google a while back, because I dont like their politics, so I thought I would see what my search engine of preference, "DuckDuckGo" gave for similar searches. Maybe it was better, because most of the results were of white men, but there were several black men and women shown too, as well as two explicitly pornographic images! And again, I got the negativity with captions like "Biases that benefit white men" and "White men killed more American police than any other". So is that better or worse than Google? It's difficult to say.

So clearly we are getting very poor service from these companies, not because they don't have the ability to provide good results, but because they want to deliberately provide bad results. I could forgive the former possibility, but I think the latter is inexcusable. although there are a few possible excuses which I will cover before finishing this post.

First, do they, as private companies, have the right to do this? Well, that depends on your perspective, but I would say at the very least there should be some sort of warning that the results (and the users viewing the results) are being manipulated. Maybe a warning should say something like "these results have been artificially adjusted to provide positive racial balance" and an option "Try again without filtering".

Second, is the bias in the results justified if it enhances racial harmony and negates negative stereotypes? Well, if it did (and we don't actually know if it does or not) that might be a partial justification, although I still would rather use a search to provide accurate results rather than political propaganda, no matter how well intentioned it is.

Third, is my perception that white people are the victims of racism here either wrong - in other words the results are what an unbiased search would return - or just a result of my inability to admit that my privilege is being challenged? Well that seems so absurd that I don't need to answer. Do the searches yourself, on any politically contentious subject, and you will see that Google itself is extremely racist, and not afraid to indulge in a bit of social engineering!


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A Matter of Faith

2019-09-20. Philosophy. Rating 2. ID 2002.

The debate Bob was having over religion had got to a critical point. In the end it had come to what is more important: truth or faith. Bob said, "But, surely you agree that accepting reality and seeking truth is what really matters". His opponent, Alice, wasn't so sure, saying "But what is reality? Is your reality the same as mine? What gives you the right to claim yours is real and mine isn't?"

Bob had heard it all before: the same old relativist argument that truth is really just opinion, and that one opinion was just as good as any other. And he wasn't going to accept that, so he said "We are debating over the internet - an invention of science - so if you are so determined that religious faith is just as good as empirical science is it not rather hypocritical for you to use the results of a philosophical view you essentially reject?"

But his opponent had also been involved in this sort of debate in the past and was ready for that objection. She said "Superficial successes, such as technology derived from mechanical laws, don't really say anything about the underlying principles the universe operates on. And who is to say that those scientific discoveries couldn't ultimately be attributed to the guiding hand of a greater entity, like the one I have faith exists."

This was clearly going nowhere, and Bob knew that there was no absolute way to counter that type of argument. He also knew that philosophically scientific principles could never be fully proved within their own system of logic. Most science relied on inductive logic and that was never absolute. And any claim of success could never prove that the underlying methodology was irrefutable.

But still, he persisted: "We know that no system can prove its own validity, but let's just use common sense here. Science gives us great results and it's underlying logic seems to be valid, even if just from a common sense perspective. Considering all epistemological systems cannot be fully internally consistent, why not just choose the one which gives the best practical results?"

But again, Alice had a response to this: "Well, before Einstein we were fairly certain that Newtonian physics was correct, yet it turned out to really be just a model for what was really happening. Who's to say the same won't be found to be true for Relativity in future, or any other theory for that matter?"

Again, Bob called on an argument from practical consequences, countering with "We can never know for sure, but it is a practical approximation to assume theories which give us perfect results are true until something better comes along, or we start seeing situations where the theory is inaccurate or just wrong. And by the way, Newtonian physics was already known to be inaccurate before Einstein."

This argument went back and forwards along similar lines for a while, with neither of the debaters really being able to convince the other that either belief system was unconditionally better than the other, so they just had to leave it with no agreed winner.

So Bob logged out of the internet site and went back to his research. He was a professor of quantum physics at a leading university, after all, and debating religious nuts on the internet was really beneath the standard of dignified discourse he set for himself. And nothing was ever discovered through argument and pure thought anyway, because he was an experimental physicist and relied on the power of empiricism to establish what was really true. His philosophy was that unless experiment confirmed it, it was just an opinion.

And his current work was actually possibly related to the subject he had been debating. Ever since the famous double-slit experiment was first performed, there had been debate about what it really meant. Were particles really particles? Or were they waves? And how did the observer watching them affect the outcome?

Bob's assistant had been setting up the experiment for him while he engaged in futile on-line debate, so he thought he might go and check on progress. Bob arrived in the lab and noticed the assistant had already left for the day. Checking the time he realised he had wasted more time than he thought, and it was now well after 5.

But Bob was in the lab now so he figured he might as well run the experiment while he was there. The experiment involved a quantum interaction between subatomic particles which would cause a particle to divert and produce a signal in a sensor on the left side of the apparatus if the current model was accurate. It was a variant of the classic double-slit experiment where the particles behaved in different ways, demonstrating the strange but apparently true rules of the quantum world.

Bob strode purposefully to the particle accelerator and switched on the power to give it time to warm up. An ominous hum filled the lab as the energy levels rose. This was what science was all about, and Bob loved it. His colleagues who worked in theoretical physics might enjoy dreaming up new ideas, but until people like him actually tested them they weren't worth much.

And here he was, with the opportunity to help prove one of the greatest theories of them all: quantum physics. This was what reality was all about: the experiment showed actual reality, not the sort of personal preference his opponent in the argument earlier that day seemed to believe. But at the same time there was the chance the particle would move to the right, and if it did that it would be exciting too, because then the theorists would have something they needed to explain. It might seem like a game, but science had worked this way for its entire modern history.

The computer told him the experiment was ready to run. He tapped a few commands on the keyboard, and the particles accelerated until they were ready to be released towards the target. Bob pressed the initiate button, privately comparing it to the captain of the starship Enterprise issuing the command "make it so".

Nothing happened.

Bob glanced at the screen. A warning message asked "Do you really want to initiate the beam?" Well, of course I do, thought Bob, that's why I pressed the "Initiate Beam" button! Programmers worked with the practical side of technology, like he did, but he still had trouble understanding them some times! He clicked "OK".

The anti-climax was obvious. Clearly, being captain of a starship really was a bit more dramatic than what he was doing. The computer emitted a shirt beep and a message "Data capture complete" appeared, along with a button "View Results". He clicked it. A graph of the particle paths appeared on the screen. His experience of interpreting what might be a random collection of dots and lines to a lot of people immediately told him the result. The particle had moved to the left, as he had expected.

Well, it was OK to confirm existing theories, he mused, although proving those smug theorists wrong would have been more satisfying. He clicked the "Save" button and saved the results onto the computer's hard drive. As he did, he noticed an existing set of results already there. His assistant must have done a run to check the setup of the system before he did. Of course, the assistant didn't have the background knowledge to know how to interpret the results, so Bob opened them so he could have a quick look at them himself.

The file opened and Bob stared at the graph, highly puzzled. The particle had moved to the right!

Bob called the assistant and asked why he had changed the polarity of the experiment, but the assistant claimed he had changed nothing. Finishing the call, Bob tried the experiment again. He had total confidence that the result he got was correct, and when he repeated the experiment he got the same result: the particle moved to the left.

