2017-08-16

Since we can't challenge diversity policy, how to prevent mistakes?

The James Damore affair at Google has made it very clear that discussion of companies' diversity policy is completely off the table. When I say "discussion" here, I mean "anything other than adulation". I've seen plenty of the latter in the past week. The recent 'letter from Larry Page' in The Economist was a classic example. It was in desperate need of someone tagging it with a number of [citation needed] starting from paragraph 4:

You’re wrong. Your memo was a great example of what’s called “motivated reasoning” — seeking out only the information that supports what you already believe. It was derogatory to women in our industry and elsewhere [CN]. Despite your stated support for diversity and fairness, it demonstrated profound prejudice[CN]. Your chain of reasoning had so many missing links[CN] that it hardly mattered what you based your argument on. We try to hire people who are willing to follow where the facts lead, whatever their preconceptions [CN]. In your case we clearly got it wrong.

Let's accept, for the sake of argument, that random company employees questioning diversity policy is off the table. This is not an obviously unreasonable constraint, given the firestorm from Damore's manifesto. Then here's a question for Silicon Valley diversity (and leadership) types: since we've removed the possibility of employee criticism from your diversity policy, what is your alternative mechanism for de-risking it?

In all other aspects of engineering, we allow - nay, encourage - ideas and implementations to be tested by disinterested parties. As an example, the software engineering design review pits the software design lead against senior engineers from other development and operational teams who have no vested interest in the new software launching, but a very definite interest in the software not being a scaling or operational disaster. They will challenge the design lead with "what if..." and "how have you determined capacity for metric X..." questions, and expect robust answers backed by data. If the design lead's answers fall short, the new software will not progress to implementation without the reviewer concerns being addressed.

Testing is often an adversarial relationship: the testing team tries to figure out ways that new software might break, and craft tests to exploit those avenues. When the test reveals shortcomings in the software, the developer is not expected to say "well, that probably won't happen, we shouldn't worry about it" and blow off the test. Instead they either discuss the requirements with the tester and amend the test if appropriate, or fix their code to handle the test condition.

Netflix's Chaos Monkey subjects a software service to adverse operational conditions. The software designer might assert that the service is "robust" but if Chaos Monkey creates a reasonably foreseeable environment problem (e.g. killing 10% of backend tasks) and the service starts to throw errors at 60% of its queries, it's not Chaos Monkey which is viewed as the problem.

Even checking-in code - an activity as integral to an engineer's day as operating the coffee machine - is adversarial. For any code that hits production, the developer will have to make the code pass a barrage of pre-existing functional and syntax checks, and then still be subject to review by a human who is generally the owner of that section of code. That human expects new check-ins to improve the operational and syntactic quality of the codebase, and will challenge a check-in that falls short. If the contributing engineer asserts something like "you don't appreciate the beauty of the data structure" in reply, they're unlikely to get check-in approval.

Given all this, why should diversity plans and implementations - as a critical component of a software company - be immune to challenge? If we have decided that engineer-authored manifestos are not an appropriate way to critically analyse a company's diversity system then what is the appropriate way?

Please note that there's a good reason why the testing and development teams are different, why representatives from completely different teams are mandatory attendees of design reviews, and why the reviewer of new code should in general not be someone who reports to the person checking in the code. The diversity team - or their policy implementors - should not be the sole responders to challenges about the efficacy of their own systems.

2017-08-06

"PC considered harmful" - hand grenade thrown into Valley tech

Wow. I've not seen this amount of heat, light, sound and fury directed towards a minority group since a fat man broke wind loudly over Nagasaki. [I've heard of good taste, and want no part of it.]

Anyone in Silicon Valley tech industry who hasn't been living under a rock has seen the frothing rage on Twitter about a Google employee penning an internal-shared personal doc about their perspective on the company's hiring and training priorities relating to women and "minorities" (which in Silicon Valley almost always refers to Black and 'Latinx' - apparently, very few "woke" people are really interested in the experiences of Native Americans, Koreans, Filipinos or South Americans.) My Twitter tech timeline has exploded in the past 24 hours, almost universally with people demanding the author's head - mostly metaphorically.

Tech site Gizmodo today obtained the text of the document in question. I've read through it, and assuming it's an accurate representation of the original, I can understand the furore - but it has been flagrantly misrepresented. A summary of the author's points is:

  1. Google is big on removing unconscious bias, but a lot of Google has a strong leftwards political bias;
  2. Left and right political leanings have their own biases; neither are correct, you need both to make a company work well;
  3. If you're not a leftist, expressing your opinions at work can be a severely career-limiting move;
  4. On average, men and women have behavioural differences which are (list); but these are only averages and don't tell you squat about an individual person;
  5. Given those average women's interest, you're going to struggle to get a 50% representation of women in tech, particularly in the higher career and stress levels because of (reasons based on the above list)
  6. Doing arbitrary social engineering to achieve this 50% as an end in itself is a bad idea;
  7. Google does various things to improve gender and race representation, some of which I think aren't appropriate and might lower the bar [Ed: this was the point I thought least well argued in this doc]
  8. Overcoming inbuilt biases is hard; this applies to both sides of the spectrum;
  9. The internal climate alienates and suppresses viewpoints of people of a conservative political nature, and this is a bad thing;
  10. We should have a more open discussion about what our diversity programs achieve and what do they cost (in a wide sense); make it less uncomfortable to hold and express opinions against the orthodoxy;
  11. Indoctrinating people who determine promotion about bias might not have unalloyed benefit for the firm's long-term interests.
Very little of this seems, on the face of it, obviously incorrect or sociopathic. I think the author strayed into moderately unjustified territory on point 7, but otherwise they seemed to be quite reasonable in their arguments and moderate in their conclusions.

