Monday, April 27, 2015

The complex issue of child labor

Many western companies, especially clothing companies, manufacture their products where the labor is the cheapest, ie. the developing countries mainly in south Asia and many parts of Africa. This is the reason why you can buy those products for a tenth of their normal price, compared to if they were produced normally.

For the past 20 or so years it has been brought to public attention that many of those factories in those developing countries, which are subsidiaries (or subsidiaries of subsidiaries) of big western megacorporations, use children as their workforce, and they often work in absolutely horrible environments (and this is how they can keep their production costs so low.) This was true 20 years ago, and it's still true today. It's a constant problem that has no end in sight.

Many companies go out their way to rectify this. Their position is (and it's probably true in many cases) that they do not directly allow the employment of children, and that they always demand adequate working conditions, but it's difficult to control what contractors of contractors of contractors do to manufacture the products. The company cannot be everywhere at once, at every single factory that might be used that particular week to produce their products, because the chain of contractors can be so long and in fact hard to trace, and the factories can change places so often.

Regardless, many companies have successfully toned down the amount of child labor and unhealthy working conditions in their manufacturing process. The governments of many of those countries have of course also helped.

That seems all fine and dandy. However, there's another side to the coin.

Several documentaries have been produced about child labor in these poor countries. Many of them are not judgmental, but simply approach the subject in a neutral manner.

For example in one of these documentaries they interviewed an employer who employed children to work in his clothing factory. His defense? "At least they are here earning money for their families rather than on the street selling themselves to earn that money."

And that's actually the more horrifying and ugly truth behind all this. Many of these places are pretty much hells from the perspective of children. They effectively face three possible options: Starve to death alongside the rest of their families, go into prostitution at a horrendously young age, or work in a factory.

I'm not saying that those factory owners who employ children are saints and heroes. However, what are the alternatives? It seems to me that at many places they are the lesser of many evils.

Of course the optimal solution would be to increase the living standards of the entire country so that no children would need to face these horrible choices. But this goes to the crux of this whole thing: Western countries do not care much.

We are only horrified at the prospect of child labor, and celebrate when a company stops it from happening... and that's it. We stop paying attention. We don't care what exactly happens to those children who stopped working at the factory. We stop caring what the conditions of that country are that allowed or even forced children to work at factories in the first place. Sure, some of us might pay lip service to that aspect as well, but it's not something we rally for as loudly as the horrible idea of child labor itself.

So, I suppose that my point is that the next time you feel enraged when you hear about child labor, think about the larger picture. Think about why those children are being employed, and what their realistic alternatives are in that country, and what it is that you should really get angry about.

It may be a horrible thing to say, but perhaps at this very moment, until that country perhaps becomes better in the future, it may indeed be so that it's better for those children to work in a factory than to sell themselves on the street, if they have no other options.

Superstition of the modern day

People have, and always have had, all kinds of superstitions. Here, however, I'm not talking about superstitions like "the number 13 is unlucky" or "walking under a ladder is bad luck". Rather, I'm talking about the worship and idolization of the past, so to speak.

This takes several forms. One of the most common ones is the notion that life was somehow better in the past. Somehow people seem to think of the past as an utopia, where people were one with nature, stress free, frolicking among flowers on the meadow, rural landscapes with carefree farmers cultivating fields at their leisure, windmills producing flour from their grains, and bakers making bread, and everything being sunny and shiny, and people being happy and nice. This is contrasted with a picture of the modern world with people making long hours in dark factories and office buildings, always being busy and stressed, always having to hurry everywhere, with crime and violence rampant, in a dark city full of pollution, noise and danger, economic crises, corruption and evil everywhere. They seem to think that crime and unhappiness are today at an all-time high, while in the idyllic past they were in an all-time low, with people being happy and carefree.

The above paragraph might have contained a slight amount of exaggeration, but it's not far from the picture that many people have about the past (and present).

Reality, however, was quite different from that imagined utopia. That's not to say that no single human being ever existed in the past that lived in a place that could somewhat resemble that picture, but not only was that a really small minority of people, even their lives were not that rose-colored.

