Some Holiday Cheer

The articles I’m working on at the moment are either a) fairly depressing, or b) a fair bit of work, which means that a whole lot of a) is coming down the pipe. So I’m going to counter-program that with a little explicit holiday cheer. For instance, this Twitter thread brought a smile to my face.

End of the year Twitter confession: Until recently, I was a conservative. I rolled my eyes at almost all talk of ongoing oppression, systemic racism, sexism and misogyny, microagressions, and any hint that speech could = violence. I considered myself a classical liberal. The right talks of “red pill moments,” in which a person of the left is mugged by reality and becomes rightwing. I prefer the term “paradigm shift,” which describes a fundamental change in scientific disciplines. I went through a paradigm shift starting 5 years ago.

Teaching at Wabash College in Indiana, I spent some time with the students and faculty of the Malcolm X Institute for Black Studies. Learning (and seeing) the experiences of these students in small-town Indiana changed me. Coming from Canada and then Ithaca, NY, it was easy for me to overlook and ignore the oppression other groups faced (though it was still there). But in Indiana, these students were regularly pulled over by cops (I never was), tailed by staff at stores (I never was). They also faced far more blatant acts of racism, like shouts of “white power” from passing cars, etc. There is simply no denying that African Americans face this kind of thing day after day after day. That I don’t is just the very tip of my white privilege.

I began to see the world and myself differently. I saw that I am extraordinarily privileged, that though I do work hard I am starting way ahead of others by being white, upper-middle class, with educated parents, etc. I’m not where I am just because of what I’ve done. Since meeting the students of Wabash College and the MXI, I simply can’t be a “classical liberal” any more. There simply isn’t a level playing field, not in terms of race, educational opportunities, economic resources, etc. To act like there is is cruel and self-serving. Many things have also happened since to change my view of the world (reading Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, for one…), but in general I now err on the side of not presuming my experience is like others’ experiences. I try to default to compassion and self-awareness.

To end the confession, perhaps too honestly: Only 5 years ago I might have said “all lives matter”; “not all men”; “everything is up for debate”; “I’m a free speech absolutist”; “students need to be prepared for the real world”. Now I say “black lives matter”; “I believe women”; “I don’t get to debate the existence of others”; “free speech absolutism benefits the already powerful”; “marginalised students have already seen more of the real world than I ever will”. That’s my paradigm shift.

If you’ve got a few objections brewing in your brain, check the rest of the thread; Matthew Sears does a good job answering the ones that popped into mind.

What I find notable in this story is the contrast. Red-pilling is commonly an active thing, where someone preaches at you and stuffs pamphlets under your nose until they reel you in. Sears’ story has some similarities to my own: no-one tried to get me interested in social justice. There was no persuasion by others. Both of us just listened to other people with an open mind, applied a little logic, and naturally became supporters of social justice.

Lies may spread quickly and give comfort, but they need to be pushed. The truth quietly sits there, waiting for you to arrive.

Uh Oh

Apologies for setting off the fire alarm, but:

Francis Rooney (R-FL): I’m very concerned that the DOJ and the FBI, whether you want to call it deep state or what, are kind of off the rails. People need a good, clean government.

Hallie Jackson: Do you think people don’t have a good clean government? … There are those that look at comments, like the ones that you’re making, and say that Republicans are working to, essentially, try to discredit the Department of Justice and thus discredit the Russia investigations. Is that not what you’re doing?

Rooney: No, I don’t want to discredit’m. I, just, I would like to see the directors of the agencies purge it, and say, look, we’ve got a lot of great agents, a lot of great lawyers here. Those are the people I want the American people to see, and know the good works being done. Not these people, who are kind of the deep state.

Jackson: Language like that, congressman, “purge?” Purge the Department of Justice?

Rooney: Well, I think that Mr. Strzok could be purged, sure.

To put that in context, Peter Strzok exchanged a series of private texts with Lisa Page, while Strzok was part of Mueller’s Special Council investigation. Upon learning of the texts, Mueller removed him from the case. Just over three months later, a selection of those texts were released to Fox News and Republican lawmakers, who immediately seized on Strzok’s anti-Trump comments as proof of bias. Problem is, only a subset of those texts were ever released, from an active investigation into the situation, and the Department of Justice is refusing to answer important questions about them. Also, Strzok had a lot of opinions.

