Friday, July 31, 2015

Trans-Pacific Pact, Destroyer Of Worlds

Some bullety stuff now that the "fast track" on the Trans-Pacific Pact has been greenlit:
  • The TPP will undermine US law, including Supreme Court decisions, despite BS assurances from its corporate architects.
    In practice, this means state governments -- including things like research universities -- are able to infringe on patents in the public interest, claiming sovereign immunity in state courts against such claims. We've pointed out in the past how hypocritical it is that state universities frequently use such sovereign immunity claims to avoid lawsuits, while at the same time being some of the most aggressive patent trolls in going after others (with the University of California being a prime example). However, it is the law of the land and in the Constitution that sovereign immunity on things like patents cannot be abridged.
  • The Prime Minister of New Zealand admits drug prices will rise under the TPP, despite the fact that Kiwis already are facing shortages of some medicine and high prices for others. Here's the AARP:
    Specifically, AARP objects to intellectual property provisions in the draft TPP agreement that unduly restrict competition by delaying consumers’ access to lower-cost generic drugs. These anticompetitive provisions include extending brand drug patent protections through “evergreening” drug products that provide little to no new value and prolong high prescription drug costs for consumers, linking approval to market generic or biosimilar drugs to existing patents in a way that protects only brand drugs, and increasing data exclusivity periods for biologics that further delays access by other companies to develop generic versions of these extremely high-cost drugs. These provisions are all designed to ensure monopoly control by brand-name drug companies.
  • Like You Expected Anything Else Dep't: The USTR is listening exclusively to corporate interests while shoving public interest groups aside.

Previously: The Right's Insane Distortions About Trade Agreement Secrecy.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Janet Napolitano: Your Due Process Is Around Here Somewhere

As expected, yesterday's Senate hearing about campus sexual assault was a one-sided show for those advocates wishing to extend the reach of kangaroo courts operating under Title IX. And, nobody bothered to invite any advocates for accusees, which was no surprise, because it's easier on the state if the accused would just shut up and go straight to jail instead of inconveniently defending themselves.
When asked about how "yes means yes" policies empower accusers, University of California president Janet Napolitano responded that they "shift the burden of proof," essentially turning the justice system on its head.

"It really, in a way, shifts the burden, so that the survivor isn't the one always trying to explain what happened," Napolitano said.
What a terrible tragedy it is when discovery turns up exculpatory evidence! How horrible that must be for the administrators who are under constant pressure to find more "victims"!
...Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., was the first senator to bring up due process. He told the story of a woman he had spoken to who believes she had been wrongly accused. Cassidy asked how schools could better address the rights of the accused.

Napolitano jumped in, saying "we're actually looking in to that right now." This would seem to indicate that such rights were not considered previously — certainly not last year when she convened a task force to address the issue of campus sexual assault.

The University of California, over which Napolitano presides, was recently excoriated by a federal judge for providing students with an "unfair" hearing. Perhaps that is why Napolitano is "now" looking into due process rights.

When Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate HELP committee, asked the panelists how to ensure a fair hearing is held involving an accusation of sexual assault, a noticeable six-second silence followed.

Napolitano again mentioned that UC was "looking into" the issue of due process rights, but the way she talked about what those rights should look like was dismaying.

"It does illustrate the difference between a student disciplinary proceeding and a criminal proceeding," Napolitano said. "The confrontation rights, for example, they should be different for students."
Oh? Why? She don't say. Just as adversarial hearings are supposedly too difficult for accusers, so, apparently, are deliberative proceedings in which opponents can cross-examine and rebut flaky and specious testimony.

The Thankless, Expensive Task Of Undoing The Drug War

Techdirt has a heartbreaking post about Massachusetts forensic drug lab technician Annie Dookhan, who was a real people pleaser, at least among the police and prosecuting attorneys of that state. She
... had been falsifying drug tests (e.g., claiming that samples contained narcotics without testing them and even adding cocaine to samples to get a positive result when prior testing came back negative). She had worked at the lab for nearly a decade, and these revelations called into question the outcomes in tens of thousands of cases.
How many cases were involved? The list extends to 40,000 known thus far, a number amplified because
[Dookhan's bosses] weren't looking for a problem at the drug lab. They were looking for productivity. [The Massachusetts forensic lab at Jamaica] Plain's suspiciously-fast output wasn't greeted with suspicion. It was greeted with praise and an increased workload.
The report shows that the Hinton lab leaned heavily on Dookhan’s productivity. Supervisors lauded her work ethic and assigned her an increasing share of tests.

