Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dress code in Finnish weddings

In many cultures, especially in the west, it's inappropriate to dress in black when going to a wedding. Black is the color of mourning, most appropriate for funerals, and most inappropriate for weddings, which should be a joyous and festive occasion.

Not so in Finland. For some strange reason in Finland 99% of men dress in black for all formal ceremonies, including funerals and weddings. It might be hard for a non-Finn to imagine it, but I swear that the typical Finnish wedding looks like a funeral, at least if you look at the male guests. It's not a hard rule, just a de-facto custom. And yes, it looks ridiculous for such a festive occasion.

Most Finns will joke about it when pointed out, but seriously, I really can't understand the reason for this.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Internal consistency in works of fiction

This is a minor thing that bugs me: When people point out some inconsistencies or other kind of unrealistic details or events in a work of fiction, sometimes someone will say something along the lines of "this is a movie about magical unicorns and wizards and magic, and you complain that the main character can fly?" Extremely rarely, if ever, is this argument valid.

If we take that arbitrary example, it's not a question of the main character being able to fly. It's about the internal consistency of the universe set up by the work of fiction, and willing suspension of disbelief.

A work of fiction, no matter how fantastical, is well-written when it describes and depicts a world with consistent and plausible rules, which the work follows. It doesn't really matter if some of these rules do not follow the real world, as long as they are well-established, consistent, plausible and not changed or broken at a whim.

It's a sign of bad writing when such internal rules are changed or broken arbitrarily, especially if it's done to suddenly resolve some otherwise unsolvable situation. (In other words, this is especially bad if it's used as a deus ex machina.) For instance, if the work of fiction depicts the protagonist as a human, has not established in any way that humans can fly, or that the protagonist can do so, and flying humans do not even otherwise make any sense even within this fictional universe, and then in the third act the protagonist, out of nowhere, just can fly to save the day, for no apparent reason other than the author suddenly deciding so, this breaks willing suspension of disbelief and is unrealistic within this context (even if there were otherwise fantastical elements to the story.)

This is often a sign of lazy writing. Either the author couldn't bother to come up with a more realistic solution, or couldn't bother to go back and change previous parts of the work to establish this in a plausible manner. (In some cases it can be clearly seen that the author did go back to previous parts and inserted this fact here and there, but it was clearly an afterthought, artificially tacked onto the story just so that it could be used later. If this is obvious, it isn't much better.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

The actual "rape culture"

"Rape culture" is the concept that some people claim to exist in modern society (usually they are talking about western cultures only) where, they say, rape is not taken seriously enough, if not even excused in many cases, victims are often blamed or too heavily scrutinized, perpetrators may sometimes be protected eg. because of their status, rape apology in general, and so on.

Some of this is true to some degree. However, it's only talking about rapes where a woman is the victim and a man is the perpetrator. There is another form of "rape culture" that's astronomically more prevalent, and which most people ignore completely (which, in itself, is part of the rape culture, of course.)

Sure, it's significantly rarer, but it does happen: Sexual harassment where the perpetrator is a woman and the victim is male.

Yes, a man can be the target of sexual harassment by a woman. The man can find the woman unattractive, unpleasant, or otherwise have zero interest in her, and not appreciate her advances at all. Not all women are meek and shy, and can be very forthcoming and intrusive, and the harassment can range all the way from words to violating personal space to improper touching and grabbing. A man can perfectly well be uncomfortable, annoyed and even feel molested by this, especially if they find the woman unpleasant and repulsive. Not all men have the strength of will nor personality to defend themselves in these situations.

This kind of sexual harassment is almost universally ignored, belittled and laughed off. People's attitude is generally dismissive and even mocking. This is basically never taken seriously by friends, peers, co-workers, employers, or even by authorities (and even if it's formally taken seriously, it's often considered of much lesser importance and urgency than if the genders had been reversed.) In fact, many people outright deny this ever happening, or having any kind of significance or relevance. If it does happen, the victim is laughed at, dismissed, belittled and called names. The perpetrator is never blamed of anything. Even people who do acknowledge that it can happen, especially the relatively rare feminist who does so, nevertheless often dismiss it as "less important" than the male-on-female harassment cases, and spend little to no effort in raising awareness of this problem.

This shaming culture is the reason why by far the vast majority of cases get unreported. Victims keep silent because they fear being ridiculed and laughed at.

If this is not the very definition of rape culture, I don't know what is.

