Notes and Comment Blog

Trump boosts Fox’s report on what spy satellites have seen

Aug 8th, 2017 10:43 am | By

Trump is fine with Fox and Friends sharing classified information, and by “classified information” I mean classified information about North Korea’s missile activity.

President Trump on Tuesday used Twitter to amplify a Fox News report, based on anonymous sources, that U.S. spy satellites had detected North Korea loading two cruise missiles on a patrol boat on the country’s coast in recent days.

Without adding any comment of his own, Trump, who regularly decries leaks to the media, retweeted to his more than 35 million followers a link to the day-old story, which was featured Tuesday morning on “Fox & Friends,” a program on the Fox News network.

Erm…doesn’t that seem like the kind of classified information that you really would want to keep secret? For reasons genuinely to do with national security as opposed to outraged vanity or ruthless self-interest?

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a question about whether Trump’s retweet amounted to a confirmation of Fox’s story, which was attributed to unnamed “U.S. officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence in the region.”

Who are sharing it with Fox because…why?

One intelligence official said that the report itself was insignificant and not a sign that North Korea was preparing to test a missile or make any other provocation. They are different than the long-range missiles, known as ICBMs, that have been central to escalating tensions in the region.

However, the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, was chagrined that Trump would retweet a report about “something unimportant” that nonetheless “reveals something about our surveillance capabilities.”

Isn’t this scary enough yet? It seems plenty scary enough to me.

One door closes, another opens

Aug 8th, 2017 10:20 am | By

Of course he has.

Julian Assange has offered the Google employee who was fired for writing an anti-diversity memo a job at Wikileaks.

Assange, who is currently in the Ecuadorian embassy, tweeted multiple times in support of James Damore, the engineer who wrote the memo which went viral.

He said: “Censorship is for losers. @WikiLeaks is offering a job to fired Google engineer James Damore.

“Women & men deserve respect. That includes not firing them for politely expressing ideas but rather arguing back.”

Deffo. If somebody writes a “polite” ten page memo saying black people are just too different from white people to work at Google, that’s Respect.

In fact for even more Respect maybe Google should be actively recruiting people who can write 10 page memos saying how different and not-as-good women and Other Races are. There’s not enough of that kind of thing already, true Respect requires lots and lots more of it.

A culture of openness

Aug 8th, 2017 10:00 am | By

Google did fire Mr Memo.

In a companywide email, Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, said portions of the memo had violated the company’s code of conduct and crossed the line “by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

The memo put the company in a bind. On one hand, Google has long promoted a culture of openness, with employees allowed to question senior executives and even mock its strategy in internal forums. However, Google, like many other technology firms, is dealing with criticism that it has not done enough to hire and promote women and minorities.

Of course, questioning senior executives is one thing and announcing that women are inherently, as a matter of “biology,” not good enough to work at Google is another.

In an email titled “Our Words Matter,” Mr. Pichai said that he supported the right of employees to express themselves but that the memo had gone too far.

“The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender,” Mr. Pichai wrote. “Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive,’ showing a ‘lower stress tolerance,’ or being ‘neurotic.’”

Especially since having to worry about that uses up brain space that they could be using for work.

James Damore, the software engineer who wrote the original memo, confirmed in an email to The New York Times that he had been fired. Mr. Damore had worked at Google since 2013. He said in his memo that he had written it in the hope of having an “honest discussion” about how the company had an intolerance for ideologies that do not fit into what he believed were its left-leaning biases.

What ideologies are those? The ones that hold that “group X is ON AVERAGE [emphasis theirs] bad at the skills this job requires” and that therefore “the fact that fewer Xs work here is not something that needs to be corrected.”

In other words, the same old shit, dressed up in pseudo-intellectual language. There are more men in this company because men are better. There are more white people in this company because white people are better. We are better than you. Go away.

In other words, as Yonatan Zunger put it, a textbook hostile work environment.

Sure, Google could say we think a hostile work environment is worth it for the sake of open discussion. There’s certainly a lot of value in open discussion, and a work environment that encourages it. But…there’s also a lot of value in a work environment comparatively free of that particular brand of contempt.

Mr. Damore, who worked on infrastructure for Google’s search product, said he believed that the company’s actions were illegal and that he would “likely be pursuing legal action.”

“I have a legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior, which is what my document does,” Mr. Damore said.

Hmm. I’m not a lawyer, to put it mildly, but I doubt that. It sounds far too sweeping to be true. I doubt that anyone has a “legal right” to circulate, for instance, a bluntly racist or sexist memo full of epithets and memes and Pepe the frogs. Mr. Damore didn’t do that, but he didn’t just circulate a memo about his oncerns about the terms and conditions of his working environment, either. He circulated a memo that expatiated at great length on what is is about women that makes Google fail to hire them. Does he have a legal right to do that? I don’t know, but I have my doubts.

Before being fired, Mr. Damore said, he had submitted a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Google’s upper management was “misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints.” He added that it was “illegal to retaliate” against an N.L.R.B. charge.

And another martyr for men’s rights takes the stage.

A pervasive attitude

Aug 7th, 2017 4:49 pm | By

To many people in tech, Mr Memo’s memo is no surprise at all.

Others were less surprised to hear what they called a pervasive attitude in an industry long dominated by men. The manifesto “is the Silicon Valley mindset in many ways,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University college of engineering and a frequent critic of the tech sector’s lack of diversity. “You could take this to a lot of people and you would hear: ‘Yup, we agree with this.’ People used to say things like this fearlessly.”

The manifesto claims that men have a higher drive for status, that women might not like coding because they have more interest than men in “people and aesthetics”, and that the low number of women in “high stress jobs” is down to them having more “neuroticism”. “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” the author writes.

