Jill Biden is no Doctor

I posted something like the following at SDA but thought it worth a repost here for posterity.

I read through Jill Biden's Ed.D thesis. Short version: she's no Doctor. She's probably not even a Master.

Some facts:

  • Jill's actual content (introduction up to but not including references) is 80 pages, double-spaced. Interestingly, her table of contents doesn’t properly line up with the page count, but whatever.
  • Typical page (her introduction) is about 250 words, so that’s about a 20,000 word thesis excluding references and appendices.
  • a PhD thesis in the arts typically has a 80K upper word limit, Masters a 60K upper word limit. Good ones are probably half that, maybe a bit more. So Jill has written a bit more than half of a typical Masters thesis.
  • the text is significantly bulked out with e.g. material that seems like what you'd find in a Delaware Tech+Community College brochure, the full text of a student survey, and a faculty interview that should probably have been relegated to an appendix.
  • the thesis has 39 references by my count, which is what you’d expect from a medium length conference / journal paper. A Masters thesis should have more than that. A doctorate (which is supposed to advance the state of research) should have a lot more.
  • she has a boring writing style (this is technically an opinion, but I’m right) and it’s hard to figure out what she’s trying to argue. Her conclusions seem rather trite.

Opinion: if I was one of the people who signed off on this (pages 3 and 4) I would be very quiet about it if someone at a party started spouting off that Jill Biden deserves to be called “Doctor”. For the record, these are:

  • Barbara Curry, Ed.D. (Professor in charge of dissertation (executive position paper)
  • James Broomall, Ed.D. Member of dissertation committee (executive position paper)
  • Frances Leach, Ed.D. Member of dissertation committee (executive position paper)
  • Eugene Matusov, Ph.D. Member of dissertation committee (executive position paper)


Unrest expected - the firearms indicator

I was at my local gunsmith on Monday - they do exist in California, you may be surprised to learn - and mentioned that I was thinking about acquiring a handgun, so I could practice short-range target shooting. Even in California it eventually gets cold and wet, and outside ranges are less attractive.
"Ah," he said, "are you in a rush for it?"
Well, not break-neck speed; something in the next 3-4 weeks would be good (allowing for the usual - and pointless - California 10 day waiting period). Not looking for anything special or custom, do you have something utilitarian in 9mm? My aim really isn't good enough to justify anything more.
"At the moment, Glock is telling me 6-8 months for a California-legal 9x19."
Wuh? Is this some issue with California's steadily increasingly insane gun restrictions?
"Not even that; I went to Las Vegas the other week, and the Nevada dealers there were having the same problem."
Ah, it must be because of the election, presumably there's a bump every 4 years?
"No man, not like this. Sure, you get a bit of a bump as a Presidential election approaches, but I've never seen anything like this. You can't get a gun anywhere except the ones that no-one with any knowledge wants."

It seems that the combination of civil unrest over the summer, the general abandonment of cities by police chiefs, and the potential election of Joe Biden with gun-grabbing Beta O'Rourke as his stooge, has soured the population on relying on the police force to defend their homes.

To give you some context, even in one of the gun-grabbiest states in the Union, the estimate in 2018 is that 4.2 million California people were gun owners, out of a population of 37 million or so, or about 1 in 7 adults. There were about 20 million firearms - so clearly the average number of firearms owned would be about 4 per owner. One can only imagine what it looks like now - and what it will look like in mid-2021 when the current order backlog is complete.

This is not peculiar to California:

Ammunition sales blew up in March because of COVID-19, said Gary's Gun Shop assistant manager Nick Meyer. But increased sales stayed steady after riots started in May in response to the death of George Floyd and ahead of the presidential election.
"Firearms and ammunition and the Second Amendment are all hot topics for election times," Meyer said, "and it always spurs a little bit of a spree."
But this year is different.
The gun shop only has 20% of its normal ammunition supply on its shelves, Meyer said.
Can confirm: ammunition is increasingly expensive, assuming you can find it. As this gentleman on YouTube notes, it started in March and has gotten increasingly bad over the year. ("Federal" in this video refers to a manufacturer name, not the federal government).

This all signals something, and it's not good for the prospect of peace in the United States.


Kamala's Cornish roots

It occurred to me today that our friend Kamala Harris must feel a strong connection to Cornwall. After all, she got her political start from Willie Brown's "mound", and the largest mound in Cornwall is Brown Willie - a short distance from Camelford, as it happens.


Kamala the cuckoo

I was having lunch with one of my right-wing friends today - such creatures do exist, even in the Bay Area. It was not socially distanced, of course, neither of us believes it makes a difference at this point. At some point she was commenting (of course) on the current US political situation. Specifically, Kamala Harris. "She's a cuckoo!", she remarked, disdainfully.

I misheard initially, and ventured a contrary opinion that she actually seemed pretty sane and intelligent, albeit rather lacking in morals.

"The bird, not the adjective. You must know about them, you're from the UK, you're all into birds aren't you?" I agreed that I was familiar with the avian in question. "Okay, so it sticks its egg into the nest of another unsuspecting bird, a baby cuckoo hatches and is a giant compared to the other baby birds, it progressively kicks the others out of the nest and takes over. Kamala Harris, right?"

She has a point. I don't know if I agree with her assertion that Kammie will infect Sleepy Joe with COVID-19 the first chance that she gets, but I don't give Joe that long in office. Cuck-oo. Cuck-oo.

[1] I wondered how she was acquainted with the bird in question, but it turns out that California does have some cuckoo species, though they're fairly rare and may be endangered. You learn something new every day.


Never waste a crisis: COVID-19 infringes 2nd Amendment

Living in the Bay Area has its upsides and downsides, but California's general hostility towards the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution is a source of frequent amusement. Sometimes the hypocrisy can be breathtaking, such as the Santa Clara Sherriff's department apparently only approving concealed carry permits if the application came with a contribution to a political campaign. Still, the basics of 2nd amendment are there: you can apply for and own one or more guns, as long as you clear appropriate hurdles; some important (federal background check) and some completely pointless (10 day waiting period for the gun, 10 round magazine size, no "scary" rifles).

Or so I thought.

You may have seen 2020 news reports about rioting in Oakland (the disambiguation items on that page speak for themselves); these events caused your humble correspondent to re-evaluate their laziness on the matters of household protection, and go looking to acquire a firearm for household defence. Gun shops are generally open, your correspondent is an allegedly upstanding citizen, so this shouldn't have been hard. Except... California requires all firearm purchasers to hold a Firearm Safety Certificate and demonstrate safe handling. Firearm training focused on these tests can be performed at any suitable location, so I contacted one to kick this process off.

No dice, per the instructor:

All courses have been suspended until further notice. The store is open by appointment only, the range has limited use, but the classroom is not available. That won't change until Santa Clara County relaxes the regulations.
I have so many people waiting for courses, I am not taking any more names at this time.
Sounds like the Bay Area politicos are making good use of COVID, by keeping down those activities - such as gun acquisition, church attendance - which they find threatening. Bet the diversity training courses are at full throttle, though.


Asian-American Lives Matter - and SF Supervisor Matt Haney is medacious

Reprising my post in May about Chinese Lives Mattering, in the context of assaults on elderly Asian folk in San Francisco, readers will not be surprised that this has continued to happen, and in fact worsen:

Now community leaders are saying the area is facing a new challenge; racially motivated violence, with a number of elderly Asian American victims the targets of unprovoked physical attacks.
"I am upset and appalled at the recent incident of an attack on a Vietnamese elder two weeks ago," said Judy Young from the Southeast Asian Community Development Center. "This should not happen."
Police say that was one of two victims, one 71-years-old, the other 78. The son of one of the victims posting photos of his mother's bruised face on Instagram.
This is, clearly, awful.

