Jul 15

Women in computing: first, get the problem right

Every few months I trip over another earnest attempt to rectify the gender imbalance in software and computing fields. Very few women opt to become programmers, system administrators, or hardware/software engineers. Indeed, the number of women who try seems to be falling rather than rising. This observation is invariably accompanied by a lot of hand-wringing and proposals for elaborate and (too often) coercive schemes to achieve “gender parity” – all doomed, because the actual problem is misdiagnosed.

I’m writing about this because I think the misdiagnosis arises largely from a refusal to speak uncomfortable truths. Discussion of the problem is nearly suffocated under a cloud of political correctness, cant, and willful blindness to the actual conditions of working in this field. Honesty won’t automatically fix the problems, but it’s a prerequisite to fixing the problems.

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Jul 01

After the McDonald decision: what next?

Monday’s decision in McDonald vs. City of Chicago is a major victory for civil rights. Yes, it was 5-4 and the ruling was weaker than it could have been, but the basic holding that the Second Amendment is incorporated against states and all lower levels of government can be a powerful tool for positive change if we wield it correctly. The legal climate for full restoration of firearms rights in the U.S. is now better than it’s been since the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968.

Much remains to be done, however. The Heller ruling in 2008, while affirming that firearms ownership is a fundamental individual right, allowed “reasonable regulation” and failed to specify a standard of scrutiny for what is “reasonable”; the McDonald decision does not specify this either. The constitutionally correct position, of course, is that laws infringing on Second Amendment liberties should have to meet the same strictest-scrutiny standard applied where the First Amendment is concerned — but the City of Chicago has already made plain its intent to nullify the Heller and MacDonald rulings by equating “reasonable” with “prohibitive”.

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Jun 19

A Specter is Haunting Genetics

Had my life gone a little differently, I might have been a molecular geneticist and hip-deep in what is now called bioinformatics. When I was twelve or thirteen or so I came to intellectual grips with the fact that I have congenital cerebral palsy; shortly thereafter I dove into the science of congenital defects, developmental biology, and from there into genetics. Eventually I taught myself a fair chunk of organic chemistry before becoming fascinated by linguistics and theoretical mathematics, and a few twists and turns from there got me into software engineering; but my interest in genetics and human developmental biology didn’t cease so much as become pushed into the background. I give this background to explain why I’ve been paying closer attention to genetics than most people do ever since.

In the wake of the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, I’ve seen three or four forward-looking articles about the implications of cheap genomic analysis (most recently a quite good one in The Economist) all of which are are haunted by a common fear. It’s almost like they’re written to a template; glowing projections of accelerated drug discovery, personalized medicine, and deep insight into the nature of humanity, ended on a worried note about what we’ll find when we discover just how much of human variation is genetically rather than environmentally controlled. Sometimes the prognosticator can only bring himself to drop hints, but the braver ones come out and ask the question: what if it turns out that genetic differences among races are real and actually matter?

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Apr 29

Sheep from Goats: the rise in long-term unemployment

The graph in this article is most interesting. The feature that fascinates me is not the huge crossover from short-term (0-14 week) to long-term (27 weeks or more) of employment, it’s the purple time series describing 15-26-week employment. It has spiked but is now dropping again.

I think I know what this means. It’s the statistical face of the phenomenon I described in Marginal Devolution.

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Mar 23

Victimology bites

Dr. Richard Friedman’s Sabotaging Success, but to What End?, published 2010-03-22 in the New York Times, is about an instantly recognizable pattern — people who sabotage themselves so they can feel like martyred victims of an uncaring world.

The piece is insightful and even funny in a bleak sort of way, but as I read through it I felt an increasing sense that there was something missing from this story. I was nearly at the end before I realized what had been lurking unspoken in Dr. Friedman’s account. But the crucial clue had been there from the beginning, when he writes of one patient “In fact, her status as an injured party afforded her a psychological advantage: she felt morally superior to everyone she felt had mistreated her. This was a role she had no intention of giving up.” Where…now, where had I heard that song before?

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Mar 07

Sink, the Bismarckian state!

Hmm: On 24th February I wrote, in a comment on this blog:

We’re about to reach the end of the historical era that began when Bismarck first implemented state socialism in the 1880s. The changes will be huge and wrenching; I wouldn’t even put the dissolution of the USA outside the realm of possibility.

Two days later, Mark Steyn writes this in Our own Greek tragedy:

The 20th century Bismarckian welfare state has run out of people to stick it to.

Coincidence or conspiracy? You be the judge.

Mar 04

Lies and consequences

In the horrible-inevitability department: Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets.

My first thought when I read this was: “Creationists opposing AGW hysteria? Wow. So those stupid fucks are good for something after all.”

My second thought was: “It’d be a damn shame if AGW ends up discrediting good science with the public, but if it happens the scientific establishment has only itself to blame for not busting the AGW fraud first.”

In fact, I don’t think that bad outcome is likely to happen, for reasons I explained in Will the AGW fraud discredit science?. But this news story is a warning to all scientists: if you don’t want creationists to get traction, you can’t just treat this as someone else’s problem. You have to clean house. You have tolerated liars and rascals like Phil Jones and Rajendra Pachauri in your midst too long; you need to throw them out.

