2021-09-20

The Mythical Bay Area Mask Mandate

I had to buy a pair of shoes today, and so decided to use the mall visit to test the effect of the "mask mandate" that theoretically grips San Jose in its iron fist.

My selected target was an anonymous, generic, medium-quality indoor mall. I approached it in regular clothing, with no mask or other face covering in sight - I had a mask in my back pocket should things prove sticky at any point. Spoiler: they didn't.

Within the body of the mall, I passed by security guards at least four times in close proximity. No-one said anything. I was careful not to lock eyes in challenge, just looked ahead at a destination store and occasionally consult my phone.

Of the other stores:

  • I avoided CVS (Pharmacy), and the pharmacy area of Target - didn't want to unnecessarily disturb sick people
  • Within Target there was no reaction, even though I walked past several staff members.
  • Discount clothing store #1 - nada
  • Footwear store #1 - very relaxed, even when I asked them questions
  • Discount clothing store #2 - no challenge, but a staff member was wearing trousers well below his underwear waistline so I'm not surprised he didn't say anything. Let he who is without sin, et cetera...
  • Discount clothing store #3 - v helpful, no comment on lack of mask.
  • Footwear store #2 - no problem at all, friendly even through the purchase of shoes.

Summary: no-one gives a shit on enforcement of the mask mandate. It's way too much hassle. Don't feel constrained to wear a mask. That said, everyone else in the mall I saw was wearing one, even though some were way below the nose and only being worn for the form of things.

Also note: as a highly white person with clear diction, if there were anyone expected by shop staff to be a nark, and therefore demand mask-compliant behavior, it would be me.

I'm rather disappointed that I didn't have to pull out my explanation:

"I'm feeling the spirit" -SF Mayor London Breed, explaining why she was dancing without a mask in one of her city's nightclubs , contrary to her own order

2021-09-18

Comparative advantages in violence

This post was occasioned by the viral video of a Houston high school student (Hispanic) being attacked by two others (black). It's not a nice video - while we don't know what happened immediately before it, the Hispanic student appears to be trying to ignore the other two students and eat his lunch; then the other two suddenly launch a frenzied attack, initiated by a hard sucker punch to the ear. Once he falls to the floor, they lay in with repeated kicks.

Fights happen in high schools all the time - though this one appears to be particularly vicious, and possibly caused by racial tensions in the school - but this one in particular made me ask: "what made them think that they could possibly get away with this?" No obvious provocation, clearly no aspect of self-defence, aggravating kicking-when-down factor; I can't imagine that they didn't know they were being filmed. Heck, they quite possibly warned the camera holder - why was he/she filming in the first place?

I won't bother to recycle the stats that black male youths include a disproportionate number of the most violent and dangerous youths in the USA. If you don't believe that's true... you should take a walk around Baltimore/Chicago/Oakland and see how that works out. But why is this true? Why do you find black youths initiating so much violence?

Like most things in life, it's perfectly rational with the right data. It's all about what's to gain vs what's to lose. If you're in a sink school, poor family, probably no father in the picture, no real job prospects, you really don't have anything to lose. The school expels you after repeated violent episodes - so what? You weren't going to graduate anyway. Your only plausible route to success is in the local gang scene, and if pummelling a random Hispanic student (on video) is your way to rise in status in that gang then, frankly, why wouldn't you?

The Hispanic students, though, are likely first or second generation immigrants. Their mommas - and papas, and abuelas, because they're generally in intact families - are busting their cojones about succeeding in school and getting a job. Maybe not always college, but doing well enough in high school and part-time work to get a decent job with pathway to financial security. They start getting seriously involved in violence, they have a lot more to lose.

Thus, the black students generally have the comparative advantage in applying violence - they're more likely to get a net benefit from it. So we shouldn't be surprised when they do disproportionately more of it.

There are always exceptions; one can contrast a Hispanic student whose father is in jail for a lengthy term for MS-13 crimes, with a black student from an intact family who realizes that his only real shot at success is to do the best study he can. And every school bully has the common sense to avoid that one weird kid whose family history is murky, but whose every action at school indicates that he has absolutely nothing to lose.

The problem, of course, is the medium term. Teenagers have highly short term thinking... if you're in doubt, talk to a teenager for more than two minutes. But if you look at the demographics in Houston, where Hispanics comfortably outnumber Blacks more than 2 to 1, you start to see the future problem. Should the Hispanic population finally decide that the Black populatation is too much of a threat, it's not going to be pretty, and it's only going to end one way.

2021-08-10

Asian Lives Matter - intervention

Instance number N in a long series of crimes, during the past weekend two Asian women in Oakland were attacked by scumbags who stopped their car in the street, and stole the ladies' purses. However, two bystanders intervened:

One of the Good Samaritans was shot and wounded and crumpled to the ground.
One of the robbers is seen on video jogging to a double-parked Honda Accord. The second man trying to help is pistol-whipped and gets into a tug-of-war over a purse with the other assailant.
Now, that's pretty ballsy of the bystanders. Not wise, but brave. Two (Chinese) male bystanders saw the robbery being perpetrated, and tried to intervene. Of course, they were physically smaller than the (apparently African-American) attackers, and the attackers had firearms, so it didn't work out too well. The first defender was shot; looks like the second defender was beaten around the head but managed to hold on to the purse long enough for the attacker to give up and make a break for their car. Still, the bystanders must have known that the odds strongly favored the attackers, and yet tried to intervene anyway. Mad props to them.

