tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2030-12-18 02:14 pm

How to post comments if you don't have a Dreamwidth account

I request that you read my comment policy before commenting, especially if you don't know me offline.

If you have a LiveJournal account and want to leave comments on my journal, you can do that without giving Dreamwidth a password or any personal information except an email address. You can follow these instructions (with slight modifications) if you have an account on a site that provides OpenID credentials, too. (For example, any Google or Google+ account should work this way.) Here's how:

  1. Go to the main Dreamwidth page
  2. Follow the "Log In with OpenID" link
  3. In the "Your OpenID URL" box, put yourusername.livejournal.com. For example, if I wanted to log in with my LiveJournal account, I would type "catamorphism.livejournal.com".
  4. Click Login.
  5. Click "Yes, just this time" or "Yes, always" when LiveJournal asks if you want to validate your identity.
  6. The first time you log in, you'll see a message "Please set and confirm your email address". Click the "set" link and follow the instructions.
  7. You'll get an email from Dreamwidth containing a link. Follow the link to confirm your email address.
  8. Follow the instructions. You should now be able to leave comments.

Edited to add as of February 26, 2013: There have been intermittent problems with using OpenID to log in to Dreamwidth. The most reliable way to comment is to create a Dreamwidth account, which is free.
tim: A warning sign with "Danger" in white, superimposed over a red oval on a black rectangle, above text  "MEN EXPLAINING" (mansplaining)
2014-08-31 12:37 pm
Entry tags:

Giving money

I wrote this as a comment on a friends-only LiveJournal post, so I'm reproducing it here.

"I figure that since my employer doesn't monitor how I spend my paychecks to make sure I don't spend it on booze, drugs, porn, etc. but rather only on nutritious food and sensible clothing, I am going to give to people on the street, and in fact I am going to assume giving to people on the street does more good than giving it to white people with good salaries who decide which people on the street are deserving (which is more or less what [REDACTED] said, I'm just agreeing with her).

Since I believe that I am rather good at figuring out how to spend money on things I want and need if someone just gives it to me, I'm not going to condescend to poorer people and assume they're not as good at it. (In fact, they're probably better at it, having managed to survive this long.)"

I'd add to this that I see an analogy: donating money to disease-specific charities (especially for diseases whose cures are open-ended research problems and that tend to affect people who are privileged enough not to die young of an infectious disease) : supporting global public health efforts :: donating money to white people with good salaries who will then decide how to allocate it among the poor (after taking their own cut) : giving money on the street to people who ask for it.

That said, I won't usually give on the street when I'm with other people, since in my experience that leads to pressure on the other people to give too, and I guess I put my friends' comfort first... which may not be the right set of priorities. I also don't give every time I'm asked, but I would like to give more often. My reflex (trained into me through years and years of living in cities and being influenced by people who were anti-giving) is just to say "no". And truthfully, I read this one _Babysitters' Club_ book when I was six or so where one of the characters opens up her wallet to give money to a panhandler and the more street-wise character scolds her with "he's just trying to get you to take out your wallet so he can steal it", which left its imprint on me (the bad thing, of course, wouldn't be losing my wallet, but shamefully being "gullible" which is obviously the worst thing you can be). Anyway, I'm trying to train myself out of those reactions.
tim: A warning sign with "Danger" in white, superimposed over a red oval on a black rectangle, above text  "MEN EXPLAINING" (mansplaining)
2014-08-01 08:22 pm
Entry tags:

Achievement unlocked

In 2004, I attended ICFP in Snowbird, Utah. At the time, Paul Graham was on the schedule to give an invited talk entitled "Don't make the wrong mistakes: programming as debugging".

That might have been an interesting talk. The talk Graham actually gave was "storytime with Grandpa about the dot-com bubble" (which was all of three years ago, at the time.) I don't remember much about the talk, which was quite inane. I do remember the quotes I wrote down on LiveJournal at the time, which I approved of (shamefully... but it was ten years ago):

"It's no coincidence that I'm dressed like this... it's to make an important point. The coincidence is that I'm always dressed like this." -- PG
"Nerds dress informally as a prophylactic against stupidity." -- PG
"If you go to Google and search for 'nerd', I'm what you get." -- PG
"If your code miscalculates the path of a space probe, you can't dodge your way out of it by saying that your code is patriotic." -- PG


There is a liberally rewritten transcript of his talk on his web site. It still has nothing to do with the abstract he submitted to ICFP for his talk. (Full text for all you non-ACM-members out there. I'm pretty sure it's short enough to qualify as fair use.)

Anyway, what's not in the liberally rewritten transcript was the bit where, in the Q&A session afterward, someone asked him his opinion of outsourcing. And Graham said -- I'm paraphrasing -- that he thought outsourcing would be a self-limiting trend, because, "You can send things to India all you want, but eventually you realize you have to hire real programmers."

This is notable because while racism is thoroughly shot through Silicon Valley, it's rarely stated that overtly, that unashamedly, and by someone with some degree of social capital.

In any case, I guess Graham was namesearching on a Friday night, since out of nowhere, he replied to a tweet of mine that was about something else, giving me the occasion to post the tweet that is the pinnacle of my career.

Achievement unlocked: being told by Paul Graham that I should be ashamed of myself.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2014-07-29 11:21 am
Entry tags:

Ethical Culture Fit

So far, the responses to my article "Killing the Messenger at Mozilla" on Model View Culture have been almost completely positive. (That's almost a bit disappointing, because if no one gets shirty about it, then I worry that I haven't done my job.)

But there's one response that may superficially seem compelling. I thought about addressing it in the article, but ended up leaving it out for space reasons and because I felt like I, and others, had talked about it over and over, and that at this point, if someone is still using this argument, they are simply not listening. I'm an eternal optimist, though, so I want to summarize my thoughts on it one more time. The tl;dr version is that concern over "forcing the resignations of CEOs over political donations" is a red herring. The concern is not really about political donations, but about forcing the resignations of CEOs over the kinds of political donations that white heterosexual cis men tend to make -- thus, the concern is really about excluding people in that narrow social clique of folks who have always taken for granted that they will be included in any space they want to be in.

Who pays for free speech?

A representative example of the argument is:

"...but I remain unconvinced that we really want to force the resignations of CEOs over political donations." -- Jason Pontin

(I'm picking this tweet for concreteness, not out of a desire to portray Pontin's specific comment as uniquely heinous.)

It makes me viscerally angry that this is still a tenable response to critiquing putting bigots in charge of public interest organizations. I think it makes me so angry because it's so disingenuous. Literally nobody believes that there is never an occasion when a CEO could make a political donation that is incompatible with the mission of their company or organization. The debate is about which donations are acceptable, and it frustrates me to no end that folks make such an absolutist, obviously shallow argument to avoid confronting the real issue.

The hidden assumption is that public spaces belong to heterosexual men. Everyone else dwells in public spaces at the pleasure of heterosexual men. Therefore, to exclude a heterosexual man from such a space -- especially from a leadership position! -- requires far more basis than excluding anybody else.

I want to be absolutely clear that I don't think this response is quite the same response as the even shallower (but still popular) "Everybody has the right to do and say whatever they want and keep their jobs, because free speech." This response has been addressed exhaustively (see Valerie Aurora's "What Free Speech Really Means" for just one example), far beyond what the time and effort it deserves.