“From January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2011, Dookhan was assigned 25.3% of all analyses in the Drug Lab and completed 21.8% of all tests conducted by staff,” the report said.
No one has a budget this big. "There's a point when a problem is still manageable," Techdirt author Tim Cushing continues, "and there's a point when it becomes too big to correct within the confines of the system that helped create it."

Now consider that the FBI has a similar problem involving hair evidence.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lies, Damned Lies, And Rape Statistics: How David Lisak's Misrepresentation Fueled A Moral Panic

Reason's Robby Soave has a devastating two part series of articles outlining how sociologist David Lisak has misled just about everyone on the subject of campus rape, repurposing statistics from other surveys that have nothing whatsoever to do with college campuses or students, and then trying to extrapolate from there. In much the same way that Mary Koss's work claiming 1-in-5 women in college will be raped during their stays there. Lisak's work is foundational, purporting to uncover serial rapists as the cause of the huge majority of campus rape.
Lisak has cultivated a reputation as one of the nation’s foremost authorities on sexual assault, and his thinking undergirds the most vexingly anti-due process policies currently mandated by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. His authority on the subject is so uncontested that even critics of draconian anti-rape policies feel obligated to grapple with his assertions, according to Slate’s Emily Yoffe, who described Lisak’s work as foundational "in the movement to curb campus sexual assault."

President Obama’s January 2014 memo announcing the creation of a White House task force to address campus sexual assault repeatedly cites Lisak. His research provides evidence of the notion that "campus rapists are often serial predators" who perpetrate a "cycle of violence" unless stopped, according to the memo.
But as it turns out, Lisak's survey study relies on data that comes from other sources, which in turn made no effort to ensure their survey respondents were actually college men. Lisak compounds his error if not actual fraud by misrepresenting his own role in the studies:
Several other interviews and news articles about Lisak imply that he extensively interrogated the subjects of his 2002 study. He also told LeFauve during his conversation with her that he had interviewed "most of them." And yet when LeFauve asked him to explain how this was possible—given that most of the surveys he relied on were anonymous—he hung up the phone.
... Lisak’s 2002 study falls well short of proving that this approach is justified. His surveyed perpetrators weren’t traditional college students. It’s possible that some of them weren’t students at all, since the surveys had no mechanism for ensuring this. What the study did find was a small proportion of the UMass-Boston community—perhaps but not necessarily students—had a history of violence. This violence may or may not have happened in proximity to campus. It may or may not have happened to students. It may or may not have happened to children, spouses, or the elderly. 
Shoddy research behind hysterical claims about the necessity for ending due process for men accused of rape? Imagine. And yet, tomorrow, a huge one-sided push in the Senate for the horrible Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA) in which a who's-who of rape activists will get to air their grievances — and none other.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cards Against Humanity Creator: Sexual Predator, Or Victim?

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the sexual assault charges against Cards Against Humanity co-creator Max Temkin (detailed at Jezebel) are entirely the product of a delusional and'or bitter woman; the first sign is that these accusations were made years after their interactions at college, and considerably after their target has become successful. Why come forward now?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Kathryn Finney, A Less Entertaining, Black Shanley Kane

I've previously bagged on Internet hysteric Shanley Kane for her raging paranoia and entitlement, her forays into self-parody, and her editorial rejection of the very notion of competence,  but a new customer recently arrived to add to the list of individuals who believe Everything Is Discrimination, to wit, Kathryn Finney. Finney penned her tale of woe at the aptly-named Medium, as in the Ernie Kovacs sense of neither rare nor well done. Normally, I would let such stuff pass, save for the fact that she lays a broadside at a libertarianism she neither understands nor has interest in; it apparently underpins all her failures, though, and so we are left to contend with her flabby self-absorption:
The idea of forced inclusion is one that goes against the very Libertarian foundations of tech. The freedom to run your life/company as you wish without outside interference is a sacred right in this community. There are venture capitalists, who pride themselves on being free range and not monitoring their investments.

The idea that an outside group, and for the most part women, Latinos, Blacks are outsiders in tech, would exert power, even force, technologists to be more inclusive, is an idea that sends tremors down the objectivist spines of the greater tech community.

