Hillary Clinton

Alleged comedian Jimmy Kimmel arranged for his staff writers to pen thank-you notes to Hillary Clinton, and - for a programme which people paid money to watch - had Miley Cyrus read them out live to Hillary.

At this stage you are down on your knees praying that this is a fake news post, but unfortunately I have to tell you that it is painfully real.

One note which particularly stuck with me - like a bad case of toenail fungus - was:

Thank you, Hillary, for always sticking to the issues even as people criticize you for superficial things like your hair, your wardrobe, and your appearance. You show girls everywhere that politics isn't a popularity contest — because if it were, you would have won by about 3 million votes.

Tell it sister! Politics is not a popularity contest.
Politics is a beauty contest[1]. Hair, height, clothes are all relentlessly honed for appeal.
And Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump.

[1] Not to mention that beauty contests are extremely political.


Called it: "Fearless Girl" was compensatory signalling

Back in April I expressed scepticism about the motivation behind the "Fearless Girl" statue placed in front of the Wall Street Bull by asset manager State Street:

I suspect that nothing other than their marketing department's desperate desire for publicity and their CEO's self-image were the main factors behind the project: since only 5 of their 28-strong leadership team are female, two of whom are in the traditional female bastions of HR and Compliance, one suspects that this is compensatory signalling.

Oh look:

State Street Corp., the $2.6 trillion asset manager that installed the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street, agreed to settle U.S. allegations that it discriminated against hundreds of female executives by paying them less than male colleagues.
You'd have to have a heart of stone not to laugh. Heck, I have a heart of stone and nearly split my sides when I read about this.

This is interesting though:

State Street also recently launched its SPDR Gender Diversity exchange-traded fund, which focuses on firms that have greater gender diversity in senior leadership.
It will be fascinating to see how this does against comparable benchmarks over the next five years. It certainly doesn't seem to be the case that female leadership is necessarily a good thing for a company, and women in key board level positions have been associated with some fairly prominent failures.


White terrorist kills four black men in Fresno - major news outlets silent

I cannot fathom why this was not headline news back in April. From Reuters:

A white man accused of shooting three people to death in Fresno, California, wanted to kill as many black men as possible because he expected to be arrested for another shooting, police said on Wednesday, calling the incident a hate crime.
Harold Allen Murphy, 39, fatally shot the three black men in downtown Fresno on Tuesday after realizing he was wanted for the killing of a black security guard last week, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said.

It's possible that the police were reading too much into the racial motivation

“What he told our detectives last night was that once he saw he was wanted for murder, he was not going to go down for shooting a security guard for disrespecting him, but that he was going to kill as many black males as possible,” Dyer said on Wednesday.
Police allege Murphy opened fire 17 times as he walked and ran along several blocks in Fresno, killing the three men in less than four minutes.
He surrendered while shouting: “Praise Jesus!,” police said, adding they had not yet recovered the weapon Murphy discarded.
You would think that a blatantly racial multiple murder by a Christian white supremacist would have dominated the airwaves for weeks, wouldn't you?

The gentleman concerned is this week being scrutinized to see if he is fit to stand trial. One can only imagine the inner-city riots which will result if the court doesn't think a trial is in the public interest.

Please note: it's possible that I may have mistranscribed some details of the case and you should definitely read the original article...


Dog poop smeared to no effect

An update to yesterday's post about San Francisco insanity: it seems that the idea of spreading poop on Crissy Field is not universally welcomed, and ironically the offending Patriot Prayer group have cancelled their rally. No data yet on how much poop was already spread...

Poop protest mastermind Tuffy Tuffington is no doubt gutted. Incidentally, could his photo be more hipster?

  • Beard: check
  • Heavily rimmed glasses: check
  • Tattoos: check
  • Beer (craft, no doubt): check
I hope he's planning to go pick up all the mis-directed poop this evening, though somehow I doubt it.


