We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

In effect, Google is telling the world that unmoderated, no-holds-barred exchanges are not welcome in cyberspace. Playing censor, playing government – both made possible by Google’s market power, which, in its turn, makes it susceptible to government regulation.

Susceptible and even vulnerable as they might be, I don’t expect anti-trust proceedings anywhere in the world to put an end to Google’s and Apple’s dominance in certain markets. If I have hope – if never too much – it’s for new technology and know-how both to dislodge the oligopolies and defang government censorship.

The Dilettante’s Winterings

The fired Google employee

Recently dismissed Google employee James Damore posted a document on an internal Google mailing list entitled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber about Google’s diversity policy and the difficulty of criticising it. It was originally reported by Motherboard (labelled an anti-diversity manifesto) and later by Gizmodo (labelled an anti-diversity screed). Here are some quotations from the document:

I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more.

I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad […] . I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group

Meanwhile the very headlines of the article call this an anti-diversity document, establishing a narrative.

Here is a reaction from Laura Shortridge, a prominent commentator on Twitter:

Many users responded that he had not called for anyone to be fired. A response to this objection may hint at where differences in opnion about the document originate:

The personality differences section talks about such things as “openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas”. It also contains more controversial-sounding statements such as “Women on average are more prone to anxiety”. It cites a section of a wikipedia article about sex differences in psychology, though this may not have been known by commentators external to Google as the version of the document containing hyperlinks has only become available more recently. The Wikipedia page says, ” Females were on average higher than males in extraversion, anxiety, trust, and, especially, tender-mindedness (e.g., nurturance).” It cites “Gender differences in personality: a meta-analysis” by Feingold, A. (1994-11-01). The section is in the context of coming up with suggestions to improve the work environment for women without resorting to discriminatory practices such as training courses only available to women.

The Guardian columnist Owen Jones says:

Damore’s assertions about gender are, frankly, guff dressed up with pseudo-scientific jargon: not just belittling women, but reducing men to the status of unemotional individualistic robots.

On the general subject of differences between men and women, Scott Alexander has an interesting article comparing meta-studies on the subject and statistical approaches which lead to different results. He finds that:

[Author of a meta-analysis Hyde] does a wonderful job finding that men and women have minimal differences in eg “likelihood of smiling when not being observed”, “interpersonal leadership style”, et cetera. But if you ask the man on the street “Are men and women different?”, he’s likely to say something like “Yeah, men are more aggressive and women are more sensitive”. And in fact, Hyde found that men were indeed definitely more aggressive, and women indeed definitely more sensitive. But throw in a hundred other effects nobody cares about like “likelihood of smiling when not observed”, and you can report that “78% of gender differences are small or zero”.

In his document, Damore explains that he is talking about small differences between men and women across a large population, and not making generalisations.

I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

This is difficult to reconcile with reactions from fellow employees, such as, “That garbage fire of a document is trash and you are wonderful coworkers who I am extremely lucky to work with.”

The first official response from Google was from Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, Danielle Brown.

I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender.

It is understandable that someone might hold this view, though the document mainly summarised information on Wikipedia.

The CEO later said:

portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.

This seems to misrepresent the document, which is mainly talking about why women who do not work for Google do not work for Google. It says nothing at all about the ones who do work there.

He continues:

At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK. People must feel free to express dissent. So to be clear again, many points raised in the memo — such as the portions criticizing Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all — are important topics.

It is clear the the offending portion of the document is the part that summarised Wikipedia’s summary of the state of the science on the subject. I wonder whether, as a matter of debating tactics, it might have been possible to make the same points in safety, while omitting this section. On the subject of tactics, there are a couple of interesting comments about this on ESR’s blog:

You can make the work environment more hostile for lots of people by saying true things. It is reasonable to fire someone who creates negative value for the company in this manner

and

if you loudly challenge the principles or initiatives which have been handed down and spearheaded by upper management, you’d be a damn fool to expect to keep your job for very long.

