• Democratic Action vs. the Law

    Many Americans think of the courts as a mechanism to change the law when legislatures won’t. In the courtroom, an aggrieved minority can find justice.

    History does not exactly bear this narrative out, however.

    Courts may uphold the rights of a minority, maybe not. Not only is the argument that the judiciary exists to protect us from the tyranny of the majority suspect, but reversing state and local laws through the courts might also be counterproductive for the interests of the minority in the long-run.

    In 2015, the year of the Obgerfell decision, 55 percent of U.S adults favored same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court’s ruling caught up with public opinion, which had changed amazingly quickly in a decade, largely due to the work of activists working in civil society and popular culture.

    In the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, seven people made abortion legal for the entire U.S. overnight.

    Two different issues, yes, but compare the progress made in the shift of societal attitudes on gay rights to abortion where as of last year, 40 percent of Americans believe it “should be illegal in all or most cases,” which is up slightly from where it was in 1995.

    The American civil rights movement also had its court victories, but it combined strategic legal battles with two decades of robust democratic action—public protests, boycotts, sit-ins, persuasive public writing—which culminated in a series of laws passed by Congress.

    Public attitudes on racial issues are certainly not where many activists today would like them to be, but it’s disturbing to consider where they might be if the question of legal racial discrimination in the U.S. had been decided in the courts alone.

  • Americans Don't Want Federalism

    When Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis defied the Obgerfell decision by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, many Americans asked “why hasn’t she been fired?”

    They were disappointed to learn that the Rowan County Clerk is elected and can’t be recalled by people who live ten states away, not matter how vociferously they express their outrage on the Internet.

    This is the problem with the United States today. The Founders created a federal system that delegated most governmental powers to the states. But 140 years ago, some Americans decided to make their stand on states’ rights with the assertion that they had the right to own other humans as property, thereby ruining federalism for the rest of us forever after.

    Unfortunately, politics in the contemporary United States mostly revolves around wedge issues in which roughly half of the country demands that the other half change its value system.

    So national politics has become a zero-sum game in which the Red Tribe and Blue Tribe fight for control of the federal government so they can use its power to ensure that people who live ten states away can’t smoke weed1, can’t own guns2, can’t get abortions3, and must bake wedding cakes for LGBT couples4.

    The U.S. constitution has a mechanism for creating laws that all of the states must follow. But passing amendments is hard. The last amendment this country ratified came about in an Hands-Across-America-style burst of aimless Gen-X do-something-for-the-sake-of-seeing-if-it-can-be-done hijinks. But the Laid-Back ’90s Man is not here anymore and probably wouldn’t be of much help in our age of identity politics anyway.

    What Americans actually seem to want is a set of federal commissars who are empowered to override state officials when they act in opposition to federal policies.

    True, federal judges often serve a similar role by reversing state laws and countermanding state officials. But the president only gets to pick them he’s lucky enough to have some retiring during his term. That doesn’t seem fair for the political tribe who’s candidate wins the presidency only have those black-robed geriatrics stubbornly fighting senility and death. Sometimes appointed judges even get uppity and start ruling with some semblance of independence!

    Commissars appointed and dismissed at the behest of the Executive Branch, on the other hand, would be far more efficient, fair, and, most importantly, devoted to carrying out the president’s mandate.

    Americans believe that power in U.S. system of government resides with the president anyway. Don’t you want the Federal Commissar of California immediately slapping down state officials who declare their jurisdictions to be sanctuary cities? Granted, if the Blue Tribe wins the presidency, you’ll have to put up with the Federal Commissar of Missouri mandating that abortion information be posted at crisis pregnancy centers.

    Don’t dismiss this idea too quickly. Not opting for the Federal Commissariat would necessitate wielding federal power over the states far more sparingly, employed only in specific, extreme situations with no other remedy. It would mean accepting that some of your fellow citizens wish to live under a different set of values than you. We can’t have that.

    1. Or must allow the smoking of weed. 

    2. Or must allow everyone to carry any gun anywhere they want. 

    3. Or must permit and subsidize the murder of babies, as perceived by the Red Tribe. 

    4. Or are permitted to exclude LGBT people from the marketplace and public life, as the Blue Tribe sees it. 

  • How I Got Backblaze to Work

    I know the content of this post this will be painfully obvious to many, but I’ve only recently un-dumbed myself when it comes to this stuff, and I hope I can help others in this regard. Off-site backups are an important part of your data protection triad.1 Ideally, software will conform to your needs and preferences. But cloud backup services are capricious beasts. Here are some lessons I’ve learned to get Backblaze working best.