The question "do we really want to drive someone out because of a different opinion?" is different because rather than appealing to shady constructions of individual rights, it raises a question about the public good. Latent in the question is the liberal (with a small 'l') notion that diversity of ideas is always a good thing. Subscribers to this, the liberal viewpoint, say that if we merely include people with a variety of ideas and opinions in our community, the best outcome will naturally happen rather than if we made any intentional effort to actually make a variety of people feel safe in that community.

Donations, by the way, are definitely speech. A political donation is political speech, and as such, is necessarily public. Don't trust me on that one -- just ask the Supreme Court. Donating money is absolutely a form of speech, and as such, should be assessed in the same way as other kinds of public speech would be.

But what about the "public" part? There is a very good reason why political donations are public. It's not, as some have suggested, a procedural accident that means Eich's donation record should be politely ignored. The privilege of privately donating money to influence the political process and thereby affect the public is inseparable from corruption. Put another way, if you are going to interfere with my life, you don't get to keep your own identity a secret from me while doing so -- if you want privacy, you always have the option of not interfering with my life. Given that I can't opt out of a law preventing me from marrying, it's only fair that the people who underwrote that law can't opt out of me knowing who they are.

While it's a bit more sophisticated than "but free speech?", "do we really want to drive someone out because of a different opinion?" is still the wrong question. I think a better question is, "Is a man who paid money to run advertisements insinuating that dozens of his employees rape children, not because they have actually done so but because they have queer relationships with adults, someone who is well-equipped to carry out the mission of his company?" Details matter.

Not only is it the wrong question, it implies a false equivalence. The subtext here (made much more explicit by various voices online) is that anti-queer bullying -- including bullying backed up with the full power of the state, such as the ultimately-unsuccessful effort to make Proposition 8 law in California -- is exactly the same thing as fighting back against that bullying. "You're just as bad as they are!", say these voices, shaming queer folks with the suggestion that we deserve no empathy, compassion or tolerance because our defiance of oppression makes us exactly like our oppressors.

Not only is it the wrong question, it's misleading, and it's hard to believe that it's not deliberately misleading. While Pontin's question explicitly refers only to donations rather than opinions or beliefs, it's hard to understand it except via an appeal to (once again) the liberal notion of diversity of ideas and tolerance for all ideas (including ideas that would, if broadly adopted, destroy liberalism). Without some belief in the inherent value of diversity of opinion, it would be hard to understand why someone shouldn't be held to account for their political donations. The statement "but I remain unconvinced that we really want to force the resignations of CEOs over their actions" would plainly be absurd. And there is no special reason to grant immunity to the act of paying other people to do things, other than (perhaps) desire to give rich people an additional way to do wrong without accountability. If there was, contract killing would be less harshly punished than any other form of murder. We're talking about actions, not ideas.

People keep talking about how Brendan Eich shouldn't have been held accountable for his views about "homosexuals", or his views about "traditional marriage", in one breath, and in the next breath about how his donation doesn't reveal anything about his views about "homosexuals" or marriage. You can't have it both ways. In point of fact, I agree with Eich's defenders about one thing: we don't know anything about Eich's views on queer people, marriage, or anything else pertaining to Proposition 8. We only know about his actions, which can and should be judged in their own right. If the conversation we're having was about Eich's "private" beliefs, we wouldn't be having it, because we wouldn't know anything about those beliefs! That's the definition of "private", after all.

If we take it as a given that the conversation is about actions rather than beliefs, the question remains of how to evaluate Eich's actions. Here are some concrete effects that the campaign for Proposition 8 had:

  • It caused more people to think that queer people are more likely to abuse children than heterosexuals are (actually, the opposite is true), and/or strengthened their existing misconceptions to that effect.
  • It provided further moral legitimacy to those who terrorize queer youth (and queer adults) with physical and verbal violence.
  • It contributed to the levels of fear and stress experienced by queer people, especially young queer people. The copious deleterious physical and emotional effects of chronic stress are well-documented.
  • It incited kids and teenagers to bully their peers whose parents are queer.

Here are some concrete effects that the campaign did not have:

  • It did not strengthen marriages between heterosexual men and heterosexual women. (As far as I know, the divorce rates are still where they were before.)
  • It did not result in the passage of the legislation it purported to pass.

The second point is worth dwelling on. Proposition 8 proposed an unconstitutional law. There was nothing particularly subtle about this. In his Perry v. Brown decision, Judge Vaughn Walker noted the absolute vacuity of all the arguments that were presented in favor of the proposition's constitutionality. If the case was Prop. 8 supporters' best effort to show that the state of California had a compelling interest in regulating intimate relationships, they failed spectacularly. It's hard to imagine that they didn't see that coming. I'm sure many people who voted for and financially supported Prop. 8 believed it would be feasible to make it the law of the land, but I think the folks who campaigned hardest for it were probably bright enough to realize it was doomed. It's hard to imagine that in their minds, the expected value of sneaking an unconstitutional law through the legislative process exceeded the expected value of conducting a smear campaign against members of gender, romantic, and sexual minorities.

It frustrates me that the folks saying things like what Pontin said refuse to own up to what the vague language of "political donations" actually refers to here: violence. This is not hyperbole -- according to the World Health Organization, violence is

"the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation." -- WHO Violence Prevention Alliance

As per the WHO's typology of violence, political donations like the ones made in support of Prop. 8 fall under the category of "collective violence": "violence committed by larger groups of individuals and can be subdivided into social, political and economic violence."

Let's try rephrasing that comment yet again:

"...but I remain unconvinced that we really want to force the resignations of CEOs over violence."

I'm not going to say that no one would sincerely make this statement -- after all, many people leapt to the defense of Scott Kveton, who was (at most) obliged to take a leap of absence. But it's harder to defend than the initial formulation. If you want to argue about whether or not it's really violence to fund a propaganda campaign aimed at encouraging scapegoating of a vulnerable minority group, I guess you can. It would at least beat disingenuously claiming that everybody should find any political activity their supervisor undertakes to be acceptable.

I do think it's difficult for some people to understand the difference between "differences of opinion" and violence aimed at a vulnerable minority group. If you have ever been in a vulnerable minority group, you know the difference. I've been over this before in "A Problem With Equality".

What if I want something that hasn't got spam in it?

As I also wrote about in "A Problem With Equality", some points of view have the effect of dominating discourse and making it hard or impossible for other points of view to flourish.

An analogy is weeding a garden: even people who love plants need to get rid of plants that use a disproportionate share of space. While there's nothing wrong with letting your front yard grow wild (so long as you aren't subject to an HOA's rules, anyway), you will probably have fewer different species of plants as a result than you would if you pulled weeds and made a deliberate effort to plant many different kinds of flowers. Likewise, people responsible for parks and open spaces make an effort to reduce or eliminate the share of resources taken up by invasive species. This isn't because they want less diversity of plant species -- it's because they want more diversity of plant species.

Ideas are like that too. If you believe that all opinions are worth listening to, I suggest that you try turning off your email program's spam filter for a week and see if you can still conduct your professional and personal life. In truth, no one believes that all opinions are equally desirable. If this was really a widely accepted truth, your city or town hall would be covered in Lyndon LaRouche flyers, you wouldn't be able to attend a conferences without someone standing up during the question and answer period to talk about chemtrails, and you would say "yes" whenever a street canvasser asks whether you have a moment to spare for the environment. The world would be a very different place. It's not just that everyone has their own set of preferences for which opinions they listen to, tolerate, or detest. It's also that everybody recognizes that the presence of some kinds of speech makes the metaphorical garden of ideas less diverse, not more, just as invasive plants make literal gardens less diverse. It's why we have spam filters, the do-not-call list, and "No Soliciting" signs. If we didn't have these things, we wouldn't have any time to develop our own ideas -- we'd be too busy listening to people trying to sell us something.