The concept of Objectivism  — the focus on individual rights, laissez-faire capitalism, and “facts” — is one that is often hard for outsiders to understand. I didn’t fully understand the philosophy and it’s impact on tech, until I read folks like Ayn Rand and David Boaz.
(Duly noted: the whiny rel="nofollow" in the anchor tag to freaking Wikipedia articles about Objectivism and Ayn Rand, as if she couldn't stand having anyone even learn about these icky things because her linking to them might increase their Google ranking. I excised it in the quoted text above, but it was present in the original. SRSLY.)
Tech is being asked to use their resources to help the runner in back get to the starting line. To be honest, most people in tech are ok with helping as long as they’re allowed to choose when/how/who to help. I’m okay with this, as long as you didn’t use public resources (roads, fire departments, or the internet itself) or take money from a VC firm that has a pension fund as a limited partner, to build you [sic] company.
So, let's decode this nonsense.
  • "Tech" = anyone with a company I feel like telling how it should be run, regardless of the fact that I have no investment of any kind whatsoever in it.
  • "Runner" = anyone who claims to have certain skills, regardless of applicability or actual competence.
 She quickly pulls out the old MUH ROADS canard —

which is pretty much a validation of the "you didn't build that" nonsense that got Obama into so much trouble back in the 2012 election cycle (though mainly with people who weren't going to vote for him anyway). The thinking seems to go, if you live in a society with roads and police, I get to tell you how to run your company. This couldn't be funnier, more ironic, or more deeply indicative of how These People Think; after all, she confesses how she was "DONE. WITH. TECH." in March of this year, thus putting to an end her own entrepreneurial efforts. It's not at all clear what her company digitalundivided does. Aside from begging for money from like-minded busybodies, providing value to customers does not appear to be one of those things. It seems a common failing, one which hyperbolic firebrand Nero Yiannanopoulos recently bagged on:
4. There Is No Evidence That ‘Diversity’ Improves Company Performance
Seriously: I am calling for someone to do a large-scale study of the diversity efforts of companies who have fallen for this nonsense so that someone, somewhere can show me citable evidence that this does anything for a company other than provide good PR.

Maybe there are some serious figures out there. I’m sure someone with blue armpit hair is brandishing them as we speak. But until a serious, nationwide study emerges that has gone through the (look away now, feminists) peer review process, this fundamental assumption of the women in tech movement remains questionable at best.

Sorry to be blunt. But a company’s obligations are to its shareholders, not Jezebel bloggers’ feelings. So it’s worth finding out what difference a woman’s presence in the workplace actually makes.
Is there some value in having mascots? That's roughly the argument Finney and her cohorts make. Yet despite the fact that there are encouraging signs regarding getting more women involved in programming and STEM fields more broadly, for many of the hard sciences (physics, math and statistics) women asymptotically approach parity with men yet never quite reach it — which suggests women are not intrinsically drawn to these subjects. Until Finney can come up with some benefit for the companies she harangues, she's yowping into the wind.

Afterword: It's probably worth mentioning that Finney's company appears to be about flogging Social Justice and not actually writing code, i.e. there is no mention of appropriate skill sets, delivered applications or websites, etc. It's all about her ego.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Monsters Are Real, Connie St. Louis Edition

Is there anyone willing to chase slimeballs — and the epithet is decidedly appropriate — like Connie St. Louis out of the academy? St. Louis, with her out-of-context quote of a speech delivered by Nobelist Sir Tim Hunt at a conference in South Korea, almost single-handedly got him sacked from several university posts. Has she done anything, in her comparatively thin C.V., approaching the sorts of feats Hunt has accomplished? In answering this question, the Daily Mail published a surprisingly good and detailed piece on St. Louis and her vicious willingness to slander an innocent man; St. Louis has manufactured a number of posts and accomplishments that are utter falsehoods:
‘Connie St Louis . . . is an award-winning freelance broadcaster, journalist, writer and scientist.

‘She presents and produces a range of programmes for BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service . . . She writes for numerous outlets, including The Independent, Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, BBC On Air magazine and BBC Online.’

All very prestigious. Comforting, no doubt, for potential students considering whether to devote a year of their lives (and money) to completing an MA course under her stewardship. Except, that is for one small detail: almost all of these supposed ‘facts’ appear to be untrue.