    • Leave Backblaze on.

    • Leave it set in continuous backup mode.

    • Only have Backblaze backup drives that will always be plugged in.

    Previously, I disabled Backblaze from running automatically upon startup and set it to run backups only when I told it to. I don’t have any documents that I’m working on daily on this PC, just a handful of new files that accumulate in my Downloads folder which I organize and copy locally to an external drive once a week.

    During this weekly session, I’d have Backblaze backup both my main drives and my backup drives. I reasoned that I could just spin up Backblaze if need be. Say if I started a big project during the week, I could just run it while I work on that project. No reason to keep Backblaze running all the time, right?

    However, I’ve found that Backblaze doesn’t react well to being disabled on startup or being asked to backup drives that are spend most of their time unplugged from your machine.2 The latter two practices left me stuck on the “Producing File Lists” dance floor.3

    Backblaze uses minimal resources—5.4 MB memory and no CPU on my machine—unless it’s actively backing up stuff. After months of leaving Backblaze on whenever my computer is running, I haven’t experienced any slowing while working, not even while gaming, so go ahead and leave it running.

    My current backup process is largely unchanged except that I leave the client on as it’s intended to be. I also don’t include my local backup drives in the Backblaze backup anymore. Both the Backblaze backup and the local backups are copies the same main drives. If the main drives are hosed, then having an extra copy of that corrupted/ransomwared data isn’t helpful. In such cases, backup drives that remain unplugged except for the weekly backup session could be my salvation.

    Though a more likely scenario is that the interface between the chair and the keyboard accidentally deletes files on the main drives, which Backblaze would in turn delete from their servers after 30 days. Here too, local backup drives that aren’t plugged into the machine can be the safest bet. Redundant capability, not just redundant systems is best in your backup system. You want to have multiple solutions ready to solve the same problem.

    Other notes:

    If you’ve changed old files or added new files to be backed up but Backblaze isn’t finding them when you click the “Backup Now” button, there is something you can try as suggested to me by the Backblaze support team.

    1. Check the Settings to ensure the drives you want to backup are included.

    2. Click Apply then Ok to get back to the main screen.

    3. Then click on the Restore Options button while holding down the Alt key. This last step forces Backblaze to re-scan your system. Backblaze has always found my new files after this.

    Backblaze screenshot

    Of course, as with any cloud backup system, you should frequently login to your Backblaze account and visit the “Restore/View Files” page to ensure all of your stuff is actually being backed up.

    1. Three is two, two is one, one is none. 

    2. “Duh” you might reply, especially to that last part. To be clear, my external backup drives were plugged in when I’d manually run Backblaze once a week, but I’d find after logging into my Backblaze account that new files on these external drives were not backed up, even though the Backblaze client reported “You are backed up”/”Remaining Files: 0 files/0 KB. 

    3. The music only stops after you’ve bricked a hard drive because you’ve manually restarted your PC in frustration because your PC won’t shut down because Backblaze has taken over an hour to back up a 10 KB file. Did I mention I can’t use computers

  • Even Trump Can Blow Up the World

    Can the president of the United States blow up the world? It’s a dumb question to ask, but exploring the answer reveals a larger truth about the power of the American presidency. The answer should be “obviously not.” Of course no single person has such immense power and certainly that person could never be found leading a country founded in opposition to one-man-rule.

    But the headlines of a flury of explainers written earlier this year in response to presidential candidate Donald Trump’s statements about nuclear weapons gravely confirm the apocalyptic capabilities of the Chief Executive. However, the content of these articles, indeed even the expert (and nuclear-zero activist) who is quoted in each of the articles, present a more complex view.

    Of course no group of sane individuals would create a system that would allow a single individual to send weapons of mass destruction raining over the globe. So how does the system work?

    Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton invokes the image of a “finger on the nuclear button” when arguing that Trump’s temperament makes him unsuitable for the the presidency. Even if your understanding of the procedure for launching nuclear weapons is derived entirely from popular culture, this characterization seems oversimplified.