It even goes beyond that, to a whole new level: People who bring this problem up are themselves often belittled, dismissed, called names and often accused of all kinds of things. (The mentality seems to be, for some reason, that if you bring up the problem of female-on-male sexual harassment, and especially if you are not a vocal feminist, then you somehow automatically think that the other way around is ok, ie. you are a misogynist rape apologist. I don't even understand how this logic works...)

There's another form of this kind of rape culture: Men being raped in prisons is nearly universally accepted. In fact, many people think of it as "proper punishment", especially for rapists, rather than acknowledging what it really would be as a form of punishment: A violation of human rights, which is usually (ie. in the vast majority of constitutional countries) egregiously unconstitutional.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

8-hour workday

At the beginning of the so-called industrial revolution, a bit over a hundred years ago, there was little to no governmental control over workers' rights, and there were no labor unions, which is why the working conditions in most factories were outright nightmarish. Even 14-hour shifts in horrible conditions weren't unheard of.

A big revolution happened that pushed for making a 8-hour work day the legal norm (ie. no employer could require any worker to do longer days than that.)

The 8-hour work day norm was so effective that it has persisted to this day, about a hundred years. However, as I see it, there are some problems with it.

The major problem is that it's the standard full-day work rate for all jobs, regardless of what they are.

Jobs are different, and have different requirements. And I'm not talking about skill and experience, but about low-level physical requirements.

Jobs can be, very roughly speaking, divided into two types: Routine physical work, and creative work. The main difference between is what they stress the most. Again, very roughly speaking, routine physical work stresses your muscles, while creative work stresses your brain. And I cannot emphasize this enough: The brain is not a muscle.

A normal person can very well get used to 8-hours-a-day of routine physical work, especially if it's kind of repetitive in nature and can be done with minimal thinking. Muscles get naturally fitter and physical skill improves rapidly. An experienced worker can do 8 hours of work (with sensible pauses in between) every day at a pretty good efficiency all the way through, because it stresses mostly the muscles, and they get quickly attuned to it.

(And no, I'm not trying to belittle physical labor or say it's always, or even often, easy and mundane. That's not my point at all! I'm just trying to be pragmatic here.)

Creative work, however, stresses mostly the brain. Some creative work stresses it more than others, of course (in the same way as some physical labor is more tiring than others), but it's nevertheless a completely different issue.

Again, the brain is not a muscle. For some reason people don't take it too seriously, but the brain does get tired when you have to do creative work all day long, every day. The brain does not attune itself to have more stamina.

Again, my point is in no way to belittle physical labor, but repetitive routine physical labor does not stress the brain even nearly as much as creative work, which is why routine physical labor can be done in large amounts a lot better than work that constantly stresses the brain.

The 8-hour day was designed for physical labor. It does not work well for creative work.

The problem is that a typical person cannot do creative work in an efficient manner for 8 hours a day, every single day. The brain gets tired. What happens in practice is that the person starts working in "power-saving mode". In other words, they work more slowly, take longer breaks (even without leaving their desk or wherever they are working) and so on, in order to compensate for the long work day.

I'm pretty certain that a person doing 8-hour days in a heavily creative work (such as computer programming) will on average not produce significantly more results than someone doing 4-hour days. There may be some increase in productivity, but not even near double. (I don't think it would be very far-fetched to estimate that the 8-hours/day guy would produce the equivalent of about 5 hours, compared to the 4-hours/day guy. The other 3 hours will be basically idling, with no productive work at all. It will of course be spread along the entire 8 hours, but still effectively this.)

The thing is, the guy working 8 hours a day will typically get twice as much salary than the guy working 4 hours a day, for approximately the same amount of results (which basically means that the latter is heavily underpaid.) What's worse, the former will much more likely get so stressed in the long run that it will cause losses for the employer (especially since people in creative jobs are usually harder to replace than people in physical labor jobs.)

I'm quite convinced that if people working in these fields had like 4 or 5-hour days, but get paid for full day work, productivity would either remain the same, or even increase. What's better, overall happiness and quality of life would increase (thanks to decreased stress and burnouts.)

But no... The 8-hour-day is the holy cow of the modern industrialized world. If you work less hours, you get paid less too. It doesn't really matter how productive you are. Only the hours count, no matter what you do.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

One big problem with school bullying

School bullies get away with it, and they know it. And that's one of the biggest problems about it.