For one thing, Connie St Louis does not ‘present and produce’ a range of programmes for Radio 4.

Her most recent work for the station, a documentary about pharmaceuticals called The Magic Bullet, was broadcast in October 2007.

For another, it’s demonstrably false to say she ‘writes’ for The Independent, Daily Mail and The Sunday Times.

Digital archives for all three newspapers, which stretch back at least 20 years, contain no by-lined articles that she has written for any of these titles, either in their print or online editions. The Mail’s accounts department has no record of ever paying her for a contribution.

Her work for The Guardian appears to consist of two online articles: one published in 2013; the other, about the Sir Tim Hunt affair, went live (online) this week.

Curiously, that 1,000-word piece, in which St Louis recalled the scandal, was heavily edited after publication. Around 30 changes, some of them significant, were made to it. In an apparent contradiction of usual Guardian policy, the version now running online contains no disclaimer detailing this fact.

Elsewhere on the City University web page, readers are led to believe that St Louis has either become, or is soon to become, a published author.

‘She is a recipient of the prestigious Joseph Rowntree Journalist Fellowship to write a book based on her acclaimed two-part Radio 4 documentary series, Raising Ham,’ it reads.

But that is not the full story. In 2005, St Louis did, indeed, receive the liberal organisation’s ‘fellowship’. She was given £50,000, which was supposed to support her while she wrote the book in question.

However, no book was ever published. Or, indeed, written. An entire decade later, the project remains a work in progress.
So what are the remedies? It seems like there's very limited action one could take against such a person, short of ruining her already horribly tarnished (I would hope) reputation following such a scandal. Yet in the main, it seems the press has moved on. Where are TechCrunch, The Verge, or Gizmodo? The former two have published nothing since their initial stories on the matter, and Giz only made mumbling noises about how awful Internet shamestorms are. Is there such a thing as black privilege that wards off other press criticism?

Update 7/22/2015: A great long-form piece at Unfashionista by Louise Mensch covers a simply huge amount of ground, but it captures the misdeeds and hackery of not just St. Louis, but her enablers in the mainstream press such as Popular Science, the supposedly more sober Scientific American, Ivan Oransky of Retraction Watch (supposedly dedicated to ethics in science, imagine), Pulitzer Prize winner Deborah Blum of MIT, Charles Seife of NYU, and Rose Mestel of Nature. Their principle sin was conspiring to make a story that fit their narrative, omitting inconvenient facts, but even worse, doing so when it contradicted their own reporting.

Jessica Valenti Turns The Trolling Dial To Eleven


Friday, July 17, 2015

Slicing "Yes": The UCSD Case

It's probably way too early to claim the UCSD John Doe sexual assault case as an unalloyed victory for those seeking something recognizable as justice; presumably there will be appeals, because the machine behind Title IX has a vast army to call on, and if we have learned anything, a jobs program needs defending at all costs, by both its administration and beneficiaries. (You can read the full decision text here.) But now that a real adversarial proceeding has kicked in, and the sanitizing blaze of sunlight admitted to the room, the accuser's puerile and narcissistic accusations have received the sort of response they duly deserve, i.e. contempt.
"The Court determines that it is unfair to Petitioner that his questions were reviewed by the Panel Chair for her alone to determine whether or not the question would be asked and then answered by the witness," Pressman wrote. "While the Court understands the need to prevent additional trauma to potential victims of sexual abuse, this can be achieved in a less restrictive manner. The limiting of the questions in this case curtailed the right of confrontration [sic] crucial to any definition of a fair hearing."

Pressman noted that seven questions not asked by the panel chair dealt with text messages between John and Jane. The panel chair also paraphrased a question regarding John and Jane's relationship after the alleged sexual assault and allowed Jane to claim that their post-encounter relationship was not relevant. Further, Jane's questions were not given the same prior review as John's.

Pressman also decried the school disallowing John to cross-examine and question the only "evidence" at his hearing beside the accuser's story. Submitted to the hearing panel was an investigative report conducted by Elena Acevedo Dalcourt, the school's complaint resolution officer. But Dalcourt did not attend the hearing, which prevented John from questioning her account of the incident.
Most crucially,
John was also not provided all of the evidence against him that was found in Dalcourt's report. He was not given the names of the witnesses interviewed by Dalcourt or all of Jane's statements prior to the hearing.
Beyond the unfairness of John's hearing, Pressman lambasted the university for continuously increasing John's punishment without any explanation. Upon the finding of responsibility, John was first sanctioned to a one-month suspension and required to attend sexual harassment training and counseling. He was also told never to contact Jane again, "due to the potential for ongoing harm to the complaining witness."

