Tag Archives: current affairs

Yes, all men

Since Susan Fowler blogged about her experience at Uber in February, the debate about sexism in tech has dominated IT and business news. Note that this debate is not new, and Fowler’s story isn’t all that different from many other stories we’ve heard before. It’s just that for once, finally, people were paying attention, and There Were Consequences. Then matters escalated in June with a string of revelations about sexism—not just discrimination, but full on sexual harassment.

Then came the apologies. Let me tell you about the apologies. The average response from a manager or venture capitalist accused of sexism went something like this:

I apologized unreservedly for my treatment of X. I realize now that my innocent jokes may have been misinterpreted. I’m actually a pretty nice guy, and X’s refusal to sleep with me had no impact whatsoever on my decision not to invest in her startup.

Then came the White Knights:

As a VC, I’m appalled to hear about my colleagues’ behavior towards women. I would like to reassure you all that Not All Men are like that. I myself am actually a pretty nice guy and completely innocent in all this.

Guys, it’s time to face the music. We have all been That Guy. We have all made sexist jokes, or laughed when others made them, or stood by silently while our male bosses, coworkers and colleagues ignored or patronized or belittled or humiliated women. We have all benefited from a system that eliminates close to 50% of our competition before the race has even started.

We are all complicit. We are all guilty.

So what do we do? Where do we go next?

First, take a deep breath, do a little soul-searching, and re-read that paragraph until any impulse, however minor, to say to yourself “OK, but not me” is gone. Yes, you too.

Next, if you’ve ever acted inappropriately towards a female coworker or friend or acquaintance, or stood by silently while others did, consider apologizing.

Third, vow to never do so again, and work hard to keep that vow. Respect the women around you as much as you respect the men. If someone around you acts or speaks inappropriately, speak up, even if there are no women present. Be proactive: make sure that women are given equal opportunity to join those career-building projects, and are included in those backstage chats where decisions are made. If you are hiring, seek out female candidates, keeping in mind that women have a tendency to underestimate their abilities and experience just as men have a tendency to overestimate them. If you are teaching, encourage and mentor female students. Reach out to them if they seem discouraged. Don’t wait until they drop out.

Open your eyes. Open your ears. Listen to the women around you. Believe them. Respect them. Be someone they can vent to and someone they can count on for support when push comes to shove.

You will slip up. When you do, apologize and vow to do better.

As a man, you are, and always have been, part of the problem. Accept it, and start being part of the solution.

Ann Telnaes owes France an apology

Ann Telnaes is a political cartoonist for the Washington Post. Last Sunday, she drew and posted this cartoon:

Ann Telnaes’s cartoon A Letter to Paris

She probably meant well. She probably genuinely thought she was sharing important insights that would serve France well in the days, weeks, and months to come. She probably thought the French—or at least the more politically astute, as she probably likes to think of herself—would appreciate the gesture.

She was wrong, and she owes France an apology.

Let us rewind a little. On Saturday morning, I was awoken by my wife: “Dag-Erling, you need to read the news”. Still groggy, I squinted at my phone and pulled up the front page of my preferred (or should I say least despised) Norwegian newspaper. I read the lede of the top piece, then returned to the front page and scrolled down to try to get the story in chronological order. That was when I saw a headline that made me scream, put down my phone and vow to stay away from the news. That headline was:

This is France’s September 11

We showered and left for a brunch appointment with an American friend of ours. As we sat down at the Nighthawk Diner, I told her straight out: “I do not want to discuss the news, because I am currently unable to do so without saying very rude things about the United States.” She was very gracious about it. So here is what I didn’t say to her:

Since September 11, 2001, the United States have completely monopolized the discourse on terrorism, even to the point of replacing the correct term with an abbreviated one, because it has too many syllables for the semi-literate ape who occupied the Oval Office at the time. They have shaped, or should I say twisted, the narrative to fit their ignorant, arrogant, self-centered, navel-gazing world view, and then exported it to the rest of the world, a large portion of which (including the Norwegian public) has swallowed it whole. In this narrative, terrorism is an exclusively Muslim phenomenon which was invented by Osama bin Laden in 2001; no one but the United States truly knows what it’s like; no one but the United States is truly qualified to fight back; and anyone who criticizes their methods or refuses to participate in illegal wars which fail to achieve anything whatsoever is either a coward or a terrorist sympathizer.

This is not the first time I have had this kind of conversation. A common reaction is “well, OK, but September 11 was unprecedented”. No, it wasn’t. In 1993, al Qaeda detonated a car bomb in the parking garage under the World Trade Center hoping to bring down both towers, but they had parked it in the wrong place. In 1994, an Algerian militant group hijacked Air France flight 8969 in Algiers with the goal of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower, but they had no flight training and were bamboozled by the crew.

Some have described Friday’s attacks as the “worst act of violence towards France since the World War II”. Let me tell you what anyone who has opened a history book or spent five minutes on Wikipedia should know: since World War II, France has gone through two foreign wars, a civil war, various military or “peace-keeping” interventions in the Middle East and former colonies, and several decades as a battlefield for the PLO, the PFLP, Mossad, miscellaneous pro- and anticommunist or -anarchist groups, and Basque and Corsican separatists.

France knows terrorism. France knows how to defend itself. When the Norwegian press reports, breathlessly, that French authorities have sent 1,500 soldiers to Paris, I think to myself: that’s a relatively small number next to the thousands of soldiers and heavily armed police who are already permanently stationed in and around Paris. I’ve lived in Paris both before and after 2001, and the only significant change I’ve noticed is that some trash cans are welded shut and all public buildings have signs indicating the current threat level (on a scale of “red”, “crimson”, and “emergency”).