    I mean, the president has to use a special red phone to call someone in a bunker or a submarine who also has a special red phone, who then must retrieve a set of keys which must be turned simultaneously in two different locks placed far enough apart such that one person can’t turn both of them, and then they can press the button, right? And there’s probably like fingerprint and/or eyeball scanners and/or some sort of voice identity confirmation somewhere along the way too.

    As near as I can tell, the president’s order to launch a nuclear strike must be confirmed by the Secretary of Defense (or their appointed alternates or successors). The SecDef cannot veto the president’s order. This order1 is then transmitted to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who confirms their identities, then directs a pair of Pentagon officers to relay the orders, which are confirmed again by another military officer, to U.S. nuclear forces around the globe, along with codes to arm their nukes.

    So it seems that the president alone can set all of this into motion—assuming that everyone in the chain-of-command from the Secretary of Defense on down unquestionably obey. If presented with clear evidence of an incoming nuclear strike, I assume they would. But what would happen if an insane president ordered an unprovoked nuclear attack because he felt like it?

    The Secretary of Defense, assuming he too hasn’t gone mad, will refuse to second the president’s attack order. So the president relieves him, and then the secretary’s designated successor takes over, and he refuses too. And then he is relieved. This continues until the vice president and the majority of Executive department heads invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment and declare the president incapacitated.

    But say the mad president has filled his cabinet with madmen who will do his bidding? The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and any other officer in the chain-of-command can refuse to carry out an unprovoked or disproportionate offensive nuclear strike, not just by invoking the laws of armed conflict, but Article II of the U.S. Constitution.2

    I suppose the mad president with his mad cabinet could attempt to control the military chain-of-command involved in launching a nuclear strike by purging the U.S. Armed Forces, replacing commanders of U.S. nuclear forces with dependable minions. But at that point, Congress would certainly impeach him, assuming the rest of the military doesn’t oust him first.

    The obvious response is that the U.S. and Soviet Union were, at various times minutes away from nuclear war with ostensibly “rational actors” leading both countries, so putting a crazy person in charge only increases the likelihood of catastrophe.

    I suggest, however, that it’s the “rational actors” who you gotta look out for. They practice their smart power assuming they are too clever to bumble into disaster. Indeed, we see from the 1979 NORAD incident, that rational actor Jimmy Carter was never even woken up so he could rationally decide how to respond to the (perceived) threat.

    Conversely, everyone knows the mad king is dangerous.3 Everyone around the him will work feverishly to avoid situations where the he could do harm. Everyone will be on the lookout for manifestations of his madness so they can remove him from power. Our heightened collective vigilance as we watch the mad king with dread would make us safer.

    But this is a silly point to make.What’s truly frightening about these nuclear close calls, is that the machinery of nuclear war quickly leaves the hands of both the madman and the rational actor. The launch moves forward on autopilot. We’re here in 2016 watching high-definition streams of the U.S. presidential debates on tiny pocket-computers because years ago, individual commanders in a bunker or a sub decided they weren’t given enough cause to kill millions of people.

    There are many compelling reasons not to vote for Donald Trump, but the fear of nuclear war should not be one of them. If you fear nuclear war, get rid of nukes.4

    1. The order specifies the types of targets the U.S. will strike, such as the opponent’s nuclear weapons and the accompanying delivery vehicles, military sites away from cities, military sites near cities, command-and-control centers, or a full-scale attack which presumably includes direct strikes on cities. 

    2. An unprovoked offensive strike by the United States would legally necessitate a declaration of war or at least an authorization for the use of military force by Congress. 

    3. I question the armchair psychologial analysis of Trump. It’s clear he uses belligerence as a tactic, which invites questions about his temperament and judgment, but I’m not convinced that he’s nuke-the-world-on-a-whim crazy as those who criticize him imply. 

    4. Nuclear war likely would not be the extinction event it’s often assumed to be. Cresson Kearny, a researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, wrote a book on the subject in response to hyperbolic and inaccurate anti-nuke propaganda such as the influential 1983 film The Day After

  • Vladimir Putin Is the Russian Reagan

    I began my obsession with podcasts with Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History show. Lately though, I’ve been more interested in other podcasts, but today Carlin reminded me why he’s still worth listening to.