KTVU (local TV station) interviewed Mr Li, the bystander who got shot but fortunately survived:
"Well, I wouldn't call myself a hero... they can call me a hero if they want. I just consider myself as trying to help someone in need, so I'm pretty sure that they really needed help."
I would like to big-up Mr Li - he must have known that he was facing a dangerous situation, had nothing but his wits, and nevertheless stepped in to try and help. He was damned lucky to come out of the situation injured but generally okay - only luck stopped it being much worse. Still, communities need people like Mr Li to stiffen their backbone, and resist predators like those seen today.

The police aren't going to stop crimes like this. Oakland's police leadership and Mayor does not appear to be interested in doing anything even slightly controversial to reduce crime in the city. So, how is this going to change anything?

I refer my dear readers to my previous posts on this subject. Does the "Black Community" really think that the "Asian Community" is going to continue to take these assaults and not retaliate? The Chinese Chamber of Commerce is undoubtedly already talking to the local Tongs - and, likely, Triads - about their need for protection. Do you think that the undisciplined, random violence of African-American thugs is going to be able to persist against a highly organized and cohesive network like the Tongs/Triads? The hell it is.

2021-07-26

Why Americans love guns - interpreting for Europeans

Over the past year+ of lockdown, I have attained an unexpected view into the American psyche with respect to legal gun ownership. The summer of 2020 demonstrated to a lot of "regular" American people that

  1. city, county and sometimes state governance was not particularly interested in safety for business owners and home dwellers,
  2. local police were overstretched at best, and unable to respond in a timely and effective manner to widespread domestic insurgence, and
  3. local political interest in protecting the populace was rather racially selective.

As a result, Americans are buying guns and ammunition. A lot of guns, and more ammunition than you can shake a stick at. A best guess[1] is that 8.4 million Americans became gun owners for the first time in 2020.

If you hail from a gun-phobic country like... most of Europe nowadays, certainly including the UK and Germany, then this might all seem like paranoid insanity. It is anything but. In this blog I'm going to try to explain, to a UK mindset, why the American love of guns is actually very rational - and maybe something to emulate.

The American Gun Situation - Overview

If you want to understand how a very well-informed - albeit highly opinionated - USA gun owner thinks, particularly in regard to mass shootings, you need to read Larry Correia's 2012 blog post "An Opinion on Gun Control". His assertions have repeatedly been proven correct in the past 9 years. Go read that article, then come back here. As an optional exercise, you may like to evaluate the circumstances of this year's San Jose Valley Transport Authority mass shooting with Larry's assertions in mind.

Hopefully, you came away from that article with some understanding of the American gun owner mindset. Let me try to summarize in bullets (hah!):

  • Gun ownership in America is much more heavily regulated, at both federal and state level, than you think;
  • Mass shootings are highly publicised but a small fraction of overall gun homicides;
  • Mass shootings occur almost universally in "gun free zones" because shooters are not stupid, and pick places where people won't shoot back;
  • The various federal and state restrictions on firearm ownership ("no assault weapons!") since 1990 have been pointless and ineffective, except in provoking Americans to go out and buy a shedload more guns;
  • Defensive gun use saves a lot more lives than offensive gun use takes (this surprised me too, but Larry's source is not exactly known for being a pro-gun camp);
  • It is not practically possible to ban guns in America. Really, it isn't.

The Legal Situation

There is the perception in some countries that Americans can wander into their local Walmart, and wander out with a military-grade assault weapon. This is not an accurate statement of the facts. In fact, it's so far off base, it's wandering around the baseball stadium car park.

Suppose you want to buy a gun; that you are of the relevant age (18+ or 21+, depending on state); you are not otherwise disqualified from gun ownership by being a felon, illegal immigrant (yes! you need valid residence and identity documentation) or other locally disqualifying status such as being an accused domestic violence perpetrator.

You rock up to the gun store, browse the various firearms on display - currently, very limited - and pick one that suits your lifestyle and aesthetics. What happens now? You fill in the form for the ATF Form 4473, then - in many states - you leave the establishment and wait for them to contact you. Hopefully within the week, they will inform you that you have passed the checks, and you have 30 days to come in and formally pick up your firearm.

You also may have to, if this is your first firearm purchase, complete a state-defined written multiple-choice test, and there may be a required "waiting period" distinct from the 4473 check until you are allowed to take possession of the firearm.

So next time you hear a politician say "it is easier to buy a firearm than vote!" you know that they are talking complete bollocks.

Now you have a gun, what can you do with it? It varies depending on state. Larger weapons like rifles and shotguns can be taken hunting, can be kept in your house (there are often requirements by states on how they are to be secured) and in some states can be carried around outside ("open carry").

If you want a gun for self-defence in any location other than your home, then practically your only choice is a handgun. Here the states, counties and even cities in the USA have a patchwork of different requirements. Carrying around a (legally owned) handgun with you is referred to generally as "concealed carry", and there is a wide range of what's allowed - from "unrestricted carry" which means you don't even need a permit, to "restricted may-issue" in places like the Bay Area and New York city where they actually don't issue a permit unless you donate generously to the local sherriff's campaign. Allegedly.

Ammunition is generally easy to buy - if you can find it these days - with the exception of gun-hating states like California which restrict who can buy ammunition, where you can buy or import it from, and require background checks for purchaes.

Oh, and "assault weapons"? Go re-read Correia above - but in short, politicians are deliberately conflating a fully automatic ('selective-fire') rifle, exclusive to the military, with a semi-automatic (one bullet per pull of the trigger) rifle which happens to be the most popular kind of rifle in the USA. It turns out that you can't own a "machine gun" in the USA in practice - unless you buy a smuggled one illegally, which criminals do because they don't actually "obey the law".

