On the Nashville Statement

Jove looks down at the original humans, each of them a partnered pair, in an animated sequence by Emily Hubley from John Cameron Mitchell’s musical film “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” (2001)
When the earth was still flat,
And the clouds made of fire,
And mountains stretched up to the sky,
Sometimes higher,
Folks roamed the earth
Like big rolling kegs.
They had two sets of arms.
They had two sets of legs.
They had two faces peering
Out of one giant head
So they could watch all around them
As they talked; while they read.
And they never knew nothing of love.
—Stephen Trask, “The Origin of Love” (1998)


I personally like quite a number of conservative Christians. I find them to be very sincere people, by and large, who have large chunks of their personal identities invested in the idea that they consider the nature of right and wrong with a special care. And yet I often find myself wishing that I never had to think about them again.

The problem tends to come about because the above belief in one’s own personal commitment to morality works in the negative, as well: Christians also think that no one else thinks as hard as they do about what’s right, and what’s wrong, and what the difference between the two concepts is, and that anyone who is not a Christian, or who is a different kind of Christian and has come to a different conclusion, is not merely a person with different moral priorities and perhaps even a broader life experience, but someone who is deceived and worthy of course of compassion but never compromise. Compromise would be cruel—you can’t split the difference between right and wrong.

This gives rise to a persecution complex which, taken without understanding the train of thought that terminates there, can confound. The evangelical subculture controls every single branch of government and most statehouses, so it’s fair to say that we live in a state of Christian apartheid, where the mongrel majority made up of Catholics, mainliners, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and of course atheists and people who just don’t care very much about religion are regularly bent to the will of Southern Baptists, conservative Presbyterians, Seventh-Day Adventists and the odd Pentecostal who dictate national and international policy. And yet talk to Christians and they will tell you they are under siege.

At base, conservative American Christians hold a strong belief that persecution by The World—that’s us, fellow mainliner/Catholic/Jew/whatever, that’s you and me—will always irrationally hate true Christians—that’s basically all Calvinists and some scrappy free-will Baptists who like power—because they/we cannot stand the sound of the Truth in our ears. It is just too terrible to us to hear the Gospel of Jesus in our fallen state and so we assault the helpless bearers of capital-G Good News from all sides and ultimately martyr them, so blind is our rage.

That there are still mild public concessions to gay people trying to quietly live out their span of years with their beloved wives and husbands is, to evangelicals, proof of their coming martyrdom: Openly gay people demonstrate the reality of a teeming subculture enslaved to its own lusts of which these are probably the least shameful—see the right-wing subcultural obsession with child molesters, notably Pizzagate—and ready at any moment to boil over into armed conflict.

It’s a reason so many Christians are also gun enthusiasts. They genuinely fear a militant uprising by gay people, black people, or Antifa. (I should say that this is by and large a white phenomenon purely in its political expression but not exclusively white by any means.)

So when a bunch of Lifeway theologians like J. I. Packer and James Dobson and RC Sproul join forces with conservative media creatures like Al Mohler and Marvin Olaksy (disclosure: I used to write movie reviews for Marvin’s Christian weekly, World, which does some good reporting on the church, though it is reliably wrong about the color of the sky when it comes to extramural politics. That’s not much of an excuse; I’m very ashamed of that association now.) to create something pretentiously called “The Nashville Statement,” I feel a sort of preemptive fatigue, as though a million Thanksgiving dinner eaters started talking about partial-birth abortion at once, and then were silenced.

The Nashville Statement is the usual contemptible publicity seeking by the usual contemptible suspects, minus, blessedly, the humanitarian and fathead Franklin Graham, to whom the Lord must teach humility in his own time, and not mine. Its signatories are mostly megachurch pastors of the Considered Intellectual variety, with a lot of notable Never Trumpers like Russell Moore, whose signature I think is the gravest disappointment.

I don’t know why I’m being coy here; the content is just the political stance, deceitfully couched as an ecumenical stance, of a few dozen tremendously arrogant people on the subject of whether or not Christians can participate in consensual sexual relationships with their partners if they happen to be gay. The arrogant people in question, none of whom are personally gay, say they can’t, and, in a particularly galling “article X,” say that anybody who disagrees with them isn’t a Christian, which doubtless comes as a real shock to, I don’t know, Jesus, among others.

