Morning Ed: Business & Labor {2017.08.08.Tu}

[BL1] This is some really clever guerilla advertising by Amazon.

[BL2] Damn if those insurance companies aren’t really, really clever.

[BL3] Maybe there is less tension between competitiveness and monopoly than we think?

[BL4] Like clockwork, every time the presidency changes hands, the opposing faction realizes that unemployment is higher than the unemployment rate.

[BL5] Lila MacLellan points to a recent near-mishap in Canada and uses it to argue shame as a managerial tactic has its limitations.

[BL6] Why don’t kids take summer jobs anymore? Maybe because school is increasingly year-round! Ironically, kids taking summer school in spades makes my real goal of 3-months-on-1-off all the more difficult.

[BL7] A unionization attempt at a Nissan plant in Mississippi fails by a substantial margin. Some background.

[BL8] Weird that they would go with Hulu and YouTube, who are both new and not yet major players in the streaming TV market.

[BL9] It’s time again for a (good, but not great) a jobs report!


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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444 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Business & Labor {2017.08.08.Tu}

  1. [BL4] No only unemployment, but homelessness. I still recall that the reporting on homelessness, which was almost daily, in the major media, stopped cold turkey when Bill Clinton took office. Coincidence right? Right? RIGHT?

    [BL5] Indeed. Most of my companies security/confidential aspects, Export/Import, Customs, etc. regs are all focused on reporting and training. Better to disclose than to conceal. Conceal gets you disbarment, fines, criminal prosecution, etc. “When in doubt, disclose.”


    • Ummm yeah, the unemp rate was fakeity fake fake until sometime around when Trump was inaugurated.

      The Unemp rate is good, it was good a year ago and has gotten better. Is it the only metric to look at the economy…of course not, but its good.


      • And imagine all of the jobs that Trump created that aren’t even reflected in those job reports! If the fake unemployment numbers are looking better, think of all of the stealth jobs he must have created to move the bulk of the invisible labor force!


      • Sure, if you remember that the unemploy rate excludes folks who’ve given up looking for work. That figure went up steadily for quite a while post crash while the unemploy rate when down as people moved from looking to no longer looking for work.

        Look for the unemploy rate to increase as people go back to looking for work. That’s when the economy is growing. But it’s likely that all those no longer looking will just never work again…


        • Sure, if you remember that the unemploy rate excludes folks who’ve given up looking for work.

          That’s U-3. If you want “discouraged workers” added, the stat you want is U-4. U-3 is at 4.3 percent and U-4 is at 4.7. There are two more rates that add in other types of underutilized workers, but it’s not a mystery what the difference is.


          • I’ve always watched very closely which metric of unemployment people use. Quite a number of pundits, politicians, and random internet commentators jump from one to the other to suit their cause, hoping you’ll miss the rather blatant sleight of hand.

            Now there’s good reason, at time, that you might want to focus on one or the other. But most of the time, it seems people deviate from the standard in order to grind a particular political ax that they literally didn’t care about six months prior.


  2. BL5 Boeing spent (still spends) a lot of effort on overcoming the culture of hiding mistakes from it’s past. Annual training for everyone on reporting mistakes.


  3. BL2: This is a third-rate Onion wannabe. This is how you write a business parody headline.

    BL3: This makes sense to me.

    BL5: I worked for one firm that believed in shame as the best management tactic. They were the most unpleasant place to work and had a reputation as such. Most people were nice but there was still an atmosphere of fear. The partners had a lot of money though so I am sure they thought everything was dandy.

    BL6: The moaning of the death of the summer job represents a kind of pomposity in conservatism that I just don’t get. Perhaps it also shows an advanced economy where teenagers don’t have to work but we moan this. If conservatives are supposed to believe in the powers of the market and economy to increase prosperity, why are they moaning about the death of the teenage job?


    • Summer Jobs (among other teenage jobs) teach a person a *LOT*.

      I’ll tell this story again:

      I have friends in management (until recently, I would have said that I know three people without degrees) at a small manufacturing company who tell me that they would hire a person with a year or two of experience as assistant manager of a Domino’s, Pizza Hut, or McDonald’s before they would hire a person with a bachelor’s degree in “Business” (let alone (whatever) Studies).

      They say this because, and I’ll try to recreate the rant for you:

      “I know that the guy who worked as an assistant manager at Pizza Hut had to deal with all three delivery drivers calling in sick on a Friday night because there was a party, I know that the guy who worked as an assistant manager at Domino’s had to deal with screaming customers at the same time as stoned line cooks at the same time as the phone ringing, I know that the guy who worked as an assistant manager at McDonald’s knows how to tell time, how to count, how to shower, and how to deal with both people who tell him what to do and people that he has to order around. The guy with a degree? I don’t know anything about him except that he can probably outdrink me.”

      I don’t know how representative this is but I was impressed by the rant and it was given to me at a point in his life when he did not (yet) have his (night school) college degree.


      • Yes to this. I made a comment recently about the value of work. It veered into the value of work versus effort, IIRC, and I didn’t follow up on it. But while I believe that work is important to building ephemeral things like character, it also has very practical benefits.

        At the risk of threadcrossing, this topic ties in closely to the running discussion about how to devalue the prestige of a degree from an elite university. I remember my dad was always more inclined to hire someone who’d gone through night school than someone who’d attended full-time college. I consider the value of how someone got through college just as important as what they did in college, and both more important than where they attended. I think the value of Ivy’s would decline organically if we started paying attention to what really counts.

        A question for Saul: do people on the left not think about the topic of summer jobs?


        • Here’s a blast from the past for ya… an article from Newsweek from 1997. Talking about the successes of the “Welfare to Work” program.

          Dennis Drummond of Jefferson Smurfit Corp., a paper-products company, came over the border from Illinois to tell other executives about his experiences in hiring 17 welfare recipients. ““The first thing you learn is they come in late. They’ve often never owned an alarm clock,” he explained, echoing familiar frustrations. “”You’re ready to fire them. They don’t know where the bathroom is. But we didn’t know where it was when we were new either. If you work with them, give them a “buddy’ at the start, they often turn into outstanding employees.”

          I added the emphasis because that was the part that I wanted to talk about.

          There is a real dividing line between people who have the whole “own an alarm clock and get out of bed when it goes off” thing down and the people who don’t.

          Summer jobs teach a lot of the little skills that we never even *THINK* about when you get to the point where I am in my career.

          These stupid minimum wage jobs that would be easily replaced by a kiosk or a roomba teach a lot of skills that are so essential that it’s easy to forget that they’re skills at all once you’re surrounded by people who, for example, no longer require alarm clocks to wake up within two minutes of 6:50AM.


              • Well, not all MW jobs can be done by teenagers, either because the law won’t allow it (e.g. selling/serving alcohol), or the schedule won’t (pesky truancy rules!).

                But yeah, I expect they will. And lots of teenagers will have opportunities for work experience.


                • A job where they push a broom up and down aisles and straighten the Barbie section is a job that will help them be better (insert profession here) in the future.

                  There is literally *NO* profession that would not be improved by being held with a person who has previous experience pushing a broom up and down an aisle and straightening the Barbie section.


          • One of the most eye-opening things (as a child of the middle class, and with parents who emphasized education (1)) and sad-making things I ever heard was from a woman who was posted here a couple years as a Methodist (IIRC, might have been Lutheran?) pastor – she served an area of town that might be politely described as “lower income” and she talked about how she would buy alarm clocks for the schoolkids – because their parents never thought of getting them up for school, the kids had to get up, dress themselves, feed themselves, get to school. One of the “problems” that came up in her congregation (several people were teachers) was that “these kids can never be on time” and it turned out it was they just didn’t have the resources to….

            so the pastor bought alarm clocks for them. No idea how it worked out.

            but that was one of the moments where I realized “privilege” is not just being white or cisgendered or whatever – it’s also elements of how you were raised. And I’m always grateful to have had the parents I did.

            (1) Until I was about 13, my mom would come and WAKE ME UP in the morning instead of making me use an alarm clock….it was a gentler thing and also she often had breakfast started by that time.


            • I’m sure you’ve heard that public schools were the original meta-training for factory work, right?

              Show up on time, do a task for 50 minutes, the bell rings, 10 minutes to go to the next task, the bell rings, repeat a couple of times, the bell rings, lunch, the bell rings, do some more tasks and switching tasks until the final bell rings and you can go home.

              Even if you don’t get great grades, when you show up at the canning factory and show them your high school diploma, they know that you can show up on time, do a task for 50 minutes, and so on.

              The parents who do something as simple as wake their kiddos up in the morning are helping their own kiddos be employable under the old paradigm.

              Nudges to get summer jobs are helping their own kiddos be even more employable.

              See also: reading bedtime stories, making meals, taking them to the library, correcting their faulty diction, and so on.


            • During one of the summer interims when I was a staffer for the state legislature I interviewed a number of the front line people in one of our state’s social services organization. I still remember the woman who told me that while she generally had no kind thoughts for the military, she thought there much to be said for making all teenagers spend a couple of years in an environment that enforced getting up at a specified time, maintaining personal hygiene, and wearing clean clothes every day.


        • I think we think about them but not in the same way. I don’t see any inherent value in a summer job. As Lee and others pointed out, there are lots of people who do crappy summer work but don’t develop a sense of empathy or compassion because of it.

          I am not a romanticizer of a low-level job for the sake of having a low-level job. If we are interested in a society that advances, maybe some concepts need to go the way of the dodo.


          • I don’t know if summer jobs have any inherent value. I know that they had value for me: they gave me spending money and allowed me to eat and pay the rent during the school year. I suppose that there are other options for that. You can take money from parents, to the degree that they are able to support you, or you can take out loans once you are in college. Working for your own money is, to me, the clearly superior option, but I guess opinions can vary.

            I have noticed though, that there is a fair amount of overlap between the folks who think that menial work is just a distraction for those kids who should be channeling all their time and energy toward amassing the most prestigious set of education credentials possible and the folks who come out the other end of that process complaining about the size of their student loan debt and/or that it’s too hard to find the comfortable, safe upper-middle class lives that they were “promised.” I cannot say whether this is just a coincidence or not, though.


    • BL6: Its because the social beliefs of conservatism are conflicting with their economic beliefs and they are choosing to follow their social beliefs on this issue. I think this should be fairly obvious. There are times when different beliefs in an ideology conflict with each other. American conservatives believe that summer jobs give teenagers a good work ethic among other things. It might be economically inefficient but conservatives believe it has social values that they like.

      Liberalism started off and still carries a connotation of permissive behavior, that people should generally be allowed to do as they please. This permissiveness conflicts with our ideas about economic and social justice. Its why we want to ban private discrimination even though that should technically be allowed under liberal beliefs regarding letting people do as they please or why our attitudes towards sexting get complicated.


      • There are a lot of things to pick through there. Is conservatism a needs based or a abilities based ideology. Is liberalism a needs based or a abilities based ideology?

        If your ideology is about ability to provision yourself, a teenage job and access to a teenage job may be a useful development tool.

        I your ideology is about needs, there really is no need to stop suckling the mother until she passes away from old age.


    • Bl6 – the flip side of it is that we probably want the kids of middle class and up parents, destined for a professional or managerial track later in life, to have done some scut work jobs as a teenager like cleaning grease traps & hauling mulch bags so they know what it’s like at some point in their lives.

      this article on restaurant dishwashers is worth reading in full, but one of the takeaways is how many good restauranters got their start on the scouring line, vice the myriad of wannabes destined for failure.


      • I’ve done gardening work at public parks as a summer job when I was in college.

        I think there is something to that argument but I am not always sure that it works to teach humility.


          • It’s to be clear no panacea and may go in the other direction in some cases. The whole ‘hey I was treated like garbage when I had this gig so I have no problem treating other people like garbage when I’m in charge’. See also when frats/sororities and groups with similar dynamics have initiations that get out of control.


            • Yeah, that can happen too, I’ve seen it, I’ve seen the “I had to go through this, so I’m gonna make you go through worse.”

              I dunno. After working the “dish room” in my dorm cafeteria, I was a LOT more careful about what I did with the scraps on my plate/silverware/etc. Prying off bowls of mashed potatoes that have been turned upside down and “fused” to the plate gets really old really fast.

              (I was gonna say at first, in response to that I didn’t think I’d ever had a bottom-rung job, but then I remembered the dish room. It wasn’t for long but yeah.)

              I will also say one way I vet prospective friends/dates is how they treat service workers. If I go out with a guy and he’s rude to the waitress, he doesn’t get a second date, no matter what his other good qualities may be.


