Archive for the ‘Gender & Race’ Category.

When #metoo and #blacklivesmatter Collide

Readers will know I have been sympathetic with the animating goals, though not necessarily with the tactics and policy prescriptions, of Black Live Matter.  I do believe there are problems with police accountability and violations of due process that disproportionately (though not exclusively) affect the black community.  While we have come an extremely long way (I grew up in East Texas and saw a lot of bad sh*t), brown skin can still incur a presumption of guilt that simply should not be there in our justice system.

On the flip side I have sympathy with the animating goals of the Me Too movement, and have been utterly offended by stories like the ones about Matt Lauer's automatic door lock to trap women in his office (the same Matt Lauer NBC may have fired Megyn Kelly in order to bring back some day).  And as in the case of BLM, while I am sympathetic to MeToo problems, I have not agreed with their tactics or policy prescriptions.

So despite having roughly the same reaction to both movements, why do I say that #blm and #metoo may be headed for a collision?  Let's start with #metoo.  This is basically a victim's rights movement -- lamenting that victims do not get a fair shake in the justice system.  In many ways the movement is a direct descendent of movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish whose theme was that the justice system catered too much to criminals and gave criminals too many rights to the detriment of victims and society.  MeToo argues that "women should always be believed," which in practice is interpreted as meaning that the presumption of innocence and due process for the accused should be dialed back or eliminated.  These would be very familiar ideas to Harry Callahan and Paul Kersey.  So much so that I am almost surprised no director has done a female #metoo version of Death Wish.  Oh wait, Clint Eastwood already made that movie as part of the Dirty Harry series, it was called Sudden Impact.

In this context it is easy to see the potential train wreck that may be coming between MeToo and BLM.  The BLM movement at its core is about people of color being treated as guilty -- by police, by the system, by society -- based on the color of their skin.  BLM is about getting due process for the accused (or merely suspected) where it does not exist today.  Metoo, on the other hand, wants to reduce due process rights of the accused.  These two purposes almost have to come into conflict.

This should not come as a surprise, except perhaps to a generation who grew up in crappy public schools that no longer assign real books like, say, To Kill a Mockingbird.  This literary classic, which in my day was a progressive icon but now is being pushed into the background, was about the trial of a white woman falsely accusing a black man of rape, and how this black man was barely saved in a town where everyone automatically believed the white woman.

But we don't just have to look in fiction for examples, we are seeing it today in universities.  Universities are the one place in America that (due to the mandates of the Obama Department of Education) substantially reduced due process and presumption of innocence for men accused of a variety of sexual crimes by women.  The College Fix is one of the many sites in my feed reader, and it has featured numerous cases of college men suing universities over their being railroaded out of school in kangaroo courts over dubious assault charges.  And do you know what I have observed? A disproportionate number of these men who feel victimized by this system appear to me to be men of color and/or non-European foreigners (example from today).  It should not be a surprise to our SJW friends -- I venture that it is zero surprise to BLM -- that these folks with the least power are hurt the most by the loss of due process rights.

Postscript:  I have written before about where BLM and MeToo went wrong in what were originally good causes.  Here is where I think BLM went wrong.  I can't find where I have talked about MeToo going off the rails in one concise article, so here is a brief description of my view:  For years, and I presume still in some cases today, women have gone to their university or police or employer and reported sexual harassment or sex crime and have sometimes been met with lethargy -- they get patted on the head and told to go away or worse they get blamed for the incident.  But the net result is no serious investigation.  In this context, "believe the woman" makes sense.  A woman's accusations should be treated seriously and get a serious investigation without negative consequences for the woman who reported it.  But for a variety of reasons that desire to have real due diligence in response to accusations has morphed into a desire that the accusation be the same as a conviction.  So we went from a system with no investigation, though with a default to the accused to now a system with no investigation and a default to the accuser.  Neither system makes sense or is consistent with individual liberties and the rule of law and the entire history of our justice system.  "Treat every woman's accusations seriously" would have been a better motto (though maybe with an asterisk for women brought forward by Michael Avenatti).