Given that the supposed goal of anti-queer activism is to make everybody heterosexual, I think the analogy with invasive species is apt. At least Scotch broom doesn't try to turn other plants into Scotch broom besides just taking away their room to grow! Really, though, I think most anti-queer activists probably know that other people's sexuality is non-negotiable, and merely seek to make queer people's lives as difficult as possible.

It's hard to grow and thrive when people around you are telling you that you should change fundamental aspects of your self or that you don't belong in your community because of those fundamental traits. It's especially difficult when those people are your managers or the heads of your company. Given the choice, you might just choose to go to a company where your managers and executives won't say those things. If they're not telling you those things directly, merely making it a matter of public record that they want your life to be harder than it is, that's not necessarily any easier to tolerate. Even if bigotry-underwriting CEOs are always nice to you to your face, never treat you in a way that's obviously unfair, their presence corrodes your ability to trust the fairness of your organization's decision-making processes. In an environment of fairness, you can be sure that if your manager criticizes your performance, it's because they think you need to work on improving something. When your leaders' support for bigotry is on the public record, it's impossible to be free from the nagging question of whether it's really about your work, or the fact that somebody up there wishes you didn't exist.

Different goals, not different tactics

Returning to Pontin's words, "...we really want to..." raises the question of who "we" are and what we want. Perhaps he and I just want different things.

I want to encourage diversity of opinion, and tactically, I would advise anyone else who wants the same thing to make a specific effort to include points of view that usually get marginalized. The points of view that enjoy majority endorsement will take care of themselves. Of course, other people might not want what I want. But I don't think it's so controversial that all other things being equal, a public organization should strive to encourage diversity of opinion within their ranks -- indeed, this is exactly what many of Eich's defenders have said.

So if we assume for the sake of argument that we all want to encourage diversity of opinion, how are we to go about doing so -- concretely, in the organizations where we work or volunteer? One approach is the laissez-faire method: just let it all hang out. But if you've ever attended a meeting without a moderator, you know that approach doesn't work. The people who can yell the loudest will get heard, leaving everybody else to fight just to get a word in.

Another approach is to maintain a social contract that explicitly calls out inclusion. It's best when such a contract is explicit rather than implicit, because it's not fair to expect people to follow rules they don't know about. I think this is a better approach than the laissez-faire approach, because having explicit policies makes it possible for everyone to be heard, not just those who can yell the loudest and longest. Part of such a social contract can be the expectation that people will refrain from public speech that has a chilling effect on the free speech of others -- particularly on the speech of those who are most vulnerable to oppression, since protecting the free speech of people who are politically powerful is superfluous. Sometimes these contracts are called codes of conduct.

Another thing that's very frustrating about the "do we really want to drive out a person for? ..." approach is that it mistakes a difference of opinion about goals for a difference of opinion about tactics. I don't think someone asking this question has the same goals as I do. I can only conclude that they have the goal of making corporations safe places for people who have any opinions that a white heterosexual man would be likely to have, while I have the goal of making them safe places for everybody who is willing to work respectfully with others. It's easy for other heterosexual men to defend Eich because they can imagine themselves being in his shoes, but can't imagine what it's like to be a queer person in a heterosexual world. I realize that it's easier for someone who looks a lot like Eich to imagine no longer being welcome in their job because the world has made progress that they haven't caught up with than it is for them to imagine dealing with the daily microaggressions that come with being part of a minority group. But it's still frustrating for me that they refuse to even try to take another point of view, given how much time I have to spend taking their point of view just so I can survive.

False equivalences

"It's important to be able to work with people who you disagree with." I can't count the number of times this has been said about the Eich crisis, and it's closely related to the idea that we don't really want to force the resignations of CEOs over political donations. It's smarmy, condescending, and erases power imbalances.

It is condescending to tell me I need to be able to work with people I disagree with when if I refused to work with people I disagree with, I would immediately be unemployed and, shortly afterward, bankrupt. Working with people we disagree with is a necessary survival skill for those of us whose basic humanity is still up for debate. Not only do we have to work with people we disagree with -- we have to work with people who disagree with us about whether we're people, about whether we're capable of telling the truth about our own subjective experiences. The smarmy folks talking down to us about how we need to be able to tolerate differences will never have to experience that.

It also erases power imbalances to implore us to "work with people [we] disagree with" -- the recasting of structural violence as "disagreement" implies falsely that a queer person who says "no, really, I'm telling the truth when I say I love my partner just as much as you love your spouse" to a heterosexual person has equal power -- is accorded as much respect and credence -- as a heterosexual person who says "gay people's relationships are just about sex, not love". There is a difference between supervising employees who vote Democratic when you vote Republican, and having a boss who (or knowing that someone at the top of your reporting chain) has taken specific action to take away your civil rights.

It is not just outright speech or actions towards the goal of eliminating queer people that hurts us (and when I say "us", I mean everybody, because an environment that tolerates eliminating a group of people because of a non-negotiable trait diminishes everybody's dignity). For many of us, it's insulting as heck when people claim to agree with us, but nonetheless go to the mat for the conviction that whether or not queer people are people should be subject to debate, should be hashed out in the free marketplace if ideas. It is hurtful when someone who claims to be my ally is more interested in fostering open dialogue about the pros and cons of accepting that I'm human than they are in showing solidarity with me.

To say that 'queers are subhuman' is a valuable perspective that improves a community is, itself, an act of rhetorical violence against queer people.

Ethical Culture Fit?

The last reason why I think it's disingenuous to treat "forcing someone to resign over political donations" as an outrage is that in Silicon Valley, people literally get fired (and I mean fired, not voluntarily resigning in order to cease hurting your organization, despite being implored by the organization's other leaders to stay on) -- or constructively dismissed, or rejected for jobs -- for having "different views" ALL THE TIME. This phenomenon is usually called "culture fit". In principle, there's nothing wrong with it, except that a very narrow culture tends to dominate and it's hard for the majority who don't fit with that culture to be in tech.

But if there's nothing wrong with "culture fit" hiring, there's certainly nothing wrong with a person recognizing that his views make him a poor fit with a culture that has changed while he has not, and voluntarily exiting. While I don't think that's exactly what happened with Eich leaving Mozilla, in principle, if an organization has a culture that supports queer people's freedom to be who they are, there is nothing wrong with declining to select leaders who oppose that freedom. At least, if you think there is something wrong with it, you should probably also criticize companies where if you aren't a bearded white guy who wears T-shirts and jeans and likes to drink with your colleagues after work, you will be ostracized to the point where it hurts your performance.

The near-universal acceptance of "culture fit" as a valid gatekeeping mechanism makes it clear that "no one should be pushed out for their opinions", or whatever, is disingenuous. They're not objecting to people getting pushed out for their opinions. They're objecting to people like themselves getting pushed out for their opinions, or perhaps to people getting pushed out for opinions they can imagine themselves holding. More so, they're protesting the fact that they no longer have exclusive control of the discourse -- that somebody other than themselves is now involved in deciding which opinions are acceptable. Most of the time, when you see someone calling for tolerance or acceptance who already enjoys a great deal of tolerance and acceptance, what they're really asking you to do is tolerate their domination of you.