France also knows that the only way to be one hundred percent safe is to become a police state, but the French have never had much respect for authority and have extensive experience in shaking it off, or at least shaking it up, when it displeases them (cf. 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871, 1934, 1968).

So please, Ann Telnaes, and the rest of the US media (I can only imagine what sort of crap CNN and Fox News have been spouting the last few days): don’t you dare presume to teach France how to deal with terrorism. And don’t you dare use last Friday’s events to score cheap points against your own political establishment.

Monkey see, monkey sue

One of the disputed images (Wikimedia Commons / PD)
In case you hadn’t heard, animal rights organisation PETA and primatologist Antje Engelhardt, Ph.D., are suing photographer David Slater and self-publishing services provider Blurb, Inc., over photos of a crested macaque which Slater published in his book Wildlife Personalities. Motherboard has a pretty good series of articles on the subject.

The core of PETA’s complaint is that the photos were not taken by Slater, but by the monkey, who inadvertently pressed the trigger while looking at her reflection in the lens of a camera which Slater had left unattended. Therefore, quoth PETA, the monkey holds the copyright to the photos, and all proceeds from the use of those photos should go to PETA, because of reasons.

If you thought this was bizarre, it gets better: PETA and Engelhardt are not the nominal plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Instead, they claim to be merely representing Naruto, a male macaque living on the same preserve as the female macaque in the photo. In court documents, they consistently maintain that Naruto is the macaque in the photo; outside of that setting, they have repeatedly acknowledged, at least indirectly, that he is not.

Having read both defendants’ motions to dismiss (the title of this post was shamelessly ripped from Slater’s motion), I am left to ponder the questions of PETA’s standing and of the monkey’s agency.

Standing

Both defendants challenge the plaintiff’s standing on various grounds, including the fact that he is a monkey, but neither of them challenge PETA’s standing, which seems to me to violate the prohibition of third-party standing, unless PETA can show that they have power of attorney for the allegedly injured party (which is, apparently, a different monkey than the one on whose behalf they claim to be acting). I find that strange, but the case is ridiculous for so many other reasons that I doubt it matters, legally speaking.

Agency

PETA claims that the pictured monkey holds the copyright to the photo because she pressed the button that caused the picture to be taken, but they do not claim that she set the camera up, pointed it, or performed any other action integral to the art of photography. Blurb address this tangentially when they quote, indirectly, 100 U.S. 82 (1879):

In this as in regard to inventions, originality is required. And while the word writings may be liberally construed, as it has been, to include original designs for engravings, prints, &c., it is only such as are original and are founded in the creative powers of the mind.

Nor do they claim that she had any idea of what she was doing except looking at a shiny piece of glass at the end of a tube sticking out of a black box.

If PETA prevails, this means that the mere act of triggering a camera set up by someone else, even without any understanding of the concept of a camera or ability to comprehend that an image was taken, grants the subject the copyright to the resulting image. How far will this principle extend? Will it extend to motion-triggered game cameras? Would PETA sue hunters on behalf of deer for the rights to the footage? Would they sue an ornithologist on behalf of crows that trigger cameras set up to study their behavior?

Ah, who am I kidding, of course they would. Because PETA.

On petroleum and the cost of higher education

I came across this Google+ post by Pierre Bonhomme via a fellow FreeBSD user who is currently a researcher at the University of Oslo. The gist of it is that Norway is a land of milk and honey with free higher education for all and sundry, financed by our bottomless oil and gas reserves.

This is, in fact, a collection of mostly factual statements arranged in such a way as to lead the reader to incorrect conclusions in furtherance of the author’s agenda (opposition to the introduction / increase of tuition fees in Canada), buttressed by an impressive collection of links which the author fervently hopes the reader will not bother to follow, because they do not support his message.

Allow me to rebut a few of his points.

Continue reading “On petroleum and the cost of higher education” »

Backpedaling

The Norwegian Conservative Party didn’t win the election. It doesn’t even have a relative majority—the Labor Party is still hanging on in there. But the sum of nominally conservative representatives is now greater than the sum of nominally socialist representatives, so they’re going to try to scrape together a coalition. Unfortunately, they can’t do so without the support of the brownshirts in the Progress Party, who did very badly in the election—losing a third of their parliament seats—but have petulantly threatened to sabotage any conservative coalition they’re not invited to join.

Said brownshirts are trying very hard to pretend that they’re not really brownshirts, and local and national media are mostly willing to accept that. International media, less so. Some of them have latched onto the fact that Anders Behring Breivik was once a member, which is unfair in the sense that he was never a party official or an elected representative or even a candidate and the Progress Party has never advocated violence. It is, however, spot on in the sense that several prominent members of the Progress Party have repeatedly and unrepentently expressed the same extremist philosophy, and even dabbled in victim blaming. Come election season, Progress Party candidates wring their hands and shed crocodile tears and point to their party program, which carefully wraps the issue in euphemisms about tradition and culture, and call their detractors liars and bullies.

The Conservative Party is now desperately trying to whitewash its brownshirt allies so it can realize its dream of forming the first conservative government in eight years, and the first in 23 years to be led by the Conservative Party. Frankly, it seem a bit too desperate—especially when you consider the fact that it’s in a better position now than the last time it formed a government without the Progress Party.

The Progress Party is effectively trying to blackmail its way into the coalition, and unfortunately, it’s likely to succeed. But I think it’s in for a rude awakening—and given its habitual intransigence, I think the odds are good that the coalition will crumble well before the next election. Fingers crossed.