San Franciscans losing their sh*t about a right wing free speech event

This Saturday, the right wing group (but decidedly not a hate group) Patriot Prayer is holding a free speech rally at Crissy Field beach in San Francisco:

GGNRA acting general superintendent Cicely Muldoon said in the statement Wednesday that the park service “cannot deny a permit to anyone planning to exercise their First Amendment rights based on their political stance or beliefs.”
Must confess, I'd have preferred Ms Muldoon to say "should not" rather than "cannot" there, but I'll take what I can get.

The traditionally left-leaning San Franciscans are accepting this with resignation, realizing that the same principles protecting the speech of people they dislike also protect their own speech.

Kidding! They're going to cover the beach with dog crap:

Hundreds of San Franciscans plan to prepare Crissy Field, the picturesque beach in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge where rightwing protest group Patriot Prayer will gather, with a generous carpeting of excrement.
Well, I suppose it's better than leaving the poop on the city streets

Maybe it's a canine-/human-poop-borne virus that has rotted the brains of the San Franciscans to the point where they think that smearing feces across one of their own picturesque beaches is a great plan. Maybe it's all the weed. Maybe it's Karl the Fog. But my goodness, they have a serious problem there quite aside from the poop epidemic.

Luckily San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (Democratic, astonishingly) is providing a firm moral lead to the city at this difficult time:

"The great American trend tolerating speech and opinions that we might disagree with will be celebrated this weekend in our city," San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said.
Oh wait, sorry, that was from the Mirror Universe. Actual quote:
"The shameful, anti-American trend of hate-filled extremist rallies will unfortunately be allowed to continue this weekend in our city," San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said.
Oh dear. Do you think someone should enroll him in Civics 101 and start walking him through the text of the First Amendment?

Apparently nearly the entire San Francisco Police Department will be on duty this Saturday. I hope they spend most of the time ticketing the poop-spreaders and making them pick up the mess. With their hands.


Since we can't challenge diversity policy, how to prevent mistakes?

The James Damore affair at Google has made it very clear that discussion of companies' diversity policy is completely off the table. When I say "discussion" here, I mean "anything other than adulation". I've seen plenty of the latter in the past week. The recent 'letter from Larry Page' in The Economist was a classic example. It was in desperate need of someone tagging it with a number of [citation needed] starting from paragraph 4:

You’re wrong. Your memo was a great example of what’s called “motivated reasoning” — seeking out only the information that supports what you already believe. It was derogatory to women in our industry and elsewhere [CN]. Despite your stated support for diversity and fairness, it demonstrated profound prejudice[CN]. Your chain of reasoning had so many missing links[CN] that it hardly mattered what you based your argument on. We try to hire people who are willing to follow where the facts lead, whatever their preconceptions [CN]. In your case we clearly got it wrong.

Let's accept, for the sake of argument, that random company employees questioning diversity policy is off the table. This is not an obviously unreasonable constraint, given the firestorm from Damore's manifesto. Then here's a question for Silicon Valley diversity (and leadership) types: since we've removed the possibility of employee criticism from your diversity policy, what is your alternative mechanism for de-risking it?

In all other aspects of engineering, we allow - nay, encourage - ideas and implementations to be tested by disinterested parties. As an example, the software engineering design review pits the software design lead against senior engineers from other development and operational teams who have no vested interest in the new software launching, but a very definite interest in the software not being a scaling or operational disaster. They will challenge the design lead with "what if..." and "how have you determined capacity for metric X..." questions, and expect robust answers backed by data. If the design lead's answers fall short, the new software will not progress to implementation without the reviewer concerns being addressed.

Testing is often an adversarial relationship: the testing team tries to figure out ways that new software might break, and craft tests to exploit those avenues. When the test reveals shortcomings in the software, the developer is not expected to say "well, that probably won't happen, we shouldn't worry about it" and blow off the test. Instead they either discuss the requirements with the tester and amend the test if appropriate, or fix their code to handle the test condition.