His phone beeped and he noticed Alice had started the debate again. He didn't bother reading her comment just yet because he wanted to do some more testing. He asked one of his colleagues - an astronomer who was working late, but those guys always worked weird hours - to run the experiment for him, just to check that he hadn't done anything obviously stupid. The particle went to the right. He tried it again himself, and it went to the left. Puzzled, he went home.

The next day he decided it was time to run a more credible test so he asked another physicist to run it, after explaining the mechanism involved. The particle went left. It seemed that physics experts made the particle go left and the rest made it go right. When his assistant arrived at work he went over the assembly of the system to make sure it had been done correctly. At one critical stage the assistant had reversed the polarity of the beam. The particle should have gone right all along!

He ran the experiment again himself, and it did go right. At this stage Bob was starting to question his own concept of reality. Could it be that the way the real world worked really was linked to the observer? When he was convinced the particle should go left it did, yet when he understood there was an error and it should go right that happened instead.

Suddenly he wasn't so convinced that his argument about there being a single underlying reality was true. Looking for a distraction, he picked up his phone and looked at the screen. The message from Alice was still there. She had commented "What's the difference between your confidence in science and my faith in religion. Is there really any difference between confidence and faith? Is my reality any less real than yours?"

It was as if she had known about the experiment which had so shaken his faith in reality. He replied, "No, there isn't."


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Casual Racism is OK

2019-09-13. Politics. Rating 4. ID 2001.

According to New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner, Meng Foon, itís not okay to tell racist jokes anymore, not even Irish jokes, although we are still a bit uncertain about Australian jokes, and it's fine to tell them about the majority white community, of course.

Is this a reasonable point? I mean, didn't casual racism, like telling jokes about minority groups, not ultimately lead to atrocities like the Christchurch shooting? Well, we don't really know for sure, but I do know that casual "racist" jokes have been told by many people who don't commit atrocities, and I'm fairly sure it hasn't been a major indicator of a potentially psychopathic personality.

In fact, telling jokes about a particular community, country, or "race" is often an indicator of the exact opposite attitude to wanting to inflict harm on that group. Maybe the most popular form of racist joke in New Zealand, for example, involves jokes about our best friends, the Australians. Telling jokes about them is more a sign of a comfortable friendship where a few flippant wisecracks are seen as more a gesture of familiarity and friendship than anything else.

So, even today, many people would tell Australian jokes with no hesitation, yet telling a similar joke about Muslims would be fraught with peril! So the group we are joking about are the people we like. So knowing this, how does repressing jokes improve relationships with a group? Having to be particularly careful when saying anything about a group just emphasises the differences between them and us, rather than encouraging greater understanding.

I criticised the previous Race Relations Commissioner on many occasions, and the superficial, politically correct proclamations coming from this one make it look like he will also be the target for a certain amount of condemnation as well!

To be fair, it is part of the mandate for holding that position which virtually guarantees the person will have a particular perspective which I will disapprove of, especially when considering my recent crusade against political correctness. So my comments shouldn't really be taken as a criticism of an individual, because it's more about the position that person holds (although that in turn requires a particular type of person to hold it).

Here are a few worrying comments recently made by Foon...

He said that "jokes can degrade a person's ethnicity". But what does that even mean? Ethnicity is a social construct which is based on many factors. Factors which degrade people of a particular ethnicity might include a predisposition within that group to crime, laziness, ignorance, or superstition. I can't see how a joke is likely to be a major factor compared to those. And what is his comment based on anyway? I've never seen any credible body of research on this subject, so he's really just making it up.

He also said "systemic racism and unconscious bias is prevalent in society, and communities need to be educated." I think many groups in New Zealand have a preference for their own culture. For example, many Maori people seem to be rejecting Western culture in favour of a particular interpretation of their traditional beliefs, but does that make them racist? And how many of the problems minority groups have are due to biases within the system, and how many are due to cultural factors within the community itself? I'm sure both exist to some extent, but I reject the implication that all "disadvantaged" groups became deprived through no fault of their own. And this comment about "communities need to be educated" should be very concerning. In this area education tends to really be propaganda. We should be very careful of any education from groups motivated by political correctness!

Then he said: "I think we've got to find other jokes to tell that doesn't [sic] involve degrading people's dignity." Well that could be difficult, because it seems to be a popular sport today to find some form of insult in even relatively innocuous comments. Do we really have to stop and think before every light-hearted comment we make, to avoid potential offence? This sounds like a very sad future Foon has envisioned for us.

Finally, he said: "that education and calling people out is very important to tell people that jokes and comments are not right." So it sounds like the concept of the "thought police" is alive and well in the more politically correct parts of New Zealand society (as well as elsewhere, no doubt). Again, it seems like a horribly repressive society might be favoured by some.

Maybe I'm in a position where I can afford to be flippant about casual racism. After all, I am a middle aged (OK, older) white male so what possible derogatory treatment would I be likely to face? Well, quite a lot actually. I constantly hear jokes about being a geek, which would be considered completely inappropriate if they were about another group. And my opinion is often derided because the opinions of old white guys are just not taken seriously in many places.

But I don't take this as a great insult and accept it without taking it too seriously, instead of whining about it like many other groups do. I know that the vast majority of comments and jokes about me don't really do any harm so I accept them. I know many people have this attitude and I enjoy exchanging "racist" jokes with my Australian friends, because that's what friends do. Enemies though? No, we don't make jokes about them!


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Thoughts on Jordan Peterson

2019-09-12. Philosophy. Rating 3. ID 2000.

Jordan Peterson is an interesting character. He's clearly a very thoughtful and intelligent person, but at the same time he does tend to stray into areas where symbolism and metaphor might make his message more obscure to some people (including me sometimes). For example, his original podcast interview with Sam Harris, where he seemed to redefine the word "true" by saying that Christian myths are literally true, didn't earn him any extra points for credibility with me.

If he wanted to say that those myths were an important symbolic way to represent the real world, then why not just say that. Redefining words like "true" is not a good way to engage in debate. I think Peterson and Harris probably agreed on a lot more than what they seemed to on the surface, but by understanding the meaning of words differently, they seemed to be more in conflict than they really were.

In fact, Peterson seems to spend a lot of his time commenting on the state of the world in highly symbolic ways, sometimes in relation to stories from the Old Testament. I think there is some validity in this, but I also think it is possible to find parallels between myth and reality if you look hard enough and expect to find them, even when they don't really exist. It's sort of like a slightly less dishonest version of the trick some creationists use when they look for superficial similarities between parts of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science.

That criticism aside though, I do admire Peterson and enjoy listening to his debates and discussions, even when they stray too far into metaphor and supposition.

But maybe I've got ahead of myself. Who is Jordan Peterson? He is a Canadian professor of psychology and a clinical psychologist. If you have never heard of him - what planet do you live on? - he has become well known in recent years, starting with his rejection of a new Canadian law around politically correct use of gendered pronouns. Since then he is primarily known for his philosophical and psychological advice to people on how they might live better lives.