It’s taken me a long time to write this and the reason it has is that I don’t like giving this sort of thing oxygen. It is a transparent bid and effective bid to get space on op-ed pages and funding for anti-gay lobbying groups in order to try to drag the culture back toward a time when you could beat the hell out of somebody for kissing his boyfriend in public and no one would care. Again, this all comes because these people have taught each other that whenever someone disagrees with you, no matter whether that person is standing in front of you yelling in your face or has never met you and is whispering her disagreement to someone else who has never met you, you are being attacked. Mohler, in the op-ed linked above, says the Nashville Statement is mere self-defense: “[W]e now face challenges to biblical teaching that require an unprecedented level of specificity,” he writes.

What I find so intolerable is the kindness. Lord knows there are bigots in the world; we see them every day, masturbating on the subway or doing something simple like giving a press conference in the Oval Office. Mohler, Moore, Piper and their ilk want us to know that they want gay people to be murdered in the streets for their own good, that they want the partners of AIDS sufferers locked out of the ICU on the grounds that only immediate family can be admitted, yes, but also, they feel they ought to be thanked for it. They don’t expect to be thanked, of course, because of the inexplicable hatred the world has for them, but they want us all to know that they deserve it and that deep down, we know they deserve it, too.

So I guess in the face of this all I can do is entreat my fellow Christians who read this stuff and find it persuasive and come down on the side of Mohler and Moore to do me a single courtesy, and that is to follow the shunning principle described in Matthew 18 and deployed as a cultish disciplinary tool in megachurches: Please break faith with me. Do not return my phone calls or emails, remove me from your list of friends on Facebook, tell people you’ve never met me before if my name comes up in conversation. Leave my company forever, if you “deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.” I assume that is how you would treat your gay friends and neighbors, or your gay sons or daughters, so you can go ahead and lump me in there with them.

Notably, there is no Houston Statement from any evangelical leader of note. The environmental crises that led to record flooding; the near-prohibition on zoning regulations in Texas that allow corporate waste to seep into neighborhoods; the deregulation of facilities like the Arkema chemical plant, which dumped toxic chemicals into the water and air as it exploded during Hurricane Harvey; the problem of majority non-white and poor neighborhoods bearing the brunt of the destruction; these are all policies that consistent Christian support for Republican and libertarian policies in Texas has helped to bring about.

The primary mode of Christianity, despite what the Mohlers and the Moores of the world preach and demonstrate in their personal comportment, is not accusation. It is confession. The Christian church is always in the process of self-perfection; its goals for earthly improvement are internal, not external. Of course, anyone with a sufficient lust for power can turn the mechanism of confession into a tool of control and can argue without too much effort that the pastorate is the part of the body of Christ where individual men and woman stands in for God. But that is a lie. The truth is that we are all called to confess our own sins, not our neighbors’ sins.

And so here is one of mine: When I was close to evangelical Christians, I was not enough of a bulwark for the gay men and women I knew among them. I did not understand the intense fear of people like me—not people who hated them, people who were straight and didn’t understand them—that governed their lives, and I did not understand how easily the intensity of that fear drove them away from a church that, though callous and infested with power-hungry and cruel leaders like the signatories of the Nashville Statement, had still been assembled around the truth of the love of Jesus for sinners. Now that I am on the outside, I see more clearly what I could have and should have done better, but the truth is that I always knew what the right thing to do was, even when I didn’t do it.

That is why I find it so vital to renounce the Nashville Statement as the work of preening, pitiable, selfish men, covetous of power and control, who worship no God above themselves.

Stray thoughts 8/26

You Are Not Forgotten, John McNaughton (2017)

Last week on a Fox News show called Outnumbered, one of the co-hosts, a woman named Melissa Francis, started crying in the middle of a discussion about racism and Donald Trump’s proclamation that there were “very fine people” among the white nationalists who marched through the streets of Charlottesville recently.

“I know what’s in my heart and I know that I don’t think anyone is different, better or worse based on the color of their skin,” said Francis, who is white. “But I feel like there is nothing any of us can say right now without being judged.”

In 2005, Joe Arpaio made 700 inmates, nearly all of them hispanic, march through the streets of Maricopa County in pink underwear and flip-flops.