As a disclosure, I once had a female ex-employee (who I never met face-to-face) accuse me of all kinds of crazy stuff.  The campgrounds I ran were training camps for the Taliban, I was a narcotics dealer, I was harboring fugitives, etc. She posted these accusations on facebook, tried to sue me, wrote letters to the government, tried to get on the news, and even put up yard signs.  She threatened me and my family with pictures of her holding her gun and we had to get a restraining order and a better security system.  It was a nerve-wracking time, and if we had believed all women, I would probably be in Guantanamo now.  By the way, I remember my wife really blasting me for this piece when I said how reluctant I am being alone with a young woman.  I responded to her, "what if I had been alone with [lady described above] for any amount of time?"  She thought for a second and said, "you would have been hosed - she would have accused you of rape for sure."

Hunting Through The Jungle to Eliminate the Last Surviving Soldier in the Culture War

Those of you as old as I am may remember in the 1970's when a few last surviving Japanese soldiers from WWII were discovered or coaxed to surrender after hiding for decades in some Pacific jungle.  No one was looking to punish these guys -- the war was won and over -- we were just trying to get them to come out and try to live a normal life.

I am reminded of these stories upon reading that Colorado is yet again going after the same baker for not baking someone a cake:

On the same day the high court agreed to review the Masterpiece case, an attorney named Autumn Scardina called Phillips’ shop and asked him to create a cake celebrating a sex transition. The caller asked that the cake include a blue exterior and a pink interior, a reflection of Scardina’s transgender identity. Phillips declined to create the cake, given his religious conviction that sex is immutable, while offering to sell the caller other pre-made baked goods.

In the months that followed, the bakery received requests for cakes featuring marijuana use, sexually explicit messages, and Satanic symbols. One solicitation submitted by email asked the cake shop to create a three-tiered white cake depicting Satan licking a functional 9 inch dildo. Phillips believes Scardina made all these requests.

Scardina filed a complaint with the civil rights commission, alleging discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The matter was held in abeyance while the Supreme Court adjudicated the Masterpiece case.

I have supported gay rights for as long as I can remember and briefly ran an Arizona campaign to legalize gay marriage.  But this looks to me like sending an entire army into the jungle to try to hunt down and kill that last Japanese soldier.  Isn't it enough that we have complete legal tolerance of homosexuality, de facto tolerance by the majority of Americans, and commercial tolerance in that 99+% of all businesses gratefully accept business from gays?  There can't be that many businesses denying accommodation to gays and trans-gendered when they have to keep harping on the same one example of non-conformity.  One of the features Hannah Arendt used to distinguish totalitarianism from run-of-the-mill authoritarianism was that in the latter, authorities need everyone to act in accordance with their wishes, in totalitarian governments they require people to believe in accordance with their wishes.  This need to seek out and harshly punish tiny infractions against social justice strikes me as totalitarian.

As an aside, I would challenge anyone to say that there is no message they would refuse to put on a cake.  I can think of a number I would say no to, starting with this one.

Mandated accommodation laws are a tough thing.  Libertarians tend to be suspicious of them because they tend to tread on several first amendment rights (speech, association).  But I could envision cases where I would support them, for example in the 1960's South during the dismantling of Jim Crow.  I really do not think we are there for gay wedding cakes.

 

The Wrong Way To Educate: How I Would Have Handled the Pictures of White Dudes at Harvard Medical School

Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School, is going to remove pictures of medical luminaries from the walls of its auditorium because they are mostly all white guys.  Now, I don't really get freaked out about this the way some folks seem to.  I can totally understand why a University might not want to give the message to an incoming class that they somehow need to look like those pictures to be successful.  But I am exhausted with the notion that the way to handle uncomfortable things in society or in history is to hide them from students.  This seems the opposite of education.  I have had several great teachers in my life who would use uncomfortable facts as a springboard for learning.

I can't necessarily match the teaching greats, but here is how I might handle it.  Imagine a speech to an incoming group of Harvard Medical Students in this auditorium.

