How to completely miss the point

The Danish government party, Socialdemokratiet/The Social Democrats, have made a video which is supposed to show that they support all children.

You don’t have to be able to speak English to get the gist of what the video is about. It is based on the Privilege walk exercise, which is based on Peggy McIntosh’s 1989 article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, and has is meant to illustrate how privilege will affect people.

Now, look at the video from the Social Democrats, and you’ll probably notice straight away that they have completely missed the point of the exercise. The group of children in the video is extremely homogeneous, and there are none with different ethnical backgrounds or with visible handicaps.

Yes, the video ends up with great differences between the children, but the big distance this is only possible because they have changed the questions in order to remove any referring to white and able bodied privileges, and instead focusing on only those that can affect this particular group of children. It is understandable why they have done this, but it goes against the whole concept for the exercise.

I cannot even begin to understand why anyone would do this particular exercise without any representations for the groups that faces systematic discrimination in the Danish society. I can only think that this was done deliberately to not draw attention to the plight of those groups, and instead focuses on more traditionally social democratic priorities – e.g. class and education. This is, unfortunately, not surprising, given how the Danish Social Democrats has become more and more anti-immigrant, in order to win voters back from the xenophobic Danish Peoples’ Party.

Qassem Suleimani killed

As you all probably know, the US has made an airstrike in Iraq, killing Qassem Suleimani and several others.

I am not going to be sorry that Qassem Suleimani is gone, but as Mano Singham says, this is really really bad. Iran is not going to take this lightly.

Also, there is the whole problem of assassinating people – if this becomes widespread, it would mean that the US leadership would become a legitimate target for e.g. Iran. This is not a good thing, and is why most countries have signed up to use the international criminal court, ICC, to prosecute people instead – of course, the US is not a state party to the ICC.

If you want to know more about Qassem Suleimani, the New Yorker had a good portrait of him in 2013 The Shadow Commander.

Book review: Range by David Epstein

Around Christmas, I read Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein, which is a book which really speaks to me, since I have had a somewhat uneven path to my current career. Something which I think is a strength – which Epstein’s book definitely backs me up on.

The first part of the book, takes on both the idea of focused children becoming child prodigies and the 10,000 hour rule, which says that it takes 10,000 hours of intense training to become a world expert on something. Regarding child prodigies, Epstein points out that training children to become focused on one area, and thus become child prodigies in those areas only works on areas with well defined problem areas, e.g. chess, golf and to some degree classical music, while in areas which are more chaotic (most other sports, and other things interacting with other people), it doesn’t work. This is because the later areas are so-called wicked problems. Here a broadness of experience and range is a plus.

This means that world leaders in areas which can be considered wicked problems, usually haven’t just focused on those areas. Rather they have touched a number of different areas, before starting to focus on that particular area. One example Epstein mentions is that most Olympic competitors have usually dabbled in a number of sports before choosing their discipline.

From speaking of world experts in different areas, and their path to become so, Epstein broadens the subject to discuss career paths in general. He takes on the idea that people should choose their path from a young age, and that changing career paths later in life is somehow bad. He, rightfully, points out that the earlier you make your choices, the less options are you aware of – heck, the less options might exist.

This rings true to me. The job I do now, working as a business analyst in software projects, didn’t really exist when I had to choose my path after high school. I instead started studying business management and later switched to economics, before becoming aware that computer programming was something I found interesting. Now, I have again moved away from doing actual programming, and instead work with the business, ensuring that the end system will be useful. One of the reasons I am effective at this job, is my technical background, but it is certainly also helped by my early years studying business management and economics.

One other factor Epsteins mentions, when it comes to choosing a career path early, is the fact that peoples’ brains keep developing, and that you are different person when you are older than when you were younger. This should make you pause – think of all the decisions you made back then, which you have since changed as you have lived more years, experienced more things – why should your career path be any different?