          • A hard summer job isn’t going to teach empathy especially if the kid knows he is going to end up in a corner office. Parent’s can teach empathy and the hard job may open some eyes. But there is a big diff between the hard summer job for a rich kid and hard summer/fall/winter/summer job with not a ton of upside growth.


            • I don’t expect my kids to learn empathy, I expect them to learn how terrible those jobs are and understand THAT is their life if they screw up. “This miserable life could be yours…”

              It’s a bit of a lie, even by “bad job” standards corn detasseling sucks.


              • Rich or middle class kids who are going to college know they are short timers are hard summer jobs. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do them because they certainly might learn something. But all that stuff you want your kids to learn, they will learn from you. I helped my dad out at 14 which taught me somethings. Mostly it confirmed what my dad had already taught and showed me with his life.


  4. BL6: When I was a kid, summer went from somewhere just past Memorial Day (like only one or two weeks) and started the week of Labor Day. August didn’t mean that school was starting, September did.

    I understand that teachers are back at school this week and students are back at school starting next week.


    • I think this has always been geographically dependent. When I grew up in NY, summer vacation was from June to Labor Day. As far as I can tell it still is.

      In California, as far as I can tell, summer vacation has always been from May to August.


    • A friend who lives outside of Atlanta posted on Facebook the other day that Cobb County public schools started on July 31 this year…

      I do note that when my kids were in school they seemed to get many more days off than I did when I was that age.


      • Yeah, I’ve seen this. Locally, many of the schools give Fridays off for the second half of the spring or so. It’s a headache for a lot of working parents (and a cost, if you have to organize childcare).

        I dunno. I’d rather see the schools start later in the year and not get all those random days off. (I don’t remember what Federal holidays we got off when I was a kid. Maybe Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays? And MLK Jr. day was not official yet and we didn’t get it….but I don’t remember other ones. And of course, the “day off” was always the day my mom scheduled doctor or dental checkups for us….so not only did we not get the day off but we didn’t get to miss school for them)


        • While not endorsing the memo, I have to point out that there’s some difference in the amount of evidence supporting differences in brain by gender vs race, so the two don’t seem directly comparable.

          I’d say that in either case, even if it’s 100% correct and supported by evidence, it’s totally insane and counterproductive to share it in a memo that essentially undermines a bunch of your coworkers. I just don’t see how you can keep somebody onboard after that.

          My wife works for a Giant Semiconductor Company that has a social media style forum where employees can talk about work and it’s just as toxic as you’d think. It seems absolutely nuts for a company to create a space where people spread rumors and amplify each others’ resentment all day long. It’s like a YouTube comment section but with the bile focused at the company and team members. My only guess is that it’s a honeypot so HR can figure out who goes first whenever a wave of layoffs happens.


            • I think that’s mostly a good response. I have to chuckle about this:

              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.

              If we turned it around and he’d dropped a little factoid about men being socialized to be better at something that was relevant to coding, he’d have the mobs at his gates right now instead of having people sharing his essay.

              I can’t say enough about how bad it is to undermine your coworkers, though. That fact exists in total isolation from any facts or opinions about whether they’re inherently bad at their jobs or whether one person in particular just happens to suck at his job. You just can’t do that sort of thing and expect it to be a net positive.

              My wife’s boss at one point said something in front of the group like, “I’ve been trying to get my wife to apply here. She’s a woman and she has a pulse, so it should be easy.” He later apologized to my wife and said something like, “I didn’t mean you. You’re a good engineer,” totally missing the fact that he just undercut her legitimacy in front of all of her colleagues and stamped the whole thing with his authority as the technical manager.


              • He read it, and demonstrates the precise problem with the whole document. It was written by someone who had no idea how to craft that kind of document.

                You can read it and give it a very charitable read, and come away understanding the point the guy was trying to make, but the fact remains that you have to give it a very charitable read.

                However, the argument is poorly constructed and employs claims that are ripe for people to take issue with. It is, quite obviously, a document written by a person who is used to writing documents to support objective points. Gender discrimination, despite having objective data and objective conclusions, is also a subjective minefield, and you can’t engage one without taking care toward the other. It’s obvious he is cognizant of this minefield, and he has an idea where the mines are, but he still goes charging in anyway.

                In short, he got cocky.

                (protip: when entering a minefield, unless you have clearly marked all the mines with bright flags, don’t go charging into the field).


                • If he’d simply said something like “hey, look, it’s pretty impossible for us to hit certain goals because the educational pipeline that feeds us doesn’t meet those goals” he’d be fine.

                  I mean pointing out you can’t get, say, 50/50 gender ratios and maintain quality when the schools are churning them out 90/10 in that field is a pretty strong point. (I mean maybe you can — Google, I’d imagine, gets to cherry pick like crazy. But it’s still a valid point).

                  He wouldn’t have gotten any grief over that. But dipping his toes into biological arguments is…not a good idea. There’s a very ugly history there (and an ugly present) and he’s both wrong on the science (his claims of settled science are pretty laughable in general) AND wrong on the conclusions (as noted — the supposed ‘weaknesses’ of women he claimed are, in fact, strengths for collaborative design — which is Google’s bread and butter).

                  Putting it all in writing to boot — Jesus. Way to basically tell every non-white male coworker you have “Offhand, I think you’re a token hire who replaced someone much better“. However noble and honest his intentions, that’s the ugly seed he planted in the minds of the folks that have to work with him.


        • Why you gotta do this to me? You know I’m not going to lie, and you also know that no matter how clearly I explain this, and no matter how many caveats I load it up with, it’s still going to trigger the village PJWs.

          Anyway, if it were written in the same tone, and with the same quality of argumentation, yes, though it would have to be about cognitive skills rather than about personality traits. There’s a robust and well-documented cognitive skills gap, on the order of 10-15 IQ points, between black and white Americans (not sure how well this generalizes globally) in adulthood. The reasons for this are not fully understood, so I couldn’t endorse an assertion that it’s definitely due to genetics, but there’s no legitimate controversy regarding the existence of the gap.

          It’s important to note, of course, that this doesn’t mean that any particular black person has low cognitive ability. Because there’s a great deal of overlap in the cognitive skill distributions, there are millions of black Americans who are smarter than the average white American. But it does mean that black Americans are going to be underrepresented in the right tail of the distribution, which is where most software engineers hang out, especially the ones who can clear Google’s hiring bar.

          More to the point, the existence of a hiring bar, if it’s applied in a race-neutral manner, means that there’s no reason to question the qualifications of black engineers who clear the bar simply on account of a difference in average cognitive skill between races.

          Of course, this doesn’t mean Google shouldn’t hire black engineers. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to make black engineers feel welcome. It doesn’t mean that the black engineers they do hire are bad. It just means that having black people underrepresented among their engineering staff is not prima facie, much less probative, evidence of discrimination or other wrongdoing, and also (arguably) that they should not lower the bar or otherwise discriminate for the sake of achieving equal representation.

          That said, they’re fishing Google, so if they really wanted to they probably could achieve equal representation without lowering standards by paying enough to poach all the best black (and female) engineers from other companies. But it would a) cost more, and b) just make it that much harder for other companies to get good representation numbers.


          • That said, they’re fishing Google, so if they really wanted to they probably could achieve equal representation without lowering standards by paying enough to poach all the best black (and female) engineers from other companies. But it would a) cost more, and b) just make it that much harder for other companies to get good representation numbers.

            Well, that and the poo flinging would stop being about “lowering the bar” and start being about unequal pay. Sadly, Google is at the end of a long pipeline of things that cause varying degrees of racial/gender representation in the workforce and they can’t really correct it themselves with infinite money, wisdom and benevolence. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.


          • Does this blog not have a problem with naked white supremacism? Saying that white people have higher IQs than black people is straight out alt-right Nazi talking point. Charles Murray promotes the idea but no legitimate scientist supports it. Brandon Berg should be banned from this blog for promoting Nazi ideas. It is amazing that this blog tolerates alt-right Nazis like Berg and Truman.


          • There’s a robust and well-documented cognitive skills gap, on the order of 10-15 IQ points, between black and white Americans (not sure how well this generalizes globally) in adulthood.

            Are you aware that the same psychologists, using the same methodology, also measure a similar (8-10 point) IQ advantage for liberals over conservatives? Which seems ironic to me given that conservatives are most likely to uncritically embrace the evidence for racial cognitive superiority while liberals are more suspicious.

            The problem with the racial thing is that there is no good explanatory theory behind it. Race is a social construct based on a very few genetic differences coding for superficial characteristics like skin color. So what the hell could that possibly have to do with intelligence? The case for gendered cognitive variation is more plausible given the more holistic nature of sexual dimorphism, but there’s still very little in the way of explanatory theory beyond “just so” stories and, like race, so much cultural and social cruft attached that it’s impossible to really say what’s what yet.


            • Are you aware that the same psychologists, using the same methodology, also measure a similar (8-10 point) IQ advantage for liberals over conservatives?

              Haven’t heard of it. I did a quick web search and found a link to a study of 1600 foreign college students and 1200 community college students, which is obviously nonrepresentative. My understanding is that social liberalism and economic conservatism are both positively correlated with IQ, but I’m not sure how big the size of the gap is, and how much it’s been studied.

              Note that the racial IQ gap isn’t just a finding from one or two studies. It’s been replicated over and over, and is extremely robust. The holy grail of psychometrics is a legitimate test of cognitive ability that shows no racial gap, and nobody’s ever been able to find one.

              The problem with the racial thing is that there is no good explanatory theory behind it.

              As I said, the reasons aren’t fully understood, but the gap definitely exists.

              Race is a social construct based on a very few genetic differences coding for superficial characteristics like skin color.

              Come on. Seriously? Those “very few genetic differences” are strongly correlated with ancestry, which means they’re correlated with many more genetic differences than the ones that code for the visible differences characteristic of various races. That the same genes code for skin color and IQ is a strawman, and a pretty ridiculous one at that.

              Anyway, this is somewhat beside the point, because, as I said, we don’t know why there’s a racial IQ gap. It could be 100% environmental. In theory, it could be 200% environmental, if black people have higher average genetic cognitive potential than white people but are having it suppressed by environmental factors. From the perspective of someone making hiring decisions for cognitively-demanding jobs, it doesn’t really matter, though.

              The case for gendered cognitive variation is more plausible

              A priori, maybe. But in practice, we don’t see large test male-female gaps in average test scores. We do see males overrepresented in the tails, but median scores are quite similar. There are differences on some subtests, but they more or less balance out. Male-female differences are more oriented towards personality.


              • BB,
                Get a bigger sample set or fuck off.
                Blacks in America do significantly more poorly than Blacks in Europe.
                We call this Selection in Action, as you do not have a decent representative sample in Either Place.

                Do you really think slaves had the highest IQs in Africa???

                So, when you say “There’s a Racial IQ Gap” — what the fuck is your sample set?

                Because when my friends take a sample, they use cell phones. And their data is loads more accurate (and profitable) than Academic Researchers. (Cellphones have better penetration in Africa too).


            • Are you aware that the same psychologists, using the same methodology, also measure a similar (8-10 point) IQ advantage for liberals over conservatives?

              You’re comparing one study that can’t be replicated to a large body of research.

              The problem with the racial thing is that there is no good explanatory theory behind it. Race is a social construct based on a very few genetic differences coding for superficial characteristics like skin color. So what the hell could that possibly have to do with intelligence?

              No, the first problem is, “is this a real thing”? Can we replicate it? Not having an explanation is irrelevant for judging whether or not something exists.

              If it is a real thing then we can (and should) look for explanations. We should be examining Culture, poverty, lead poisoning (already known to lower IQ), lifestyle, & diet. Genetics is unlikely for the reasons you pointed out, but something is clearly going on.

              However just bringing up the subject results in bricks being thrown until that line of questioning is stopped. So we’re not actively researching whatever the problem is. Thus we condemn people to it, and a lowering of IQ is an amazingly nasty thing to do to a group of people.


              • A few things. People do research these issues. The lead poisoning issue has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years. Are people touchy about the subject: yeah, but it’s not like there isn’t a really fraught history there. Ignoring all that history and how a lot of bad science has contributed to racism, etc is not at all helpful. It’s also hard to research this kind of stuff in a truly rigorous manner since we can’t exactly do real experiments.


                • Ignoring all that history and how a lot of bad science has contributed to racism, etc is not at all helpful.

                  I disagree. That history should be ignored.

