05 March 2014
The scope of the project is never more than what you can do in the time available.
If you deliver a perfect document free of typos, you have prioritized the use of your time incorrectly.
The scope of a project is equal to what you can do in the time the client paid for. You offered them a more comprehensive project; the client chose not to buy that project.
Part of the profession is knowing which problems aren't worth taking the time it would take to fix them.
The scope of the project is not what the client needs, it's what the client bought. You already told them what they need.
Things will go wrong whatever you do. Skill is choosing which problems are best to risk.
The client counts on your sense of professionalism to get you to do more work than they paid for. Don't fall in love with the john.
Always tell the client the truth. When they don't want you to tell them the truth, remind them that telling them the truth they don't want to hear is what they pay you to do.
That includes telling the truth about what they chose to buy from you.
The scope of the project is equal to the best you can do in the time you agreed to.
02 March 2014
Arthur Chu, the guy who got flak on the internet for being too good at the TV game show Jeopardy!, has some astute words about the logic of racist media representation:
That said, stereotypes aren’t so much about people totally projecting things that completely aren’t there but about people having a framework with which they interpret things that actually are there. It’s not that racism causes people to see (for example) belligerent teenage boys where there are none, but that a white belligerent teenage boy is just seen as himself while a black belligerent teenage boy is part of a pattern, a script, and when people blindly follow the scripts in their head that leads to discrimination and prejudice.
So yeah, it is a fact, I think, that I was a bit off-putting in my Jeopardy! appearance — hyper-focused on the game, had an intense stare, clicked madly on the buzzer, spat out answers super-fast, wasn’t too charming in the interviews, etc.
But this may have taken root in people’s heads because I’m an Asian and the “Asian mastermind” is a meme in people’s heads that it wouldn’t have otherwise. Look, we all know that there’s a trope in the movies where someone of a minority race is flattened out into just being “good at X” and that the white protagonist is the one we root for because unlike the guy who’s just “good at X” the protagonist has human depth, human relationships, a human point of view — and this somehow makes him more worthy of success than the antagonist who seems to exist just to be good at X.
So we root for Rocky against black guys who, by all appearances, really are better boxers than he is, because unlike them Rocky isn’t JUST a boxer, he has a girlfriend, he has hopes, he has dreams, etc. This comes up over and over again in movies where the athletic black competitor is set up as the “heel” — look at the black chick in Million Dollar Baby and how much we’re pushed to hate her. Look at all this “Great White Hope” stuff, historically, with Joe Louis.
So is it any surprise that this trope comes into play with Asians? That the Asian character in the movie is the robotic, heartless, genius mastermind who is only pure intellect and whom we’re crying out to be defeated by some white guy who may not be as brainy but has more pluck, more heart, more humanity? It’s not just Flash Gordon vs. Ming the Merciless, it’s stuff like how in the pilot episode of Girls Hannah gets fired in favor of an overachieving Asian girl who’s genuinely better at her job than she is (the Asian girl knows Photoshop and she doesn’t) and we’re supposed to sympathize with Hannah.
Okay, here’s one more comment from the Internet that kind of encapsulates it. The kind of un-self-awareness of what someone is saying when they say they’d prefer I not win because I try too hard at the game, work too hard at it, care too much about it, and that they’d prefer that a “likable average Joe” win.
This is disturbing because it amounts to basically an attack on competence, a desire to bust people who work very hard and have very strong natural gifts down in favor of “likable average Joes” — and it’s disturbing because the subtext is frequently that to be “likable” and “average” you have to have other traits that are comforting and appealing to an “average Joe” audience, like white skin and an American accent.
01 March 2014
As someone with a weakness for political discussion, I am often frustrated by people who have a very confused vocabulary for talking about the range of political views from left to right. The classic error is conservatives who refer to President Obama as a “radical leftist”. But such sloppy rhetoric is nearly as common from liberals, and perhaps even more common among eccentrics who like to style themselves as off the conventional spectrum altogether.
I will grant that language for describing the political spectrum is necessarily a bit mushy, in large part because the spectrum itself is a blunt tool for organizing categories of political thought. One dimension is of course insufficient to describe the universe of possible political stances. But the left-right axis has its uses and turns up in discussions all of the time, so if we are going to use it we should get as much clarity in it as we can.
In this post don't want dig into defining the the difference between left and right. That is a big subject which many people have examined thoughtfully and at length. I have a collection of links to my favorite pieces doing that (including one of my own).