I've particularly enjoyed reading tweets and posts from tech woman flaming the original poster for blatant sexism. Really ladies, you should read the post more carefully. He described a contrast of the average male and female behaviors, and took particular pains to point out that this did not say anything about any particular woman's (or man's) effectiveness in a tech role. The behavior biases he described seemed bang on in my experience - and I've met women matching the male biases, and men matching the female biases, but on average the skew is as he has described.

It's almost as if many of the women responding to his post have more bias towards describing their feelings about the ideas, rather than ideas themselves; looking at the "big picture" rather than carefully analysing the detail of what he said. Perish the thought that this reflects the gender biases he described...

Of course, if you challenge the Silicon Valley orthodoxy like this - even if you originally intended for it to be for an internal-only debate - you can expect a certain amount of kick-back. And oh boy, did they get it. I've seen public calls for them to be fired and beaten up, and that was from people using social media accounts associated with their real names. The prevailing theme seemed to be that anyone expressing - or even holding - opinions like this in Silicon Valley was inherently poisonous to the work environment and should be fired forthwith. For goodness' sake, this was one person's opinion, quite mildly expressed. Alphabet (Google's parent company) has 75,000 people. You'd think that an isolated instance of crimethink would not be a big deal, but apparently you'd be very wrong.

Google has just acquired a new Head of Diversity, Danielle Brown from Intel. I don't know if they had one previously, or if this is a new slot, but my goodness this is quite the baptism of fire. She's posted an internal memo which has, inevitably, leaked:

Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions.
But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.
This probably wasn't a bad holding action - it would piss off the conservatives defending every point that the original poster made (because it was hinted as contradictory to equal employment), and it would piss off the outraged mob because it wasn't along the lines of "we threw this person out of the company so fast that his backside made scorch marks along Amphitheater Parkway". You could reasonably call it even-handed. The difference is that the conservatives within Google won't be calling publicly for Ms Brown to reconsider her approach or risk riots in the streets.

I asked a San Francisco based Google engineer buddy what he thought about this. "Are you [censored] kidding me? I wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole" was a reasonable summary of his reaction. He did note that the author's name was widely known internally and that he viewed it as inevitable that their name would leak, but he'd be damned if he was going to be the one to leak it.

It's also not a little ironic that this comes on the heels of the US Department of Labor accusing Google of discriminating by gender in salaries. If the original author's claims are taken at face value - which is a big "if", to be fair - Google is actually trying to discriminate in favour of women.

For extra points, it's instructive to note the reaction to this in conjunction with President Trump's proposed ban on transgendered troops serving in the military. [Bear with me, I have a point I promise.] One of the grounds for this ban was transgender people having a much higher rate of mental instability (depression, self-harm, suicide attempts) which is not what you want in a front-line military unit where there are plenty of intrinsic causes of instability. We see one bloke in Google writes a document, and every trans blogger I know of explodes in a frenzy of rage and demands for his head - despite the fact that he didn't mention transgender issues at all in the manifesto. One can only imagine what would happen if the author had drawn attention to the relatively high proportion of male-to-female trans people among the female engineering population and ask what it meant...

The modern day lynch mob is alive and well, and it seems to be driven by dyed-in-the-wool Democratic voters against anyone daring to express an opinion contrary to today's right-think on gender and racial issues. Plus ça change, plus la même chose.

2017-07-14

Unintended consequences of the TSA regulations

You'd have to be astonishingly ill-informed to believe that you could waltz through USA airport security with any recognisable knife in your carry-on luggage. TSA regulations specify:

Knives
Carry On Bags: No
Checked Bags: Yes
Except for plastic or round bladed butter knives.
Now, I'd read that as "you can have any kind of knife in your checked baggage apart from plastic knives or round bladed butter knives" but I'm a pedant; the overall guidance is clear.

A couple of weeks ago, my pal Harry turned up to San Francisco International Airport (motto: "Fogged in by design") for a flight up to Washington state. He wasn't checking any luggage, just carrying a backpack. Shortly before security he reached into the side pocket of his pack to get his passport, and while fumbling around he came across the folding knife that he'd left in there on his last hiking trip.

Crap.

Oh well, better to discover it now than later. He could have surrendered it to the TSA contractors but it had been an expensive knife when he'd bought it, and he'd had it a long time. He was damned if a TSA-contracted monkey was going to take it from him.

Not a problem! Airport Mailers are a company that allow you to mail items to yourself from the land-side of an airport. Harry walked over to the Airport Mailers kiosk and asked them for a pouch to mail his knife back.