Fortunately, Supervisor for SF's Tenderloin District, Matt Haney, is on the case:

Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin, says racially charged rhetoric from the Whitehouse has helped fuel anti-Asian Pacific Islander bias and ultimately anti-Asian Pacific Islander attacks.
"There's been that type of hatred that has come from people at the top of this country, national leadership which has sent a message of hatred that has been felt by API members of our community," said Supervisor Haney.
This is... an interesting assertion. Let's break it down. Is the President beating down on Koreans? Filipinos? Hawaiians? Samoans? Vietnamese? Taiwanese? No, Matt Haney clearly means the rhetoric against ... the Chinese Communist Party and its singularly deplorable actions with regard to the Wuhan Flu.

So, clearly the miscreants assaulting Vietnamese Americans in SFO are completely separate from those assaulting Chinese Americans in SFO last year, and are in fact the MAGA-hat wearing white supremacists who are known to be endemic in SF. Right, Matty babe?

I Googled for photos of 34-year-old Michael Turner and it turns out that he is not the phenotype you would normally associate with White Supremacy. In fact, he bears a remarkable resemblance in ethnic origin to the perps of the 2019 attacks I described previously. Who knew? He also has a history of violence and larceny which indicates this might not be an out-of-character moment for him.

Entertainingly, SF's radical left District Attorney, Chesa Boudin - the son of two murdering radical left-wing terrorists - tried to play tough on this case:

"Just yesterday one of my [assistant district attorneys] convinced a judge to detain that man in jail pending trial and we will not release him until we are confident he can safely be released," said San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
With Chesa having done such a sterling job to date of protecting the SF citizenship from scumballs, I'm sure we can all sleep more soundly in our beds.

I repeat my previous assertion. The Asian-American community are worried about one specific ethnic group commiting violence against them. It's not Caucasians. The fact that the local news are strenously avoiding providing any coverage of what's actually happening should not be surprising, but continues to be very depressing.


NHS Track+Trace - what went wrong

By now, you've presumably seen how Public Health England screwed up spectacularly in their testing-to-identification pipeline, such that they dropped thousands of cases - because they hit an internal row limit in Excel.


Still, how could anyone have predicted that Public Health England - who were founded in 2013 with responsibility for public health in England - could have screwed up so badly? Well, anyone with any experience of government IT in the past... 40 years, let's say. Or anyone who observed that the single most important job of a public health agency is to prepare for pandemics, which roll around every 10 years or so - remember SaRS 2003? H1N1? And that duty, as illustrated in their 2020 performance, is one that PHE could not have failed at any more badly if they'd put their best minds to it.

Simply, there's no incentive for them to be any good at what they do.

It's tempting to simply roll out the PHE leadership and have them hung from the nearest lamp post - or at least, claw back all they payments they received as a result of being associated with Public Health England. For reference, the latest page shows this list as:

  • Duncan Selbie
  • Prof Dr Julia Goodfellow
  • Sir Derek Myers
  • George Griffin
  • Sian Griffiths
  • Paul Cosford
  • Yvonne Doyle
  • Richard Gleave
  • Donald Shepherd
  • Rashmi Shukla
However, this misses the point; there's plenty more where they came from. Many of these people are actually smart, or at least cunning. None of them actively wanted tens of thousands of people in the UK to die, or the UK's coronavirus response to become an absolute laughing-stock. Yet, here we are.

When you set up a data processing pipeline like this, your working assumptions should be that:

  1. The data you ingest is often crap in accuracy, completeness and even syntax;
  2. At every stage of processing, you're going to lose some of it;
  3. Your computations are probably incorrect in several infrequent but crucial circumstances; and
  4. When you spit out your end result, the system you send it to will be frequently partially down, so drop or reject some or all of the (hopefully) valid data you're sending to it.
Given all these risks, one is tempted to give up managing data pipelines for a living and change to an easier mode of life such as a career civil servant in the Department for Education where nothing you do will have the slightest effect, yet you'll still get pay and pension. Still, there's a way forward for intrepid souls.

The insight you need is that you accept that your pipeline is going to be decrepit, leaky and contaminate your data. That's OK as long as you know when it's happening, and approximately how bad it is.

Let's look at the original problem. From the BBC article:

The issue was caused by the way the agency brought together logs produced by commercial firms paid to analyse swab tests of the public, to discover who has the virus. They filed their results in the form of text-based lists - known as CSV files - without issue.
We want to have a good estimate, for each agency, whether all the records have been received. Therefore we supplement the list of records with some of our own - which have characteristics which we expect to survive through processing. Assuming each record is a list of numerical values (say, number of virus particles per mL - IDK, I'm not a biologist) a simple way to do this is to make one or more fields in our artificial records have values that are 100x higher or lower than practically feasible. Then for a list of N records, you add one artifical record to the start, one at the end and one in the middle, so you ship N+3 records to central processing. For extra style, change the invalidity characteristic of each of these records - so e.g. you know that an excessively high viral load signals the start of a records list, and excessively low load signals the end.

The next stage:

PHE had set up an automatic process to pull this data together into Excel templates so that it could then be uploaded to a central system and made available to the NHS Test and Trace team, as well as other government computer dashboards.
First check: this is not a lot of data. Really, it isn't. Every record represents the test of a human, there's a very finite testing capacity (humans per day), and the amount of core data produced should easily fit in 1KB - 100 or more double-precision floating point numbers. It's not like they're uploading e.g. digital images of mammograms.

So the first step, if you're competent, is for Firm A to read-back the data from PHE:

  • Firm A has records R1 ... R10. It computes a checksum for each record - a number which is a "summary" of the record, rather like feeding the record through a sausage machine and taking a picture of the sausage it produces.
  • Firm A stores checksums C1, C2, ..., C10 corresponding to each record.
  • Firm A sends records R1, R2, ..., R10 to PHE, tagged with origin 'Firm A' and date '2020-10-06'
  • Firm A asks PHE to send it checksums of all records tagged 'Firm A', '2020-10-06'
  • PHE reads its internal records, identifies 10 records, sends checksums D1, D2, ... D10
  • Firm A checks that the number of checksums match, and each checksum is the same: if there's a discrepancy, it loudly flags this to a human.
This at least assures Firm A that its data has been received, is complete, and is safely stored.

If PHE wants to be really cunning then one time in 50 it will deliberately omit a checksum in its response, or change one bit of a checksum, and expect the firm to flag an error. If no error is raised, we know that Firm A isn't doing read-backs properly.

Now, PHE wants to aggregate its records. It has (say) 40 firms supplying data to it. So it does processing over all the records and for each record produces a result: one of "Y" (positive test), "N" (negative test), "E" (record invalid), "I" (record implausible). Because of our fake record injection, if 40 firms send 1000 records in total, we should expect zero "E" results, 120 "I" results, and the total of "Y" and "N" results should equal 880. If we calculate anything different, the system should complain loudly, and we send a human to figure out what went wrong.

The system isn't perfect - the aggregation function might accidentally skip 1 in 100 results, for instance, and through bad luck it might not skip an erroneous record. But it's still a good start.

I just pulled this process out of my posterior, and I guarantee it's more robust than what PHE had in place. So why are we paying the Test+Trace system £12 billion or more to implement a system that isn't even as good as a compsci grad would put in place in return for free home gigabit Ethernet, with an incentive scheme based around Xena tapes and Hot Pockets?

Nobody really cared if the system worked well. They just wanted to get it out of the door. No-one - at least, at the higher levels of project management - was going to be held accountable for even a failure such as this. "Lessons will be learned" platitudes will be trotted out, the company will find one or two individuals at the lower level and fire them for negligence, but any project manager not actually asleep on the job would have known this was coming. And they know it will happen again, and again, as long as the organisation implementing systems like this has no direct incentive for it to work. Indeed, the client (UK Government) probably didn't even define what "work" actually meant in terms of effective processing - and how they would measure it.


