Selling Out

I’m going to be running some trial ads on this blog over the next few weeks, just to see if they can bring in some revenue. Hopefully they won’t be too intrusive, but it might take a while to get the configuration right. If anyone finds them too annoying (to the point you don’t want to visit any more) let me know, but I’ll try to avoid that.


History and Character

A reasonably common reaction to my book which has come mainly from women in their early thirties is:

“None of Katya’s past should matter; it’s in the past!”

At least two women have said they believe the past has no bearing on the present, and a line should be drawn whereby a person’s entire history is consigned to a vault and not considered in the relationship going forward. In this post I’m going to unpack that idea.

Let’s start with the premise that somebody’s character – an aggregate of a person’s behaviours, values, opinions, and attitudes – is important to a functional relationship (of any kind). I’m not at this stage going to comment on whether someone’s character is good or bad, but let’s assume that character is important in determining whether two people are compatible. If you happen to believe character and compatibility have no role to play in a relationship, then you’re probably going to disagree with the rest of this post.

So having established that character is important, how do we go about determining a person’s character having just met them? The best way is to look at their history, specifically how they have behaved, what decisions they’ve made, and – crucially – what they think of those decisions now. A review of someone’s history will carry far more weight than someone telling you who they are. This is why, at the start of any relationship, each party is expected to give a summary of their life to date (the term curriculum vitae loosely translates to “the course of my life”). Now it is up to the individual to decide which parts of his or her life are necessary to include, but there are some things which are not optional. A common follow-up to the remark to the one at the top of the post is:

“But it’s none of his business, it’s the woman’s private life; she’s not obliged to tell him anything.”

So let’s suppose a man beats the shit out of his ex-wife so badly she’s left in a coma. Is this private too? What about jail sentences, or other criminal convictions? Does a man have the right to withhold such information from any future partner on the grounds that it’s in the past and his private business? Okay, that’s a bit extreme, so let’s suppose a man has been married before, or fathered illegitimate children with whom he has no relationship. Is this private information he’s not obliged to disclose to a new partner? No, and the reason is because history is a reliable guide to character, and character is important.

When you’re young, your history doesn’t matter much because you don’t have one. Nobody will judge a 20-year old on their past decisions because they usually amount to dumb teenage stuff which everyone does. But when you pass 30 you have a decade of adult life behind you, and the decisions you made in that period are what define you as a person. I once met a guy who, at age 27, had been married for 6 months and it looked as though he was heading for divorce. He was working like hell to keep it together (he succeeded) and he confessed his biggest fear was having to explain why his first marriage failed for the rest of his life. This is not something you can just brush off; people will ask questions and – in many cases – you’ll be obliged to answer them. Now being over forty and divorced isn’t such a big deal, because any new partner will likely be quite understanding. But divorced at 27? You’re going to be carrying that history around solo for several years at least.

Marriage and divorce are not things you can leave out of your life history, nor are kids and jail sentences. Part of being a mature, functioning adult is knowing what to include and what to leave out. Only a fool would blurt out everything because, as my lady friends said, some things are private and nobody else’s business. The example I like to use is that if a woman goes on holiday to Mexico and fucks a waiter, she’s best off not blurting that out to any future partner. It might reveal something about her character and it might not, but it’s unlikely to be defining if it was a one-off. It’s up to the individual to decide, but some things you are obliged to disclose in a relationship, earlier rather than later. Anyone who waits until a relationship is firmly established before revealing they have children from a former marriage can be reasonably accused of lying by omission.

The other remark people then make is:

“Okay, so they did some stuff, but they don’t have to justify it to anyone!”

Which is true, they don’t. But if they want to portray their character in the best possible light, they’ve got some explaining to do. Anyone who has been married and divorced is obliged to explain to any future partner what went wrong. They don’t have a right to an explanation per se, but if they are weighing you up as a future partner they do. One of the biggest challenges fathers of young men have is to get them to think long-term at an age when they have poor impulse control. If you get a criminal record aged 18 you will have to explain and justify that for your entire life. The same applies if your 16 year old son gets a classmate pregnant and she keeps the baby. If a woman who at age 21 marries a foreign guy twice her age and divorces him the minute her new passport comes through, she’s obliged to explain her decisions to any potential partner if she wants a future relationship.

Now I made an important comment earlier in this post:

The best way is to look at their history, specifically how they have behaved, what decisions they’ve made, and – crucially – what they think of those decisions now.

A person’s past decisions and behaviours are not the only indicators of their character; equally important is how they reflect on their past. Someone released from a 2-year prison sentence for burglary aged 20 who never got arrested again, settled down, raised a family, and is deeply repentant and ashamed of his criminal conviction is of a very different character from someone who spent the next decade in and out of jail for similar crimes. Someone who got divorced, admits they made mistakes, maintained polite relations throughout the process and bears no ill-will to their former spouse is of a different character from someone who flies into an apoplectic rage at the mere mention of their name ten years later. Someone who brags about whoring in Thailand or slutting it up in New York is revealing something about their character; another who looks back on the same episode with deep embarrassment is revealing something else.

How people have changed is crucial to understanding somebody’s character, which is why alcoholics stress the number of days they’ve been dry. It’s a demonstration of their reformed character, usually for the benefit of those who learned the words from the person’s mouth were nothing but lies. If an alcoholic has been dry for 10 years, it’s a fair assumption that he’s a changed man; if he was on the piss last night, he probably isn’t. Words are important, but sometimes they’re not enough.