When I studied psychology at university there were two main parts to the subject - at least the way I saw it. The first was the old psychoanalytic model, with its theories based on the work of famous psychologists who developed theories around the beginning of last century, especially Freud and Jung. Note that their work could be seen as being based on a similar view to Peterson's metaphorical thoughts. For example: how should we interpret Freud's Oedipus Complex? Surely we shouldn't interpret it as being "true" in any reasonable sense. Peterson is clearly a big enthusiast for Jung's work, so his mindset shouldn't be a surprise here.

The second part of my psychology training (which was one of my majors in my degree, along with computer science) was more around empirical and experimental psychology. This based its knowledge more on the outcome of experiments than pure thought. It was a bit like philosophy versus science. It should be clear that I prefer the more "empirical" or "scientific" approach, but I must be fair and point out that the recent discovery of the "replication crisis" in psychology (and other subjects to a lesser extent) casts some doubt on this approach too!

Recently I listened to a couple of podcasts where Peterson explained his ideas on whether he believed in a god or not. You might wonder why it would take 2 podcasts, both of which might be an hour or two long, to offer an opinion on this, but if you did wonder that maybe you haven't heard a Peterson podcast before!

So to summarise his thoughts, it seems that he does believe in a god, and that he favours Christianity, although I didn't find his reasoning on this particularly convincing. He is not the only person to make a lot of what I think are unsupported claims in favour of theological beliefs, and I have commented on the same phenomenon with Ben Shapiro in the past. Again, I have to say that, like Peterson, I like a lot of what Shapiro says too, but I find his arguments for religion (Judaism in his case) a bit less rigorous than those he has on other subjects, and seem to be designed to try to prove a belief he has for non-rational reasons, such as tradition.

Of course, I found a couple of recent podcasts featuring Peterson discussing religion with Shapiro and Bishop Robert Barron particularly annoying! Because when two people agree on unsubstantiated facts, and just bypass any question about their relevance and move onto the next point, you can prove anything. But I listened to these podcasts anyway, because some people just have interesting ideas, even when I think they're wrong!

But what are my specific objections? Well, there's ideas like humans have some basic values they know are good, therefore those must have originated with a god. And there's the idea that without a higher power of some sort people have no meaning or purpose. The first seems to be one possible explanation, but there are plenty of others, such as our values being shaped by social evolution. And the second seems nothing much more than an "argumentum ad consequentiam", that is the consequences of a god existing are positive therefore one mush exist.

It seems unlikely that Peterson would really be so inept that he would commit basic informal logical fallacies such as these, but in discussions about religion - especially where other participants are also believers - it is easy for even very intelligent people to use arguments which are less rigorous than they might be in other areas.

So, in the end, I think I have to say that I find Peterson's talks worth listening to, even though I only agree with about half of what he says. That would be the bits where he rejects political correctness, neo-Marxism, and postmodernism, which I also find problematic. I guess it would be rather boring if I agreed with him on everything, so it is good to "suffer" through some other subjects where I inwardly cringe when I hear them. That applies to everyone to some extent, because I don't agree 100% (or disagree 100%) with anyone, and if he was more empirical he wouldn't be the same, interesting person.

It's always good to accept the good with the bad, and realise everyone has both good and bad ideas. If everyone followed this conviction I think the world would be a better place, but today people seem more interested in evaluating the ideas based on who the person is (leftists think Trump is always wrong, for example - he isn't) rather than what they are saying. And that's really unfortunate, I think.


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That Evil Patriarchy

2019-09-02. Politics. Rating 4. ID 1999.

We are often told today that the root of most of our modern ills is the "patriarchy". So first, what actually is it? Here's an analysis from a feminist web site: "There are so many reasons why we need an intersectional feminist analysis and practice in our daily lives, and the patriarchy (a sociopolitical and cultural system that values masculinity over femininity) is the primary culprit. Patriarchy perpetuates oppressive and limiting gender roles, the gender binary, trans phobia and cis-sexism, sexual assault, the political and economic subordination of women, and so much more. And it is of the utmost importance that we prioritize dismantling the patriarchy in our intimate lives, as well as in a larger systemic sphere."

Not surprisingly, this is an extreme and rather ideological analysis, with little balance or nuance. Of course, being from a feminist site, that's exactly what we should expect, because modern feminism really has become a bit of a joke.

Sometimes the alleged source for our perceived problems can be more specific, or show slight variations on the theme, so it might be a "white patriarchy" or a "capitalist tyranny", or something similar. Given how pervasive this idea is, especially amongst the politically correct mob (and I use that word advisedly) on the left, does it have any legitimacy?

Well sure, to some extent it does, because very few ideas have no basis at all in reality, but certainly not to the extent suggested by the PC crowd. And as well as this, the negative aspects of the patriarchy are often highlighted without a corresponding acknowledgement of the opposite side of the story: the good things the current hierarchical system (whether you call it a patriarchy or something else) has given us.

Some people would say that hierarchies are inevitable, and that they also inevitably lead to inequitable outcomes. This could be true, although there are theoretically ways to organise society which are more egalitarian. The question is: can these other systems work at all, and of they can, would we even want them?

Because think about it: a hierarchy is a system which rewards the most successful members with greater wealth and/or power. If an individual shows extraordinary skill or dedication, is that not a fair outcome? Again, in some ways the answer is yes, but in others, no.

So to get to the key point of this post: I think hierarchies (like the so-called patriarchy) can be useful, but we need to be sure of two things: first, that the measure of a person's value is fair and appropriate; and second, that the rewards for being at the top of the hierarchy aren't too excessive.

And that seems to be the problem today. The people at the top might have got there through merit - at least in most cases - but is the way that merit is measured a good one? After all, we could make a system based on intelligence, or aggression, or physical strength, or social skill, or anything else, and the outcome would be completely different.

Currently the hierarchies which affect the average person most are in two main areas: politics and business. In politics the key attribute which is rewarded seems to be the ability to talk BS, and in business that attribute seems to be single-minded greed. Now, obviously I am deliberately being a bit provocative there, but I think there is also some truth in the statement.

There are other hierarchies which do seem to be more based on genuine merit. For example, in science, intelligence and knowledge are rewarded, and in the arts it is creativity and skill. Again, I am deliberately simplifying the truth because I don't believe for an instant that it is that simple, but if it was true we should ask why those meritorious hierarchies aren't more influential.

Unfortunately, the two systems which affect us most are also the ones which assign merit on the most negative characteristics. This is probably not an accident, because those negative characteristics are the ones which make people more enthusiastic about controlling others.

But let's move on from the negativity and ask if there are any good points inherent in these hierarchies. Well sure, of course there are. For example, modern politics has obvious defects, but compared with the dictatorships, empires, and other despotic regimes of the past, it isn't that bad.

And big business has obvious negative characteristics, such as monopolistic excesses, poor environmental outcomes, and unequal distribution of wealth, but other economic systems haven't demonstrated conspicuous success. Communist and excessively socialistic states haven't just failed, they have made most of their citizens' lives a misery on the way to failure.

So the feminists are welcome to get on with their analysis of the evils of the oppressive male-dominated regime they see as the source of so many problems. But I would suggest they don't publish their commentary on the internet, because the vast majority of the technology used there came from the patriarchy they want to dismantle, and we don't want them to seem like they are hypocritical, do we?