    Vladimir Putin, Carlin tell us, is Russia’s Ronald Reagan. After two decades as an international punchline, after two decades of EU and NATO expansion up to Russia’s boarders, Putin is reminding his people that it’s morning again in Russia, that she will “stand tall” once more.

    Of course America has reenacted the Melian dialogue so many times, she has forgotten how to deal with a true rival.

    Great Powers crush Meloses constantly. But if a Great Power tries to deal with a fellow Great Power like it would a Melos, then that power will remind her adversary, as Carlin says, that she is closer to a Sparta than a Melos.

    Seriously, go listen to Dan Carlin’s latest Common Sense episode.

  • Non-Linear War

    The other day I wrote about TLDR’s terrible episode on Vivek Wadhwa, this guy who talks a lot about women in tech, much to the annoyance of actual women in tech.

    The fallout has been fascinating. I’ve found the conspiracy-mongering is particularly interesting to watch.

    The commenters who have at least a vague notion of the basic responsibilities of reporting?

    They must be Wadhwa’s supporters!

    What should one make of WNYC’s decision to pull the episode?

    Wadhwa must have threatened them!

    What evidence do you have for these claims?

    Well it could be true and well, frankly, we don’t like people like him very much, so it’s probably accurate.

    I don’t know how many of you have watched any of Vice News’s dispatches from Ukraine, but one sees this same sort of paranoid worldview, especially from the videos shot during the early stages of the conflict before things really heated up, and particularly among the pro-Russian separatists (clear evidence of Vice’s bias, of course).

    Information that disputes their narrative? Fabrication. Encounter someone who disagrees with you?

    Provocateur.

    And that’s exactly how they were supposed to react.


    See, conspiracies do exist. The other side is clandestinely funded by the U.S. government (though not so clandestinely anymore).

    There are sophisticated operations to flood Internet comment sections.

    In talking about these issues with friends, I keep hearing the same comment: “Why can’t there be news that just reports facts?”

    The answer is that finding facts is exhausting. And once you’ve found some, they are either too boring to be read or too unthinkable to publish.

  • A Failure to Communicate: Why Everything Probably Isn't a Conspiracy

    For a year in middle school, I carpooled with the family of a girl whom I’ll call Suzanna. Her mom or dad would take me to school in the morning on their way to work and my dad would drop her off at home in the afternoon.

    Suzanna and her family were all very kind and generous people. If we had enough time in the morning her mom would stop at the Bashas’ near my house and buy us soda and snacks.1 My dad wanted some way to repay Suzanna and her family for ferrying his smart-assed spawn to school every morning, so one day, upon picking up Suzanna, he asked her if she’d like to get something to eat with us when we picked her up the next day. Suzanna said sure, that would be great.

    I’m almost positive either Dad or I told her to make sure her parents were okay with that first. We didn’t want to spoil her dinner or anything.

    So the next day, we all go out to eat after school. We had a great time, it was a lot of fun. Upon returning home, we found that Suzanna had not in fact informed her parents of this outing.

    Her mother was so worried that her daughter had not returned home on time that she called Arizona’s highway patrol. Neither Dad nor I owned cell-phones at the time, nor if I remember correctly, did Suzanna, so there was no way of contacting any of us while we were out. Dad was very confused. What was Suzanna’s mom so worried about? We were only out for about an hour more than usual. I was what they’re calling nowadays a free-ranged kid so I imagine Dad wouldn’t be too worried if I were gone for that long.

    Dad’s adorable naiveté about this whole situation was made more ironic, considering that he, like millions of other Americans, watched (and still watches religiously) Dateline NBC and those other TV news magazines that indulge in “true crime” reporting.

    Randy Marsh sitting at a computer.
    South Park had a different name for it. Image courtesy Comedy Central Press.

    It took me a few tries, but when I was finally able to get Dad to understand what was likely racing through Suzanna’s mother’s mind throughout all this, he was horrified and upset that I would consider such a thing. It certainly never entered his head.

    At this point, I’ll mention that Dad’s an immigrant. He came to the U.S. from Thailand in the early ’80s. Even my 14-year-old self wondered if that colored how this whole thing was perceived.