Black Lives Matter - CBS News edition

CBS News states that Police in the U.S. killed 164 Black people in the first 8 months of 2020. Helpfully, they provide a list of their names. Let's look at the circumstances of a random selection of ten names, shall we?

Had it coming

Dreasjon Reed
High speed chase, ran away, had gun in waistband, gun was discharged twice, police shot him after Taser didn't work.
Zyon Romeir Wyche
Actually seems to have killed himself, after firing rounds at officers after a traffic stop and running away
Dominique Atwon Anderson
Attacked his brother with a machete, charged a police officer, was shot.
Malcolm Xavier Ray Williams
Grabbed a gun and shot at an officer after a routine traffic stop with his heavily pregnant partner (the driver).
Lewis Ruffin, Jr
Didn't want to go back to jail after domestic violence and weapons charges; shot at deputies, who killed him

Accident / Medical issue

Tina Marie Davis
Officers attempted to detain Davis after responding to a call about a woman breaking car windows and found her chasing one of the 911 callers with a stick; officers tasered her, she subsequently died.
Devan Austin Twilley
Car chased by police after apparently forcing his way into a house and threatening the occupants, crashed fatally.

Apparent police misconduct

Breonna Taylor
(The famous no-knock shooting case). Maybe the police didn't violate the law, but something still really needs to change in these kind of heavily armed home entries.

Seems excessive but not unjustified

Tommie Gale McGlothen
Died apparently from stimulent use / severe mental health episode, but police should have checked on him when in patrol car after he'd been tasered and mace'd.
Maurice S Gordon
Mental health episode, struggled with officer and might have gone for his gun. Needed mental health help, but it wasn't recognized.


It would be nice if CBS News actually did some journalism to highlight the specific cases that indicate a need for changes in police behavior, rather than bulking out the list with a) people who clearly had it coming and b) essentially random deaths which nothing could really prevent other than not arresting anyone who did violent things.

But I guess they're too busy shilling...


Derek Chauvin did not murder George Floyd

How do I know that Minneapolis Derek Chauvin did not murder George Floyd? Don't trust me, trust Washington County prosecutor Imran Ali:

Mr Chauvin and his estranged wife, Kellie Chauvin, were each charged in Washington County on Wednesday with six counts of aiding and abetting filing false or fraudulent tax returns and three counts of aiding and abetting failing to file state tax returns.
They are accused of underreporting their joint income by $464,433 from 2014 to 2019. This includes money Mr Chauvin made doing off-duty security work and weekend shifts at a restaurant.
Let's see: over 5 years that's $90K per year underreported. Note that this is a state prosecution, not federal. For some reason the federal tax agency (IRS) is not - yet - prosecuting Mr. Chauvin and his wife, but the state feels lucky. Minnesota's state income tax peaks at 9.85% for filing jointly, so we're talking about just short of $9k per year, or $45K for the full 5 years. Federal tax rate is much higher, but presumably the IRS is very relaxed about leaving $150K of back tax on the table, they're famous for their generosity.

Digest this: the BBC is running an entire article about a Minnesota citizen being chased for $45K back taxes, plus interest. Why, exactly are they doing this?

Rampant speculation: this is part of the prosecution strategy for the murder of George Floyd. Chauvin's defense attorney has no doubt pointed out the serious problems with trying to prosecute second-degree murder and manslaughter. The prosecution can't spontaneously downgrade the charges without causing riots, so needs to come to an acceptably harsh plea bargain. What's their leverage? Now, it's potential prosecution of Chauvin and his wife for tax evasion. I have no idea if the evasion charges are justified, but it doesn't really matter. If Chauvin rolls over and agrees to a reasonably harsh charge, these tax evasion charges will be downgraded. If he holds out, they will be ramped up and the prosecution will possibly go after other members of his family or friends.

Of course I could be wrong, there may be an alternate explanation of why this is featured on the BBC. It would be nice to see some actual analysis by the BBC of stories like these, but they seem happy to uncritically report whatever their preferred client organisations tell them, rather than perform journalism.


God rest Lady Ghislane (in advance)

I sincerely hope that Ghislane Maxwell had the foresight to cash in all her investments and have a rollicking good time over the past year; vintage champagne, expensive escorts, finest Siberian caviar, etc. I don't think she will have to be concerned about her long-term asset performance. I give her a 30% chance of surviving to testify, and <5% chance of surviving 1 year in the general prison population - being seen as a pimp of young girls will not endear her to Big Bertha et al in Bedford Hills or a similar establishment - and I don't see a socialite doing well in protective solitary.

I'd have been more dismissive of the "Epstein didn't kill himself" conspiracy theorists had they not loudly and publicly predicted his "suicide" in advance. Hence, I think they start with the advantage with regard to predicting the future of the soon-to-be-late Ms Maxwell.


Master/slave terminology - bears repeating

Two years ago I made fun of the effort to remove the terms "master", "slave", "whitelist" and "blacklist" from tech vocabulary, and made the assertion:

I don't have any intrinsic objection to using alternative terminology for master/slave, or for blacklist/whitelist. But I've scrutinised the people calling for this change, and I'm going to keep using the original terminology because civilised people should not yield an inch to these totalitarian fuckers.
With the developments in crimethink in the past two months, I stand by this more strongly than ever.

Surviving Diversity Training

If you work in a bureaucratic or enterprise organisation, the inevitable result of 2020’s bout of intellectual masturbation on the topic of Black Lives Mattering is going to be more "training" based on the apparent need to increase diversity in your organisation at all costs. One is reminded of the remarks of the great American satirist Tom Lehrer in the intro to his song "It Makes a Fellow Proud to be a Soldier”:

“...one of the many fine things one has to admit is the way that the Army has carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion, in the sense that not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on the grounds of ability.”
How then can we unenlightened peons “ride the wave” of diversity training so as to achieve the maximum benefit? Allow your humble correspondent to guide you.

Assuming that you're taking an in-person or video-driven interactive training session, the first thing to understand are your own objectives:

  • Are you hoping to benefit from what’s being taught;
  • Are you looking for the minimum interaction and distraction for your life; or
  • do you resent the intrusion on your life and intend to resist actively?
All are valid choices, but make sure you pick one and plan for it. Are you aiming to avoid risk of being disciplined/fired? That's also an important factor to be aware of. If you're 63 and planning to retire soon, you might well not care at all, and in fact being fired could be a trigger for a lucrative constructive dismissal suit. If you've just accepted a job at another company which is not full of woke scolds, you can probably go to town. If you're 22 and just starting your career, your risk appetite is likely very small. Know before you go.

You also need to understand your “facilitator” (session leader), what they’re trying to achieve, and how they’re intending to do it. Unless they’ve just come down with the last shower, they will be mentally grouping their audience as above, and labelling each of you "learner", "holidaymaker" or "prisoner" - who says that stereotyping doesn't serve a purpose? Generally they try to focus on the first group and minimize contact with the others, but you might come across someone who is on an evangelical mission to convert everyone - in that case, holidaymakers and prisoners are no longer safe.

Course pre-reading and objectives

A tactic I've recently seen is to distribute “pre-reading” around the group. To make sure it gets done, they may also require everyone to prepare a small amount of pre-work based on the reading. This might be a form you have to submit before the course, or to assemble some written notes on your response to it, or to prepare a scenario for discussion in the group. (e.g. to answer: “what is a time that you felt uncomfortable in a racially charged situation? How did you respond? How did you think the other parties felt?”)

If your corporate training department is doing its job - and it’s quite possible that they aren't - the course description should come with some stated learning objectives. This will tell you a lot about what the course is trying to get you to do, and it will also clue you in to what evidence they might expect the course to produce. After all, the instructor can’t blithely claim "everyone is racism free now, that will be $5000 please!", or at least they shouldn't be able to. Therefore your company will be expecting objectives that are at least somewhat measurable, and expect to measure them.