                  The alternative is a sensitivity which resulted in ignorance. And that ignorance has created MANY man years of suffering.

                  Inflicting a StD loss of IQ to a significant fraction of the population? The economic losses, the aggravation of any number of social problems, start putting numbers on the costs and wars look cheap.

                  It’s also hard to research this kind of stuff in a truly rigorous manner since we can’t exactly do real experiments.

                  It’s even harder if we’re not allowed to ask the questions.


                  • Again people ask those questions. How do you think the lead pollution studies got done. People are very sensitive to more science aimed at “proving” certain people are inferior. That kind of stuff very much hurt the people you are talking about. Ignoring that leads you to step into giant minefields then be flummoxed when you set up a mine.


                    • That kind of stuff very much hurt the people you are talking about.

                      No, we didn’t do scientific investigations to decide how racist we were going to be. We decided to be racist and then mumbled the word “science” or “god” to justify it.

                      Again people ask those questions.

                      Mostly they don’t, certainly not to the extent they should. In order to investigate “why are Blacks more (less) [X]”, you must first admit that this is a thing, admitting it’s a thing brings protestors to your door.

                      Most of the people who could and should be asking those questions are members of the Left. If they’re not clutching pearls themselves they don’t want to be denounced by their friends as racists.


                      • Dark,
                        We have the questions. We have the data. We have the fucking answers.
                        We have profit.

                        Welcome to the fun world of trade secrets.

                        But race is an idiotic concept, and we’re a lot more finegrained than that.


      • Another case of STEM guy with an actual point coupled to a complete and utter inability to express that point in a way that won’t get him curb-stomped.

        This is one reason I support making STEM students take lots of writing classes in college.


      • Google is a large company and I know female engineers there and they are good and skilled. Are there bad female engineers at Google? Probably but there are probably plenty of bad guy engineers as well.

        Here is the thing that gets to me. Patrick pointed out that even if Google wanted to keep the guy, he made himself toxic. California and Silicon Valley is still socially liberal whether libertarians and conservatives like this or not. No one is going to want this guy on their team and women aren’t going to want to work with him because it is clear how highly he values their work and he would be dismissive of their situations. He probably wouldn’t want respond well if he had to report to a woman either.

        Another thing I don’t get is how the greatest defenders of at-will employment suddenly cry fowl when someone is terminated for progressive/liberal reasons. The guy distributed this memo internally, he took on a deliberately political and provocative statement using company time and resources, it got leaked to the press (he had to have known it would have), and Google is embarrassed in a year when tech companies have been shown to constantly step on landmines with sexism in the workplace. But know all I see are libertarians rushing to the guy’s defense while they would have seemingly no issue with a company terminating an employee for wearing a lavender shirt or attending a Pride event on the weekend.

        At-will applies to everyone, not just people you don’t like.


          • Does Google talk about ideological diversity? Legally, I think the situation might be different if he did this on his own time. Realistically, there are probably a lot of Google employees who might agree with the guy (I don’t) but the guy was provocative enough to shoot himself in the foot. He choose a hill to die on.


            • That the guy was going to get fired was a high probability? No doubt. He probably expected it too, but figured writing his “memo” was worth the risk. I expect he’s got skills that are in demand. (I have some similar experience, although mine was not about diversity but about volunteerism)

              Frankly, it wouldn’t matter if the guy wrote the note on his own time or not since he sent it out on company assets. His real “offense”: pushing back against company policies. And as I said, Google’s demonstrated that they don’t REALLY value diversity, they just value compliance/conformity.


          • But it does highlight the hypocrisy of the company’s diversity statements.

            Not really. Again, that whole document could have been written in a way that actually encouraged the desired discussion, but the guy was careless with his language and left too many openings to toss grenades through.


            • We’ll have to agree to disagree. He was likely going to get canned regardless.

              First, one does not send mass communications speaking ill of company policies.

              Second, one does not speak wrong think of diversity programs. Too much possible legal ramifications.

              Third, one does not speak against corporate culture. You become a “bad fit”. (I have some experience living this)


            • Right. He’d still have a job if he was just another dudebro. It was being an asshole that got him fired. No company’s diversity statement stretches that far – in fact, my company’s explicitly says the opposite. And we have plenty of out-and-proud Trumpistas, but as long as they don’t drag down the work environment, no one has any complaints.


              • Ah, if only most people would take that advice…

                As I note above, it’s a good idea to fully survey a hill before engaging in an act that may find you smote upon it.


                • A standard bit of lawyer advice is that you have to answer all questions your asked on the stand truthfully, this is for civil and not criminal trials so the 5th amendment doesn’t apply, but you don’t have to volunteer information that shoots you in the foot if nobody asks about it.


        • I don’t object to the firing*, but you can support at will employment without supporting every employer’s use of it.

          * – As it pertains to this guy and this set if circumstances. A lot of defenses of the firing take their support to positions I don’t agree with, though.


        • There you go again, painting libertarians with that mile wide brush.

          Nope, guy stepped on his dick in a very public way. Even if the memo hadn’t been leaked, he was gonna get fired.

          Thing is, he could have written that whole document in a way as to not piss everyone off and actually foster that discussion, but he didn’t.


          • “he could have written that whole document in a way as to not piss everyone off and actually foster that discussion”

            I don’t think that would have been possible, given the topics he was discussing.

            He could have done it without the evopsych stuff. Because now everyone’s going to be all “oh, evopsych, well, this shit is OBVIOUSLY WRONG because evopsych” instead of discussing concerns about major technology firms possessing an ideological and philosophical monoculture.


              • Depends on what he was really trying to say.

                If he was really trying to say that women are in general inferior developers/engineers, then yeah, their ain’t no good way to dress up that shit sandwich.

                If he was trying to say that Google should not demand parity when parity does not actually exist in the world, but he got lost trying to defend his position*, then my position holds.

                But he didn’t, and he got canned, and engineers who want to be all clever and write about corporate policy should actually get some practice doing so.

                *Happens to everyone. Good writers either know how to spot it when they do it, and begin revising, or they have good proofreaders and editors.


            • It would be impossible to not piss anybody off, given the topic, but it’s increasingly difficult to find a topic for discussion that won’t piss somebody off.

              He could have done it such that the population of the offended was small enough to be mostly ignored. IMHO, sticking with the argument that it’s a fools errand to demand gender parity when the schools are not graduating gender parity would be unimpeachable (but qualify it by saying we should strive for parity so as to encourage kids and schools to do the same, even if the goal is never fully realized*).

              *See one of the SLC essays linked.


          • The problem is that I think you and Jason and James Hanley are a bit one of a kind when it comes to libertarians. Or a small group. I see a lot of people rushing to the guy’s defense on Jasons feed and engaging in a kind of knee-jerk contrarianism that is awfully close to “hold my beer.”


            • The vast majority of libertarians and conservatives I’ve read agree that Google has the at-will right to fire him. In fact, agreement is such that it’s not even stated because it’s assumed. Which has, ironically, lead a lot of people to read their complaints as though they oppose Google’s right to fire him.

              The three counterexamples involve (a) one from a lefty, (b) one iunvolving claims of whistleblower protection, and (c) something Google-specific because they allegedly solicit input. These are not strong arguments, but are not contrary to at-will employment.


                      • The thoughtcrime and groupthink stuff is crap. They are ignoring why saying women can’t be as good computer types or how that might effect a work enviro. Like they can’t even see why saying to your coworkers that their biology makes them less qualified isn’t a teensy weensy bit of a real issue. They are fine with stirring the quite large poo pot of a discussion all around this.


                        • It’s an uncertain question as to where specifically the infraction lies here. Can the argument be made that the gender disparity is the result of choice and aptitude rather than discrimination? If that point can be made, then what did this guy say that crossed the line? Was it that he did it through company channels? Does it not matter that he was (allegedly) doing so in a discussion about the gender disparity?

                          Critics of the memo are pretty significantly misrepresenting it, which has a lot of people up in arms. Many are also suggesting that the basic infraction really is the point of view expressed (that things other than discrimination is responsible) or the product of consequentialism (he has to be fired for no other reason than that because employees are upset) and others still are suggesting that he should not be able to find work again, which is itself a disturbing prospect.

                          But all of that is tangential to the main point that I was making, which is that the narrative that libertarians and conservatives have suddenly turned against EAW, is incorrect.


                          • He spent too much effort talking about biological differences, enough that it leans toward biological determinism.

                            I mean, I read it and I can’t help but think, “If you had stuck to Points A, B, & C, and stayed away from D & E, you’d have made your argument and not pissed too many folks off.” Just because A, B, & C are valid doesn’t erase the use of D & E to try and hold the argument down.


                          • I read the memo. Clearly i was bored. Gender, or race, disparities are very touchy issues as anyone with a vague sense of history should understand. There is a very strong thread of cluelessness, that gets interpreted as malice, in the people who complain that PC prevents them from discussing why some groups might be biologically inferior. It is reasonable to study gender differences. In fact it’s so reasonable people do it. But if you want to wade into that pool you should know the history.

                            The dude also complained about it not being comfortable for conservatives to open be conservative. That sort of showed where he was coming from more than some of the other issues. Working in a place where others don’t’ share your politics can be a PITA but it isn’t oppression. It happens all the time across regions and industries. I certainly know people who dislike having to bite their tongues about disliking Trump due to where they work. That is just life. He wasn’t happy about many things about his workplace and wanted them all changed to suit his views. That isn’t ever likely to work out well.


                        • “They are ignoring why saying women can’t be as good computer types or how that might effect a work enviro. ”

                          That isn’t what the memo says.

                          What the memo does say is that the average woman has a different method of doing programming work than the average man, and that Google is ignoring this in its ideologically-motivated insistence that All People Work The Same Way. And that this willful ignorance has a negative effect on workplace morale and productivity, and that this negative effect is being ignored for the same ideological reasons that spawned it.

                          So. You can suggest that “women program from Venus, men program from Mars” is manure, but it’s not true to claim that the memo says “women are bad at computering”.


                          • I read the memo. You are putting the best possible spin on it. The dude’s evidence is, at best, highly contestable through to cherry picked. He is doing the thing i called clueless; speaking widely and definitely about something that has a very fraught history in way that looks like he doesn’t remotely get why people are touchy about it.

                            Whose morale is suffering? How is the productivity loss measured by something like the problem he claims? My guess is those are just personal opinions which he has a right to but are far from unbiased.

                            As has been put out there the avg women may have advantages based on socialization that will help their programming work. That may be wrong of course but it isn’t something he discussed.

                            But even your best spin “the avg women has a different way of working which due to the desire for diversity is making things worse” not a neutral or non-hostile argument. It’s suggesting that the different way women work, assuming it’s true, isn’t compatible with some jobs. That’s not a good look. And that assumes the women Google hires are average, which is unlikely. They almost certainly can pick from the top of the pool of people looking for jobs.


                            • “You are putting the best possible spin on it.”

                              Isn’t that what “read charitably” means? And isn’t one of the basic tenets of useful civil discussion that one should always read charitably first?

                              I mean, I get how your ideology requires that you not engage in civil discussion with those kind of people–you know the ones I mean–but maybe you could at least recognize that “putting the best possible spin on it” is kind of how society actually functions.

                              Oh, and: “It’s suggesting that the different way women work, assuming it’s true, isn’t compatible with some jobs.”

                              Quote the part where I actually wrote those actual words. No, not “well this part here is just like you said that”.


                              • How about this, overly generous in your reading. And even at that what he says has major issues. Right after you tell me i’m not being civil you go right into my ideology requires i not be civil. Wha huh? If you truly believe in putting the best possible spin on things then i know one obvious way you can show your commitment to that.

                                Saying that women on avg have a different way of doing programming and the diversity programs to fully include them are hurting Google is seriously problematic. That is the way you described what he said but there are huge factual issues with the two assertions and a very long history of believing women couldn’t do things based on being a woman. Neither of those issues addressed.


                                • ” If you truly believe in putting the best possible spin on things then i know one obvious way you can show your commitment to that. ”

                                  Is this the part where I call you a triggered snowflake? Or is that something that only *you* get to do?

                                  “Saying that women on avg have a different way of doing programming and the diversity programs to fully include them are hurting Google is seriously problematic.”

                                  So you agree with me that he wasn’t, actually, writing “women are worse at the computering”. Thank you for your cooperation.


                            • It’s suggesting that the different way women work, assuming it’s true, isn’t compatible with some jobs.

                              This is an interesting one for me, because the pro-diversity position often spins it around the other way, suggesting that diversity is good because different “types” of people work different ways and bring different strengths to the table, so diversity makes for a stronger company with a more rounded set of strengths.