That's how you get a gun, and what the major types of gun are - now, who's actually getting them?

Gun Ownership in the USA (it's everywhere)

People often make the mistake of underestimating gun ownership in America. They say blasé things like "you know, literally everyone has a gun!"

If you took that as an estimate, you'd be low by at least 20%. In 2018 the USA had more guns than people - 393 million guns compared to 325 million population. There have been a lot more guns bought since then, and guns don't really 'wear out', although they can rust and become unreliable. Note also that these numbers are only estimated, because of the general lack of registration of guns. My personal opinion is that it's a lot higher now; about 40 million guns were purchased in 2020, and we're probably on target to beat that this year if the supply can keep up.

About half of the civilian weapons in the entire world are held in the USA. And civilian weapons are 90% of the total, because there are many more civilians than military.

Obviously, many people have many guns, and many others have none, so it makes more sense to look at per-household gun ownership. This ownership is not distributed evenly. Republican states have a higher rate of household gun ownership in general; Alaska, Montana and Wyoming all have rates above 60%, whereas the populous northeast states are under 20%. But it's mixed - liberal Washington state has a similar ownership rate to redneck Texas (42% to 45%). Even hippie California has a 28% ownership rate, though my guess is that it's higher in the rural parts and lower in the heavily liberal Bay Area.

A joke goes that China's People's Liberation Army is the largest standing armed force in the world - but Texas has a much larger, better trained, and more heavily armed force which deploys in pickup trucks. I would estimate that there is somewhere in the range of 35-40 million firearms in Texas, handily beating the PLA's 28 million firearms. If Beta O'Rourke[2] really does intend to take away guns in Texas, it's going to take him quite a while. I hope he has a big truck to carry them.

Even in the Bay Area, if you assume that ownership rate is half that of the rest of California, 1 in 7 houses have a firearm. And, since it's so expensive and bloody awkward to buy and supply it, they are probably not just owning the firearm because they like the look of it above their fireplace. (Why do so many homes in sunny California have fireplaces? Why? Why?)

Let's talk about sex, baby; and eth-ni-ci-ty

Sorry, Salt-N-Pepa, I couldn't resist.

Over many visits to shooting ranges, you get an idea of what kind of people - phenotypes - are interested in firearms ownership. Now, I'm only going by what I see locally (Bay Area in California), but it's told me a lot:

  • The majority are white men, and generally older (40+). So far, unsurprising.
  • There are more women than you might think. Most shoot handguns, but I've seen several shooting rifles including one who's shooting a heavy calibre (7.62mm or .308) with very tight groups at long distance. (Side note: intermediate calibre rifles like the infamous AR-15 are in fact the easiest firearm for smaller people to shoot: they have remarkably little recoil, so are easier to keep on target than a handgun or shotgun)
  • Strongly represented ethnic groups: Hispanic, Korean and Chinese
  • Under-represented ethnic groups: Black, Indian
  • A number of men bring along their children (teens) - and in my experience, this happens disproportionately with Hispanic men. They're clearly interested in teaching their daughters to shoot.

Those people familiar with Bay Area Asian demographics might be thinking: Why Koreans? Well, let's talk about the Rooftop Koreans cultural meme. Back in 1992, the Los Angeles riots resulted (for complex cultural reasons) in Los Angelino criminals - primarily black - looting Korean stores. The Koreans had generally settled in the area in the 1970s-1980s and made a successful living with small retail businesses, but in '92 found rampaging mobs trying to loot and burn their livelihoods.

Korean men - at least, those born in Korea - all serve in the military. When you have a succession of unhinged dictators in North Korea, controlling a huge standing army and artillery, South Korea is going to make damned sure that its populace is trained in military skills and able to react quickly to an attempted invasion. This is not like the previous West German conscription where you had options for conscious objection, or the ability to volunteer in Civil Protection Services - in South Korea, you're going to serve in the active duty military for at least 18 months, and you're going to like it. And if you don't like it, they really don't care. Even famous actors have to do their part. It took until 2018 for South Korea to recognize conscientious objection as even a thing.

As a result, in Los Angeles the Korean male population had a) ready access to firearms and ammunition, because they were in America, and b) the training, discipline, and community coordination to mount an effective defence to looters. It's notable that in 2020 the LA rioters generally stayed well away from Korean businesses - because they knew that the Koreans would shoot them with no compunction, and the local police would not give a crap. Even USA-born Koreans get the indoctrination from their appa (father) about the potential threats to their family's prosperity, and their need to be able to defend the family from them.

Let's not forget Hispanics. The USA Democratic Party likes to think that, because Hispanics are generally lower on the income ladder, that they're sympathetic to Democratic social justice aims. In my experience, this is rather an optimistic reading. If you're struggling to make your way in the USA, as many of them are, the last thing you want is a criminal scumbag coming into your small business and robbing it because it's an easy way for him to make money - and so, you take protective measures into your own hands. And if it's a scumbag criminal Hispanic, you're going to be very relaxed about taking him out, even if he thinks you're his compadre.

Finally, and even The Guardian admits this, middle-class blacks are buying a whole lot of guns. When you see sustained riots in your community, and respected community members gunned down for having the temerity to resist violence, what are you going to think? Are you going to rely on the police? The hell you are. You're going to tool up to defend your family - whether you're a man or a woman.

How it Plays in Practice - Deaths

There are many guns in America, so there are a whole lotta shootings. The connection is undeniable.