"Sorry, we're out of pouches." Apparently they'd been out for most of the past week, and were "optimistic" of getting a delivery in the next few days, but of course that did not help Harry. Harry starts to see why there is less than enthusiastic endorsement for this firm.

Harry realises that he could just drop the knife in the "Sin Bin" box at security, but he would lose it forever and it was an expensive knife when he bought it, and has a lot of sentimental value. Pondering the problem, his gaze alights on the plants in tubs used to decorate the hall:

"Problem solved!" Harry pulls out his folded knife, palms it, and sidles to the corner of one of the planters containing a particularly bushy plant. He casually slips his hand under the leaves and gropes around trying to dig unobtrusively a hole in the soil to fit his knife.

This admittedly ingenious strategy is sadly not original; as Harry pokes his fingers into the soil, he discovers a wooden object that is indisputably a knife handle. It seems that, as he pokes around, what feels like half of the planter is taken up with buried knives.

Harry, undissuaded, finds an undisturbed corner of the planter, furtively buries his knife, and heads off to the gate. 48 hours later he's back, coming out of Arrivals. He wheels left, locates the planter, digs his knife out from the corner, and strolls off to his car. In the process he discovers that the other knife has vanished.

No doubt the TSA would posit this as a security "win", but it's not obvious that this is true. People are stashing knives all over San Francisco airport, and seem to be able to rely on picking them up again when they return. If they can manage this in a heavily-patrolled airport departures area, how effective do you think the TSA Security Theatre is at keeping hundreds of aircraft in an "allowed" state?

2017-07-08

First man in the UK to give birth is from Gloucester

Of course they're from Gloucester.

So how did this miracle occur, such that Hayden Cross managed to pop out a baby?

Hayden was born a girl, called Paige, and plans to continue gender reassignment treatment now he has become a father.
Aha. So Hayden has a womb, at least one ovary, and presumably a vagina. I don't know about you, but when someone has those assets - and no testes, since Hayden had to find a sperm donor - I'm inclined to think that they don't actually qualify as "male".

Popping out a baby just before gender reassignment surgery seems like an odd choice. Almost a case of trying to have your cake and eat it. Not terribly committed to the whole irrevocable life-as-a-man thing. I wonder how long before Hayden will get tired of it and want to change back.

Despite the headline, this is not a miracle. This is attention-seeking behaviour if ever I saw it. That's fine if it's just you who's affected but, my goodness, I feel sorry for Hayden's daughter. How is she going to feel once she grows up enough to understand what went on?

2017-06-23

Oh Australia, don't ever change

When you read a news article heading like "Cairns man who binged on ice feared dead after attempting to have sex with crocodile" you just know that the journalist who picked up this particular story was down on their knees crying with gratitude.

According to the friend, the man - now naked - leapt at the crocodile and tried to have intercourse with it. [How? How!?] "We were still a fair distance back but I reckon he just about got it in," said the witness. "Of course, the croc wasn't having a bar of it [never heard that particular idiom before] and started thrashing around like crazy.
This of course has many of the hallmarks of an urban legend - unnamed victim or friends, too good to be true - but the source is a local newspaper in Cairns, and specifically names the beach, so dammit I'm going to believe. I want to believe, and so should you.

I know that Australia is famous for blunt public health warnings - "If you drink and drive, you're a bloody idiot!" but this case provides the material to step it up a gear:

If you smoke ice, a croc will bite yer bollocks off!

2017-06-10

Bitrex redux - DUP edition

After 24th June 2016's outpouring of bitterness I expected that it would not be equalled - or even rivalled - for quite a while. It appears I was wrong.

The avalanche of Facebook protest posts and memes about the proposed pact between the Northern Ireland DUP and the Conservatives to form a working (though small majority) has been quite something. The main themes have been appeals to sign the petition protesting against the coalition (now at half a million people!) and excoriations of the Tories for allying with the "bigoted" DUP - with a lot of links to Brighton's favourite loon, Caroline Lucas writing in the Grauniad:

This desperate Conservative government will reach out to the hardline DUP – a party that denies climate change, opposes abortion and is openly homophobic.

Since there are 18 parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland, the DUP has 10 of them, and 7 of the others are held by the Sinn Féin, it seems a bit odd to slam 55%+ of Northern Ireland's parliamentarians as "bigots". It seems fairly clear what Ms. Lucas thinks of the Northern Ireland electorate. Does she perhaps prefer Sinn Féin, since there's no possible way they could be accused of prejudice of any kind? It also appears that their position on abortion is complex, mixed, and still far from the UK mainstream. "Bloody Irish peasants, why aren't any of them woke like we metropolitan liberals?"

Let's face it, this new wave of bitterness is entirely because Jezza didn't make it as far as an electoral majority. Heck, he couldn't even get a majority with a 3-way coalition. This is not to take away from his electoral performance which was a massive out-perform of expectations, but it took one of the most incompetent electoral campaigns in modern times from May and her advisers for him to get even that far.

