Saturday, October 24, 2015

What The Hell, Wired?

Just when you thought the SJW-controlled tech press was limited to presences born largely after the new century, this:
I am a longtime fan of Wired, probably my favorite magazine after our own blue-bordered oasis of civilization here and The New Criterion. That being said, its recent “Race, Gender, and Equality in the Digital Age” section is—curmudgeon mode engaged!—a work of almost pristine asininity.

Lucky thing that guest editor Serena Williams already has a day job.

Wired’s approach is an excellent illustration of the problematic fact that our thought-leading elites are fixated on elite institutions to the point of social blindness. The struggling non-white-male people we meet in the report are: a Morgan Stanley veteran who moved on to Kleiner Perkins, a Bowdoin graduate recently named to a teaching post at Yale, a Boston College graduate and former professional athlete now working as an NFL coach, another professional athlete, a Lehman Bros. veteran and Stanford Graduate School of Business graduate who complains that Silicon Valley isn’t a better place to be a black executive than it was five years ago, a hip-hop artist who is the son of a Chicago school-board member, an engineer whose CV includes stints at Genentech and Merck, and a transgender model in New York whose feelings were hurt when a date broke things off after learning that he wasn’t actually a woman.

If you were making a list of people who are going to do okay in life, you’d probably start with the nice folks at Morgan Stanley and Merck and Stanford’s graduate schools.
 I've been reading Wired on and off for over a decade (though I confess I allowed my subscription to lapse over a decade ago); my more recent forays led me to think they had become a sort of fashion magazine for people more interested in gadgetry than couture. That it's run downhill to the level of a TechCrunch gives me a sad.

Speculation On Modern Feminism And Feminists

A response to an Amy Alkon blog post regarding an Emily Hill essay on modern feminism that Ms. Alkon's commenting system ate, which I wanted to preserve owing to length:

Modern feminism is totalitarian and expansionist, albeit the latter not in the typical sense one thinks of when discussing political ideologies. Instead, its adherents seek ever-smaller microaggressions to police (nanoaggressions? picoaggressions?). There's some evidence that self-described feminists are in numerical decline, perhaps a consequence of the cognitive dissonance that exists in the gap of defining feminism as simple equality between the sexes, and real-world proposals offered up by its adherents (e.g. affirmative consent laws, bogus rape statistics, wooly-headed wage gaps, and the conspiracy theories of "rape culture" and "patriarchy").

Such a feminism seems so obviously idiotic it should be self-extinguishing within a generation or so; it's hard to imagine a majority of women are that dumb. Yet Jezebel and other smaller feminist media outlets steam on, which proves they have a readership broad enough. My theory, untroubled by data or research in the matter, is that modern feminism draws from two reservoirs of support, one small, one large:
  1. Lesbian separatists and other deeply disaffected women, who staff the academic walls of womens' studies departments and provide the bulk of feminist theory. They are, necessarily, a small subgroup.
  2. Lay feminists in the world outside the academy, who are probably overall less extreme in their prescriptions but not necessarily in their ardor for what they perceive the cause to be. Among them, especially among younger women, is a large contingent of only children, daughters of comparative privilege who had little intimate contact with boys as peers (or near peers) at a young age, and thus lack empathy and understanding for them.
The historical contributions of the former group toward defining feminism (think Andrea Dworkin, but there are many others) are incontestable. The latter is my own conception of young feminists' background today, informed only by anecdote. A fuller investigation into the demographics of modern feminism would prove fascinating, yet no one seems willing to fund such an excursion.

Update: Apparently a hidden condition of Alkon's commenting system relegated this to the spam folder. An earlier version of this is now up, but the remarks above are refined a bit from that earlier effort.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Star Wars And The Naked Fascism Of Ben Domenech

I find alternate Star Wars plot analysis fascinating, as for example Keith Martin's classic from 2005 in which Chewbacca and R2D2 are the principle actors, the drivers behind their more visible agents, Han Solo and C3PO. It's a plausible retelling of the story that makes a good amount of sense, particularly in its handling of the Luke/Leia relationship.