Postscript

Some of the same people who wrung their hands about "people being driven out for having different opinions" when Eich resigned are approaching maximum beardhurt because Steve Klabnik is both a contract technical writer for Mozilla, and a critic of capitalism. To which I say: good.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2014-07-22 09:37 am
Entry tags:

(no subject)

I have a new piece up at Model View Culture: 'Killing the Messenger at Mozilla: Hero worship, “meritocracy” and the Eich crisis.'

Postscript:
I asked MVC to make the following edits to the article, based on comments made by [personal profile] graydon2 and Lukas:
1) change "former Mozilla COO Ryan Merkley" to "former Mozilla Foundation COO Ryan Merkley"
2) change "whether or not Mozilla should have a code of conduct (it never adopted one)" to "whether or not Mozilla should have a code of conduct (it never adopted one, instead adopting a weak set of community participation guidelines)"
tim: Mike Slackernerny thinking "Scientific progress never smelled better" (science)
2014-07-20 03:44 pm
Entry tags:

Let there be light

In case you were wondering, all the jokes are true: San Francisco really is cold and foggy in the summer. The weather's actually varied between cold and warm lately, but there hasn't been a lot of sunlight, even in the supposedly-sunny Mission -- it doesn't help that my bedroom has one small window that faces onto an air shaft. I've been having trouble waking up in the mornings, even though (unlike certain times in the past) I really do look forward to getting out and going to work. So I think it's physiological; I have SAD, and past experience has taught me that supposedly-sunny Northern California doesn't generally provide the sunlight that I need.

I'll only be living here two more weeks anyway, but I wanted to get the benefits of being in the office when other people are, which is the whole reason why I wanted to be in San Francisco for my first month of work. I have a dawn simulator -- this particular model is no longer being manufactured, but it still works fine. I also have a 250-watt incandescent lamp to use with it. Bright lamps are hard to find these days, so I had to go to a hardware store that sold animal supplies and buy one that is usually used for incubating baby chicks. The price was right, though. The lamp, though, is currently in some unknown location in my storage space, and I didn't want to excavate it. So I thought I would just go buy another lamp, which will be useful in my next apartment anyway.

Easier said than done -- it's hard to find incandescent bulbs these days (and I don't want to waste electricity or start a fire, which I was always worried about with the chicken lamp), and most compact fluorescent bulbs can't be used with a dimmer switch, which is basically what a dawn simulator is. LED lights can be dimmed, but they're still very expensive. The solution I finally hit upon was to buy a standing lamp with sockets for three 100-watt bulbs at a thrift store ($10!) and buy three dimmable 26-watt (100-watt equivalent) CFLs (which cost more than the lamp, at $10 each) at Cole Hardware. I would have liked a single bulb, but they don't seem to make them any brighter than that (there was an entertaining giant 500-watt equivalent CFL bulb in the store, but it was non-dimmable).

Then for the moment of truth! Disappointingly, "dimmable" seems -- at least for the particular brand of light bulb I bought -- to mean that it has 3 brightness settings, one of which is "off". Then again, maybe I don't need a very gentle brightness curve to wake up in the mornings. Also, it has the cool feature of flickering when it's at full brightness. Maybe that will wake me up too, though, and give me the relaxing sensation of being at a rave.

The main reason I'm writing this post, besides to entertain myself, is to see if there's anyone else out there who uses a dawn simulator, light-based alarm clock, LED light bulb that can be programmed with a smartphone, or any similar thing, and find out what their experiences have been and what they would recommend!
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (not offended)
2014-07-16 06:43 pm
Entry tags:

Radical transparency: a comment I just submitted via my employer's HR intranet

[CW: weight stigma]

Quoted verbatim from a comment I just submitted via the Salesforce intranet (Salesforce is the parent company of Heroku, where I started working a week and a half ago.)
I'm not sure who the right person to contact about this is, but I have some concerns about the content shown on the home page at http://www.getsalesforcebenefits.com/ . For example, right now, there is a panel encouraging viewers to "slim down with the retrofit program". Some employees have -- or are recovering from -- eating disorders, and do not need to see this content, which could be triggering to them. In general, intentional weight loss is not an evidence-based health intervention, and has harmful effects for many people.

The effects of weight stigma on physical health are well-documented and damaging -- I'm happy to provide more information and resources on this topic. http://www.fatnutritionist.com/index.php/why-diets-dont-work/ and http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/the-high-cost-of-weight-stigma/ are both good places to start. I would love to see Salesforce promote the Health at Every Size movement ( http://www.haescommunity.org/ ), an evidence-based, supportive approach to health, as part of its wellness program.

In addition, weight discrimination is illegal in San Francisco: the city's guidelines at http://sf-hrc.org/sites/sf-hrc.org/files/migrated/FileCenter/Documents/LBE_EBO/EBO/Height_and_Weight.pdf state, "Employers must strive to maintain a respectful, non-hostile environment related to weight and height.... Unsolicited comments, advice, or literature recommending weight loss or gain are inappropriate." I think that the content that appears on the Salesforce benefits home page qualifies as "unsolicited advice or literature recommending weight loss", and thus creates a hostile environment for fat employees.

If there is another way I should make this comment, please let me know.

Thanks,
Tim Chevalier

Edit: On July 18, I received the following response to my query:
Hi Ted,

Thanks so much for providing feedback on this communication. I appreciate your concern and candor. We strive to present broad-based wellness programs that help employees find happiness, healthiness and a sense of security. We can certainly take a look at the organization that you suggested. The banner on our benefits homepage has already been taken down based on the rotation schedule.

I'm happy to talk more about our wellness programs (and specifically why we chose to partner with Retrofit) on the phone if you'd like. Thank you again for taking the time to reach out.

Kind regards,
[REDACTED]

(No, I don't know why they addressed me as "Ted" either.) This isn't terribly satisfying, as it doesn't give any indication that the company is going to put effort into complying with San Francisco's anti-weight-discrimination ordinance.
tim: 2x2 grid of four stylized icons: a bus, a light rail train, a car, and a bicycle (travel)
2014-07-11 06:51 pm
Entry tags:

Life Update

Since it seems that a lot of people don't know what I'm doing (and writing this post won't change that since even if I link it everywhere, the vagaries of various social media software will make sure most people never see it, lol):

I just finished my first week working at Heroku as an engineer on the HTTP Routing Infrastructure team. While most of the first week was spent shuffling ssh keys hither and yon, from here on I'll be writing some Erlang.

I'm living in the Mission (two blocks from Tartine, Maxfield's, and Bi-Rite) for the rest of July, subletting a room in a friend's place.

Since I have the privilege of being able to work remotely, I'm going to take advantage of that privilege for a while (as nice as the Heroku office is). In August, I'll be moving to someplace with lower rent than San Francisco, but within North America (my job is so inflexible ;-) so I can pay off my $30,000 of student loan debt and $12,000 of combined medical and credit card debt more easily. Given my constraints, there are a lot of places in North America to choose from -- specifically, all of them, except San Francisco. Optimizing for relative proximity to people and places I want to visit, proximity to a city with population 100,000+, culture, and low cost of living, I'll probably be looking for a 2 or 3-bedroom rental house in Reno, NV, where I predict I'll be paying about a quarter of the rent that I would pay for a similar place in the Bay Area. Once my debt is paid off (barring anything unexpected, in 6-9 months), I'll probably move back to the Bay Area, but then, who knows what will happen?