For the vast majority of the history of humanity people (with the exception of a very small minority) have lived in rather horrible conditions. Infant mortality was very high (in many cases, at many places, you were lucky if half of your children lived to adulthood, which is one of the reasons why people got a lot more children in the past than today), life expectancy was quite low, and diseases were rampant (many of them being diseases that are trivially curable or treatable today). Modern medicine has made most of those diseases insignificant, and has diminished infant mortality to almost zero, and raised life expectancy significantly.

If you think that today the gap between the rich and the poor is wide, you have no idea how it was in the past. Today, in most countries, even poor people live relatively comfortably. In the past, however, in most places poor people lived in absolutely horrendous conditions. In most countries neither the rich nor the government cared much about the poor, or even the middle class, and there wasn't much of things like sanitation and public infrastructure. Many poor people lived, essentially, in a mud hut. And, naturally, crime was rampant, so life was really unsafe.

And those happy farmers? Some thrived, others didn't. Without modern technology they were much more susceptible to bad weather conditions. And usually they were helpless against roaming bandits and, often, to corrupt officials. Some small isolated communities were probably better off than larger ones. But of course even there the problems with high infant mortality, diseases and low life expectancy were ever present.

Some people often picture the middle ages as a likewise idyllic time, where knights in white armor saved princesses (or, perhaps more realistically, helped those in need). This picture might not be today as prevalent as it was decades ago thanks to movies today often depicting the middle ages more realistically. It was much darker and grittier than that. And those knights were often, effectively, just soldiers of the government, and many of them didn't have codes of honor (or didn't follow them). Pillaging and raping was not always done solely by bandits.

The modern world, however, is much safer in comparison. Of course crime is still prevalent (and will probably always be), but the modern world is more peaceful than the world has ever been. This might be hard for many people to believe, but it just is. There is less war, less crime and less corruption overall today than there has ever been in the past. That might be hard to believe seeing how much of it there still is, but that only emphasizes how bad things were in the past.

Another, perhaps less prevalent, form of idolizing the past is the notion that ancient cultures often had knowledge (usually related to medical treatments and medicine) that has been lost. Often miracle cures are sold as being ancient knowledge, that wise people in the distant past had but which has been lost, and recently rediscovered. Miracle cancer cures are perhaps the most prevalent form or this.

This kind of mentality is very often accompanied with the very strange notion that modern medicine is little more than voodoo and quackery, where greedy pharmaceutical corporations are both shooting in the dark with wild experiments using people as their subjects, and making a big profit out of it. In other words, they are more interested in making money than curing people, and medicine in general is more like a mad science experiment. Of course ancient people were "one with nature", and very wise, and had all kinds of natural remedies that were effectively panaceas, and which have been either forgotten or suppressed by modern greedy pharmaceutical companies.

In fact, and of course, the vast majority of those "ancient miracle cures" are pure fabrications. In an extremely small amount of cases there might be some truth behind the claim, but even then the actual remedy wasn't really all that effective, and is very well known and accepted today (but, often, there are much more effective alternatives to it using modern medicine).

The fact is that modern medicine puts all "ancient cures" to shame in its efficacy and safety. Modern medicine has eradicated some diseases completely, and has made many diseases trivially curable and treatable, those diseases going from almost certainly fatal to not fatal at all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Patent trolls

The original purpose of patents is to entice technological innovation. By giving inventors exclusive rights to their own inventions for some amount of time, this entices people to invent, develop and improve on new ideas and new technologies. After all, money is often a very good incentive.

This original intent becomes more muddled when a patent owner can transfer this ownership to another person or company. Sure, the original owner (usually) gets money for it, which is the point... but now that other person or company is making money from an invention they did not develop.

It's still in the realm of acceptability when the intent of that patent buyer is to improve on the invention. After all, it makes sense. A lone inventor might not have the resources (or motivation) to improve further on the invention, so if a richer person or company wants to improve on it, that's only beneficial overall. The result is further technological progress. Even though the patent was transferred, the new owner contributes to the overall progress.

But what happens if a company is based exclusively on making money by buying patents and then enforcing them (ie. demanding license fees and suing people for patent infringement), with zero contribution and zero improvement on those inventions?