After John appealed the ruling, his sanctions were increased to a one-year suspension (meaning he would have to reapply to the university), put on non-academic probation and required to attend ethics workshops – on top of the original sanctions.

When John appealed that decision, his sanctions were increased yet again to a one-year-and-one-quarter-suspension. None of the additional sanctions were given any explanation.
 Which is to say, this is sound of UCSD administrators saying, our phony baloney jobs are on the line if we find you not responsible, so STFU. The reality of this case is the absurdities and rank injustice that "yes means yes" laws inflict on college men who happen to have consensual sex with women who later withdraw that consent, in whole or in part. Scott Greenfield today posted an excellent review of the charges that show just how inane they were. Between two instances of consensual sex that neither party disputes came a session of heavy petting that Jane Doe claimed constituted sexual assault.
There were only two people present when this alleged assault occurred, the students.  This is hardly unusual, given the nature of the conduct, but what distinguishes the allegations is the undisputed surrounding circumstances.  Sex before, all good. Sex after, all good. Touching in the middle, unwanted.

There is no allegation that the female student said “no” to the touching.  Of course, under the “yes means yes” concept of rape and sexual assault, she is under no duty to say no, to protest, to take any action to communicate to the male student that his touching was unwanted.  Indeed, the female could otherwise enjoy the touching without it being subject to affirmative consent.

Notably, the male student admitted sex before. He admitted sex after. He denied, consistently, the digital penetration that was the subject of the disciplinary hearing.

There is no mechanism available that could have protected the male from the accusation, short of being provably far away.  No signed contract. No video tape of consent.  No realistic (yes, there are some theoretically crazily intrusive possibilities) safeguard that would have prevented the accusation.
And then there's the matter of exculpatory post-sex texts which the investigating panel discarded without any justification. The entire post, of course, is worth your time, but I part with his concluding graf:
Somebody at the college needs to be the grown-up and say, “no, this wasn’t a rape, this wasn’t a sexual assault; this was just the normal regret that occasionally follows a young person’s experimentation with sex as they mature.”  But nobody says that anymore.  No grown-up will tell a female student that they weren’t raped, just because they weren’t raped.

More Details On The Ellen Pao/Kleiner Perkins Case

I somehow missed this excellent Breitbart backgrounder on the Ellen Pao lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins from Milo Yiannopoulos, containing many details that the sycophantic tech industry press could be counted upon to omit. Some choice excerpts:
Kleiner maintained that Pao was let go not because she was a woman, but because she was an unpleasant person to work with. ... Kleiner’s attorneys didn’t have to look very far for evidence of Pao’s horrible personal failings. Emails from 2009 show Pao critcising her assistant for taking time off work to help her landlord, a non-English speaker, who had been in a serious car accident. Pao’s response to the domestic crisis was as follows:
“It’s great that you want to be helpful to your landlord. It would be better for me if you could come to work on time. Let me know if you think differently, but I think your job should be your priority.”
...[S]he kept a chart listing “resentments” that she held over her colleagues at Kleiner Perkins. She also admitted to sending negative e-mails about coworkers behind their backs, and acknowledged that she had once bullied a colleague to tears.
... Ellen Pao isn’t the only one who’s been involved in high-profile legal disputes recently. Her husband, Alphonse Fletcher, is in deep legal and financial trouble too. His asset management firm was declared bankrupt in 2012, and he is currently being sued by three Louisana public pension funds. They allege that Fletcher’s asset management defrauded them of up to $145 million, and are now seeking to recover the funds.