The document also claims that the gender wage gap is a myth, but Google is locked in an ongoing battle with US labour regulators claiming to have evidence that the company systematically undercompensates women.

The US labour regulators are probably all neurotic women.

Staying true to himself

Aug 7th, 2017 3:32 pm | By

Joan Vennochi at the Boston Globe points out that Trump has a considerable nerve sneering at Richard Blumenthal when he himself successfully avoided the draft altogether.

Just about a year ago, Donald Trump — the presidential candidate who received a draft deferment for bone spurs and called avoiding sexually transmitted diseases his “personal Vietnam” — mocked Gold Star parents who questioned what he knew about sacrifice.

So it’s no surprise that as president, Trump would feel free to attack Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut for misrepresenting his military record. Compared with attacking the parents of an army captain killed in Iraq, that barely registers as outrageous.

It still registers as pretty dang outrageous though. This is 1) a grown man and 2) the President, name-calling and sneering at a Senator on Twitter.

The president is staying true to the presidential candidate. As his critics continue to note, there’s no grace or humility, just nonstop bullying and hypocrisy.

With his latest tweets, Trump displays even more disrespect and disregard for people who have actually served in the military and truly sacrificed. Trump can’t stop himself and no one can stop him. It’s not shocking any more, just depressing.

The patient is feverish and agitated

Aug 7th, 2017 11:36 am | By

Tweeter Donald is being especially disgusting today.

We know there’s a core of people who love this terrible malevolent fraudulent greedy man. We know that. But it’s a small core and it’s shrinking.

The fascist calls the bulk of the most established US news media “fake.” He’ll be having journalists killed next.

I wish that were true.

Well, yes, because lying about one’s personal military history isn’t quite the same thing as colluding with a hostile foreign power to steal an election.

Trump’s hiring practices

Aug 7th, 2017 11:15 am | By

Trump says “JOBS JOBS JOBS.” Trump says “Hire American.” Trump says we gotta stop letting all these foreigners in, especially the ones seeking low-skill jobs. Trump says Make America Great Again.

Trump seeks to hire workers for Mar-a-Lago.

President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club needs to hire 35 waiters for this winter’s social season in Palm Beach, Fla.

Late last month, the club placed an ad on page C8 of the Palm Beach Post, crammed full of tiny print laying out the job experience requirements in classified ad shorthand. “3 mos recent & verifiable exp in fine dining/country club,” the ad said. “No tips.”

The ad gave no email address or phone number. “Apply by fax,” it said. The ad also provided a mailing address. It ran twice, then never again.

This was an underwhelming way to attract local job-seekers. But that wasn’t the point. The ads were actually part of Mar-a-Lago’s efforts to hire foreign workers for those 35 jobs.

About a week before the ads ran, the president’s club asked the Labor Department for permission to hire 70 temporary workers from overseas, government records show. Beside the 35 waiters, it asked for 20 cooks and 15 housekeepers, slightly more than it hired last year.

To get visas for those workers, Mar-a-Lago, like other businesses that rely on temporary employees each year, must first take legally mandated steps to look for U.S. workers. That includes placing two ads in a newspaper.

Which – surprise surprise! – typically get no results.

You know, if Trump actually wanted to hire US workers he could just say so on Twitter.

Officials at Mar-a-Lago and at the Trump Organization did not respond to questions for this article. Neither did a White House spokeswoman.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump defended his practice of using foreign workers at his club — even as he blamed immigrants for taking American jobs and keeping wages low for native-born workers.

“It’s very, very hard to get people. But other hotels do the exact same thing. . . . This is a procedure. It’s part of the law,” he said during a Republican candidates’ debate in March 2016, after Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) criticized him for using foreigners at Mar-a-Lago. “I take advantage of that. There’s nothing wrong with it. We have no choice.”

Sure, sure. Making no actual effort to find people has nothing to do with it.

In the past, Trump’s club has followed the same pattern of searching for — and not hiring — American workers. Two years ago, for instance, Jeannie Coleman, who lives in nearby West Palm Beach, applied for a job as a housekeeper.

Mar-a-Lago called back. She had an interview. Then: nothing.

“I was very disappointed. At that time, I really needed a job,” said Coleman, now 50, who works at a clothing store. “I had the qualifications. The interview went great. But they never even did the common courtesy to call me and tell me why I wasn’t hired.”

The Labor Department says that employers seeking foreign workers must “hire any [American] applicants who are qualified and available.” That year, Mar-a-Lago told the government it needed to hire 20 foreign workers as housekeepers. The government gave permission.

He really is a lying dog.

Thanks Nicole!

Aug 7th, 2017 10:43 am | By

So Trump thanked a bot.

Over the weekend, President Trump RT’d a shout-out of praise from a woman on Twitter named Nicole Mincey.

Around the same time, I noticed that Mincey’s tweets had been showing up high in Trump’s twitter threads. And as I mentioned in this tweet from Saturday evening, while I wasn’t sure whatever details there were about her, the accounts had all the tell-tale signs of a grift, most notably because of the stylized personal presentation and the focus on a Trump store where this woman – probably better to call her a “persona” – sold all manner of low-tier Trump shirts, hats, hoodies, etc.

In the course of looking into this I noticed that Trump had actually just RT’d her. That made me even more interested. It certainly seemed like Trump had RT’d a pro-Trump scam account, not a real person, just a faux Trump supporter used as a vehicle to make a quick buck on Trump hats. But then it got a bit more weird.