But where I think it falls down — and the Star Wars films more generally — is in its misapprehension of the nature of power. In particular, one conceit of the Star Wars universe I almost never see questioned is how the Jedi somehow always manage to be good guys, Darth Vader notwithstanding. This seems highly unlikely. Think about it: possessed of enormous and effectively unlimited mind control powers, they would have no incentive to restrain themselves, and no one to restrain them. Male Jedi could (and certainly would) seduce every desirable woman imaginable (and perhaps not a few men). No property would be safe with a Jedi in the area. With women mysteriously, constantly turning up pregnant (and infected), and possessions missing daily, society would shortly be thrown into chaos. The only hope would be a turncoat Jedi or Jedis who would somehow assist with the project of their extermination, i.e. Darth Vader (who is in fact a good guy, or at least is less awful than his corrupt brothers), the Emperor, and the Sith. That is, the entire series is a colossal lie of omissions, told by the power-mad, narcissistic Jedi themselves.

What, then, of the Empire's brutality? Innocents like Aunt Veru, Uncle Owen, sand people slaughtered by the score, the entire population of Alderaan, Ewoks and Gungans (ugh) — surely, if we read those deaths at face value, the Empire itself is still corrupt, murderous, and evil. It may well be. Nietzsche's proscription seems apt: "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster." Faced with such an existential crisis, it's all too easy to imagine an Empire that takes on the character of its enemies.

With this in mind, it's interesting (if repulsive) to read The Federalist's Ben Domenech recent, open advocacy for such an Empire as a force for good. There are times when it's hard to tell if he's kidding, but not when he starts to wind up his essay (emboldening mine):
If you have no idea that Vader turned, that he carried out a final act of redemptive courage in the face of destructive evil, what do you think happened on the second Death Star? You basically think the Rebel Alliance, a group of anarchist terrorists led by believers in an inhuman cult, destroyed the lives of millions, murdered your supreme emperor, and to add insult to injury, defiled Darth Vader’s corpse. It’s like Pearl Harbor II, and this time they killed FDR too.
In the face of such calamity, would the Galactic Empire, a supremely powerful organization spanning systems and planets of countless millions, guided by the Sith belief that those with the capacity of vision and the ability to lead have a duty to do so, and to make the hard choices about the destiny of the universe, simply disappear? Of course not. The Sith understand that the arc of history is long, and it bends toward barbarism and chaos – and that those who understand this and have the capacity to change that arc have a duty to do so in the interests of order, for the benefit of all creatures. They should not merely sit around in monkish robes intoning about balance, controlling passions, refusing to intervene, watching history happen with the dispassion of an ascetic.

For the Sith, the setback at Endor would not destroy them. They would be more inspired than ever to crush the rebellion and its little destructive furry moppets.
In Domenech's telling, order is the only good choice. It doesn't matter how brutally applied that order is, it doesn't matter how many collateral deaths there are, the only thing that matters is suppressing "barbarism and chaos". One gets the sense, especially reading the comments, that a great number of conservatives chafed at George Lucas' earlier ham-handed attempts to tie in Bush/43 foreign policy to the franchise. If so, it was because they were so clearly on the wrong side. The Jonathan V. Last alt-universe story errs, not in its reading of the Empire, but in its witless, soulless mania for power. Someone who could write the words, "Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet" has not lived in a state where people could be taken from their beds, never to be heard from again. That Domenech does not realize this (and apparently looks on approvingly) shows he makes the same mistake all who pretend to dictatorship do: they imagine themselves in power indefinitely, and exclusively.

The Embarrassing Old Men Of Atheism

I wrote a while back about how some of the atheists had conflated civility and "safety", i.e. ideological conformity; apparently the shunning has begun in earnest, now that "there's an excellent chance that the top of your head came off" when thinking about the awful, sexist, racist, every other -ist Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Already, they're casting the wrongthinkers out of the tent:
Thirdly (and you knew I would get to this) there are conflicts within the atheist movement. We often neglect to assume best intentions, which is a strategy necessary for healthy collaboration. But assuming best intentions with our fellow atheists is a challenge when there is a small cadre of atheists whose intentions are not kind or respectful but threatening and abusive, specifically towards women who identify and criticize sexism. There are also a substantial number of community members, many of whom I call friends, who don't always differentiate that cadre's hateful and violent speech from respectful disagreement. This has led to a ever-widening chasm between the "let's all get along" folk and a number of prominent atheist feminists.