The idea that life is a slate which you can keep wiping clean is nonsense, as is the idea that one’s character is separate from the life you’ve led to date. Now it is understandable that some people want to leave everything in the past, but what they’re really trying to do is present themselves as a different character than the one they are. Now why would they want to do that? If they don’t like who they are, then they should change, not try to hide who they are. Similarly, while they are under no obligation to justify themselves to anybody, nobody with whom they want a relationship is obliged to judge their character favourably either. When people wail Don’t judge me!” what they mean is “Don’t base my character on what you see!” Again, a judgement need not be good or bad, simply that it is incompatible with what the other person believes is necessary for a lasting, functional relationship. Perhaps some women don’t mind if their new boyfriend is a career criminal who spends half his time in jail. Perhaps some men don’t mind their latest love stars in porn films.

Everyone is different, and each must make their own character assessment of any potential partner. But to do that, they must be provided a history in one form or another, along with an accompanying narrative. Like it or not, our past is who we are; you can no more pretend it doesn’t matter than what you say and do in the present.


Not a good week for Britain’s image

There’s actually not very much wrong with this per se:

A company director who fitted a laser jammer to his Range Rover and made rude gestures as he drove past police safety cameras has been jailed.

Timothy Hill, 67, threw the device in a river behind his home in Grassington when he found out that officers had launched an investigation.

Timothy Hill, 67, threw the device in a river behind his home in Grassington when he found out that officers had launched an investigation. But today he was jailed for eight months at Teesside Crown Court and banned from driving for a year for perverting the course of justice.

Now we might quibble over whether using a device to jam a speed camera constitutes perverting the course of justice and whether that deserves a custodial sentence, but what I’ve quoted above doesn’t seem too concerning. Ah, but this is Plod, and he just couldn’t keep his mouth shut:

Traffic Constable Andrew Forth, who led the investigation for North Yorkshire Police, said afterward: “If you want to attract our attention, repeatedly gesturing at police camera vans with your middle finger while you’re driving a distinctive car fitted with a laser jammer is an excellent way to do it.

“It’s also an excellent way to end up in prison. As Hill’s case shows, perverting the course of justice is a very serious charge which carries a custodial sentence.

I suspect the police are as incensed at the lack of deferential behaviour as the laser jammer, and in modern Britain that will do more than anything to bring the full weight of the law down on your head.

“It’s our job to keep road users safe across all 6,000 miles of North Yorkshire’s roads. Mobile safety camera vans are an important tool to do that – they are proven to reduce collisions and they help save lives.

“Drivers who fit laser jammers may mistakenly feel smug about ‘getting one over’ on the police. But we can tell if motorists are using these devices, and we will always endeavour to bring them to justice.”

Perhaps, but Timothy Hill isn’t the only one looking smug here. The public are getting increasingly fed up with Plod harrassing drivers and using speed traps as revenue generators, passing them off as safety measures. Condescending remarks like “it’s also an excellent way to end up in prison” only serve to illustrate the yawning chasm between the police and the public. Bad enough that Forth’s comments were, North Yorkshire police then decided to brag about it on Twitter:

The reaction to this has been absolute fury from Brits and, having crossed the Atlantic and gone viral, disbelief and mockery from Americans. Many people read the above tweet and noted the smug, condescending language from the police and, with good reason, believed this guy was jailed in part because he’d flipped off the police. Now you wouldn’t expect the tin-eared idiots who run the media accounts of British police forces to realise this, but perceptions matter. In the same week, this story did the rounds on the internet:

A teenage refugee who molested and tried to strangle a young woman as she waited for a lift home outside McDonald’s has been spared custody.

Eritrean Filmon Kbrom targeted the lone 25-year-old at 5am on July 18 last year after a night out in Maidstone.

Having urged her to follow him while grabbing at his crotch, the 18-year-old grabbed her by the wrists before trying to throttle her.

But a judge decided that there were exceptional circumstances which enabled him to avoid sending Kbrom to a young offenders’ institution.

He instead imposed a sentence of 19 months’ youth custody suspended for two years.

But Judge Philip Statman was unable to include a condition that he attends a ‘vigorous and intensive’ sex offender treatment programme, as is usually imposed in such cases, due to Kbrom’s basic knowledge of the English language.

Now perhaps the stories in the papers don’t adequately reflect the details in each case, but nevertheless you have millions of people seeing a policeman crowing about jailing a British citizen who flipped them the bird while an Eritrean asylum seeker is spared jail for sexual assault due to his poor English. Does anyone in this shambolic, idiotic government we have realise how bad this looks? Obviously not, because a few days before we had this story:

A teenager who posted rap lyrics which included racist language on Instagram has been found guilty of sending a grossly offensive message.

Chelsea Russell, 19, from Liverpool posted the lyric from Snap Dogg’s I’m Trippin’ to pay tribute to a boy who died in a road crash, a court heard.

Russell argued it was not offensive, but was handed a community order.

Prosecutors said her sentence was increased from a fine to a community order “as it was a hate crime”.

She was given an eight-week community order, placed on an eight-week curfew and told to pay costs of £500 and an £85 victim surcharge.

That’s right: a teenager has been successfully prosecuted for hate crimes for posting rap lyrics on a restricted Instagram account. So how did Plod come to hear of it?

She was charged after Merseyside Police were anonymously sent a screenshot of her update.

The screenshot was passed to hate crime unit PC Dominique Walker, who told the court the term was “grossly offensive” to her as a black woman and to the general community.

So a policewoman was sent an anonymous screenshot and decided to make it all about her. Those wondering where the crime is are not alone. Then on Monday we had this, (the background to which I wrote about here):

A man who filmed a pet dog giving Nazi salutes before putting the footage on YouTube has been fined £800.

Mark Meechan, 30, recorded his girlfriend’s pug, Buddha, responding to statements such as “Sieg Heil” by raising its paw.

