Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ronan Farrow releases "bombshell" story about a coverup (Michael Cohen) in the New Yorker

Maybe Ronan Farrow is Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.  And like David Hogg (the NRA’s nightmare), he seems to be just getting started.
Today Farrow’s booklet article “Missing Files Motivated theLeak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records” shows up on the New Yorker (paywall, but $1 a week). 
The detailed narrative does show how easily anyone with a sensitive job can get into trouble by comingling with his own accounts, perhaps through shell companies.  (That can happen with trusts, by the way.)
The narrative refers to the acronym SARS, or “suspicious activity reports”.  It’s a curious irony that SARS also refers to a surveillance reporting system for Medicaid MMIS (which I have worked on).
If Farrow takes down Trump and gets him impeached, we have Pence to deal with (at least with LGBT).

On Thursday afternoon, CNN explained that banks often drop customers whose activity generates SARS reports, because they don't want the "risk".  Imagine what the Internet world would be like if monitoring for legal problems (like Backpage) were handled this way. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

"Suicide of the West": introducing a book "franchise movie" with two conservative authors

I am not ready for a full review yet (to be done soon on Wordpress), but I have started Jonah Goldberg’s “Suicide of the West” with subtitle “How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy”, from Crown Forum 379 pages before the notes.

The book maintains that civilization with the rule of law and individualism is somewhat of a “Miracle” and a geographical accident for which we should be grateful.  It probably started in England in the 17th Century.

Even more than Amy Chua, the author explains how tribalism is hardwired animal behavior, and how easy it is to backslide once social norms are broken.  It is more important to support the right “tribe” and its grievances than to succeed of be respected “in the world” as an individual, in this thinking. The aggressive tribalist demands not only individual freedom from discrimination in the usual sense but also positive affirmation from others of his or her (or “their”) group identity. 

The book is a real page turner. A lot of the material reminds me of George Gilder ("Sexual Suicide", 1973).  A particularly disturbing claim is that leftist tribalism sees "meritocracy" as a code for "racism". 

Goldberg thinks that when diverse people live in close quarters, there is less social capital -- yet what seems to be needed is people reaching across tribal divides, sometimes very personally. 

But it is also a “sequel” to James Burnham’s 1964 classic “Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism” (Encounter Books – the Kindle isn’t as pricey as print) which had followed “The Managerial Revolution” (1941).  Burnham had started out dabbling in Marxism and Trotskyism before becoming anti-Communist.  He opens this essay with with “This book is a book” and not a collection of papers, and soon says that Communism used free speech to destroy free speech.   Burnham seems critical of putting peace over liberty and wary of “moral busybodies”.  At a rough level, some of this sounds a little like Trump sometimes, and maybe Goldwater others.

I am quite shocked at how determined and coercive some tribalist behavior has become in the past four years.   Tribalism seems even to explain the reaction to James Damore’s memo (April 29). 
Goldberg mentions Burnham's book on p 115 where he says Burnham thinks that the intellectual development of Communism was motivated by guilt. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"How Xi Jingping Views the World" in Foreign Affairs

Kevin Rudd has a “booklet” in the May 2018 “Foreign Affairs”, “How Xi Jingpig Views the World”, with a tagline “The Core Interests that Shape China’s Behavior” (paywall) 

All of this follows Jingping’s crowning himself president and leader of the party for life.
Trump has vacillated, sometimes in the past saying “China is not your friend” and imposing tariffs, and yet sometimes admiring Xi Jingping as a “strong man”.  Xi Jingping is undoubtedly important in controlling North Korea.

The most important of the seven pillars is that Xingping wants to make Communist Party ideology the driver of China’s future, and not economic reform for its own sake, or statecraft (or the deep state or administrative state, for that matter, an end in itself). This ultimately winnows down to “rightsizing” individual people for the sake of overall social stability, and that is where the planned “social credit score” by 2020 fits in.   Apparently in school kids have to memorize the ideology.
However, the peripheral areas, some of which are legally part of China and not sovereign (Tibet), and others which are (Taiwan, with is anti-Communist, and North Korea, which is hyper-communist) are also a major issue.
So is balancing environmental concerns with growth.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

"Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Keeping Russia Closeted": dissertation from Finland

I found a thesis online from a Finnish university of Tampere, “Out of Sight, Out of Kind: Keeping Russia Closeted: A Biopolitical Analysis of Non-Normative Sexualities in Russia”, by John Cai Benjamin Weaver, link here  (84 pages plus notes). 
The first word of the text is “Tcaikovsky”.  The author gives the history of anti-gay laws in the Soviet Union, their relaxation under Yeltsin in Russia in 1993, and then the 2013 “anti-propaganda” law, which had been preceded by some local laws like in St. Petersburg.