How much was Pao seeking from Kleiner Perkins in damages? Oh. $144 million.
Pao is a brittle, despicable character in a landscape rotten with them. She was not nearly as good a grifter as the con artists she attacked in court, or those in business.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ellen Pao's "Glass Cliff"

Ellen Pao, whose fifteen minutes must surely soon come to an end (right? right?), is back with an account of how she claims the trolls chased her out of Reddit. Never mind that her proffered reason for exiting was in fact that she couldn't deliver on user growth (though we may infer that one is causal to the other, in some wise). Still it was with no small interest that I read this in Jezebel a few days back:
The chaos at Reddit continues: chief engineer Bethanye Blount quit Monday after less than two months on the job, saying she’s lost confidence in the direction of the company and believes ousted CEO Ellen Pao was set up to fail.
Blount says her departure was not “directly linked” to Pao’s resignation, but echoed recent comments made by former CEO Yishan Wong, who says Pao was set up to fail from the start.
Blount also said she believed Pao’s exit was an indirect consequence of gender discrimination, and that Pao had been placed on a “glass cliff.” It is a term used to describe women being set up for failure by being put in leadership roles during crises.

Victoria wasn’t on a glass cliff. But it’s hard for me to see it any other way than Ellen was,” Blount said. However, she added that “I wouldn’t say my decision to leave was directly related to my gender.”
 So, wait, so putting a woman in a stressful, high-risk, high-reward situation is setting her up to fail? And this is, itself, presumably evidence of sexual discrimination? Isn't it really the other way around, that women demanding they only ever succeed (or should be put in situations where failure is not really possible) means they also don't get the rewards that come from navigating hazards? Isn't this reductive, infantilizing, and narcissistic? Doesn't this, in fact, serve the opposite end as anything recognizable as equality between the sexes?

The Dairy Cows: The Ignored German Public In The Greek Crisis

Noted popular sophist Thomas Piketty last week lent his name to an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to end austerity, and of course Paul Krugman has similarly opined for a bankruptcy, with Greece's unsustainable debt forgiven in part. But what exactly does any of this mean? A search for villains entails picking sides: Germany or Greece, creditor or borrower. The left, of course, reflexively hates the rich, or at least, wishes to consume wealth without consequence, and so their cosmology turns the Germans into sinners, as Jacob Soll recently did in the New York Times. Soll has no patience with talk of being repaid:
When the panel split up, German attendees circled me to explain how the Greeks were robbing the Germans. They did not want to be victims anymore. While I certainly accepted their economic points and, indeed, the point that European Union member countries owe Germany so much money that more defaults could sink Germany, it was hard, in Munich at least, to see the Germans as true victims.
It's obvious but frequently overlooked in such cramped accounts that in fact Germany is not a monolithic entity, but three separate ones:
  1. The German banks.
  2. The German government.
  3. The German polity.
German banks lent money to Greece on the tacit understanding that the European Central Bank or ultimately the German government would bail them out if that sovereign debt went bad, in much the same way as US banks believed they would be bailed out if Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac went bust. As in most places, the government is beholden to the banks, but an outright bailout would be political suicide at the next election. But let us suppose a bailout were possible, through some sort of procedural trickery. Who would pay for it? The answer is obvious, and behind door number three: the German public. Soll, like so many other liberals, confuses "society" with "government", and reduces all three to a single point in his intellectually crabbed world. It is curious, therefore, that a supposedly liberal newspaper would support robbing of the common people in this way, and yet here we are. Soll gives them no more thought than one gives dairy cows.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Pink Lacquer

I came across the absurdity of Jewelbots, a friendship bracelet currently in the Kickstarter stage that supposedly will get pre-teen girls interested in programming. To which, why is it that this is even a Thing? Isn't this condescending, the idea that STEM subjects need a special pink lacquer or girls won't take interest in them? There seemingly is no end to gimmicks in this area, and yet, as Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center discovered, use the wrong language and the outrage machine kicks in. No matter that "Science With A Sparkle" was the choice of focus-group girls in the same age range, and no matter that it was the result of an earnest (if perhaps tone-deaf) attempt to increase girls' interest in science:
Regarding Girl Scout-specific programming, we have struggled when it comes to enrollments for our Girl Scout programs. In the past, we have offered engineering, chemistry, and robotics programming for Girl Scouts. We created programming to go along with the new Journeys that Girl Scouts use. Unfortunately, no troops signed up for these. The programs that consistently get enrollments are "Science with a Sparkle" and our Sleepovers at the museum.
 Such are the brick walls upon which the cult of Ada Lovelace dash themselves head first. So is there hope here? It's not clear, but one sign might be Harvey Mudd's approach, which college president Maria Klawe says has quadrupled their female computer science graduates, to 40 percent of the total:
At Harvey Mudd we’ve focused on changing four things about learning CS: make it fun, make it relevant, make it not scary and make it clear that lots of kinds of people have careers involving CS. We changed the context of the intro course to “creative problem-solving in science and engineering using computational approaches with Python” instead of “learn to program in Java” and made sure that the homework assignments were a lot of fun. We did not reduce the level of rigor or challenge, and we increased the amount of programming.