The objectives will therefore tell you what the instructor wants you to be thinking or to have achieved by the end of the class, giving you a clear signpost to the topics under discussion. This can be a useful prompt to do pre-reading around the topics. For instance, if it requires "understanding the causes and result of implicit bias" then understanding the original study and the various debunkings can prepare you well for raising pointed questions.

Conducting yourself in session

If you intend to be a holiday maker, the worst thing to do is to make this apparent in the first ten minutes of class. Turn up a bit early, be chatty with the facilitator and others, take active part in the icebreaker activity (there's almost always an icebreaker). That should buy you some initial credit with the instructor, even though you disengage for the rest of the session. I'd also recommend doing the same burst of activity when you come back from each break. That way the instructor starts to get the impression that he or she is boring you, despite your best efforts to be attentive. Or possibly that you're snorting cocaine in the bathroom in the breaks, which I cannot endorse.

If you're a "prisoner" looking to tunnel out, I'd actually recommend a similar approach. At the very least, you don't want to look hostile in the first ten minutes. (And you shouldn't be hostile then anyway, because even the most painfully right-on diversity trainer deserves a chance to show that they're trying to make this session useful and interesting.) However, it's fine to develop a more quizzical look and increasingly more defensive body language over time. Evolve from an occasional raised eyebrow to stroking/holding your chin (showing disagreement with what the facilitator is saying), to crossed arms, to switching between crossed arms and crossed legs, depending on how obvious you want disagreement to be. This raises an implicit challenge to the facilitator, and whether they take you up on it can indicate their level of confidence in their content.

These events are normally "laptops down, phones down" so that everyone is "present". However taking a notebook and pen won't raise any eyebrows, and these can be useful tools. Whenever the facilitator says something weird or objectionable, you can take a direct note. This can be great material for feedback (see later). At worst, you can draft a love letter to your garage mechanic - no-one's going to ask to see your notes, and if they do then you can indignantly refuse. Make sure it's your own pen and own notebook.

Video sessions come with their own opportunities and challenges. For holidaymakers, feigning attention on video is a whole topic in itself, but you want to watch out for the facilitator calling on you for a response when you have no idea what they just said. Normally they require everyone to have video on and be on mute by default, which buys you a few seconds to "fumble" for un-mute. I recommend using an external, wired mike (e.g. on headphones), and so if you're stuck then gently move the plug out and in while you're talking to fake a dodgy connection. Practice makes perfect! Remember to temporarily stop using that mike and move to just using the laptop mike - it's then fine to "reset" your machine at the next break and report things "working" again.

I also recommend setting up poor lighting conditions in your room; either a strong light source causing glare (sun through a window), or curtains drawn to "remove the glare" but leaving a dark, grainy picture. Touching an unwashed thumb on the camera lens can help too - be sure to clean it after the session! For dark rooms, remember that glasses can reflect the colours of your screen so check before the meeting to see if they give anything away.

Group and pair exercises

Ideally, have a good friend in the same session who has similar views on these mandatory training events, and pair off with them for exercises if you get the chance. However, experienced facilitators will make people rotate round groups, so you've got to plan on group exercises with one or more "committed" learners. In my experience the best way to handle this is to realise that people love to talk about themselves - and the self-righteous adore it. So lead them into talking about their experiences, ask "concerned" and "interested" open questions such as "how did that change how you thought about...", and let them run out the clock for you.

You're going to need to have one or two experiences to talk about, if you don't have an obvious topic then I recommend something like:

  • the time you were the only white person / male / non-tranvestite in a place and had an epiphany "this must be what it's like to be black / female / a cross dresser all the time!"; or
  • childhood experience being once-off mean to someone black / female / cross-dressing which you only ten years later realising how that affected their relationships in school and oppressed them; or
  • if you're got military experience, something on perception of veterans - veteran status is protected in the USA, and companies often have diversity outreach efforts focused on veteran hiring not least because they work hard and are good at execution and leadership but strangely diversity courses seldom talk much about this.

Stirring the pot

If you've got a best friend / partner / family member in a "protected" category, and frowns on "diversity" training, don't be afraid to cite them. "My mate is black and he says it's daft to focus on deaths caused by police as long as we're all shooting each other all the time" - as long as he'll back you up on that, you can probably get away with it. It will derail the hell out of the conversation, so make sure you're comfortable with raised emotions if you're going to try this.

The Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) label is itself ripe for manipulation. You could refer to it as Diversity, Inclusion and Equity (DIE); or perhaps Inclusion, Equity and Diversion (IED), making sure to use the appropriate abbreviation. Every firm should have a constructive IED program, after all!

Agreeing with "Black Lives Matter" and raising the game by suggesting "Unborn black lives matter too!" addressing the 35% abortion percentage in the black community is probably only viable if you don't mind a meeting-without-coffee with your boss and HR afterwards. Mind you, if you're a well-established Christian (or Muslim!) you might be able to get away with it.

If they do mention deaths-at-the-hand-of-police, you can refer to my previous analysis of the 2015 black unarmed fatalities in the USA. Short version: if you're not armed, and don't actively try to attack a police officer, you're actually remarkably safe even if you're black.

Raising the well-documented differences between genders is only for the suicidally determined. The facts might be with you, but you can expect prompt personal attacks on you during and after the course.

Constructive feedback

There is almost inevitably a post-course survey. The temptation is to blow this off with the minimum of effort, but If you actually want to effect changes then this is one of the best bang-for-your-buck places to make effort.

In terms of scoring, try not to be too much of an outlier. Score the content and the facilitator honestly and separately if you can. You can have the world's best facilitator, but if they're stuck with bad or dishonest material then there's only so much they can do. Highlight how the course has failed to help you meet the objectives or failed to be convinced about the assertions.

Where possible, make recommendations for "improving" the exercises. Say that there needs to be more time / quicker switching around / better briefing / more guidance on picking the right focus topic / content that you can better relate to. Again, you want to show helpfulness so they don't dismiss your scores and feedback as "grumpy prisoner".

If the facilitator or someone in the class has said something actually offensive, don't hold back from flagging it - I'd suggest without naming the person, at least initially. Make sure you wrote it down verbatim at the time in your notes, with the point in the session marked, so you can point to your notes as evidence.

Next steps

With luck, that will be it for the next year or so. No matter how woke the company, diversity training is expensive in terms of lost productivity, so they're unlike to repeat it unless they feel they have to. Sit back and enjoy 364 days of just treating people like people without fear or favour no matter what their skin colour, gender, age, or religion.


Auditing mappingpoliceviolence.org, part 2

Following on from my previous post about 2015 police killings of unarmed black people, here's a breakdown of the reasons behind cases 27-52 listed by mappingpoliceviolence.org (MPV).

I've not detailed Samuel Dubose, since there was prosecution of the police officer who killed him (although they gave up after 2 mistrials)

Police did something significantly wrong

  1. Kris Jackson (Lake Tahoe, CA): Apprehended by a police officer climbing out of a motel the officer claimed he recognised Jackson as a gang member and thought he might have a gun. Jackson was trying to avoid arrest as he was on probation for selling drugs, but it's not at all clear to me that the officer had any real grounds for opening fire.