Netflix's Chaos Monkey subjects a software service to adverse operational conditions. The software designer might assert that the service is "robust" but if Chaos Monkey creates a reasonably foreseeable environment problem (e.g. killing 10% of backend tasks) and the service starts to throw errors at 60% of its queries, it's not Chaos Monkey which is viewed as the problem.

Even checking-in code - an activity as integral to an engineer's day as operating the coffee machine - is adversarial. For any code that hits production, the developer will have to make the code pass a barrage of pre-existing functional and syntax checks, and then still be subject to review by a human who is generally the owner of that section of code. That human expects new check-ins to improve the operational and syntactic quality of the codebase, and will challenge a check-in that falls short. If the contributing engineer asserts something like "you don't appreciate the beauty of the data structure" in reply, they're unlikely to get check-in approval.

Given all this, why should diversity plans and implementations - as a critical component of a software company - be immune to challenge? If we have decided that engineer-authored manifestos are not an appropriate way to critically analyse a company's diversity system then what is the appropriate way?

Please note that there's a good reason why the testing and development teams are different, why representatives from completely different teams are mandatory attendees of design reviews, and why the reviewer of new code should in general not be someone who reports to the person checking in the code. The diversity team - or their policy implementors - should not be the sole responders to challenges about the efficacy of their own systems.


"PC considered harmful" - hand grenade thrown into Valley tech

Wow. I've not seen this amount of heat, light, sound and fury directed towards a minority group since a fat man broke wind loudly over Nagasaki. [I've heard of good taste, and want no part of it.]

Anyone in Silicon Valley tech industry who hasn't been living under a rock has seen the frothing rage on Twitter about a Google employee penning an internal-shared personal doc about their perspective on the company's hiring and training priorities relating to women and "minorities" (which in Silicon Valley almost always refers to Black and 'Latinx' - apparently, very few "woke" people are really interested in the experiences of Native Americans, Koreans, Filipinos or South Americans.) My Twitter tech timeline has exploded in the past 24 hours, almost universally with people demanding the author's head - mostly metaphorically.

Tech site Gizmodo today obtained the text of the document in question. I've read through it, and assuming it's an accurate representation of the original, I can understand the furore - but it has been flagrantly misrepresented. A summary of the author's points is:

  1. Google is big on removing unconscious bias, but a lot of Google has a strong leftwards political bias;
  2. Left and right political leanings have their own biases; neither are correct, you need both to make a company work well;
  3. If you're not a leftist, expressing your opinions at work can be a severely career-limiting move;
  4. On average, men and women have behavioural differences which are (list); but these are only averages and don't tell you squat about an individual person;
  5. Given those average women's interest, you're going to struggle to get a 50% representation of women in tech, particularly in the higher career and stress levels because of (reasons based on the above list)
  6. Doing arbitrary social engineering to achieve this 50% as an end in itself is a bad idea;
  7. Google does various things to improve gender and race representation, some of which I think aren't appropriate and might lower the bar [Ed: this was the point I thought least well argued in this doc]
  8. Overcoming inbuilt biases is hard; this applies to both sides of the spectrum;
  9. The internal climate alienates and suppresses viewpoints of people of a conservative political nature, and this is a bad thing;
  10. We should have a more open discussion about what our diversity programs achieve and what do they cost (in a wide sense); make it less uncomfortable to hold and express opinions against the orthodoxy;
  11. Indoctrinating people who determine promotion about bias might not have unalloyed benefit for the firm's long-term interests.
Very little of this seems, on the face of it, obviously incorrect or sociopathic. I think the author strayed into moderately unjustified territory on point 7, but otherwise they seemed to be quite reasonable in their arguments and moderate in their conclusions.