Regarding Clinton, Strzok once texted, “I’m worried about what happens if HRC is elected.” He also referred to Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, as “self-entitled,” and dismissed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I – Vt., as an “idiot.” Page also called Sanders supporters “idiots.” They also both had low opinions of President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, with Strzok writing it was “wildly offensive” for Holder’s portrait to be next to that of iconic Attorney General Elliott Richardson and insisting that a television be turned off when Holder spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

Page perhaps best summed up their worldview when she texted Strzok during lunch with an unidentified person: “We both hate everyone and everything.”

Finally, there’s no evidence Strzok’s private opinions had any influence on Mueller’s investigation of Trump! Remember the “active investigation” bit? When the texts were released to Republicans and Fox News, the DoJ had still not concluded an internal probe into the matter. Now that those texts have been hopelessly politicised, how can that investigation remain free of charges of bias?

And yet, based on that context, a Republican Congressperson is ready to “purge” the FBI of people like Strzok. People who, so far, are only guilty of privately saying mean things about the US President.


We’re not even a year into Trump’s presidency, yet the United States is becoming an authoritarian state far faster than I thought possible. Others are catching on to this, too.

Note that the calls for a “purge” of the FBI and DOJ are becoming more explicit, actually using the word “purge” and moving from the right-wing publications to sitting members of Congress. A small part of this is simple partisanship, what threatens the leader of your political party is bad and needs to be attacked. But what we’re seeing goes far, far beyond that and can only be explained by the Republican right’s broader embrace of authoritarianism, which both predates Trump, accounts for his rise and has in turn been accelerated by his presidency.

This point is critical to remember. Trump’s flouting of democratic norms during the campaign was a core element, perhaps the core element, of his appeal. Support for Trump certainly wasn’t in spite of this. Nor was it incidental. We focus on Trump’s antics. They remain erratic and unbridled. But equally important, probably more important, is the absence of any overriding respect for the rule of law or democratic norms among his supporters. Functionally that means the entire Republican party, even if individual Republican officeholders may express a muted displeasure.

Others were way ahead of me.

Given that some of [Rep. Lindsey] Graham’s worst fears about Trump’s Kremlin ties and mental state have been legitimized, what accounts for the senator’s changed attitude toward the president? There are a variety of possible rationales available for conjecture, many of which apply to the GOP at large. Opportunism may play a role, as Graham complies with Trump in order to pursue right-wing extremist economic policies and war. Blackmail may also be an issue, given that Graham has admitted his email was hacked, as was the RNC’s, by Russia. Trump has derided and threatened members of Congress and private citizens, and it’s not a stretch to imagine him unleashing his fire– publicly or privately–on Graham.

Graham’s radical change in rhetoric is reminiscent of the behavior one sees in autocratic regimes when potential political opponents are mollified or threatened into compliance. But the truly troubling question is not what is driving his changed behavior, but what it means for the rest of the GOP, especially as speculation mounts that the Trump administration could end Mueller’s investigation and propagandists recast Republicans like James Comey and Mueller as enemies of the state. In 2016, Graham initiated the call for an investigation into Trump’s Kremlin ties. In 2018, judging by his recent actions, Graham may lead the way in ensuring there are no consequences for what investigators have discovered.

Either way, it’s time to panic. Americans, your democracy is rapidly degrading! There is no better time to become politically active, to petition your representatives, and push back against those that would rob you of political power. The rest of the world is counting on you, because the consequences will effect the rest of us.

Bayes’ Theorem: Deceptively Simple

Bayes' Theorem, in classic form

Good ol’ Bayes’ Theorem. Have you even wondered where it comes from, though? If you don’t know probability, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious logic to it. Once you’ve had it explained to you, though, it seems blindingly obvious and almost tautological. I know of a couple of good explainers, such as E.T. Jaynes’ Probability Theory, but just for fun I challenged myself to re-derive the Theorem from scratch. Took me about twenty minutes; if you’d like to try, stop reading here and try working it out yourself.

[Read more…]

Women’s Work

[I know, I’m a good three months late on this. It’s too good for the trash bin, though, and knowing CompSci it’ll be relevant again within the next year.]

This swells my heart.

LAURIE SEGALL: Computer science, it hasn’t always been dominated by men. It wasn’t until 1984 that the number of women studying computer science started falling. So how does that fit into your argument as to why there aren’t more women in tech?