To the extent that these comments are true it does not speak well of the environment at Google or in Silicon Valley, but it is interesting that Damore’s firing was predictable and indeed somewhat predicted in the very document that led to it.

I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired.

Perhaps comments which sound inflammatory out of context can be avoided. For example, “Women, on average, have more … neuroticism” or “the Left tends to deny science”. But taken as a whole the document has been treated unfairly by some.

I wonder how easy it is for Google to hire more women, given that “According to the American Association of University Women, in recent years only 20% of Advanced Placement computer science exam takers in high school have been female.”.

Finally, I should like to draw everyone’s attention to the Norwegian television documentary series “Hjernevask”, or “Brainwash” in English, which is on this very topic, and is quite worth watching. I’ve linked to the first of the seven parts below:


Please make sure you enable subtitles, unless you speak Norwegian that is.

Samizdata quote of the day

British prime minister Theresa May has boasted that she is ‘working with social-media companies to halt the spread of extremist material and hateful propaganda that is warping young minds’. She also wants corporations to ‘do more’. Indeed, the leaders of the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Canada have, along with a host of social-media companies, agreed to measures to censor the web. And German chancellor Angela Merkel is way ahead of the curve. In 2015, Merkel notoriously prevailed upon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to do his bit and take down posts critical of her controversial immigration policy.

Apple’s craven obedience to Beijing’s autocratic demands typifies the general stance of the West. From the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 to Beijing’s abduction of Hong Kong booksellers today, Stalinist repression in China has never really sparked uproar among Western leaders. Yes, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson greeted the 20th anniversary of Chinese rule over Hong Kong with the limp hope that it would ‘make further progress towards a more democratic and accountable system of government’. But Western IT firms and politicians can hardly pose as guardians of internet freedom.

James Woudhuysen

Samizdata quote of the day

Noting the “unintended but disconcerting” link between nation-state activity and criminal activity, Smith adds that governments need “to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits”. The “Digital Geneva Convention” Redmond recommends would therefore require governments “to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them”.

Richard Chirgwin

Unintended? Not so sure about that.

How not to be a victim of computer malware

[A slightly unusual topic for this blog, but I was assured by the powers that be that it was of interest.]

For my friends who don’t know much about computers:

I do computer security work professionally. People always ask in the wake of yet another internet attack “what should I do to protect myself.”

The advice is always the same. Do what computer professionals do. Don’t do what you imagine computer professionals do, because you’re probably wrong.

  1. Always run the latest version of the OS and software.
  2. When security updates appear for your operating system or software, apply them as soon as possible, meaning that day. Configure your system to automatically apply updates if possible.
  3. Back up your computer frequently. Since normal humans cannot remember to do that, get software and/or a service to do it for you.
  4. Don’t use the same password with two different services, period. Since you cannot remember hundreds of different passwords, use a password safe, and remember only the password for it.
  5. If a web site offers two factor authentication (that is, you can set it up so it both requires a password and a code your phone generates), turn that on.

Every professional security person does those things.

If you ignore my advice, you’re going to get screwed one day, period. You might still get screwed even if you do follow my advice because the world is dangerous, but I can guarantee you’ll get screwed if you don’t.

Every organization that got infected recently by the ransomware worm was ignoring (1) and (2). Their suffering was avoidable. Do you want to suffer like them? Those that forgot (3) are really suffering because they have no way to recover. Why do you want to suffer? Every day, people get badly, badly screwed because the password that they use everywhere gets stolen and it is de facto impossible to remember every place you use it. Why set yourself up to suffer?

As to the question “who would attack me? No one is going to attack my computer, I’m unimportant”, the answer is that it isn’t individuals doing the attacks, it’s machines that are programmed to try to attack other machines by the hundreds of millions. You’re not being personally targeted, but that hardly matters when everyone on earth is being attacked. Your obscurity will not protect you. Even if you think there is nothing for the attacker to gain by taking over your machine, they’ll want it anyway, so they can set up a botnet to send spam from it, or use it to bring down other people’s web sites, or to take over yet more people’s machines.