The clip was viewed more than three million times on YouTube.

Meechan, of Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, was sentenced at Airdrie Sheriff Court after being found guilty of committing a hate crime last month.

He had denied any wrong-doing and insisted he made the video, which was posted in April 2016, to annoy his girlfriend.

But Sheriff Derek O’Carroll found him guilty of a charge under the Communications Act that he posted a video on social media and YouTube which was grossly offensive because it was “anti-Semitic and racist in nature” and was aggravated by religious prejudice.

I am sure Meechan will crowdfund the £800 within minutes, and whatever it costs him to appeal this ruling, but the point is that a man can be arrested and prosecuted for making a joke, albeit a very stupid and tasteless one, and posting it on the internet. Were it not for the massive publicity surrounding his case and the outrage his prosecution generated on both sides of the Atlantic, I am sure he’d have been given a custodial sentence.

This week, many Brits and Americans have referred to these stories and made the point I made myself here:

The thing that always enrages me about governments is they are doubly shit at performing vital state functions: murdering scumbags go free and innocent people get banged up; police harass citizens over trivial matters while serious crime remains a problem; jihadists are let into the country to carry out terrorist attacks but Canadian right-wing journalists are turned back at the airport and banned for life.

The police are happy to ignore gangs of rapists preying on underage girls and take pity on foreign refugees who sexually assault British women, but make a joke, post “offensive” lyrics, or stick a middle finger up to a speed camera and you’ll be prosecuted and fined or jailed. This might be overly simplistic, but it is a perception that has been created by the British government and, as I said before, perceptions matter. Why? Because of cases like this:

The parents of seriously ill toddler Alfie Evans will challenge a High Court ruling preventing them from taking him to Italy for further treatment.

The family’s lawyers told the BBC that a hearing has been scheduled at the Court of Appeal on Wednesday afternoon.

The 23-month-old’s life support was withdrawn on Monday after the court ruled Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital could end his care.

Tom Evans and Kate James want to move their son to a hospital in Rome.

On Tuesday a High Court judge ruled that the family could not take him abroad for further treatment, but that he may be allowed home.

Now I don’t know the details, but these sort of medical ethics cases are fiendishly difficult moral dilemmas, particularly those that require a decision over whether to switch off life support (I remember the Terri Schiavo case well). Regardless of the facts, it is perfectly reasonable for the public to ask why, if the child is condemned to die anyway, his parents cannot seek alternative treatment or better palliative care in Italy. The government’s response, although perhaps reasonable (I don’t know), is cloaked in an air of callous indifference, oblivious to the distress of the parents and ordinary human reaction to the case. Certainly, lining up policemen outside Alfie’s hospital room is appalling optics, but then this is what this post is all about. The Times, a mouthpiece of the ruling classes whose writers look down their noses at oiks who hold opinions on things they’re not clever enough to understand, tells us:

The heartrending case of Alfie Evans has been exploited by groups more anxious to advance a broad ‘pro-life’ agenda than to support a family in desperate circumstances.

By “support a family” they mean persuade them to accept whatever choices the state makes on their child’s behalf, and deal with the consequences. A “broad pro-life agenda” is hardly something beyond the pale in such a case, especially when the alternative, state-approved option is just to let the kid die in a government hospital under police protection. Americans in particular are absolutely apoplectic over this, and see it as a clear example of arrogant, government-employed doctors disliking their expertise being questioned, and supported by judges who believe the state has a greater claim over a little boy’s life than his parents.

Now the criticism in this case might be unfair, but the British government has nobody but themselves to blame for being seen to consist of incompetent, nasty, vindictive, petty, individuals who hold the ordinary citizen in utter, absolute contempt. Theresa May, who exhibited these precise characteristics while Home Secretary and continues to do so as Prime Minister, must shoulder much of the blame for this state of affairs. What a disgrace of a country Britain has become.


Rent Seeking in Palma

I like this:

The Spanish resort city of Palma, on the island of Majorca, is to ban flat owners from renting their apartments to travellers, becoming the first place in Spain to introduce such a measure.

The restrictions follow complaints from residents of rising rents due to short holiday lets through websites and apps.

Palma’s mayor says the ban, to be introduced in July, will be a model for cities suffering with mass tourism.

Suffering from mass tourism. Just as Rotterdam suffers from mass shipping and Las Vegas suffers from mass gambling.

Now having your hometown invaded by tens of thousands of knuckle-dragging grockles every summer can be annoying, but on aggregate the positives outweigh the negatives – especially on an island without much else other than tourism. But I don’t buy into the premise either:

The restrictions follow complaints from residents of rising rents due to short holiday lets through websites and apps.

Bollocks. Residents won’t be renting on a short-term basis, they’ll be on long-term leases at a much lower rent. Here’s the real reason:

Palma, like many other cities around the world, has seen an increase in visitor numbers driven, in part, by private rental accommodation offered through websites and apps.

Officials from the local left-wing governing coalition cited a study suggesting that the number of non-licensed apartments on offer to tourists increased by 50% between 2015 and 2017.

The left-wing government isn’t getting its cut.

Locally, there is resentment over tourism pushing up prices – rents in Palma have reportedly increased 40% since 2013 – but also about deteriorating conditions in neighbourhoods popular with travellers due to noise and bad behaviour.

This I can believe, but they could always stop advertising for more tourists, or increase local taxes to push prices up thus cutting numbers in favour of getting a better quality of clientele.

“Palma is a determined and courageous city,” Mayor Antoni Noguera said.

I’d be curious to see this chap’s property portfolio, wouldn’t you?

José Hila, Palma’s chief of urban planning, said: “There is a parallel between the evolution of vacation rentals and the rise in rental prices.