JAMES DAMORE: So there are several reasons for why it was like that. Partly, women weren’t allowed to work other jobs so there was less freedom for people; and, also… it was simply different kinds of work. It was more like accounting rather than modern-day computer programming. And it wasn’t as lucrative, so part of the reason so many men give go into tech is because it’s high paying. I know of many people at Google that- they weren’t necessarily passionate about it, but it was what would provide for their family, and so they still worked there.

SEGALL: You say those jobs are more like accounting. I mean, look at Grace Hopper who pioneered computer programming; Margaret Hamilton, who created the first ever software which was responsible for landing humans on the moon; Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, they were responsible for John Glenn accurately making his trajectory to the moon. Those aren’t accounting-type jobs?

DAMORE: Yeah, so, there were select positions that weren’t, and women are definitely capable of being confident programmers.

SEGALL: Do you believe those women were outliers?

DAMORE: … No, I’m just saying that there are confident women programmers. There are many at Google, and the women at Google aren’t any worse than the men at Google.

Segall deserves kudos for getting Damore to reverse himself. Even he admits there’s no evidence women are worse coders than men, in line with the current scientific evidence. I’m also fond of the people who make solid logical arguments against Damore’s views. We even have good research on why computing went from being dominated by women to dominated by men, and how occupations flip between male- and female-dominated as their social standing changes.

But there’s something lacking in Segall’s presentation of the history of women in computing. She isn’t alone, I’ve been reading a tonne of stories about the history of women in computing, and all of them suffer from the same omission: why did women dominate computing, at first? We think of math and logic as being “a guy thing,” so this is terribly strange. [Read more…]

Citizens of the United States: You’ve been Hoodwinked

Remember that giant fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act from earlier this year? Where comedians weighed in with emotional appeals, mass protests led to mass arrests, politicians who voted against it were cheered by their constituents?

President Donald Trump on Wednesday claimed the Republican tax overhaul has “essentially repealed Obamacare” but said officials “didn’t want to bring it up” until the legislation had already passed.

The individual mandate is being repealed. When the individual mandate is being repealed, that means Obamacare is being repealed because they get their money from the individual mandate,” Trump said at the start of a cabinet meeting.

He said the tax bill has “essentially repealed Obamacare,” though the legislation has eliminated a key provision of the health care law but not repealed it entirely, and claimed Republicans will come up with something that will be much better, whether it’s block grants or whether it’s taking what we have and doing something terrific.”

“We didn’t want to bring it up. I told people specifically, ‘Be quiet with the fake news media because I don’t want them talking too much about it,’” Trump said. “Because I didn’t know how people would — but now that it’s approved I can say the individual mandate on health care, where you had to pay not to have insurance, okay, think of that one, you pay not to have insurance. The individual mandate has been repealed.”

Emphasis mine. Taken at face value, Trump is claiming he deliberately hid his latest attempt to take away your health care away in a tax bill that primarily benefits wealthy donors to the Republican party, and with the help of Republicans managed to pull it off. That’s remarkably cruel.

It’s also untrue, as is usual for Trump.

Contrary to a statement that President Trump made Wednesday, nixing Obamacare’s individual mandate does not mean that Obamacare has been repealed in the GOP tax bill. The individual mandate, which requires most Americans (other than those who qualify for a hardship exemption) to carry a minimum level of health coverage, is actually still in effect for 2018—meaning that you may have to pay a steep tax fine if you don’t have health insurance, for one thing. And even after the individual mandate repeal goes into effect the following year, Obamacare’s individual insurance markets, federal subsidies to help Americans pay monthly insurance premiums, and Medicaid expansion in the dozens of states that implemented it will all still be in effect barring further Congressional action. […]

Ultimately, repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate would cause 13 million fewer Americans to be insured in 2027 compared with current law, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Healthier and wealthier people may choose to forgo coverage, and even poorer, medically needy people may not sign up for insurance because they don’t know which options are available and there may not be the same sense of urgency to enroll without the mandate. The CBO also predicts that premiums in the markets would spike 10% without Obamacare’s individual mandate as the exchanges are left with a sicker consumer pool. However, for most Obamacare enrollees (those making between 100% and 400% of the Federal Poverty Level), an accompanying increase in federal subsidies will make up for higher premiums. Those making above that income level (about $48,000 for an individual or $98,000 for a family of four) will have to face the brunt of premium increases, though.

So in reality, repealing the individual mandate will either raise your health insurance or increase government spending. The latter might get solved with a tax hike or legislation which passes the cost back to you. All this was done so Republicans could lick Trump’s boots as they celebrate a windfall for millionaires, break promises to shore up health care, and pretend the hasty process hasn’t created a future shitstorm.