Welcome!  And congratulations!  All of you have followed very different paths to get here, but the one common denominator is that every one of you has the demonstrated intellectual and personal excellence required to meet the rigorous standards of this institution.  As I look around today, I see an incredible diversity of people -- a diversity of genders and ethnicities and home countries and family incomes but who all share in common the desire to help mankind through medicine.

If you look around the room you will see a bunch of paintings of medical luminaries who all made great contributions to medicine and this institution, and in the process helped save lives and make the world a better place.  But the odds are that you will also notice that the men -- and they are all men -- may not look like you.  There is a reason for that.

The issue is not that these 30 men should not be on this wall -- they all made important contributions to the study of medicine and everything you study over the next 4 years will build in part on their work.  The issue is not with these pictures, but the ones that are missing.  For every one of these pictures there should be at least one more of a woman or a person of color.  But those pictures are missing.  Even worse, the contributions of those people are missing.  They are missing because our world, our country, and even this institution made it difficult or impossible for brilliant people who were not white and male to reach the place where you are all sitting.  Medicine -- and our society -- are far poorer for this loss.

There are those who have suggested that we take down these pictures and hide this legacy from you.  These people have good intentions and want to avoid demotivating people who might look at these paintings and assume success will be impossible for them because they look different.  But I say that these pictures-- and all the ones that are missing -- should be your motivation.  All of you who might have been left out of this institution in the past are here now.  Look around the room, the world is truly changing!  This is your chance to make those advances in medicine that we lost in the past because we so short-sightedly excluded so many outstanding people.

Imagine you are back at this school 50 years from now with your grandchild.  You have spent the day dodging Harvard's frequent entreaties to donate money and you duck into this auditorium for shelter.  You point up to the walls and tell your grandchild, "do you see, about halfway along that wall where all the faces go from looking the same to being quite varied -- that was when your grandma was here at school."

The Problem With Social Justice Today -- Dividing Rather than Unifying

This article about pronouns on campus embodies all that is wrong with social justice warriors today, but perhaps not for the reason you might guess.

I personally have no particular problem if you want to identify as a male or a female or gender 6 or a zebra.  But here is the real problem:  When I write about you, I don't know how you self-identify.  And when I write about a random hypothetical person, gender is effectively meaningless.  I want one simple third person pronoun that can be applied to everyone.  I currently use "they" even for the singular, rather than the more awkward "he or she" or just picking a random one each time, though this usage is still controversial.  I don't care what the damn word is, just let's agree on one.   The shift in the 1970's from using Mrs. and Miss to just using Ms. was awesome -- if you have ever struggled with trying to guess gender from a name like "pat", think about what a pain in the butt it was to try to guess marital status before addressing someone.   The only thing that would be an improvement would be to just go to M. for everyone, male or female.

But the proposal in the article has, at my count, 11 different third-person pronouns.  Ack.  This is going in exactly the wrong direction.  It is the same thing that social justice warriors have done on race.  Twenty years ago, perhaps even 10, most everyone would have agreed the ideal goal was to have post-racial or race-blind society.   Sure, celebrate your ethnicity and cultural uniqueness, but when dealing with each other we should think of each other first and second and third as humans, with race being as relevant to how we react to people as hair color.   But of course we have gone in the opposite directly, with Progressives actually arguing for more and more separation and barriers between the races.  So now we are doing the same thing on gender.

The whole point of the pronoun things seems to be not to get us to some sort of harmony but just the opposite, to create new opportunities to shame and abuse people.  After all, if we launch tidal waves of outrage at people for picking the wrong pronoun out of two choices, imagine how much vitriol we can vent with 11 choices to get wrong.

It Turns Out We Introverts Are Racist

I am, depending on the day, a moderate to strong introvert.  Nowadays, basically no one understands what this means, because they use it as a synonym of social awkwardness or occasional social discomfort, and everyone will answer "I am introverted too" even when it clearly is not the case.   I can interact socially but only with a great expenditure of energy -- the few people I call my friends are the ones whom I can hang out with without it costing me energy.  I cross streets to avoid interacting with neighbors, and frequently avoid eye contact with most everyone because every instance of eye contact could potentially lead to a social interaction I am trying to avoid.   Like a manic depressive, I go through times that are better and worse -- in times of extreme introversion I will hide in the bathroom for hours rather than even attempt to make conversation with people at some function.   If I am not in the bathroom, I sometimes go on talking jags, which is another way not to interact if you think about it.  Also like many introverts, I love public speaking, the larger venue the better.  Despite it being the #1 reported fear in the general population, I have never feared public speaking -- in fact, I often seek it out.