It seems that housing is generally "available now", so rather than trying to find a place to live in advance, I'll probably just get in my car at the end of the month and go try to find someplace to live, then return for my furniture and stuff (currently in storage) and my cats (currently staying with a friend in Napa). I'm aspiring to adopt two more cats, assuming I can find a rental place that will allow four cats (and crossing my fingers that my other cats don't hate them).

I would love to hang out with people in the Bay Area while I'm still here, but since I lent my car to somebody for the month to avoid paying half my rent again for a parking space, preferably someplace transit-accessible. I've also been focusing on first-week-of-work panic and finishing-an-article panic, and thus have made zero plans for that yet.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2014-06-19 08:51 pm
Entry tags:

The tech industry is still awful, film at 11

"Men are afraid women will laugh at them, while women are afraid men will kill them." -- Margaret Atwood

"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

There's a company called Gittip that helps people make small, regularly scheduled donations to people whose work they like. In principle, this is a great idea, since the free market doesn't magically ensure that artists, writers, and social activists can get paid for their work.

As it turned out, a lot of the top fundraisers on Gittip ended up being women who work for equality in tech: people like Shanley Kane, Ashe Dryden, Lynn Cyrin, Noirin Plunkett, and others. This wasn't necessarily something that the creator of Gittip (a white dude named Chad Whitacre) foresaw or intended; it just happened that way.

White guys in tech love talking about "meritocracy", so you would think they would applaud this outcome as a meritocratic one. The people doing work that was most worthy of support received the most donations, right?

...well, no, that's not quite what happened. Instead, numerous commenters on Hacker News (I'm not linking to these comment threads, since Hacker News is NSFL) excoriated Gittip's top users for being "professional victims" (read: women who resist male domination) and Gittip itself for helping women make money. Incredibly, Chad Whitacre replied to one of these comments with agreement -- showing that, as Sky Croeser pointed out, Gittip supports the harassment that many of its top users in particular.

Shanley Kane and Ashe Dryden, in particular, have written about the massive amount of daily harassment they receive just for being women in tech who speak out about wanting to be treated equally. In particular, Kane recently made her Twitter account private in the hopes of reducing the number of death threats and rape threats she receives.

Whitacre, in the meantime, made a bold move: he wrote a blog post attacking Kane for bullying him. No word yet on whether any of the bros on Hacker News think Whitacre is a "professional victim" as a result. (Also no word on how many death threats and rape threats Whitacre has received for expressing his views.)

I've closed my gittip account and donated the balance remaining in it to Noirin Plunkett. I do want to support people who are doing work that I value, but supporting a company that incites abuse of the same people I want to support isn't a way for me to do that.

In "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" -- required reading for anyone who has ever noticed someone be wrong on the Internet -- Martin Luther King, Jr. distinguishes between "a negative peace which is the absence of tension" and "a positive peace which is the presence of justice". People like Whitacre prefer negative peace -- where abusers abuse in private, and in public, abusers are polite and victims are silent -- to positive peace, where everyone can be heard. The preference for negative peace can be heard in every call for "civility" online that is mysteriously only directed at people in marginalized groups who are criticizing upwards in the power structure, and seen in every finger pointed at Black feminists online for making Twitter "toxic". Negative peace favors abusers and reconstructs oppression. The world that supporters of negative peace want is one where people (like themselves) who have power can hurt people as much as they want as long as they do it with a smile on their face, without using any cuss words.

In short:
  • Meritocracy: still a joke.
  • We need a payment system that's run by and for activists who act in solidarity with intersectional feminism. Otherwise, this will keep happening again and again: literally any service that feminist activists are able to make good use of will become a service that increases the amount of harassment and abuse aimed at the same activists.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
2014-05-15 10:21 pm
Entry tags:

The uses of "passion"

Dylan Wilbanks makes a really great point in this article about farmers versus laborers, as applied to the tech industry. It's a distinction that's been made before, but for the first time, something really clicked in my mind, something saying that I'm not worse than other people because I don't want to write code in my spare time.

And thinking about it, it occurs to me that the way we (as in young-ish tech workers) are being lied to is that our (collective) bosses demand from us that we behave like farmers -- like, in other words, people who own something -- without actually getting ownership in anything. That we take on all the risks of being owners, without actually owning a thing. That's true whether we're talking about expectations that people do open source work in their free time in order to be deemed worthy of a software job, or whether we're talking about expectations that employees work unpaid overtime to increase profits for people working 40 hours a week at best. When you put effort into a (literal) farm, you're getting something back -- you know it's always going to be yours, and if you do a good job, you're likely to gain economic security. What happens when you put effort into a company that someone else owns? How many businesses succeed? And what about working on an open-source project -- you could view this as contributing towards a collective good, but as Ashe Dryden among others have pointed out, the benefits of open-source work are grossly unevenly distributed.

It reminds me of what Lawrence Lessig wrote about socializing the risks and privatizing the benefits, and I'm sure there's a catchier way to put this, but I thought I should write it down.

And as far as the distinction that the article makes, I'm a laborer, and I doubt I will ever be anything else as long as I stay in the tech industry. (I'm a little uncomfortable using that word to refer to work where I get to be seated in an air-conditioned office all day, but there you go.)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2014-05-07 11:22 am

An Actual Internet Comment

...that I received today:

"Here's the thing, I don't care if you're convinced.
If you want me to care about you being hurt you have to convince me that you're being reasonable. And if you don't I don't care if you're hurt, and I won't care to convince you that you shouldn't be hurt."

I guess this reflects a fundamental values difference, which is why I'm replying on my blog and not directly to the commenter.

If someone says they feel hurt, I'm going to believe them. They don't need to convince me. That's because as a general rule, I don't want to hurt people. It's important to me to not hurt people. That's more important to me than logic or being right.

So, if someone says "hey, it hurts me when you do that thing", I'm going to stop doing that thing -- assuming, that is, that I don't have a compelling interest in doing that thing. So if "that thing" is breathing, yeah, I'm not going to stop doing it. On the other hand, if "that thing" is using a word that I could easily find alternatives for, then sure, I'll stop using it! Even if I think they're being unreasonable, even if I don't understand why it hurts the person. The important thing is that they're being vulnerable by telling me it hurts (there's no reason for them to lie about it), so why should I keep hurting someone for no good reason?

Here's another example that I've used before. Suppose you are a person who has testicles. If I feel like giving you a swift kick to the crotch, does you have to convince me that it would actually be painful for you if I did that? After all, since my testicles are silicone implants, it doesn't hurt (especially) for someone to kick me in the junk. So why should I believe you when you tell me it hurts for you? If I think you're being unreasonable, does that give me the right to kick you in the junk? (The answer isn't "no, because it's illegal", since that doesn't give us any insight into why it is.)