These are so-called patent trolls. That's their entire form of business. They do not contribute. They only leech money, and nothing else. The original inventors do not get any of this money, nor does the money go into further development. All of the money simply goes to the pockets of the patent trolls. This is purely opportunistic behavior.

Recent statistics show that in the United States over 60% of all patent infringement lawsuits are made by patent troll companies. The problem has really gotten out of hand. (And the vast majority of these cases are settled out of court. This is actually a deliberate tactic by the patent trolls. If the case went to the court, and it ruled against the patent owners, this would nullify the entire patent. By settling out of court, the patent trolls never put their patents in danger.)

And, naturally, the license demands and lawsuits are often astonishingly egregious. Because patents, especially software patents, are often very vaguely worded, they can be applied to a wide variety of applications.

There are countless stories of people getting surprise demands of license fees or lawsuits for things they didn't even know was patented, often because they are extremely trivial things (even though trivial things shouldn't be patentable, even in the United States). In some cases the thing they are using was invented way before the patent was filed (sometimes even decades before).

Patent trolls are opportunistic leeches who only suck money out of people without any kind of contribution to progress. They often also sue people for things that would never hold in court, and bully the person to either pay licensing fees or settle out of court, and thus the validity of their patents are never tested.

Curiously, this tactic seems to work both against individual people, and even megacorporations, which is rather amazing. Megacorporations would have the money and the army of lawyers to contest the patent claim... yet still it seems that many of them choose to pay instead. Sure, to a megacorporation the sum they have to pay is minuscule relative to their revenue (and perhaps that's the reason they simply choose to pay), but one would think that a megacorporation would be above getting bullied by a troll. But seemingly not.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The media darling is unstoppable

I know I have been pounding on this narrow subject time and again, but I just can't get over how amazingly stupid it is.

Anita Sarkeesian is the perfect media darling. She's a young woman who has media appeal, seems smart, talks about social issues (ie. the media's favorite subject, ie. feminism) and, like any other celebrity, gets her share of hate and threatening messages from internet trolls. And she's not shy about playing the role of the damsel in distress because of it. This, it seems, is the perfect storm for being an absolute media darling. The media by large accepts anything she says as gospel, and hurries to try to save the damsel in distress. She gets amazing amounts of media attention, and she gets showered with awards and pity money. All of this because of a grand total of 6 YouTube videos she has made (for which she has got almost half a million of dollars of donations, over 300 thousand of them being pity money she has been donated after she cancelled a speech because of a non-credible threat.)

The media adores her, no matter what the public has to say.

For example, recently Time Magazine, one of the most prestigious magazines in existence, had an online poll asking their readers who of a list of candidates should get into their "top 100 most influential people of 2015" list. Anita Sarkeesian was (naturally) one of the candidates.

A whopping 80% of people voted "no".

Did she get into the list nevertheless? I don't think I need to tell the answer to that.

That's the power of feminism.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Is the United States preparing itself for a revolution?

Many sociopolitical analysts and commenters have presented the claim that the United States has pretty much stopped being a democracy, or even a republic, and become a de facto oligarchy. (An oligarchy is effectively a dictatorship where the power lies in a small minority of powerful people rather than a single individual dictator.) Both the two-party system and the fact that rich corporations and rich people have so much influence in the government, as well as a large amount of other characteristics of the government system, lead to this conclusion.

There is also the fact that the United States has the largest national debt in the world, amounting to tens of trillions of dollars, and it only keeps growing at an alarming rate each year. This is something that cannot keep growing forever. Since it cannot grow forever, something is going to happen sooner or later. It's most probably going to be an unprecedented economic crash.

Parallels have been drawn to similar situations in history, such as for example the events leading to the famous French revolution (where the French government was also an oligarchy, in addition to many other similarities.)

It's also a fact that the United States police force is being militarized beyond reason. The government is dumping boatloads of army surplus onto its police force, all the way from military gear to weapons to even assault tanks. When you watch the police in action, it really looks like a military operation, not a police operation. At many places in the United States there effectively is no police anymore, but instead it has been replaced with a paramilitary organization, with full military equipment. All this is government-funded and endorsed.