Victim shooting seemed justified

  1. James Carney III (Cincinnati, OH): Carney was assaulting a woman in a car at an ATM, beating her with apparent intention of robbing her. Police had to Taser him twice - with him still leaning into the car - first time had no effect: he became unconscious and died. One assumes he had some underlying health issue, but police reaction seems very proportionate and justified.
  2. Asshams Manley (Spaulding, MD): crashed a car while apparently under the influence of narcotics, ran from the scene. Fought with an officer when caught, apparently went for the officer's gun, was shot once, continued to fight, was tasered, and expired shortly afterwards.
  3. Brian Day (Las Vegas, NV): I couldn't find any links for this one (I wonder if the name is correct), but the description from the MPV page indicates the shooting was reasonable: "After speaking to police who were investigating a beating of one of his neighbors, police claim Day went into his apartment and returned with a toy gun. Two officers shot and fatally wounded him after he attempted to 'shoot' them with the toy gun."
  4. Salvado Ellswood (Plantation, FL): Homeless man with a history of violence who refused to move when a police officer found him trespassing, became aggressive and struck the office, shrugged off a Taser and then was fatally shot.
  5. George Mann (Stonewall, GA): Mann became aggressive and locked himself in a home's garage. Police tried to negotiate with him and used a Taser. Mann became unresponsive and died. Tasering seemed like a reasonable response to this, but presumably Mann had an underlying condition that Tasering made fatal.
  6. Freddie Blue (Covington, GA): Blue was one of four men stopped in a car by police. One of the men pointed a handgun at the police, who returned fire. Blue was killed, and one other man injured.
  7. Victo Larosa (Jacksonville, FL): Caught dealing in an undercover drug sting, Larosa fled in his car pursued by officers. After hitting 5 vehicles his stolen car was trapped so he ran, pursued by officers. He fell, twisted towards officers and put his hand in his waistband. Reasonably fearing Larosa had a weapon there, the officer shot him.
  8. Spencer McCain (Ownings Mills, MD): After a long history of domestic violence calls, police were called again to McCain's house where he had (again) repeatedly beaten his partner. Police heard screaming, forced their way in, and found McCain "making body movements and arm movements that placed the officers in fear of serious injury or death from a weapon that they feared he possessed and would engage them with". This is a bit weak, but McCain did have a previous handgun conviction so it wasn't off the wall to assume he was armed. He was shot to death by all three officers.
  9. Kevin Bajoie (Baton Rouge, LA): Police responded to reports of a fight, found Bajoie lying on his back when he suddenly jumped up and attacked one officer. Police had to Taser him repeatedly to stop. He collapsed and later died, probably due in part to the methamphetamine, amphetamine and synthetic marijuana in his system.

Clearly an accident

  1. Felix Kumi (New York, NY): hit by a stray bullet in an otherwise justified self defence shooting by an undercover cop. The city rightly paid $1.1M in compensation, which seemed a bit low to me but in the ruthless calculus of compensation Felix was 61 years old so had limited future earnings.
  2. Billy Ray Davis (Houston, TX): Arrested after behaving erratically and clearly being in severe mental distress, Davis repeatedly fought with officers even when handcuffed. He suddenly collapsed and was taken to hospital but died. Death probably related to hypertension. No suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the officers.
  3. Jonathan Sanders (Stonewall, MS): Stopped while exercising his horses, there was an argument between Sanders and the police officer which escalated to a fight. The officer applied a in-policy choke hold, but this combined with Sanders' situation of acute cocaine toxicity to cause fatal asphyxia.
  4. Zamiel Crawford (McAllah, AL): Led police on a high speed chase after suspicion of robbery. His SUV eventually spun out and slammed into a wall. Police took him to the hospital but he later died.
  5. Jermaine Benjamin (Vero Beach, FL): Arrested after being high on something called "Flakka", causing him to be disoriented, aggressive and combative. Police arrested and handcuffed him, but he quickly collapsed and died despite being given CPR. He had known heart problems, which couldn't have helped matters.
  6. Kevin Higgenbotham (Trenton, NY): Arrested after he called police who arrived to find him fighting with a neighbour. They had to pepper-spray him before arresting him, but he went into cardiac arrest after transportation to a hospital, and died after being in a coma. There was also concern that he was improperly restrained in hospital though strictly speaking that's not a police issue.
  7. Ross Anthony (Dallas, TX): Tased by police after acting erratically by running into traffic and banging the windows of nearby businesses, Anthony was cuffed and arrested, but showed signs of medical distress and was taken to hospital where he died.
  8. Richard Gregory Davis (Rochester, NY): After driving erratically and crashing his pickup - twice, Davis got out of his vehicle at police urging but then charged the police and was tased. He received medical attention at scene but was pronounced dead at hospital. There were a large number of contributing factors to the death according to the autopsy report.
  9. Curtin Jordan (Huntsville, AL): Police arrested Jordan at his house after being called out by his wife as he was acting irrationally and threatening people. He threw coals in an arresting officer's face. They handcuffed him, but he had a medical issue and was transported to hospital where he died a few days later.

I dunno

  1. Darrius Stewart (Memphis, TN): After being detained but not arrested for a broken headlight, Stewart's name came up as having outstanding warrants. When the officer went to arrest him there was a struggle, video evidence showing Stewart as getting the upper hand with the officer, and the officer shot Stewart twice. A federal review found that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, though Stewart's family have filed a couple of lawsuits, one of which is still open.
  2. Albert Davis (Orlando, FL): After a fight at a pool party, police were called to the apartment complex. An officer tried to talk to Davis and a fight broke out; the officer used Taser and then shot Davis. I can't find any information on any subsequent investigation.

Something needs to be done

  1. Christian Taylor (Arlington, TX): Loaded with marijuana and LSD, Taylor was apprehended by a sole rookie police officer in a car dealership where he was wrecking the cars. Other police officers were waiting outside but the rookie went in, there was a confrontation, and he shot Taylor as Taylor approached him. The shooting itself is somewhat understandable, but the officer should not have gone in alone, and was later fired; the family was paid $850,000 in a wrongful death lawsuit.
  2. Troy Robinson (Decatur, GA): Robinson was a passenger in a car that police tried to stop for a license tag violation. After a chase, the car stopped and the occupants ran. Robinson was tasered while climbing an 8 foot wall, fell and broke his neck. You can argue that he shouldn't have run, all else being equal, but tasering someone climbing a wall (and running away) was rather reckless and against police department guidelines.
  3. Michael Sabbie (Texarkana, TX): Died in jail after being restrained by officers. Had a number of health conditions known by the jail when he was admitted. The restraint situation may have been reasonable, the lack of health monitoring and follow-up checking was clearly not. A federal lawsuit was settled in favour of Sabbie's family, correctly.
  4. Sandra Bland (Waller, TX): Committed suicide in jail after being arrested for a very minor driving offence that apparently escalated way past what it should have due to the police officer's aggression. While Bland chose to take her own life, it can't be ignored that she wouldn't have been put in that situation if the police officer had been more reasonable.


Of these 26 cases we have:

  • 9 where the shooting was justified,
  • 9 accidents,
  • 4 where there seems to be a need for improvements even if the police officers weren't strictly at fault,
  • 1 where police were at fault and charged, and 1 more where they seem clearly at fault,
  • 2 where I have no idea due to lack of information.
So that's 6 police-at-fault cases out of the 24 where we have enough data to make an evaluation. The accident-vs-justified balance is a bit different to the first 26 cases we looked at, but it's still consistent with our initial findings. We're on track to have only 25% of the cited 104 cases from 2015 actually being the fault of police.

Taser does seem to be a recurring theme in the accidents - it's a lot safer for everyone than gunplay, but it's certainly not perfectly safe. For the cases needing improvement, again we have a clear need for police officer training in de-escalation - and monitoring of prisoners' health in jail post-arrest.


Auditing mappingpoliceviolence.org

I recently encountered the site mappingpoliceviolence.org which contends that the US police are out of control and desperately need to be reined in, I thought I'd take a look at the data that their data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe and general spokesperson DeRay McKesson present as evidence of these assertions. The site's data is used as one of the main arguments of campaigns such as Campaign Zero which tries to drum up membership and money for anti-police causes in the light of George Floyd's death.