I don't avoid social contact because I hate people.  I like people, and I am not a misanthrope (except maybe when I watch MSNBC too long).  I don't avoid social contact because I dislike myself or lack confidence -- folks around me can tell you I have an over-abundance of self-confidence.  If this does not make much sense, neither do a lot of phobias to folks who do not have them.  The closest I can equate it is that I can get a feeling similar to claustrophobia when interacting with people.

I don't really discuss this much in the blog because a) it is largely irrelevant to blogging and I am unlikely every to meet 99.9% of you face to face; b) I have learned to function pretty well in most situations; and c) I have no particular desire to be a victim.  In fact, to the latter, it is impossible to escape feelings of guilt about it, particularly for my wife who has to put up with embarrassing things like seeing me stand alone in a corner at some function.

I bring this all up only to warn you that apparently, this all means that I am a racist:

Students who avoid making eye contact with their peers could be guilty of racism, according to Oxford University’s latest guidance.

The university’s Equality and Diversity Unit has advised students that “not speaking directly to people” could be deemed a “racial microaggression” which can lead to “mental ill-health”.

Never, Ever Trust Media Reporting of Scientific (Or Quasi-Scientific) Studies -- The Github Sexism Study and the Response.

I recommend this article (via Tyler Cowen) on the interesting topic of whether women's open source software contributions on Github are accepted more or less frequently than those of men.   The findings of the study are roughly as follows:

They find that women get more (!) requests accepted than men for all of the top ten programming languages. They check some possible confounders – whether women make smaller changes (easier to get accepted) or whether their changes are more likely to serve an immediate project need (again, easier to get accepted) and in fact find the opposite – women’s changes are larger and less likely to serve project needs. That makes their better performance extra impressive....

Among insiders [essentially past contributors], women do the same as men when gender is hidden, but better than men when gender is revealed. In other words, if you know somebody’s a woman, you’re more likely to approve her request than you would be on the merits alone. We can’t quantify exactly how much this is, because the paper doesn’t provide numbers, just graphs. Eyeballing the graph, it looks like being a woman gives you about a 1% advantage. I don’t see any discussion of this result, even though it’s half the study, and as far as I can tell the more statistically significant half.

Among outsiders, women do the same as/better than men when gender is hidden, and the same as/worse than men when gender is revealed. I can’t be more specific than this because the study doesn’t give numbers and I’m trying to eyeball confidence intervals on graphs. The study itself say that women do worse than men when gender is revealed, so since the researchers presumably have access to their real numbers data, that might mean the confidence intervals don’t overlap. From eyeballing the graph, it looks like the difference is 1% – ie, men get their requests approved 64% of the time, and women 63% of the time. Once again, it’s hard to tell by graph-eyeballing whether these two numbers are within each other’s confidence intervals.

OK, so generally good news for women on all fronts -- they do better than men -- with one small area (63 vs 64 percent) where there might or might not be an issue.

This was an interesting side bit:

Oh, one more thing. A commenter on the paper’s pre-print asked for a breakdown by approver gender, and the authors mentioned that “Our analysis (not in this paper — we’ve cut a lot out to keep it crisp) shows that women are harder on other women than they are on men. Men are harder on other men than they are on women.”

Depending on what this means – since it was cut out of the paper to “keep it crisp”, we can’t be sure – it sounds like the effect is mainly from women rejecting other women’s contributions, and men being pretty accepting of them. Given the way the media predictably spun this paper, it is hard for me to conceive of a level of crispness which justifies not providing this information.