There are lies, damned lies, and gun death statistics, but a good place to start is the number of homicides by firearm. You can see that it has kicked up in recent years, but it's about 10,000 deaths per year. Don't confuse this with the number of deaths by gun which is far higher (about 34,000 deaths a year) - because there's a lot of gun-induced suicide, and note that the higher the gun ownership rate in an area, the easier a suicidal person finds it to use a gun instead of hanging / tablets / car exhaust, etc.

Now, remembering our table of household firearm ownership, check out Figure 2 (state-by-state ranking of gun homicide rates) at the americanprogress.org site. Heavily armed Texas is #22. Liberal and lightly armed California is at #25. Those are two very big, populous states with a number of large cities. Liberal and disarmed Illinois (home of Chicago) is #9. Top ranking Montana and Wyoming are #37 and #38 respectively. Now, the overall picture is complex, and it's hard to compare state-to-state completely, but you should at least be convinced that just having a large number of guns doesn't inherently make a state more dangerous.

So Why Do Americans Own Guns?

Based on the ownership numbers, and noting the firearms death numbers, Europeans could be forgiven for assuming that Americans have to be insanely and irrationally paranoid to own all those guns. But as the saying goes, "you're not paranoid if 'they' really are out to get you."

Home defence

Americans do not like people breaking into their homes. Not at all. Over the years many US states - including highly liberal California - have passed laws stating in essence that if someone uses force to break into your house, you don't have to hide or retreat, or wait for an imminent threat of violence to you or someone else. You are presumptively allowed to shoot the invader, and when the police rock up, the worst they will do is temporarily confiscate your firearm (after giving you a receipt), and comment on your shot groupings.

Shooting home invaders who are actively fleeing the property is a little dicier legally (sorry, Tony Martin) but I suspect rural police forces are more tolerant in this regard. In rural Alabama I wouldn't be surprised if they helpfully drag the bullet-ridden body back over the property line into your yard before taking the crime scene photo. And then throw the corpse in jail for 20 years for felony robbery, just to make the point.

Bear in mind just how big the USA is. Even in crowded regions like the Bay Area, the population density is far below the UK's average. It can easily take 10-20 minutes for the police to reach you, even if they're available. Out in rural parts, that number could be half an hour, or much longer. If you have a crime problem, that's a very long time to wait. Americans are not inclined to wait.

Note that, although Antifa are happily rampaging in the center of major cities, there are very few suburbs where they'd try that on. Because the homeowners would shoot them - in many cases, with actual glee - and, again, the police really would not care.

Self defence

If you want one reason why Americans own handguns, self defence (the aforementioned concealed carry) is it. As Larry Correia noted:

Handguns are tools for self-defense, and the only reason we use them over the more capable, and easier to hit with rifles or shotguns is because handguns are portable. Rifles are just plain better, but the only reason I don’t carry an AR-15 around is because it would be hard to hide under my shirt.

Are Americans paranoid about being attacked while out in public? Maybe. But it certainly seems to happen a lot. See my Asian Lives Matter series for what happens in cities like NYC, DC, and San Francisco where handgun carrying is effectively banned. I assure you, these attacks will happen less in concealed-carry-permitting cities, because a bystander will pull out their weapon and shoot the attacker in short order. You will rapidly run out of motivated scumbags.

Take a look at what happened in the West Freeway Church of Christ in 2019. A scumbag pulled out an (illegal) handgun and started firing, killing two church members. A church member pulled out his concealed pistol and shot the scumbag dead, with a single shot to the head, doubtless preventing many more deaths. Interestingly, weapons had not been allowed in places of worship until shortly before then.

Incidentally, if you want to understand some of the issues around effectively using a handgun for self defence, read Correia's article on CCW training. Suffice to say, it's not something to be undertaken lightly.

The Gummint

And now we get to the real point of owning a firearm, and why so many have been bought in recent times.

The essential difference between the American and the British psyches, from my observation, is in their obedience to government. British people often don't like their government, and hold it in polite contempt, but with few exceptions they will still nearly all follow "the rules" even if the rules don't make sense, because - well, they are the rules, and they don't want to make trouble. As a demonstration, see the past year and the COVID restrictions.

Tell a rural American to follow a pointless and obnoxious government diktat, by contrast, and his or her response is very likely to be along the lines of "f*cking come and make me, you bastards." And if you do try to make him or her do it, there is not an insubstantial chance that you will get shot. Ask the Internal Revenue Service about their previous experience trying to collect taxes in places like the Ozarks, for instance.

I don't think most Europeans fully understand how serious many Americans are about having firearms to resist government tyranny. Part of the reason, of course, is the recurring incompetence and actual malice of US governmental institutions. Anyone dealing with the Social Security Administration, immigration authorities or - my favorite - the public school system quickly starts to understand some of this mentality. The government is not generally seen as benevolent, and it doesn't really matter which party the titular President belongs to.

Americans know what malevolent, unaccountable government looks like. They run into it with uncomfortable regularity at a small scale, and they don't like it, at all. It's not a stretch for them to think that the malevolence could scale up with a suitably "we know what's best for you" government. That's what the firearms are a brake on. If you doubt this, ask yourself why approximately eighty million firearms will have been purchased between March 1st 2020 and December 31st 2021. Government saying "we're going to tax, regulate and take your guns" a) is an overtly aggressive act, and b) shows that the government actually thinks that the current firearms are a barrier to them governing "effectively". And the last thing that most Americans want is "effective" government.