I dug into “Nicole Mincey’s” online record and I found her store and her ubiquitous up-from-Obama life story. It went like this: Nicole was a young African-American woman from a rough part of Camden, NJ who got tired of seeing no results from President Obama and decided to support Donald Trump. She got so supportive and so inspired by his example of entrepreneurship that she’d started her own Trump merch store.

She’d even been written up in conservative publications like Daily CallerWND and others.

But guess what: the Caller and WND stories were actually “sponsored articles” paid with a cut of the profits from the merch store.

Josh Marshall looked into it some more and found that she had a lot of bot friends.

One thread in “Nicole’s” twitter account was about a new organization she was forming for other pro-Trump black conservatives like her – ‘Young Black Republicans’ or YBR. She had a large number of other bot accounts which were her notional friends, which mainly seemed to exist to retweet her posts. But among these were some with vlog type videos of young African-American men talking up the YBR group. Notionally, these were followers of hers also planning to join YBR and look for support for the group.

AI is pretty advanced. But it can’t do that. Someone got these men to make these videos. As I said, it all seemed like a very elaborate operation just for a merch store.

It’s a merch store AND a Trump presidential campaign. Win-win!

I was off doing other things on Sunday. But Sunday evening I dialed back into the story and a lot had happened. Nicole’s twitter account and all her pro-Trump ‘friend’ bot accounts I’d identified had been suspended by Twitter.

It may be more than just a merch store; the TPM people are still digging into it.

Meanwhile we get to laugh at Don thanking a bot.

Cambridge Classics Faculty speaks

Aug 7th, 2017 10:15 am | By

A Faculty statement concerning ethnic diversity in Roman Britain:

Roman Britain has long been an important part of the teaching and research in the Faculty of Classics. The question of ethnic diversity in the province has been getting unusual amounts of attention recently. Professor Mary Beard has been at the centre of some of this attention. In the Faculty we welcome and encourage public interest in, and reasoned debate about, the ancient world, such as Professor Beard has always sought to encourage. The evidence is in fact overwhelming that Roman Britain was indeed a multi-ethnic society. This was not, of course, evenly spread through the province, and it would have been infinitely more noticeable — it can be assumed — in an urban or military context than in a rural one. There are, however, still significant gaps in our understanding. New scientific evidence (including but not limited to genetic data) offers exciting ways forward, but it needs to be interpreted carefully.

We do hope participants in the public discussion and others will want to learn more about this subject. You may wish to consult:

H. Eckardt (ed.) 2010. Roman Diasporas: Archaeological Approaches to Mobility and Diversity in the Roman Empire. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplement 78.

H. Eckardt and G. Mundler 2016. ‘Mobility, Migration and Diasporas in Roman

Britain’, in M. Millett, L. Revell and A. Moore (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Roman Britain. Oxford: 203-23.

And a very good evening to you.

Without the victim’s knowledge or consent

Aug 7th, 2017 10:03 am | By

Here’s a hateful little item of local news, which I would probably never have seen if I hadn’t been looking up how long we have to live with the smoke from forest fires mucking up the air:

Two members of the University of Washington men’s rowing team have been accused of sharing video and photos of themselves having sex with drunken female students, according to charging papers.

John C. Young and Tyler Minney, both 19, were each charged Wednesday with one count of disclosing intimate images for allegedly distributing to classmates a video of both men having sex with a “highly intoxicated” freshman student without her consent.

Wouldn’t it be nice if boys and men in general could manage to enjoy sex with girls and women without punishing or abusing or exploiting them in the process? Is that really too much to ask?

King County prosecutors allege in charging papers the two rowers had sex with a then-18-year-old student in December at McMahon Hall, a university dormitory, where they “filmed their sexual encounter without (the victim’s) knowledge or consent and distributed it to fellow classmates over the course of the next few months.”

Like Steubenville. Like the goddam Marines. Why do so many male people insist on mixing up sex with hostility to the sex partner?

Only months later did the victim learn from friends about the incident, the records say. She reported it to UW’s Title IX office, which in turn contacted university police.

Prosecutors also contend Minney secretly took photographs as he had sex last October with a 19-year-old student who was drunk at the time. Minney allegedly shared the pictures with classmates over the next several months, prosecutors say.

The woman “had little to no memory of the … sex and did not learn it had been photographed until a friend showed her the picture,” according to the charging records.

Minney and Young’s actions “have profoundly and negatively impacted the lives” of both women “by causing them embarrassment, shame and pain,” charging papers say.

Ya think?

A textbook hostile workplace environment

Aug 7th, 2017 9:34 am | By

Yonatan Zunger recently left a senior position at Google (not in anger) so he is free to talk about Mr Memo.

So it seems that someone has seen fit to publish an internal manifesto about gender and our “ideological echo chamber.” I think it’s important that we make a couple of points clear.

(1) Despite speaking very authoritatively, the author does not appear to understand gender.

(2) Perhaps more interestingly, the author does not appear to understand engineering.

(3) And most seriously, the author does not appear to understand the consequences of what he wrote, either for others or himself.

It was striking how authoritatively Mr Memo spoke, especially since it was obvious that he was just recycling familiar old junk we’ve all seen a million times, especially on Twitter. It’s like verbal manspreading, that kind of thing – the blithe entitlement and confidence.

In (2) Zunger explains that engineering is not simply “sitting at your computer and hyper-optimizing an inner loop, or cleaning up a class API”; that that’s fun stuff but it’s beginner level.

But it’s not a coincidence that job titles at Google switch from numbers to words at a certain point. That’s precisely the point at which you have, in a way, completed your first apprenticeship: you can operate independently without close supervision. And this is the point where you start doing real engineering.