So if I call you "hypersensitive" because a kick in the crotch hurts you more than it hurts me, when that's really because you were born with testes and I wasn't, what does that really mean? Likewise, if you call me "hypersensitive" and say I need to "grow a thick skin" because I've had experiences that you haven't, and thus am hurt by things that don't hurt you, what does that really mean? Is it different from me telling you that you should "grow a thick skin" by getting your balls removed so that I can kick you more easily?
tim: A warning sign with "Danger" in white, superimposed over a red oval on a black rectangle, above text  "MEN EXPLAINING" (mansplaining)
2014-05-01 10:44 am
Entry tags:

Saying No

In the past week, I had two talk proposals accepted: one for LambdaJam in July, and one for Open Source Bridge in June. I ended up declining to give both of them. This was hard for me.

I like giving talks. I don't have any stage fright. I've been told I give good talks. In my field, good speakers aren't very common, but the few good talks I've seen make me want to go do the same thing, in a way that almost nothing else does. I like the performance aspect of it, and it makes being at a conference make sense (I always feel vaguely awkward when someone asks me if I have a talk and I say no.)

What I don't like is preparing talks. I don't see a way around this. It's not like anyone else can do it for me. I think it's because of how feedback works -- I get feedback at the very end, after I give a talk, but it's very hard to get any feedback on intermediate products, and when something isn't closely coupled with my job, I don't really have an audience for a practice talk. Even if I do a practice talk, that's after I've prepared all the slides. I think to make the process less painful, I'd have to have a way to get feedback a lot earlier.

I proposed something pretty ambitious for OS Bridge, which is a hands-on Haskell tutorial. I would have to prepare the tutorial materials -- code with "fill in the blank" pieces -- from scratch. Likewise, for LambdaJam, I proposed a talk on a project I've been wanting to do (a "traveling salesman" approximation implementation in Haskell -- for fun, applied perhaps to a data set like the list of Hosteling International hostels in the US), with the idea being that the talk would give me motivation to actually implement it. But now that I would actually have to write all that code in less than 2 months, it doesn't look as appealing to me.

I think what I need in my life now are things to do in my free time that I can do with other people and that don't feel like work. Unfortunately, preparing talks doesn't meet either criterion: I have to do it alone, and it feels like work. And I can't do it on the clock, since it's related to my job but the talks aren't about what I actually do at work (since not all of it is open-source).

In the past, giving talks has seemed like a way for me to get bonus points at work, but the last talk I gave -- at Open Source Bridge a year ago -- backfired in that sense. My manager (at my previous job) complained that I "gave too many talks" (because I gave one talk in two years) because I spent the two weeks before the talk preparing slides and not doing much else. That experience discouraged me from giving more talks in the future. Since what the talks would be on would be only loosely related to my job, I don't necessarily expect negative feedback for giving them (since all the prep would be in my copious free time), but I don't expect it to be a big positive, either.

So the calculation I did was that preparing the talks was likely to give me more anxiety than satisfaction. And in fact, that would still be true even if I did only one of the talks. So I declined. I still feel like I'm passing something up, but the cost of accepting the opportunity seems too high for me right now. Of course, that could change in the future, and there will always be more conferences.

I still plan to go to Open Source Bridge -- there are too many good talks not to, I'll be passing through Portland anyway, and it's a great chance to see a lot of friends. I don't know what the future holds for me, career-wise, so right now, putting in extracurricular effort to be more established in the tech community doesn't seem like a good investment: I don't know if I'll be in this community in two years. It's uncomfortable to be in this liminal state, but I think the way to deal with that discomfort is to experiment with actually being nice to myself and giving myself enough time to satisfy needs that don't have to do with writing code.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (not offended)
2014-03-28 12:15 am
Entry tags:

I know it's not raining.

“I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action.” -- Audre Lorde

Do you only dislike bigotry when it comes from people you dislike? (hat-tip to [twitter.com profile] Rohboto)

In private email, I was asked what I thought about Brendan's blog post "Inclusiveness at Mozilla". Some people have been calling this an "apology", perhaps because of this sentence: 'I can only ask for your support to have the time to “show, not tell”; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain.' This means nothing to me without an understanding of why he caused pain and a commitment not to do it again, both of which are absent.

Some people have defended Brendan by saying he only made one donation to an anti-queer cause, six years ago. Actually, in addition to that well-known donation, he has also donated 22 times between 2003 and 2010 to Tea Party congressperson Thomas McClintock, who represents California's 4th Congressional district (in Eastern California, far from the Bay Area). The last donation to McClintock was three and a half years ago. You can confirm this for yourself using California's election contribution database and the federal disclosure database. (Thanks to [twitter.com profile] techgirlwonder for pointing this out.) McClintock wrote this on his own web site about Proposition 8:
Marriage is a unique institution in which a man and a woman summon a child into the world – creating a unique tapestry of responsibilities. Our marriage laws are designed to support those responsibilities and are simply inapplicable to any other kind of relationship. Lincoln asked, “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? The answer is four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.” And calling a homosexual partnership a marriage doesn’t make it one.
In any case, Brendan didn't directly address these 22 contributions to McClintock or his 2008 contribution to the pro-Prop.8 campaign on his blog, much less indicate that he no longer agrees with these positions or is doing anything to remedy the harm he did. (Hint: an equivalent donation to an organization that fights suicide among queer kids, or promotes anti-bullying campaigns in schools, would be a good start.)

An apology contains at least three things: an acknowledgment that you did something wrong, an explanation of why it was wrong so that others can see you understand why your actions were wrong, and an explanation of what you are doing to remedy the wrong that you did. Despite writing a few rather lengthy blog posts, Brendan has offered none of these, and thus has not apologized.

Why does it matter? Can't we just leave the past behind? [twitter.com profile] hypatiadotca posted a quotation that I like:
"Forgiveness is a link between the past and the future, it's not the restoration of the past prior to the injury." --Louise Arbour

Apologizing for past wrongs doesn't undo the past, but it does help rebuild trust and provide assurance that further abuse (or at least not the same kind!) won't occur in the future. We've seen none of that -- only tone policing and attempts at creating diversions. The message I take away from reading Brendan's blog posts is "I'lll still try to destroy your family, but I won't be rude to you to your face. Keep writing code for me!"

When someone attacks your family and wants forgiveness, you can't just hug it out. It is the responsibility of people who have abused their power to rectify the harm they've done and show that they've learned. It's not our responsibility as oppressed people to understand their motivations (beyond what we already have to do to survive in the world they run!) or to have a nice talk with them where we politely ask for the dignity they've stolen from us. Sometimes people change and stop doing hurtful things, but when they do not, it's because they stand to benefit from hurting people (or at least think they stand to benefit) -- not because we as oppressed people have failed to provide a clear enough explanation of our pain.

Honestly, I'm pretty tired of explaining this stuff and I would rather be writing some code. I have the nagging feeling that I've given the bigots far more time and attention than they're worth, but the issue is less any individual bigot than the way that organizations structurally tend to support and defend bigotry -- even to the point of calling bigots "allies" -- when there is no effort made to counter this tendency. I'm also only human and am disappointed in seeing people who I know are capable of doing better go beyond the minimum necessary for job-preservation to defend their company at the expense of our community.

I wish that I could avoid dealing with sexism, transphobia, and homophobia by logging out of Twitter or not reading blogs, but for me, it's not that easy. I can't earn my livelihood without interacting with people who, at any given moment, may remind me that I'm less of a person and make me pay for it if I object.