“All European cities are being transformed overnight by this type of offer. We need some order. There will be vacation rental in Palma, but only where there needs to be.”

Urban planner believes he knows which rental accommodation is needed where better than tens of thousands of people voting with their wallets.

Last year, Palma banned the advertisement of non-licensed flats, including hefty fines for owners and apps flouting the rules. Barcelona has taken similar action.

Did the people doing the banning have a personal financial interest in the licensing system?

But Pimeco, a local organisation representing small businesses, said the holiday rentals had “boosted consumption” and were an “important source of income” to many flat owners.

The holiday rentals association, Habtur, said not only owners would be affectedbut also restaurants and shops, warning that jobs could be cut.

This is basically the ruling classes protecting their rents, isn’t it? Naturally, the reporters at the BBC can’t see this and take the whole thing at face value.


Diversity Uber Alles

Over the past few years, various executives of blue-chip corporations have taken to writing articles on LinkedIn. I rather like them, not because I think executives can write or that speaking directly to the masses is a good idea, but because of what they unintentionally reveal. Yesterday I came across this article by Bo Young Lee, who is the Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Uber.

Now before I begin, a little history. Uber’s entire business model was to go into cities worldwide and disrupt powerful, vested interests – namely, the licensed taxi industry – by exploiting grey areas and loopholes in the law. They were quite happy to kick over apple carts which had stood unshaken for decades, and brazenly face down or shrug off the inevitable outrage that followed. Acting in this manner takes a certain type of character, and you can be sure the original founders of Uber were shitlords of the first water. They saw an opportunity to make money providing a service people were denied yet crying out for, and they didn’t care who they upset along the way. If they’d been any different, the company would have fallen at the first hurdle.

It was therefore unsurprising that in 2017, eight years after its founding and by then a household name worth billions, revelations emerged that the culture in the company was one of a bunch of shitlords acting as they pleased. As Wiki puts it:

In early 2017, Uber was described by insiders as having an “asshole culture”.

Well, yes. What followed amid allegations of sexual harassment was a shakeup of the management, including the departure of CEO and founder Travis Kalanick. The board, eager to gain the approval of America’s moral guardians, decided the asshole culture was problematic and needed to change. To this end, they hired Bo Young Lee, an Asian lady who started her professional life as an Accenture consultant and thereafter spent 15 years working in diversity-related positions, in the new role of Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. Now, a few months later, they’ve let her write an article on LinkedIn. Let’s take a look:

The first thing I do when presented with a new job opportunity is assess an organization’s potential for change—that’s more important to me than the amount of change that’s required.

Modern executives like to foist major changes on organisations whether they’re required or not, because this makes it easier to justify their appointment and hefty salary. Ms Lee has been well schooled.

I look for a few key markers: a commitment from leadership, an understanding of the business case for diversity and inclusion (D&I), and a mutual agreement that D&I must and will touch every facet of the business. It cannot simply be a silo that lives within HR.

In other words, she tries to identify which organisations are ripe for totalitarian reform along progressive principles that were until recently restricted to the lunatic fringe of American academia.

Throughout the process, I saw an organization that was clearly committed to change but could use help on how to accomplish those changes. Despite some uncertainty around the “how,” when I spoke with Dara and learned about his passion for the “what” and “why,”

So the company wanted to change, but didn’t know how, so they created the position of Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer.

I knew quickly Uber was a company where I’d want to be.

I bet you did.

That’s not to say the process didn’t come with its challenges. In many ways I’m a classic introvert, so when news of me joining leaked to the press, I wasn’t quite ready for the influx of questions about me.

Such as what value you bring to the stakeholders.

The attention accompanying my announcement forced me to give some serious thought to whether I wanted to introduce that level of scrutiny into the work I was doing.

So you know you’re a grifter. I find your honesty refreshing.

In order to understand the dynamics of D&I, you have to look at the underlying drivers of exclusion. Organizations have challenges with D&I because society has challenges with it.

Want to promote more women working in East Asia? You need to start with the history and entrenched gender norms women face in Korea, Japan and China.

Another frank admission: this is less about improving workplace conditions and shareholder value than social engineering on a global scale.

On a practical level, it’s important to not just redesign a system or a process, but to give employees real developmental opportunities that will help them expand their skill sets to promote inclusivity. Otherwise, they’ll simply find ways to undermine the new system.

Translation: it’s important we don’t adopt systems and processes whose benefit is self-evident; instead we’ll put in whatever makes us look good and force our employees to accept them.

Too often, we tell people to be inclusive without really showing them what that looks like.

Perhaps because every example of inclusivity put forward doesn’t appear very inclusive to those who aren’t willfully blind.

For example, many companies (Uber included) have expanded parental leave to create more equitable policies for mothers and fathers. While well-intentioned, when a company changes a policy without addressing the surrounding cultural norms, it can backfire.

So rather than running a business in a manner suited to prevailing cultural norms, Uber will henceforth attempt to change society.

If fathers don’t feel encouraged to take advantage of longer leave—but mothers do—these policies can have an unintended negative outcome and reinforce existing inequalities.

Previously we ignored social norms in order to pursue progressive policies, but we only made things worse. So we’re going to double our efforts while still ignoring reality.

To change attitudes toward something like parental leave, companies can (and should) do things like recognize managers that have promoted equality between male and female parental leave.

I don’t have a problem with this, actually. The time when managers were recognised for experience, competence, consistency, honesty, transparency, and integrity has long gone. They therefore might as well recognise whatever the hell this woman is trying to describe.

From my first few weeks at Uber, I’ve been encouraged by the amount of pride people take in what they do and their genuine desire to do right by fellow employees, drivers, riders, and cities.