Instead, I want to look at the language for talking about where in the range one might place a person's philosophy. What makes the difference between moderates and radicals? Between the hard right and the far right? Between liberals and leftists? These distinctions have an inherent slipperiness, but people I regard as sophisticated use them in a pretty consistent way, and I'd like to explain it so I can refer to it in other discussions. I'll reference specific examples from American politics, but I think this language is applicable enough in other contexts as well.
Moderates are people committed to one side or the other, but not perfectly consistently, such that they support some policies from the other side. In principle, politicians tend to be moderates (though at the moment in Congress, the Republican Party has driven out a lot of its moderates, and moderates look a little thin in the Democratic Party ranks too). A liberal who opposes gun control or a conservative who opposes the war on drugs may be described as a moderate. These days, conservatives further to the right like to describe moderate conservatives as RINOs (“Republicans in name only”), while liberals further to the left call moderate liberals “Blue Dog Democrats”. Occasionally one may also hear “liberal Republican” and “conservative Democrat”, to refer to people's place on the mini-spectrum within the party.
The wing, as in “the ‘left wing’ of the Democratic Party”, are people who are fully committed to the philosophy of their axis and believe that our existing institutions are the right place to focus their political energies. They want to win elections so that government can implement their policies without needing to compromise significantly with the other side. On the right, these folks are often referred to as “movement conservatives”, on the left, these folks are generally just called “liberals”.
The hard left and right believe in participating in conventional political institutions (like elections, government, and the two major parties) but also believe in the importance of working within those institutions to change the institutions themselves if their philosophy is to be fully enacted. Someone on the hard right may want a dramatic re-interpretation of the First Amendment, or even a new Constitutional Amendment, to recognize that the United States is a Christian nation. Someone on the hard left may want a Constitutional Amendment to counter the Citizens United decision on free speech and corporate campaign donations, or to dismantle most of the military-industrial complex. On the right, this includes the “Tea Party”, “religious right”, some(*) “libertarians”, and some “movement conservatives”. On the left, these folks are generally called “progressives”.
Radicals believe that it is almost pointless to engage within conventional political institutions, that the only meaningful political action is revolutionary change to the institutions themselves. This reflects the of the word “radical”, which literally means “striking at the root”. Someone on the radical left may want to dismantle capitalism. Someone on the radical right may want to dismantle the Federal government's power over the States and dramatically strengthen the independence of county government. On the left, these folks are generally called “leftists”. On the right, these folks may be “Christian Dominionists”, some “libertarians”, “Patriots” or “Three Percenters”, and so forth.
The far left and right are radicals whose philosophies are eccentric enough that the hard left and right completely reject them. A progressive may be sympathetic to a radical leftist who thinks that we should put an end to the legal fiction of limited liability corporations, allowing only worker-owned collectives ... but will be horrified by the far left Maoist who says that we should murder the plutocrats in their beds and declare a dictatorship of the proletariat. A person in the Christian Right may be sympathetic to the radical Dominionist who says that only Christians should be permitted to hold public office ... but will be horrified by the Klansman who says that we should put Jews, Muslims, and atheists to death. This departure from the ordinary discourses of liberalism and conservatism means that it can be hard to place these folks on the left/right axis.
*: Since I know it will come up, a quick word about libertarians, who commonly argue that they don't belong on the left-right axis at all. Many libertarians hold that libertarianism is a peer to liberalism and conservatism, and others protest the common presumption that libertarianism is a species of conservatism by pointing to the left-libertarian tradition. These folks have a point, though I think that generally libertarians protest too much ... a question which is more complex than I want to get into in this post. But I think my mentions of libertarians above are fair in that many folks who call themselves “libertarians” can be identified unmistakably as a species of conservatives.
27 February 2014
So today designers have been looking at FDA nutrition information labels. The FDA have proposed an improvement of the existing label:
Not too shabby. But like a lot of people, I like to think about the proportions between carbs, protein, and fat I'm getting in what I eat. Figuring that out requires math, since a gram of protein or carbohydrate has four calories, but a gram of fat has nine. So it would be nice to also show that:
I also snipped off the “Nutrition Facts” caption at the top because, duh.
But having started tinkering, I was annoyed by a common bad information design pattern: the captions for the different nutrients are displayed stronger than the amounts. That's the opposite of what you want: the emphasis should be on the data. Once I succumbed to the temptation to reverse that, I got a little carried away.
I tried to make the “Calories” header do double duty for the total and the column I've added on the right, but that could use some more finesse ....