And it might be best they don't say anything in other media either, because the relative peace and openness to ideas comes through that same patriarchy they so vociferously reject. So we wouldn't want them to risk being the victim of all that oppression, would we?

And their ability to travel and to have the time to "research" their ideas comes from an economic system built around the patriarchy they seem to want to have nothing to do with. Surely they would never want to risk becoming part of that evil system by making use of its dubious benefits.

Yeah, it would be best for them to follow their higher moral ideals and just go back to the distant past before all of the terrible things the patriarchy has done existed. They can carve their ideas on a rock and hit all the men over the head with it. That should make them happy.


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Feel Good or Do Good

2019-08-30. Politics. Rating 4. ID 1998.

Many people find the leadership qualities and progressive attitudes of prominent activists today to be quite inspiring, especially when the activist is a young person. For example, Greta Thunberg is a teenage (born 2003) climate activist from Sweden who has gained worldwide fame for her tough talking about climate change, even to world leaders (for example, she spoke at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference).

Her direct (and occasionally almost incoherent in some interviews I have seen) way of speaking might be partly due to the fact that she seems to be on the autism spectrum, which is a little bit concerning because it might indicate that her rhetoric is primarily due to lack of careful consideration, especially of social factors, rather than a thorough analysis of the facts.

So, what has she achieved? Well, she persuaded her parents to give up air travel and eating meat to help reduce their carbon footprints, was largely responsible for the current trend of school strikes for climate action, and recently travelled to the US by solar powered yacht to participate in climate change action meetings.

If you follow this blog you will know I am a science-based person and fully support the scientific findings on the reality climate change, so you might think I would be a big fan of Thunberg, and other young people engaging in similar political action. Or maybe not...

Because, I don't find this kind of activism particularly compelling. Making symbolic changes which make no difference at all to the big picture (this is "global" warming we are talking about, after all) is often not only unproductive, it is actively counter-productive.

Look at all the supporters of Thunberg et al, and you will see a bunch of people who are already "on-board" with the need for action to reduce or prevent climate change. But these aren't the people who need to be persuaded. Those who really need to change their mind are not going to be convinced in any way by a naive and simplistic campaign apparently being run by children (I say "apparently" there because there are reports that Thunberg is simply a mouthpiece for the real activists behind the scenes - I'm not sure how true this is, but it doesn't really affect my argument anyway).

All most activists of this type are doing is having themselves, and their admirers, indulge in symbolic gestures without really achieving anything. They prefer to "feel good" rather than "do good". The people who do this think they have made a difference, but all they have really done is assuage their guilt without doing anything truly useful.

I'm not the only one who thinks this, either. Journalist Christopher Caldwell wrote in the New York Times that he thinks Thunberg's "simplistic, straight-forward approach to climate change will bring climate protesters into conflict with the complexities of decision-making in western democracies". And French philosopher Raphael Enthoven claims that many people "buy virtue" with their support for Thunberg, but don't actually do anything to help.

Also, Thunberg has spent a lot of time criticising western countries about their carbon production, but is this fair considering that in the last 20 years the CO2 emissions of both the USA and Europe have dropped by 10% and 16%, but the emissions of India and China have increased by 155% and 208%? To be fair here, I do admit that different countries started at a different base in 2000, so these numbers don't tell the whole story, but surely the biggest polluters should be the biggest targets for criticism. Or is criticising non-Western countries too politically incorrect?

I don't mean to sound too critical of activists in this area, because they do generally have the best interests of the world in mind, but good intentions don't make up for bad outcomes. And I think that anyone - even a young person - who gets involved in a political debate like this, has to expect to get caught up in some backlash, especially if she speaks directly and forcefully herself, she can hardly expect others not to react in a similar way.

I should say that most of the extreme negative reactions have come from people who really are hopeless cases - such as climate denial groups and far-right political parties - and their opinions are of no real importance because they have a particular agenda which is unlikely to be affected by anything. But it is the "silent majority" (who aren't always silent and might not technically be in the majority) who I am more concerned about. They are the ones who might actually take climate change less seriously because it is being championed by some naive children.

And even if the world did follow these activists' advice, where would we be? No better off really, because making token gestures like declaring a climate emergency, buying an electric car, or becoming a vegetarian makes no real difference. Because the unfortunate fact is that there are too many humans, and this is by far the biggest cause of our environmental problems.

In 2017 some Canadian researchers evaluated carbon reduction strategies which might be used in modern western countries. They identified the following actions which might be taken, and showed how much atmospheric carbon they each might save per year...

Upgrade light bulbs: 0.1
Recycle: 0.23
Wash clothes in cold water: 0.247
Eat less meat: 0.8
Buy a more efficient car: 1.19
Buy green energy: 1.5
Avoid one trans-Atlantic flight: 1.6
Don't own and use a car: 2.4
Go vegan: 3.76
Have one fewer children: 58.6

So having an extra child is 5 times more costly in carbon that everything else combined!

At the beginning of this post I listed some things that Thunberg's parents had been persuaded to do, ostensibly to help prevent climate change, but do you know what they could have done that would have made far more difference? Not had any kids!


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Too Busy to Protest

2019-08-28. Politics. Rating 4. ID 1997.

Every day we seem to be exposed to more whining from groups who consider themselves unfairly disadvantaged by modern society. By "whining" I mean protesting, social media campaigning, appearing in biased reporting by mainstream media, and featuring in various forms of political posturing. There's no doubt a case which could be made in favour of whining, because the way our society works favours some people over others, but I don't think this is primarily because of anything as simple as race, gender, etc. It's more related to cultural and behavioural factors, which are theoretically equally attainable by any group.

So for example, when I see a bunch of social justice warriors protesting about how a bit of land is being used, because of some nebulous historical value, I don't really admire them too much for their moral standards or the persistence of their actions. In fact, I tend to look at theme as being rather pathetic. Actually, often my first thought is: how can these people afford to spend weeks protesting? Do they not have a job they have to go to occasionally? And the answer is usually no, because these people do tend to be some of the most useless parasites we have.

I know exactly the perspective they are exhibiting, because when I was a student (yeah, that was a few years ago now) I also had that ridiculous, simplistic, naively moralistic stance too. In fact, it has only more recently that I realised how uninformed and superficial my views were. I do have to say at this point that people with the opposite views, such as extreme conservatives who automatically reject any changes in the structure of society, are equally wrong, but these aren't the people who are being portrayed as the shining paragons of virtue by a lot of the media today, so I think it is fair to concentrate my opprobrium on the SJWs on this occasion.

But first, I have been criticised in the past for using the term "SJW", because I criticise other people for using descriptive words like racist, misogynist, and Islamophobic, and SJW seems to be a similar type of word to these. But I really cannot think of a better way to describe the people I am criticising in this case. So to partly assuage that criticism, here is what I mean: a person who is dedicated to showing their support for social justice issues, who supports "disadvantaged" groups with little real analysis of the facts, and who bases their attitudes more on the neo-Marxist agenda of the far left that anything more balanced and genuine.