We reduced the “scary factor” by separating our first year students into three sections: CS 5 gold for students with little or no programming experience, CS 5 black for students with a fair amount of programming experience, and CS 42 for students with a lot of experience (CS 42 covers the first two courses in the sequence, 5 and 60). Our instructors had private conversations with students who were using up a disproportionate amount of air time in class talking about arcane details and asked them to have those conversations with the instructors in private because other students found their level of knowledge intimidating.
This would seem to remove the people who really love the subject (and have been coding for years prior to college) out of the intro-level classes, where they can dominate professorial mindshare. I'm not entirely sold on this, but if it does indeed work, it's a far sight better — but harder — than bedazzling.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ellen Pao Out At Reddit: The Search For The Perfect Villain

I've been rather busy with a number of issues lately IRL, so I had little to say about Ellen Pao's resignation from Reddit. Pao, you may recall, lost a high-profile sex discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, and was even obliged to pay part of their claimed legal expenses. Predictably, the gang at industry watering holes The Verge, Ars Technica, TechCrunch, and mainstream press like the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, eagerly painted a picture of the case somehow amounting to a blow against sex discrimination in Silicon Valley, even though it was in fact a resounding rejection of that premise. Pao came off as a conniving tool, looking to shiv her employer once the right moment presented itself; who keeps a running journal of slights, except someone determined to sue?

But lost amid the raucous and empty self-congratulation in the popped balloon of Pao's hopes was the fact that she ended up at Reddit after resigning from Kleiner Perkins, i.e. she had a real job at a troubled but sizable Internet company that needed turning around. Was she up to the job? One answer comes from the snarky #ChairmanPao hashtag around Twitter, which certainly reflects the high-handed attitude she took toward the users she was charged with serving and monetizing. Her resignation letter is both predictably politically biased and myopic, affecting a stiff upper lip while sniping at the user base. "'[S]everal users," she writes, "apologized for trolling me and for not giving me the benefit of the doubt when the troll hivemind moved against me" (emphasis mine).
So why am I leaving? Ultimately, the board asked me to demonstrate higher user growth in the next six months than I believe I can deliver while maintaining reddit’s core principles.
The "higher user growth" she complains of certainly wasn't helped when Reddit unceremoniously fired "Ask Me Anything" coordinator Victoria Taylor, who was apparently the glue keeping many disparate parts together. Many sub-Reddits went dark rather than continue operating without her, as much in protest as in recognition of Taylor's utility in keeping the freewheeling communities from derailing. Regardless of who pulled the trigger in Taylor's firing, it clearly touched a nerve with Redditors, 150,000 of whom signed an online petition to fire Pao.

It's important to recognize that because of Pao's symbolism, it's unlikely the press will view her as the incompetent, brittle hack her brief tenure at Reddit has exposed her to be; they need a villain to absolve her of anything like accountability. Gawker has framed it as a "misogynist tantrum". Hot Air hunted down a TechRaptor piece showing the New York Times almost completely rewrote their original, just-the-facts-ma'am story in favor of a spin cycle worthy of Maytag, changing the headline from "Ellen Pao Is Stepping Down as Reddit’s Chief" to "It’s Silicon Valley 2, Ellen Pao 0: Fighter of Sexism Is Out at Reddit". And most predictably, outrage-meister and perpetual beta male Arthur Chu ran straight for the charge of "terrorist" claiming Taylor's firing was "a fig leaf". But once we get past the hubbub of culture wars, Chu has one point that survives unscathed:
The problem is that Reddit has been trying to sell a false bill of goods to investors all this time—something that Ohanian and Huffman and other true believers still cling to against all evidence.

This is the idea that you can build a functional community without having to spend any money or effort to manage it—that it just happens spontaneously through the “wisdom of crowds.” The Web 2.0 dream has always been to outsource all of the hard jobs to your users—that unpaid enthusiasts will do all the work of creating your content, curating your content, and promoting your content out of love, and all you have to do is pay some techies to keep the lights on.
Which is to say, the residue of Netscape — the notion that one can create value by giving away something for free — remains a deeply animating force in Silicon Valley. Pao had a difficult job no matter who ran Reddit, and it's far from clear anyone can fix that company. But pretending she had no role in her own downfall there only serves a dead narrative.