If you change career path in your later life, you have both the advantage of having a wider range of experience to base the decision on, and you will still have your toolbox from your old career to use in the new career. This means that you might be able to solve problems which other people in the field can’t, since they simply lack the required tools.

Much the same can be said about focusing on diversity in teams. It has been shown again and again that the more diverse a team, the better they are at problem solving. Again, because they bring a more diverse set of tools to solve the problems, and not just the same tools that they have all learned in school.

I have simplified the arguments a bit, but I hope you get the general gist. Epstein also provides a lot of concrete examples of cases where range and diversity has helped over narrow expertise.

All in all, I highly recommend the book, and I hope the message of the book is taken to heart.

Interesting news on the ancestry of Orangutans

An interesting bit of science news from my local University, the University of Copenhagen.

Extinct giant ape directly linked to the living orangutan

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have succeeded in reconstructing the evolutionary relationship between a two million year old giant primate and the living orangutan. It is the first time genetic material this old has been retrieved from a fossil in a subtropical area. This allows the researchers to accurately reconstruct animal, including human, evolutionary processes way beyond the limits known today.

As the opening paragraph makes clear, this is an interesting piece of news, not only because of the results, but also because of the advancements in techniques this research has led to.

The news release from the university mostly focuses on how the expansion of the techniques are going to make broader research possible – for the actual results of the study, you’ll have to go to the article in Nature (behind a paywall)

Lazy linking – the Trump circus

Impeachment

The open hearings in the impeachment inquiry have started, and despite the orders from Trump of people not participating, some key people have already been in and have given some pretty damning evidence.

So far we have heard career diplomats like William Taylor, George Kent, and Marie Yovanovitch speak about what they experienced, and it has been pretty damning.

For a full transcript of the testimony by Taylor and Kent see: Read George Kent and William Taylor’s Full Opening Statements at the First Public Hearing in Trump’s Impeachment Inquiry

As for Marie Yovanovitch, this is an article worth reading.

“This Is the Way Gangsters Operate”: A Hero Is Born as Yovanovitch Gives Voice to Widespread Rage at State

The diplomatic rank and file believe Mike Pompeo has allowed Trump to pollute the State Department with politics. Marie Yovanovitch made their case. “I think people are feeling huge pride in Masha,” says a former ambassador.

While the testimony of the three career diplomats have been very damning, things are going to be much worse for Trump. Coming up are witnesses like State Department official David Holmes , US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, Defense Department official Laura Cooper, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, and National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill. And many more are probably to come, including John Bolton and Mick Mulvany, especially if the courts find that the House’s subpoena overrules the orders from Trump (something which would be obvious in any other timeline).

Roger Stone found guilty

It hasn’t gotten much notice, but Roger Stone has been found guilty on all counts, making him the 6th Trump Associate Convicted Under Mueller Probe.

Giuliani is in trouble

Or so it would seem

Giuliani ‘is potentially in a heap of trouble’ and could be indicted today: ex-prosecutor

On MSNBC’s “AM Joy,” former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade suggested that President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani could be indicted today, based just on the facts that are already known about his involvement in the Ukraine plot.

The idea of Giuliani going to jail is bringing me great joy.

Trump pardons war criminals

Trump uses his presidential power to grant pardons – and unsurprisingly he pardons the worst sort of people.

Trump Clears Three Service Members in War Crimes Cases

Top military leaders have pushed back hard against clearing the three men. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy have argued that such a move would undermine the military code of justice, and would serve as a bad example to other troops in the field, administration officials said.

It is not like US soldiers often get prosecuted for their actions in war zones, and even rarer they get found guilty. In these cases, there is clear evidence that they killed unarmed civilians – often the witnesses were their fellow soldiers – yet Trump decides that he knows better, and pardons them.

The 100 best books of the 21st century

The Guardian has created a list of the books they consider the 100 best of the 21st century (so far). The list and the description of each book can be found here.