The author structures his argument around Michel Foucault’s theories of “biopolitics” and social control.

While Putin maintains he is not homophobic and has no problems with homosexual activity in private, Russia is very concerned with the inclusion of homosexuality and gender fluidity in public spaces, because it believes that, if presented as acceptable, people will have fewer children. The policy is designated to deal with the supposed collective well being of the Russian “nation”, but not with individual people.

Curiously, Russia has little concern with closeted homosexuality in its military, since Russia has a 12-month period of conscription.

Most of Russia's anti-gay sentiment comes from acceptance of propaganda as an important force in shaping society, with little respect for the potential of the individual for critical thinking (and Putin says he has to protect children).  It also comes from a desire to distinguish Russia from the West. 

But Russia is in demographic decline both because of low birth rate and poor life expectancy.  

The latter part of the thesis describes the surveys used and actual results.

By Cryonic07 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Sunday, April 29, 2018

James Damore's account of an "Ideological Echo Chamber" needs to become a book

Will the “Google-Memo-Guy” James Damore write a book? I wondered that on Aug. 21 when I wrote a post on the movies blog “Milo Meets James Damore”. 

But his “Memo” called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”, which Wikipedia labels as a “Manifesto on Workplace Diversity” qualifies at least as a booklet now.  You can find it (in two formats) on James Damore’s own site “Fired for Truth”.

The original memo is well footnoted and clearly argued.  Damore seems to say mainly that employers should not focus on meeting particular numbers to achieve diversity, especially regarding gender in tech employment.  Damore’s firing apparently came after an unfooted version went viral on social media in early August 2017.

Damore has filed class-action suit against Google, explained here.  Since he hasn’t tweeted much lately, it seems logical that the relative quiet as wise for the litigation. The suit seems a bit silly.  But so does Google’s termination of Damore.  Whether it is OK to circulate a controversial memo in the workplace depends on the conduct code of the employer.  But apparently Google (unlike most corporate employers) allowed this practice, even encouraged it, and Damore’s content, understood properly, is reasonably objective and in no way hateful.  (A few of his past tweets, like one about the KKK, did seem off the mark to me.)   But he is challenging the left-wing idea of political correctness, of making policies according to groups and “intersectionality”.

In fact, The Knife, (Jens Erik Gould) has an article "The Misrepesentation of James Damore", including an addendum about the NLRB's surprising attack on him, as well as details as to how the memo was actually invited and circulated at Google.  Major media outlets characterized his memo with subjective characterizations typical of left-wing bias, and Knife says Damore's memo actually had relatively little deception language or metaphors compared to normal political writing.
As for my reaction to his memo, I’m particularly drawn to his opening table on Left v. Right biases. I am somewhat biased to the Right on his first three points, but I think that change is often good and am open to some of it.   I do see humans as competitive and personal inequality as inevitable.  But I also think that as a moral point, if those who are more advantaged don’t reach out personally to those who are not, society can become unstable and vulnerable to authoritarianism (especially fascism).
But the Left tends to mix up this ironic setting of personal responsibility (as libertarians see it) with group membership.
While Damore’s points seem, from a clinical and statistical view, to be valid, we should remember that in real life, it is the exceptions that swallow the rules.  The 2016 film “Hidden Figures” made the point about female mathematicians at NASA in the early 1960s.  Women made many contributions to computing in the early days, such as the invention of COBOL.  In the 1960s, I found it common to have women working as programmers and mathematicians in the Navy department in summer jobs, as well as with graduate school (Ph D candidates).  Female math and science teachers were common in the 1950s and early 60s, in my own experience.  When I worked for Univac in 1972-1974, I found plenty of women in management; Univac seemed more competitive then than big rival IBM.  I would generally expect to find in tech today with no particular emphasis on measuring diversity numbers by gender.

 Paul Lewis writes in the Guardian about Damore, "I see things differently: James Damore on his autism and the Google memo", here. Some autism, as in "The Good Doctor", is depicted as the hyper-masculine, hyper-logical brain.  One important supporting observation seems to follow the ideas of George Gilder ("Men and Marriage", 1986);  in a real world, men are fungible, and of all the men that have lived, only 40% have descendants today, compared to 80% of women.  This fits into an inevitable result that statistically most men will have some physical and connected personality traits that separate them from women and make them more suitable for certain kinds of work.  We don't quarrel about the fact that major professional sports are generally male-only (I think we'll have a trans relief pitcher in baseball some day.)  Damore doesn't offer any evidence that the patterns are any different for cis gay men than the general male population. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Foreign Affairs takes on the decline of democracy and the apparent success of new authoritarian statist capitalism (especially in China)

The April 2018 issue of Foreign Affairs offers several detailed articles supporting the cover theme “Is Democracy Dying? A Global Report”.