The hateful cadre? They can go to nonexistent hell. No one who makes any kind of threat belongs in the atheist community. The rest of us would benefit from figuring out how to work together. That would require the "let's all get along" folk to stop referring to threats and hate speech as "disagreement." And it would require us feminists to be very careful ourselves about not mistaking disagreement or ignorance for unforgivable bigotry. As Bernice Johnson Reagon said, "a coalition is not a home"; we should not need to agree or even feel comfortable with each other to work together.
Except, of course, when they should. Just as a reminder, one of the many things that set off the prior round of atheist exorcism was Dawkins retweeting a woman questioning the existence of sexism within atheist groups (and positing a reason why so many do find it):
 Well, of course, burn the witch, &c. I don't doubt Dawkins can be pugilistic; it seems a fairly defining feature of modern atheistic discourse. But the insane equivalence of legitimate disagreement with "hate speech" shows just how petty and juvenile the movement has become.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Alexandra Petri And The No Good, Very Bad Meetings

You may have seen Alexandra Petri's Washington Post essay, "Famous quotes, the way a woman would have to say them during a meeting". A number of female friends circulated it in social media (Facebook, mostly); what seems to have grabbed them is the shared experience of abasement, i.e. the words "I'm sorry" appear frequently, and as well, denigrating one's own contributions. While I don't deny that experience (and see "The Confidence Gap" for a likely explanation), having sat through a number of meetings myself with women, this is not my recollection of their dynamics. Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist has a good rejoinder to all this, in three parts, the strongest being:
Meetings are awful not because men are sexist or women can’t form coherent thoughts but because meetings are awful! Nobody likes them. People have trouble getting along in groups, and communication is difficult.
Well, yes, this. The shilly-shallying language of Petri's essay ("I’m sorry, I just had this idea — it’s probably crazy, but — look, just as long as we’re throwing things out here — I had sort of an idea or vision about maybe the future?") is just damned annoying; Hemingway reminds us there are women who can utter a coherent sentence without backing up into apologetics.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The New York Times' Really Stupid, Really Predictable Essay On Tech Diversity

I expect it would shock absolutely no one to learn that the New York Times is in the bag with the rest of the tech industry press in pearl-clutching about the lack of women in STEM careers, while stumping for the same old dogmatic causes. This stuff is going to be with us a long while, I expect, so might as well get used to "What Really Keeps Women Out Of Tech": you see, it's just too darn male:
Over and over, Dr. Cheryan and her colleagues have found that female students are more interested in enrolling in a computer class if they are shown a classroom (whether virtual or real) decorated not with “Star Wars” posters, science-fiction books, computer parts and tech magazines, but with a more neutral d├ęcor — art and nature posters, coffee makers, plants and general-interest magazines.
It's all the movies' fault:
The percentage of women studying computer science actually has fallen since the 1980s. Dr. Cheryan theorizes that this decline might be partly attributable to the rise of pop-culture portrayals of scientists as white or Asian male geeks in movies and TV shows like “Revenge of the Nerds” and “The Big Bang Theory.” The media’s intense focus on start-up culture and male geniuses such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates might also have inspired more young men than women to enter the field.
It's almost as if just being around nerdy men is enough to frighten these delicate flowers away from the field!
... I wonder how many young men would choose to major in computer science if they suspected they might need to carry out their coding while sitting in a pink cubicle decorated with posters of “Sex and the City,” with copies of Vogue and Cosmo scattered around the lunchroom. In fact, Dr. Cheryan’s research shows that young men tend not to major in English for the same reasons women don’t pick computer science: They compare their notions of who they are to their stereotypes of English majors and decide they won’t fit in.
Since I can't find Dr. Cheryan's supporting paper on the subject, it's hard to know how good it is, i.e. do they actually ask men why they chose the major they did? A more realistic version of events, one that covers virtually every good coder I know, is that
  1. They actually like the work itself (the act of writing software, e.g., is an intrinsic reward), and
  2. The pay is pretty good compared to other jobs. (Which, by the way, chicks dig men with a stable job and good pay. Just so's you know.)
What I do not get, time and time again, is why so many people have such determination to force people who show no inclination or ability into fields where they will ultimately be uncomfortable at best. I have no problem at all with women being in STEM fields, and know many. But to look at the relative paucity of women and declare this is a problem is utter nonsense. This is something we should probably expect from a professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan, one who apparently has a chip on her shoulder for her career not turning out the way she wanted it to. Her book on the subject, The Only Woman In The Room, is "frankly personal and ... reflects on women’s experiences in a way that simple data can’t" — i.e., like all feminist screeds, it is anti-empirical. That is a deeply wrong approach for someone claiming to be a scientist.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sealioning, Defined