I should say here too, that I am not against protesting, but I think it needs to be done appropriately and in moderation, and using a protest as a way to virtue signal your support based on your dedication to an extreme political perspective is counter-productive.

In fact, demanding special privileges for "disadvantaged" groups is by definition itself bigoted. There is an idea known as the "soft bigotry of low expectations" which states that people who want to give these groups a better chance to succeed by giving them special privileges are treating those groups as if they are inferior in some way. The fact that there are lower expectations of that group, to the extent that they cannot compete equally with everyone else without help, is condescending to that group, and ultimately a form of bigotry.

There is a counter to this point, which is that the "system" is biased against certain groups. I think there is some evidence to show this is a factor, but it is far from clear that it is significant. Because there are plenty of parts of the "system" which are biased in favour of "disadvantaged" groups, and there are plenty of examples of members of these groups succeeding without any special help.

I have a cartoon which shows a woman graduating from university and says something like "you want equal pay? why did you not do an engineering degree then, instead of gender studies?" It's a good point. Most likely that woman will not be paid as well as a man who is an engineer (or a woman who is an engineer, of course) and no doubt she will whine about it (well, she did do gender studies, after all). But whose fault is that? We all know (we know it, even if some won't admit it) that engineers are more useful to society than whatever gender studies graduates become (if they become anything) so this is an economic factor within our system, not a deliberate bias against women.

And the same criticism could be applied to a lot of protestors. Instead of endlessly complaining, why not work on making things better for the "disadvantaged" group? Build them houses, help them get jobs doing that building, and show them that they can do well in society if they just make the effort.

Just to finish this discussion, I do have to say that I do not accept the way different occupations are valued by society, and I do think big corporations have too much control compared to the average person. Plus, I fully recognise that protests can be reasonable way to achieve change. But I would encourage anyone involved in a protest to examine their motivations and decide whether they have genuinely looked at the situation being protested and aren't just joining the crowd and by indulging in the "soft bigotry of low expectations" actually making things worse for everyone, including the group they think they are helping.

But the general ignorance and stupidity of most protestors should be no surprise to anyone. The smart, innovative, motivated people who actually get things done aren't there. They're too busy to protest!


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Owning Yourself

2019-08-20. Philosophy. Rating 3. ID 1996.

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. This is a quote from German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, and it's one I particularly identify with.

The word "tribe", I think, is especially significant there, because modern politics seems to have devolved into a morass of tribalism which is difficult to resist. Many people don't seem to have put much thought into their core beliefs, but instead rely on which "team" they most identify with. And they seem to have picked the issues which most concern them, and their perspective on those issues, based on what their tribe deems important rather than any rational reasoning.

People join tribes for various reasons. Sometimes it is tradition. A certain family, group, nationality, or culture might have been consistently associated with a particular political party, organisation, or other group in the past and that just naturally extends into the future. At other times it is a result of a particular current circumstance. For example, a person might spend some time studying at a university and be captured by the particular views which tend to be most prevalent there. In fact, that seems to be an unusually strong factor today.

I know that belonging to a tribe is a difficult compulsion to resist. When you are in a group, and your attitudes and actions are being praised and reinforced by that group, there is a distinct feeling of belonging and comfort which results. But to me, there is also a sense that I have given something up, that I am being dishonest or intellectually lazy, that I am taking the easy rather than the authentic route. Or, as Nietzsche might say, I no longer own myself.

So, while I am naturally a progressive liberal, I have severely criticised the more extreme beliefs inherent in that view, and have seen a lot of merit in more conservative philosophical perspectives recently. But at the same time I have criticised people in the conservative tribe too, despite being tempted by the sense of inclusion I might get from being part of it. I always feel "dirty" when I agree with people in any group when under the surface I know that it's not really the way I feel.

Of course, this means my views are unpopular with every tribe, but Nietzsche did warn us about being "lonely often, and sometimes frightened" but he is also right in recognising the value of the "privilege of owning yourself".

For me, this phenomenon most often manifests itself in on-line discussions and debates, but it happens to me a lot in "real life" as well. For example, I refuse to "toe the company line" and often criticise the institutions I am most part of. But why wouldn't I? I would day it's everyone's duty to portray all situations realistically and honestly. Again, if I tried to communicate an official policy or stance I didn't believe in myself I would not feel authentic, and would be likely to end the statement with a facetious comment, like "meanwhile, in the real word, here's what's really happening".

Of course, tribes are a way people are controlled and manipulated, so it is often not surprising that there are numerous controls in place trying to "keep people in line". So, significant resistance to escaping from the tribal influence should be expected, both from the rulers and influencers of the tribe, but also more covertly but probably more effectively by other members who often consider it a duty to maintain a consistent path for all the members.

In fact, there seems to be a greater level of opprobrium from people within the group towards people who fail to act according to the established standards. Criticism from opposing groups exists, but that is just considered part of the game. It's sort of like the greater harm a a soldier suddenly turning against his own side can inflict. That person is probably more feared, and dealt with more harshly, than the enemy.

The other aspect of this need for inclusivity is hero worship. People like to have well established leaders and enemies, and they tend to look at those roles simplistically. It is superficially (because everything about this sort of attitude is superficial) comforting to listen to certain tribal leaders and accept everything they say as truthful or meaningful, while completely rejecting opposing views.

I have some people who I find interesting and who often represent my views quite well, but I try to avoid thinking of them as "heroes", and I certainly don't agree with anything anyone says, just like I don't completely disagree with anyone whose general philosophy is contrary to mine. So the people who I enjoy listening to: Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Eric Weinstein, Joe Rogan, etc (notice the diversity of backgrounds and views there, although are they all members of the "Intellectual Dark Web"?) are interesting, but there are plenty of times I disagree with them.

Before I came to this revelatory attitude I was more tribal and I remember becoming quite annoyed and indignant when I came across views which didn't fit my preferred narrative. So, if anyone pointed out that the true situation was more complex than what I admitted, and that the side I saw as the bad actors did have considerable good on their side as well, I would have felt cornered. Now I say "there are good arguments on both sides, but I think on balance this side has more merit" (this might have arisen from a discussion about Palestine versus Israel, for example).

And if anyone had criticised one of my "heroes" I would have felt attacked and reacted accordingly, even if the person had a good point. Now I just say "yes, I do think a lot of what that person says is poorly supported by actual facts, but his underlying philosophy is interesting and I think there are components of that which are factual and worth considering" (I might say this about Peterson, for example).

When I see people act aggressively when I enter a simple debate with them I now think it has a lot to do with this. I make points which disagree with the attitude they have acquired through their tribe, and they know I'm right - or at least have an argument with some merit - and react to defend their tribe. It's actually a quite common and obvious phenomenon when you know what to look for.

Maybe the most egregious example of this voluntary intellectual slavery is in religion. It is like the ultimate form of surrendering your individuality to an ideal, and of engaging in unconditional hero worship. After all, worshipping a god is a far more obvious example of that than idolising any mere human. And the rituals and rules of a religion are the most stultifying to any expression of individuality. The fact that some religions actually celebrate the metaphor of their followers as being sheep is quite revealing.