While it does indeed sound like a typical conspiracy theory, I cannot deny that all of this looks a lot like the United States government is preparing itself for something. Maybe, just maybe, they are taking precautionary measures against a possible future massive citizen revolt, ie. a revolution? Perhaps the people at the top are looking at the economy and seeing a rather grim future, a possible massive economic crash (which may even become world-wide), and are preparing themselves for the inevitable revolt that could ensue? Perhaps there's a reason why the government is militarizing the police forces and dumping astounding amounts of military equipment to them?

Some sociopolitical commentators have presented this hypothesis. It might be paranoia; it might be just another silly conspiracy theory. I hope it is.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Some of the biggest almost non-regulated polluters

Pollution has been the bane of the entire world for the past century. For a good portion of the previous century nobody cared at all about pollution; it simply was something that nobody thought of or cared about. The world is huge, what would a few puffs of smoke do to it? Of course today we know better.

Industry is one of the biggest polluters in our modern society. So are private vehicles. Many countries have imposed strict laws to try to limit the pollution of these two things (some countries so successfully that they are in fact amazingly clean).

But there are two major pollutants in our world that produce staggering amounts of pollution, and which get little to no attention.

A passenger airplane burns through thousands of liters of fuel on a single flight. There are thousands of passenger and cargo airplanes on air at any given moment. In other word, several thousands airplanes fly significant distances every single day. Which in turn means that literally millions of liters of fuel are burnt every single day by airplanes, their exhaust almost completely unfiltered.

This, however, is nothing compared to the amount of fuel consumed by passenger and especially cargo ships. It has been estimated that one big cargo ship is equivalent to over 50 million cars. That's right, 50 million. And the thing is, the pollution of cargo ships is extremely poorly regulated, if at all. And thousands of cargo ships are sailing our seas every single day. And since cargo ships are mostly out of sight, they are also mostly out of mind as well. Almost nobody cares about them, nor talks much about them when the subject is pollution.

These are problems that need to be fixed quickly, if we want to do something about pollution. Regulating the industry and private car use is good, but it's not enough. We have literally the equivalent of billions of cars on our seas and oceans every single day, with little to no regulation. We have likewise the equivalent of millions of cars flying on the sky every single day, which are likewise big sources of pollution even if they are regulated in some parts of the world, just because of technical reasons.

And the thing is, the vast majority of planes on our skies wouldn't need to exist. They exist solely because people want to travel long distances more quickly, even when they wouldn't need to do so (ie. travel that quickly or at all). It's just a commodity for somewhat wealthy people. The world would work just fine if eg. half of the planes flying every day would be removed.

Reducing the amount of cargo ships is a harder problem because it would have a big effect on world economy, but I do not believe it's an insurmountable one. We need to research less polluting ways to move those ships. We need to find ways to reduce their amount. We need to do something.

We need to start caring.

Anita Sarkeesian engages in hate speech

The concept of "hate speech" can be divided into its colloquial/sociological meaning, and its legal meaning. These two meanings overlap, but are not identical; something that can be considered hate speech is not necessarily considered illegal by law (in the same way as, for example, the concepts of "slander" and "defamation" may be quite different in colloquial terms than in legal terms.)

However, all dictionary definitions of "hate speech" I could find seem to pretty much agree on the definition of the term. I'll include all of what I could find, to make absolutely sure of said definition.

"speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability." — Unabriged.
"speech disparaging a racial, sexual, or ethnic group or a member of such a group"
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
"Bigoted speech attacking or disparaging a social group or a member of such a group." — The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition
 "a term for speech that attacks or disparages a person or group of people based on their social or ethnic group" — English Wiktionary
"Speech not protected by the First Amendment, because it is intended to foster hatred against individuals or groups based on race, religion, gender, sexual preference, place of national origin, or other improper classification." — Webster's New World Law Dictionary
Now consider these tweets posted by Anita Sarkeesian and see if they fulfill those definitions:
"We need to seriously address connections between violence, sexism and toxic ideas of manhood before boys and men commit more mass shootings."
"Not a coincidence it's always men and boys committing mass shootings. The pattern is connected to ideas of toxic masculinity in our culture."
"Mass shootings are one tragic consequence of a culture that perpetuates toxic ideas of masculinity. This is how patriarchy can harm men too."
"There's no such thing as sexism against men. That's because sexism is prejudice + power. Men are the dominant gender with power in society."
"The masculine mistake: Why is America producing so many young men who are hostile to women?"
— Anita Sarkeesian
How is this not hate speech? According to any dictionary I could find, it is. But apparently according to our feminist culture, it isn't.