And some corollaries:

1a. If your machine is too obsolete to run the latest OS, replace it. Quit being the jerk who won’t replace their eight or twelve year old computer and complains that the manufacturer “owes” you updates as you shake your fist at heaven. It isn’t even possible for them to support everything they ever made forever, let alone sane. Stop being that person.

1b. When Microsoft kept offering to give you Windows 10 for free, and you got angry at them for offering to give you a much more secure system FOR FREE, and when you got onto Facebook to post “stop bothering me, Microsoft, I don’t want to get a free, much more secure update to my buggy older OS”, you were the one who was being annoying and stupid, not Microsoft.

2a. When you get upset that the phone or computer that asked you to update is asking you to update, and you refuse to update because you find it “irritating”, what you’re basically saying is “I find it irritating that the manufacturer is trying to protect me from getting my machine taken over and all my work destroyed. I’ll show them, I’ll refuse so that some asshole in Kazakhstan can steal the contents of my bank account. That will teach Microsoft a thing or two!” Quit being an idiot. If someone pulled you out of the way of an oncoming car you wouldn’t get angry with them for it, so don’t get angry with the vendor for doing the equivalent for you.

3a. Backing up your computer can be done automatically. It isn’t even painful to get going. If you find this irritating to set up, imagine how irritating it will be to have none of your data after you have lost everything.

4a. No, your really clever password is not actually unguessable to a machine that can check tens of millions of passwords a second.

And finally, every once in a while, I hear from someone, generally an older person, that they’re just unable to keep up with new software and the like. “The new version looks different. I don’t want to update because the buttons might be in different places.” My advice, my sincere advice, is that if you can’t keep up with small changes like that, or if you can’t figure out how to use two factor authentication for your bank account and the like, get rid of your computer. It’s not safe for you to use one. Really. People still can live good lives without them. You can get the news by newspaper, you can talk to your grandchildren on the telephone. Not being able to keep up with this stuff is kind of like not being able to safely drive a car. If you’ve got a problem with your eyesight and can’t drive safely, the answer isn’t that you keep driving and kill people on the road, the answer is you stop driving.

And 100% of people who drink water eventually die

Ah what a gem this is:

A photo showing the suspect – named by police as Marcel Hesse – bragging about the killing was circulating on the so-called darknet, which is invisible on the open internet and used by criminals.

Unlike the not-so-dark net, which is never used by criminals?

F4BF

I wanted to believe that Hillary Clinton would lose the recent US presidential election, so when I started reading Scott Adams saying that she was indeed going to lose, to Trump, I kept on reading him. Like so many others, I like to read within my bubble, as well as outside it. That means I also now read Scott Adams on every other subject he deals with in his blog. I am now digging back into his archives for more wise and witty verbiage. I am surely not the only one doing this now.

Scott Adams has a girlfriend called Kristina Basham, who, it would appear, is working and working at becoming one of those people who is famous for being famous. This is one of those labels that most people seem to assume is an insult. But being famous is a skill and a job, like any other skill and job. Your basic skill is that you know how to attract attention, and you basic job is that you sell this ability and live with the adverse consequences of it as well as the benefits. Scott Adams describes very well the sort of work that goes into becoming one of these F4BF people, as I will call them from now on. Kristina Basham is not, you see, outstandingly good at anything in particular. She is just pretty good at a whole “stack” of things, which, when you combine them, are making her into someone F4BF.

I say: good for her.

The claim that people who are F4BF contribute nothing to the world is the latest iteration of that very old and very bad idea that there is a “real” economy, consisting of work that people are used to doing and which their ancestors even did, like farming and then after that factory working; and then there is the “unreal” economy, consisting of silly things that add nothing to the “real” economy, but instead just leach off it, like financial services (which actually make farming and industry massively more productive by telling farmers what to farm and industrialists what to industrialise), and more recently jobs like being F4BF. (Even being a factory worker was once upon a time denounced as being unreal.)