Engineering is not the art of building devices; it’s the art of fixing problems. Devices are a means, not an end. Fixing problems means first of all understanding them — and since the whole purpose of the things we do is to fix problems in the outside world, problems involving people, that means that understanding people, and the ways in which they will interact with your system, is fundamental to every step of building a system. (This is so key that we have a bunch of entire job ladders — PM’s and UX’ers and so on — who have done nothing but specialize in those problems. But the presence of specialists doesn’t mean engineers are off the hook; far from it. Engineering leaders absolutely need to understand product deeply; it’s a core job requirement.)

And once you’ve understood the system, and worked out what has to be built, do you retreat to a cave and start writing code? If you’re a hobbyist, yes. If you’re a professional, especially one working on systems that can use terms like “planet-scale” and “carrier-class” without the slightest exaggeration, then you’ll quickly find that the large bulk of your job is about coordinating and cooperating with other groups. It’s about making sure you’re all building one system, instead of twenty different ones; about making sure that dependencies and risks are managed, about designing the right modularity boundaries that make it easy to continue to innovate in the future, about preemptively managing the sorts of dangers that teams like SRE, Security, Privacy, and Abuse are the experts in catching before they turn your project into rubble.

Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels, and even then it’s only possible because someone senior to you — most likely your manager — has been putting in long hours to build up the social structures in your group that let you focus on code.

And golly gee guess what, women have been socialized to be good at that.

All of these traits which the manifesto described as “female” are the core traits which make someone successful at engineering. Anyone can learn how to write code; hell, by the time someone reaches L7 or so, it’s expected that they have an essentially complete mastery of technique. The truly hard parts about this job are knowing which code to write, building the clear plan of what has to be done in order to achieve which goal, and building the consensus required to make that happen.

All of which is why the conclusions of this manifesto are precisely backwards. It’s true that women are socialized to be better at paying attention to people’s emotional needs and so on — this is something that makes them better engineers, not worse ones. It’s a skillset that I did not start out with, and have had to learn through years upon years of grueling work.

It occurs to me that Mr Memo’s memo is a sign that he’s not good at it at all.

(3) is gold.

That brings us, however, to point (3), the most serious point of all. I’m going to be even blunter than usual here, because I’m not subject to the usual maze of HR laws right now, and so I can say openly what I would normally only be allowed to say in very restricted fora. And this is addressed specifically to the author of this manifesto.

What you just did was incredibly stupid and harmful. You just put out a manifesto inside the company arguing that some large fraction of your colleagues are at root not good enough to do their jobs, and that they’re only being kept in their jobs because of some political ideas. And worse than simply thinking these things or saying them in private, you’ve said them in a way that’s tried to legitimize this kind of thing across the company, causing other people to get up and say “wait, is that right?”

I need to be very clear here: not only was nearly everything you said in that document wrong, the fact that you did that has caused significant harm to people across this company, and to the company’s entire ability to function. And being aware of that kind of consequence is also part of your job, as in fact it would be at pretty much any other job. I am no longer even at the company and I’ve had to spend half of the past day talking to people and cleaning up the mess you’ve made. I can’t even imagine how much time and emotional energy has been sunk into this, not to mention reputational harm more broadly.

And as for its impact on you: Do you understand that at this point, I could not in good conscience assign anyone to work with you? I certainly couldn’t assign any women to deal with this, a good number of the people you might have to work with may simply punch you in the face, and even if there were a group of like-minded individuals I could put you with, nobody would be able to collaborate with them. You have just created a textbook hostile workplace environment.

If you hadn’t written this manifesto, then maybe we’d be having a conversation about the skills you need to learn to not be blocked in your career — which are precisely the ones you described as “female skills.” But we are having a totally different conversation now. It doesn’t matter how good you are at writing code; there are plenty of other people who can do that. The negative impact on your colleagues you have created by your actions outweighs that tremendously.

You talked about a need for discussion about ideas; you need to learn the difference between “I think we should adopt Go as our primary language” and “I think one-third of my colleagues are either biologically unsuited to do their jobs, or if not are exceptions and should be suspected of such until they can prove otherwise to each and every person’s satisfaction.” Not all ideas are the same, and not all conversations about ideas even have basic legitimacy.

If you feel isolated by this, that your views are basically unwelcome in tech and can’t be spoken about… well, that’s a fair point. These views are fundamentally corrosive to any organization they show up in, drive people out, and I can’t think of any organization not specifically dedicated to those views that they would be welcome in. I’m afraid that’s likely to remain a serious problem for you for a long time to come. But our company is committed to maintaining a good environment for all of its people, and if one person is determined to thwart that, the solution is pretty clear.²

I’m writing this here, in this message, because I’m no longer at the company and can say this sort of thing openly. But I want to make it very clear: if you were in my reporting chain, all of part (3) would have been replaced with a short “this is not acceptable” and maybe that last paragraph above. You would have heard part (3) in a much smaller meeting, including you, me, your manager, your HRBP, and someone from legal. And it would have ended with you being escorted from the building by security and told that your personal items will be mailed to you. And the fact that you think this was “all in the name of open discussion,” and don’t realize any of these deeper consequences, makes this worse, not better.

So that seems to mean that what goes down a treat on MRA Twitter doesn’t go down so well in the actual world of work. Good to know.

Half the creeps on cyberspace followed him

Aug 7th, 2017 8:28 am | By

Nick Cohen responds to the ill-mannered Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

The spat would not be worth mentioning if it did not show how nothing is now free from the culture war. That nothing includes the skin colours of the population of Roman Britain.