The irony (ie. hypocrisy) of Scientology

How do people get enthralled in Scientology? After all, it's a religion invented by a sci-fi author, their claims are rather ridiculous, and they milk money from their members like there's no tomorrow. Why would anybody become a member? Well, it works like this:

New potential members are drawn in by offering them free "auditing" sessions. "Auditing", as they call it, is basically just a fancy name for a form of light psychotherapy, which contains a form of light psychological manipulation.

The "patient" is subjected to somewhat standard psychotherapy: They are instructed to remember the most negative events in their early lives, and relive them in their minds as clearly as possible. They are then told that they are now clear of that negative memory. This is immediately followed by instructing them to remember one of the most positive early memories they have, to contrast it with the negative one. This is a form of light psychological manipulation mixed with actual psychotherapy: It makes the subjects feel better about themselves by "getting rid" of negative memories, and reinforcing positive ones.

Some people participating in these "auditing" sessions feel so much better that they are motivated to come back and repeat the experience. They strongly associate "auditing" with a positive outcome of feeling better and happier, and they want more of it. Some of them may become almost psychologically addicted to it. As a side-effect, the strong positive perception they gain of "auditing" and Scientology in general this way, lowers their critical thinking about everything else they will be taught there. After all, if these sessions make them feel so much better, surely there must be some truth to what they are saying?

Of course the catch here is that only the first few "auditing" sessions are free. Once the subject gets hooked, the sessions start costing some money. Little at first, but ever increasing. The more time the subject spends there, the more the subject "advances" in the cult, the more it will start costing them. The richer you are, and the more you advance, the more money you will find yourself spending there, up to rather outrageous sums (it has been estimated that the richest actors have paid millions of dollars in total to the cult.)

When they become involved in the cult, they are soon taught, like any good religion does, to fear leaving the cult. They demonize and dehumanize people who critique the church or have left it. They call someone like that a "subversive person" and they instruct to avoid and shun such people.

There's also demonstrably a lot more going on behind the scenes as well, as revealed by ex-member auditors, such as secretly recording the sessions of the richest and most influential members, who are revealing their innermost secrets in the auditing sessions, to blackmail them if they want to leave.

So, where does the irony, ie. hypocrisy, comes into play in all of this?

Well, you see, the church of Scientology is infamously vocal against the practice of psychology. It considers psychology to be an evil plan to control people and to suck money out of them... while they themselves are using psychotherapy to do that exact thing.

The hypocrisy is just astounding.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The difficulty of translation and localization, part 2

Suppose you are developing a project, like a video game, and you would want (or need) to translate and localize it to another language, one that you have no understanding of whatsoever. How exactly would you assure the quality of the translation?

(If you are wondering why I'm using "translation and localization", and what the difference is, it's this: Translating text from one language to another is to reflect as accurately as possible the things that were said in the original language, with as few changes as possible. Localizing the text, however, requires more than simply translating it. Pure translations are more proper for things like legal documents, documentaries, and even some forms of fiction. However, this is not always suitable for all forms of fiction. The most typical thing requiring localization (rather than blind translation) are jokes, puns, wordplay and certain things that are extremely culture-specific in the original language, and wouldn't translate well into the target language. As a rule of thumb, if a literal translation would require a footnote to explain the reader what it means in the original language, this is often a sign that it requires localization, especially if such footnotes cannot be used or would be awkward or unsuitable in the work or its context.)

So, going back to the original question, if you need a translation/localization of your work into a language you don't understand, how exactly can you make sure of the quality of that translation?

You can ask a friend or somebody else on the internet to do the translation for you. Or, in extreme cases, hire a professional translator. But even in this latter case (not to talk about the former ones), how can you assure quality?