2017-06-04

When seconds count, the police are minutes away

After last night's terror attack on London Bridge and Borough Market, the main lessons I took away were:

  1. Anyone who's motivated can execute this kind of attack: get 1-2 buddies who are similarly motivated - for maximum efficiency - some long knives, and a rented van are all that's needed;
  2. Civilians were reduced to throwing bottles and drinking glasses at the attackers to try to keep them away;
  3. Unarmed officers were effectively powerless during the incident, reduced to trying (extremely bravely) to distract the attackers from civilians;
  4. In the heart of the nation's capital, at near-maximum terror alert, with the densest national concentration of armed officers, the attackers had 8-10 minutes to rampage unimpeded before the armed police turned up and whacked them in short order.

Contrast this with the May 2015 attack in Garland, TX where the heavily armed gunmen just made it out of their car, managed to slightly wound a security officer, and then promptly expired in a hail of bullets. I can't help but notice the complete lack of follow-on terror attacks in Texas since then; presumably word has got around the terror community that it's a poor choice of location.(Glasgow is probably number 2 on the do-not-terrorise list after the terrifyingly vicious response of the residents.).

I can't help but think that the complete dis-arming of the UK civilian population is not working out quite as well as most of its proponents expected.

2017-06-02

Teachers vs engineers

"If we paid teachers like we paid engineers, just think how far ahead we would be!"

If we assessed teachers on the results of their work like we did for engineers, just imagine the outcry from the California Teachers Association.

"Class X results in Maths have plummeted year-on-year compared to equivalent classes Y, Z taught by other teachers; class X's Maths teacher objectively sucks and should be demoted/fired."
"How dare you! Won't you think of the children?"
I've met some great teachers in California, but The System is very clearly working against them.

Government-class service

I was chatting at the coffee machine yesterday with a buddy - let's call him Mike - who was just back from paternity leave. He was showing me many, many pictures of his baby son - we can thank Apple and Google for making death-by-mobile-photostream a thing - and mentioned in passing that he'd spent half the morning phoning around local post offices to make a passport appointment so they could go en famille to visit his brother's family in NZ.

"But you said you're not planning to go until October?" I pointed out, puzzled.

Well, it turns out that if you're applying for your first US passport, you can't just send off a few forms. The American passport application form (DS-11) isn't as bad as you might think if you've dealt with other US government forms, but first passports and passports for any under-16 child require that you appear in person at an "acceptance facility". This, in practice, means one of a small number of passport offices, some city clerk offices, or a subset of US post offices. Passport offices allow you to turn up on the day; city clerks and post offices are appointment-only. The appointments are usually only available 3-4 days per week - not weekends, natch - and only a few hours per day, e.g. midday through 4pm.

After canvassing four or five different venues to get a handle on availability, Mike had managed to find himself an appointment for Wednesday 2nd August as the earliest available - ignoring all other scheduling concerns. That's 2 months hence.

"That's a bit tight for an October flight - why not go in person?" I wondered. Unsurprisingly Mike had already done the research, and pointed me to the Yelp reviews for Willow Glen Passport Station, San Jose as a guide to what he'd be dealing with:

#1 tip is get there early - and I mean 3, 4, 5, 6 AM early (the doors open at 10 AM). There will always always be a line. I talked to so many people who just expected to walk up and have their application processed. Even if it LOOKS like there are only 2 or 3 people in front of you, it's entirely possible they are saving a spot for additional people. We thought we were 7th in line but once everyone's relatives showed up at 10, it was more like 15th in line.
[...]
Weekends have WAY more people in line and some people have been known to show up as early as 3 AM. We took off work on a weekday just for this reason. Arriving at 4:30 or 5 AM on a weekday SHOULD ensure you're near the front of the line.
[...]
Arrived at 4:30. Nine families were there already. At 5, about 20 people. At 6 about 30 people. Total 50 numbers were issued. Therefore, after 6 am chance is small. Numbers were given out by post office employee at 9:55. Got in at 10. Finished at 11:10. Staffs are nice and professional.
[...]
Got in the line at 3.20AM. There were 15 folks ahead of me. Long line formed behind me by 8AM. A post office employee came out at 8AM and said "if the applicants are in the line, please come inside, 10 at a time, and I'll validate the forms". Chaos ensued, since most of the folks in the line were holding a spot for their families. Eventually things calmed down. The employee was out again and stated that they would only process 30 passport applications (not 30 customers).
Do you think that there might be a demand signal here? (In case you think Willow Glen is a special case, read the Eastridge reviews.)

What I took away from those reviews is that the passport station staff (generally) were individually trying to do a good job and make things run smoothly, e.g. by pre-validating application forms, but were totally ham-strung by being desperately under-staffed relative to the demand. Similarly, the city clerks and post offices had no incentive at all to add staff and expand the number of face-to-face appointments. It looks like they're limited to claiming $25/person fees so there's no ability to raise fees to respond to demand, and hence no reason to hire extra staff to increase their processing capacity because that's probably below the employment cost here in Silicon Valley.

I remain completely baffled by Americans who want more Federal government involvement in their lives. This is what Federal government involvement looks like. (At the state level, they should examine the well-oiled customer-service-friendly machine that is the Department of Motor Vehicles.)