I hope to hell you aren’t gonna take that lying down, no matter what side of the political aisle you’re on.

Words Still Have Meanings

It’s a bit amusing to sit down to write something, only to realize you’ve said it better before.

But, rolling back to the start….

Sen. Susan Collins on Tuesday blasted coverage of her support for the GOP tax bill as “extremely discouraging” and “unbelievably sexist.” […]

“I believe that the coverage has been unbelievably sexist, and I cannot believe that the press would have treated another senator with 20 years of experience as they have treated me,” she told reporters in the Capitol. “They’ve ignored everything that I’ve gotten and written story after story about how I’m duped. How am I duped when all your amendments get accepted?”

Having dug into the details, there might be a faint glimmer of truth in there.

Collins also singled out a report that she said included a line about how she “didn’t cry” during a recent meeting with protesters, many of whom suffer from grave medical conditions. That line was later removed after Collins complained, but not before the story posted online.

And sure enough, if you read an archived copy of that New York Times article:

As a group of progressive activists and constituents prepared for a 15-minute meeting on Wednesday with Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, they sat in the lobby of her office and developed a last-ditch strategy to persuade her to vote against the $1.5 trillion tax bill barreling through Congress: tears.

“If Senator Collins actually saw you as a human, saw me as a human, then she wouldn’t pass any of this,” said Ady Barkan, a member of the Center for Popular Democracy, who recently learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., and uses a wheelchair. […]

After her meeting at her office, it did not appear that Ms. Collins was ready to change her vote, or that she had been brought to tears.

This fits into a common sexist stereotype.

One of the most persistent ideas about the differences between men and women is that women are more emotional than men. Research on stereotypes has shown emotionality to be one of the general dimensions of sex stereotypes: women are said to be more expressive, excitable, and easily hurt than men. They are also supposed to be more sensitive to the emotions of others […]. Not surprisingly then, when we think of an emotional person, a woman most quickly comes to our minds […].

The large and uncontested consensus about women’s greater emotionality not only characterizes common sense. The assumption that men and women fundamentally differ in their emotional lives can be found through the history of Western academic thought: whereas maleness stands for reason, femaleness is characterized by another mood of understanding, in which taste, sensibility, practical sense and feeling are more important […]. From the 19th century onwards, rationality and emotionality have largely become associated with the supposedly different natures of men and women, the former fitted for productive labor and the latter for household and emotional labor.

Fischer, Agneta H. “Sex differences in emotionality: Fact or stereotype?.” Feminism & Psychology 3.3 (1993): 303-318.

By using tears as a theme in that article, it was indirectly reinforcing the stereotype that women are driven more by emotion than logic and reason. That is sexist.

Except that’s not all the article said.

Ms. Collins remained respectful and strained to convince the room of about a dozen skeptics that the promises that had been made to her were ironclad. She defended her decision in the face of the group’s challenges that previous Republican promises for the tax bill had been broken, including a commitment to not add to the deficit and to not benefit the rich, and that written agreements are not law.

“I do not believe that I’ve given up leverage,” Ms. Collins said. “I’ve used my leverage to negotiate agreements that are promises to me.” She added, “I’m sorry that you don’t believe in the agreements.”

The deals that Ms. Collins struck that extend beyond the tax bill have been the subject of much speculation and doubt in Washington, because they would require the backing of House Republicans and some Democrats.

Alan Rappeport’s article primarily presents Collins as a rational, autonomous agent. The Senator claims she has negotiated for bipartisan health legislation and against automatic Medicare cuts. It puts that front and centre, focusing on the debate over how secure those pledges to Collins have been, and leaves the call to emotion as a background theme. At the other end, emotion is a strong tool in the activists’ toolkit. Appeals to emotion are not automatically sexist, they only become that way when generalized across a sex. Rappeport’s article was not directly sexist, as it did not explicitly state women are more driven by emotion; at best, it indirectly contributed to existing sexist stereotypes. That’s not a good thing, but that has to be weighed against the large portions where it indirectly challenges those stereotypes as well.

Note as well that the Senator claimed her coverage was “unbelievably sexist.” Yet when pressed, the best example she could give is the indirect, conflicting example above. It’s a pretty safe bet that Collins is conflating “criticizing women” with “sexism,” possibly in an attempt to defend herself from people critiquing the strength of her concessions. She might also legitimately misunderstand what “sexism” means, a terribly common problem.