Even professional translator may do a poor job at translating, and especially localizing, your work because they might not have a good picture of what you want (even if you try to explain it to them). Also, being professional (ie. doing it for money) is unfortunately not a guarantee of quality.

If you were commissioning art, there would be no problem. The artist creates the images you request, and you can easily check them to see if they match your vision, and request fixes if they don't. But language is not that easy, if you don't understand it.

One thing you could do is to ask for an independent second opinion. In other words, give the translation to someone else who understands the language well (preferably a native speaker) and ask them what they think about it. This probably does indeed help quite a lot, but still you are relying on other people to assure the quality of your own creation, you yourself being unable to do so. Neither of those other people might understand perfectly what it is that you want, and might let grave mistakes pass, because they don't understand them as mistakes. Or perhaps the tone is just wrong, or some form of localization is poor, or perhaps the translator made a literal translation of something that should have been localized... or a myriad of other things.

This is a hard problem, especially for small-scale developers who work solo or with very small teams.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Should people be forced to get vaccinations?

Smallpox was one of the most widespread and deadliest diseases, and had existed for almost as long as human civilization has. It's estimated that by the 18th and 19th centuries the disease killed approximately 400 thousand people each year in Europe alone, not to talk about the entire world. Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century. The majority of them were children.

Today smallpox is gone. Completely eradicated. It will never kill a single person again (unless it gets somehow stolen from the few labs it's still preserved in.) This happened thanks to an aggressive world-wide vaccination campaign. In some cases people were even forcefully vaccinated.

This campaign has literally saved the lives of hundreds of millions of people, who would have certainly died from the disease if it still existed. Yet ask the average person if they agree with forced vaccinations, most of them would answer in the negative. They find it abhorrent. The current cultural zeitgeist is that personal choice is sacrosanct... even if it means that millions of people will die as a consequence.

Even if you ask them directly if the smallpox vaccination campaign was morally wrong, many of them will answer that yes. Even if you specifically point out how many hundreds of millions of lives the campaign has saved, they will still answer that it was morally wrong.

The most idiotic people will compare it to eugenics. It just baffles my mind how retarded and backwards that comparison is. Eugenics is the deliberate elimination of people who are seen as undesirable, in favor of other people who are seen as superior. The smallpox vaccination campaign was the exact opposite of eugenics: It tried to help save the lives of everybody, without differentiation or discrimination. It especially saved millions of people in the poorest countries in the world, who were most vulnerable to the disease. How on Earth can this be called "eugenics", when it's the polar opposite? Wouldn't allowing the weak to die to the disease be more eugenics than trying to save them? This just baffles me to no end.

The world was lucky in that the smallpox vaccination campaign happened at the exact right time: We had developed an effective vaccine, we had the means to deliver the vaccine effectively to the entire world and, most importantly, the modern politically correct social justice ideologies had yet not settled in to interfere, allowing the campaign to succeed.

Later similar campaigns have failed precisely because of that last part. The most notorious one is the campaign to get rid of polio. It almost succeeded, but then the political correctness social justice attitudes interfered... and polio is still a plague killing millions. Because of the choice of a few, millions of people, millions of children, have to suffer and either die or be crippled for life.

In fact, when I have had this conversation with people online, and when I asked them if they could, if they would go back in time and stop those forced smallpox vaccinations, they answered that yes. I was absolutely astounded. And these were not trolls, because I knew them from a long time of online interaction. This was the most horrible thing I have ever seen from otherwise nice and rational people. That they wouldn't even bat an eye to the sacrifice of literally hundreds of millions of people, just so that a few of them could retain personal choice.

And then they dare to talk about "eugenics". The hypocrisy is just astonishing. Not even Hitler killed that many people.

How many millions of people need to be sacrificed to the altar of political correctness? Why is the personal choice of a few more important than the lives of hundreds of millions of people?

Would a single person who opposes forced vaccinations stand up and take responsibility for the millions of people who die every year from diseases that could have been eradicated if it weren't for people like them? Would a single such person say "yes, millions of dead people are an acceptable price to retain freedom of choice"?

If you are such a person and you would say that, then you are worse than Hitler. And I'm completely seriously saying that.