                              If one makes that claim, the necessary flip side is that some “types” of people have ways of working that don’t fill up those niches and we’re worse off by having them instead of somebody who does. They’re just different ways of saying the same thing. I’ll agree that one *sounds* a lot nicer and more inclusive than the other, but they’re fundamentally the same claim, so I don’t see why one makes one’s position good and noble while the other makes one History’s Greatest Bigot instead of just being more tone deaf.

                              It feels like there’s an element of having one’s cake and eating it too when we say that diversity is about getting a useful mix of the mojo that each demographic brings in, but God help you if you suggest that one demographic have more of a particular mojo than another.


                              • tf,
                                There are people who don’t work so good with others. We know this.
                                These people are not actually limited by gender, honest to god.
                                (However, if the word overseer or foreman is applied to that particular brand of Republican jerkoff — well, you might just be looking at the person who doens’t work well on a team, and feels his job is just to beat other people into working).


                              • I think part of the pro-diversity position is that different peoples lived experience gives them unique experiences so it’s good in that way. Some of the differing general styles people have may have advantages so it’s good to have a mix of them. So having people orientated people in a engineering setting can help a lot.

                                The memo guy’s use of gender research has been correctly panned as bad. He really cherry picked research but also misses plenty of other things. One of which is that even if there are generally different gender based styles that may not apply within the group of women who end up in tech. So the avg women might be whatever his research says but does that even apply to the Google pool of workers or women in tech.

                                The pro-diversity position you outline, and pushed by lots of people, does dip into the essentialist waters. This has always been thing pro-D people sort of miss.


            • I wonder, if you polled those defenders, how many are STEM grads? I’m betting their defense is less political, and more “I can see myself shoving my own foot in my mouth so badly I can kick my own ass through my anus”


        • I’ll go a step further and say that even some things you say off the clock are risky for legitimate reasons. Firing somebody because he posted a rant to Facebook about Obama or Trump being the devil? Not OK. But if he posted a rant to Facebook saying he hated working with his Indian colleagues because they’re all smelly idiots? That may be your personal opinion on your personal time, but if it gets out, it’s going to be very hard to assign you team related work and absolutely impossible to make you a manager with any authority over the people you’re crapping on.


          • I generally don’t think that employers should go after employees for lawful out of work activities and lawful should also not equal wholesome but I concur that today’s world creates problems for that view.


            • The Internet and the permanence of our brain droppings really change the dynamic. If I was going to appoint the guy in my example to manage a bunch of Indian programmers and somebody said, “I heard he said some bad stuff about Indian programmers at his 4th of July barbecue,” I’d be hard pressed to take that as a reason to limit the guy’s career. It’s just vague hearsay.

              But if you give me a written post that legitimately tells me he holds his Indian coworkers in contempt, it would be impossible for me to put him in charge of that team in good conscience. And if that’s the job he’s supposed to be doing, he’s out the door. If we could put him on some solo project in the corner, maybe we could let it slide, but there aren’t many of those projects, and you usually can’t make a career out of them.


              • What I find surprising is how many people still think that they will be the ones that will get away with posting something that is mildly to extraordinarily controversial on the Internet and get away with it. There have dozens of stories of high profile people losing big because of something they said but everybody thinks that they will be the criminal mastermind that doesn’t get busted by the Feds.


        • “Another thing I don’t get is how the greatest defenders of at-will employment suddenly cry fowl when someone is terminated for progressive/liberal reasons. ”

          I’ve seen a lot more people saying “hurrr, conservatives suddenly care about employment protections” than I’ve seen actual conservatives complaining that this guy’s employment should have been protected.

          Like, I haven’t actually seen any of the latter.


        • Google is a large company and I know female engineers there and they are good and skilled. Are there bad female engineers at Google? Probably but there are probably plenty of bad guy engineers as well.

          I doubt it. They have a pretty high hiring bar. I’ve worked at similarly selective companies, and I’ve never really run into anybody whom I’d consider a bad engineer. There may be a few who slip through, and I’ve heard that, short of any really egregious screw-up they like to give second chances (and time to build a paper trail of bad reviews) before firing, but virtually everyone is highly competent.

          Note that the memo is not really about women being bad at engineering. The theory he advances is more about women’s distribution of personality traits being such that fewer of them are interested in pursuing a career in engineering than men are. Note that women are already greatly underrepresented in computer science at the college level.

          Also, my understanding, based on the memo, is that Google doesn’t really practiced the hamfisted kind of AA you see in colleges, where being black is worth a full standard deviation on your SAT scores. One thing he mentions is attempting to lower the false negative rate (rejecting qualified candidates) for underrepresented groups. Assuming that the false negative rate with the standard interview process is negatively correlated with ability (that is, marginally qualified candidates have a high false negative rate, and highly qualified candidates have a low false negative rate), this will tend to lead to hiring women who are on average slightly less qualified than the men they hire, but probably not to the point where they’re actually hiring women who are bad or even mediocre engineers.

          I disapprove of Google’s decision to fire him, but acknowledge their legal right to do so, as I would in your bizzaro-world scenario where they fire someone for attending a gay pride parade. Though mostly my disapproval is focused on the pearl-clutching PJWs that made it basically necessary.

          However, there is one extra factor that could justify his suing. Normally when you get fired or laid off, your loss is limited to the pay lost from not having a job until you find another one, which is fine. But what could really screw him is the backloaded nature of tech pay. Usually you’ll get options or restricted stock units that vest over a period of years. Depending on how long he’s been working there, the voiding of his options or RSUs could cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars even if he finds another job today.


          • I wouldn’t be surprised if Google was smart enough to let him keep his backloaded compensation to help make the fire go out quickly. “We could terminate you right now and argue reasonably that it’s for cause, or you can sign this contract and we’ll let you keep this big pile of loot.” Seems like that would be a no-brainer with how big of a PR mess this turned out to be, even ignoring the costs of litigation.


    • I actually interviewed at Google in Mountain View several weeks ago and attended one of their pre-interview training sessions. It was 100% men. One of the guys in line looked around and said to me, “There are too many people for this to be coincidence. I wonder if they’re holding a women-only session so nobody has to be the one woman who speaks up in the training session full of strange men.” I don’t know the answer to that, but Google doesn’t seem to do a lot of stuff by accident in their hiring pipeline, so I wouldn’t be surprised.


      • Google only hires the best, and women in STEM face an awful lot of social/cultural pressure that they aren’t/can’t be on par ability wise with men in the STEM fields. This could very easily result in fewer women even bothering to apply for the jobs at Google, and if you only get a handful of female resumes, you may not have enough to compete with the men (especially given how men tend to oversell themselves, and women undersell).

        There is a whole lot of baggage in STEM regarding women, and it will take time to clear.

        One response to the Google letter (Zunker? Zunger?) made the very good point that one thing women in STEM are very good at is program/project/personnel management, usually way better than men are, because those roles are all about building and managing relationships, which is something your average male STEM worker sucks at.


        • Jason K. has a very long thread on this incident at Google. One explanation is that the memo man is right and evolutionary psychology and biology explain why fewer women make it in STEM. I do not find this explanation plausible. Women have been able to break into other fields that traditionally had high levels of misogyny, competition and some very sexist men working in it like politics, finance, big law, the military, and company. STEM might be different for two reasons.

          1. Traditional sexism emphasized that men are rational and unemotional while women are illogical and highly emotional. STEM traditionally attracted people who pride themselves on their cold rationalism and logic. Other fields like finance or big law are more comfortable with expressive displays of emotion even if they are negative like anger or pride. A workplace filled with people who see themselves as coldly rational might be less open to welcoming people seen as emotional than a place where at least some emotional displays are common.

          2. Sexually successful misogynists might be more open to working with women than sexually unsuccessful misogynists.


          • Traditional sexism was also willing to let women fail to be good at things. Because if Susie finds math tough, well, you gave it a good try, and anyone can be a mommy, right? But if Joey finds math tough, it’s get back in there and work harder, do you want to be a plumber or something?


          • BB up above had two links to Scott A., and one of them talks about the study that the Google doc touched upon, which is that women in highly egalitarian societies, where they have few social barriers to entry, still trend away from the engineering fields, but women in very discriminatory societies have a strong showing in the engineering fields. Which makes wonder if this isn’t more about revealed preferences, rather than active or passive social influences (I recall the study referenced because the conclusions were so counter-intuitive).

            So in highly discriminating societies, where women are not allowed to enter high status fields (doctor, lawyer, etc.), but they can get into engineering, they shoot for it because of the benefits it brings (better pay, status, opportunities, etc.). But when the barriers are cleared, women gravitate toward what appeals to them, and it appears that certain STEM fields are not that appealing.

            Now why they are not appealing could be biological, or it could be social conditioning, or a combination thereof (Scott A. points to a possible biological cause, but I have no idea if that explanation works on it’s own), but the evidence suggests that those career paths are just not something women are interested in at the same rate men are.

            Anecdotally, one thing I’ve noticed is that women with engineering degrees tend to pursue management roles much more aggressively than men do, and they tend to excel at them, so I wonder if the gender diversity numbers notice that and adjust for it?


        • Also, from my own experience: in heavily-research-oriented STEM, you have to pretty much be able to tolerate not having a life outside your research. And maybe have your continued employment be dependent on ability to get grants (or luck in getting grants, sometimes). It helps to have a spouse in a different field who can do most of the heavy lifting at home. But still, yeah: hobbies and relationships and stuff like just bingewatching tv often have to go by the wayside.

          Some women don’t want that, and I tend to think people should not be forced to do what they don’t want. **I** don’t want it, and that’s why I went into a teaching-heavy career. (A lot of men don’t want it, either: my newest male colleague left a fairly promising research career to teach because he got sick of the ratrace)

          I’m an ecologist and I’ve published a few research papers but some days I question if I’m really a scientist. I certainly tend to say “I teach college biology” first when meeting a new person.

          I dunno. I don’t have a lot of opinions on the memo (or rather, I do, and they’re all conflicting). I’ve had some people above me in the chain who expressed fairly shocking things to my face (and to the face of other women) and got to keep their job. The only saving grace is that this person wasn’t in direct control of whether we kept our positions or got promoted. I just learned to avoid him as much as humanly possible. (And apparently he eventually peeved off the wrong person, because he got busted back down to a lower level….)

          I dunno. I’ve seen some casual sexism in my career (and some of it from other women!). You just, I don’t know, you just deal with it. It sucks and it’s not right but some people are just a-holes. I’d rather have some guy writing a vague screed (whatever it might say) then have him snarking at me to my face.


          • Also, from my own experience: in heavily-research-oriented STEM, you have to pretty much be able to tolerate not having a life outside your research.

            This. The divorce rate for people who are married when they start into the tenure-track grind — research, teaching, service — with their shiny new PhD is remarkably high.


              • I’ve made two runs at a PhD in two different fields and bailed both times. To paraphrase a couple of my friends who do have PhDs: “Mike, we all know you can do original research, we’ve watched you do it. But you lack the necessary tolerance for academic b*llsh*t to finish a PhD.”

                OTOH, my current “research” project could probably use a terminal masters degree in three or four subjects where I don’t already have one.


                • — I had a friend who was working on her CompSci PhD, and while doing so was getting actively recruited by {big tech}. She asked me, “Why are they trying so hard to get me? Don’t they realize that I’m actively pursuing my PhD?”

                  I was like, OMG do you know how many people we hire who were totally burned out by school?


                  • I know my office has an equal population of PhDs, and the smoking ruins of PhDs.

                    We also have a whole lot of terminal Masters.

                    Straight up bachelors are the rare bird.


                • MIT recently announced a masters degree program that doesn’t even have a high school diploma as an entry requirement. However, it’s aimed at verifying the effectiveness of various “this will fix it!” programs in third world countries.


                  • Colleges have never had getting a high school diploma as an entry requirement.

                    One of my fellows got through high school in three years by not getting a diploma and going directly to college. If he’d stayed he might have been the valedictorian. By his senior year he’d run out of STEM classes and just had things like gym.

                    Very embarrassing for the administration that their brightest student was too smart to get a degree, now days they have a program which lets him take classes at the local community college.


              • — Your wife sounds very wise.

                Honestly tho — and I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious as fuck — but I personally find that an advanced degree in computer science negatively correlates with the likelihood I’ll recommend a job candidate for hire. Likewise, after having tutored a friend of mine working on her compsci PhD, and realizing her Numerical Optimization class covered really basic shit that I learned from reading books, and her Machine Learning class was likewise pretty standard stuff that I knew —

                Well, when I was young I assumed a PhD was a really big deal. I don’t think that anymore.