What the UK Could Learn

First, it was a mistake to peacefully give up nearly all guns. Probably an unavoidable one, given the media climate at the time, but there is now no practical way for the British population to resist government oppression. Maybe you don't think that's a problem for now, but sooner or later it will be. An unarmed population is remarkably tempting as a takeover target for self-favouring politicians. That's not true in places where they will overthrow you, shoot you, and stick your head on a fence post as a warning to others.

Second, stop respecting all the laws. Politicians make stupid laws, regulations and "emergency powers" impositions all the time. Tell them to get stuffed. Make the politicians and low-level clipboard-carriers fear the people, not the other way around. You think that a fluorescent-vested busybody going around the Alamo in San Antonio telling people to wear a mask outdoors is going to get any traction? He'd be lucky not to be thrown in the nearest pond.

Third, you're going to have to defend yourself and your family eventually. It seems clear that the police are more interested in prosecuting people for silly speech on Twitter than going after actual hard-core criminals, people smugglers etc. - well, you can do the former from an air-conditioned office, but the latter actually requires hard work and personal risk. So if you can't rely on the police to defend you, how are you going to defend yourself?

Fourth... oh, sod it. Just emigrate to the USA. Pick a suitable gun-favouring state, go to the local gun store and ask for help. It'll be the most liberating thing you ever do. Not to mention, it'll annoy Polly Toynbee.

[1] There is no national register of who-owns-which-guns in the USA, and that's very deliberate. A gun ownership register tells you where to go to confiscate guns should you be inclined towards a dictatorial rule.
[2] Actually "Robert Francis O'Rourke", known as "Beto". But I like "Beta" better.

2021-06-12

"Chaos Monkeys" and how it got Antonio Martinez fired from Apple

Dedicated readers of this blog (all 1 of them) may recall last month's post about author Antonio Garcia Martinez being fired by Apple because a bunch of neurotic employees didn't like what he'd written in a book five years ago. I promised a review of that book: "Chaos Monkeys - Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley" and, dear readers, this is that review.

It's a great book. Is it the "Liar's Poker of Silicon Valley"? Maybe, maybe not, but they have a lot in common. Martinez takes you through his career at Goldman Sachs in New York, joining a dying Silicon Valley startup (Adchemy), fleeing to do his own startup (AdGrok), dancing through lawsuits and VC funding, and finally playing Twitter for an acquisition before skipping to join Facebook as an ads product manager. His stint in Silicon Valley is 2008 to 2016 and, to the best of my knowledge, accurately represents the people, companies and society there at the time.

Most importantly, like Michael Lewis of "Liar's Poker", Martinez is a compelling writer. He is opinionated, informed, funny and - unlike Lewis - cheerfully portrays himself as an averagely terrible human being. He fathers two children out of wedlock, kind of screws over his startup partners - though there's a twist at the end - gets away with drunk driving and outrageous speeding, has a torrid all-over grope with a busty fellow product manager in a Facebook janitor's cupboard, and plays off Twitter against Facebook with misleading information to boost the acquisition value of his start-up. He's contemptuous of the CEO Murthy Nukala, although to be fair Mr Nukala does not sound like a pleasant human being himself, and of the ass-kissing divisional leadership of Facebook.

Martinez is a really interesting and colorful guy. I would totally buy him lunch to hear a few of his stories. I would probably not want him dating my girlfriends though.

The full list of grievances of the Apple employees is given in the petition that was leaked to The Verge. Zoe Schiffer's byline there is no surprise, she is the leak-destination-of-choice for Big Tech. The top grievance was of course about Martinez's portrayal of women in Silicon Valley:

Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit. They have their self-regarding entitlement feminism, and ceaselessly vaunt their independence, but the reality is, come the epidemic plague [my emphasis] or foreign invasion, they’d become precisely the sort of useless baggage you’d trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerry can of diesel.
I've encountered a good number of Silicon Valley women in tech in the past year, and I have to say that Martinez hits the nail on the head here. The pandemic has demonstrated in spades the neuroticism of many of these women. There has been very little get-up-and-go demonstrated, instead just a whinyness and cowering that makes one despair for the future of the human race. If there is any criticism of Martinez here, it's that he omitted that many men in tech exhibit the same characteristics, which is maybe even less excusable. Interestingly, you don't see the same weakness in most of the Bay Area natives, nor in tech immigrants from Central / Latin America or the former Soviet states - India too, to a lesser degree. It is mostly a white-women-in-and-around-tech thing.

It's notable that Martinez contrasts this with the self-determinism of a number of interesting women he encountered and dated / screwed during his time in the Valley. He clearly isn't a misogynist in this respect - he just doesn't like a bunch of people.

The aforementioned janitor cupboard fondling also upset the Apple whiners, especially the description of his facilitator:

PMMess, as we’ll call her, was composed of alternating Bézier curves from top to bottom: convex, then concave, and then convex again, in a vertical undulation you couldn’t take your eyes off of. Unlike most women at Facebook (or in the Bay Area, really) she knew how to dress; forties-style, form-fitting dresses from neck to knee were her mainstay.
...[and later, when he's about to be let go]...
There were few women one would call conventionally attractive at Facebook. The few there were rarely if ever dressed for work with their femininity on display in the form of dresses and heels. A fully turned out member of the deuxième sexe in a conference room was as clear an angel of death as a short-barreled .38 Special revolver. Gokul [the manager firing Martinez] gave an awkward smile, and bolted out the door the moment I sat down. I looked across the table. If her look was supposed to disarm me, she needed either more cleavage or more charm.
Two things about this stand out: a) boy, Martinez knows how to write, and b) he is an astute observer of the unsayable. Techies have never been famed for their dress sense, and most women (and men) in a tech role do not really try to dress up. There's a principled thing here where they want to let their work speak for itself and not be judged by conventional metrics of attractiveness - but you can't then turn around and get annoyed when someone observes, correctly, that you aren't attractive. I'd imagine that it would be a very different experience in banking where how you dress can be the line between success and mockery.