2017-05-23

Manchester

The only speech we need to hear from the UK Government is:

To those people behind Monday night's bombing in Manchester: we are going to find you and we are going to fuck you up.

2017-05-12

Downsides of an IT monolith (NHS edition)

I have been watching, with no little schadefreude (trans. "damage joy") today's outage of many NHS services as a result of a ransomware attack.

This could happen to anyone, n'est ce pas? The various NHS trusts affected were just unlucky. They have many, many users (admin staff in each GP's surgery; nurses, auxiliaries and doctors rushing to enter data before dashing off to the next patient). Why is it unsurprising that this is happening now?

The NHS is an organisational monolith. It makes monolithic policy announcements. As a result of those policies, Windows XP became the canonical choice for NHS PCs. It is still the canonical choice for NHS PCs. Windows XP launched to the public in late 2001. Microsoft ended support for Windows XP in April 2014. Honestly, I have to give Microsoft kudos for this (oh, that hurts) because they kept XP supported way beyond any reasonable timeframe. But all good things come to an end, and security updates are no longer built for XP. The NHS paid Microsoft for an extra year of security patches but decided not to extend that option beyond 2015, presumably because no-one could come up with a convincing value proposition for it. Oops.

The consequences of this were inevitable, and today we saw them. A huge userbase of Internet-connected PCs no longer receiving security updates is going to get hit by something - they were a bit unlucky that it was ransomware, which is harder to recover from than a straight service-DoS, but this was entirely foreseeable.

Luckily the NHS mandates that all critical operational data be backed up to central storage services, and that its sites conduct regular data-restore exercises. Doesn't it? Bueller?

I don't want to blame the central NHS IT security folks here - I'm sure they do as good a job as possible in an impossible-to-manage environment, and that the central patient data is fairly secure. However, if you predicate effective operations for most of the NHS on data stored on regular PCs then you really want to be sure that they are secure. Windows XP has been end-of-support for three gold-durned years at this point, and progress in getting NHS services off it has been negligible. You just know that budget for this migration got repurposed for something else more time-sensitive "temporarily".

This is a great example of organisational inertia, in fact maybe a canonical one. It was going to be really hard to argue for a massively expensive and disruptive change, moving all NHS desktops to a less-archaic OS - Windows 10 seems like a reasonable candidate, but would still probably require a large proportion of desktops and laptops to be replaced. As long as nothing was on fire, there would be a huge pushback on any such change with very few people actively pushing for it to happen. So nothing would happen - until now...

Please check back in 2027 when the NHS will have been on Windows 10 for 8 years, 2 years end-of-life, and the same thing will be happening again.

2017-04-13

'Fearless' girl? Is that really the best adjective?

The famous "Charging Bull" statue in Manhattan has been garnering a lot of proximate press recently. Contrary to the belief of lazy journalists, it's not actually anywhere near Wall Street: check out the map, it's a good 600 feet away.

Last month, a temporary bronze statue "Fearless Girl" was placed opposite the bull, garnering all sorts of breathless praise by journos about the strong feminist message that it imparts. Since the Fearless Girl statue was created by the investment firm "State Street Global Advisors", I suspect that nothing other than their marketing department's desperate desire for publicity and their CEO's self-image were the main factors behind the project: since only 5 of their 28-strong leadership team are female, two of whom are in the traditional female bastions of HR and Compliance, one suspects that this is compensatory signalling. The statue's plaque:

Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.
confirms my suspicions.

The Charging Bull sculptor Arturo Di Modica is not amused:

"The placement of the statue of the young girl in opposition to 'Charging Bull' has undermined the integrity and modified the 'Charging Bull'" Siegel said. "The 'Charging Bull' no longer carries a positive, optimistic message. Rather it has been transformed into a negative force and a threat."

State Street Global Advisor and the statue artist Kristen Visbal may believe that this is a powerful message of feminine empowerment. However, if in real life you saw a 4-foot girl standing square against a charging bull, hands on hips in defiance, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't think her "brave" and "assertive"; words like "foolish" and "insane" would be more likely to pass your lips.

I'm reminded of Hilaire Beloc's Sarah Byng, whose illiteracy led her into a field containing a bull:

Alas! The young illiterate
Went blindly forward to her fate,
And ignorantly climbed the gate!
Now happily the Bull that day
Was rather in the mood for play
Than goring people through and through
As Bulls so very often do;
He tossed her lightly with his horns
Into a prickly hedge of thorns,
And stood by laughing while she strode
And pushed and struggled to the road.

State Street Global Advisor and Kristen Visbal should perhaps take the lesson that your perceptions of how the world should be, no matter how right-on, are much less important in pratice than how it actually reacts to you.

2017-03-08

A litmus test for Silicon Valley on women's rights

Today is International Women's Day, and here in Silicon Valley I have been besieged by virtue signalling around it: red ribbons (wasn't that the AIDS symbol? won't they be pissed at the appropriation?), men wearing red shirts with the logo "#supporter" and so on.

"We gave up on actual equality and we virtue-signalled. Right Bon?"
"Oh yes. That's right Stu, we virtue-signalled hard.
Of course, talk is cheap; let's talk about revealed preferences.