                Like, if you can hack a PhD program in math or compsi, you can probably score a job at a tech company that is doing cool stuff. And isn’t doing cool stuff really the goal?

                Furthermore, setting aside the current topic of conversation, you probably will encounter less dumb politicking and status games in industry — well, you’ll encounter it, but at least you have the logic of “bring this product to market” driving things, rather than “can I make this grant proposal look worthwhile to some gaggle of territorial ninnies who think they own these ideas.”

                I dunno. Am I wrong? I’ve never met anyone pursuing an advanced degree that didn’t hate it a little bit. By contrast, I love my job.


                • I am sure some folks will disagree, but the old saying when I was an undergrad was that an Engineering PhD was a great way to educate yourself out of a job.

                  It’s not entirely true, but the number of positions not in academia or government labs where an engineering PhD is required or very useful is pretty limited. My employer has a slightly higher percentage than a lot of places, but we do a lot of cutting edge numerical work, so it’s useful to have folks who’ve done the deep dive into certain topics.

                  Add to that that I once worked as academic staff for my Alma Mater, and supported PhD candidates, and watched them go batshit insane trying to get it all done, and I’m just not sure the process is worth it. At least not to me. I just can’t focus on a single topic like that, I get too distracted by other interesting things to learn.

                  But every once in a while, I start pondering the idea, and my wife quickly brings me back to earth.


                  • One of my college roommates (and a former caving partner) got his PhD from John’s Hopkins and now works at UCSF. He told me that in his field nobody wants a master’s degree because it means someone failed at a PhD, which looks even worse than just having a BS.


                • I got my Master’s entirely to play around with Machine Learning on my company’s dime. (Hey, they payed for it. Even gave me a nice bonus for getting it).

                  I got a few other things out of it — a rather systematic look at Unix from the kernel level up (specifically the nuts and bolts of how an OS is really welded together), with some fun practical experience for instance, and a much better understanding of a few other things here and there.

                  All stuff I could have learned on my own (in fact, I knew about half the machine learning stuff going in, but getting to have two semesters to screw around hands on was pretty nice) and played with on my own, but I’m married with a kick and a full time job.

                  So getting paid to do it was a really nice treat. :) (And it did it’s job — I’m pretty darn loyal to my company!).

                  Then again, I’m not a rock-star level coder. I get the job done, I’m good with design and debugging, and you hand me a problem I hand you a solution (and I can even coordinate well with teammates and write well enough that customers can understand), but I’m average at best.

                  But it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever solve a novel problem. I do a lot of code archaeology — searching out other people’s algorithms and solutions and kicking them into a shape that works for us. Or fixing the undocumented rat’s nest of 20+ year old crap at the core of our engine. Some real hot coders wrote some of it, but jesus they couldn’t even use meaningful variable names.

                  I mean I had to debug this really slick, highly optimized self-sizing array that deals with an obscure input method we still support — not a single freaking comment and the variable names probably meant something to whomever coded it, but I think his original C compiler charged by the character.


                  • I’ve written quite a lot of strange code just based on what I needed done.

                    Just in passing, I also have an interesting solution to the stellar navigation problem. The current methods pick several bright stars in a field, view them as a triangle or polygon, and then search a database of internal angles.

                    My suggestion is to pick any random star and then spin the entire star field around it, making a bulls eye pattern that is a unique “barcode” for that star. I wrote quite a bit of code to test it using online star databases (which are all over the place for popular astronomical “sky view” programs), and the results are great.

                    The essential problem is that a starfield has too much information. By setting each star to either the same brightness, or binning them into a couple of brightnesses, and spinning the stars, you’re throwing enough of the information away to come up with an integer that represents the star. Then you just go to a look up table to find the star’s coordinates and do a closer comparison.

                    The great thing is that the data table is compact, so instead of having data for a couple of hundred potential guide stars you can use tens of thousands of potential guide stars. That means that instead of having to use a wide-field camera, you can use a very narrow camera that has an inherently higher resolution, and thus greater angular accuracy.

                    And the computation is cheap and fast.


    • I actually read the Gizmodo version, so I didn’t see the diagram until just now (non-Gawked-up version here). The Vice Motherboard reporters, demonstrating how totally qualified they are to report on this, laughably describe it as “not sourced or explained,” despite the fact that a) it’s just illustrating a statistical concept, not presenting actual data, and as such doesn’t need a source, and b) is explained, both in the preceding paragraph and in the text in the image itself.

      This is an excellent illustration of the way both racists/sexists and PJWs make exactly the same statistical error, annoying the hell out of those of us who actually have a nuanced understanding of group differences. The correct way to model group differences is as overlapping bell curves (or some other curve if the trait is not normally distributed). A sexist hears a description of the right graph, imagines the one on the left, and thinks “I knew it! Women can’t be engineers!” and then probably yells at the TV or something. A PJW hears a description of the right graph, imagines the one on the left, and thinks, “This misogynist is saying women can’t be engineers!” Intense triggering and pearl-clutching ensue. They’re both wrong in the same way; they just differ in their emotional reaction.


      • Thanks for the link, he wrote a lot better than I’d realized from the mock up.

        So he clearly understood the difference between group averages and individuals and the kind of implications you can and can’t draw from them.

        For all the claims of pseudoscience, his core problem seems to have been that he suggested that some average differences were innate, and that’s heresy.


          • Rule #235:
            Social engineering is napalm.

            Rule #236:
            Don’t try to fix the problems with napalm, even with a hammer.(yes we know it looks like a nail)

            Rule #237:
            Don’t bathe in the napalm especially, while hammering, or grinding, or smoking.


                • Umm yeah…whatever. Social Engineering is a fancy phrase to diss stuff you don’t like. You want to make a society that you believe is good, boom, you are a social engineer.


                  • I was just having fun here, but if you must ascribe to me and what I like and dislike or what I diss or don’t diss here we go.

                    My default position is typically to advise peoples on my side of the fence not to engage in social engineering. I mean really, to get technical what separates the right from the left has a great deal to do with the differences between individual and social so if this is the case, most of the social engineering is an artifact of the left.

                    Now we get into what you have said above about ‘want to make a society that you believe is good’. If you look at society, that thing is made of people, so the starting parameter probably ought to be to figure out if people are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. If people are bad, then it doesn’t make any sense to assume that I could ‘make’ a society that is good out of bad people.

                    That kind of gets to the other part. Maybe I could ‘make’ a society out of good people. I think people on average are ‘good’ but when they get together in groups and start deciding things they are no longer good. So by default there is no ability to make a ‘good’ society. So I’m not going to end up with a good society, just mostly good people i like, one at a time, but not in groups. I don’t believe it a overly ‘good’ idea to put social cages around individuals who are basically good. So your premise that I will somehow make an effort to become a social engineer in an attempt ‘make’ a society I like, is fundamentally flawed.

                    A step further raises the question of whether or not a society can be ‘made’ into something, god, bad or other. I suppose a society is what it is, my impact in making it something it is not, would be a waste of my time and rather annoying to the true nature of whatever society is.

                    With that said I am more than happy to watch those who think they have a grasp on the ‘one true social objectivity’ screw up to no end.


                    • Joe,
                      Please, come on here. It’s not that we don’t want Social Engineering, it’s that we want Complexity, and self-organizing systems.

                      In short, if you’re going to make life a game (and you’re gonna, don’t pretend you ain’t), make it fun, and have it reward long term objectives.

                      Seriously, if you can’t make it fun, why ARE you playin’?


                      • Self organizing systems I can see, and that doesn’t take a major planned effort to reach. I’m more for that than against it up to a point. My reference to Smith the other day about spontaneous order was just to see if there was cognition of not only spontaneous ordering but the phenomenon spontaneous disordering. That is a problem also.

                        So these social engineers build something not in regards to spontaneous ordering, what if they get it wrong? How do they unbuild it? What happens when they are wrong about social objectivity, and not in a minor way? Social engineering in itself can and often is about control. If it didn’t have to be controlled, it wouldn’t need to be engineered. Why is it engineered? Some people think people are bad. That’s not my premise, and the only real road that leads down is a ‘bad’ society as I was suggesting above. If people want to ignorantly build a bad society, that is nothing I can change. Let humanity suffer or enjoy itself.

                        Complexity. That’s a tough one. Only a few people enjoy picking apart, troubleshooting, operating overly complex systems.

                        It is possible for a carpenter to have a oil well that runs a generator that runs a compressor that runs a pneumatic nail gun for nailing boards together.

                        It is also possible for a carpenter to use a hammer for nailing boards together.

                        What kind of carpenters do we have? Can they diagnose problems in the moving parts of one better than the moving parts of another? What is the probability of cascade failure? Your trouble shooting social objectivity here.

                        I’m sure there are some studies that show people only like complex things in X,Y,Z parts of their life, and they typically only engage to a depth of K,L,M. Keep adding variable parameters and the amount of certainty about what is going on diminishes, quickly.

                        In a lot of the work I do, we have something called visual control indication. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just easy visual measure to see that stuff is still doing what it is supposed to be doing. The best I can tell the social engineers are using bombs as visual control indicators. The problem is, those bombs will eventually be nuclear.

                        I make it fun, but I do my own thing. The great thing about individual sovereignty, is the rest of social society can be on a highway to hell and it doesn’t have to mess with my mojo.

                        But hell you know all this stuff, you kind of dabble on the surface and go meta, but your fucking smart under all that.


                        • So, sometimes we do a good thing.
                          Try EnergyStar, which the government got repaid dividends in giant hoards of money.

                          Other times, we do Medicaid Reimbursements, where we pay hospitals less if they readmit patients. (This lead to some unscrupulous, desperate hospitals trying to find ways to let the least among us die quickly in hospital, rather than letting them leave and come back to die).

                          So, someone made a poor game. What’s next? Well, they take it back to the Executive Branch, and they redraw the rules.

                          Same thing with the Hugo Awards, once the Puppies decided to play their game.
                          You make a dumb game that has cheat codes, you patch the problems.

                          Sometimes, you make a whole new game.

                          Some general things we can learn, though: Rules work a lot less well than incentives, provided the incentives aren’t… hoarded (See the Dem Environment Bill? See Dem Env Sink…) and pretty politically motivated.

                          This is more what I meant by complexity. If you have multiple good solutions to any given problem, you’ve got a fun game.

                          Letting particular people get too much power makes poor gameplay, particularly if other people can’t rise up and take over. The old saying was “It’s one generation to build a fortune, and two to lose it.” So long as we’re doing that, we’re doing pretty good. Thing is, we ain’t doing that anymore, and the Powers that Be are… pretty conservative, pretty stupid, and Like People Like Them (and, they ain’t nice folks).


                          • Part of the problem with the game is the old ‘break the leg first’ problem.

                            It has many modes but you can usually tell where on the cost, quality, time triangle the leg has been broken on. Then the game becomes about the competition of selling crutches. Not that there will ever be a discussion about the broken leg, or where, or how it happened. What will be paramount is the crutch, then the factions open up the competition of who has ‘the best’ crutch that does the most work for you. Then they take turns selling crutches.

                            That said, I agree with most of what you have written up there. We specially sync with letting particular people have too much power. I think Venezuela is a lesson about letting kids in the candy store. Kids that will only leave when the store is burning to the ground.

                            I think america has kids in the candy store, the fact that they aren’t nice is only a degree of character. The hard part isn’t finding nicer kids, the hard part is torching the candyhouse. (People have a lot of candy invested)


    • For obvious reasons I’m not going to weigh in on the specific case, the memo itself, the internal conversations about the memo, the leaks, or the ultimate decision to fire the guy. That said, most of you can guess how I feel. Likewise, for good or for bad, things leaked. Everyone has (or can) read the memo. We know what it says.

      It didn’t really say much new. The contents of that memo have been said elsewhere by others, many times. So, I feel okay addressing my comments to the general attitude it expresses about women in STEM.

      First, there probably are some cognitive differences between men and women, on average. Second, I would be surprised if every type of career ended up with a precise 50/50 gender balance. Likewise, a clumsy attempt to force a 50/50 balance could do as much harm as good. Sure. That seems plausible. That said, tech has a particularly bad history with diversity, and tech in particular will benefit greatly from more women.

      Why do women do poorly in tech when they’ve done well in (for example) medicine and law — or, for that matter, when they do pretty well in mathematics?