    Children of first-wave immigrants, or anyone who’s seen “Shit Asian Dads Say,” understand how a less-than perfect command of English and a, let’s say developing, understanding of American social conventions can often result in (usually) hilarious situations.

    They got everything right, down to the wrapping of electronics in plastic like a madman.


    In any case, the confusion was cleared up and Susanna and I enjoyed the carpooling services of each other’s families for the rest of the year, including detours for junk food and slightly-better-than-junk-food food, though this time with more perspicuous parental notification.

    I tell you this story, dear reader, in an attempt to illustrate how easily ominous conclusions can be drawn from the mundane.

    Because if Meredith Haggerty and the producers of “Quiet, Wadhwa,” the Feb. 6 episode of On the Media’s 2 spin-off podcast on Internet culture, acknowledged this, they could have produced something much more interesting than the deeply flawed episode they actually made.

    At the time of this writing the original piece has been removed and replaced with the following note:

    TLDR episode 45, published Friday, February 6, has been removed. We are working on a piece for On the Media that will include a range of views on advocacy for women in technology.

    Addendum: WNYC decided to remove this episode, because it centered on an internet debate about author Vivek Wadhwa and we failed a basic test of fairness: we did not invite him to comment. We are planning a follow-up that will address both the original issue and the ensuing conversation around the removal of the episode. We are keenly aware of the discussion out there and will release the new piece as soon as it is ready.

    The 11 minute segment has been re-posted by a helpful fellow here. Give it as listen as I’ll be discussing it in detail.

    So if TLDR is now scrambling to produce a segment that “includes[s] a range of views on advocacy for women in technology,” then what did they actually produce on the Friday last?

    The episode is a discussion of Amelia Greenhall’s recent blog post about an academic/tech entrepreneur named Vivek Wadhwa, who has positioned himself as an advocate for women in tech. A position that some (many? most?) women in tech would prefer be filled by actual women in tech.

    Greenhall, an accomplished woman in tech, describes how Wadhwa became the go-to authority on the subject by “trading up the chain”; leveraging the publication of one’s work in one outlet in order to get it published at bigger and better places.

    Readers, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure trading up the chain is how the publishing industry works. It certainly doesn’t make Wadhwa an expert on women in tech, but it doesn’t show why he shouldn’t be writing about it either.

    Greenhall’s issue with Wadhwa is that he’s “taking up space,” and “sucking all the air out of the room” by getting published and quoted by journalists on the issue of women in tech instead of actual women in tech. But is that Vivek Wadhwa’s fault or the fault of the editors and journalists who’ve published his work and sought his comments?

    Wadhwa should turn down interview requests on stories about women in tech and point journalists towards “someone more qualified,” says Greenhall at the end of the piece. And while I agree it would be nice if, for example, the co-architects of the current horror show in the Middle East stopped opining about America’s foreign policy and handed the mic to someone else, you know an idea is bankrupt when the proposed solution is for discredited pundits to self-deport from the conversation.

    Why do journalists get a pass here?

    I’d like to hear why the editors of the various outlets in which Wadhwa’s writing have been published chose to hear from him. I think it would be quite revealing to hear the criteria by which journalists deem someone an expert whose voice deserves to be heard over others.

    But instead of exploring those issues, the discussion turns to Wadhwa’s perceived creepiness.

    Much is made about Wadhwa’s “token floozies” comment. I would tell you more, but I don’t really know much more. In the TLDR episode Greenhall just repeats what she wrote in her blog post:

    There was the “Floozies” incident. Basically Vivek got on stage at a Bloomberg conferencein January 2014 and talked about the importance of hiring women in influential leadership roles, not just as “token floozies.” He tried to ignore the criticism for several days, including a blog post by management consultant Mary Trigiani calling him out for it. He then published a condescending public response to Trigiani that belittled and gaslighted her as having “personal difficulties.”

    The full context of Wadhwa’s words seem important here. Is he saying that all or most women in tech are “token floozies”? Is he saying that “token floozies” is what the boards of tech companies want, and that this is a bad thing?

    Few things are more suspicious than a narrative crafted around a two-word quote from a lengthy speech. If the context supports the claim, people are pretty eager to show the full context.

    However, the Daily Beast article Greenhall links to doesn’t link to the actual talk Wadhwa gave. Nor does Trigiani’s blog post. I’ve done some searching for the talk, and while I can find a number of Wadhwa’s talks, I can’t find one from the “Hacking Gender” Bloomberg conference in January 2014. If anyone knows where I can watch/listen to it, please let me know.