There's an infamous recent video where a reporter crew was going to interview a high school student who was a long-time victim of bullying. While he was approaching the crew, bullies chased him away. On camera.

The bullies were quite clearly aware of the reporters and the camera because they taunted the boy about it (with things like "what are you going to film?" and such.) The clearly saw the crew filming them. And they didn't care. They still chased the boy away, shouting at him.

This shows the problem perfectly: Bullies are so accustomed to getting away with their bullying that they don't even have to care. Not even if there's a reporter crew filming them with a camera that they can clearly see.

The sad thing is that they are right. Nobody will ever do anything of any severity to them. They are "minors", which means that they are practically untouchable in our western culture. Nobody can do anything to them. The people who theoretically could do the most about it are their parents, and more often that not, the parents of bullies are either completely apathetic, in denial, unwilling, or outright delusional, and will not do anything, or won't do nearly enough.

Bullies learn this very quickly.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

One problem with the American justice system

In many judiciary systems (including that of the United States), a prosecutor is a member of the justice system who is responsible for presenting the case in a criminal trial against an individual accused of breaking the law.

In principle, the job of a prosecutor is to simply present the facts, the things that the accused is being accused for, as well as the evidence and the reasons why he or she is suspected for the crime. Also, most importantly, in principle the job of a prosecutor is to make sure that justice prevails, and that people get a fair trial, and that the judge and the jury (if there is one) get all the facts in an unbiased and clear manner. Unlike some people might think, a prosecutor's job is not to try to convict the accused; it is to simply present the case against him in the most factual and unbiased manner, so that the judge and/or jury can get all these facts in order to make a fully informed decision. (The reason why it might look like a prosecutor's job is to try to convict the accused is because his task is to present the facts that the defense attorney obviously won't present. His job is, basically, to present the other side of the story.)

This is the theory. The practice is a bit different, especially in many parts of the United States. There, many prosecutors seem to "collect" convictions, as if they were badges of honor or something. They seem to have this notion that their proficiency as prosecutors is measured by how many convictions they get, and thus they try to convict as many people as possible. It doesn't even matter if those people are actually guilty or not. Being considered a "tough prosecutor" in terms of how many people they have successfully convicted seems to be something to aim for.

Not only have they completely distorted their own role in the judiciary system, they go much further than that. In fact, they often resort to underhanded tactics in order to get convictions. They do not care for justice, or whether the accused really is guilty or innocent, all they care about is if they get a conviction, any kind of conviction.

One of the tactics they use is to scare the accused by overcharging them. This means that they are charged with a ridiculous amount of crimes that don't even make sense (such as, for example, charging them for "making terrorist threats" if they, for example, were involved in a bar fight.) Thus they offer a deal with the accused: Just plead guilty for a minor crime, worth of something like 2 years in jail, or risk trial and being convicted for 30 years or the like. Good defense attorneys would see through this underhanded tactic and never let it fly, but most people, especially the poor, cannot afford good attorneys, so the attorney may be inexperienced, incompetent, or too scared to go against the notorious "tough prosecutor" (or, to be frank, just outright lazy, because it's much easier for him or her to just get a quick deal than to go through a lengthy trial that requires tons and tons of work.)

This is a travesty and a mockery of the judicial system. The prosecutor's job is not to convict people at all costs. It's to see that justice is served fairly. A prosecutor should be proud of his or her job when the guilty are convicted but especially when the innocent are acquitted. "Innocent until proven guilty" should be the highest motto of a good prosecutor.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Film franchise reboots

Rebooting (and re-rebooting) known film franchises seems to be a curious trend of the new millenium. The Hulk, Spiderman, Batman, Superman (twice), Robocop, Judge Dredd, TMNT... you name it.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing inherently wrong with rebooting a film franchise. If the previous series (or even first film) was just not working, then better start anew with fresh ideas than try to forcefully drag a dead horse any more. Most of the mentioned reboots are, in fact, quite ok. For example the Batman film series of the 80's and 90's was getting completely ridiculous and needed a serious and complete rehaul. The same can be said of most of the other film series as well.

However, what does grind my gears with this is that every single time without fail, when they reboot the series, they just have to show the origin story again in the first new film. Every. Single. Time.

Why? How many times do we have to see how Spiderman got his powers or where Superman came from? Why do they always have to repeat this over and over and over (even if it's with small variations)?