      Well, I bet there are many reasons. One reason might be “systemizing” versus “empathizing.” Sure, fine.

      Another reason might be — and gosh I believe this is true — men in tech have particular issues with sexism.

      It’s not just sexism. After all, do we really think that a room full of tech dudes are more sexist than a room full of surgeons or financeers or lawyers?

      The reality is they are probably equally sexist. But that isn’t the point.

      They are also, in their own strange way, socially inept.

      Yes, we’re talking here about the problem with nerds.

      I’ve written about this plenty. I don’t want to repeat the same arguments. That said, it should be easy to see how hyper-systemizing/low-empathy men might have a very difficult time dealing with women. Furthermore, it can be easy to see how a non-diverse nerd workforce can get stuck in a kind of socially isolated perversity. So you have “tech bro” culture, startup culture, the stuff that the HBO show Silicon Valley mocks. It is a maelstrom of eccentricity and social dysfunction.

      Nerds are great. I’m a nerd. We make cool games and awesome software. All the same, we need adults in the room.

      That said, I truly believe this: very few nerds want to be sexist. My experience with my mostly male cowokers (at Google and in my jobs before Google) is that they really mean well most of the time. They are sensitive to these issues. They want an equitable environment. Likewise, they want diverse cognitive styles, diverse viewpoints, diverse life histories, etc. In short, they want women and minorities to feel welcome.

      However, there is the flipside. A few men very much feel otherwise. In tech, sexist, racist shitweasles abound. Look no further than “neoreaction.” They’re a minority, but a very ugly minority.

      Sometimes they spout their hatred out loud (often anonymously). Just as often they say it using coded language. All the same, they’re usually pretty easy to spot.

      You cannot fire someone merely for using coded language. However, if they’re foolish enough to cross a bright line…


      Women and tech face many hurdles. One rather pernicious one goes like this:

      A random man in tech is assumed to be basically competent, unless he proves otherwise. A random woman in tech is (too often) assumed to be basically incompetent, unless she can prove otherwise.

      I’ve talked before about the metaphor of compound interest, about how small differences in treatment can add up to enormous differences over the course of a career. Even men who do not want to be sexist have the same system-1 reasoning tools as everyone else. They come into a meeting and just unconsciously assume the women in the room cannot handle the big-hard-thinking, but are there to do “people stuff” (like taking notes or getting coffee for the boys).

      Even if she in fact is more an “empathy” person than a “systems” person — but chances are she is a mixture. Like everyone else, she wants the same opportunities to develop her spectrum of talents. She certainly doesn’t want to take notes or get coffee. That’s not why she is there.

      She is an engineer, the same as the rest of you.

      This really happens. Men don’t notice they do this, but they do it. Likewise, when meeting new engineers, she’ll be asked if she is in human resources or marketing.

      Dribs and drabs. Women in tech tend to have shorter careers than men. When asked why they leave tech, the main reason given by women is sexism. It is demoralizing.


      An essay that suggests that “systemizing” versus “empathizing” is sufficient to explain an 80/20 gender divide is probably wrong. This difference might explain some of the variance, but there is a lot of variance, along with many specific complaints of obviously sexist behavior. Worse, it is pernicious, precisely because it reinforces one of the chief negative attitudes that women face, namely the assumption of incompetence. Therefore, it is not an idea that one can just casually “throw out there” for discussion.

      It causes harm. If you do so in a clumsy way, it can hurt your career greatly, inasmuch as many tech companies have a broad commitment to creating safe, diverse workplaces. Having to constantly deal with low-grade sexism sucks. Companies make policy to reduce this, including by limiting what people can and cannot say on the job. In fact, understanding this is part of your job. Don’t fuck up.

      Smart engineers are valuable, but they are not irreplaceable. One poorly conceived memo can cause much grief.

      As a final note, let me say this: if you are a hyper-intelligent, but socially low-awareness person, steeped in the “alt-right” culture space, accustomed to speaking anonymously online about your strong anti-diversity views, and if you decide to write a lengthy anti-diversity rant targeting your employer, published with your own name on a company system — even if you believe you are being super careful in selecting your language — OMG just stop!


      Keep it on Reddit you dipshits. It’s bad enough you believe this shit.


      • V,

        You’re comments on this? Ignore the source. Plausible? I would not be surprised by this, but I’m a cynical, cynical guy. If true, that’s a toxic workplace and hostile-and it’s actionable.


        • It’s kind of amusing how a bunch of SJW Nazis think they’re fighting Nazism and how they came to possess absolutely no self-awareness.

          The men who are in tech tended to be the kids who took apart their parent’s television – because they found a screwdriver, and they never looked back. They are fascinated by figuring out how things tick, the internals, the clever mechanisms, the magic of coils and wires. Some girls are like that too. In fact, girls with an congenital androgen problem end up with no observable behavioral differences from boys, and they become gear heads too. If the problem was purely societal, they wouldn’t be any more likely to become gear heads than other women, but they do.

          If Google has 20% female coders, they’re doing great. In automotive repair, only 2% of mechanics are women. Since women love driving cars, there must be some other reason they’re not rebuilding their own transmissions – like a lack of interest in gears. Most women probably don’t even know the difference between a gear shaper and a hobber, and don’t care. But a few will be fascinated by it.


          • I’m not sure that “women love driving cars”.

            I love driving. Most of the women I’ve known viewed it as transportation, hated driving at night, viewed it as a means to and end, didn’t like driving fast or shifting through the gears on a winding road….In fact, in the sub set of “soccer moms”, I think they may actually view driving as a chore associated with taking johnny to practice.


          • George,
            Do you know what happens to boys with a congenital estrogen problem (aka higher than normal for guys)?
            Seriously, dude, do you?
            Because if you don’t, I have a few that I’d like to introduce to you.


        • — I’m not going to ignore the source. It’s fucking Breitbart. They are literally human-shaped fecal matter. You may as well ask me to comment on RooshV’s unwashed anus.


          I won’t comment on internal communications, except to say I’m generally proud of my employer and how they handle difficult social issues.

          Speaking in broad terms, should thoughtless insensitive comments made at work affect your career: to Popehat.


          • I don’t think that you actually answered the question. Perhaps if I rephrase.

            “I want those hostile voices to know: I will never, ever hire hire/transfer you onto my team. Ever. I don’t care if you are perfect fit of technically excellent or whatever,” declared former employee Adam Fletcher in a post on Google’s internal, staff-only Google+ network: “Internal Plus.” “I will actively not work with you, even to the point where your team or product is impacted by this decision. I’ll communicate why to your manager if it comes up.””

            Do you support fellow employees blacklisting/refusing to work with a person because he holds views you find objectionable?

            Do you have a problem (referencing the bold type) fellow employees disrupting work projects, to the detriment of the company, to ‘punish” other employees for having views they dislike?

            Yes or no?


                • Yeah, I’m a little slow on the uptick sometimes–the second comment she made where she italicized “cannot” got thru.

                  Anybody else want to respond to my questions, because frankly, I’m appalled, especially about this alleged comment:

                  “After being warned that keeping blacklists could result in him being reported to Human Resources, Cowan then bragged on Twitter that they were “threats I ignored, naturally, and which ironically grew the list substantially.””

                  Yeah, I’m sure he’ll be ignoring that email from HR to come chat with them as well. That’s just plain stooopid


                  • I’m not an HR person, but I suspect that keeping a mental (or otherwise private) list of people you really don’t want to work with is fine.

                    Acting on that list to the detriment of the company could very well be grounds for discipline/dismissal.


                    • “Acting on that list to the detriment of the company could very well be grounds for discipline/dismissal.”

                      Exactly. And posting about it? That’s just an invitation to having a chat with HR.


                      • “Acting on that list to the detriment of the company could very well be grounds for discipline/dismissal.”

                        Exactly. And posting about it? That’s just an invitation to having a chat with HR.

                        Hold up. Did he ever claim anything suggesting anything like this?

                        Different groups having different averages doesn’t mean anything about individuals. He made it explicitly clear he understood that.

                        I am much bigger than the typical person, that doesn’t prevent the next person I meet from being bigger than me. It’s shockingly unlikely, it’s happened perhaps twice if you ignore my relatives, but it could happen tomorrow.

                        It could even be a woman, she’d just be more unusual for her gender than I am for mine. That’s ALL it would mean, it doesn’t mean I’m emotionally invested in the issue much less that I’d be unwilling to work with her.

                        Being a software engineer working for Google implies lots of things about your level of skill, intelligence, etc. The average person of either gender isn’t able to do that. I’m not sure what the gender split is on people who function at that level, 80/20, 90/10, something like that.

                        Observing that this gender split actually exists doesn’t make you a Hitler clone. Ditto wondering if the origin of that split isn’t anchored in biology rather than “discrimination” (ditto linking to studies which suggest that is the case). The pro-discrimination people are normally also the ones claiming woman make 79 cents on the dollar which suggest the objections are largely political.

                        Now having said all that, maybe he was on HR’s radar anyway and this was the last straw… but at the moment we simply don’t know.


                        • “Hold up. Did he ever claim anything suggesting anything like this?”

                          No he did not. The claim was made by other Google employees (allegedly) that refuse to work with the guy, and that were compiling lists of “bad actors” they didn’t want to work with.


          • But, of course, those people were hired because they were good at putting spikes in gears.

            Now, I’m not going to say that the “August Personage around here who has openly deemed me a bigot (don’t think I am, just a garden variety asshole), and then had the gall to say that bigots deserve to have their pseudoanonymity erased” would have been a good fit for that job… But I’m also not going to contradict it, either.


      • Or shorter, not all sexism is expressed in exactly the same way and the type that exists in finance or law might be of a type that makes it easier for women to break in because finance and law require a bit more emotional intelligence than tech does so it won’t attract high-systemizing/low-empathy people.


      • v,
        “transphobic mysoginistic cis womyn”

        Like it or fuck it, your side is just as much part of the problem as the other.
        Like, when the person being addressed as such has literally no idea Why or What is being said?
        That’s a communication problem.


  5. BL3 – I’ve long argued that what we see as monopolizing in tech is more like monopsonizing. Microsoft buys up possible competitors and integrates their better ideas into their product. They essentially become a single buyer in a market consisting of pieces which can be integrated into Windows. Ditto Facebook, and probably a bunch of other companies. They’re more service providers than service creators.


    • This is pretty accurate.

      When I started in software 20-yrs ago there were hundreds… nay thousands of software companies all trying to become the next […….].

      Now? There are lots of start-ups, but only a few see themselves as building a business… most are building exit strategies through acquisition – not implicitly, but explicitly (if you talk to the people high-enough up the decision tree). Not saying that M&A hasn’t always been a part of Tech and a part of all business… but in the software space, the trend is way past trend and into accepted fact of mature business model. It is outsourced risk/innovation.


      • My experience and observation in tech is that a lot of start-ups just want to be bought out by Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Facebook, Netflix, etc. at some point. That is how the money is made and you also get transitioned to a cushy job for a few years.


        • Yes, the ecosystem of Tech Whales is bigger than that… and somewhat less customer facing than, say Facebook, but yes, most start-ups have identified who they plan to sell to as part of their funding campaign. In fact I’d say that most of the tech churn happens well below the Google/Facebook level – those are the block-buster deals.

          As to making money… sure, there’s a lot sloshing around; but its a lot more controlled than in the late 90s. When we buy a company we’ve gone from keeping the principals around for 2-3 years to having them quietly disappear in 6-mos. So changes there too.


      • Eh, there’s plenty of tech bros of the previous generation who stuck around just long enough to get bought out for big bucks. That’s what Mark Cuban did. That’s even more or less what Elon Musk did, as well as Maria Cantwell.


        • Cuban, yes; Musk, no; not sure about Cantwell.

          Cuban *is* the bubble poster boy. He won the internet in 1999 figuratively in a literal sense.

          Musk’s project, PayPal is an ongoing concern as part of ebay… another ongoing concern.

          Sometimes its the smart move to sell your company… that’s not what I’m really saying. What I’m saying is that the pitch to me as a Software guy *used* to be, “come join us we’re going to do x and become y…and you want to be on the ground floor…the sky’s the limit” Now it is a straight, “we’re building a customer base to take to company x, y, and z… the VC we’re working with has backers from all three… its a sure thing. We’re projecting IPO in 4-years and you should net $$ when we cash out” $$ is certainly a chunk of change, but its no-where near the limit of the sky.