Edited to add:[twitter.com profile] PretendMD points out opensecrets.org, which lists several more donations Brendan made, including $1000 to Pat Buchanan in 1991 and 1992 and and $2500 to Ron Paul in 1996 and 1998. We're talking about a total of roughly $10,000 of donations over a period of 19 years, between 1991 and 2010. The man isn't being vilified over one donation.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2014-03-24 11:09 pm
Entry tags:

Against Tolerance

Tolerance: the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant -- Merriam-Webster English Dictionary

Today, Mozilla announced the promotion of Brendan Eich to the position of CEO. In the first half of 2012 (during my first months as a full-time engineer at Mozilla), Brendan was publicly criticized for having donated a large amount of money to support the anti-universal-marriage Proposition 8 referendum. My friend and former colleague Christie Koehler summarizes that in her blog post from today.

If I might summarize something that Christie and a few other queer Mozillans said about this, they trust Brendan as a leader because he doesn't insert his views on their relationships into professional situations. And in my experience, this is true: he hasn't made any comments in the workplace that I was present for, or aware of, about other people's sexuality.

But we know that Brendan has already inserted his views on our relationships where those views don't belong: into the workings of the government, by means of making a political donation. If I can't trust him not to spend money on making sure that I wouldn't be able to visit my dying partner in the hospital, why would I trust him not to insert his views on the genuineness of my relationships into the workings of the company?

I can't read minds. But I do have a hard time understanding how somebody could sincerely believe that queer people in relationships love each other -- that their love is just as real and valuable as the love that heterosexual people in relationships have for each other -- and yet, financially support legislation that subjugates the first group in order to elevate the second. If someone doesn't believe that I am capable of being in a loving relationship, how can that person and I have a working relationship based in mutual respect?

How much technical work do you have to contribute to earn the right to have your bigotry overlooked? Everyone, of course, has the right to be a bigot. But everyone else also has the right to hold bigots accountable. Political opinions are absolutely a valid criterion for whether or not to promote someone to a position of greater power -- when those political opinions involve whether or not a certain group of people gets to be considered human.

False Dismissal

You might say: "Isn't that exaggerating, Tim, to say that Brendan doesn't consider you to be a human being? He just opposes your relationships being accorded the same legal status as his own."

But if marriage isn't a big deal, why the hell does the right wing fight so hard -- and spend so much of their hard-earned money -- to keep it a privilege available only to heterosexuals? Their behavior shows that it is a very big deal. The freedom to marry is part of what it means to be an adult in Western culture. In general, infringement on the freedom to be with the partner of one's choice is not well-tolerated, so long as everyone involved is considered legally able to consent. The one exception is when the relationship isn't between a cis man and a cis woman. For those people who would only consider entering into a committed relationship with someone of the same gender, that policy sends a message that their relationships are not as valuable -- are not something that the state wishes to encourage. And so, in a way, those people are prevented from being considered full adults. A slightly different message gets sent to those of us whose relationships aren't constrained by gender: the government tells me that some partners I might choose are acceptable and worthy of encouragement (women), and others aren't. Actually, in my case, there's a third message: it's unclear to me whether I'd be allowed to legally marry at all if I tried, because not all of my government documents reflect the same sex marker, and I have every reason to believe that the rules would be applied in such a way as to cause maximal harm to me.

If you care about human rights, you ought to find this state of affairs to be an insult to the sanctity of human intimacy. It is a very big deal.

Privacy

Mozilla is a company that claims privacy as one of its core values. Someone who advocated for universal Internet filtering of obscene content, for example, would probably not be able to ascend to the position of CEO of Mozilla. That is because most Mozillans probably wouldn't trust such a person to carry out Mozilla's mission, which involves defending a certain set of ethical principles and not just maximizing profit.

Does everybody deserve privacy, or just heterosexual people? Contributing money to ensure that, if I had a male partner who was severely hurt in a car accident and on the brink of death, I wouldn't be able to see my partner before he died -- well, I'd say that's a pretty serious violation of my privacy, since the restriction is contingent on my partner being male. So long as that person consents to enter into a relationship with me, I ought to be able to have a relationship with someone of any gender -- the details ought to be private to me, and not something that the state can incentivize.

Compartmentalization

"Why don't you let Brendan keep his personal life separate from his professional life, Tim?" Well, I'll be happy to do that when he stops interfering in my personal life. Shouldn't he be able to give money to whom he chooses? Isn't it prying into his personal life to hold him accountable for those choices? Well, it sure must be hard to have people snooping into your personal life, where they don't belong. I wonder what that's like? When people like Brendan abuse their power to try to enact policies that limit my freedom, that may be an abstract moral game for them, but it actually affects me and people like me. I can't possibly separate Brendan's views from my personal life -- by making the political contribution that he did, he took that choice away from me -- so (if I was still a Mozilla employee) I'm not sure why I would be expected to afford him the privilege of separating his views from his professional life.

In this case, as it often is, the imaginary chasm between personal conduct and professional conduct effectively shields people who abuse their power from the consequences of their actions. The fictional divide between the codes of ethics people apply in their private and public lives is, in this case, an excuse to hurt people without being held accountable for it. Brendan is the same person whether he is writing a check to an anti-marriage-equality group or giving a speech on behalf of Mozilla. His conduct in both realms reflects on his character. I don't see any evidence for the idea that each person can sustain one set of ethics for operating personally and a different one for operating in the workplace while maintaining their integrity.

The importance of trustworthy leadership

I'm borrowing the phrase "trustworthy leadership" from Matthew Garrett's "The Importance of Trustworthy Power Structures", which is essential reading.

If you are saying that you can trust somebody who spent money to ensure the continued policing of my relationships, what you're really saying is that you don't think my privacy is important. If you are saying that a person who doesn't believe that queer people are fully human can be a trustworthy leader for an organization you value, you are really saying that it's okay to dehumanize me. Especially in an organization that says it's fundamentally about preserving openness and freedom in one of humanity's most important communications media, it is simply unjustified to ignore a leader's views on whether people deserve the freedom to choose who they form relationships with.

By the way, this is not about Brendan's personal opinions or any desire on my part to change them -- I'm much more interested in structures than in individuals. Saying "I disagree with his views, but look how useful this person is" is also something that reflects on the nature of the people around him, especially those at a similar level of power in the organization. Ultimately, it's not about one person, but about an entire community that is happy to tell its queer contributors that their safety isn't as important as one person who is deemed so useful to the organization that he is exempt from upholding the ideals of fairness and equality. Did anybody who was involved in selecting him for this position think about what kind of message this would send to queer Mozilla employees, or queer Mozilla volunteers, or queer people who are thinking about joining the organization?

I respect Christie, Lukas, and other Mozilla folks who have commented with their support for Brendan. I also respect anyone who chooses to stay silent and continue their involvement with Mozilla -- earning a livelihood isn't easy for most of us, and it's an understandable choice to continue at a place that generally feels comfortable even if one can't countenance decisions made at the executive level. But I have to express my dissent nonetheless. To me, the question of whether or not I deserve to be a full citizen isn't something that we can agree to disagree on. Asking me to accept what feels like hate to me (regardless of whether the person engaging in actions that threaten my well-being feels they are being hateful) in the name of "tolerating differences" or "diversity of opinion" is an act that twists words past the point where they mean anything. Hate doesn't deserve the dignity of being welcomed as an acceptable difference of opinion. To me, denying the dignity of even a single human being is an act of violation against the humanity of every one of us.