25 February 2014
One of my whiskey rants when talking about Weird Stuff is how I suspect that the aliens which supposedly crashed near Roswell, New Mexico were probably an invention of US Air Force disinformation as a kind of “false bottom” concealing the real secret of the crash of one of Project Mogul's experimental spy balloons. If folks found evidence of the cover-up of Project Mogul, the trail would lead them first to “evidence” of space aliens, thereby leading would-be investigators to either dismiss the story or follow the wrong story and discredit themselves.
Since this is at least plausible, one might go on to suspect that UFO conspiracy culture as a whole could be an example of what the CIA used to call a “Mighty Wurlitzer”: a self-sustaining ecosystem of propaganda organs which, once built up, generates its own material but can also be used to inject propaganda ideas into a society. The spooks don't need to control everything in the media, as the truly paranoid would imagine; they just need to water the garden a little and plant a few invasive species.
I've stumbled across a blog post with a similar thesis, grounded in that amazing article from Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations which has been making the rounds. Greenwald publishes slides from a presentation used by the Government Communications Headquarters, UK's equivalent to the NSA, talking about the dirty tricks they use to manipulate online communities.
And now we get to the really freaky stuff. I honestly was not expecting to see this ...
Why do UFO images appear in a GCHQ document about deception, magic tricks and social control? Obviously, the people who put this document together do not believe in aliens. This ain't about that. This presentation is about the manipulation of large numbers of people. It's about deception.
I'd give a lot to know the context. Just what did the presenter say about the preceding flying saucer photographs? How do they tie into the theme of control?
My suggestion: Ufology, unimportant in and of itself, is a testing ground for deception tactics. If those tactics prove effective in that arena, they may be imported into the “real” world and put to serious use.
24 February 2014
I am reminded again of this unforgettable reflection on what Lady Gaga means. Note that it is from 2009.
While the rest of the world spirals into economic degradation, environmental pestilence and complete systems failure of ALL of the old world models, Lady Gaga reigns above the flames. Pay attention to the lesson: Lady Gaga is the ONLY person prospering in this cultural climate. Therefore she has done something RIGHT. She is the necessary evolutionary adaptation to our times and THIS is why people are disturbed by her: This is what we must all become.
23 February 2014
Someone may find something you say offensive. You may think they were wrong to take offense.
You may have good reasons to think that they are wrong. They may have misinterpreted the plain meaning of what you meant. It happens. They may be informed by an assumption that is factually wrong. It happens. They may have assumed that you were informed by something you didn't know. It happens. There's other reasons why someone may be wrong to be offended.
Many people try to just dismiss anyone taking offense at what they've said by trying to “clarify”. That's shenanigans, but it does not mean that opening a dialogue about whether a comment was rightly offensive is necessarily wrong. If there truly was a misunderstanding, correcting it makes the world a better place.
But if you knew that people would take offense — even wrongly — then you have deliberately chosen to offend them. The term for this is an “insult”.
One might rightly debate whether the comment was offensive in such a situation. But there is no question that the comment was an insult.
In the course of the long essay Apartheid and Zionism : Precise Definitions, Visceral Ontologies, Lev Lafayette offers an instructive capsule history of “Zionism” which demonstrates why slogans like “Zionism is racism” are an irresponsible misrepresentation.
In 1975 the United Nations General Assembly “determine[d] that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination” by a vote of 72 to 35 with 32 abstentions. In 1991, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 46/86 adopted on December 16, 1991, revoked Resolution 3379, by a vote of 111 to 25, with 13 abstentions. The change in vote had much to do with the realignment of the global balance of power following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states. For a political philosophy however, the question is not the successes of the resolutions, but rather which of the resolutions are true.
It is from the insightful classic paper of Abdeen Jabara that some basic definitional assessments can be made. Racism, as Jabara illustrates from the The International Convention on Racial Discrimination, notes that there must be exclusion preferences based on race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin that have the purpose or effect of impairing the equal exercise of basic freedoms. The segregational aspect of such policies expressed in a inhuman manner constitutes the crime of apartheid. Jabara makes a case that Zionism engages in racism, as it argues that Jews are members of a single nation that requires a single nation-state. Rather sensibly, criticism is made of the implausible claim of Jewish as a nationality, the enormous influence of the exclusive land laws, and the numerous examples of discriminatory laws. A conclusion is reached that Zionism was a colonial force that dispossesed an existing population of their lands in the formation of a new state.