I've particularly enjoyed reading tweets and posts from tech woman flaming the original poster for blatant sexism. Really ladies, you should read the post more carefully. He described a contrast of the average male and female behaviors, and took particular pains to point out that this did not say anything about any particular woman's (or man's) effectiveness in a tech role. The behavior biases he described seemed bang on in my experience - and I've met women matching the male biases, and men matching the female biases, but on average the skew is as he has described.

It's almost as if many of the women responding to his post have more bias towards describing their feelings about the ideas, rather than ideas themselves; looking at the "big picture" rather than carefully analysing the detail of what he said. Perish the thought that this reflects the gender biases he described...

Of course, if you challenge the Silicon Valley orthodoxy like this - even if you originally intended for it to be for an internal-only debate - you can expect a certain amount of kick-back. And oh boy, did they get it. I've seen public calls for them to be fired and beaten up, and that was from people using social media accounts associated with their real names. The prevailing theme seemed to be that anyone expressing - or even holding - opinions like this in Silicon Valley was inherently poisonous to the work environment and should be fired forthwith. For goodness' sake, this was one person's opinion, quite mildly expressed. Alphabet (Google's parent company) has 75,000 people. You'd think that an isolated instance of crimethink would not be a big deal, but apparently you'd be very wrong.

Google has just acquired a new Head of Diversity, Danielle Brown from Intel. I don't know if they had one previously, or if this is a new slot, but my goodness this is quite the baptism of fire. She's posted an internal memo which has, inevitably, leaked:

Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions.
But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.
This probably wasn't a bad holding action - it would piss off the conservatives defending every point that the original poster made (because it was hinted as contradictory to equal employment), and it would piss off the outraged mob because it wasn't along the lines of "we threw this person out of the company so fast that his backside made scorch marks along Amphitheater Parkway". You could reasonably call it even-handed. The difference is that the conservatives within Google won't be calling publicly for Ms Brown to reconsider her approach or risk riots in the streets.

I asked a San Francisco based Google engineer buddy what he thought about this. "Are you [censored] kidding me? I wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole" was a reasonable summary of his reaction. He did note that the author's name was widely known internally and that he viewed it as inevitable that their name would leak, but he'd be damned if he was going to be the one to leak it.

It's also not a little ironic that this comes on the heels of the US Department of Labor accusing Google of discriminating by gender in salaries. If the original author's claims are taken at face value - which is a big "if", to be fair - Google is actually trying to discriminate in favour of women.

For extra points, it's instructive to note the reaction to this in conjunction with President Trump's proposed ban on transgendered troops serving in the military. [Bear with me, I have a point I promise.] One of the grounds for this ban was transgender people having a much higher rate of mental instability (depression, self-harm, suicide attempts) which is not what you want in a front-line military unit where there are plenty of intrinsic causes of instability. We see one bloke in Google writes a document, and every trans blogger I know of explodes in a frenzy of rage and demands for his head - despite the fact that he didn't mention transgender issues at all in the manifesto. One can only imagine what would happen if the author had drawn attention to the relatively high proportion of male-to-female trans people among the female engineering population and ask what it meant...

The modern day lynch mob is alive and well, and it seems to be driven by dyed-in-the-wool Democratic voters against anyone daring to express an opinion contrary to today's right-think on gender and racial issues. Plus ça change, plus la même chose.


Unintended consequences of the TSA regulations

You'd have to be astonishingly ill-informed to believe that you could waltz through USA airport security with any recognisable knife in your carry-on luggage. TSA regulations specify:

Carry On Bags: No
Checked Bags: Yes
Except for plastic or round bladed butter knives.
Now, I'd read that as "you can have any kind of knife in your checked baggage apart from plastic knives or round bladed butter knives" but I'm a pedant; the overall guidance is clear.

A couple of weeks ago, my pal Harry turned up to San Francisco International Airport (motto: "Fogged in by design") for a flight up to Washington state. He wasn't checking any luggage, just carrying a backpack. Shortly before security he reached into the side pocket of his pack to get his passport, and while fumbling around he came across the folding knife that he'd left in there on his last hiking trip.