Where do investors sit in this hierarchy of charitable feelings?

There’s also a sense of humility at Uber that’s unexpected; no one seems to be defensive about the past or makes excuses for what happened.

I expect anyone who was involved in them left, pockets full, along with the CEO.

My vision is to help make Uber a place where amazing talent from every corner of society can thrive and grow and where each employee has the ability to achieve to their highest potential. I want colleagues from different backgrounds feeling safe enough to share their real world experience.

These corporate visions remind me of Communists describing the utopias they intend to build, and they’re about as achievable.

I want employees who are equipped to have tough, challenging, and constructive conversations with one another

I’m sure James Damore heard similar sentiments at Google, right before he sent his memo.

and I want leaders who can speak truthfully to the fact that our diverse teams are our greatest asset and a competitive advantage—because they are what drive our innovation.

Erm, the company’s greatest and most ground-breaking innovation came long before the position of Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer existed. Its one and only competitive advantage was a management team that really didn’t give a shit what anyone thought and was prepared to take on deep-rooted vested interests, and they’ve since been fired. If diverse teams were such a great asset, competitive advantage, and driver of innovation companies wouldn’t need to ram totalitarian diversity and inclusion policies down the throats of their employees.

In order to do this, D&I needs to be something that every single employee at the company has a stake in. We talk about D&I in such abstract ways that teams don’t have a sense of what they can do, but I want to teach every Uber employee that inclusion (or exclusion) happens every day, in both small and large ways

Compulsory, ongoing diversity and inclusion training for every employee. I bet they can’t wait.

Simultaneously, I want to utilize data to make big, bold moves.

I suspect this means quotas.

Like many first-generation immigrant families, my parents wanted me to become a doctor, lawyer, or an accountant. When I made the choice to work in D&I after completing my MBA, my parents just couldn’t wrap their head around the career choice.

I can understand their disappointment.

For many years my father would say, “so you fly around and teach people how to be nice to each other?” When I took the job at Uber, the announcement was picked up by Korean news and my parents were inundated with phone calls from friends and relatives.

Including Kim-Jong Un, asking if you’d be interested in a position in his government.

I’ll admit that I was happy that, for the first time, my parents understood what I do.

Oh, I’m sure they understand it by now. Whether they’re pleased about it is another matter.

Meanwhile, mainstream perceptions have also evolved during the nearly two decades that I’ve been working on D&I. When I finished my MBA in the early 2000s, the field wasn’t considered a serious thing to devote your career to, and it certainly wasn’t a role that would ever warrant a “Chief” in the title.

That’s because they’ve invented these jobs to keep the over-qualified but largely useless products of the American college system in employment.

And while we’re still at the very beginning of creating real change, I’m proud that this is now a topic that’s being prioritized.

I’d have thought returning investor value, providing the best possible service, and avoiding costly lawsuits and city-wide bans would be prioritised, but what would I know?

Apparently Uber is planning an IPO sometime in 2019, but my guess is it won’t happen: the smart money got out a long time ago, and only a complete idiot would invest in it now.


Modern American Marriages

There are suckers, and then there’s this guy:

Before I married my wife two years ago, she had huge amounts of debt to her name, including large amounts of student loans. After we married, we diligently almost paid everything off, helped by my salary being three times that of my wife.

That was nice of him.

She recently asked for a divorce, saying she was taking the house and my retirement.

We’ve only been married a few years, and frankly I can’t help feeling taken advantage of. The only advice I can find discusses whose responsibility the student loans would be, but now it just seems that she got me to pay all of her debts, and got some new stuff, while I threw away years of my life.

There’s nothing wrong with splitting household bills and other ongoing expenses in a ratio commensurate with each person’s respective income, but paying off some woman’s historical student loans is just stupid. I assume she couldn’t pay her own debts because the degree she obtained was worthless. That should have served as a warning sign all by itself. I’m sure there were red flags flapping noisily in the breeze from the moment he met this woman, but he ignored them all. Hopefully he’s young enough to bounce back having learned some very valuable lessons.

Another article gives us an insight into how these sort of marriages come about. Let’s start with this line:

We had a baby before we even got married…

Anyone want to guess how this story ends?

…and from that point on, we were mostly trying hard not to drown in debt, which left no time and no money for swimming with the dolphins somewhere in the Caribbean. We did manage to take exactly one weeklong vacation a year—the time off my husband’s sales job allotted. And because we only got one, we took it as a family.

Each cherished family trip got put on a credit card that won’t be paid off anytime soon.

Starting a family when young is expensive and requires work, eh? Who knew?

Annoying as it may be, there is truth to the implication that my husband and I didn’t cater to our marriage enough. The fact is, we couldn’t afford to. We live paycheck to paycheck. My husband also works long hours, including many nights. Often, he wasn’t home until I was in bed.

The author, one Sarah Bregel, is a freelance writer. Put another way, the reason why the family is skint is because one party would rather indulge in a hobby rather than demean herself by getting a job that pays a regular income. I notice they live in Baltimore. Is this cheap? I doubt it. The husband works in sales, and she’s a hobby-writer. Couldn’t they have lived somewhere cheaper? Something I’ve noticed about “artists” and freelance writers in the US sharing sob stories about poverty is that most live in New York or around San Francisco. You never hear any of them moving out to Wyoming or Mississippi to save on living costs.

For eight years, I’ve worked from home while taking care of kids to avoid the massive and crushing costs of child care, which typically meant pulling double duty. I spent all day with kids, then worked after they went to bed, or on weekends, or with a kid on my lap to meet deadlines. I’ve swapped kids with neighbors, worked in cafes with play areas. My mother and stepfather, who both still work full time, watched my daughter one day a week from the time she could walk until she was in school full time. Now they do the same with my son, for which I am eternally grateful. Still, time away from my kids has seldom been free time or time spent on my marriage. It’s spent working, typing away so I can make ends meet.