A diplomatic way for any random professional society to do this would be to demand that all climate science must be held to the strictest standards of methodological scrutiny. All data, including primary un-“corrected” datasets, must be available for auditing by third parties. All modeling code must be published. The assumptions made in data reduction and smoothing must be an explicitly documented part of the work product.

These requirements would kill off AGW alarmism as surely as a bullet through the head. But its credibility is already collapsing; the rising issue, now, is to prevent collateral damage from the scientific community’s failure to insist on them sooner. Every day you delay will strengthen the creationists and the flat-earthers and all the other monsters begotten from the sleep of reason.

UPDATE: and, in a nice bookend, ABC follows the money, suggesting strongly that the scientific establishment has failed to clean house because alarmism is just too damn lucrative.

Feb 24

Marginal Devolution

The recession got personal for me today, when I learned the reason a man I’ve been gaming with at my regular Friday night group hasn’t been showing up lately is because he’s broke and in a homeless shelter. I’m going to ask the Friday night gang for help for the guy — not money, but the job lead he needs much more. And it got me to thinking, about the two people I know who’ve actually been dragged under by the crappy economy.

You might wonder what took me so long. I knew it was getting bad out there, with the nominal unemployment rate at 10% and the actual hitting 17% and 6 applicants for every job. But my friends are mostly university-educated professionals in high-skilled tech jobs — last fired, first hired, and bright enough that if they had to change careers or found their own business they could probably hack it. Except…except for these two, who I’ll call A and B. What’s happening to them is bad. Very bad. And it illustrates a problem that’s going to get worse barring some drastic changes in the system.

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Feb 19

On being against torture

I’m against the horror of therdiglob. All right-thinking people should be against therdiglob; civilized societies have long abandoned the practice. Therdiglob makes us look bad in the eyes of the world. If you’re not against therdiglob, someone may do it to you someday.

Eh…what?

The above statement is meaningless, because “therdiglob” is undefined. It has the form of moral indignation, but it is not morally serious. Actually, it’s vacuous except as a way of conveying the speaker’s desire to sound high-minded and morally superior. As read, it is actually faintly ridiculous — indignation without substance, tone without content, pure posturing.

Everything depends on the extensional meaning of “therdiglob”. If “therdiglob” were defined as “flaying the subject alive”, it would be difficult to object to the above. On the other hand, if “therdiglob” were defined as “giving the subject cotton candy”, it would become utterly rather than faintly ridiculous.

Now consider this:

I’m against the horror of torture. All right-thinking people should be against torture; civilized societies have long abandoned the practice. Torture makes us look bad in the eyes of the world. If you’re not against torture, someone may do it to you someday.

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Feb 16

Who bears the costs of moral vanity?

A high-ranking Taliban commander is captured in Pakistan, and the (now entirely predictable) dance begins. Says the Guardian:

Mullah Barader has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with US and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, according to the officials. Though Barack Obama has banned US agencies from using forms of torture such as waterboarding, Pakistani questioning techniques are frequently brutal.

That’s right. Because the American chattering classes have their panties in a bunch about acts of “torture” that don’t do any permanent damage to the victim, Barader is in the hands of Pakistanis who are likely to fuck his shit up the old-school way, with knives and cattle-prods and blowtorches. And yet, this is supposed to count as a moral victory.

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Feb 09

Don’t Dis the Wiccans, Tea-Partiers!

A few minutes ago I read Bill Whittle sneering at “mass-produced members of bused-in wiccan nihilist anarcho-Maoist lesbian eco-weenie anti-war protestors”. I tried to leave a comment there; it went into moderation, and I lost my original in the browser shuffle. I can’t guarantee that the following is a word-for-word copy, but it’s pretty close.

Hey! Hey! Don’t lump all Wiccans in with the left-wing rent-a-mob crowd. It’s true that some our more vocal people fit the stereotype, especially in the Dianic wing of the movement. But there are lots of quieter Wiccans who are gun-toting libertarians like me; for us, the rejection of monotheism and “faith” is continuous with the rejection of One-True-Wayism in all its forms. Thomas Jefferson might say of us that we have sworn on the altars of our gods eternal hostility towards every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

Wiccans are potential allies for the Tea Party movement, as long as it remembers that America was founded on religious dissent and doesn’t fall into an unholy alliance with bigoted religious conservatives as the GOP did. That choice didn’t play well with the general population of independents and moderates, either; heed the lesson.

Here’s the disturbing part. There are now two comments on that post, and mine isn’t either of them – suggesting that Bill Whittle did a moderation pass and shitcanned it. If true, that’s deeply disappointing news about both Bill Whittle and the movement in which he claims to be a principal figure. It puts some point on the left-liberal accusation that Tea Partiers are a bunch of reactionary know-nothings wearing fiscal conservatism as mere camouflage.

Mr. Whittle, I’m making a noise about this because I think your attitude about Wiccans — whatever it actually is — is a good proxy for your movement’s ability to see beyond tired stereotypes and fratricidal culture wars. Are limited government and individual liberty your actual goals? If so, can you recognize potential allies from wherever they hail?