He also observes:

It occurred to me that perhaps this most recent experiment in fertility—and the first—had been planned on British Trader’s part, her back up against the menopause wall, a professional woman with every means at her disposal except a willing male partner—in which case I had been snookered into fatherhood via warm smiles and pliant thighs, the oldest tricks in the book.
Would the Apple employees like to content that this is not, in fact, one of the oldest tricks in the book? Is it unacceptable to say precisely because it is the truth?

Go and read "Chaos Monkeys". It is a highly enjoyable book, it gives great if biased insights into Silicon Valley for both startups and Big Tech, and more importantly does so for the companies, the technology, and the humans involved. You won't regret it. And despite being fired because of it, I expect Martinez does not regret writing it.

As for the prissy Apple employees who signed the petition: I'd hire one Martinez over ten of them, any day.

Apple used to say "Think different." I guess those days are long gone.

Update: Garcia himself speaks without specificity on the firing. I'm guessing he got paid very well for signing that non-disclosure agreement, unlike the one he was offered (and declined) at Facebook. If it was less than six figures, I'd be very surprised.

A really ballsy move would be for Google, Oracle or even Twitter to hire him, to stick two fingers up at the pusillanimous HR skirts at Apple - and at their own self-important neurotic engineers. Won't happen, of course, but if you happened to have a division that you wanted shot of, and it was infested by this kind of person, hiring Martinez into it - and standing behind him - would be nothing short of hilarious.

2021-05-25

James Damore was correct - Apple edition

Some of you may remember the story of James Damore, the Google engineer who suggested that perhaps some of the male/female software engineering disparity was due to the different dominant characteristics of males and females, and got fired for it. Damore's essay Google's Ideological Echo Chamber made a number of points and hypotheses, but one particular point stands out to me in the context of recent news:

Women, on average, have more:
  • Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas[...]
  • Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness[...]
  • Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance). This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.
A whole bunch of neurotic women (and, to be fair, men) got together to demand that Damore be fired, for contributing to their workplace stress... I guess, proving his point?

Well, there's now a new sacrifice for the Social Justice Wicker Man, and he also appears to have been bundled into the cage on the altar of neuroses: Antonio García Martínez. Martínez had previously written a bestselling book Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. It was originally published in July 2016, though the most recent paperback reprint on Amazon is from 2018. So, and this is not insignificant, he wrote this 5 years ago.

Mr Martínez recently got hired by Apple. But, it turns out, a few people had read his book and were not happy:

Then, a group of workers wrote a letter calling for an investigation. “Given Mr. García Martínez’s history of publishing overtly racist and sexist remarks about his former colleagues, we are concerned that his presence at Apple will contribute to an unsafe working environment for our colleagues who are at risk of public harassment and private bullying,” they said.
Within hours, the letter had well over 1,000 signatures. It was leaked to The Verge. That evening, García Martínez was fired.
The irony, it burns. (Must be hot irony).

I tried to order the book a couple of weeks ago but - yet more irony - it's now in such demand as a bestseller that I'll be lucky to get it by mid-June. When it finally arrives, dear readers, I promise an in-depth review.

Getting back to my original point, let us summarize: a bunch of Apple employees felt so empowered by Social Justice that they could demand firing of a new company hire based on something completely unconnected with Apple which he wrote 5 years ago, and which Apple must have known about when they hired him - and within the space of a couple of days, he was gone, no appeal

This isn't healthy, and isn't going to end well.

In the meantime, though, Martínez's book is still selling heavily on Amazon. And he's probably earned out his advance, so every sale is another royalty. Perhaps being fired by Apple was one of the better things to happen to him, financially - and I bet there's going to be a financial settlement on the quiet as soon as he hires a lawyer, if he hasn't already done so.

The really interesting information though, would be the names of the Apple employees who are signatories to the letter. Any future employer should think really, really carefully about employing someone so neurotic, self-entitled and bitter that they would hound someone out of a company simply because they didn't like what they wrote.

2021-04-20

Eric Nelson had the right strategy for Chauvin

For any readers from planet Mars (hello, Perseverence!) a quick summary: On 25th of May 2020, a gentleman named George Floyd, who was black, was arrested by several Minneapolis police officers for passing an apparently fake $20 bill in a convenience store. Floyd was a habitual drug user, and had recently ingested both meth and Fentanyl. Officer Derek Chauvin and others tried to put him in a police car; the 220-pound Floyd resisted. The police officers instead put him on the ground and pinned him there for 9 mins and 29 seconds - apparently increasingly fearful that he was undergoing "excited delirium" from the drugs ingested. He protested saying "I can't breathe" several times, including when he was still standing. Officers called EMS for urgent medical help. A couple of minutes before EMS arrived, an officer noticed Floyd was no longer moving, and couldn't find a pulse. EMS rolled up, loaded Floyd, moved to a safe location and commenced resuscitation. Floyd died.

Officer Derek Chauvin's trial for murder ran over this past 3 weeks. The state-funded prosecution came mob-handed: 12-15 prosecutors including a number volunteering their time "for the public good". Chauvin had a single defence laywer, Eric Nelson, paid for mainly out of police union funds. Nelson and Chauvin lost, as you may have heard, and now Chauvin is looking at 20+ years behind bars unless an appeal about trial location and prejudicial comments, plus some sharp practice by the prosecution, works out. For the record, I think he'd have to be very lucky for the appeal to get traction; but not because it's wrong.