Update 7/13/2015: Here's a fascinating backgrounder from Vanity Fair on Ellen Pao and her husband, Buddy Fletcher. Fletcher's career eerily mimics Pao's: precocious youth, an Ivy League education with multiple degrees, and financial success that turned out to be a house of cards. Fletcher's hedge fund collapsed, with Louisiana public employee pension funds suing to liquidate their positions. But more interestingly, he sued his New York City coop on racial discrimination grounds when they refused to allow him to buy a fourth apartment. The backgrounder also contains a detail I had previously missed in the fracas: Kleiner Perkins testified in the suit that "despite her claims to the contrary, Pao had never, during the five years in which she alleged she had been harassed and discriminated against, complained to anyone at the firm."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Dear @FDRLST, Please Stop With The Lazy Abortion Articles

I can't even remember when I saw an article at The Federalist on the topic of abortion that wasn't tendentious and stupid. Today's from Charles C. Camosy tries pulling the rabbit of suppressing abortion out of the hat of gay marriage:
In offering his opinion on same-sex marriage last week, not only did Justice Kennedy invoke human dignity as the central idea behind legalizing such marriages in all 50 states, it was celebrated all over the Internet as the most beautiful part of his argument.

But some pro-life analysis of his opinion has been hopeful—not only because Kennedy (also the swing vote on abortion cases) refused to tie his opinion about legal same-sex marriage to abortion law—but also because of his insistence that the Fourteenth Amendment covers injustices that were previously unseen and must be corrected by the court. Pro-lifers hope Kennedy will see U.S. abortion practices (which involve, among other things, frequent killing of a fetus simply because she has Down syndrome) as yet another example of precisely this kind of hidden injustice.
Leaving aside the notion that it's any of his damned business whether a woman who can't keep a child should be forced at gunpoint to bear it long before the fetus is capable of surviving outside the womb, this is a point that barely has traction; the words "human dignity" aren't a get-out-of-jail-free card for abortion opponents. His hope for change in some wise rests on political winds shifting:
Want to get in step with a fast-changing modern American when it comes to abortion? Then you had better get okay with increased legal protections for prenatal children. Literally hundreds of bills limiting abortion have been passed in dozens of states in just the past few years, with hundreds more on the way this year. (One of the few state laws attempting to expand abortion rights was defeated—in a movement lead by a pro-life Democrat—in the liberal state of New York.) In addition, the future of abortion policy in the United States belongs to Millennials and Hispanics, who are increasingly skeptical of abortion. More than half are intensely skeptical.
But here, Camosy fails to parse the fine print of his supposedly buttressing evidence. From the USA Today article he links to:
Hardly. The Public Religion Research Institute conducted a very interesting 2011 poll. It found, especially among young people, significant majorities saying "pro-choice" described them somewhat or very well, while simultaneously claiming that "pro-life" described them somewhat or very well. Our lazy choice/life binary — which assumes that a complex issue such as abortion has only two possible answers — simply doesn't apply to our demographic future.
It's puzzling that Camosy would try to claim that "skeptical of abortion" implies greater public disapproval; isn't it possible that "I wouldn't get one but wouldn't prevent someone who wants one from getting one" is a possibility, too?

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Empty Threat Of Broken Greek Printing Presses

So, the Greeks having thumpingly rejected the ECB offers of conditional loans (and missed their latest payment deadline), the logical assumption is that Greece will exit the European Union and reboot the drachma. Except, finance minister Yanis Varoufakis says they can't, because they have no printing capacity:
"We don't have the capacity," Yanis Varoufakis told Australian public radio network ABC.

In 2000, the year before Greece joined the eurozone, "one of the things we had to do was get rid of all our printing presses" as part of the bloc's assertion that "this monetary union is irreversible," he said.

"We smashed the printing presses -- we have no printing presses," Varoufakis said.
(Well, actually, make that ex-finance minister.) But in truth, it wouldn't be that hard; private firms in the United States could print the currency, as they did for Lithuania after the Berlin Wall fell. It might be embarrassing, but no more so than being a deadbeat.