The most important article is probably the first one, by Walter Russell Mead, “The Big Shift: How American Democracy Fails Its Way to Success”, link.   The writer gets into discussing Piketty’s book “Capital” and his theory of inequality (review here July 22, 2014).   Mead argues that growing inequality, even in a low-unemployment economy, tends to drive people more toward tribal thinking and political divisiveness.  He suggests we need to consider ideas like basic income (which Finland is stopping) or other ways of redistribution of wealth.

The second article is “The Age of Insecurity: Can Democracy Save Itself?  I am reminded of Leonard Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety” symphony.  The article explains that in the 21st Century, some authoritarian societies are providing a better standard of living than previously expected by libertarian and Reagan-style conservatives in the U.S.

Both writers note that a rise in the standard of living tends to take people away from materialism and tends to make liberal democracy and individualism make more sense;  but then inequality can lead to cultural backslide toward group survivalism and prepper culture.

Yascha Mount and Roberto Stefan Foa write “The End of the Democratic Century: Autocracy’s Soft Power” which has to do with greater materialistic success and a larger presence of academia in relatively authoritarian countries, like the health science centers in the UAE and even Saudi Arabia, as well as professional media.

There are two big articles on China.  Yuen Ang writes “Autocracy with Chinese Characteristics: Beijing’s Behind the Scenes Reforms” The author explains how in China politics is embedded in bureaucracy, which can then motivate its citizens with a hierarchal structure of pseudo capitalism and rewards.  China is a unary, not a federal, state.

Then there is “China’s New Revolution: The Reign of Xi Jingping”, by Elizabeth C. Economy.  There is some focus on the authoritarian control of individualism and free speech (with the firewalls against the outside world, not always effective).  Most of all, it seems that Jingping’s (and his predecessors’, post Mao) implementation of Communism (an ideology which students memorize) is predicated on “right-sizing” individual people so that they know where they must fit in according to their abilities;  otherwise they would be treated as mooches (hence the proposed “social credit score” by 2020).  The dangerous trend to arrest people who became citizens of othjer countries when they return to China is mentioned.  Jingping has crowned himself president for life and abolished term limits (which used to be part of the Chinese system of political integrity).

Ivan Kratsev explores “Eastern Europe’s Illiberal Revolution: The Long Road to Democratic Decline.”  I remember that back in 1989 the people of eastern Europe were held up to grade pride, with Leonard Bernstein recording Beethoven’s Ninth in a reunified Berlin near the Wall.  But emigration to the west (and low birth rates), followed by immigration from troubled and non-democratic parts of the world has made the remaining people feel threatened, and turn to populism, and some authoritarianism (Orban in Hungary), which the writer does not see as fascist, despite the labels. Like Putin, leadership wants to raise the standard of living for its ethnic populations by keeping them disciplined and not too loquacious.
Victor Cha (Georgetown, with Katrin Fraser Katz), whom Trump turned down for an ambassadorship after Victor criticized Trump’s aggressive rhetoric,  has an article on how to coerce North Korea, previously covered.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Fast Company covers the troll-ization ot Twitter, and the volunteerism of chef Jose Andres

Fast Company in April 2018 has a couple challenging articles.

Austin Carr and Harry McCracken, in an article ”#Hijacked” (p 58), explore how Twitter and CEO Jack Dorsey started out with a dream of free speech, and wound up as fodder for the trolls, want to spread discontent borne out of group inequality. The article discusses a lot of attempts to monitor content and Silicon Valley’s looking for imaginary solutions to their problems with tribalism. 

The article suggests that Congress will probably undo all of the intermediary downstream liability protections in Section 230, which have already happened with the Backpage matter and the FOSTA law.

The article has a 2018 Social Media Safety Report Card, where Facebook got the lowest grade, then YouTube and then Reddit.

On p 86, Matthew Shaer covers “The People’s Choice”, a portrait of master chef Jose Andres, in litigation against Trump over a hotel deal.  It covers his volunteer efforts to set up cooking operations in Puerto Rico and Houston after the hurricanes, and in California after the wildfires. Of course, he has the practical skills and business scale to volunteer like this to help rebuild. He is very good for resilience.
There is also a list of ten World Changing Ideas.