Shorts

  1. Orwell haunts Google
  2. Trump haunts the rest of us

1

Lots of interesting, overwhelmingly negative, Tweets on the pearl-clutching at and about Google, and on the firing of James Damore.

I could obsess on this all morning. I think the memo (not “screed” or “manifesto”) brought up valid considerations, even if they can be labeled “stereotypes.” Vive la différence! (I’m please to report that as of 13:15 GMT 8/8/17, Google does not block a search for the correct spelling and inflection of that horrible, sexist, triggering phrase.)

A line in the memo about women being more prone to anxiety has drawn particular ire — as if the author made this up. As the publication Stanford Medicine notes, “Women are twice as likely as men to experience clinical depression in their lifetimes; likewise for post-traumatic stress disorder.” An article in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews likewise says that “female-biased conditions include depression, anxiety disorder, and anorexia nervosa.”

This doesn’t mean that men are superior, just that they are different and more prone to other problems — among them, alcohol- and drug-dependency, schizophrenia, dyslexia, autism, Tourette syndrome, and attention-deficit disorder. It’s not bias against men, or in favor of women, to note these tendencies.

In light of these differences, though, it is foolhardy to expect 50/50 gender parity in professional life, and otherworldly to believe that such differences don’t have a role in the predominance of men in, say, software engineering.

Obviously, the field should be open to women, and Neanderthal behavior in the workplace should be stamped out. But a company that believes implicit bias accounts for gender imbalances must be allergic to certain inconvenient facts.

(Rich Lowry) So much for the reasonableness of the memo.

The Orwellian rationale for the firing is bone-chilling:

One female Google engineer posted on Twitter upon reading the memo that she would consider leaving the company unless the human resources department took action.

In an email titled “Our Words Matter,” Mr. Pichai said that he supported the right of employees to express themselves but that the memo had gone too far.

“The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender,” Mr. Pichai wrote. “Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive,’ showing a ‘lower stress tolerance,’ or being ‘neurotic.’”

David French does a characteristically fine job of pulling threads together:

When I talk about free speech, I often ask the audience two questions. First, did you know that the Supreme Court has been steadily expanding free-speech rights? Second, do you feel freer to speak now than you did five years ago? The answers are always the same — some variation of “no” and “heck, no.” The first assertion is undoubtedly true. Federal courts have consistently protected free speech from government interference and have been relentless in shutting down viewpoint discrimination. When government officials target speech because of a speaker’s views, they lose time and again.

At the same time, millions of Americans are extraordinarily reluctant to express even the most mainstream of (particularly) social conservative views. They’re convinced that if they do that, they’ll be publicly humiliated, investigated, and perhaps even lose their jobs. They’re convinced that outspoken liberals enjoy greater opportunity in key sectors of the economy, and if conservatives want to thrive, they best keep their opinions to themselves.

I’m not too keen on the prospects of Damore’s threatened lawsuit, but he’s smart enough to talk about working conditions and NLRB instead of “first amendment.”

The most disturbing this to me is that the campaign against Damore is based on misrepresenting his memo and flatly denying, with no corroborating citations that I’ve seen, the validity of any scientific basis for his stereotypes. It proves again that the progressive left is less reality-based than the alt-right, but we sure are polarized.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

(William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming)

2

Last week The Washington Post published transcripts of Donald Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders. A dear friend sent me an email suggesting I read them because they reveal how Trump’s mind works. But as I tried to click the link a Bartleby-like voice in my head said, “I would prefer not to.” I tried to click again and the voice said: “No thanks. I’m full.”

For the past two years Trump has taken up an amazing amount of my brain space. My brain has apparently decided that it’s not interested in devoting more neurons to that guy …

His election demonstrates that as the unifying glue of the mainline culture receded, the country divided into at least three blocks: white evangelical Protestantism that at least in its public face seems to care more about eros than caritas; secular progressivism that is spiritually formed by feminism, environmentalism and the quest for individual rights; and realist nationalism that gets its manners from reality TV and its spiritual succor from in-group/out-group solidarity.

If Trump falls in disgrace or defeat, and people’s partisan pride is no longer at stake, … where are people going to go for a new standard of decency? They’re not going to go back to the old WASP ideal. That’s dead. Trump revealed the vacuum, but who is going to fill it and with what?

(David Brooks, Getting Trump Out of My Brain)

A black swan or other rough beast is going to fill it, David, but what rough beast?

* * * * *

Fiat justitia ruat caelum

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.