A primary complaint expressed during International Women's Day is that women are underpaid compared to men. Tech companies are heavy users of H1-B visas which draw relatively highly paid jobs in technology. How many men hold H1-B visas compared to women? It's hard to tell for some reason, but:

While the Obama administration came under fire at the hearing for not revealing how many men and women hold H-1B visas, the nation’s centerpiece program for highly skilled workers, the data requested by the Bay Area News Group provided the scope of the imbalance: The U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics recorded 347,087 male H-1B visa holders entered the country during the 2011 fiscal year compared to 137,522 women.
So women made up approximately 28% of H1-B visas in 2011, which was the most recent year in which I could find any reference to gender split. I wonder why the USCIS is so coy about this data?

Here's a proposal for Silicon Valley firms to back:

  • Deploring the wage gap between women and men where women only earn 77% of the salary that men do[1];
  • Understanding that the H1-B visa is intended to bring highly skilled immigrants into the United States;
  • Accepting that Silicon Valley is a disproportionate beneficiary of the H1-B program;
  • Recognizing that it is incumbent on Silicon Valley firms to back their words on gender pay equality with words;
  • [CompanyName] resolves to keep its annual H1-B visa hires within 5% of a 50:50 male:female ratio.

Otherwise, all this talk of "support" for International Women's Day is just low-cost wanking, and surely that can't be the case?

[1] - yes, yes, I know, but let's pretend that Silicon Valley firms believe the propaganda that they propagate.

2017-03-03

Bay Area tech women will be striking

Next Wednesday, 8th March, is International Women's Day and so, in a celebration of feminine puissance, a coterie of female engineers in Bay Area tech companies are planning to strike.

At this point I must borrow words from the colourful Times columnist India Knight and sigh: "Fuck's actual sake."

The guidance to women thinking of striking is widespread and varying in tone. Cassady Fendlay, a holder of "BS in Labor Relations", has provided a handy template letter to an employer, which is almost un-fiskable but I like a challenge:

I hope you will stand in support of me, and any of my women colleagues who choose to participate, in observance of this day. Places of employment can participate by closing for the day or giving women workers the day off, whether paid or unpaid.
Mmm, I'd be going for "unpaid" there, bubba. Because if you give all your female employees a paid day off for attending International Women's Day, you can bet your bottom dollar that the employment lawyers will be knocking on your door the day afterwards asking for a corresponding concession for Men's Day. I also wonder about trans employees - do they get their own day, or do they have to pick one of the existing ones - and "genderfluid" employees - do they observe both days? Neither? [If you think this is facetious, you clearly haven't spent time in a Bay Area tech company recently.]

Back to Ms Fendlay:

By ensuring that women have pay equity, a livable [sic] wage and paid leave, businesses can demonstrate that their long-term actions align with the values we are standing up for on this day.
So it's fine for men not to have a wage they can live on? What she's claiming, of course, is that women generally suffer pay discrimination, which has been comprehensively debunked. I'm sure there are some employers where this is true, but I can assure you that Bay Area tech companies are not the primary examples.

And to finish:

At an increasingly insecure [my italics] time for the rights of women and other minority groups, it is important to me that I also stand for the value of equality. I hope you will support me in my decision.
"Increasingly insecure"? FFS. I'm going out on a limb here and assuming that they're not referring to Iran, Saudi Arabia et al. I can't help but note that the national leaders of the UK, Taiwan, Chile, South Korea and Germany are female, and the USA came within inches of electing a female President despite her being desperately unlikeable. What the actual fuck is "insecure" about women's rights in 2017 compared to the 100 years previous?

Personally, I wouldn't see any problem with letting my employees, female or male, have the day off - unpaid, or out of their vacation. If they're scheduled for interviews, a support rotation or other business critical function I'd expect them to arrange cover since their absence is reasonably foreseeable. Enjoy the day all you want, but follow the rules that apply to every employee. That's equality for you.

Of course, the danger is that the strike is a) widely observed, and b) makes no material impact...

2017-02-11

Erdogan and his nocturnal ovine pleasuring habits

Like many others who support free speech, I was very disappointed in yesterday's decision by a Hamburg court that it stands by its ban of a satirical poem by German comedian Jan Böhmermann. Herr Böhmermann, not a big fan of the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erodgan and his oppression of both people and speech, narrated this poem "Schmägedicht" ("Defamation Poem") on his show on 31st March 2016.

Here's the original reading: if you have any German speakers in the room with you then now would be an excellent time to send them out.

Jan Böhmermann - Erdogan Gedicht (Jan Boehmermann Erdogan poem) (English subtitled) from mjchris on Vimeo.

As a public service, here is my transcription of the original text, plus a translation.

GermanEnglish
Sackdoof, feige und verklemmt Stupid as fuck, cowardly and uptight
Ist Erdogan, der Präsident is Erdogan, the president.
Sein Gelöt stinkt schlimm nach Döner His erection reeks of Doner kebab;
selbst ein Schweinefurz riecht schöner Even a pig fart smells better.
Er ist der Mann, der Mädchen schlägt He's a man who hits girls
und dabei Gummimasken trägt while wearing rubber masks.
Am liebsten mag er Ziegen ficken He loves most to fuck goats
und Minderheiten unterdrücken and repress minorities.
 