"Mapping Police Violence" (hereafter referred to as "MPV") asserts that unarmed black people are killed by police much more often that their demographics would suggest, that police are seldom held accountable for this, and that this is therefore a clear signal that the US police are racist. Handily they list *all* the victims for 2014 and 2015, with a brief summary of what happened in each case. So I thought I'd look through the list for 2015 to see whether the facts on the ground correspond with their interpretation.

MPV lists 104 fatalities of unarmed black people, 13 of which ended with police officers being charged with a crime. Let's take the first 26 listed (25%), and see what happened in the other cases - did a guilty police officer escape scot free? From these 26 I'm excluding the cases of Tiara Thomas and Paterson Brown where the officers were actually charged and therefore we can safely say something needs to change.

Police did something significantly wrong

  1. Michael Lee Marshall (Denver, CO): In custody with significant mental health problems, restrained by officers in the jail and subsequently choked on his vomit. Denver paid the family $4.65M. Officers involved received a short suspension. They clearly weren't intending to cause him harm, but it seems clear that they were either badly trained or negligent in what they did.
  2. Christopher Kimble (East Cleveland, OH): At first I'd categorized this as "accident", but on reflection I moved it. Kimble was knocked down and killed on a crosswalk by a police cruiser responding to a call. The crosswalk and street lights weren't working. That said, the police cruiser had one headlight non-functional and it was driving about 40mph in a 25 zone without sirens or flashing lights. If you're driving a police car then you're responsible for ensuring its road worthiness, and if you're operating outside normal driving restrictions then you're responsible for doing so safely. There was a civil suit against the city, and to my mind the family should win it.

Victim shooting seemed justified

  1. Keith Childress (Las Vegas, NV): Violent crime history, advanced towards police with what looked like a weapon despite being repeatedly told to stop.
  2. Kevin Matthews (Dearborn, MI): Apprehended after committing a theft, shot while trying to reach an officer's gun during a struggle.
  3. Leroy Browning (Palmdale, CA): Arrested for drink driving, starting struggling while being handcuffed and made a grab for officer's gun belt. In hindsight it wasn't clear from evidence that he'd actually managed to touch the gun but it was reasonable for the officers to fire in self defence as he was "poised to gain" control of the firearm.
  4. Miguel Espinal (Yonkers, NY): After a reckless car chase escaping from being pulled over by police for tinted windows, ran into woods where an officer caught him and they struggled, Espinal tried to get officer's gun and the officer shot him in self defence. Struggle wasn't witnessed but forensic evidence strongly supported the officer's version of events.
  5. Cornelius Brown (Opa-Locka, FL): Schizophrenic, attacked a police car and smashed its windows. Officers tasered twice without effect; when he advanced on them with a stick they opened fire.
  6. Richard Perkins (Oakland, CA): Drugged up on meth and morphine, Perkins approached officers while brandishing a gun that turned out to be an Airsoft replica.
  7. Anthony Ashford (San Diego, CA): After being apprehended "casing" cars in a car park, Ashford grabbed the police officer's taser and tasered him in the neck, tried to get the officer's gun. The officer shot him in self defence.
  8. Dominic Hutchinson (Riverside, CA): Repeatedly declared he had a gun, then ran at the officers carrying some binoculars he'd broken up to look like a gun. "Quintessential suicide by cop" said the police chief, and I'd have to agree
  9. Lamontez Jones (San Diego, CA): When stopped by police for disrupting traffic, Jones pulled out a replica gun and pointed it at the officers. Unable to see that it was a replica, they shot him. There is public video evidence of what happened. The family filed a wrongful death claim against the city but I didn't find any evidence that it went anywhere.
  10. Junior Prosper (Miami, FL): After crashing his taxicab into a stop sign, and apparently intoxicated, Prosper walked away from the scene of the accident. A police officer caught up with him, a fight started and the officer fired his Taser. They went down an embankment into trees, the officer pursued and caught Prosper, struggled again, Prosper bit hard on and worried at the officer's finger, and the officer shot him. The District Court agreed with the officer that it was a reasonable reaction in self defence.
  11. Keith McLeod (Reisterstown, MD): After being chased for trying to buy narcotic cough syrup with a fake prescription, McLeod went for the back of his waistband and pretended to pull out a gun. Although he didn't actually have one, the officer feared for his life and opened fire as McLeod's hand started to move back.
  12. Lavante Biggs (Durham, NC): Suicidal, after prolonged negotiations in a stand-off, Biggs walked towards police officers and produced a gun. He put it down and picked it up a few times, hence the "without a weapon" category, but was always close enough to grab and fire it. I don't see that the officers had any real choice but to shoot.

Clearly an accident

  1. Bettie Jones (Chicago, IL): stray bullet in an otherwise justified shooting. Police officer was nevertheless subsequently fired.
  2. Roy Nelson (Hayward, CA): Voluntarily transported with police for mental health issues, started to struggle. Police applied a body restraint harness as he was a big guy, but that impaired his breathing when coupled with his meth intoxication. He stopped breathing in the car and died. City paid $1M compensation.
  3. Alonzo Smith (Washington DC): Arrested by special police officers after running around shirtless and screaming, Smith was arrested and handcuffed but died of cardiac arrest due to high level cocaine intoxication.
  4. India Kager (Virginia Beach, VA): Travelling in the same car as her child and the father of her child, Angelo Perry. Perry was a known violent criminal, suspected of being about to murder someone. When police stopped the car, Perry opened fire on officers, who shot back. Both Perry and Kager were killed. The 4 year old child was unharmed. A jury awarded Kager's family $800,000; police were clearly not intending to kill her, but returning fire was inevitable once Perry started shooting.
  5. Tyree Crawford (Newark, NJ): Passenger in a stolen car. Police pursued the vehicle. When it stopped, Crawford bailed out and was hit by a police vehicle. Obviously an accident, caused by a poor life choice of getting involved in car theft.

Something needs to be done

  1. Michael Noel (St Martin, LA): Schizophrenic whom police tried to take into protective custody at his home, went off the rails and attacked officers , shrugging off two taserings and striking an officer. The officer shot in self defence. It seems to me that better training in de-escalation for mental health crises could have stopped the situation escalating to this point.
  2. Nathaniel Pickett (Barstow, CA): Stopped by a deputy after trespassing, Pickett tried to escape. The deputy caught him and there was a struggle. The DA's office found the shooting justified but a federal jury disagreed and awarded the family $33M in compensation.
  3. Jamar Clark (Minneapolis, MN): Got into a struggle with two police officers outside a building, police officers claimed he tried to get one of their guns, and shot him in self defence. The available evidence and many witnesses didn't provide a clear picture of what happened, but did not indicate any improper behavior on behalf of the police officers. The city later settled with Clark's family for $200,000.

Not relevant to police

  1. RayShaun Cole (Chula Vista, CA): This is an odd one to be included, and very sad. Cole was shot dead by his Customs and Border Patrol girlfriend in a domestic incident; 3 months later she died in a road accident that has a strong whiff of suicide. This had nothing to do with the police, really.
  2. Wayne Wheeler (Lathrop, MI): Again, shouldn't really be in the list: a neighborhood dispute that ended in punching and Wheeler being fatally struck in the head. The neighbor who struck him was an off-duty cop, and Wheeler apparently attacked the man when he was in his own yard. Nothing to do with police practice or procedure.


Of the 24 cases actually relevant to the police force we have:

  • 12 where the shooting was justified,
  • 5 accidents,
  • 3 where there seems to be a need for improvements even if the police officers weren't strictly at fault,
  • 2 where police were at fault and charged, and 2 more where they seem clearly at fault.
So that's 7 out of 24 where police could reasonably be said to be at fault. If we extrapolate that to the list of 104 (and similarly assume 8 of those 104 cases are not relevant to the police force itself), that would be a total of 28 unarmed black people left to die at the hands of police in 2015.