Much — including the future of the Tea Party movement, and perhaps the future of our country — may turn on your answer.

UPDATE: It now appears that the apparent disappearance of my comment was due to technical difficulties. I apologize to Bill Whittle for entertaining dark suspicions of him personally, and note that he disclaims being a spokesperson for the movement. The larger question about the willingness of the Tea Party movement to (sorry for the PC phrase…) embrace diversity, is still open.

Feb 03

Naming and shaming the AGW fraudsters

James Delingpole, in Climategate: Time for the Tumbrils, noting the public collapse in credibility of AGW “science” utters a fine rant summed up in this wise (parochial references to British political figures and organizations omitted):

I’m in no mood for being magnanimous in victory. I want the lying, cheating, fraudulent scientists prosecuted and fined or imprisoned. I want warmist politicians booted out and I want fellow-travellers who are still pushing this green con trick to be punished at the polls for their culpable idiocy.

For years I’ve been made to feel a pariah for my views on AGW. Now it’s payback time and I take small satisfaction from seeing so many rats deserting their sinking ship. I don’t want them on my side. I want to see them in hell, reliving scenes from Hieronymus Bosch.

I too long to see the frauds and the fellow-travellers in the hell they’ve earned for themselves. But revenge, while it’s a tasty dish that long-time public “deniers” like Delingpole and myself are now thoroughly enjoying, isn’t the best reason to hound them and their enabling organizations out of public life. The best reason not to relent, to name and shame the fraudsters and shatter their reputations and humilate them — ideally, to the point where there’s a rash of prominent suicides as a result — is this:

If we don’t destroy them, they’ll surely ramp up yet another colossal, politicized eco-fraud to plague us all.

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Jan 28

“I forgot he was black tonight for an hour”

In commentary following Barack Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address last night, MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews said “You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”

It’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around racial prejudice that blind and entrenched. If I were black I think I’d be righteously pissed off — and yet, Matthews and his fans undoubtedly think of themselves as the enlightened ones who are leading the rest of us troglodytes to the sunny uplands of universal brotherhood.

Mr. Matthews, I have news for you: some of us actually manage to forget that Obama is black for weeks at a time — that is, until we’re reminded of it by a self-righteous, pompous, race-obsessed idiot like you.

Why does this man still have a job this morning? Why is there not a universal howling for his blood from bien pensants everywhere?

Oh, right. I forgot the rules. Only Republicans get that treatment.

Jan 22

Are political parties obsolete?

There’s been a lot of punditry emitted in the wake of Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election to replace Teddy Kennedy. All of it that I’ve seen is aimed at making some partisan point in the Democratic vs. Republican tug of war. But the facts of the Brown victory seem to me to suggest something different and more radical: that political parties as we have known them for the last 200 years may be obsolete, or at least well on their way to becoming so.

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Jan 19

Jews and the tragedy of universalism

One of my commenters recently pointed me at the work of Kevin McDonald, an academic who has studied the adaptive strategies of diaspora Jewry in great historical depth, largely drawing from Jewish historians as his sources.

I have yet to read his actual books, but I’ve found a great deal of review and discussion and analysis of them on the Web, and he makes some interesting cases. Through reading about his work, I’ve found a possible answer to a historical question that has troubled me for a couple of decades. That answer implies a terrible, bloody irony near the heart of the last few centuries of Jewish history.

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Jan 13

Twenty Four Million New Socialist Men = War

A silly webzine posts some serious news:

A new study released Monday by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that more than 24 million Chinese men of marrying age are likely to find themselves unable to find women to marry come 2020. The reason? There just aren’t enough females to go around, because Chinese mothers often abort their baby girls.

This raises a question what do you do with 24 million excess New Socialist Men?

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Jan 12

Beyond root causes

One of the consequences of the Great Recession we’ve been in since 2008 may be the long-overdue death of the “root causes” theory of crime and criminality. In A Crime Theory Demolished Heather McDonald points out that crime rates are dropping to 50-year lows even as unemployment hits a 70-year high.

While she is right to point out that this makes a joke of “root causes” theory, she doesn’t really propose an alternative to it, other than by waving a hand in the direction of rising incarceration rates. And I don’t believe that explanation; too many of our prisoners are nonviolent drug offenders. In fact that category alone seems to account for most of the prison population growth over the last couple of decades, which suggests that increased incarceration is suppressing other sorts of crime very little or not at all. (See the update below.)

It’s also been noted recently that the trends in crime rates make nonsense of the notion that civilian firearms cause crime — even so reliable a bellwether of bland bien-pensant liberalism as the Christian Science Monitor has remarked upon this.

Mind you, the continuing fall in crime also falsifies some of the pet theories of social conservatives. They’re prone to chunter on about “defining deviance down” and the coarsening of popular culture as though sales of Grand Theft Auto actually had something to do with rates of grand theft auto. Given that there has been no sign of pop culture reverting to the 1950s (or whatever other era they imagine to have been ideal), this too seems an unsustainable explanation.

So what is actually going on here?

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