So here is an example press report of this study and data:

Here’s Business Insider: Sexism Is Rampant Among Programmers On GitHub, Research Finds. “A new research report shows just how ridiculously tough it can be to be a woman programmer, especially in the very male-dominated world of open-source software….it also shows that women face a giant hurdle of “gender bias” when others assess their work. This research also helps explain the bigger problem: why so many women who do enter tech don’t stick around in it, and often move on to other industries within 10 years. Why bang your head against the wall for longer than a decade?” [EDIT: the title has since been changed]

This article, and many many like it, bear absolutely no relationship to the actual data in the study.  Since the article of course is all most people even read, now a meme is created forever in social media that is just plain wrong.  Nice job media.

The Left and Original Sin

Check your privilege.  You are one of the white oppressors.  You are part of the patriarchy.   These are all frequent rhetorical flourishes from the Left today.  What do they have in common?  Well, beyond the fact that they are all ad hominem and have nothing to do with a person's actual arguments or even character, they all work under an assumption of original sin -- that the sins of past generations somehow accrue to individuals of this generation.  If you are male, you are born guilty for the infractions of all past males.  Your maleness or whiteness or the bank balance of your parents creates a stink that can't be washed off.

There is a certain irony to all this, particularly on gender issues, since many of were often justified on Biblical notions of original sin stemming back to the Garden of Eden.  Which all goes, by the way, to demonstrate my contention that "tolerance" today is not about ending out-groups but about shifting the out-group tag to different people.

Don't believe me?  Well, how else to explain this story about Ben Affleck:

Last week we learned that distinguished Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. compromised his integrity when actor Ben Affleck — a guest on “Finding your Roots,” the PBS documentary on celebrity lineages that Gates hosts — asked Gates to omit a portion of his ancestry.

Affleck, soon to be seen as Batman on the big screen, learned he had a slave-owning ancestor and promptly pushed Gates to spike that detail.

“We've never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found,” Gates wrote in an email to Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Entertainment, adding: “He's a megastar. What do we do?”

Perhaps I might try to whitewash a story about my parents.  I barely knew my grandparents and can't imagine trying to whitewash their history.  But for what conceivable reason would I whitewash my family history 4 or 5 generations back?  How in the world, unless I were to accept some notion of original sin, would the crimes of a relative more than 150 years ago accrue to me?

A few other thoughts:

  • This concern is also pretty selective.   So an ancestor held opinions about slavery we all would find horrifying today.  But given the times, I can bet that pretty much every relative of Affleck's of that era, slaveholder or no, held opinions (say about women) that we would likely find offensive today.
  • Congrats to Affleck for achieving some negative alchemy here.  He took an issue (his ancestor's slave-holding) that did not reflect on him at all and converted it via some "I am a star" douchebaggery into something that makes him look like a tool.
  • PBS often makes the argument that they somehow have the moral high ground because they are non-commercial and publicly-funded.  Uh, right.  Look at how quickly they caved here.
  • I find it hilarious that any kids in the US feel the ability to say "check your privilege" to someone else.  Even someone at the 20th percentile in the US would be among the richest 20% in many countries.  From the world's perspective, we are all affluent here.

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

If you want proof that folks are using the phrase "sexual assault" differently than you likely are, check this out:

In California, a new bill would require colleges and universities to impose a mandatory minimum sentence for campus sexual assault: two years school suspension. The rule would apply to both public and private colleges that rely on state funds for student financial aid, the same way California's affirmative consent measure operates.

My definition of sexual assault is rape, that is either using force to have sex with a person who is unwilling or having sex with someone who is physically incapacitated.  By my definition, the penalties established by the California bill are absurdly lenient, particularly since California law already establishes a penalty of 3-8 years in prison for rape.

What is going on here is that opponents of certain other behaviors -- sex while drunk, sex that is regretted later, and possibly even speech that is hurtful to women -- have lumped these behaviors into the term "sexual assault" in order to try to increase the punishment for these things.  In California (on campus but nowhere else) sexual assault is "a failure to obtain ongoing, enthusiastic, affirmative consent at each stage of a sexual encounter"

This is a verbal tactic is increasingly common -- note the trend to many colleges to try to label unwelcome speech with which one disagrees as a physical assault or threat.  But it has decided risks.  While the intention is to increase the punishment for unenthusiastic sex to rape levels, the effect can easily just be the opposite -- to reduce concern and punishment of rape by watering down its definition.