You may need to bear with me as I explain. In December, BBC Teach released on YouTube a video about life in Roman Britain. Shockingly, as it was to turn out, it featured a Roman with dark skin. An editor working for Infowars went on the attack. ‘Thank God the BBC is portraying Roman Britain as ethnically diverse. I mean, who cares about historical accuracy, right?’ Infowars, in case you haven’t heard of it either, is run by Alex Jones. You can call him a cynic or you can call him a madman, according to taste, but he has built his income by spawning the most grotesque conspiracy theories. Like Taleb, he wouldn’t be worth bothering with, were it not a matter of record that Donald Trump is a fan. The fringe has become the mainstream, as I keep saying. Those who don’t fight the cranks before they become powerful are doomed to be governed by them when they do.

True, and sadly so are the rest of us even though we did fight the cranks before they became powerful. God damn it it is so unfair.

Mary Beard said on Twitter that the BBC’s history lesson was ‘indeed pretty accurate, there’s plenty of firm evidence for ethnic diversity in Roman Britain’. Taleb jumped in, and half the creeps on cyberspace followed him. Genetic evidence did not show blacks were in Roman Britain, he said, or I should say appeared to say – his argument was hard to follow, ‘Genes better statisticians than historian hearsay bullshit,’ Taleb continued.

I must try to be fair. Taleb may appear to be a strutting, preening, loudmouthed lout. He may boast like a secretly insecure phoney and rage like a punch-drunk lightweight.

But that doesn’t make him wrong on the facts; that has to be considered separately. Is he wrong on the facts?

So let us see how the evidence stacks up. It is indeed true that the ‘People of the British Isles’ study found no evidence of the 400-year Roman occupation in the genetic makeup of the British. But then it found no genetic evidence that the Danes invaded. That doesn’t mean the Romans and the Danes weren’t here.

Adam Rutherford has just published A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, a wonderful book which takes the reader through the exploding science of what genes tell us about human history. After he had told me that some of the assertions Taleb was coming out with made no sense at all, Rutherford explained that DNA from Roman remains is hard to find and harder still to examine. ‘It is certainly possible to reconstruct certain aspects of historical demography from DNA extracted from bones, but the picture will never be complete. Some people assert facts based on DNA evidence trumps all we believe’ – he may have been thinking of Taleb here – but ‘DNA is merely another strand of historical evidence, which only works in concert with the more traditional forms of knowing the past.’

I’m going to make a wild guess here that one reason the picture will never be complete is because we’ll never have all the DNA there is to have. In many circumstances not finding X does not mean X doesn’t exist. That in fact is the point of “the black swan” trope, which Taleb seized from philosophy. It reminds us that what we can currently detect is not necessarily all there is to detect.

And those other strands show that the multinational Roman Empire brought its multinational citizens to Britain. Beard said she thought that the BBC character was loosely based on Quintus Lollius Urbicus, a man from what is now Algeria, who became governor of Britain. For classical historians, the notion that Roman Britain included people from across the empire is ‘pretty well taken for granted, as a starting point for more detailed and interesting investigations,’ as Neville Morley of Exeter University says.

Rome was an empire. It would be odd if there were no mixing of peoples in an empire.

The last thing this debate is about is history, however. The Trump presidency and the rise of nationalist movements across Europe is politicising the past. If you are Trumpian blowhard, you see an innocuous BBC cartoon showing a black Roman in Britain as an affront. Even if you do not feel affronted, you know you can whip up your supporters to feel offended. For if you do not keep them in a state of perpetual outrage, the wheels would fall off your bandwagon, and then where would you be?

A black face in these circumstances is a provocation and a lie: “bullshit” to use another of the great public intellectual’s favourite words. Indeed, it is worse than a lie: it is propaganda from the globalist multicultural elite, designed to brainwash the masses into believing diversity is a part of our history.

The effort is sinister for two reasons. I am not the type of liberal who throws accusations of racism around. But come now. The torrent of fury Taleb unleashed on Beard has one cause and one cause only: her statement that Roman Britain was diverse. If she had intervened on a controversy about slavery and the agrarian Roman economy, no one would have cared.

I’m going to suggest it has another cause in addition to that one. Beard is a woman. Men like Taleb cannot resist the urge to vomit their bile all over women who dare to say they got something wrong. There are a great many men like Taleb trampling all over the public discourse right now.

Second, and in my view just as sinister, is what the alt-right and politically correct left are doing to public life.

My point exactly. Part of what they are doing to public life is making it just normal for women to expect torrents of abuse simply for participating.

A little cash, a little influence…

Aug 6th, 2017 5:28 pm | By

Andrew Prokop at Vox says that since the Trump administration has turned its beady eye on affirmative action programs at universities, this would be an excellent time to ask how the fuck Jared Kushner got into Harvard.

Of course few will be surprised that Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, a wealthy and connected developer and political donor, helped him get in. But the details of just how that happened, described in Daniel Golden’s thoroughly reported 2007 book The Price of Admission, remain remarkable to this day.

What Golden found, essentially, was that Jared’s father handed Harvard (a school he did not attend) a big pile of money just as Jared was starting to apply to colleges. Around the same time, Jared’s dad got his US senator to contact another US senator to arrange a chat with Harvard’s dean of admissions.

Happily for the Kushner family, Jared was then admitted. But several officials at Jared’s high school outright told Golden that they found the choice puzzling, since his grades and academic record really didn’t seem to merit it:

In 1998, according to sources familiar with the gift, the New York University alumnus [Charles Kushner] pledged $2.5 million to Harvard, to be paid in annual installments of $250,000. … At the time of the pledge, Kushner’s older son, Jared, was starting the college admissions process at the Frisch School, a Jewish high school in Paramus, New Jersey. A senior in 1998-99, Jared was not in the school’s highest academic track in all courses, and his test scores were below Ivy League standards. Frisch officials were surprised when he applied to Harvard — and dismayed when he was admitted.