We don't need to see the origin story over and over. We already know it. Just skip it. Treat the world as the superhero just existing and that's it. No need to explain where he or she came from.

Take note of, for example, the Judge Dredd movies (the horrible Stallone one and the quite good new one.) They don't have to show any kind of origin story. The world is just as it is, no explanations needed. Dredd just is, no need to tell his childhood story. Skip all the boring stuff and go directly to the action. That's how it should be.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Antigravity in fiction

A trope sometimes seen in movies and TV series (especially in the 80's, somewhat less nowadays) is that aliens come from another star system here in order to harvest resources that they don't have. Often this is water, sometimes something else.

There are lots of problems with that premise (one of them being that it assumes that the Earth is somehow special, that it's one of the extremely rare planets in the galaxy that contains those precious resources in abundance. This couldn't be farther from the truth. For example, and unlike most people seem to think, water is one of the most common compound elements in the universe, and can be easily found in things like comets, moons and planets. The same goes for most other elements. An alien race sufficiently advanced to travel interstellar distances could certainly harvest those resources from almost anywhere.) However, the one thing that most people never think of is the way in which the aliens are supposed to lift eg. millions of metric tons of water from the surface of the Earth to outer space.

The most common answer to this is the notion of "anti-gravity." Now, I don't mean that some kind of "anti-gravity" is physically impossible (I don't know if it is.) What I mean is the notion that this "anti-gravity" is some kind of magical force that makes lifting even extremely heavy objects very easy, requiring only little amounts of energy to do so. Some kind of quasi-magical phenomenon that either makes the material itself weightless, or somehow modifies gravity around it so that it points to some other direction. And this is achieved with relatively little energy.

However, this notion would break the most fundamental laws of physics. In particular, it would break the laws of thermodynamics.

In order to lift a certain weight to a certain altitude, the absolute minimum amount of energy needed to do that is the same as that weight would release if left free-fall from that height. If you wanted to lift a thousand metric tons of material (water, rock or whatever) to orbit, the absolute minimum amount of energy needed to do that is the same as the energy released by that thousand metric tons of material free-falling from orbit to the ground. And that's a lot of energy we are talking about. We are talking about the same magnitude of energy as released by the explosion of thousands of thermonuclear bombs. (Consider that eg. a meteorite of just a few metric tons falling from orbit releases several hundreds of kilotons of energy, if not more. That's thermonuclear bomb magnitude.)

The reason why you have to spend at the very least this amount of energy to lift the material to orbit is because of the laws of thermodynamics: If you could spend less energy to lift it, you could then let it fall, collect the energy that it releases, then use part of that energy to lift it again and so on. You would be producing excess energy out of nowhere, which is a physical impossibility. You would be creating a perpetual motion machine that generates more energy than it consumes. This would break one of the most fundamental laws of physics.

It doesn't matter what kind of fancy "anti-gravity" phenomenon or whatever you are using, that doesn't change the fact: You cannot create energy from nothing. You have to spend at least as much energy to lift the mass than the mass releases when let fall.

In practice you have to spend more energy than that. A lot more. Spending exactly as much energy is the absolute best-case scenario, and it's impossible in practice. There will always be waste energy due to friction, energy loss and other things. No matter how fancy your "anti-gravity" device might be, it can never achieve a 100% efficiency rate. (A sufficiently advanced technology might get close to it, though.)

Thus in the scenario where aliens want to lift eg. thousands or even millions of metric tons of water to outer space, that energy has to come from somewhere.

There's another problem as well: That same energy has to go somewhere. In the exact same way as energy cannot be created from nothing, energy can't disappear. The energy spent lifting the water has to then go somewhere because it can't just disappear. The most common thing that energy does after being used is to dissipate as heat.

Now, consider what happens when the energy equivalent to millions of megatons dissipates as heat. That's like millions of thermonuclear bombs exploding. (The energy might not be released as fast as with the bombs, but it's released nevertheless.) That's like the surface of the Sun or similar.

You never see that in the movies.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Star Wars prequel trilogy

For several years after Star Wars The Phantom Menace was released, I just couldn't see what was so horribly wrong about it, and why people hated it. The subsequent two movies were quite ok as well.

Now, don't get me wrong. Back then I thought that the vast majority of people hated it simply because the vast majority of other people hated it, and it was just a hip and cool to hate it (a phenomenon I have complained about several times,) and I still think that's mostly the case. However, I have later come to realize that some of the criticism of the prequel trilogy is, indeed, valid. I have come to realize that my own appreciation of the trilogy has dropped significantly since those times.