But is this really what Zionism means, and what is required of it? On August 29, 1897, the First Zionist Congress in Basel adopted the definition that “Zionism aims at establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine”. Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary a few days later: “At Basel I founded the Jewish State”. But there is enormous difference between “homeland” and “state”. Herzl's opinions on the matter are well-known; he certainly wanted a statehood for the Jewish people as a matter of priority. But others disagreed such as the cultural Zionists, led by Ahad Ha’am, who sought primarily a revival of Jewish religious identity and the Hebrew language (the “eastern” Chibbath Zion) over political statehood (the “western” Zioniyuth). Following his first trip to Palestine in 1891, Ha'am had the following to say — one can only wonder what he would think of the situation today:We must surely learn, from both our past and present history, how careful we must be not to provoke the anger of the native people by doing them wrong, how we should be cautious in our dealings with a foreign people among whom we returned to live, to handle these people with love and respect and, needless to say, with justice and good judgment. And what do our brothers do? Exactly the opposite!
From the two fundamentally different orientations, a myriad of variations developed. The majority viewpoint combined both the religious revivialism with nationalism utilising a Statist approach, often with revanchist attitudes of a Jewish State, although rarely to the extremist position of extending over the entirety of Eretz Yisrael Hashlemah (“from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates”, Genesis 15:18-21). From the cultural-religious perspective, emphasis was placed on reviving cultural identification. In some cases that meant a religious rejection of a Jewish state, such as with the small Haredi sect, Neturei Karta. In others, it became a Hebrew (rather than Judiac) nationalism, such as with the Canaanites. Among the more liberal perspectives something akin to the unification of Chibbath Zion and Zioniyuth was sought — a state that would be simultaneously Jewish and democratic.
A smaller tangent developed among those who rejected Jewish statism, but supported the concept of a Jewish homeland in Palestine — a democratic, liberal, secular, and socialistic Palestine. Chief among these advocates are luminary figures such as Albert Einstein, Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, and Noam Chomsky. Einstein supported a Jewish homeland in Palestine, but opposed the establishment of a Jewish state and the proposals to partition Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish countries, and even moreso, the existence of separate armed forces. Martin Buber, the famous existentalist, agreed. Deeply committed to the Zionist project as a spiritual and anarcho-socialist endeavour, as a member of Brit Shalom, he too argued for a bi-national rather than for a Jewish state in Palestine. The ever-astute Arendt, was of a similar perspective. Her writings in the 1940s predicted the Nakba, an unending conflict, of Israel's dependence on the American Jewish community and a rising conflict with the same as the country trends towards a nationalistic conservatism, and the rise of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in response — all of which can be summarised with her pithy and tragic brilliance: “... a Jewish state can only be erected at the price of the Jewish homeland”.
Finally, it is well known that Chomsky's Zionism is more influenced by labour and socialist perspectives that sought Arab-Jewish working-class cooperation for socialist binational Palestine and that he was associated with groups like Hashomer Ha’tzair. He points out that mainstream Zionism at the time included opposition to the “the deeply antidemocratic concept of a Jewish state”. In the 1990's Chomsky argued in favour of a two-state solution for two peoples with aspirations for self-determination. More recently, he has become a stronger advocate for the more principed position of a binational secular state “from the sea to the river”. Of course, as has been pointed out in the past, the issue isn't one, two, or many states, but rather the content of those states — where secularism, civil liberties, and democratic rights equate with the “a zero State solution”.
In reference to the the two UN General Assembly resolutions it should be evident that Zionism as such does not equate to racism, let alone a form colonialism. It can represent the legitimate desire of a dispersed and ethnically varied religious community to a spiritual and even linguistic reawakening and to identify with a geographical area as their historically meaningful homeland after centuries of extreme persecution. But it has also been most certainly in the name of Zionism that racially-inspired policies of violent invasions, dispossessions, and continuing oppression continues to this day against the Palestinian Arabs (not to mention the apocalyptic visions by Christian Zionists). But by the same token, in introducing the revoking resolution to the General Assembly, George W. Bush commented to equate Zionism to racism is to reject Israel's right to exist. How extraordinary it is to think that “nations”, those “imagined communities” to use Benedict Anderson's phrase, or even “States”, have rights when the rights of real flesh-and-blood human beings are quite forgotten.
I've been meaning to write about this for years and am relieved that Lafayette has done a better job of it than I would have.
19 February 2014
I've talked about this before, but I'm not perfectly happy with how I've articulated it, so here's two pictures to save me two thousand words.
The choice is clear to me.
14 February 2014
A friend who prefers to remain nameless puts a finger on something that has bothered me about “rockstars”, “ninjas”, et cetera.