I touched on the subject of "sealioning" a while back, but I wanted to post something brief to capture a handful of links on this deeply disingenuous trope. Know Your Meme expressly credits the first published use of this term to David Malki's Wondermark, but Robot Hugs basically limned the outlines of the same idea earlier without using that exact locution.

The idea seems to be "we're having a private conversation here, so go away, man". The same thing occurs in the more recent Wondermark strip:

Notice the confusion of public online space (e.g., Facebook, or even more so, Twitter) with a private space (someone's dining room, say, from the Wondermark panel). These two things are entirely different environments with different characteristics, which is why the entire "sealioning" trope is so mendacious. What it really means is that the person employing this wants their opposite to just shut up because, reasons. It is a marker for someone (say, a radical feminist) spouting unsupported, dogmatic, negative opinions (patriarchy!) about some group (say, men) in an online space where members of that group are likely to be and will take exception and loudly disagree. Luckily, Urban Dictionary has a knockout, accurate, take-no-prisoners definition:
To express disagreement with, express skepticism of, or otherwise simply talk back to an internet social justice advocate or internet radical feminist.

Help me! help me! These white male shitlords on the internet are sealioning me by asking me to provide evidence for my accusations! I'm being harassed and stalked because people doubt me! Please donate to my paetron and kickstarter accounts so I can buy some new shoes~whoops, I mean, so I can produce some more content about how sexist this hobby that I don't really partake in is.

What Courage Looks Like

Meet Clare Hollingworth, who broke the story of World War II:
After elbowing her way into an industry in which she had few connections and little experience, she landed a job as a journalist for the Daily Telegraph. But determined to prove her capabilities and worth, Hollingworth persuaded her editor to send her to Poland to report on the build-up to war in August 1939.

In the city of Gleiwitz, on the Polish border, she spotted something unusual: hundreds of German tanks lined up, passing through a valley. She stood in front of what appeared to be Germany invading Poland, with the tanks waiting for the whistle blow that would order advance. Hollingworth ran to a nearby building and picked up the phone to call her friend Robin Hankey, who worked at the British Embassy.

“Robin,” she said. “The war’s begun!”

Hankey dismissed her claim. It couldn’t be true, he insisted, as the governments were still in negotiations. To prove she was telling the truth, Hollingworth stuck the phone out of the window so he could hear the tanks moving past. Convinced, he swiftly alerted authorities, who then had the unusual task of telling the Polish government that their country was about to be invaded.

Hollingworth had just alerted the world that World War II had started.
She had an amazing long career:
Here is a short highlights reel of Hollingworth’s incredible career: She was accused of being an MI6 spy by the Polish secret police; became one of the first western correspondents to be accredited in China after the cultural revolution; she covered the Desert War in North Africa, civil wars in Algeria and Aden, and the India-Pakistan wars; she broke the story of the disappearance and defection of Kim Philby to the Soviet Union; she single-handedly secured the release of kidnapped Daily Telegraph journalist John Wallis by insisting to the hostage takers that she and a group of other reporters were coming to be taken prisoner too.
The bell hooks brand of feminism, the one most often on display anymore, magnifies every conceivable slight into a legal tort, and blames men for all female failings, while demanding nothing of its proponents. For those of us opposed to this calumny, it's vital we look for women who have lived exceptional lives and put them and their work center stage from time to time, as role models. Hollingworth is worthy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Physician, Heal Thyself: TechCrunch's "Diversity" Hypocrisy