And now that fresh-faced young man is taking on a whole slew of highly important and sensitive jobs – like brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians for instance – for which he has no qualifications whatsoever. Isn’t America grand?

“There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard,” a former school official told me. “His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not” …

… Margot Krebs, who was director of Frisch’s college preparatory program at the time, said, “Jared was certainly not anywhere near the top of his class. He had some very strong personal qualities. He’s a very charming young man with a great deal of poise, the sort of kid you would look at him and say, ‘This is a future politician.’ It was an unusual choice for Harvard to make.”

Awesome. He’s charming and poised, but he’s not very bright and he doesn’t know much. What could go wrong?

Some thoughts from Mr Memo

Aug 6th, 2017 5:03 pm | By

A male person at Google has had just about enough of their diversity policy, and wrote a ten page memo to explain about it. Surprise plot twist: it’s because women just aren’t as good.

In the memo, which is the personal opinion of a male Google employee and is titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” the author argues that women are underrepresented in tech not because they face bias and discrimination in the workplace, but because of inherent psychological differences between men and women. “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” he writes, going on to argue that Google’s educational programs for young women may be misguided.

The post comes as Google battles a wage discrimination investigation by the US Department of Labor, which has found that Google routinely pays women less than men in comparable roles.

Which, it turns out, is only reasonable, because women just are different, in the sense of worse.

Only facts and reason can shed light on these biases, but when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies. For the rest of this document, I’ll concentrate on the extreme stance that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and the authoritarian element that’s required to actually discriminate to create equal representation.

Fortunately, fortunately, he happens to have all the necessary facts and reason for the job. He knows everything, and explains it lucidly.

On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:

  • They’re universal across human cultures
  • They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
  • Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
  • The underlying traits are highly heritable
  • They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective

Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

Personality differences

Women, on average, have more:

  • Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).
  • These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both people and aesthetics.
  • Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness.
  • This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue. This leads to exclusory programs like Stretch and swaths of men without support.
  • Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

Fascinating. I feel more in possession of facts and reason already – though also, of course, more open toward feelings, more agreeable, more reluctant to speak up, and way way way more neurotic.

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.

Status is the primary metric that men are judged on[4], pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.

I’ve noticed that. There’s nothing like being a coal miner or a garbage collector to satisfy the lust for status.

Why we’re blind

We all have biases and use motivated reasoning to dismiss ideas that run counter to our internal values. Just as some on the Right deny science that runs counter to the “God > humans > environment” hierarchy (e.g., evolution and climate change) the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ[8] and sex differences). Thankfully, climate scientists and evolutionary biologists generally aren’t on the right. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social scientists learn left (about 95%), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap[9]. Google’s left leaning makes us blind to this bias and uncritical of its results, which we’re using to justify highly politicized programs.

What luck that Mr Memo is immune to any kind of bias.

The bracketed numbers by the way lead to more of his thoughts on the subject, not to sources. There ain’t no sources. Real men are Leaders, and they don’t need no stinkin’ sources.

Guest post: The trajectory of “radical sexualities”

Aug 6th, 2017 11:44 am | By

Guest post by Josh Spokes.

The gay community’s historical project of sexual liberation was something very different than what I thought it was when I was a young man coming into that world in the late 80s and early 90s. I see now, of course, that it was an almost entirely male “community.”

The pleas for acceptance for “radical sexualities” that seemed so innocent to me, so reasonable, then—-these were just the seeds that have bloomed into today’s lesbian-bashing, misogyny, pedophilic interest in children’s bodies, and much worse.

I struggle with this. Many of us chafed against the “respectable” gays that wanted us to tone it down so they could present in their sweaters and khakis as just another suburban couple who wanted to start a family. I resent that excessive assimilation, too, especially when it’s based on a patriarchal fantasy.

But we let perverts have too big a voice. There are, in fact, larger consequences down the line for arguing that walking your “sub” on a leash at outdoor parades is a symbol of freedom and love.

It is not the exclusive purview of Christianity or repressive religion to recognize that sexuality is a distinct thing that should not be treated like a marketable commodity. There are good reasons why we delineate the public and private sphere. There are good reasons to treat sex and intimacy with care, and not to contribute to an ever more violent (metaphorical and physical) expression of sexuality as a zero sum commodity.


Aug 6th, 2017 11:12 am | By

I missed this the other day: the White House eventually admitted that Trump was the source of the first statement on Junior’s meeting with the Rooshians.

The White House has confirmed Donald Trump played a role in drafting a misleading statement about his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer.

On Tuesday, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, contradicted Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, who said the president had had no involvement.

“The statement that Don Jr issued is true,” Huckabee Sanders said at the daily press briefing. “There is no inaccuracy in the statement. The president weighed in as any father would.”

Oh sure, any father who had financial and perhaps even more sinister ties with Russia would issue a lying public statement about his son’s involvement, because that’s what daddies do.

Also, of course, the statement Junior issued was not true, and there was inaccuracy in the statement. Huckabee Sanders is lying for the boss again, as any decent Christian fanatic would.

The statement, which was issued by Donald Trump Jr’s lawyer, required repeated updates as more details of the meeting leaked out.

Initially, Trump Jr said he and the Russian lawyer “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children”. Further reporting revealed that Trump Jr had, in fact, taken the meeting after having been offered incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, forcing the president’s son to release the email exchange leading up to the meeting.

In the emails, Trump Jr was explicitly told of an effort by the Russian government to aid Trump’s campaign, and that Veselnitskaya could offer highly sensitive information about Clinton. “If it’s what you say, I love it,” Trump Jr replied.

If the statement had been true they wouldn’t have had to keep updating it, would they.