What changed my opinion the most was the great review series done by The Distressed Watcher (who I think made a terrific job at analyzing it, and sadly has gone mostly unnoticed by the vast majority of people, who only know the review by Red Letter Media which, while funny, I don't think is as good.) He presented a lot of good points that I just have to agree with.

And still don't get me wrong: I still don't think the prequel trilogy is the worst pieces of movie that has ever been made. They are still in the mediocre category for me. Also, I don't hate Jar-Jar. I'm sorry, but I just don't.

Anyway, one of the major problems with the entire trilogy is that it's supposed to be the story of how Darth Vader came to be, of how he changed from a good person to a mass-murdering villain of galactic proportions, yet the trilogy spends surprisingly little time showing (or even just telling) about it. By far the vast majority of the time is spent on other things entirely, mostly things that have no effect on that core plot.

The problem with this scarcity of background story is that Anakin's change in the end comes way too "easily." There's very little that would explain why exactly he decided to switch to the other side, and moreover did it in such a drastic way (eg. one of the very first things he did after he switched to the dark side was to personally massacre a group of children; off-screen, mind you, but clearly implied.) With so little background leading up to this radical change, it kind of comes a bit out-of-nowhere, with no explanation. There are bits and pieces during the second and third films yes, but way too little. And what's worse, even the little there is, is written in a simplistic, even childish manner (like something that a 12-year-old would write.) This is quite obnoxious given that, as said, the core plot of trilogy is supposed to be exactly this.

Anakin in the first movie is an archetypal Mary Sue character: Perfect, pure, innocent and "cute" in all possible ways, with no flaws. While this kind of character can work when well done, it was not very well done here. He's not very likeable nor relatable, and many people could understandably even consider him annoying. By being too perfect, too innocent, too cute, what's clearly intended to be a likeable and endearing character only ends up being a two-dimensional portrayal with no depth to him at all. I'm assuming that what Lucas was attempting is making the viewers love the character, making his fall that much more shocking and sad, but he just outright fails at this.

While Anakin's conversion to Darth Vader was (supposed to be) the core plot of the trilogy, another almost as relevant plot point was his fathering of Leia and Luke Skywalker. In other words, the romantic subplot of him and Padme Amidala.

Quite incredibly, this was handled as poorly as the main plot. The romantic scenes are scarce and brief, and most damningly, extremely badly done. There's absolutely no chemistry between the two characters, and watching these scenes is just uncomfortable. As the Distressed Watcher puts it, it's like watching two people who feel absolutely nothing for each other forced to act in romantic scenes. While this is of course subjective, you just can see that their heart was not in the acting, and you feel like they are just doing their job to earn their salary. (This is something that a good director should catch and fix, by whatever means. The fact that Lucas did not fix this tells us something.)

Lucas was clearly trying to write the subplot as Padme denying her feelings for Anakin for a long time, and slowly warming up, but it just doesn't come out like that. Instead, it comes out as Padme repeatedly rejecting Anakin, who ends up looking more like a stalker with an obsession, with almost childish qualities. (Again, something that a good director ought to notice and fix.) Overall, the entire subplot is very poorly done and painful to watch.

Padme's reactions to many of Anakin's doings is also quite unrealistic. For example, when Anakin confesses that he massacred an entire village, women and children included, in a rage to revenge his mother, Padme acts like he had just told her that he lost his wallet.

And as a side note, Lucas deciding to kill the absolutely best character of the entire trilogy at the end of the first movie was just a huge mistake. Darth Maul is possibly the only character in the entire trilogy that nobody hates, and almost everybody agrees was the coolest thing. Killing him in the first movie was just a bad, bad idea. Lucas completely lost the ball with that one.

And that big "no" at the end? Yes, Lucas completely lost the ball. Completely. If people are laughing in a scene that's supposed to be extremely dramatic, something is really, really wrong.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reverse-Aristotelian gravity

There's a rather curious misconception, or intuition, that many people have related to gravity, and this is sometimes seen in movies and TV. This misconception is that if there's a very large object orbiting a planet (eg. Earth) and it's broken up to small pieces, all of the pieces will fall down. (A related concept is that if small pieces get loose from the large object, eg. garbage or such, they will likewise fall down to the planet.)