I know quite a lot about this trial's events. I've followed the day-by-day liveblog at Legal Insurrection, principally by self-defence lawyer Andrew Branca. Now, Branca comes at this with his own prejudices, as we all do, and gives his own read on the trial, but overall it's a fairly low-bias account. I read through it all and thought that Eric Nelson had got over the line on "reasonable doubt": I thought he could secure a few jurors to accept that there would be reasonable doubt that Chauvin's leaning-on-back-and-neck pin was what materially killed Floyd, compared to the known ingestion of various drugs, enlarged heart, 90%-occluded arteries, etc. Branca was down on Nelson's use-of-force witness, and I'd agree, but on the medical front - and indeed, narrating the arrest from Chauvin's point of view during closing - I think his conclusion of "reasonable doubt" was indeed reasonable.

The jury took just over a day to return a unanimous verdict on all charges, starting with Minnesota 2nd degree murder. They were not hung, they had no questions for the judge. They stayed out for the shortest decent time decent, and came back with a predetermined result. They knew what they were voting before they were sent out.

I'm sure a lot of opprobrium will be heaped on Nelson by people sympathetic to Chauvin. Honestly, it's misplaced. He was David in front of Goliath, but in this case Goliath knew the shot was coming and had a plan to duck. The jury looked at what would happen with any "not guilty" verdict and decided "I don't want any part of that!". It's rational, although a dereliction of public duty. Nelson just needed 1-2 people to say "wait, no, we can't railroad this guy - reasonable doubt!" but the fact that there was no hung jury and not even a question to the judge tells you where the jury felt their interest lay.

Still, all the people bleating about "racial healing!" have it exactly the wrong way around. In today's environment, real racial healing would be a white and black jury not convicting a white man accused of killing a black man, because of the reasonable doubt standard that is still supposed to underpin justice. Weaken that standard because of race, and you make race relations worse.

Incidentally, I hope that the big American blue cities (Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, San Francisco, ...) really enjoy the future lack of policing now that it's clear politicians will crush police officers like a bug if they do anything to affect race relations. Informal stock tip: buy ammunition and guns (directly or via companies) as the populace realizes that they're on their own for self defence.

2021-04-18

Lemon Socialism - California style

What would happen if the Communists occupied the Sahara?
Answer: Nothing—for 50 years. Then there would be a shortage of sand
There's a significant squeeze (pun totally intended) on California citrus fruits recently. Per the Produce Blue Book:
Throughout the analyzed period, lemon prices for product coming from South & Central California, have been increasing which is in contrast with to stable pricing of the 2019 season, said Miguel Montero, executive vice president of strategy and revenue with Agtools Inc.
Anecdotally, I can confirm. Supermarket lemon and lime prices in particular are significantly up compared to last year.

OK, so what? Pandemic drives increased demand, there's inelastic supply, prices rise.

Problem is, supply is very elastic. In California, fruits are weeds. When you move to California from Wisconsin, Maine or wherever, if you have a garden of any size then you'll have citrus trees: orange, lemon, grapefruit; also non-citrus pomegranate, apricot, asian pear, Japanese plum, persimmons. Even bitter orange, if you like a mouth-wrenching sour taste and vicious thorns.

It's not like this has been a citrus-hostile recent climate. The neighbourhood orange and lemon trees are very fruitful this year. They grow everywhere, and without any particular gardening care other than a bit of water now and again.

You'd expect that anyone with a reasonable-sized garden would be able to sell their lemons and oranges into the local market to take advantage of rising prices. You'd be wrong. Doing this is limited to road-side stalls outside the main Bay Area, where local law enforcement knows not to ask too many questions. Try this in San Jose and you'll be hit with citations for missing permits, causing a nuisance, and various public health violations.

Law enforcement carries out public policy. Public policy is to keep prices high for local major farmers, and allow indocumentados to earn a living without too many questions. Anyone else with citrus trees is shit-outta-luck.

2021-04-10

Unionizing Amazon

Today Amazon managed to defeat a unionization effort at their Bessemer, Alabama warehouse, by a margin of 2 to 1. This has not gone down well with the pro-union folks:

Why are they so upset? Ah, pull up a chair and let's review the recent (and not so recent) history of unionization drives in tech.

Amazon

You can't talk about Amazon without also talking about The Dread Pirate Bezos. Jeff Bezos is an unmitigated genius, but also not one to tolerate threats to his businesses. Any attempt at unionization of the workforce - yielding a significant amount of control from Bezos to union leads - is going to get shut down pretty damn quick.

Parenthetically, my favorite Bezos story came from ex-Amazon engineer Steve Yegge in a rant about the way that Amazon really got platforms (and Google didn't):

His [Bezos] Big Mandate went something along these lines:

1. All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.
[...various tech points elided...]
6. Anyone who doesn't do this will be fired.
7. Thank you; have a nice day!

Ha, ha! You 150-odd ex-Amazon folks here will of course realize immediately that #7 was a little joke I threw in, because Bezos most definitely does not give a shit about your day.
#6, however, was quite real, so people went to work.
Had Bessemer actually voted to unionize, I could well imagine Bezos closing down the facility in the not-too-distant future - I'm sure he'd have offered plausible reasons, but the real message would be to other Amazon workplaces. "We're quite happy to lose money in the short term to avoid having unions directing our business. Are you happy to lose your jobs?"