Being a celeb, and in particular being nothing but a celeb, an F4BF, which is to say being good at attracting attention to oneself but for no single and obvious reason, but still being good at it, is a vital part of the modern economy. Celebs, including F4BFs, enable attention to be diverted away from major economic investments, while the work of creating or building them is being done and needs not to be disturbed, in the secure knowledge that when attention is finally demanded, and you need to attract a lot of business very quickly or else a lot of money will be lost while the word spreads by mere unassisted word of mouth. For that grand opening of whatever it is that you have been quietly working on for however long it has been, you hire a bunch of celebs. Including maybe some of that particular sort of celeb who are F4BF, pure and distilled celebs who are nothing but celebs.

Discuss.

Samizdata quote of the day

The case is very simple indeed. Do you believe in freedom of speech or not? If you do then Stormfront gets to have a website detailing whatever it is that it misunderstands about the world. As does every other vile and hateful group from left and right. There is no shortage of sites insisting that Stalin had nothing to do with the Holodomor, that it was disease not starvation, that the starvation was just bad weather, that there was no campaign against Ukrainians and anyway, it never happened did it?

Tim Worstall

Impending works – Monday afternoon/evening, London Time!

Samizdata is being moved to a newer, more lush, perhaps more louche server. This will also provide for freshening-up of the blog software, and a gradual migration to HTTPS.

Impact: Samizdata will be irregularly-offline this upcoming Monday, December 5th, starting from an estimated 3pm London time (10am Eastern, 1600h CET) for an estimated 4-to-6 hours, perhaps a little longer depending on how long the DNS bookkeeping takes.

If the migration fails we’ll fall back to the existing machine and continue, but it’s likely to be okay. Assuming that everything goes well, you may still expect a little flakiness when accessing the blog for up to 24 hours afterwards; after that time it’s a “bug”, or else we dropped something in transit.

“Fortune favours the bald!”, or something like that…

The Internet-of-Things! What could possibly go wrong?

pornhub-on-a-fridge-lol

I admit I LOL’ed when I saw this 😀 What else could go wrong, I wonder?

And then they came for Instapundit…

First they came for Robert Stacey McCain but I had no idea who he was…
Then they came for Milo but I had no idea who he was either and anyway, he had silly hair…
Then they came for Instapundit…

A little earlier today Instapundit’s Twitter account got blocked. Due to Twitter’s Orwellian… no, Kafkaesque censorship policy it was not initially clear which tweet or tweets had earned Twitter’s ire. There was certainly no question of Glen Reynolds (Instapundit’s webmaster) being allowed to defend himself. At least not to Twitter – to the rest of the world Reynolds is most robust.

This is serious stuff. Instapundit was one of the original blogs. Although I was not present at it’s conception, my belief is that if it hadn’t been for Instapundit there wouldn’t have been a Samizdata. Certainly, Instapundit blazed a trail for hundreds, if not thousands of others and crucially Reynolds is not a nutter. If they can ban him they can ban us all.

Worse still, it is not as if Twitter is alone. It is remarkable how quickly internet stalwarts like Google, Facebook and Twitter have gone from being dynamic, “don’t be evil”, believers in freedom to being fully paid up members of the bansturbationary elite.

The question is what do we do now? Rob attempted to answer this very question earlier this week and I am happy to give gab.ai a go. The key question is if anyone else is prepared to. These things need critical mass and right-wingers are not known for engaging in collective action.

Like many I had high hopes for the internet. I thought it would lead to a renaissance of freedom. Instead it is quickly coming to resemble the very MSM I hoped it would check. And what have we got to show for our 15 years or so of being able to say what we think?

Samizdata quote of the day

Every political vision is a method of not seeing other political visions. Hayekianism calls for multiplicities instead of a singular political chorus. For those singing this tune, Hayek is an existential threat.

Will Rinehart