So, this happened:

So, um, let's check out the diversity of the staff at TechCrunch:

Writer Sex Ethnicity
Matthew Panzarino Male White
Matt Burns Male White
Alex Wilhelm Male White
Anna Escher Female White
Anthony Ha Male Asian
Bryce Durbin Male White
Catherine Shu Female Asian
Chris Nesi Male White
Connie Loizos Female White
Drew Olanoff Male White
Felicia Williams Female White
Frederic Lardinois Male White
Greg Kumparak Male White
Henry Pickavet Male White
JaNelle Hasty Female Black
Ingrid Lunden Female White
Joey Hinson Male White
John Biggs Male White
Jon Russell Male White
Jonathan Shieber Male White
Jordan Crook Female White
Jesse Chambers Male White
Writer Sex Ethnicity
Josh Constine Male White
Kim-Mai Cutler Female Asian
Leslie Hitchcock Female White
Matthew Lynley Male White
Megan Rose Dickey Female Black
Mike Butcher Male White
Natasha Lomas Female White
Ned Desmond Male White
Nicholas Vincent Male White
Nicole Wilke Female White
Romain Dillet Male White
Sam O'Keefe Female White
Sarah Buhr Female White
Sarah Lane Female White
Sarah Perez Female Hispanic
Stephen Wood Male White
Steve Long Male White
Steve O'Hear Male White
Tito Hamze Male White
Travis Bernard Male White
Yashad Kulkarni Male Arabic?

In graphical form:
Oh, dear, overwhelmingly male (64%) and/or white (83%), which latter is worse than the "senior investment team" they decry on racial grounds. I don't expect this will end TechCrunch's apparently limitless belief they should be able to shove their nose into other people's companies, but it does serve to illustrate what a raging bunch of hypocrites they are.

Update: If we look at bylines, the numbers are, well, interesting:
Men are still the dominant writers at TechCrunch (73% of bylines), and whites are even more so (83% of bylines). Yeah, whatever, TechCrunch.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Male Putdown Style Bags A Coder

Via Slashdot, a fairly prominent example of something I was writing about the other day in a more general context, the centrality of the male putdown as a way to remind everyone that respect is in limited supply. One of its freer users is Linus Torvalds, whose kernel development lists are widely known as flamefests. Developer Sarah Sharp recently announced she would step down in a blog post, citing a toxic communication style as the fundamental reason:
I have the utmost respect for the technical efforts of the Linux kernel community. They have scaled and grown a project that is focused on maintaining some of the highest coding standards out there. The focus on technical excellence, in combination with overloaded maintainers, and people with different cultural and social norms, means that Linux kernel maintainers are often blunt, rude, or brutal to get their job done. Top Linux kernel developers often yell at each other in order to correct each other’s behavior.

That’s not a communication style that works for me. I need communication that is technically brutal but personally respectful. I need people to correct my behavior when I’m doing something wrong (either technically or socially) without tearing me down as a person. We are human. We make mistakes, and we correct them. We get frustrated with someone, we over-react, and then we apologize and try to work together towards a solution.
Sharp tried and failed to get a policy of greater civility instituted on the kernel mailing list. Torvalds, of course, rejected it vociferously (as he does), citing a need for clarity by electronic communications as the justification:
The fact is, people need to know what my position on things are. And I can't just say "please don't do that", because people won't listen. I say "On the internet, nobody can hear you being subtle", and I mean it.

And I definitely am not willing to string people along, either. I've had that happen too - not telling people clearly enough that I don't like their approach, they go on to re-architect something, and get really upset when I am then not willing to take their work.
I'm generally a fan of civility; it's unfortunate that Sharp quit over this, but in a volunteer project, nobody makes you work. Given it's Linus' name on the project, he gets to call the shots.