      • ” There are lots of start-ups, but only a few see themselves as building a business… most are building exit strategies through acquisition ”

        So that’s pretty much like the pharmaceutical industry; the small startups invent the product (and take the risk that it’ll fail) and then sell it to Google or Amazon or whoever.


        • Some of my customers are the “Baby Bio’s” and yeah, there’s some similarity in the outsourced risk part of the model; I’ll just note that setting up a Baby Bio seems hella more involved than the software shops that recruit me.


    • Or just kills them. Back in the days when video-over-IP was becoming a thing, MS bought up a lot of little video compression companies. All of their algorithms were better than what MS was using. MS made no effort to incorporate those ideas, simply bought up the IP and locked it away. They single-handedly brought advancement in the available tech to a halt for a few years.


  6. BL1 – Most of my adult life has been around the book world; new and used, labor and management, buyer and seller. Even now I still scout, mostly for fun, but also as it is bred in the bone. I have sold everything form Rules for Radicals to Turner Diaries. Not to mention Loompanics and Maplethorp. Bibles and porn. I have worked for conservatives and liberals, independents and corporations. I have never, NEVER, not sold a book that someone wants. And never lectured them on the purchase. Who am I to know what the would or would not do with it, why they are reading it? Research? Hate? Not for me to know, or care. 1st amendment is absolute in my eyes.

    That person is a POS.


    • I wasn’t going to read BL1, but the vehemence of your response to it made me curious. I haven’t read Hillbilly Elegy, but boy the author of BL1 comes off terribly. He also doesn’t seem to respect his customers’ ability to read a controversial book and judge it for themselves. I’d be happy if people read Elegy, the Bible, the Communist Manifesto, and Atlas Shrugged. I’ve only read a little of Thomas Frank, but I’d encourage anyone to read him. He could convert the most neutral of moderates into full-throated conservatism.


      • Not much really sticks in my craw (just seems so ’round here) but this issue really does. I spent way to long in that industry, with good bosses of all political stripes, to leave this alone. I understand field specific bookstores are often very single minded politically, but they wouldn’t even carry the book. General bookstores? You are in it all the way.


      • Hating on Hillbilly Elegy is the new radial chic.

        J.D. Vance: “White people, like all people, are not inherently moral failures. Their problems mostly come from a lack of self-discipline and poor role models. An opportunity to develop any kind of meaningful life can make up for these things, but modern culture and the modern economy are steadily eliminating those opportunities and nobody seems to have any ideas for how to replace them.”

        Liberals: “Fuck you. White people are racists and they deserve what they get. Plus which, fuck you for suggesting that people’s problems are in any way their own fault.”


        • My wife read it, and said it hit home in an awful lot of uncomfortable ways. She’s suggested I read it, said given my history, it would likely be a very fast read, since I’d be able to skim most of it as just variations on my lived experiences.


          • I read it. I was born in W. Va. and grew up in Ohio (but not the part Vance talked about). Also my family background was different, as my parents were professors.

            I found it not as “simply explanatory of the rise of Trump” as some would see it. Yes, there are cultural/economic factors that hurt the people in question, but also, there seemed to be cases where I’d read about what was going on and sort of shake my head – “could they not SEE how that would be a problem?” They’re neither as guilty nor as innocent as others make them out to be. (In other words: like all humans, flawed and complex).

            I found it somewhat depressing, given that. I see elements of the “honor culture” Vance talked about in operation where I live currently (some of the more hair-raising violent crimes seem tied to “you disrespected my brother” or similar). I dunno. I don’t know if/how that changes, or if it’s just a thing in human “software” we have to live with.

            there does seem to be a lot of “doing the same old thing and expecting a different outcome” but maybe everyone does that and I just don’t see it clearly for my own milieu.


          • Thing is, they are both right. They are both identifying problems that align with their highly partisan views. They are looking at a rainbow and both are colorblind, in different ways.


        • DD,
          Skimming the response to Hillbilly Elegy makes me wonder how much the guy knows about Appalachia (remember, I live there — and I hear all about how people read in the papers that their friends from high school are on opiods).


  7. Hey, remember how all those Jewish Community Center bomb threats that were Definitely A Sign Of Populist White-Nationalist Bigotry Newly Enabled By Trump turned out to be coming from one kid in Israel?

    That story just got even more weird. Looks like he might have been doing it as a business, phoning in “untraceable” bomb threats in exchange for a fee. Want to get out of school? Hire PhoneMerc to say there’s a bomb in the building! Need to deplatform some alt-right hate speakers? PhoneMerc will make sure their chosen venue stays Nazi-free!


    • What’s funny is going to the Twitter feeds of the people linked in that article and watching them lose their shit over it, each rant capped off with “whutevs, dun care, bye whore (wave emoticon)”.


      • Twitter is a cesspool of drooling Id, the half that isn’t bots.

        And the real issue is the problem humans have of determining ‘scale’ with the internet. 2000 angry Tweets about something seems like a groundswell (it’s like having a good chunk of a small town screaming on your lawn), but as Kevin Drum notes (paraphrasing) — that’s about the real-life equivalent of a letter to the editor. All 2000 together.

        But, culturally, I don’t think we’ve really adapted to understand that. It’s causing a lot of problems along the “silent majority” type — the real belief that there are masses of silent people who totally agree with you, and when someone tries to move from Twitter into real-life, the results are often comically sad.

        The folks who occupied that bird sanctuary really thought there were hundreds or thousands of fellow travelers who would come to them. There have been innumerable internet-organized “marches” that promised hundreds of thousands, but failed to make even 10,000.

        Twitter, with the horde of bots and the ease of re-tweeting, magnifies the problem massively. But the root problem is the same across all social media — the internet in general — as society, we have no sense of scale for the internet.

        There’s 10,000 angry Tweets about Bob. Is that a lot of people? Is it basically nobody? Should Bob care? Should we care? Are any of those even real people, or is it six guys and some weird bot-loop?

        A Facebook page has a million fans — how many of those are real? How many active? How many even notice? How many give a crap beyond “Eh, I liked that TV show/that idea, but I wouldn’t get off the couch over it”. No idea.

        Honestly, I suspect the next decade or two is gonna have a lot more people stepping on their own dicks, as it were, confidant that whatever they’re about to do or say is backed by legions of people agreeing with them — only to end up pretty alone, in the spotlight, while crickets chirp.

        Thinking your opinions are shared by a lot of people, possibly even most people (because clearly they are right, or else you wouldn’t hold them. Who holds wrong opinions?) is a pretty common mental trap among people in general. Twitter — and social media — just turn the dial up to 11 and then break off the knob.


        • Twitter unleashes some of the least endearing social traits of humans in a very pure form. Its like a perpetual high school cafeteria in an over the top teen movie.


          • Yep. And people routinely use it to “prove” and “disprove” whatever they want. Take politics — I’ve lost count of the number of people who cheerfully claim (about Team Red or Team Blue) whatever they want because “Twitter’s exploding about it”.

            They’re bad, they’re good, they’re obsessed with nothing, they’re vile, they’re heroic — politicians are up or down or doomed or sainted because “Twitter’s all over it”.

            Half of Twitter is freaking bots (there are entire companies designed to make you pop out on Twitter, to promote your brand — that’s without getting into the less commercial bots), and the other half — 140 characters. Less effort than an email. Half the time it’s just a click, not even a thought typed out.

            And it’s supposed to mean something? We’re to take it as evidence of some cultural zeitgeist? Call it a third bought-and-paid, another 20% bots operated by everything from bored script-kiddies to psy-ops groups, and 50% people whose entire investment in whatever is “trending” on Twitter is the effort of a single mouse click.

            And yet people treat that as if it’s a foundation of stone, not a quagmire of…..well, tainted feces is probably too kind. :)


            • Twitter is a forum. If somebody of note says something on twitter, someone of note still said the thing. If people on twitter organize and drag a book’s ratings/reviews (with or without having read it) that book’s ratings are still drug. If it’s affecting what publishers do, it’s still affecting what publishers do.


              • Twitter is half bots, by most metrics. I mean literally “half bots”. Half the users aren’t people, they’re scripts run by anything from companies to intelligence services to bored kids. (Twitter could easily fix that, or at least make a reasonable dent, but “number of users” is such a great way to raise money….)

                What’s left is…what’s the worth of 2000 retweets? If 2000 people retweet your book review, is that worth 10 sales? 100? None?

                That gets back to the social media problem: 2000 people screaming on your front lawn is a sign you pissed your whole town off. 2000 people Tweeting angrily at you feels the same way. Is it the same?

                That’s the social media problem in a nutshell. Twitter makes it worse, just because it’s literally half fake AND the effort required to scream angrily at someone is much lower than even “send off an angry email”. (Which, as far as I can tell, rates so low that virtually no business or politician gives a flying crap about emails. They barely care about phone calls. Physical letters require enough dedication and effort to notice).


                • Most estimates are substantially less than half. Still quite a bit, though. That’s not the same as saying that x% of all activity is fake. Fake accounts tend to be limited-purpose and then are abandoned or swept away.

                  The vast majority of people you actually *interact* with are actually people. Most bot dealings are retweets and likes, with follows that tend to give you a fluctuating follower count as they follow you and then get Twitter discovers them and shuts them down.


                • Most books get a couple hundred reviews.

                  2000 people getting together and giving your book zero stars on Amazon means it won’t show up in any recommendations or search results, and so nobody will ever see it unless they know to look for it directly.


                  • But Saul’s link claims that the resistance is going underground:

                    But in an interesting twist, the teens who make up the community’s core audience are getting fed up with the constant, largely adult-driven dramas that currently dominate YA. Some have taken to discussing books via backchannels or on teen-exclusive hashtags — or defecting to other platforms, like YouTube or Instagram, which aren’t so given over to mob dynamics

                    Twitter is not a teen forum anyway; snapchat is.


      • Eh, you know what’s a good way not to get smacked down? Don’t post or do dumb things on social media.

        There are literally millions of people still saying incredibly racist, sexist, or just dumb things right now and you know they’re getting away with it? Because they’re not posting it on public consumption on a major piece of social media.

        That’s not even getting into the framing where people who are called out. who bluntly, usually have a lot more social and political power (since it’s useless to “call out” some guy or girl on Twitter with 9 followers or whatever and yes, if you regularly get published in major newspapers and magazines like Freddies does, you have social and political power even if you don’t get paid well for it) as the “victims”, while pushing the people calling them out, who usually have less social or political power as the “cops.”


        • “you know what’s a good way not to get smacked down? Don’t post or do dumb things on social media. ”

          Haw. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t think that “I love my wife and I think she’s hot, even though she isn’t a skinny bitch” was a dumb thing to post on social media, but here’s how that turned out for one dude.


        • The complaint isn’t people saying obviously racist things or racist things where they should have known better. We’re not even dogpiling conservatives. We’re talking about liberals who say something that has an ungenerous interpretation that people land on with both feet. Or have the audacity to suggest that somebody’s interpretation of what somebody else said wasn’t entirely generous.

          It’s honestly worse for the leftwards than it is for conservatives or people like me. Conservatives mostly just end up blocked or cussed out or whatever. People like me (or most of OT) just end up on some block list. They’re not our community. I’m personally not very accountable to them. The only way they can really do damage is to both unmask me and get either my wife or myself fired*. Neither of which are especially easy yet. I’m not saying it’s all good, but exposure is unlikely.

          Jesse Singal and Freddie aren’t worried about people like me. They’re worried about friendly fire and leftwards going after their own. They make juicier targets because that’s where the right Call Out can do the most damage. The guy with the curvy wife was piled on precisely because he was trying to be a good liberal. That seems more common than google memo guy.

          * – This is why people getting doxed and fired tend to freak non-members of the liberal tribe out. It’s the main way that the craziness can bleed over to the rest of us. Even if the afflicted individual did something we wouldn’t, a lot of us don’t trust them to make the appropriate distinctions.


          • There has been a dangerous trend towards orthodox thinking across the political sphere recently. Every person seem required to sign on for the entirety of whatever political ideology they believe in without the smallest bit of heterodoxy allowed.


        • The linked article in question involves anti-racist YA fantasy novel being attacked because it wasn’t anti-racist in the right way. There are lots of people who say obviously stupid things and get smacked down for it but Density Duck points down, at least a plurality of it is saying the right thing in the wrong way or saying something that isn’t really bad but pisses off the right person to wage a social media war against you.


        • I think and are right here. This is about the left wing circular firing squad and witch hunts. The YA novel was denounced for not being racist in the correct manner and there were other examples of left wing denouncing allies for failing to perfectly lockstep.


