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.
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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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ronan Farrow has new book: "War on Peace" and it's dangerous for America to hide from the world (the Tillerson fiasco)



Ronan Farrow, now 30, one of TV’s “prettiest” cis-male journalists (from the New Yorker), has a new book, “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence”, due April 24 from Norton.

  
Here’s a chapter from the New Yorker, “Inside Rex Tillerson’s Ouster: The Last Days of His Brief and Chaotic Tenure as Secretary of State”. 
  
It seems like it was never meant to be.  Tillerson did seem to play lip service with human rights.  But a couple months ago, pundits were saying that Trump’s carelessness with keeping positions at state and ambassadorships filled was downright dangerous (the Professor Cha mess on Korea).


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Zakaria interviews Madeleine Albright on her new book "Fascism: A Warning"


Today Fareed Zakaria interviewed Madeleine Albright on his GPS show on CNN, and talked about her new book, “Fascism: A Warning”, publishedby Harper (304 pages).
  
Albright made the pointed comment that people have lost interest in running for office because of hyperpartisanship and polarization. She is appropriately concerned about Trump’s lack of respect for the press and for truth and his tendency to play favorites, believing that might can make right for people who feel ignored (his base) by the intellectual elites.
  
Christian Caryl takes up the question as to whether the US is headed for fascism (rather remarkable that he feels he has to) with some criticism of her book here.  But it seems that the unwillingness of a lot of people to get outside of their own bubbles, maybe out of personal ego, adds to the risk.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

"Queer: A Graphic History": a philosophy text presented as a graphic novel



Authors: Meg-John Barker, Julia Scheele

Title: “Queer: A Graphic History

Publication: 2016: Icon Books, London, ISBN 978-178578-071-4, 176 pages, paper. 
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I saw this book in the campus bookstore at Drexel in Philadelphia, run by Barnes and Noble, and picked it up on impulse.

It’s rather interesting to format a book that amounts to a historical encyclopedia on political and philosophical terms related to gay rights presented as a “graphic novel” with illustrations in black and white  The pictures take about 70% of the space in the book, whereas the rest is rather straightforward Wiki-like text. Then the authors pose characters who talk more about the concepts, as if in an animated documentary film.

The central question is, what is “queer”, which has become a fashionable term today, a reversal of a half-century ago when it was like the F and N words.


But the authors soon get into a presentation of “essentialism” v. “existentialism” (Sartre).  They see essentialism as a roadblock to gay acceptance.  Essentialism is connected to assimilation, which wa the earlier model of gay rights, starting with Mattachine and Frank Kameny back in the 1950s.  The authors continually point out moral ironies.  “The ‘it’s not our fault’ idea easily slips into portraying homosexuality as inferior” and “By focusing on the acceptable face of white, middle-class educated gay and lesbian people, they often maintain the oppression of those do not fit that (the queerer umbrella).” (p. 26).  Soon the authors visit “intersectionality”, which they attribute to Kimberle Crenshaw.

Later they explore “heterosexism” and associated privilege, which can work against you. Then on p, 134, they return to “Strategic essentialism” where an avatar says “Strategic essentialism might involve, for example, remaining quiet about the differences between individuals within the group as they fight for a common goal, despite engaging in those debates privately.” (p. 134).  Then, “a place for identity politics after all?”


  
There is also the point that transgender transitions may be viewed as a way of giving in to conventional gender expectations. There is a reference to Lee Edelman’s book “No Future” (2004) and its tying reproduction to “cruel optimism” (p. 160). There was no reference to Paul Rosenfels's polarity theory, which I would have expected to find. 


Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-and-Death Crisis", NYTimes magazine "booklet"


Linda Villarosa has a booklet-length piece in the New York Times magazine on April 11 (for April 15), “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-and-Death Crisis”, link.  The tagline is “The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the experience of being a black woman in America.”  The magazine cover is dedicated to the article. 

The article goes beyond an hereditary factors (like high blood pressure associated with resistance to sickle cell) to social conditions, and maintains that there are many issues with the availability and job performance of doulas (caregivers). 

The black infant mortality rate is 11.3 per 1000 as opposed to 4.9 per 1000 for whites.


The story starts with the narrative of Simone Landrum, and notes how early morning sickness comes with nausea and ravenousness at the same time. 
  
This is all rather remarkable, as is the police profiling and BLM movement, even after eight years of Obama in office.

Friday, April 06, 2018

"How the Right Lost Its Mind" and fell for Trump


There is a new book “How the Right Lost Its Mind”, by Charlie Sykes, from Random House. 

Again, I’ll have to get it and read it, in time.  But there is already a lot of controversy.

It can be said that old fashioned conservatism, especially the social side, got plundered by the Internet starting in the late 90s.  A “don’t ask don’t tell” mentality could not survive.

So today, we have an understandable war about privacy, and even the idea that the “user is the product.”


But the Internet also fed conservative media a certain way, so it tended to feed a certain mindset with reactionary tribal mindset.  So conservative media lost its own way, with regards to normal journalistic standards.
  
Jonathan Chait takes all this up in New York Magazine here
  
It’s also “right” to let National Review speak up about this (in a piece by Guy Benson) since the history of William Buckley seems to be an issue.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Lam Wing-kee's story shows the problems of censorship of books in Hong Kong



Alex W. Palmer has a booklet-length story in the New York Times about the arrests of booksellers in Hong Kong, a topic covered before.

This time it is the saga of Lam Wing-kee, who was first collared in 2015 at a customs checkpoint at the mainline. 

But the story also indicates that “banned books” are actually disappearing even in Hong Kong, as mainland publishers take control. 


There is a lot of history about publlisher Bao Pu. There is a lot of history of the cultural revolution, when intellectuals were sent to the countryside to become proles back in the 1960s.

The problems of censorship increase as Xingping consolidates lifetime power, and yet Xingping's official ideology, which Chinese students memorize, sounds like a hodgepodge. 
  
I can remember a left-wing bookstore (“Make Up Your Mind”) in Madison, NJ in the 1970s, where the owners saw the Chinese as morally pure but not the Soviets.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

New book "The Trump White House" seems to neutralize Fire and Fury



Well, there is an antidote to Wolff’s “Fire and Fury”.  That would be Ronald Kessler’s “The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game”, available on Amazon today, 304 pages.


I can’t find any conventional “professional” reviews yet.  But Devan Cole discusses the book on CNN on an April 1 interview with Jake Tapper, where the book claims that Kellyanne Conway is the chief leaker.

The Amazon link is here   and has some reviews, some of which think the book is objective and some claim it is Trump propaganda.

I’ll order it soon for a more full review. 

Trey Yingst of OANN said he had already read it today and expected to see Trump tweet about it!   Young adults recently in college are used to hundreds of pages of reading a day (like my own 50 pages of poetry for every English class at GWU, or Jack Andraka’s doing all his homework on airplanes  -- how about memorizing nomenclature for organic chemistry).  That’s a lot more reading that Trump can tolerate, beyond his Fox news on the idiot box (or plasma screen). 
  
Trump does respect people (including journalists) whom he thinks could have won out on his “The Apprentice” reality show.