Maybe that's why I find religion such a disquieting concept: the fact that it can be so comforting because it offers easy answers and the freedom from having to think too much is great for many people, but it also involves effectively selling your soul. To be fair, these factors vary a lot from one religion to another, so my criticism here shouldn't be seen as too universal.

But there are certain religious groups who really do take this to extremes. And that might be why those people, like the politically motivated activists I mentioned above, also become quite aggressive when their ideas are challenged.

But rather than despising them for being weak or naive, I sort of feel sorry for them. They might think they got to where they are through careful thought, but they are just slaves of the tribe, they have failed to pay the price for the privilege of owning themselves.


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The Problem of Power

2019-08-15. Politics. Rating 4. ID 1995.

I receive regular email updates from all the major political parties in New Zealand. These range from the left oriented Green Party, to the moderate left Labour Party, to the moderate right National Party, and to the libertarian Act Party. These different parties go through phases of popularity, and a few years back Labour requested the recipients of their newsletter to send them advice on how to improve their popularity, which at the time was in the 20s with Andrew Little as leader.

My response was to advise them to promote Jacinda Ardern to leader, and they did, and it worked because Labour are now in power with Ardern as prime minister. Of course, I don't think they made that move solely on my recommendation, but I do have to share part of the credit... or blame!

And I say "blame" above deliberately, because I thought Ardern would make a good political leader, but I had no idea she would turn into the monster she has. I'm not the sort of person to just automatically blame her for everything which has turned out badly since she took power, or to say she hasn't done anything good, just like I am not the sort of person to say that kind of thing about people on the opposite side of politics, like Trump. But I do generally disapprove of her style and don't think she is doing a very good job overall.

People might point to her quite high approval rating, which is far above any other politician's, and say she must be doing a good job because of that, but I disagree. First, approval ratings just show someone is good at public manipulation, and Ardern is a master at it. The ironic thing is she is another example of the type of leader who is great at BS but very little else, just like John Key, our previous leader from the center-right party which is opposed to her. My second point is that there is no obvious alternative. The leader of the opposition does not show the leadership qualities we demand today: specifically, he's not a master of BS!

So what has turned a moderately intelligent, reasonable, thoughtful person into a dishonest, manipulative, dangerous prime minister? Well, either she always had aspirations to power and was prepared to do whatever is necessary to gain and maintain it, but disguised it well until she got into that position; or power has corrupted her, in the way commonly portrayed in the epigram "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely", which is usually attributed to the 19th century British politician, Lord Acton.

Note that I realise that no one really has absolute power, not even dictators, so a better term would be great power or excessive power, however "absolute" does sound better!

As I said above, this is not unique to the current PM, and has been an obvious trend in modern politics around the world, and we did have a very similar style of leadership (all spectacle and no substance) with our previous prime minister. So it seems that this is the sort of person people are demanding to lead them now. Other examples, in places such as the UK and US, are obvious, the only difference is that Ardern is an example of this phenomenon on the left rather than the right where it is more common.

So what's wrong here? Do we really deserve these sort of leaders? You could make a case to say the people deserve what they get, because ultimately it is the voters' decisions which choose democratic leaders. But it's really not quite that simple, because there is no real choice but to choose bad people because that's all we ever get to choose from!

It's the system which is at fault. Yeah, how often do you hear that from me! But I think it is true, because to become successful in our system of government, you first have to become the worst type of person and exactly the type who shouldn't be there. Before I clarify this, I should say that the same process happens in most hierarchies: the people who get to the top are exactly the ones who shouldn't be there. This includes leadership in companies, councils, boards, and other organisations.

Please note, that I did use the word "most" above because it's hard to believe that there might not be a few good leaders out there, although I can't think of any right now.

So to support my point, let me offer a small thought experiment. Imagine a room full of 100 random people from many different parts of society, with many different skill sets, and with varying philosophical views on the world as a whole. Now imagine it is decided a leader should be chosen from that group. The leader needs to take on many difficult tasks which require a sophisticated knowledge of multiple issues, an ability to consider all aspects of a situation, and the honesty to portray the true situation.

What type of person of person is going to volunteer for that role? Is it a technically brilliant person who does understand the complexity of the potential problems, who has a reasonable understanding of their own weaknesses, and who is prepared to present information realistically? Or is it a person who is overconfident of their own proficiency, doesn't understand the extent of the difficulty involved in making progress, and who is prepared to offer superficial assurance to anyone who needs it?

It makes sense that the second type of person would be the one to stand up and offer to take on the leadership, and in general that's exactly what we see in the real world. Leader after leader has been shown to be grossly incompetent and often horribly corrupt too. So, when choosing a leader, those who stand up with great confidence and offer to take control are exactly the people who should never be given a position of power.

This related to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which I have discussed a few times before, in "Too Stupid to Know" from 2018-08-21, "Dilbert Cartoons" from 2017-05-09, and "They Are Idiots" on 2016-05-11. Here's the official short definition from Wikipedia: The DunningĖKruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average, while the highly skilled underrate their own abilities. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.

So it's usually those who are most confident who are least competent. I think we should concede that this effect is a concern in a system like democracy where simple catch-phrases (like the PM's "we are one") are widely supported but a meaningful analysis of the true situation (because we, most certainly, are not one) is ignored by most.

And the Dunning-Kruger effect isn't just an example of some smart political rhetoric, or a convenient pop-psychology piece of trivia, it's a real psychological effect supported by proper research.

So it seems that our current system is doomed to provide bad outcomes, but what is the solution? Well, I often advocate for no leadership at all. The main reason we have a prime minister at all is unclear. For that matter, why do we have mayors, CEOs, etc? these people are generally idiots, as shown by the previous CEO of the country's biggest company, Fonterra, who was paid millions per year for creating a complete and total mess of a monopoly industry any reasonable person could have handled far better. He was the BS artist who put up his hand when the board (who are also grossly incompetent) asked for volunteers. He should have been thrown out on the spot!

So I would prefer a meritocracy or technocracy. But it should go beyond that too, because according to Acton, even those people might become corrupt after gaining power. So a far better system would involve group decisions by experts and interested groups. I would hope that almost every citizen could make a contribution of some sort to the leadership, meaning no one person would gain too much control and become corrupted by it.

I know this might lead to a situation where various groups of experts make contradictory decisions which might reduce the effectiveness of the paths they choose, but I think that is better than a single person making decisions and leading us down a definite path, which is usually the wrong one. Better to go nowhere than a long way in the wrong direction following some overconfident idiot!

It seems clear enough: absolute power really does corrupt absolutely, and the only way to avoid it is to avoid anyone getting into a situation of absolute power. That's the only solution to "the problem of power".


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Et Tu Porsche?

2019-08-05. Computers. Rating 2. ID 1994.

I recently updated my web server, and despite my careful planning, there was a "glitch" which meant my site was off-line for about 20 minutes. This may not sound like a big deal, because I don't really host anything of great importance, but it is a matter of professional pride to me to try to keep my down-time to a minimum.

The problem turned out to be the different way my fibre router interprets port forwarding, so that my old notes, based on a previous router, didn't work. This meant I spent about 10 minutes changing settings a second time, rebooting, etc unnecessarily. And a second problem didn't help where Apple's web server software defaulted to re-routing all incoming traffic to a secure port rather than the default http.