    Wadhwa’s “condescending public response” was posted by him the the comments of Trigiani’s post and on Medium. His response is dismissed out of hand with another two-word quote. Here’s the paragraph where Wadhwa supposedly “belittled and gaslighted [Trigiani] as having ‘personal difficulties’”:

    When, later in the evening, someone pointed out that the slang word that I used had a different meaning than I thought, I apologized profusely. I felt really, really horrible and I literally lost sleep over this. You, on the other hand, stormed away and behaved in a highly unprofessional manner. I asked several people why you were reacting this way and they said that I should ignore you because you had “personal difficulties”. A couple of people said you had a reputation for behaving in this manner. I did not want to ask more because I was not sure of what was motivating you to behave the way in which you did. That is why I chose not to respond to your barrage of angry tweets.

    And here are the paragraphs from Trigliani’s blog to which it appears Wadhwa was responding:

    By Tuesday evening, I was enduring the remarks of a so-called expert in talent who fretted that “token floozies” in companies like are not truly women of the tech workforce. Who then refused to explain what he meant. For two days now.

    You see, he expects only to pontificate. To not answer questions unless they are posed in a way that flatters his ego and sustains his superiority, both in the asking and the answering. Should this man be challenged, watch out. He cites Duke University, Stanford University, Singularity University, WASHINGTON POST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and startup Trove as the stars in his CV, and so far, they see no need to call for an explanation, either. Rumor has it he has a book coming out about how women are leaving tech employers in droves.

    So in context, we see that Wadhwa was in fact responding to her challenge for an explanation.

    In context we see that Wadhwa’s “gaslighting”3 could also be just as neatly interpreted as Look dude, I heard you were going through some heavy shit, so figured it would be best to not respond, but now you’ve slammed my work on a public forum, questioned the intentions behind my work, and accused me of being unwilling to respond criticism, so now I’m responding.

    Daily Show segment on context.
    "It's the shit you have in your tape library which gives seemingly unrelated incidents perspective." (Source. Screenshot by author.)

    On the claim that Wadhwa is frequently “condescending” or “paternalistic,” I’d like to remind everyone that he is a professor at two “Ivy-plus” schools. He’s written books and his articles have been published in national newspapers.

    I’m not saying any of that qualifies him to opine on so much as the opening of a new jogging path in San Jose, but college professors are pretty damn condescending and paternalistic, not just towards women in tech, towards everyone.

    Heck, my uncle is a retired elementary teacher and if someone pushes past him on the subway, he has to fight the urge to stop the young man and lecture him on manners.

    So if one criticizes Wadhwa’s work—as everyone should be able to—it shouldn’t seem crazy that he might go into professor mode, assuming that the disagreement is due to his failure to effectively express himself, and that if he keeps trying, eventually everyone will agree with him.

    Even if that isn’t an accurate assessment of his behavior—which it very well many not be—it’s no less unreasonable than Greenhall and Haggerty’s apparent assumption that Wadhwa acts like a paternalistic, condescending prick when he converses with women.

    But perhaps Wadhwa was wrong to mention “personal difficulties,” whether or not they indeed exist, in a public venue, yes? They are “personal” after all. Maybe it would be better if he tried communicating to his critics via a more informal platform? Maybe he could be more easily understood in a more casual conversation?

    Well if you listened to “Quiet, Wadhwa,” you know where I’m going next.

    “He has a tendency,” darkly intones Haggerty, “to DM” or direct message his female critics on Twitter.

    Greenhall describes Twitter’s DMs thusly:

    It’s really like this non-consensual, “let’s go over here, where people can’t see you criticizing me, maybe I can talk to you there.” Wadhwa has done this to several women.

    UPDATE: (Feb. 15, 2015) In his Feb. 14 response published in Venture Beat, Wadhwa says that he has only sent Twitter DMs to one woman, Kelly Ellis, who's screenshots of the conversation are discussed below.

    Haggerty: It really feels like the Twitter DM can be like the “hand on the knee” of social communication.

    Greenhall: I don’t follow that many men because I’ll see them through Twitter lists, but if you’re mutually following them, that opens up that DM channel and you just get a lot of unwanted private messages that are pretty gross usually.