Yes, this is what’s known as “parenting”. Only nowadays you’re not required to work ten hours per day in the fields or in a factory, and you have such things as washing machines and vacuum cleaners at your disposal. Honestly, I think the world would be a far better place if lefty writers were compelled to have their grandmothers review their work before publication.

Date nights were rare. We were lucky to have one quiet dinner together every several months, if that. And during the last year of our marriage, I can only think of two occasions where we went on actual dates.

What is she, a teenager? They’re trying to raise two kids on a tight budget and she’s bleating about not going on “dates”.

The reality was, if my husband wasn’t working late, then I was. Or we were child rearing. Or making dinner. Or doing massive piles of laundry and dishes before collapsing. Because when you’re a paycheck-to-paycheck family, staying ahead of the bills never ends. And neither do household chores (especially if there are children lighting fires in your home throughout the day).

What did she think getting married and having children entailed? Lolling about the house watching TV and going on dates?

While it seems like the stuff of fantasy to me, the ability to outsource chores such as these can have massively positive impacts on relationship satisfaction, says new research out of Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia. Well, go figure. I never really thought cleaning up potty accidents and pet stains and folding clothes on such a constant basis were necessarily good for my marriage, really.

Ah yes. Never mind raising children to be functional adults and providing a safe, stable home, what’s important is your happiness.

It’s been fairly well-documented that lower-income couples split up more frequently than couples who earn more.

It does? Here’s what the linked article actually says (emphasis mine):

[By] estimating the relationships among marriage, divorce, work effort, and wage rates, researchers found that being married and having high earnings reinforce each other over time. Others looked at the how income affects the marriage and divorce decisions of young Americans; they found that high earnings capacity increases the probability of marriage and decreases the probability of divorce for young men, but decreases the probability of marriage for young women and has no effect on the likelihood of divorce. A different study used the NLSY79 to identify causal effects of marriage and cohabitation on total family income. This study found that women who enter a cohabiting relationship gain roughly 55 percent in needs-adjusted family income, defined as income per adult equivalent, regardless of whether or not they marry; for men, the level of needs-adjusted family income does not change when they make the same transitions. In addition, a 2009 study found that marriage lowers female wages by 2 to 4 percent in the year of marriage and lowers the wage growth of men by 2 percentage points and of women by about 4 percentage points.

In other words, when a freelance writer shacks up with a hardworking salesman, she gains approximately 55%. Kerr-ching!

Plain and simple, fewer bucks in the bank means more financial stress. It also means fewer dollars to put into keeping your marriage afloat. If you aren’t making deposits, literally and figuratively, pretty soon you’ll be coming up empty. Sure, there are at-home dates to be had. A few precious moments of chatter once the kids are in bed before you drift off to sleep yourself. Yes, there are ways of maintaining a marriage that cost nothing. But even those require time to connect, and for working parents, time is money.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to this woman that for centuries pretty much all men and women lived in absolute, utter, grinding poverty yet still managed to keep their marriages together and raise children. Here she is, living in the richest country on the planet in an era of unprecedented wealth, claiming her marriage can’t work because they’re too poor.

Still, I know there are things my partner and I could’ve done better or differently.

He could have married someone less selfish, perhaps?

The truth is, our financial difficulties were only one issue among many. It just made all the rest harder to navigate. Having financial struggle doesn’t mean your marriage is automatically doomed, of course. It just means you need to work harder to stay connected and maybe get content with a little less marital bliss than you envisioned.

Which explains why divorces are so rare among billionaires like Donald Trump and Hollywood celebrities.

What’s not said enough is that becoming passing ships doesn’t just happen out of sheer negligence, though. Romantic dinners and getaways might be one helpful component to a lasting marriage. But imagining everyone has that kind of freedom is a certain kind of privilege. No, money might not buy happiness, but it does buy more date nights, therapy, and those ever-loving adults-only vacations I keep hearing about.

She’s complaining her husband didn’t earn enough to pay for her therapy; I fear even Roman Abramovich would struggle to fund the amount this woman needs.

I missed the boat on that one, but you go ahead and sip that piña colada at your all-inclusive resort. I’ll be over here babysitting all the neighborhood kids and writing about fitness gear at 4 a.m. so I can finance my divorce.

Meaning, she needs to hire a lawyer who will clean her husband out leaving him homeless and with limited access to the kids. Welcome to modern marriage in America, folks.


Employers, Employees, and Free Expression

From the Washington Post:

In the hours after Barbara Bush died Tuesday, even those who didn’t share the former first lady’s political views expressed their condolences and recounted warm memories of the Bush family matriarch.

But a creative writing professor at California State University at Fresno had a blunt message for those offering up fond remembrances:

“Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal,” Randa Jarrar wrote Tuesday night on Twitter, according to the Fresno Bee.

In another tweet, the professor wrote: “I’m happy the witch is dead. can’t wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million iraqis have. byyyeeeeeee.”

None of this is remotely surprising to anyone familiar with political discourse in the US over the past ten years. The story continues:

Jarrar’s words — and others that she used as she argued with critics for hours during an overnight tweetstorm — sparked a backlash that would soon prompt the university to distance itself from her remarks.

School officials also said they were reviewing the tenured professor’s position, and the university’s president and provost have rebuked Jarrar.

The professor taunted those attacking her, sharing a contact number that was that of Arizona State University’s suicide hotline, and said she was a tenured professor who makes $100,000 a year.

“I will never be fired,” she tweeted.