But why does Jeff care so much about unionization?

Intel

In the fascinating 1998 book "Inside Intel" there was a great case study of how a major tech company reacts to a unionization effort. If memory serves, this was in a chip fabrication plant ("fab") with hourly-paid workers - might have been in Oregon, I don't recall - and it was a push by a national union to get the local workforce unionized. The plant manager realized this was a big issue, contacted Intel senior management, and they pitched in a bunch of people and resources to counter the unionization campaign. The management's key objective was: "we need to do everything we can to prevent the plant unionizing, but we can't let them know how much we care about it. The vote was in Intel's favor, and the union moved on.

So why did Intel management care so much about unionization?

Google/Alphabet

Last year the Alphabet Workers' Union spun up, which now has 800+ members across Google and the other companies in Alphabet (the parent firm). At the moment it's purely voluntary membership and doesn't - as far as I can tell - have any official status in work conditions/pay negotiation.

A clue to their motivations comes from their home page:

Our union of 800+ members strives to protect Alphabet workers, our global society, and our world. We promote solidarity, democracy, and social and economic justice.
This might hint at why Google/Alphabet is so wary of unionization.

Apple

Apple has maintained a very solid anti-union front. The one case I could find is where their shuttle bus drivers successfully unionized - no other instances I could locate had unions appearing at Apple stores or corporate workplaces.

So what does Tim Cook have against unionization?

Why does Big Tech hate unions?

It's quite simple at one level. The effect of unionization of your workforce is that you give up some amount of control, and bear some level of increased costs and lower efficiency. If you've got a large workforce of low-to-medium wage semi-skilled workers - e.g. Amazon warehouse staff, Intel fab plant staff - and you're constantly honing processes to improve your margin, the last thing you want is a union-imposed drag on your bang-per-buck.

The more interesting question comes when you're looking at a skilled, expensive workforce. Unionization isn't going to materially affect your wage bill for a highly technical workforce in an active competitive recruitment market. However, it will prove a distraction, and possibly a major one, because the union wants to tap into your workforce's salary - 1% union dues on an average wage of $100K turns out to be quite a lot of money for a 5,000-person company, let alone a 50,000 person company - and to justify this, they need to show that they're doing something.

So inevitably the union is going to be dragging your company's managerial layers into prolonged wage and conditions negotiations, pursuing pet causes, trying to eject people that they regard as "undesirable" - e.g. anti-union, pro-business - while trying to retain people that management regards as "undesirable" - e.g. ineffective, spending too much time on pet causes. They're going to seek "equity" of salaries - looking for differentials by gender, race and age and poking at anomalies. Their executive is looking for a steady income stream and an increasing amount of power, and they're not going to take "no" for an answer.

The unionization struggle, I think, is going to be over approximately 1-2 years after a union gains a significant foothold in a major tech company. The highly productive people are going to see the brake on company productivity in general, and their salaries in particular, and go looking for employment somewhere they don't have to carry as many passengers. In the mean time, the company is going to burn.

If you don't believe me, look at the car manufacturers in Detroit.

2021-03-27

Asian Lives Matter - Uber Eats edition

Item number n+1 in the black-in-Asian violence saga, from Washington D.C. last Tuesday:

In case the video (1m 26 seconds) is removed, a summary:

  • (0:00) Two people are in the car; orange hoodie person in the passenger seat; Mohammad is outside and wrestling the person in driver's seat for control of the steering wheel
  • (0:17) Mohammad exclaims "It's my car!"
  • (0:19) Car accelerates away, Mohammad still clinging on
  • (0:28) Squeal of brakes as car attempts to make a sharp right, sound of collision
  • (0:31) Camera holder frantically sprints up the road
  • (0:49) First view of the car, on its side (driver-side down, passenger-side up) in front of a parking garage.
  • (0:52) Orange-clad person exits car from the top
  • (0:56) First view of Mohammad, sprawled next to railings; military-camo people appearing on scene
  • (0:58) Dreadlocked girl climbing out of top of car, camo'd person helping her down. Camera person or someone close saying "They stole the car! that girl!"
  • (1:06) Orange hoodie and Dreadlocks moving away from car; Mohammad still sprawled and unmoving
  • (1:10) Military-sounding person: "I'm going to need everybody step back from the car!"
  • (1:12) Orange hoodie woman: "My phone is in there!" SHE IS FOUR FEET AWAY FROM THE DEAD BODY OF MOHAMMAD, FOR F*CK'S SAKE!
  • (1:25) General scene control, lools like someone in a blue+red jacket is moving towards Mohammad - intent to help him? Not clear.

Local news is reporting that the two carjacking girls are 13 and 15 and now are charged with murder. Astonishingly, they do not look at all like white supremacists. Mohammad, age 66, immigrated with his family from Pakistan in 2014, in search of a better life in the USA. A GoFundme page by the family has raised $190K so far, but that's still way short of compensation for losing the family's breadwinner.

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has conspiciously failed to tweet about this carjack murder of a minority member of the public. I guess Mohammad was the wrong kind of minority.

I repeat my previous opinion - where the heck do Democratic lawmakers think this is going to end? Middle-Eastern, South Asia, Chinese, Korean, and South-East Asians in the USA are witnessing a sustained attack on their elders and livelihoods (beauty supply store in Houston, TX) from a very specific and identifiable sector of society. You think they're not going to act? Their actions might be subtle, but they're going to be very definite. If the government isn't going to protect them, they sure as heck will protect themselves.