As always with such lists, people are looking at it, and trying to figure out how many they have read, and as a bibliophile, I am no exception. So, I have recreated the list below in order for me to share.

If a title is bold, it means I own the book. If I have struck through a title, I have read the book. If a title is in italics, the book is on my to-read list.

  • I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron (2006)
  • Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou (2005), translated by Helen Stevenson (2009)
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005), translated by Steven T Murray (2008)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (2000)
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
  • Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan (2004)
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker (2007)
  • The Siege by Helen Dunmore (2001)
  • Light by M John Harrison (2002)
  • Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (2008), translated by Susan Bernofsky (2010)
  • Bad Blood by Lorna Sage (2000)
  • Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2001)
  • Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood (2017)
  • Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis (2017)
  • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2006)
  • The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy (2018)
  • Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli (2016), translated by Luiselli with Lizzie Davis (2017)
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)
  • Harvest by Jim Crace (2013)
  • Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (2002)
  • The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009)
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin (2015)
  • Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (2009), translated by Lisa Dillman (2015)
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011)
  • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (2009), translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (2018)
  • Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (2016)
  • Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (2009)
  • The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff (2019)
  • Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware (2000)
  • Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (2003)
  • The Infatuations by Javier Marías (2011), translated by Margaret Jull Costa (2013)
  • The Constant Gardener by John le Carré (2001)
  • The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (2018)
  • Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli (2014)
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
  • On Writing by Stephen King (2000)
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
  • Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn (2006)
  • This House of Grief by Helen Garner (2014)
  • Dart by Alice Oswald (2002)
  • The Beauty of the Husbandby Anne Carson (2002)
  • Postwar by Tony Judt (2005)
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)
  • Underland by Robert Macfarlane (2019)
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (2006)
  • Women & Power by Mary Beard (2017)
  • True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)
  • Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004)
  • Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (2009)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003)
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (2011)
  • Night Watch by Terry Pratchett (2002)
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000-2003), translated by Mattias Ripa (2003-2004)
  • Human Chain by Seamus Heaney (2010)
  • Levels of Life by Julian Barnes (2013)
  • Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit (2004)
  • Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014)
  • Moneyball by Michael Lewis (2010)
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)
  • The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
  • The Green Road by Anne Enright (2015)
  • Experience by Martin Amis (2000)
  • The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (2010)
  • Outline by Rachel Cusk (2014)
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006)
  • The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (2010)
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (2015)
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)
  • A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard (2009), translated by Don Bartlett (2012)
  • Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy (2005)
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro (2001)
  • Capital in the Twenty First Century by Thomas Piketty (2013), translated by Arthur Goldhammer (2014)
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney (2018)
  • A Visit from The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2011)
  • The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon (2001)
  • Tenth of December by George Saunders (2013)
  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (2011), translated by Harari with John Purcell and Haim Watzman (2014)
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night‑Time by Mark Haddon (2003)
  • The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (2007)
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002)
  • Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
  • The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (2004)
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2011), translated by Ann Goldstein (2012)
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
  • Cloud Atlas David Mitchell (2004)
  • Autumn by Ali Smith (2016)
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)
  • The Amber Spyglasse by Philip Pullman (2000)
  • Austerlitz by WG Sebald (2001), translated by Anthea Bell (2001)
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
  • Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich (2013), translated by Bela Shayevich (2016)
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)

All in all, I have read 10 books on the list, and want to read 32 more of them. I have already bought some of those books.

Lazy linking

A few things I have come across on the internet, which I thought might interest others.

Hail Satan?: The Satanists battling for religious freedom – A profile of the upcoming movie about the Santanic Temple and their fight for religious freedom and women’s rights.

Related to my blogpost on Trump, Greenland, and Denmark, here is a fun fact – The U.S. ambassador to Denmark starred in a movie mocked by MST3K

Something different from the stuff I usually post about – an archive of folk music from around the world. There is not a lot in it yet, but I suspect it will grow over time.