I find this misconception rather curious. It's the exact reverse of Aristotelian gravity.

You see, in antiquity there was among some philosophers the concept that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects. In this case it's the exact reverse: The intuition seems to be that lighter objects fall faster (ie. are pulled more strongly by the planet's gravity) than heavier objects. If the orbiting heavy object gets broken to smaller pieces, or it lets small pieces loose, those pieces will now be pulled by the planet's gravity (because they are no longer attached to the heavy object) and fall down.

It's understandable that it's unintuitive that the falling speed, and thus the orbit, of an object does not depend on its mass. It doesn't matter if what's orbiting the Earth is a tennis ball or a mountain-sized rock: The orbital speed and altitude will be the same for both (if their initial conditions are the same.)

Moreover, breaking up the mountain-sized rock to small pieces isn't going to change anything. The pieces will still orbit the planet in the same way.

Now, if the breaking up was caused by a large explosion, this changes things a bit. However, it does not cause all the pieces to fall down (which is the most common intuition, and depiction in fiction.) Some pieces may fall down, others may be ejected from the system, but the majority will remain in orbit, albeit many in different ones from the original.

This is related to another misconception that many people have, and that's the concept that orbits are extremely "fragile", and that even a slight nudge will cause the orbiting object to plunge to its destruction. That's not so. In fact, it's actually pretty hard to make an orbiting object fall down. You need a rather precise force in a rather precise direction for a rather precise amount of time for the new orbit to hit the planet. Most other directions will simply make it take a different orbit.

(If the orbit gets so close to the planet that the object starts skimming its atmosphere, that changes things, because the atmospheric drag will start to slow down the speed of the object, making it fall down eventually. However, the majority of orbits are not that close.)

In the case of the exploding heavy object, many of the orbits will be unstable, meaning that they will eventually fall to the planet or be ejected from the system. However, in many cases "unstable" means that it takes years, thousands of years, if not even millions of years, for that to happen. Not the few minutes that it takes in movies.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How to make shams like homeopathy sound more plausible

Homeopathy is most certainly not the only snake oil salesmanship out there that's a pure sham, but it's probably the one that makes the most money worldwide. (There are other shams that may make more money than homeopathy, but they are usually not related to selling supposedly medicinal products.)

Homeopathic products are 100% placebos, pure and simple, yet it's taken really seriously among many people, and many claims of successful clinical studies and efficacy abound. There are published papers and lots of positive experiments that claim that homeopathy fares much better than placebos in properly-conducted double-blind trials.

But how can there be, given that homeopathic products are just placebos? It's not hard to get such results. There are some simple tricks that can be used for this. For example:

  1. When conducting an experimental trial, minimize the amount of test subjects. For example, rather than testing on 500 people, test on 20.
  2. Engage in confirmation bias: Highlight individual cases where the result was favorable to the homeopathic test, and belittle or ignore the cases where it was unfavorable.
  3. More effectively, though, perform many trials, and publish results for only those that gave a clearly positive result, while ignoring those that did not (in other words, engage in publication bias.) If you perform, for example, 50 trials, just by statistical probability you are going to get at least two or three that seem to indicate that homeopathy has a significantly greater effect than placebos (while the rest of the trials will show no difference, a few even showing a negative correlation.) Take the results of those two or three and publish them; ignore the rest.
  4. Publish your results in a publication with low standards of quality but a big name among homeopaths.
And there you have it. Several publications of "properly conducted" trials that clearly show that homeopathic remedies have a better effect than placebos. Now homeopaths can argue their position with "credible" references to "peer-reviewed" publications of clinical trials that "clearly" show the efficacy of homeopathy.

And when actual scientists perform the same clinical trials and see no difference to placebos, just claim that it's them who are biased, and that they are just trying to attack homeopathy because they want to eliminate competition and retain the monopoly. This is an easy claim to make because nobody will actually go through the trouble of finding out if there's any truth to it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Freedom of speech is a dying right

One common sentiment that many people express goes something like this: "Your freedom of expression ends immediately when you hurt someone." It's sometimes described with an analogy: "You are free to wave your arms around, but that freedom ends immediately when you hit someone with them."

This is a rather deceptive sentiment because it's so easy to agree with, when you don't think about it too much, yet it's quite hideous.