Fifty years from now, if I'm fortunate enough to be around, I expect to be explaining to my grandchildren why heterosexual people were once afforded special privileges. I'm as certain of this as I am of anything else that I can't prove: much as nobody could be found after Watergate who voted for Richard Nixon, it won't be long until nobody will admit having voted for the acts of legislative violence against vulnerable minority groups that are today considered within the acceptable range of political variation. So why not stop hating now and avoid the rush? And why not stop enabling other people's hate, while you're at it? I say "enabling" because that is what it means to tolerate hate as a difference of opinion; there is no way to be neutral about the dehumanization of any group of human beings. Bigots who are "tolerated" feel empowered and supported in their hate; we needn't retaliate against their bigotry with violence, but neither should etiquette keep us from letting them know that their behavior is unacceptable.

The question of whether queer people should be treated as people is not a political issue, at least not in the sense that it's petty or procedural. I can agree to disagree with people who hold differing views even on some very important issues, such as gun control or traffic laws. I can't agree to disagree on the question of whether I'm a person under the law. Disagreeing with my humanity isn't like disagreeing about whether a programming language should have static typechecking. My refusal to tolerate people who want to erase my civil rights isn't some hip form of bigotry on my part. Rather, it's the only way for me to respect myself.

Postscript: Again, I don't think it's a bad thing that some Mozillans who are queer are expressing willingness to set aside the past and work with Brendan because they believe in those aspects of Mozilla's mission that can be separated from universal human rights. It would be a nice gesture on Brendan's part if he would acknowledge the sacrifice these individuals are making by donating $1000 to an organization that supports LGBTQ rights. Surely he can do that without having to agree; since he wants us not to read anything into his donation to the campaign for Proposition 8, we can certainly grant him the favor of not reading anything into his support for a pro-LGBTQ organization. It's only fair in return for the favor that queer Mozillans are doing by working with him despite their disagreement.

I find it telling that several queer Mozillans have felt they needed to make a statement that they are willing to work with Brendan even though he sees their relationships as inferior to his, whereas Brendan has made no accompanying statement that he will treat queer employees equally to heterosexual employees, putting aside his views about their ability to love others. Nor has there been a statement from any other executive that they feel that Brendan will be able to treat queer colleagues as first-class citizens in the workplace even while treating them as second-class citizens when participating in the political process. A relationship where only one party is expected to compromise while the other stands its ground unconditionally is an abusive relationship.

n.b.: I'm not a Mozilla employee any longer, though I was an intern at Mozilla in 2011 and was a Research Engineer at Mozilla from January 2012-November 2013, when I resigned in order to move to a startup.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
2014-02-26 04:02 pm
Entry tags:

"Gendered Language: Feature or Bug in Software Documentation?"

I'm happy to announce that my first article in Model View Culture, "Gendered Language: Feature or Bug in Software Documentation?", is live.

Excerpt:
Defenders of the status quo in both libuv and Ubuntu seem to be saying, “This is trivial, I don’t care, why are you wasting my time.” But the amount of time and energy that many people invested in defending the status quo communicates a different, implicit message. The majority of the “it’s trivial” commenters in these issues are men. Is controlling the conversation a way in which men perform their gender? No one ever seems to say that men’s desire to protect the status quo is “trivial” or unworthy of attention - triviality only gets used to characterize challenges to the status quo. Perhaps this asymmetry is the crux of the problem: men cannot bear to be told by women that they, themselves - their masculinity represented through gendered pronouns - are trivial.
tim: A warning sign with "Danger" in white, superimposed over a red oval on a black rectangle, above text  "MEN EXPLAINING" (mansplaining)
2014-02-05 09:14 am

UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT

Something that I hear a lot in my peer group is "homeopathic medicines are dangerous because people use them instead of effective medicines."

I have no doubt that there's a small sector of the population that thinks clouds are chemtrails and ignores effective medicine out of spite. There's probably not much we can do about that sector of the population.

For the most part, though, I suspect people turn to things like homeopathy for problems that they've already sought advice from a real doctor for, and not gotten effective treatment. So who is being harmed, exactly? I mean... we're living in a world where it's legal for "real" pharmaceutical manufacturers to sell generics that don't actually do anything, and the FDA doesn't do anything about it (source: my former psychiatrist, who said, "I complained to the FDA [about a medication I was taking that a pharmacy tried to hand me a placebo generic "equivalent" for], but I might as well go home and play video games, since it does as much good and is more fun.")

So if you want to improve access to health care, why not... you know, work for a single-payer system and stop making access contingent on having money? (If you live in the US, anyway; if you're in another country, maybe your priorities are fine :-) Somehow I suspect that that's stopping a hell of a lot more people from getting health care that would improve their lives than homeopathy is. Or would that be no fun because you wouldn't get to laugh at "stupid people" and feel smarter than them?

I mean, yeah, businesses (both non-drug makers and regular pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens) make plenty of money off selling homeopathic crap, and that's irritating and all, but you know who makes a lot more money doing everything except making sure people get health care? Health insurance companies.

(I feel like I've said all this before, but meh, there's nothing new under the sun anyway :-)
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2014-01-20 02:37 pm

One more time

"I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

-- Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2013-12-30 09:23 am
Entry tags:

The right to be let alone

Right now, the default Firefox home page says:

"Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, is a non-profit and we rely on donations. If everyone reading this donates $3 before the year ends, you help Mozilla protect our fundamental right to online privacy in 2014."

What it doesn't say:

"The Mozilla Corporation, the maker of Firefox, is a for-profit corporation. The Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit, receives all of the Corporation's profits. Most of this revenue comes from Google. The amount of revenue that the Mozilla Foundation receives from individual donations is tiny compared to what the Foundation receives from the Corporation, which in turn is received from Google in exchange for making Google the default search engine in Firefox."

Perhaps there are other examples, but I don't know of a single other nonprofit organization that is actively soliciting donations from individuals and is the sole shareholder of an extremely profitable for-profit corporation. Whether or not you think Mozilla is protecting anyone's right to privacy, there are probably better places to donate your money if you have a limited budget for charity. For example:
  • The National Network of Abortion Funds helps protect the fundamental right to privacy specifically with respect to what goes in inside your own body.
  • The Ada Initiative is helping protect women's fundamental right to be full participants in the economy.
  • Partners in Health is helping protect everyone's fundamental right to the same kind of health care that a person working in Silicon Valley as a software engineer would expect.
  • Scarleteen is helping youth access accurate information about how their bodies work.
  • Lyon-Martin Health Services is providing health care to trans women, trans men, non-binary trans people, and cis women (with a specific emphasis on queer women), regardless of ability to pay.
  • The Transgender, Gender-Variant and Intersex Justice Project is addressing the needs of trans women of color who are disproportionally targeted by the criminal justice system.
I guess you could also think about whether an organization that stands behind its employees who are harassers and homophobes, but not its employees who are LGBTQ, is an organization you want defending your privacy rights... but, of course, that depends very much on who you are and the specific ways in which your privacy is under attack. Is your privacy more threatened by the NSA, by advertisers, by the criminal justice system, by the ongoing war on bodily autonomy for anyone who's not a cis man, by lack of access to health care (or to respectful health care), or by people who don't want you to work in your vocation because of your gender or your sexual orientation? Of course, the answer might be "all of the above", in which case you may want to ask which organizations demonstrate that they see the connections between all of these threats to our freedom.