Kurden treten, Christen hauen Kicking Kurds, beating Christians
und dabei Kinderpornos schauen while gazing at kiddie porn.
Und selbst abends heisst’s statt schlafen And at night, instead of sleep,
Fellatio mit hundert Schafen Performs fellatio on a hundred sheep.
Ja, Erdogan ist voll and ganz Yes, Erdogan truly is
ein Präsident mit kleinem Schwanz A president with a small dick.
 
Jeden Türken hört man flöten Every Turk will tell you
die dumme Sau hat Schrumpelklöten the stupid pig has wrinkled balls.
Von Ankara bis Istanbul From Ankara to Istanbul
weiss jeder, dieser Mann ist schwul everyone knows this man's a poof,
pervers, verlaust und zoophil perverse, lice-ridden, an animal fucker.
Recep “Fritzl Priklopil” Recep (Josef) Fritzl (Wolfgang) Priklopil [the famous perverts]
 
Sein Kopf so leer wie seine Eier His head as empty as his balls,
der Star auf jeder Gangbang-Feier the star of every gangbang party.
Bis der Schwanz beim Pinkeln brennt Until his cock burns when he pisses
das is Recep Erdogan, der türkische Präsident That’s Recep Erdogan, the Turkish president.

The court assessment was that only 6 of the 24 lines were acceptable: you can view their transcript with "unacceptable" lines marked in red. Interestingly they didn't seem to object to the suggestion that Erdogan likes wearing rubber masks while beating girls.

Germany and Turkey, of course, have the right to make whatever laws they desire about the limits on free speech and criticism of women-beating dictators. We in turn have the right to tell them what we think of their laws, and of Recep Tayyip Erdogan - and in the future, whenever we see President Erdogan on screen, hear in our minds the bleating of a hundred happy sheep.

28 hours of racial lies

One of the latest bits of social justice posturing is the play "Every 28 hours", a project produced by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival:

Every 28 Hours is a national partnership focused on the widely shared and contested statistic that every twenty-eight hours a black person is killed by vigilante, security guard, or the police in the United States.
Regular readers will know that a maths-based arse-kicking is coming. But perhaps, disregarding the numbers, this play is still a compelling work? After all, Harold Pinter was a complete arse, but his plays could still pull in the crowds. Might it be the same here?
The Every 28 Hours Plays consist of 72 one-minute plays inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, with participation from artists across the nation.
OK, maybe I'll save myself the price of the ticket and just gently gouge out my eyes with a spoon.

One black person killed every 28 hours is 312 black people murdered a year. This is 312 murders too many, no matter who's doing it - and, let's be clear, I'm not quibbling with this . However, let's put this in some numerical context, shall we? I'm assuming that the "Every 28 Hours" authors are mostly liberal arts majors, so I promise to go slow and show my working. (Which, I'd guess, is a sight more than they do.)

The Facts

I'm using the FBI 2015 crime figures, specifically Expanded Homicide Data Table 6 (Race, Ethnicity, and Sex of Victim by Race, Ethnicity, and Sex of Offender, 2015).

Race/Ethnicity of victim Total Race of offender
White Black / African-American Other Unknown
White 3,167 2,574 500 49 44
Black / African-American 2,664 229 2,380 13 42
Other race 222 60 34 126 2
Unknown race 84 34 20 6 24

The other key stat is that, as of 2010, 12.6% of Americans are black or African-American - 1 citizen in 8. I'm making a leap of faith that this fraction has not changed significantly in the past 6 years. Since white people are about 63% of the population, they outnumber black Americans 5 to 1.

The Math(s)

The obvious stat that leaps out - though is hard to state grammatically: white people kill approximately as many white people as black people kill black people. White-on-black and black-on-white killings are actually relatively infrequent. This is also true for the "other" racial category (Asian, mixed-race, Native America etc) which turns out to be a similar fraction of the US population as black / African-American, but only about 7% of the number of racial colleagues killed even if you incorporate the "unknown" category.

So we could produce a companion play "Every 220 Minutes" representing the time interval between one black person killing another black person. We could also write "Every 17 1/2 hours" for a black person killing a white person, and "Every 38 hours" for a white person killing a black person.

But wait! If we have to wait 38 hours for a white person to kill a black person, and a black person is killed by a vigilante / security guard / police officer every 28 hours, doesn't that mean that some of those vigilantes / security guards / police officers must be black (or other ethnic minority)? Why yes, it does. I wonder if "Every 28 Hours" brings out this aspect of the statistics.

The truly terrifying stat is simply that black Americans kill about the same number of people as white Americans despite being outnumbered 5:1. The fear of young black American males held by many white people is visceral rather than statistical - the rate at which black people kill white people is about what you'd expect given the relative proportion of population - but black people in the 20-29 age range should be fucking terrified of black males aged 17 to 24 because they are the ones doing most of the killing of victims in that age range.

Why in the name of all that is holy are the "Every 28 Hours" folks talking about (white) police officers as a deadly influence, when young black men do 10 times more killing?