Now that's still needless 28 deaths too many, but out of about 42 million black members of the US population, it's literally less than one in a million. Looking at 2015 black homicide data, 6,152 victims were male, and 862 victims were female. The black homicide rate is nearly twice the white homicide rate. By all means let's push police-caused deaths down, but there seem to be other, more significant areas that Black Lives Matter could focus on. Incidentally, there were 121 justifiable homicides of black victims by law enforcement.

Similarly, 20 unarmed black people killed by accident by police is tragic, but it's not obvious what the police could do to reduce that in many cases. Note that two of the 5 accidents analysed above were caused by consumption of illegal drugs, and two others by the victim hanging around known miscreants.

You'll also note that only 3 of the cases featured women. 2 of the women were killed accidentally, the other was killed by her police officer boyfriend. For some reason it seems to be that black men interact negatively with the police a heck of a lot more than women. I wonder if the same is true for black men vs white men, and if so why?

Update: analysis of the next chunk of the list in Part 2


Chinese lives matter

This is not about what you might think it's about. Hong Kong, and indeed the PRC, do not feature.

Yik Oi Huang

Let me tell you about Yik Oi Huang. A grandmother, she was 88 years old on Tuesday 8th January 2019. Early that morning she left her house in Visitacion Avenue, San Francisco, and went for her morning walk - a staple activity of Chinese senior citizens which we could usefully imitate. It would be the last time she walked anywhere.

In the park someone attacked her, beat her brutally, and left her for dead before apparently entering her home and then fleeing the area. She was hospitalized with head injuries, a broken spine, hand and ribs. Allow me to repeat: she was 88 years old. Any level of violence towards someone that old would be shocking, but the injuries inflicted on this old lady went several steps beyond that term.

SFPD arrested a suspect 11 days later. He was 18 years old, and black. The suspected motive was robbery. At this point he is still awaiting trial, though I would imagine that he stands a very good chance of his charges being upgraded to murder.

Yik Oi Huang did not die immediately. She suffered in hospital for the next 360 days before finally - mercifully - passing away on 3rd January this year.

You remember the protests filling the streets of San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and other places with large Chinese communities? You remember Chinese youths breaking shop windows and setting light to businesses across San Francisco? No, of course you don't - it never happened. This event barely registered outside San Francisco. Try searching "Yik Oi Huang site:cnn.com" on Google. Now try doing the same with "Michael Brown site:cnn.com", "George Floyd site:cnn.com" by contrast - hundreds of thousands of results.

Shuo Zeng

Shuo Zeng was 34 years old on New Years Eve 2019, but would not live to see 2020. With friends at the Starbucks in Montclair District, Oakland to celebrate the New Year and his birthday. He was a research scientist at Aspera, having graduated from Kansas State.

Oakland is notorious for laptop thefts, and today would see another one. Shuo Zeng had his laptop with him, not unusual behaviour for a techie. A teenager ran in to the Starbucks and grabbed the laptop, ducked out through the door being held by an accomplice, and jumped into a car driven by a third man.

Unwilling to lose his laptop, Shuo Zeng bravely - but unwisely - pursued them. He reached them as they got into the car. The car took off and Shuo Zeng was knocked against a parked car. He suffered head injuries and died in hospital.

The police found the suspects and charged them all with special circumstance murder and second-degree robbery. All three men were black, at least two of them from San Francisco.

CNN at least have one article about Shuo Zeng on their site. They do not, of course, mention the race of his assailants. One wonders if they would have done the same had he been black and his assailants white.

Wenjian Liu and the Can Man

There have been other, more famous incidents. Wenjian Liu was one of the two NYPD officers executed by Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley on December 20 2014. An elderly Chinese man collecting cans in San Francisco was abused by two black men in a video that went viral in February this year. Chinese residents in areas with a significant black presence know who they need to be wary about, and it's not the police.

My point

Over 99% of the US population, myself included, felt that the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May was appalling, and that the action taken against the officers involved was entirely justified. Police brutality is unfortunately not that rare in the USA. However, I'm baffled as to why anyone thinks there's an obvious racial component to this. Floyd was nicked for passing a counterfeit bill - the actions of the arrest seem heavy-handed, but not the arrest itself. Do they claim that the officers were particularly brutal because he was black? Where's the evidence?

It is instructive to compare the criminally negligent behaviour of Derek Chauvin holding Floyd's head down for far too long, with the criminally negligent behaviour of Shuo Zeng's laptop thieves in driving away with no regard for his safety. In neither case did there seem to be intent to kill, but both cases resulted in death. Chauvin had country-wide protests screaming for accountability - which they already had in part, since he had been fired from the force and charged with murder-3 in record time. Shuo Zeng had a quietly grieving family and local community, but that was it. No protests, no riots. Barely a headline.

The black community might claim - unjustifiably, in my view - that Black Lives don't matter enough to the USA in general. But it seems to me that there's a stronger case that Chinese Lives don't matter as much as Black Lives do.


The Rule of Dogs - riot edition

I believe it was traveller and raconteur P J O'Rourke who commented (in the 80s) that revolutions were only generally successful when they attracted the beautiful people. When you look at a parade of protesters and see tall handsome men, gorgeous women, and cute chicks, you know that they've got a good chance of succeeding in their aims.

Watching the "protesters" in Brooklyn this afternoon, that rule still appears to hold. The "ladies" in the crowd agitating were a revolting mix of harridans, seriously overweight semi-male lesbians, terrifying poor transvestites, and even the younger elements had faces which would make even the horniest Alsatian hound think "nah, I'll have to wait until it's a lot darker". Their time has clearly not yet come.

March peacefully against excessive police violence to people of all colours and creeds? My Pre-Raphaelite face will be right there with you. Looting Foot Locker and throwing bottles at police? You're on your own, sunshine. Enjoy The Tombs.


Testing for determinism

Apropos of nothing[1], here's a view on testing a complicated system for deterministic behaviour. The late, great John Conway proposed the rules for "Game of Life", an environment on an arbitrary-sized "chess board" where each square could be either alive or dead, and potentially change at every "tick" of a clock according to the following rules.

  1. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours survives.
  2. Any dead cell with three live neighbours becomes a live cell.
  3. All other live cells die in the next generation. Similarly, all other dead cells stay dead.
You'd think that this would be a very boring game, given such simple rules - but it in fact generates some very interesting behaviour. You find eternally iterating structures ("oscillators"), evolving structures that travel steadily across the board ("spaceships"), and even "glider guns" that fire a repeated sequence of spaceships.

Building a simulation of Conway's Game of Life is something of a rite of passage for programmers - doing it in a coding language new to the programmer generally shows that they have figured out the language enough to do interesting things. But how do they know that they have got it right? This is where "unit testing" comes into play.

Unit testing is a practice where you take one function F in your code, figure out what it should be doing, and write a test function that repeatedly calls F with specific inputs, and checks in each case that the output is what's expected. Simple, no? If F computes multiplication, you check that F(4,5)=20, F(0,10)=0, F(45,1)=45 etc.

Here's a unit test script. It's written in Go, for nerds, [2] but should be understandable based on function names to most people with some exposure to programming. First, you need to check the function that you've written to see whether two Life boards are equivalent, so you create empty 4x4, 4x5, 5x4 boards and see if your comparison function thinks they're the same.
(In Go, read "!" as "not", and "//" marks a comment which the computer will ignore but programmers can, and should, read)

  b1 := life.NewBoard(4,4)
  b2 := life.NewBoard(4,4)
  // These should be equivalent
  if ! life.AreEqual(b1,b2) {
     t.Error("blank 4x4 boards aren't the same")
  b3 := life.NewBoard(5,4)
  b4 := life.NewBoard(4,5)
  if life.AreEqual(b1,b3) {
    t.Error("different size boards are the same")
That's easy, but you also need to check that adding a live cell to a board makes it materially different:
  // Add in a block to b1 and compare with b2
  if life.AreEqual(b1,b2) {
    t.Error("one board has a block, blank board is equivalent")
  // Add the same block to b2 in same place, they should be equal
  if ! life.AreEqual(b1,b2) {
    t.Error("2 boards, same block, unequal")
This is helpful, but we still don't know whether that "block" (live cell) was added in the right place. What if a new block is always added at (2,3) rather than the coordinates specified? Our test above would still pass. How do we check for this failure case?

