An Achievement Without Substance

Saying Things, Without Saying Anything.

Academics love platitudes.  It’s something I’ve never really understood, since, in general, scholarly inquiry tends to be somewhat conservative.  Claims have to be reified by dozens of publishers and other academics before it is safe to put them into writing.  Even novel empirical findings have to be squared with existing literature before anyone will take a second look at them, which means, in effect, they have to sound like old news if they are to appear as something new.  Not that this is a bad thing.  It is simply the price of peer review, which so thoroughly blanches research of novelty that one wonders how anything new ever appears, then gives itself over to mass media organizations, who are charged with re-discovering whatever novel thing was lost in the process.


Custom Babies, Baby Customs

What happened to diversity?  I could have sworn, growing up, that genetic diversity was supposed to be a good thing.  Now everyone is asking the “moral” questions about whether or not to edit a baby’s DNA — as if giving generations of British royalty Hemophilia is really a “moral” problem for the rest of us?

Ok, just checking.

Paul Nein Rand

Rich white guy praying that their train won’t get stuck in Baltimore, is actually a perfect metaphor for Libertarianism.

Further Schmatalytics

Two days ago, The Washington Post reported on a study that aims to map American racism by charting Google searches for “the n-word”.  On the surface, it is a completely idiotic plan.  Racism can’t be reduced to naughty words.  Even if you concede that the term describes a set of beliefs — which many will argue, it doesn’t — it is hardly clear why that word provides the best indicator.  I mean, who the hell searches Google for “the n-word”?  Even if you are hoping for a treasure trove of KKK websites, there have got to be better, more streamlined search criteria*.  Terms that won’t crowd your racist fantasy league with rap lyrics, historical/rhetorical analyses, and anti-racist Wikipedia pages.

Yet the more I think about it, the more this actually makes sense.  Maybe not in the world of good ideas, but it definitely within the bullshit dominion of analytics.  See, the thing is, the web cares about clicks.  Nobody gives a shit why you click, or whether you hated the thing you clicked on after you got there.  They just care that you clicked.  The same is true for analytics research.  Whether or not you were actually searching for racist stuff doesn’t really matter.  Simply by Googling “the n-word”, you drive web traffic to a bunch of racist websites, which ultimately benefits those sites (i.e. gains them more exposure, give them money, etc).  So yeah, it’s a stupid way to think about racism.  Stupid and inaccurate.  But it’s not stupid and inaccurate because some dummy didn’t understand racism.  It’s stupid and inaccurate because online speech acts have become transactional events, which means that no matter what you’re talking about: somebody is making money off of it.

* I would encourage anyone who doubts this to go ahead and perform the aforementioned search.  What you will find is that the results are dominated by (1) Wikipedia, (2) anti-racist historical articles and (3) websites for anti-racist organizations.  Needless to say, one imagines American racists’ must be a rather frustrated bunch…


There is something incredibly nefarious about analytics.

Twenty years ago, you could read an article you didn’t agree with just to find out what other people were up to.  Today, just clicking a link makes you complicit in whatever lies at the opposite end of that threat — like shooting people full of cancer right before they smoke.  Marketers cash in on your sudden “interest”, driving up ad revenues for a bunch of people whose vile, disgusting ideas you didn’t actually know when you clicked there in the first place, and you only bothered pursuing out of morbid curiosity.

Thanks, Silicon Valley.  Thanks for killing off any incentive people like me once had to learn new things, and potentially even change our minds.  You have revolutionized the Internet, that gigantic pulsing bubble of digitized knowledge, by creating a world where learning new things, and talking to different people is both politically irresponsible and ethically untenable.

Viva la Revolucion.

The Google Glass-Ceiling.

This is one of the strangest articles I’ve read in long, long time.  Among other gems uncovered here: Google is building a super-secret diversity program, fears that hiring too many women/African-American may be illegal, and employs someone named Laszlo Bock as its Senior Vice-President of “People Operations”.  Because evidently the robots have already won.

For the record: I’m not bagging on Google for its diversity efforts.  They will fail, of course.  Encouraging female engineers to self-promote doesn’t address the problems inherent to self-promotion.  At best, it probably means a handful of women will advance, so long as they behave exactly like their self-promoting male counterparts.  The same can be said for having human resource people ignore applicants’ alma matter.  Over time it will probably mean fewer Stamford grads filling out the payroll, but unless there’s a plan to open offices in Flynt (or for that matter, Oakland), we’re still talking about a relatively small, highly privileged and upwardly mobile population.  Actually, that’s kind of the point.  Google isn’t changing what it does, just who does it for them.  Call it a farce if you want: at least they’re being honest.