The Weasels

Let's go back to the Every 28 Hours claim:

...every twenty-eight hours a black person is killed by vigilante, security guard, or the police in the United States [my italics]
Now why, do you think, they added those two extra categories? If they could say:
...every twenty-eight hours a black person is killed by the police in the United States
then wouldn't that be a more powerful message? Perhaps they're not using it because it's not true. The Washington Post reports 258 black people killed by police in 2015. If "Every 28 Hours" used that figure as its basis, it would be called "Every 34 Hours" instead.

The statutory ad hominem

"Every 28 Hours" producer Claudia Alick is big on artistic direction, with a minor in hip-hop coaching, but it seems that her MA from NYU and BA from GWU have not equipped her with the ability to do math. Or perhaps she has the ability, but also gained the power to ignore the figures for the greater good of spreading propaganda. She certainly doesn't seem to be concerned with actually improving the lives of, and reducing the horrific body count in, the black American community in any meaningful way.

2017-02-10

The perils of parenting a pseudo-pocket pig

There are times when I wonder why I still bother to read the Guardian, given what it does to my blood pressure; and then there are articles which make it all worth while. This tale of porcine deception is one of the latter.

I can't possibly do Mr. Jenkins' article justice, you should certainly Read The Whole Thing, but a few things stand out. First, Mr. Jenkins plays to any number of stereotypes as a gentleman who likes other gentlemen: pets as substitute for children (check), strong propensity for public exposure(check), leveraging any excuse to promote his domestic arrangements (check). Second, he should have been a little less trusting of an "old school friend" who wanted to get a petite porker off her hands

We trained her like a puppy and took her to the vet after about a month. He took one look at her cropped tail and said, "I think you have a problem on your hands."
It turns out that a small pig is not the same as a miniature pig. A valuable lesson for Mr. Jenkins, and apparently also life-changing:
If you look a pig closely in the eyes, it’s startling; there's something so inexplicably human. When you’re lying next to her and talking, you know she understands. It was emotional realising she was a commercial pig. The more we discovered about what her life could have been, it seemed crazy to us that we ate animals, so we stopped.
Don't be fooled, Steve: if that pig had the chance, she'd eat you and everyone you love. Ask Brick Top Polford:

2017-02-02

UC Berkeley is a focus for repression of free speech

Last night, the famed right-wing polemicist Milo Yiannopoulos was intending to speak at the University of California at Berkeley. It turns out that there are some people who would prefer that Milo not speak. Rioting, toppling light poles, beating up and pepper-spraying Milo/Trump supporters

It's a sad statement of today's political environment that I was nearly astounded to see UCB's Chancellor actually defending a decision not to cancel Milo's visit. After a rash of spineless cancellations of speaking invitations for Milo - and also for Ben Shapiro, who is much less provocative than Milo but still apparently prone to trigger mouth-frothing by university faculty - it's nice to see a university chancellor sticking up for the principle of free speech. The "right not to be offended" is a particularly pernicious concept and it was refreshing for it to be given short shrift.

Of course, the "anti-fascist" movement was not keen to let a Milo event pass unremarked, and duly turned up to riot. The violence caused the university to cancel the event, thereby providing a perfect example of the "heckler's veto". If you don't like someone's speech, just protest violently and their event will be cancelled. I can't see any problems arising from the incentives this has provided at all, no...

There was only one arrest as a result of the rioting. This is what worries me the most - that rioters not only get the effect they deserve, but can perpetrate their violence practically free of consequence. There's only one direction for future violence as a result, and it's not "down".

2017-01-26

#MyPrimeMinister

Nice speech, Theresa. A solid kicking of the NATO under-spenders, emphasis of shared ideals and values with the USA, doubling down on Brexit. Careful warnings about excessive isolationism, hinting at reservations with the ideas behind today's Muslim visa ban. Repeated callbacks to Ronnie and Maggie; will Donald and Theresa be the new power couple?

It seemed to go down very well with the Republican audience. I'm guessing that Polly Toynbee will hate it. [I also suspect that Theresa doesn't give a shit what Polly thinks.]

2017-01-20

Entrumpment FTW

Your humble correspondent finds it hard to explain the feelings arising from the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, one Donald J. Trump. This "Entrumpment" has acted like a lens focusing the most demented of opinions and acts, and truly it has been the most wondrous of spectacles. Watching the collective losing of excreta of the liberal media today has been non-stop entertainment.

In the Bay Area, much attention was focused yesterday on a proposed attempt to complete a human chain across the Golden Gate bridge. The target date was today and it didn't work out quite as well as the organisers might have liked:

Even though the actual hand holding only lasted for one minute, folks who took part in the human chain say the memory will last a lifetime. Bridge officials say there were some gaps across the span on the northern side, so couldn't give the group credit for the first successful human chain, but for participants, it didn't matter, history was still made.
So even on the most Democrat-Republican polarising day for many years, and in the most Democrat-friendly city of the most Democrat-friendly state, they couldn't get 3000 people organised to form a human bridge. It's almost as if the Trump opposition doesn't have the practical conviction of their opinions.