A somewhat scary article by Carl Zimmer in the NY Times: Zika Was Soaring Across Cuba. Few Outside the Country Knew.

The mosquito-borne virus spread through the island in 2017, but global health officials failed to sound the alarm.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who grew up around ‘broken’ and defeated Nazis, has some blunt advice for the alt-right (and Trump)

New podcast recommendation: DeepMind the Podcast

I have just come across a new podcast hosted by the always-brilliant Hannah Fry. It is on AI, and was made in collaboration with the DeepMind laboratory in the UK, and it is simply called DeepMind the Podcast.

The website has the following description:

What’s AI? What can it be used for? Is it safe? And how do I get involved? These are the kinds of questions we often get asked at public events like science festivals, talks and workshops. We love answering them and really value the conversations and thinking they provoke.

Sadly, we can’t have face-to-face conversations with everyone who is interested in AI. So, to help us bridge that gap, we’re now launching DeepMind: The Podcast, a new series that we hope will answer these questions and more, while also giving listeners an inside look at how AI research is done at an organisation like DeepMind. You can subscribe now on your favourite podcast app.

 

Trump, Greenland, and Denmark

So, Denmark has been a bit in the new lately. First there was some minor coverage of the fact that Trump was going to visit the country in early September. Later the coverage became much more massive, because Trump stated that he was going to ask Denmark to sell Greenland to the US. This idea was rebuffed by the Danish PM, who in a Danish newspaper called the idea “absurd”, and pointed out that we are past the time where countries sell other countries and populations. Trump didn’t take this rejection kindly, and he cancelled the visit, calling the Danish PM (or perhaps her choice of words) nasty.

It is rare for world leaders to actually say what they think about Trump’s ideas, so this has gotten a lot more coverage than Trump’s usual inept foreign blunders – see e.g. Washington Post’s <a href=”https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/21/foreign-leader-finally-said-what-she-really-thought-about-trumps-ideas-trump-clearly-didnt-like-it/?fbclid=IwAR1l5cOU1jlN7_XYR_QTX7svegFXJmjlKHh_fc0zHMQI8wxFaVPpVxF-4aA” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>A foreign leader finally said what she really thought about Trump’s ideas. Trump called that ‘nasty.’</a>

Unsurprisingly to most people outside Trump’s election base, the Danish PM’s answer to Trump is deeply popular among people from Denmark and Greenland.

It is popular for several reasons, one of them the simple fact that she was entirely correct in calling the idea absurd. It is correct because asking Denmark to sell Greenland is similar to asking England to sell Scotland – they are two distinct territories within the Kingdom of Denmark, and Mette Frederiksen is only the PM of Denmark, not Greenland.

Denmark does, however, hold a lot of power over Greenland, and in theory, it could happen that Denmark decided to ignore the autonomy of Greenland, and sell it, but as Mette Frederiksen said, the time for that kind of behavior is long past. Also, Greenland matter a lot for Denmark and the Danish’s view of their importance in the world.

To make clear how unpopular the suggestion, and later reaction by Trump was, I present you with this tweet, by the conservative politician Mai Mercado

The Conservatives are in opposition to the current government, and generally don’t go out of their way to back up the Danish PM. They are also generally very pro-USA, and more or less consider Ronald Reagan a patron saint. And Mai Mercado is not just any member of the Conservatives – she is one of the leaders.

Not surprisingly, Trump reacted to the rejection by trying to bully Denmark and the Danish PM

This prompted an reaction by Lars Løkke, the former PM of Denmark, and the biggest rival to Mette Frederiksen.

Now, because some of the people involved are sane adults, there is an attempt to normalize the relationship, but I think that Trump won’t be able to invite himself to Denmark anytime soon.

One note about the attempt to normalize the relationship – some have tried to downplay the usage of the word “absurd”, claiming that it has a less strong meaning in Danish than in English. That is to some degree true, but not in the situation where Mette Frederiksen used it. And it was an absurd idea.