Fresno State originally responded to the controversy with a statement by Castro that said Jarrar’s words were “obviously contrary to the core values of our University” but that they “were made as a private citizen.”

Leaving aside comments from the masses on Twitter, almost every prominent conservative commentator who has weighed in on this has specifically said she should not be fired. This is good: as I’ve argued in the context of Juli Briskman flipping the bird to Trump’s motorcade, I don’t think employers should have the right to fire employees for political (or any) remarks they make in private without first demonstrating actual, lasting commercial or reputational damage has been done to the organisation as a direct result. American lawyer Ken White, who goes by the name of Popehat on Twitter, has done a good lawsplainer on the Jarrar case, which is further complicated because the government is her employer. It’s worth reading in full, but here are the bits I found most interesting:

Generally, the First Amendment prevents only the government, not your employer, from punishing you for your speech. But what if the government is your employer? Well, then the First Amendment offers you some protection from being punished by your employer for your speech. That protection is governed by a multi-stage analysis.

The second stage of the analysis is another question: was the government employee acting as a private citizen, or as part of their job duties? If they were speaking as part of their job duties, the First Amendment doesn’t protect them.

Here, it seems clear that Professor Jarrar was not tweeting in the course of her duties as a professor. She was apparently on leave at the time and the scope of her duties do not include Twitter. Fresno State proclaimed in a tweet that she was speaking in her private capacity. (That was a clear reference to this analytical structure.)

So, the law recognises the difference between speech delivered as part of their job duties and that of a private citizen. This is important.

The third stage of the analysis involves a balancing test: the interest of the public employee against the interest of the public employer in promoting the efficient delivery of public services. This is by far the most touchy-feely part of the analysis. Can the government employer show that the speech in question so disrupted the workplace that it interfered with orderly business in a way that outweighs the employee’s speech rights?

And this for me is the crucial test that ought to apply to any employer who wishes to terminate the contract of an employee for speech which is wholly unrelated to their duties or profession. Today this only applies if the government is the employer, but I’d like to see this applied more widely as a matter of straightforward contract law. Popehat concludes:

Professor Jarrar was speaking as a private individual on a matter of public interest. It would be difficult for Fresno State to establish that the tweets about Barbara Bush themselves caused the sort of disruption of the school’s business that so outweighs her free speech interests so that it would justify her termination.

Which I agree with.

Now some of you will argue that Jarrar’s comments bring Fresno into disrepute, as many people now see what sort of morons that insinuation employs as professors. This is entirely correct, but it’s not the employee’s fault; the problem is the university for hiring morons as professors in the first place, not the employee for acting like a moron in a private capacity. Fresno obviously has no problem hiring people like Jarrar, and probably encourages opinions like hers in their lecture halls while simultaneously culturing an atmosphere which is openly hostile to conservatives. Their problem is this has now been widely exposed and they’re being subject to ridicule, but I don’t see why the employee should bear the brunt of this. If a university wants to go around hiring lunatics, they can’t then blame the lunatics for publicly expressing opinions which are met with approval in the privacy of their own corridors. Note that Fresno seemed quite happy with Jarrar and her performance until this episode, so why would they fire her?

I expect as time goes on and we see more instances of employees being dismissed for expressing unapproved opinions in a private capacity, many cases will reveal enormous failings on the part of the management who should not have hired this person in the first place, or should have got rid of them for professional reasons years ago. If the employee is good, his or her private opinions shouldn’t matter. But the same is true if the employee is poor. Most of this is the result of weak or bad management, which appears to be widespread. It’s time it was improved.


What Makes an Engineer

Last June I wrote this in relation to Laurie Penny’s claims she was a nerd:

There was a time when to be a nerd you had to be good at science, technology, engineering, or maths (STEM) to the detriment of everything else. Or at least you had to be more interested in these subjects than most other people were, which made you socially inept as a teenager. Given that I studied maths, physics, and chemisty for A-level, did a Mechanical Engineering degree, and have (sort of) worked as an engineer for most of my career, believe me when I say I know what nerds are.

By claiming to be a nerd, Laurie is implying that she is highly intelligent and is respected in a field which requires a lot of hard work and dedication to enter.

I was reminded of this during a Twitter discussion initiated by yesterday’s post on pretending people with no maths and doing mostly group projects can be called engineers.

There’s a certain solidarity among engineers, and it completely transcends cultures and international boundaries. This obviously applies to other subjects too, but the fundamentals of engineering are universal. If a British, Brazilian, Japanese, and Turkish engineer all end up in the same room they automatically have an enormous amount in common having all sat through 20+ hours per week of the same stuff for three or four years. Without a doubt the courses will differ, but the fundamentals on which they’re based are the same. A Nigerian, Iranian, Australian, and Chinese structural engineer will draw bending moment diagrams and calculate second moments of area in exactly the same way. One of the most under-appreciated and understated bonding mechanisms in teams of engineers is shared suffering through university. It’s a bit like having gone through a war and you later meet some someone who was on the same battlefield.

Yesterday in a very pleasant Twitter discussion I made the point about how much of engineering is actually maths, in particular calculus. A typical lecture mid-way through a first or second year fluid mechanics module would start with something like:

“Take a spherical object of radius d and temperature t suspended in a fluid of temperature T. Heat loss from the object is given by dt/dθ….”

At which point I’d get hopelessly lost, which is why the above example is likely nonsense. Within a few minutes the lecturer would write an equation the length of the board containing all manner of differentials and half the Greek alphabet. If your calculus isn’t up to scratch (and mine wasn’t) you’re going to struggle. The main reason why my old friend Wendy did so well at Mechanical Engineering is because she found calculus as easy as breathing.