So what should have been 30 seconds down time, which is the time between disconnecting the old server and connecting the new server, turned out to be closer to 30 minutes, which was pretty annoying. But I do feel a lot better about my rare errors when I see far worse problems in commercial software and on (so-called) professionally run corporate web sites.

In fact, to make myself feel better after I make a mistake, and just for general entertainment at other times, I keep a folder of screenshots of errors I come across in my daily computer use. And I thought it might be fun to share some in this post, so here are some examples...

First, there is the generic web site fail errors, like this one from New Zealand Post: "NZ Post is currently experiencing technical difficulties." Well, that's helpful. Any idea about what sort of error that might be, and what I should do about it? Also, why do these "technical difficulties" happen so often?

Apple aren't immune from problems, and their error and progress messages can often be entertaining. For example, during a system update the progress dialog told me I had "NaN remaining". If you don't know, "NaN" is a special code meaning "not a number" and is often created by a divide by zero or a similar operation. But errors concerning zero are tricky: this one could have easily got an error message too: "Currently displaying page 0 of 0". I guess I was NaN percent of the way through the document!

Even a rock solid operating system like Unix can give some interesting messages. I was recently testing a network using the "ping" command, which sends a very simple message to another device and waits for a response to say "I'm here". The time taken to respond can reveal information about the performance of the network and computers involved. So you can imagine how impressed I was when I got a ping time of -372 ms. The remote computer responded about a third of a second before I even sent the request. Now, that's a fast network!

My ISP, Orcon, has had a few interesting glitches in the past. For example, on one occasion their network status page was blank. The corporate colour scheme was there, so there was some network activity happening, but there was no text. How should I interpret this? Are there problems or not? But this was a few days after they sent me a bill requesting payment for $0, so it shouldn't have been a surprise. I have to be fair and say other ISPs are just as bad. I got this from Sprak, for example "Oops this embarrassing. Our system failed to complete your request". At least they were embarrassed!

Then there are errors which are even more confusing. I rarely use Microsoft software or services, but my clients do, so I occasionally let my standards slip, and on one occasion I tried to upload a JPEG to set a photo for my profile there. I got an error message to the effect of "A JPEG file is not a format Microsoft supports, please try a different format, such as JPEG, instead". I know the file was OK because I had used it on many other sites, so I'm still mystified about what was happening there.

Having health data on the internet is great, because it avoids confusing and time consuming calls to health professionals, but it's unfortunate that many of these services are so poor. A while back I received "Manage My Health, service call failed: 0 error." So zero error is bad, or is that no error? And what should I do? But other sites try to give you an error message where the programmer has messed up the code so that you are left more confused than you were before their attempts. I got the following message on LinkedIn: {"debugmessage":""}. Well, that's a nice try, but not helpful to the average person.

Sometimes the error message sort of makes sense but the options the user has are not helpful. For example, iOS told me that "there are no upgrades available", then gave me the choice of two buttons: "Yes" or "No". I chose "No" but there were still no upgrades available! Another iOS app asked me if I would like to "Mark all articles as read?", with the options "Yes" and "Yes". Nice to have the choice!

Then there are the generic errors which really mean nothing. Here are a few: Microsoft telling me "there's a temporary problem with this service, please try again later." New Zealand's IRD generates many errors, such as: "page not available", "system error", and "unable to process your request at this time". Even Internet New Zealand's site creates random errors, such as "PDO error". And I've lost count of the number of errors the NZ Herald site generates, like "VIDEO CLOUD ERR NOT...", "502 bad gateway", "Baaah! page not found", and "Error from backend server 503". Then there's this very frequent message from Facebook: "sorry something went wrong" (so specific). And on various other sites: "Oops something went wrong", "The website has encountered an error which cannot be recovered from" , "BBC backend not available", "MYOB, error 404 page not found", "Apple: 502 bad gateway", and "TradeMe: Oops there was a slip up" (with a picture of a cute kiwi which has fallen over).

Web sites often like to provide dynamic data, such as greeting you based on your actual name, to give that personal touch, but when I got "Hello $(notification. message. discussion. topicMessage. author, login)" on a Cisco site, I didn't really feel much better than if I had been greeted as something generic, like "user". Another example of this happened on the Act (a New Zealand political party) web site where I saw "With your help we were able to deliver onclick="window.open(...".

I sometimes use Apple's dictionary screensaver which displays random words and definitions when the screen sleeps. But sometimes things go wrong. I recently got the message "(entry not found)", ironically the word it was trying to find was "fraudulent"!

Sometimes there is no actual error, but in some ways you wish there was. I recently made the mistake of doing some Windows support and, when trying to download a user's email, I was informed the data transfer speed was "19 bytes/s." OK, I'll come back in a decade or two, and see if that finished OK!

But the ultimate failure is the old system crash on a public display. This almost always involves Windows, because that is almost certainly the least reliable OS around, but also because, for some odd reason, it is also widely used. So PowerPoint presentations often crash with error messages such as "the instruction at 0x6018cde1 referenced memory at 0x00000000 the memory couldn't be written". Not a good look, especially when the error stays there for several days.

Finally, it can happen to anybody, even a company which represents the epitome of fine engineering! I recently got this when visiting Porsche's site: "Dokument nicht gefunden." Even with my limited German the message was obvious! Et Tu Porsche?


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Am I Being Racist?

2019-08-01. Politics. Rating 5. ID 1993.

Back in the day, when I was more politically naive, I used to get really sick of people who opposed my then naively liberal views, especially those who tried to make the point that personal responsibility was an important point to consider.

Like many things, I now see that those people, who had what I would now describe as more conservative or libertarian views, were partly right. I mean, many of them tried to over-apply the idea of personal responsibility, but in hindsight it is now very obvious that I under-applied it.

So now is the time to correct that error, because I'm getting pretty damn sick of the bleeding heart liberals (like I maybe used to be - mea culpa) ignoring the personal responsibility aspect of many current political issues, and blaming someone else for the situation disadvantaged groups find themelves in.

Before I give an example, there is one important point I need to make here. That is that most political issues are complex, and the current situation for any group can almost never be attributed to a single cause. But I am not trying to make that claim, although many of my opponents are. As I have mentioned in past posts, the people I debate with seem to never want to compromise or moderate their position.

OK, so now for an example...

Currently, here in New Zealand, there is an ongoing protest over the fact that many babies are being taken into care by the state because the government agency involved thinks they are in imminent danger of harm from their parents. The issue is made worse by the fact that the majority of these actions happen to Maori people (who are the native people of New Zealand).

Of course, the standard narrative expounded by most politicians, commentators, and the media, is that this is an example of racism. Why else would people of a particular ethnicity be targeted far more than others? Well, there are many reasons this might be the case, including the very obvious possibility that - for reasons which we don't need to deal with yet - Maori children are far more likely to be the victims of violence than other groups.

But this possibility is rarely discussed, because anyone doing this is likely to be labelled a racist. And, when I even suggest this as one possible explanation which might be worth examining, I am labelled that way immediately. It really has got to the point where "racist" is just used as an ad hominem attack with the intention of closing down awkward debates. But, as regular readers will know by now, I don't take any notice of these slurs because they really are completely meaningless now. I'm not saying that some people aren't really racist, but how would you know since the insult is also used against moderate people so often?