There's a big difference between hurting someone physically and hurting someone's feelings. The former is an objective and universal thing. Hitting someone on the face will hurt every single person in existence, and it's not a question of opinion, education, culture or personal preference. It's quite an objective thing.

Hurting someone's feelings, however, is completely subjective. It depends completely on one's personality, background and a ton of other things. What hurts someone may well not hurt someone else. And that's why the analogy is completely flawed.

I'm sorry, but freedom of speech trumps hurt feelings. Your perceived right to not get offended does not trump freedom of speech.

An opinion "hurting" someone is such a subjective thing that if we wanted to limit what opinions are allowed or not, it would come down to subjective opinion. There's no objective measurement stick that can be used to determine what should be banned and what not. More problematically, everybody gets offended by something (and not offended by something else that offends others.) If we started banning everything that offends somebody, quite soon we will have no freedom of speech of any kind.

Moreover, it would transgress to other rights as well. For example, if a world view offends some religion, should that world view be banned? What if a religion offends some group of people? Should that religion be banned? If a political view offends someone, should that political view be banned?

No, just no.

As Evelyn Beatrice Hall once wrote, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." That should be the core essence of human rights. That's the exact opposite of "your freedom ends when you hurt someone." No, it doesn't.

Sure, some people will end up saying very heinous things. On the other hand, other people will end up saying things that change the world. History is full of people who did not shut up because of the fear of hurting someone, and who made the world a better place to live. People with unpopular opinions and who were not afraid to express them. This is something that should be encouraged, not stifled.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hatred of the Twilight saga

I have commented in previous posts, how among "armchair movie critics" and internet reviewers it seems to be an unwritten rule that if the majority of other people detest a particular movie (or franchise) then everyone must detest it, lest their credibility be tarnished.

There are many, many examples of this. For instance, you absolutely must detest the Star Wars prequel trilogy (especially the first film), the second and third Matrix movies and, as a more minor example, the Battleship movie. If you don't, then you are strange and without any credibility.

Personally I would add the Twilight saga to this list. Especially the first movie. It's, once again, one of those movie franchises that everybody must hate, because everybody else also hates them. It's not even allowed to say "it was ok." Even that's too much.

I'm not saying that the Twilight movies are the best masterpieces ever made (after all, only an extremely small minority of all movies can be,) but they are definitely not anywhere even near to the worst movies ever made. (For a personal list of those, see here.)

The movies (and obviously the books they are based on) are quite clearly aimed primarily at teenage girls. However, once you get past that, I think that they are enjoyable, especially the first movie (the next ones start to get a bit bland and repetitive.) Perhaps not great, but certainly enjoyable. That's certainly much better than many other movies I have seen.

Hating the Twilight saga is more of a meme than anything else. Everybody hates it because everybody else hates it, and if you ever express anything else than pure hatred towards it, you are considered strange. (You don't even have to like it. It's enough to simply not hate it. Even a "it's just ok" is too much.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Modernized remakes and adaptations

It seems to have been a trend during the last decade or so that every time they make a movie that's a remake or adaptation of a story, they always modernize it to happen in the modern world, even if the original story is set to happen many decades ago. It doesn't really matter if the original story is set to happen in the 1980's or the 1920's, the trend seems to be to always adapt it to happen in the 2000's.

Sometimes this has no big impact in the story, so no bad consequences follow this modernization. However, oftentimes they have to bend over backwards in order to make the adaptation work.

A very typical example is that 20+ years ago almost nobody had a cellphone, while nowadays it's rare for somebody to not have one. Thus if the story relies on people being stranded or otherwise cut from civilization or the authorities, the adaptation needs to go to extra lengths to try to explain why the cellphones aren't working or why they don't have them. And that's only one example.

The thing is, usually all these modifications are pretty moot because often there is no advantage in setting the story in modern day. It brings nothing of value to the story, and there's no reason why it couldn't have been set in its original time period.

A much rarer situation is when the do the exact reverse, and go completely overboard with it. In other words, not only do they keep the story in its original time period, but they actually make the movie itself look like it has been made back then.

This gimmick is rather inexplicable. What possible value is there in making the movie deliberately look like it has been made decades ago, rather than it being a modern movie set in that time period? What possible value is there in limiting the technology that can be used to make the best possible movie?