The latest allegations about the meeting in Trump Tower dealt another blow to an already beleaguered president, placing him under the microscope as federal investigators look into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow during the presidential election. It also raised fresh questions for the justice department, some legal experts said, as special counsel Robert Mueller examines whether Trump obstructed justice.

“You’re boxing in a witness into a false story,” Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer for George W Bush, told the Guardian. “That puts them under enormous pressure to turn around and lie under oath to be consistent with their story. I think it’s obstruction of justice.”

For Trump to draft a “knowingly false” statement for his son, who could be considered a material witness in the Russia investigation, “very likely will be deemed to be obstruction of justice”, Painter said.

But it’s what any father would do!

Morning troll

Aug 6th, 2017 10:42 am | By

Sarah Boseley at the Guardian today takes up the story of Mary Beard and the eruption of enraged goons.

She said the tone of the debate left her dispirited. “It feels very sad to me that we cannot have a reasonable discussion on such a topic as the cultural, ethnic composition of Roman Britain without resorting to unnecessary insult, abuse, misogyny and language of war, not debate.”

Beard, a classicist at Cambridge University, who is well known for her robust responses to Twitter trolls, was one of those who pointed to evidence that there was at least some ethnic diversity in Britain under Roman rule.

There followed, she said in her blog in the Times Literary Supplement, days of attacks on Twitter, which she described as “a torrent of aggressive insults, on everything from my historical competence and elitist ivory tower viewpoint to my age, shape and gender [batty old broad, obese, etc etc].”

It is dispiriting. We’ve probably gotten somewhat hardened to it over time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dispiriting; of course it is. It’s hugely dispiriting that we can’t use social media to talk about things like the demographics of Roman Britain without risking yet another dip into the sewer of abuse.

The abuse got worse, she wrote, when Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professor of risk analysis in the US and author of the best-selling book The Black Swan, joined her critics.

Beard told Taleb on Twitter that this kind of family in Roman Britain was unsurprising. He questioned her scholarship and accused her of “talking bullshit”.

And when Simon Singh and Nick Cohen defended Beard he called them names too. He considers himself a scholar but he carries on like any random Twitter troll.

The equation of white marble with beauty

Aug 5th, 2017 5:58 pm | By

In June there was Sarah Bond.

Earlier this month, Bond published an article in the online arts publication Hyperallergic saying that research shows ancient Western artifacts were painted in different colors but have, over time, faded to their base light marble color — giving the false impression that white skin was the classical ideal.

Uh oh. We know where this is going.

“Modern technology has revealed an irrefutable, if unpopular, truth: many of the statues, reliefs and sarcophagi created in the ancient Western world were in fact painted,” she wrote. “Marble was a precious material for Greco-Roman artisans, but it was considered a canvas, not the finished product for sculpture. It was carefully selected and then often painted in gold, red, green, black, white and brown, among other colors.”

While today’s scholars have accepted this as fact, she said, the general public is another story. Part of the problem is that most museums and art history textbooks continue to contain “a predominantly neon white display of skin tone when it comes to classical statues and sarcophagi.”

The “assemblage of neon whiteness serves to create a false idea of homogeneity — everyone was very white! — across the Mediterranean region,” she continued. “The Romans, in fact, did not define people as ‘white’; where, then, did this notion of race come from? … The equation of white marble with beauty is not an inherent truth of the universe.”

Bond suggests this misunderstanding has perpetuated or been used to support racism over time, saying that “how it continues to influence white supremacist ideas today [is] often ignored.” Groups such as Identity Europa, for example, use classical statuary “as a symbol of white male superiority,” she added. “It may have taken just one classical statue to influence the false construction of race, but it will take many of us to tear it down.”

Unpossible. There’s no such thing. What we see and hear has no influence whatsoever on what we think. Our thoughts come directly from God, or from the energy of the cosmos if that’s what you prefer to call it – but in no case do they come from what we experience in our environment. Our sacred free will and original thinking depend on this well-established fact, and I defy any mere classics scholar who would attempt to challenge it.

We make up our own thoughts out of our own heads; we do we do we do! We’re miraculous that way. We have souls, and internal essences, and Identities, and those are where our ideas come from – not from what we read or see or hear said.

Conservative sites like National Review and Campus Reform were on the case.

Campus Reform included some lengthy quotes from Bond’s piece and contacted her for comment. She complied, saying that “Greeks and Romans actually added color to their art and thus white marble was often the canvas rather than the finished product.” The “exalting of white (and unpainted) marble was then an 18th century construct of beauty rather than representative of the classical view,” she added in an email to the website. But the coverage there and elsewhere, plus an additional mention by conservative talk radio host Joe Pags, was enough to prompt online threats of violence and calls for her termination, she says. There was additional heckling and harassment, including anti-Semitic references (Bond is of Jewish descent).

“What they want to believe is that there is a liberal professor that is so sensitive to race issues that she will make race issues out of anything,” Bond told ArtForum. “They want to make me an example of the hyperliberalization of the academy.”

They’re making America great again.

Every kind of source must be interpreted

Aug 5th, 2017 4:54 pm | By

Sarah Zhang at the Atlantic takes off from Taleb’s rudeness to Mary Beard to talk about what we don’t know about genetics.

In December, the BBC released on YouTube an old animated video about life in Roman Britain, which featured a family with a dark-skinned father. This depiction recently caught the ire of an Infowars editor, who tweeted, “Thank God the BBC is portraying Roman Britain as ethnically diverse. I mean, who cares about historical accuracy, right?”