    That’s a hell of a lot of intent being ascribed to Wadhwa. First, Greenhall’s insinuation that Wadhwa is using Twitter’s direct messaging system to send untoward messages to women to ensure that their responses are not public is undermined by screenshots taken by Kelly Ellis, a woman he messaged, in which he asks her to make the entire discussion public:

    So his plan is to have a secret conversation, only to request that it be made public, because...? (Screenshot by Kelly Ellis.)

    Ellis posted two sets of screenshots of her DMs with Wadhwa here and here.

    The other element of intent placed on Wadhwa is that everyone knows that only creeps who send “gross” private messages send Twitter DMs to women and yet he sends them anyway.

    First, it’s not clear that Wadhwa is aware of that convention. Do many or most male Twitter users know how some/many/most women view DMs? Maybe the guy who promotes himself as an advocate for women in tech should know these things and by being unaware he further crystallizes why he should stop.

    But even if Wadhwa is aware, to whatever extent, of how (most? all? some?) women perceive DMs, it’s quite possible that the idea that he could come across in such a manner, just as the notion that a mother might—for completely understandable reasons—grow increasingly worried when Suzanne should have been home 45 minutes ago and was last seen with that middle-aged foreign guy she doesn’t know too well, never crossed Dad’s mind either.

    Regardless, the aspersions continue to fly. In his direct messages, Greenhall notes that Wadhwa repeatedly invites the women he’s conversing with to continue the discussion in person:

    He asks them to come meet him, like, “meet me in person,” “come to Standford,” “come to my office,” “come meet me,” “come sit on my lap, you bad, little, young woman.”

    Indeed, Wadhwa could be attempting to lure women to his office for nefarious purposes. Or looking at it another way, maybe Wadhwa is frustrated that members of a group for whom he sees himself as an advocate are upset with him and the written word by which he makes his living isn’t helping, and in exasperation he asks some of these women to meet him to discuss this in person, hoping that maybe then they might understand that he is on their side. But for reasons for which he’s at fault (which I’ll get to below) and other reasons which are entirely unfair, they’ve stopped buying what he’s selling.

    Of course, the sinister explanation makes for better radio.

    UPDATE: (Feb. 15, 2014) In his Feb. 14 response published in Venture Beat, Wadhwa gives his own account of his conversation with Kelly Ellis.

    In his response to Trigliani’s blog post on his “floozies” comment, Wadhwa blames his poor understanding of American slang, as he learned English in India, where the dialect contains far more Britishisms than American slang.

    Wadhwa expresses similar confusion in a DM with Kelly Ellis:

    Wait, who gets to define these words again? (Screenshot by Kelly Ellis.)

    Greenhall and Haggerty suggest that Wahdwa’s claimed misunderstanding even further disqualifies him from writing and speaking about women in tech. Greenhall argues that:

    [e]ven if you do take him at his word, I think it’s totally disturbing. Has he really been this spokesman for women in tech for all these years, while he’s believing that women can’t be nerds, because that’s like super misogynist because VCs only want to invest in nerds and they have a lot of power in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area.

    Wait, Wadhwa’s misunderstanding the nuances of certain American slang words is misogynist because venture capitalist firms only want to invest in nerds? Is Greenhall saying Wadhwa believes that? Has Wadhwa made that claim about VCs? Is there evidence to support that claim? Was there any actual reporting done in this episode?

    I always thought “nerd” implied a sense of social isolation, whereas “geek” meant an obsessive knowledge about a particular thing; e.g. there can be sports geeks, music geeks, computer geeks, etc. There appears to be a wide variety of definitions of and connotations with the words nerd and geek in the American-English-speaking world alone.

    Why must everyone subscribe to the same nuances of words like geek and nerd to comment on women in tech?

    Haggerty and Greenhall then share Wadhwa quotes that confound them.

    Haggerty: “Women should let the boys have their social media while they save the world.” What does that even mean?

    Good question, Haggerty. Why didn’t you ask him?

    UPDATE: Feb. 15, 2014 According to his Feb. 14 response published in Venture Beat), the line Haggerty is bewildered by is the title of an article he wrote "on why the future belongs to women."