Dear recruiters of the world:
Please stop emailing me saying you're looking for a “rockstar programmer” or a “badass programmer” or even a “fearless programmer.” There are none of the above. There are, however, programmers who front at being rockstars and fearless badasses. When you recruit with those terms, you tell me you're actively seeking programmers who front at things, which makes me presume my team will be awful. I am an adult and a professional with a track record. I work with other calm, mature adults. Programmers putting on a front aren't those people.
06 February 2014
05 February 2014
30 January 2014
One Sunday morning in 1991 some friends and I were visiting a friend who was a UC Berkeley student living on the east side of campus. I noticed that the rising sun shining through the window made a bright red square of light on the floor of her little apartment. But a moment later I realized that this couldn't be right. It was maybe nine in the morning; that couldn't be the sunrise. I went to look out the window.
Smoke was curling beautifully around the sun, glowing red in churning billows.
I called my friends over to look. A minute later we were outside, watching a huge pillar of black smoke rise into the sky. Ten minutes later, we had climbed into a car to chase the smoke and see if we could find where the fire was.
Fifteen minutes after that, we realized that we had misread the distance to the fire; the pillar of smoke was much bigger than we thought. And it had already visibly grown. We turned back, and turned on the radio to hear reports of the fire. Firefighters were responding; some places in the hills were being evacuated, but we were safe.
Our group split up to forage for brunch and enjoy a downtown Berkeley ramble. Shortly after noon, from Shattuck avenue, I saw a long line of fire in the hills, black smoke streaming. I telephoned my host — from a pay phone, this was before we all had phones in our pockets — and my friends were worried. They still weren't being evacuated (and it later turned out they wouldn't be) but radio reports kept describing the fire as growing. “Get back here so we can go home.”
By the time I met back up at my friend's apartment, the whole sky was hazy with gray smoke. Making our way to the freeway, we passed through an even smokier neighborhood. The streets were quiet, and there was an apocalyptic air. Streetlights were on, ash was drifting down over everything, the sky was gray and the sun shone a deep red through it. I misquoted Revelation 6:12: “The sky became as sackcloth and the sun became as blood.”
Finally we found our way to the freeway, and sped out of the smoky area, heading back to Santa Cruz.
As one makes the connection from Berkeley's Highway 24 to 880 heading south toward San Jose, there's an overpass at the edge of downtown Oakland that arcs up high before descending to the freeway, where one can see 880 extending to the south. We were facing thick southbound traffic, but northbound there were no cars.
Just fire trucks. Dozens of them, as far as the eye could see, racing north to the fire.
27 January 2014
A little snippet from Corey Robin's excellent book The Reactionary Mind:
The conservative position stems from a genuine conviction that a world thus emancipated [by the left] will be ugly, brutish, base, and dull. It will lack the excellence of a world where the better man commands the worse.
Note that this corresponds with my own thumbnail description of the core of liberalism and conservatism.
25 January 2014
Drawn by a good plug from the marvelous Jay Smooth, I took a look at the recent report from the folks at Race Forward. Both the content and the format are good stuff: it's well-produced, and I really love their focus on thinking systemically and sharpening our vocabulary for talking about that.
INSTITUTIONAL RACISM occurs within institutions and systems of power. It is the unfair policies and discrimina- tory practices of particular institutions (schools, workplaces, etc.) that routinely produce racially inequitable outcomes for people of color and advantages for white people. Individuals within institutions take on the power of the institution when they reinforce racial inequities. An example is a school system that concentrates people of color in the most overcrowded schools, the least-challenging classes, and the least-qualified teachers, resulting in higher dropout rates and disciplinary rates compared with that of white students.
STRUCTURAL RACISM is racial bias among institutions and across society. It involves the cumulative and compounding effects of an array of societal factors including the history, culture, ideology, and interactions of institutions and policies that systematically privilege white people and disadvantage people of color. An example is the overwhelming number of depictions of people of color as criminals in mainstream media, which can influence how various institutions and individuals treat people of color with suspicion when they are shopping, traveling, or seeking housing and employment – all of which can result in discriminatory treatment and unequal outcomes.
A big piece of their analysis is that mainstream media do not generally talk about racism on the systemic level at all, and break down “seven harmful racial discourse practices” that need to change:
- Individualizing Racism
- Falsely Equating Incomparable Acts
- Diverting From Race
- Portraying Government As Overreaching
- Prioritizing (Policy) Intent Over Impact
- Condemning Through Coded Language
- Silencing History
Sophisticated and accessible. Joe Bob says check it out.