To which Mary Beard—best known as a classicist at Cambridge, and more recently known for taking on internet trolls—replied, “this is indeed pretty accurate, there’s plenty of firm evidence for ethnic diversity in Roman Britain.” To which Nassim Nicholas Taleb—best-known for railing about epistemic arrogance in The Black Swan, and recently known for arguing on Twitter—replied:

Oh how quickly the conversation jumped from children’s cartoon to Infowars rant to genetics. Having completed a close reading of the entire thread—you’re welcome—I think the most charitable interpretation is a classic Twitter case of arguing past one another. Beard is saying there were indeed dark-skinned people in Roman Britain. Taleb cries BS: A mixed family was not typical of the time. Those positions are not inconsistent. We each have hills to die on, I suppose.

That genetics even came up at all in a debate about ancient Roman history is indicative of science’s stature in these fractious times. Genetics gets invoked as neutral, as having none of the squishiness of historical interpretation.

Or the bullshit, as Taleb so politely puts it.

But that is simply not true—as applied to Roman Britain or any other time or place in the ancient world. Geneticists, anthropologists, and historians who rely on DNA to study human migrations are well aware of the limitations of DNA analysis. At the same time, ancestry DNA tests are becoming ever cheaper and more popular, and misconceptions abound.

“We have written sources. We have archaeological sources. Now we have genetic sources, but no source speaks for itself.” says Patrick Geary, a historian at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, who is using DNA to track barbarian invasions during the fall of the Roman empire. “Every kind of source must be interpreted. We are only at the beginning of how to properly interpret the genetic data.”

Interpreted? But that’s that humanistic bullshit that Taleb is so scornful of.

But seriously, what she goes on to say about how historians use genetics is interesting.

Did Quintus Lollius Urbicus sneak across the border?

Aug 5th, 2017 4:16 pm | By

Mary Beard looks at another bizarre Twitter storm, this one set off by outrage at The Very Idea that there were any not entirely white people in Roman Britain.

It all started when an “alt-right” commenter picked up on a BBC schools video that featured a family in Roman Britain in which the father, a high ranking  soldier, was presented as black (as it is a cartoon it is harder to be more precise than that). The commenter objected both on twitter and on an online site. ‘The left’ he wrote, ‘ is literally trying to rewrite history to pretend Britain always had mass immigration.’

Several people objected to this criticism before me, notable Mike Stuchbery, who  pointed out on Twitter quite a lot of the evidence for ethnic and cultural diversity in the province. I came in quite late to say that the video was ‘pretty accurate’. I think, for example, that the BBC character was loosely based (with a bit of a chronological shift) on Quintus Lollius Urbicus, a man from what is now Algeria, who became governor of Britain; you can still visit his grand tomb at Tiddis. If you want some more information on that accuracy, then try the blog of Neville Morley or of Matthew Nicholls; thanks to both for the support — and to the many others who have spoken up. I am really grateful.

You mean there wasn’t a Wall between Algeria and Britain? You mean the Mediterranean and the Atlantic weren’t full of sharks the size of 747s that ate any ship that ventured too far from home? You mean people from one place could actually travel to another place, even one quite a long distance away? How can this be? It must be PolitiKol Korrektness.

It was then that the attacks came, and have gone on for days since. True they haven’t yet got to death threats (as they have with my US colleague Sarah Bond, who had the nerve to talk about classical statues not originally being white) but a torrent of aggressive insults, on everything from my historical competence and elitist ivory tower viewpoint to my age, shape and gender (batty old broad, obese, etc etc ). True they were well balanced by the support I got (thanks again all), and individually none was more than irritating, but the cumulative effect was just nasty. And it got worse after Nicholas Nassim Taleb weighed in, not on my side. He proved a rallying cry for the insults. One person, for example, posted a photo of Taleb, with the message to me ‘Hey… how does this make you pheel?’. When I said that it felt a bit like harrassment another came in with ‘no its what actual debate looks like. A bit more would might make you a better historian’ <sic>. And the same guy followed that up with a cartoon image of a frog putting his ‘hand’ over a woman’s mouth. This was about par for the course in gender terms. Whereas Taleb was Prof Taleb, I was Ms Beard (I don’t actually give a stuff about academic titles, but you see what’s going on here!)

Taleb himself was slightly less insulting, slightly. He accused me of talking bullshit and started to turn the whole thing into a bit of academic warfare/oneupmanship: ‘I get more academic citations per year than you got all your life!’ he wrote at one point.

At that point I took a quick squiz at Prof Taleb’s Twitter and found the usual dreary bullying combined with whines about PolitiKol Korrektness. How tedious these people are.

He wrote a piece for medium about how PolitiKolly Korrekt it all is and how angry it makes him, with an extra rant about UK academics:

The UK political correctness mob. Britain perfected the scholar with “f*** you money”, but today’s typical U.K. academic is a wuss, with a renewable 5 year contract, and, like the middle class, in a state of insecurity and constant fear of being caught breaking rules. They are very vulnerable to the slightest accusation (recall the Tim Hunt affair where a Nobel winner was summarily fired because of a confusing joke, with no chance of explaining what he meant).

Oh look, he got a basic fact wrong. Nearly everybody arguing his side of the question got that basic fact wrong. Tim Hunt was not fired, summarily or otherwise. He was a retired academic at the time. He was removed from an honorary professorship, an unpaid position.

In my case “feminists” were upset that I could disagree with a woman (I should not treat a woman as I would a man, yet they manage to find no contradiction.) So they used the excuse that I call Mary Beard Ms Beard simply because I will never call a historian with a PhD “Doctor”, particulary if the person, like Ms Beard has shown evidence of being a BS vendor…

Well he doesn’t actually mean “has shown evidence of being a BS vendor.” He means “has said something I don’t like.”

Greetings from Pepe the Frog.