Then you had matrices. To this day I don’t know what matrices are for, but when it came to control systems and electrical engineering – both major components in a Mech Eng degree – they are very important. I vaguely knew how to multiply one configuration with the same one, but if they were different? Oh, who the hell knows? As I was contemplating this last night I got a horrifying flashback, similar to the repressed memories trauma victims lock in a vault somewhere, to what are known as complex numbers: square roots of negative numbers, which until then I’d been confident were impossible hence didn’t exist, involving liberal use of the letter i. They were again something to do with control systems, but I couldn’t tell you how I ever passed an exam containing questions on complex numbers. Actually, looking at my academic transcript I got 39% for Control Engineering and 36% for Signal Processing, so in fact I didn’t. Ahem.

My point is, the degree was bloody hard and Manchester University’s Mechanical Engineering course was by no means the hardest out there: some of the foreign Mech Eng courses were absolutely brutal. I have a friend who studied at the prestigious Middle East Technical University in Ankara in a non-STEM field, and she told me what the engineers were subject to there bordered on abuse. But then, places were extremely limited, applications many, and anyone who graduated had a rewarding career to look forward to.

When you’re working with a bunch of engineers there’s an appreciation that everyone in the room has gone through much the same mill, regardless of where they’re from. Surprisingly, they’re not in the habit of looking down on people who haven’t, but that’s probably because the vast majority have. It’s one of the reasons why female engineers are accepted rather well by their male counterparts, because they’ve proved themselves to some degree already. No matter who you’re put to work with, you can at least take comfort in the knowledge that they too sat through lectures on subjects they found utterly bewildering and somehow managed to scrape together enough exam marks to graduate. Looking again at my academic transcript, over 4 years I sat 32 engineering exams and did a project, a directed study, and an industrial placement. I know my colleagues of both sexes did much the same, probably even more (they might even have passed Signal Processing, but I doubt it). Yes it’s hard, that’s the whole point. It’s horrible, but it’s the same for everyone: nobody enjoys it. You just suck it up, and that’s what makes you an engineer.

This is why I find the proposal I wrote about last week rather offensive: either do the course and sit the exams like everyone else, or f*ck off. There are no shortcuts.


Community Troublemakers

Via JuliaM, this story:

A former race relations advisor to the police has been charged with a racially aggravated offence.

Judah Adunbi, 64, was arrested at his Bristol home on 18 April and will appear in court next month.

Mr Adunbi was hit in the face with a Taser in January 2017.

Ah yes, I remember that incident and wrote about it here. So what’s this chap done this time?

Mr Adunbi of Easton, Bristol, was charged with a racially aggravated public order offence following an incident at a betting shop in Stapleton Road, Bristol, on 29 March.

Now this is pretty meaningless given how anything and everything is racist these days, but it’s interesting nonetheless:

Judah Adunbi is a founding member of an independent group set up to improve relations between the police and the Afro-Caribbean community.

Ah yes, I recall hooting with laughter at the time of the tasering about that. But there’s a serious point to make here.

One of the many, many things I detested about New Labour was their elevation of various “community groups” and “community spokesmen” as part of their overall embrace of identity politics. Seemingly every other day there was some self-appointed representative either attacking the government or demanding special privileges, almost always at the expense of the general public. Few seemed interested in who these people were or what mandate they had to represent those on whose behalf they claimed to speak, and on closer inspection most seemed to be professional troublemakers and political campaigners whose actual support was miniscule and whose interests were largely their own. Yet New Labour and their Conservative successors welcomed them with open arms and in many instances even enlisted their help with writing policy, and continue to do so. How many of the Grenfell Tower spokespeople actually lived in the tower and have a bona fide right to lobby on behalf of those affected? Did any of the papers do a profile on the man with the Egyptian name who organised the protest against the local council so we could see who he was and ascertain his connection with the tower? Of course not: we’re expected to simply accept the legitimacy of any loudmouth who steps forward and demands to be heard. What’s disgraceful is successive governments have fallen over themselves to appease these people, despite having no idea who they are.

That one of the government’s favoured “community representatives” is once again in the news for all the wrong reasons shows how cack-handed their attempts have been to connect with the population. It’s an absurd way to govern, and there are no signs it’s getting better.


Perhaps more newsworthy than Stormy Daniels

Me in January, on the subject of Donald Trump and North Korea:

His detractors won’t see it this way, but after Obama’s flip-flopping and prevaricating, Trump is injecting some much-needed clarity into the situation. Everyone knows the Russians and the Chinese would not tolerate a nuclear attack on their interests and allies; Trump is merely restating that the same is true for the US. Personally, I think this makes the world a touch safer than it was.

Me 2 days later:

Kim Jong Un has done the only sensible thing left open to him: back down. We’ll have to wait and see whether this is the start of a new era of North Korea being relatively benign, but I’m hoping it is. If so, we can be sure everyone will line up to say this is despite Trump’s bellicose approach, not because of it.

Me in March:

A couple of months ago we were told Trump’s rhetoric on North Korea and juvenile tweeting was bringing the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Turns out bitch-slapping Rocketman has given him pause for thought.

The BBC today:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says he has suspended all missile tests and will shut down a nuclear test site.

“From 21 April, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the country’s state news agency said.

Mr Kim said further tests were unnecessary because Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities had been “verified”.

The surprise announcement comes as North Korea prepares for historic talks with South Korea and the US.

Mr Kim is due to meet his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in next week for the first inter-Korean summit in over a decade, and US President Donald Trump by June.

Both countries have been pushing Pyongyang to denuclearise and they reacted positively to the latest development.

If Trump keeps this up, Obama should gift him his Nobel Peace Prize.