I was going to transition to talking about how Status Quo Warriors rely on ignorance of terms to support their views, but I realized past-me already did an excellent job on that subject. So please accept this brief meditation on sexism instead, and follow the link for more interesting reading.

Every. Vote. Counts.

When we last left Virginia politics, Democrats had been elected to many of the key positions like Governor and Attorney General. To the shock of many, they almost grabbed a majority of the legislature too. That state is notoriously gerrymandered in favour of Republicans, so even a nine-point advantage in the popular vote wasn’t expected to earn 50% of all legislative seats. And yet Virginians woke up on November 9th to learn that Democrats held 49 seats and Republicans had been reduced to 51.

Probably. See, at that point five races were incredibly close, demanding recounts and lawsuits to settle them, so those results were likely but not final. As the days ticked by, four three of those five seats were resolved and indeed “likely” became “final.” The fifth fourth?

A Republican seat flipped Democratic in a wild recount Tuesday – with the Democrat winning by a single vote – creating a rare 50-50 tie between the parties in the House of Delegates and refashioning the political landscape in Richmond.

My gut reaction on this was that Democrats had effectively gained a majority, as the Governor could break a tie. But as I read on…

Power sharing in the House of Delegates is an awkward exercise. Committee chairs have to be negotiated as does the person who will serve as Speaker. With the parties split 50-50, there is no mechanism to break ties and any legislation short of 51 votes does not advance. Republicans hold a slight 21-19 edge in the state senate but with a Democratic lieutenant governor to break ties, and a Democratic governor with veto power, Republicans may be forced to advance a more bipartisan agenda.

… it looks like that only covers the state Senate. Ah well, the point remains that Virginia went from being a Republican-controlled state to one where both parties need to cooperate and step across the aisle to get work done. It’s a radical shift, and it was all due to a single person’s ballot.

I hope the 11,608th voter in Virginia’s 94th district is whooping it up tonight. To the larger point, it’s also a dramatic example of why voter suppression must be opposed by all.

Dagnabbit, four of those certainly looked settled. But then that leads me to this.

Voters in the Fredericksburg area filed suit [December 6th] to seek a new election in House District 28. The Virginia House Democratic Caucus fully supports the voters in this suit. This is the only remedy available to voters that were given an incorrect ballot on Election Day. This decision comes after the State Board of Elections admitted that 147 voters were miss-assigned into the wrong House District where the margin is only separated by 82 votes.

Despite admitting to the incorrect ballots the Board of Elections still certified the result, hence the illusion of settlement. But between that lawsuit and any subsequent vote, there’s a teensy chance Democrats could flip the seat and earn a majority in the Virginia House.

Someone buy that 11,608th voter a beer.

This is getting comical. Emphasis mine.

A three- judge panel declined to certify the recount of a key House race today, saying that a questionable ballot should be counted in favor of the Republican and tying a race that Democrats had thought they had won by a single vote.

“The court declares there is no winner in this election,” said Newport News Circuit Court Judge Bryant L. Sugg, after the judges deliberated for more than two hours. He said the ballot in question, which was deemed unacceptable during the five-hour recount on Tuesday, contained a mark for Democrat Shelly Simonds as well as a mark for Republican Del. David Yancey but that the mark for Simonds had also been struck out.

Election officials presiding at the recount on Tuesday had not counted that ballot. But Republicans challenged the ballot in court, saying the voter intended to vote for Yancey and the ballot should be counted for the Republican.

I guess I’m both right and wrong? I’ll take that.

Well, that’s Over

Starting out with a lie probably isn’t a good idea, but it’s the best summary I’ve got. I finally have a stretch of free time, and I’ve given myself explicit orders to kick back and relax. That includes poking away at this blog again, as poor ol’ Proof of God has suffered a fair bit of neglect and my list of rant topics is worth a rant in and of itself. But kicking back also means kicking out stuff like this:

Eyes Down. Copyright HJH, 2017.

It’s not my best work, but I’m also coming back into photo processing after a few year’s absence. I’ve never really been happy with my forest scenes (they always feel way too busy and unfocused), so I thought I’d crush the busy bits into blackness and draw your eye to the really cool bits: the texture of the snow. The desaturated high-detail look is practically a cliché nowadays, but I like it here (and I was hip to it before most, dammit!)