    I realize that this is an opinion piece. Amelia Greenhall has every right to publish her opinions. However, Haggerty and the producers at OTM and TLDR are journalists with an obligation to ensure that their broadcasts meet the ethical standards of their profession. Which compel journalists to:

    – Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.

    – Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.

    – Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

    “Quiet, Wadhwa” concludes with a list of genuinely scummy examples of his shameless self-promotion—including stealing bylines—over actions that would help ensure journalists heard more from women in tech, like actually pointing journalists towards women in tech.

    But TLDR’s failure to meet “a basic test of fairness,” as the note on the removal page puts it, calls into question all of the claims put forth in the episode.

    UPDATE: (Feb. 15, 2015) In his Feb. 14 response published in Venture Beat, Wadhwa contends that the examples listed in the TLDR episode as evidence that he obscures the work of women to promote and enrich himself are incorrect or mischaracterized.

    While I don’t think Vivek Wadhwa deserves to be the go-to guy on women in tech (more so than anyone else, at least), I don’t think it’s very productive to attempt to silence him in return for all his egocentric bloviating.

    In the end, I think this incident will only serve Amelia Greenhall and Meredith Haggerty’s ideological opponents. The malicious intent they are certain they read in Wadhwa’s Twitter messages will be heard in the sloppy reporting, the episode’s removal, and whatever OTM comes up with to replace it.

    But maybe they would have heard that anyway. There’s this quote I like from Sarah Miller writing for Time . It aptly diagnoses the problem with the simplistic narratives peddled by advocacy journalism. “While the world should certainly have respect for feminism,” Miller writes, “I’d like to see feminism have a little more respect for chaos and ambiguity.

    To chaos and ambiguity.

    UPDATE #2: (Feb. 22, 2015) Last Thursday, TLDR released an episode revisiting their "Quiet, Wadhwa" piece. You'll grimace through all 23 minutes of it, but it's quite illuminating.

    TLDR producer Katya Rogers admits to being "in a bubble" when she and Meredith Haggerty produced the original piece. In an age of identity politics, I really hope journalists' ethical obligations to be fair and seek comment from all parties won't be tossed aside as an insidious method of silencing and minimizing those who journalists cast as the oppressor in their narratives.

    It seems both Haggerty and Wadhwa thought that a long, mostly un-edited interview would vindicate their respective positions. The end result, however, is that both of them come off even worse.

    Haggerty continues to appear oblivious to the implications of blithely characterizing someone's behavior as sexual harassment in a news broadcast.

    Wahdwa refutes the accusations of financial impropriety, byline-stealing, and "taking up space" in the conversation which Amelia Greenhall leveled at him, but comes across as every bit the paternalistic, condescending prick that the original TLDR episode cast him as. Lots of lines like "these women don't understand how journalism works" and asserting how awesome an advocate he is for women and minorities.

    Although I still think the problems with his tone are largely compounded by the cultural barrier through which he's attempting to communicate.

    Since TLDR doesn't confirm Greenhall's accusations or deny Wadhwa's denials for the more easily confirmed claims regarding money and properly crediting people, I'm going to assume the accusations are bunk. Which means all we're left with is tone policing.

    I'm sorry, but I can't agree that someone should be "quiet," as TLDR #45 instructs, because I or others dislike his tone.

    1. A practice which I guess sounds rather negligent nowadays, but which Suzanna and I thoroughly enjoyed. 

    2. I don’t mean to pick on On the Media again, but I listen to them a lot so I hear a lot more of their brilliant moments and their missteps than those of other news outlets. 

    3. Gaslighting is a disturbing form of mental abuse. However, online the term is frequently wielded against anyone who suggests that the wielder’s interpretation of something may be incorrect. By suggesting that you didn’t mean for the wielder to interpret what you wrote in that way, according to this line of thinking, you are also suggesting that the wielder is crazy, and thus you are gaslighting. Scott Alexander explains this sort of motte-and-bailey stratagem here. People want to apply a term loaded with serious implications upon conditions that are far removed from the scope of the original meaning. Put simply, people hope to win an argument by accusing their opponent of inflicting emotional violence upon them. Gaslighting is a real phenomenon that is no doubt also practiced by abusers on the Internet. The term should certainly be employed when appropriate, but the word carries too much freight for journalists to toss about lightly. 


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