One of the spaceships in Life, termed a glider, exists in a 3x3 grid and moves (in this case) one row down and one column across every 4 generations. Because we understand this fundamental but fairly complex behaviour, we can build a more complicated test. Set up a 5x5 board, create a glider, and see if

  1. the board is different from its start state at time T+1;
  2. the board does not return to its start state at time T+2 through T+19; and
  3. the board does return to its start start at time T+20.
Code to do this:
  b5 := life.NewBoard(5,5)
  life.AddGlider(0, 0, b5, life.DownRight)
  b6 := life.CopyBoard(b5)
  if ! life.AreEqual(b5,b6) {
    t.Error("Copied boards aren't the same")
  // A glider takes 4 cycles to move 1 block down and 1 block across.
  // On a 5x5 board, it will take 5 x 4 cycles to completely cycle
  for i := 0 ; i< 19 ; i++ {
    if life.AreEqual(b5,b6) {
      t.Error(fmt.Sprintf("Glider cycle %d has looped, should not", i))
  if ! life.AreEqual(b5,b6) {
    t.Error("Glider on 5x5 board did not cycle with period 20")
Now, even if you assume AreEqual(), NewBoard(), CopyBoard() work fine, you could certainly construct functions AddGlider(), Cycle() which pass this test. However you'd have to try pretty hard to get them right enough to pass, but still wrong. This is the essence of unit testing - you make it progressively harder, though not impossible, for a function to do the wrong thing. One plausible failure scenario is to make the adjacent-cells locator in Cycle() incorrect such that the glider goes up-and-across rather than down-and-across. To fix that, you could add some code to turn-on a critical cell at (say) time 8, such that that cell would be live in the expected motion, so no effect, but empty in the other motion.

Clearly, for unit testing to work, you want a unit tester who is at least as ingenious (and motivated) as the coder. In most cases, the coder is the unit tester, so "soft" unit tests are unfortunately common - still, at least they're a basis to argue that the code meets some kind of spec. And if the client isn't happy with the tests, they're free to add their own.

Why am I so mad at Neil Ferguson? He's free to make whatever epidemiological assumptions that he wants, but he usurped the "authority" of computer modelling to assert that his model should be trusted, without actually undertaking the necessary and fundamental computer science practices - not least, unit testing.

[1] Lies: Neil Ferguson, take note
[2] Object-oriented model avoided for clarity to readers


Harmeet Dhillon picked a winner

I enjoyed reading a Gizmodo article today. (This is not a common occurrence). The article itself was a mostly-triumphant comment on James "neurotic women" Damore closing his lawsuit against The Google:

Damore proceeded to sue Google for discrimination in January 2018. Per Bloomberg, three other men who worked for or applied for jobs at Alphabet, Google’s parent company, also signed on to Damore's lawsuit. In the lawsuit, Damore's lawyers argued that he and others "were ostracized, belittled, and punished for their heterodox political views, and for the added sin of their birth circumstances of being Caucasians and/or males."
I read the internal blog posts in the initial complaint, and to be honest it looked pretty problematic for Google. So why close the lawsuit now?

Aha! a clue in a the Bloomberg article on the suit conclusion:

A lawyer for the men, Harmeet Dhillon, said they're prohibited as part of their agreement with Google from saying anything beyond what's in Thursday’s court filing. Google declined to comment.
It's pretty clear, isn't it? Google settled. They looked at what would plausibly come out of discovery, and - even if they were pretty confident in a Silicon Valley jury taking the socially woke side of the case - didn't like how a court case would play out in public. This is a guess on my part, to be clear, but a fairly confident guess. How much would a company pay for positive nationwide publicity? You can treble that for them to avoid negative nationwide publicity.

Damore probably got fairly close to a sensible loss-of-earnings amount. Harmeet Dhillon, his lawyer probably got 30%-40% of that; maybe on the lower end because the publicity was worth beaucoup $$ to her.

When your ess-jay-double-yuh's
Cost you many dollars,
That's Damore!

When their memes and blog post
Enrich lawyers the most
That's Damore!

Called it - EU Big Data has no Value

Back in 2014 I said re the EU Big Data project:

The EU is about to hand a couple billion euros to favoured European companies and university research departments, and it's going to get nine tenths of squat all out of it. Mark my words, and check back in 2020 to see what this project has produced to benefit anyone other than its participants.
Well, this is 2020 - what happened?

Here's the bigdatavalue.eu blog - the most recent article?

Posted on February 18, 2019 by admin
Previous post:
Posted on September 4, 2018 by admin
I guess nothing actually happened then. But hey, it's only €500M....

Per the original article:

The project, which will start work on 1 January 2015, will examine climate information, satellite imagery, digital pictures and videos, transaction records and GPS signals. It will also look at data privacy issues, access rights to data and databases, intellectual property rights and legal aspects of new technical developments such as who holds the rights to automatically generated data.
"Look at", but apparently didn't actually "do" anything...

It's a human tragedy that the UK won't be involved post-Brexit in such innovative projects such as this.


Women in charge equals... piss-poor arguments

I'd like to draw attention to an inspiring call to action[1] from NZ's minister for women, Julie Anne Genter:

On International Women’s Day, let’s commit to properly compensating women for the unpaid and underpaid work they have always done
A wonderful sentiment! Let's analyse the arguments she presents. Oh wait, it's the Guardian - we're limited to analysing randomised woke bloviating, but let's try to treat it as a principled argument.

What's the top wrongness that we're trying to right?

The world would stop running were it not for the unpaid and underpaid work undertaken by women.
Also true for men. What's your point?
It is tempting to think that women being paid fairly is down to individual choices each person makes. That women just need to apply for different jobs, negotiate for higher salaries, or put themselves forward more.
Yes, indeed. For some reason, trash-collection jobs (early morning, physical exertion, people getting irate if not done properly) are paid higher than hiring diversity managers (10am-4pm flexible hours, hard to measure output, no-one really cares if you turn up to work). It's a shocker.
But that ignores some of the fundamental reasons the gender pay gap remains so stubbornly high.
Oh, do tell.

Julie now switches to blatant sexism:

Female-dominated occupations such as nursing, teaching and caring are indispensable around the world. We must recognise and value their skills and contribution.
You're arguing that male nurses and elementry teachers - who are (obviously) fighting against stereotypes to join their professions - are volunteering to take lower-paid roles than they could otherwise have got? Or are you arguing that they are on average so incompetent that this is their best available gig? Please clarify.

She concludes with an inspiring call to action:

Today, on International Women’s Day, I want more countries to follow our lead and do more to see all women paid fairly. We can end the gender pay gap in our lifetime.
Absolutely. Just make illegal discrimination by gender for hiring in any given job role. Then women can apply for any job they want and be treated exactly the same as men. Great idea.

Already enshrined in law, apparently? Job done then, Julie. Time to resign and save the NZ taxpayer the cost of your salary.

[1] No, not really. But I guess you knew that.

PS: shockingly, Julie Ann Genter is a UC Berkeley philosophy graduate. Bet you couldn't have guessed that from her writing. And she's a member of the New Zealand Green Party, laying claim to a legacy of intellectual rigor that stretches back to... who am I kidding.