As I said above, the media are extremely biased on issues of this sort, and rarely mention even the vague possibility that Maori might be partly to blame for their own plight. So it was refreshing to see our acting prime minister, Winston Peters, point out that since this debate began, three Maori children had died in a way that might have been prevented if they had been taken into care.

I'm not saying that this justifies the state "confiscating" children, and I'm not saying this proves that the whole problem is caused primarily by some deficiency in Maori character or culture, but I am saying that this is part of the issue we should be paying more attention to.

As I said above, the reason why this happens is open to question. Again, there are likely to be several causes, including Maori disadvantage as a result of some degree of racism, but we should be prepared to also ask whether there is also an underlying problem with Maori culture itself.

Because Maori aren't the only group who have suffered some disadvantages in the past. In New Zealand, Chinese people, for example, were treated poorly at various times, yet today they are quite successful by many traditional measures of success. And despite there most likely being some vestiges of racial disadvantage in society today, there are also many advantages to being Maori, so it seems that a simple appeal to oppression by the dominant culture being the cause of these problems just doesn't make sense.

I can't see how the possibility that there is some Maori cultural issue which needs to be addressed could be denied, yet when I directly ask people online they say there is zero chance that part of the problem is inherent in Maori culture.

A similar issue applies to other "oppressed" groups. When people complain that women aren't as well represented in some professions as as men, I directly ask then if they would consider there is any chance at all that it is because men's general temperament is better suited to that profession. And I get outright denial. They will just not even consider the possibility, despite the fact that they are perfectly happy to accept the reality of a greater proportion of women in some quite highly rated professions, like medicine.

These people are living in denial as a result of their worldview being based around concepts of political correctness rather than what the evidence really points to. Am I being racist or sexist by even suggesting that possibility that they are wrong? Don't know. Don't care.


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Software Problems

2019-07-26. Computers. Rating 2. ID 1992.

How can we fix some of the problems we have with technology today? Specifically, the subject for this blog post is how can the well known computer software and internet problems we have be fixed, or at least improved.

So to start with, let me list the issues as I see them. First, most software is unreliable, unintuitive, and overpriced. Why is this? Well, it depends on the exact circumstances, but maybe the most common reason is the commercial and management pressures applied to the software developers and teams. To be fair, there are undoubtedly some simply incompetent programmers as well, but I'm fairly confident that's a lesser problem and not the one I am going to concentrate on here.

I talked about this general issue in several past posts, especially in relation to New Zealand's school payroll system "Novopay" which is still problematic many years after its initial deployment. For older posts on this topic check out "The 'E' Word" from 2014-02-27, "Another IT Debacle" from 2013-06-27, "Corporate Newspeak" from 2013-03-21, "Doomed to Failure" from 2012-12-20, and "Talentless Too, No Pay" from 2012-11-24. Yeah, this is obviously a favourite topic of mine!

So its generally the corporate culture which is to blame for these disasters. In Novopay's case it was the idea that they could produce something more easily, and therefore make a much higher profit, by hacking a few extra layers on top of a hopelessly antiquated travesty, which might generously be described as an early payroll system. I'm fairly sure most competent programmers would have seen that was a bad idea, but they would have been overridden by the greedy and useless management.

Now, to be fair, I do have to admit that I am reading between the lines here, and basing this appraisal on the information which has been leaked, and my knowledge of how this process usually proceeds. But we are never going to hear the real story because it is just too embarrassing, so some degree of speculation is necessary.

There have been many other spectacular failures of software over the years, including a police records system here in New Zealand, the bad code causing the new Boeing 737 crashes, and today I heard that the Airbus A350 has to be rebooted every 149 hours or some of its systems will fail.

Boeing in particular should be utterly ashamed of themselves, because their terrible code reputedly was produced by cheap programmers from India. I'm not saying Indian people can't program - far from it - but those working in "sweat shops" designed to create the most code at the lowest price are unlikely to be the most talented people in that nation.

So, assuming this rumour is true, Boeing killed hundreds of people to save a bit of cash by outsourcing the programming to the cheapest bidder. Anyone could see that was a bad idea. Or should I say, anyone except the managers at Boeing. As I have said before: management is the most despicable, revolting profession on the planet. If they all dropped dead on the spot tomorrow the only disadvantage to society would be effort involved in ridding the world of their massed bodies! Note that this is a rhetorical point, and not a genuine wish for the death of anybody!

There are lesser problems too, but ones which affect a larger number of people. Almost all of the popular software and services we use today could use a lot of improvement. For example, Facebook is an abomination of crappy user interface design, slow and unreliable code, and utterly unfair policies and standards. And then there's my other favourite target: Microsoft Word. To call this mangled together abomination of poorly thought out functions a program is really, really generous. I admit, you can do most things with it, but only if you are prepared to use the most arcane user interface features, work around the arbitrary limitations, and find needlessly complex ways to do things which should be easy.

At this point you might be wondering why I am picking on what are by far the most widely used social network and word processor in the world. Well popularity does not imply quality. In fact the opposite is probably true and I think I know why. As a product becomes more popular a bigger and bigger bureaucracy grows up around its maintenance and development, this gets more managers involved in the process and... well, you know my opinion of managers!

So, what's the answer? Well, it's really simple actually. What we need is some open, public standards for information exchange in all the major categories we use. We could have one for word processing data, for example, and for exchanging posting and messaging data on the internet. Everyone would need to follow these standards, so if people didn't like Facebook from a technical or political perspective (for example, because of privacy) they could just use an alternative program which would have equal access to the underlying data.

So the files that Word created would need to comply with the standards, meaning that another software developer could access those files on an equal level to Microsoft. Plus, the underlying format could be made far more elegant than the hacked together travesty we currently have, which should increase speed and reliability. At the moment it is possible to read a Word file in a different program, but it rarely works perfectly because Microsoft has ultimate control over the file format, and has an unfair advantage.

And that would also mean that anyone could write a Facebook app which accessed the Facebook data stream in a far better form than Facebook currently does. And let's do that with Twitter too, because that is hopelessly obscure and difficult to use. Again, there are apps which do this already, but because Facebook and Twitter control the underlying form of the data they have an unfair advantage.

This might not even be disadvantageous to the Microsofts and Facebooks of the world either. If the protocols and software code were open source then any improvements would be available free to the whole community, including the big companies. And don't tell me they don't want that because a massive number of the big companies' existing systems use open source software, such as Linux, Apache, and MySQL.

It could be a win for everyone, especially the users - that's you! But will it happen? Well, probably not, because the people that make the decisions - those managers again (boo!) - rarely make innovative decisions of this type, no matter how obvious and advantageous they might be.

So I guess we are stuck with using sub-standard software. I can avoid some of it (I never use Word, for example) but some I sort of have to use, such as Facebook and Twitter, because that's where all my social media friends (and enemies) are. At this point, I'm still wondering whether I should avoid flying on an A350 or Boeing 737 MAX 8!


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