I Thought This Was A Spoof At First: "Bitcoin's Problem with Women"

Felix Salmon, guest-blogging for Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, had a post yesterday titled "Bitcoin's Problem with Women."

Men make up an estimated 96% of the Bitcoin community, which means that if Bitcoin does end up succeeding, as its adherents think it will, and if the people who own Bitcoin see their holdings soar in value, then all of the profits will end up going to what Brett Scott calls the "crypto-patriarchy." Not many men, to be sure: as Charlie Stross says, the degree of inequality in the Bitcoin economy "is ghastly, and getting worse, to an extent that makes a sub-Saharan African kleptocracy look like a socialist utopia." But it's not many men, and effectively zero women.

I guess I don't get it.   Is this the result of some sort of active discrimination, or is it just one of those choices that tend to skew male or female (like the decision to become a lumberjack or a health care worker)?   I know most of the cryptography world is dominated by paranoid men, and many of these same folks were the early adopters of Bitcoin.

Beyond one lame anecdote (where one random guy at some Bitcoin function mistook a female VC for a girlfriend of the real VC), the author does not seem to present any evidence of systematic discrimination and exclusion.  Knowing some of these Bitcoin and cyptography people, though, many are from the family of guys who are socially inept and were shunned by girls in high school, so I would not be surprised if they are awkward around women.

If anything, much of his post seems actually be an exercise in gender stereotyping, arguing that men care about politics and ideology and women about community and practicality.  Seriously, under the guise of somehow defending the equality of women, he bares his gender assumptions:

If you talk about Bitcoin with the people who use it, the language they use is always about technology and finance. Bitcoiners tend to think in terms of how things work, rather than how they're used in the real world. Buying and selling Bitcoin is still much more difficult than it should be, despite many years of development, which implies that people aren’t concentrating enough on real-world ease-of-use....

That's a product design job, and frankly, it's a product design job well-suited for women who aren't approaching the problem while grinding the ideological axes so widely held inside the Bitcoin community. As one woman involved with Bitcoin put it to me, "Money is a political issue for Bitcoiners. It's a human issue for everybody else."...

Let's say you wanted to build a mobile savings app in sub-Saharan African. If you asked male Bitcoin developers to build such a thing for a target audience of young African girls, they might have talked about how to maximize the amount of money saved. But, working on the ground in South Africa, the Praekelt Foundation came from a different perspective. Apps like these aren't really about maximizing savings, so much as they're about empowerment. If you can build a product for girls that ratifies their identity and individuality and gives them self-esteem, then you're creating something much more valuable than a few dollars' worth of savings: you're keeping them in school, and you're keeping them healthy, and you're helping themto not get pregnant. That's the kind of way that cryptocurrencies could change the world. The problem is that the men in Popper's book just don't think that way.

But I digress.  The key point is this:  Bitcoin is a freaking open source, anonymous platform.  Anyone can work with it.  No one even has to know your gender (like the old internet joke about no one online knows you are a dog).

Throughout the piece he talks about the "Bitcoin community" as if it is some structured body, the membership in which is required to work with Bitcoin, like saying that one has to be a long-standing member in good standing of the Communist Party to join the Soviet Politboro.  But the Bitcoin community is no such thing.  A better definition of it is "people who happen to be working with Bitcoin today."  You no more need to be a member of the current bitcoin community, or even be known or liked by them, to create your business or service model in Bitcoin than you need to be pals with Tim Berners-Lee to be able to create an Internet company.

The whole point of why we wacky (male) libertarians get all excited about bitcoin is not that it somehow ends gender or racial or any other sort of discrimination, but that it helps makes all of these more irrelevant.  I won't pretend to read Salmon's mind, but if I had to guess, he is frustrated because he sees the capability of Bitcoin to help end discrimination.  If that is true, great.  But many of us assume that bad people with bad motives will always exist, so we seek out anonymous currencies and cryptography so we can live our lives without the permission or even knowledge of these people.