          • Social media like college campuses is one of the few areas where the Far Left in the United States or really most of the developed world has real power to shape things. They use it accordingly and I guess unsurprisingly to attempt to get ordinary liberals to go along with them.


          • Yes, but ask yourself — is this actually a meaningful bunch of people? Does this constitute anything real?

            There are, bluntly, always loons. A fringe, ignored minority. Twitter is like…giving them a megaphone, it makes them sound huge and big. But are they?

            So is this some real movement, some telling moment or useful data point, indicative of something? Or is it a handful of loons, puffed up on Twitter, looking many times bigger than they really are?

            Again, the problem with social media is that the crazy guy on the corner with the cardboard “REPENT” sign tends to look just as big as the biggest church in town, because we are very bad at determining scale here.

            And everyone’s way too happy to jump on the loony train to prove their pet point.


  8. I do have to say that my favorite bit of the hastag-DISCOURSE around the Google Memo is the intimation that the colors used in the “distribution overlap” chart are some kind of secret message to racists.


    • Yup. The guy seemed to be insistent on making the argument in the worst possible way while making sure it’d be inflammatory to everyone but a group of people who assume that almost every non-white or Asian male hired in Silicon Valley is some sort of diversity hire.


    • I don’t think that was actually the argument he wanted to make though. The NPR segment is descriptive of why something happened w/o getting into any biology and doesn’t say diversity initiatives are making things worse.


      • That is the point I’ve been making (and why my sympathy for the guy is nil). There was zero need to drag any question of biology into this. Either he really wanted to make some points about biology, or he was incredibly clumsy putting his document together and was slapping together whatever evidence he thought would bolster his point while badly navigating the minefield he was stepping into.


        • Assuming i have point i think it’s that biology was this guys issue. It’s diversity and biology that are his issues He wasn’t clumsy, he was distilling some old fashioned MRA type talking points. He stepped into the minefield fully aware of it and not caring i think.

          He did say he felt conservatives felt uncomfortable politically at Google. Very possible and wants something done about that. He wants his political views to be made safer to talk about at work.His style was dry and formal and appearing above it all and just trying to discuss stuff. But that was just style not his substance.


          • His document was genius. He’ll probably make millions off the lawsuit he filed. He’d filed a complaint with the NRLB prior to getting fired, and you can’t fire someone for filing such a complaint.


              • My prediction:

                I’m betting those internal Google sites have TOS’s with language stating that the content of the sites is company property/confidential/not to be shared with outside parties without the approval of corporate, etc. So unless Google identifies and disciplines the person or persons who leaked the document, he’ll sue Google for not only the dismissal, but also for failing to give him a safe place to express his opinions.

                I mean, if the document had stayed internal, or if he document had leaked without his name attached, he might have still gotten fired or laid off, but his name would not be mud.


          • He should suck it up. My political viewpoints aren’t super popular at several of my jobs, and you know how I deal with it? I don’t talk politics at work, instead I do my job.

            Now if my job WAS politics, I’d be in a bit of a pickle, sure.


            • Agreed. But i do think that shows a lot about where he is coming from. He wants to be safe and is fine with his company making it cool for him to talk politics at work. But helping out those other people…..he just isn’t down with that.


            • I think this is close to right. He may have been lulled into a false sense of security with talk about open forums and exchanges of ideas. But unpopular ideas are unpopular ideas, and people who talk about wanting an open forum rarely want an open forum that is going to result in the expression of ideas that actually cause discord.

              I was especially critical of the guy when it sounded like he sent a memo out of the blue. Finding out that he was participating in a forum with an existing conversation made me moderately less unsympathetic. But at the end of the day, unpopular ideas are unpopular and you’re always putting yourself at risk for airing them, no matter what was said beforehand.


        • “The way to make the argument you are trying to make is to make a different argument” is largely unsatisfying here, unless either (a) we are certain the first argument is wrong or (b) we need a noble myth until we know the truth or because we know the truth and don’t like it.

          For whatever it’s worth seems to me innate biology and free choice are responsible for a non-trivial percent of the gap but not all of it.


    • Make up a just-so story whose primary virtue is not the strength of the evidence supporting it, but that it allows feminists to continue blaming men? I suppose that might placate them a bit, but it would be nice if we could acknowledge the fact that biological factors are a highly plausible explanation and expect people to respond like rational, intelligent adults.


      • As I said before, it’s a topic that is a mine field, and it needs to be approached with a similar degree of care. Especially in this day and age of Twitter mobs extreme public shaming. Hell, not even academics talking to other academics can avoid the Twitter mobs (see Truth’s ranting in these threads).

        There has been too much discrimination justified by biological differences, you can’t just toss that on the pile.


        • But he’s not calling for discrimination. He’s very explicitly calling for an end to discriminatory practices that (according to him) Google is already engaging in. And I guarantee you that the same people who are currently smearing him for this are people who think that the NPR’s just-so story is definitely, unquestionably true and justifies ramping up that discrimination even further.


          • Doesn’t really matter though, does it? He tossed it on the pile, it’s what everyone focuses on because it’s such an emotionally & historically laden topic.

            This is debate 101, don’t reach for supporting evidence that is going to distract your intended audience from the point you are making, unless you have no better options. He had better options, he used them, then he clumsily tossed in the grenade for no good reason*. His point had been made, there was no reason to let biology enter into it.

            I mean, I agree that companies should not be wasting effort to hire a certain percentage of women to the field when colleges are not graduating anywhere close to that value. It’s highly counter-productive. Resources would be better spent encouraging school children to enter the field so colleges can produce more, and so the upcoming generations are not as disposed to engaging in the competence bias describes (which is quite real, and I’ve seen it in action, but it is getting better and is by no means a universal issue in tech – some places are better about dealing with it than others).

            *PS Scott A. did toss it on the pile, but he treated it very carefully and with an effort to suppress a lot of the emotional impact it has, because he both knows how to write, and he knows his audience.


      • BB,
        Biological factors ain’t a highly plausible explanation until you can Show me the fucking money.
        You makin’ dough offa this piece o’ crap?
        Cause if you ain’t, I can tell you some biological factors that DO make money, these days.


    • This is the way to make that argument. But it would have run counter to the point he seemed to be trying to make, which was that few women were software engineers because of some innate biological difference (on average – I’ll give him credit for at least recognizing that there’s a lot of variation within and across genders). An argument from social conditioning or gender bias in society/opportunity/education would have run counter to his complaint about Google trying to recruit more women or care about fostering diversity in general.

      Given his glaring ignorance about the history of his own field – what programmer never heard of Grace Hopper? And did he completely miss even the trailers for Hidden Figures? – he deserved getting online smackdown he got. Still, I’d have hoped the company would just educate him to remedy that.

      However, when you add in the idiocy about women being more neurotic and unable to handle stress (Really? Has he never met any actual women?) he went beyond ‘providing a conservative pov’. The only people I know would characterize that as a conservative pov are people on the left making bad caricatures about conservative views. And the icing on the cake is that he’s the one *whining*. Beyond just giving the company a PR black eye, I can see why they let him go. Being a clueless idiot is reasonable cause for termination.


      • The company pretty much had to fire him, because he’d be unable to work with a good chunk of their company.

        When you imply openly to everyone that anyone who isn’t male is a “diversity” hire with suboptimal skills, you kinda kill teamwork.


        • Yep. Plus it just displays poor reasoning skills and even poorer common sense.

          I know there’s a lower % of women in his field, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t women leading teams or projects. Given that this guy appears to have been working in the field for less than 4 years, he is limiting his career there by making himself ‘that guy’ none of them want to have to deal with.

          For instance, I’m in my early 50s, female, and a senior engineer with a PhD (in aero/mechanical engineering). I bring in contracts and serve as PI on them. Would I choose someone like him to work on one of those efforts? No. And not just because I would expect that he would disrespect me at every turn. Anyone so inept at basic interaction and communication would make a lousy team player, and would not be someone I would ever want to have to bring with me for a meeting with customers.


          • This ties into something said here. The diversity issue at Google (& maybe can say something about this, I don’t know) might be a question of exactly how they are determining their percentages? Are they striving for true parity in every skill code/field, or within larger technical working groups? Because given all the myriad tasks that a large project needs, reaching parity should not be difficult*, but if they are working toward parity in a skill code, that could very well be effectively impossible right now or in the foreseeable future.

            *without any kind of effort to pigeonhole people into gender stereotypical tasks


            • My argument here doesn’t have much to do with how Google deals with percentages. My reaction to him was that this is the guy who would assume I was ‘diversity hire’ b/c of my gender and unless I bent over backwards to make him happy, use that to justify every little gripe and undermine me by passing his opinions on to everyone else on team. Hence, I would not select him for any project I ran.

              I have dealt with the type far too many times before. (In undergrad I graduated 2nd in my class, but a guy who was on academic probation still openly sneered that I only beat him for a scholarship b/c I was female).

              Now as to determining diversity %s, a company the size of Google perhaps worries about that. (Mine does not. Women in my field are even rarer than in programming, and we have a difficult enough time hiring qualified US citizens who can get a security clearance, so gender diversity isn’t a driver here). My gut reaction there is that, yes, it is difficult to find 50% qualified women or minorities in field that has become largely a monoculture of white and Asian males in the US. So put the team together of the best people available. However, if someone makes it difficult to have a functioning team of anyone but 100% dudebros, that person is not an asset.


      • I don’t know that is the argument he wanted to make, and yes, I am working very hard to not assign intent here. I can very easily imagine a person trying to make an argument and reaching for all the evidence he could find to support that argument, and being very clumsy about how it is presented.

        I can also very easily imagine a person carefully crafting a document that will at once illicit a very strong reaction while being just bland enough to make it look very much like an over-reaction (i.e. high level trolling).

        Still, I try to follow the mantra that one should not ascribe malice to what can be explained by stupidity. So absent some evidence that they guy is a fan of the alt-right (not every conservative is)…


        • I’m not at all assuming he’s a fan of the alt-right. You’ll notice I explicitly said that I object him even characterizing the idea that women are more emotionally frail and anxious as a conservative pov.

          He may well merely be stupid, but his response to the criticisms of his posting sure make it seem like willful ignorance. Either way, not someone I’d want working for me. It’s not as though a company like Google has any lack of talented applicants happy to take his place.


          • I haven’t seen any of his responses (I wasn’t aware he’d said anything).

            As for his dismissal, I have no issue with that. Google is a private firm, they have the right to set whatever corporate culture they want, and hire and fire in accordance with that culture.


              • One would probably have to look closer at California law, which is almost certainly tougher than federal law.

                Also, I think the incentives being discussed in that piece point towards employers never, ever having digital employee forums.


              • I’m not buying it or we are at a fundamental disagreement between liberals/Democrats and libertarians on this issue.

                I’ve never bought into the argument from some to many libertarians that government oppression is the only form worthy of worrying about and/or doing anything about. I think there is a role for government in protecting against tyranny from other sources. This includes protecting the rights of minorities or oppressed groups like women (not exactly a minority number wise but still one with a long history of laws prohibiting them from certain actions) and their rights to full protection into economic and civil life.

                I also generally don’t think employers should be able to fire someone for out of work and lawful activity but points out how the Internet makes this complicated.

                “Loose talk” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in Olson’s essay.

                The idea that corporations are only doing this because of government non-discrimination laws is kind of silly. Suppose there were no non-discrimination laws, employment was still at will, the memo was still published, and Google still fired the guy. Would Olson still cry foul?


                • The idea that corporations are only doing this because of government non-discrimination laws is kind of silly.

                  How is this silly? This is simply trying to examine all the potential incentives for a given behavior, and how the government behaves and responds to specific situations can shape incentives in ways both intended & not.


                • If the law did more or less require that they fire him for liability purposes, would you consider that a good thing (protecting female employees from a belligerent coworker) or a bad thing (interfering with employer-employee relations)?


                  • I don’t quite buy that the law more or less required that Google fire the guy. I think that the generally bad press tech has been getting on the issue has more to do with the decision than actual California Civil Rights law.

                    That being said, I support non-discrimination laws (and make my living representing plaintiffs in these cases) and think one employee getting terminated for a screed is a small price to pay for it.

                    For all I know, there could be lots of guys at Google who believe in this guy’s screed but they are smart enough to keep their mouths shut.


                    • There is an internal survey of Google employees that is floating around the internet which suggests that something like a third agree with the memo, one-half disagree and the rest are neutral. OTOH, it flips when asked about whether it the memo is harmful: about a third say yes, over half say no, and the rest are neutral.