The weird thing is that they seem to believe diversity hiring can be profitable.  Or at least that’s the implication in the bit where they talk about “slimming it down to modules or a kit”, which is completely absurd if you stop and think about it.  I mean, let’s assume that Google figured out a way to halt “the unconscious biases that govern human-resource decisions”.  How heinously vile would you have to be to sell that?!  We’re talking about opportunities for millions of people who, by the company’s own assessment, desperately need them — and Google won’t just give it out, the way they did with gmail?  I know nobody really buys the whole “don’t be evil” thing, but c’mon guys.  That’s like super-villain level bad news…

The Slow, Akward Death of Digital Martyrs

PRISM, also known as SIGAD US-984XN, is the largest and most invasive surveillance program exposed by Eric Snowden back in 2013.  The scheme was/is relatively simple.  Analysts with the Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) received lists of target criteria (i.e. Columbian drug traffickers, Venezuelan military technology) which they translated into specific data requests (i.e. emails, videos, chats) then passed along to companies like Microsoft and Google who received millions in compensation from the National Security Agency.

The program’s simplicity stems from a crucial, yet easily overlooked point: all of the information it has been used to collect is already being collected by a very small number (said to be nine) of incredibly powerful corporations.  Indeed, it is precisely for this reason that Snowden’s impact is now being felt more in the area of property law than civil rights.  Rather than limiting data collection efforts or attempting to develop more de-centralized storage methods, companies have responded with a political and legal campaign to bolster their property rights over the amassed data. Whatever else this may mean, it will be much harder for future users to find out what is being collected about them, and who that information has been shared with.

FedEx is Useless.

Transcript from an as yet unresolved customer complaint:

Three days I have been waiting for a package.  During that time, FedEX claims it attempted three deliveries – which is remarkable, really, given that I was home on each alleged occasion and recall zero doorbells being rung.  What, I wonder, does FedEx consider an “attempt”?  Must one get out of the delivery vehicle, or is it enough that drivers make a ringing sound inside the truck (note: I assume you have trucks)?  Perhaps your drivers are trained to simply think about ringing doorbells, then drive away before wasting company time on actual deliveries?  In either case, I would love to know your secret as it clearly debunks many popular beliefs about the nature of competitive capitalism…

In the past two days I have twice spoken with customer service representatives, who twice assured me that the situation is being handled.  However, after this most recent failure (today) it seems clear that the problem has exceeded their pay grade.  Perhaps there is another number I could call?  One where I can speak to a supervisor, or directly to the drivers so as to assure them my doorbell is not as scary as it sounds?  Advice will be most welcome.  Otherwise I will have to rely on writing snarky emails to useless company’s who clearly do not know, or care about customer service.


“Mansplaining” Feminism.

“The Man” is always power.

It is a bit of a paradox, given that one need not be a man to be the man.  Indeed, all sorts of men are categorically prohibited from being the man: gay men, trans men, men of different races, ethnicities, social classes, disabilities.  Sure, bureaucrats may fill in a particular dot beside your name.  Perhaps you even fill in the bubble yourself.  But any relation to power and personal identity is opaque, filtered through heavy curtains guarding what we don’t know, and can never imagine.

The problem with “male allies” is not that men do not or cannot understand power and privilege.  Feminism is not a secret club for socially conscious women and ascetics.  No one can make “amends” for the way social power is distributed.  In fact, it is not even clear whether anyone can imagine a world without the same power dynamics as the one we currently inhabit.  Needless to say, when the problem is figuring out how to “integrate” male allies – one fears the Feminists may be trading their revolutionary stripes for the steady pay of mid-level corporate managers.

Weird Libertarianism


The bullet that claimed Michael Brown’s life wasn’t from a sub-machine gun.  He wasn’t run over by a tank, disabled by a percussion grenade or levelled by an LRAD sonic blast.  So far as anyone knows, Michael Brown was shot six times by a line police officer wielding standard issue weaponry — likely a .45 Glock, which, according to the manufacturer, “approximately 65% of police departments in America put…between them and the problem”.

Eric Garner was a problem.  One month ago he was allegedly selling “loosies” on a Staten Island corner, when five police officers strolled over to put an end to it.  With four struggling to apply cuffs, a fifth, Daniel Pantelo, slipped his forearm underneath Garner’s chin and locked wrists to the right side of Garner’s skull, a move MMA fighters call the “rear naked choke”.  In the video, you hear him yell “I can’t breathe!” before losing consciousness and collapsing into a pile on the warm concrete. Two EMT’s stand in the foreground, unwilling or unable to move.

What kills a man like Eric Gardner, or Michael Brown?  No military on earth should tolerate this kind of violence, nor should any one of us tolerate it from them.  Yet it happens. Indeed, it happens so much and has been for so long that kids like Michael Brown grow up knowing how to surrender from the moment they enter high school.  Meanwhile, a few hundred miles down I-44, grown men stalk burrito joints wearing capes of automatic weapons.

Maybe Rand Paul is right.  Maybe police are scarier, more dangerous today.  But it doesn’t take an army to kill.

Only a gun and a problem.