The most egregious example of this that I can think of is the 2005 movie The Call of Cthulhu. It's set in the 1920's, as per the books. However, it's deliberately made to look like it has been made in the 1920's. It's black&white, silent, and with production qualities similar to movies of that time. And for what? What exactly has been gained from this? What could have been an awesome movie ended up being nothing more than a gimmick.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to apologize properly

When interacting with people in real life, some people have a slight misunderstanding about how to apologize to someone properly.

(By the way, this post wasn't prompted by anything that has happened to me recently. I have simply been thinking about it. This kind of situation has happened to me in the past several times, though.)

When someone wants to apologize to someone else, for example because they had an argument or the person making the apology acted in a very inconsiderate manner, a relatively common way that people do this is to first apologize and then ask something like "friends?" or "are we ok?" or something similar, and often accompanied with an expectation of shaking hands or whatever.

They usually do this with good intentions. They want to apologize for the negative thing they were involved with and want for the relationship to return to normal.

However, they have misunderstood a bit how this kind of apology should be done. You don't go to someone that's annoyed or mad at you, apologize, and then immediately expect them to reciprocate. While usually not intentional, the act of expecting an immediate reciprocation kind of nullifies the apology, and puts unfair pressure on the other person and is, in fact, inconsiderate.

If someone feels bad or insulted, it's often not something that can be just erased like that, with a simple apology. Expecting them to do that on the spot is unrealistic and inconsiderate because it does not take into account the other person's feelings. What's worse, expecting them to immediately reciprocate can cause feelings of guilt on them, if they really can't get over it that fast. (If they respond positively, they will feel guilt because it will not be completely honest. Not responding back positively can feel even worse. In either case, the sentiment will be very negative.)

When you truly want to apologize to someone, you don't expect anything back. You just say your apology and leave it at that. You have to understand that the other person may require some time to sort things out and get over their feelings. Putting pressure on them and making them feel guilty for not immediately reciprocating is not the correct way of apologizing to someone. Immediately expecting everything to be ok is unrealistic and unfair. On the contrary, you should expect everything to not be ok immediately, and instead give it time. That's the considerate and polite thing to do.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Dark Knight trilogy

I have written about this in the past (especially in my old "blog" at my homepage), but I think it deserves repeating.

There isn't a single movie that properly captures the essence of Batman in the comics (at least not any professionally-made big-budget one.) The only non-comic artwork that I have encountered that really captures this spirit is the Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City video games. They are dark, gritty, violent and badass... yet they still somehow retain the kind of "innocence" of the comics' world. The characters feel like the characters of the comics, and the entire setting and atmosphere feels like the ones from the comics.

In my opinion, not a single movie has ever succeeded in doing this. So, what do I think of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy?

The first movie follows a rather clear three-act structure, not only in its contents, but also in its quality. The first act (which shows Bruce Wayne's background) is good (not perfect, but good), the second act (which shows how he builds the character of Batman) is mediocre, the third act (the battle against his foes) is just horrendous.

And I will never get tired of repeating this: They never get, and will probably never get, Batman's costume right. In all movies it has been just horrible, and the first movie in the trilogy is no exception. They clearly take the "knight" part way too literally. Batman should be an agile "ninja" that looms in the dark, disposes enemies without them even noticing, and instilling uncertainty and fear. He's not supposed to be a soldier in full body armor that looks more like a black Michelin Man than a ninja. That's not Batman. That's someone else.

The second movie was overall much better, and consistently good. Batman was not really the Batman of the comics, and especially the Joker was most certainly not the Joker of the comics, but it wasn't a bad movie at all. It's just that you have to consider an alternative universe of sorts, a universe with clear and drastic differences from the universe of the comics. A "parallel universe Batman" of sorts. (Batman's costume got an upgrade that made it better, but it's still not Batman's costume. It's something else entirely.)

The third movie is... just underwhelming. Dull. Plodding. It clearly tries to be deep and epic, but in the end that just feels hollow. Any "depth" feels forced and tacked on. The best way to describe it is as if it was something like "Batman's mid-life crisis." Exactly as thrilling and interesting.

I have to go against the majority here and consider the entire trilogy quite underwhelming. It's something that clearly tries very hard to be very deep, epic and larger-than-life, but in the end all that feels just like an empty shell with no actual substance. The second film is enjoyable, but that's about it. It's the only one I would watch again, and I wouldn't even bother with the other two.

And even at the risk of sounding like a broken record: This is not Batman. This is something else. It might resemble Batman a bit, but it's not. It's a parallel universe Batman that's not the real McCoy. It just isn't.