Oh well, better to discover it now than later. He could have surrendered it to the TSA contractors but it had been an expensive knife when he'd bought it, and he'd had it a long time. He was damned if a TSA-contracted monkey was going to take it from him.

Not a problem! Airport Mailers are a company that allow you to mail items to yourself from the land-side of an airport. Harry walked over to the Airport Mailers kiosk and asked them for a pouch to mail his knife back.

"Sorry, we're out of pouches." Apparently they'd been out for most of the past week, and were "optimistic" of getting a delivery in the next few days, but of course that did not help Harry. Harry starts to see why there is less than enthusiastic endorsement for this firm.

Harry realises that he could just drop the knife in the "Sin Bin" box at security, but he would lose it forever and it was an expensive knife when he bought it, and has a lot of sentimental value. Pondering the problem, his gaze alights on the plants in tubs used to decorate the hall:

"Problem solved!" Harry pulls out his folded knife, palms it, and sidles to the corner of one of the planters containing a particularly bushy plant. He casually slips his hand under the leaves and gropes around trying to dig unobtrusively a hole in the soil to fit his knife.

This admittedly ingenious strategy is sadly not original; as Harry pokes his fingers into the soil, he discovers a wooden object that is indisputably a knife handle. It seems that, as he pokes around, what feels like half of the planter is taken up with buried knives.

Harry, undissuaded, finds an undisturbed corner of the planter, furtively buries his knife, and heads off to the gate. 48 hours later he's back, coming out of Arrivals. He wheels left, locates the planter, digs his knife out from the corner, and strolls off to his car. In the process he discovers that the other knife has vanished.

No doubt the TSA would posit this as a security "win", but it's not obvious that this is true. People are stashing knives all over San Francisco airport, and seem to be able to rely on picking them up again when they return. If they can manage this in a heavily-patrolled airport departures area, how effective do you think the TSA Security Theatre is at keeping hundreds of aircraft in an "allowed" state?


First man in the UK to give birth is from Gloucester

Of course they're from Gloucester.

So how did this miracle occur, such that Hayden Cross managed to pop out a baby?

Hayden was born a girl, called Paige, and plans to continue gender reassignment treatment now he has become a father.
Aha. So Hayden has a womb, at least one ovary, and presumably a vagina. I don't know about you, but when someone has those assets - and no testes, since Hayden had to find a sperm donor - I'm inclined to think that they don't actually qualify as "male".

Popping out a baby just before gender reassignment surgery seems like an odd choice. Almost a case of trying to have your cake and eat it. Not terribly committed to the whole irrevocable life-as-a-man thing. I wonder how long before Hayden will get tired of it and want to change back.

Despite the headline, this is not a miracle. This is attention-seeking behaviour if ever I saw it. That's fine if it's just you who's affected but, my goodness, I feel sorry for Hayden's daughter. How is she going to feel once she grows up enough to understand what went on?


Oh Australia, don't ever change

When you read a news article heading like "Cairns man who binged on ice feared dead after attempting to have sex with crocodile" you just know that the journalist who picked up this particular story was down on their knees crying with gratitude.

According to the friend, the man - now naked - leapt at the crocodile and tried to have intercourse with it. [How? How!?] "We were still a fair distance back but I reckon he just about got it in," said the witness. "Of course, the croc wasn't having a bar of it [never heard that particular idiom before] and started thrashing around like crazy.
This of course has many of the hallmarks of an urban legend - unnamed victim or friends, too good to be true - but the source is a local newspaper in Cairns, and specifically names the beach, so dammit I'm going to believe. I want to believe, and so should you.

I know that Australia is famous for blunt public health warnings - "If you drink and drive, you're a bloody idiot!" but this case provides the material to step it up a gear:

If you smoke ice, a croc will bite yer bollocks off!