In purely anthropological terms, Francis’s appeal to viewers of what is ostensibly a news program is fascinating: She is a Harvard-educated financial journalist who moved to Roger Ailes’ media organization in 2012, saying two years later she had been “silenced” by superiors at CNBC who objected to prophetic on-air criticism of the Affordable Care Act while it was being debated in 2009 (Francis didn’t cover policy at CNBC: she covered oil for the most part. I couldn’t find the statements for which she said she’d been reprimanded).

Once, Joe Arpaio’s prison guards wouldn’t take a pregnant hispanic woman to the hospital, causing her baby to die from what turned out to be a placental abruption. Another conservative sheriff, popular on TV and a welcome supporter of Donald Trump’s, named David Clarke, also allowed a baby to die in his prison.

Francis also played Cassandra Cooper Ingalls on NBC’s Little House on the Prairie, a notably pure expression of white Americana extremely popular among conservative Christians and produced by 1980’s Christian icon Michael Landon—Little Joe, from Bonanza. Little House is a good show, produced in the late 1970’s and early ’80’s, based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s vivid, fictionalized remembrances of life in a family of pioneers in the late 19th century.

Many other people—more than 160—died in Arpaio’s prisons; one in four deaths was from suicide, a much higher rate than in other prisons. In addition to the suicides, for half of the deaths on Arpaio’s watch, there is simply no cause reported.

Little House on the Prairie is set in the unspecified Midwest, in a central part of the country that is supposed to contain fewer big cities and cultural keystones than the coasts. This is a source of consternation, as the president might have it, on many sides; the cities condescend and the regions stew in anger. For all the many foolish and cruel things Trump has done, he still knows how to stoke populist ire; as soon as he pardoned Arpaio, he set about emphasizing the importance of Hurricane Harvey, exactly the kind of natural disaster that the news media ignores unless it happens in New York City or San Francisco.

Trump is not much of a political strategist but he knows what plays on TV: Would the libtards care more about sending an 85-year-old man to jail than about a hurricane that seems primed to devastate the Republican stronghold of Houston, Texas?

I don’t really feel like I am in the right position or frame of mind to comment on the pardon of Joe Arpaio but that’s never stopped me before, so here we go: Joe Arpaio obviously did not deserve to be pardoned.

He is a vile, sadistic racist who tortured people for looking like they might be undocumented immigrants, which is to say, brown. Very few people deserve to be in prison; Joe Arpaio is one of them. He refused to investigate 400 sex crimes, including crimes against children, when the victim was Hispanic. He warehoused mentally ill prisoners by themselves away from the general population in what the ACLU called “punitive housing units” where they were systematically denied treatment and medication, causing their conditions to worsen so severely that they were sometimes declared unfit to stand trial for the crimes that had caused them to be imprisoned in the first place. When he was finally convicted it was because he was referred by a federal judge appointed by George W Bush for criminal contempt on the charge of racial profiling; he had eventually simply decided to go around arresting people who looked Mexican. 

It’s unfashionable and impolitic to say that you feel bad for your friends under these circumstances but I have had wonderful hispanic friends, some of them extremely close, some who looked white, some who didn’t. They are all in more danger now than they have been in the past, because Arpaio is merely a symptom of the systemic racism that plagues our laws and systems of enforcement. He is a profoundly evil, even despicable symptom, but without the law, he would merely be a contemptible, violent old man, and he would probably be in prison.

Some of these friends are past the stoicism we for some reason expect of oppressed people and are simply openly terrified. Some came to this country as children and do not have their citizenship; president Trump, elected by the good white people like Melissa Francis who just want to be understood, will soon try to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA), closing the door on these people, who are trying to raise money through Kickstarters and from family members so they can remain in the United States with their families and won’t be deported to countries where they barely remember living. None of this is theoretical. It is happening now. 

White American culture is focused on rewards for good behavior – on the evidence available to white people that an honest, hard worker with a good heart can make something, even something great, of him or herself. To the extent that the culture of Little House on the Prairie and Fox News spills over into the rest of the melting pot, it constitutes something like a high-pressure sales tactic: pick our strawberries, invisibly prepare our gourmet food, build our houses, care for our children and clean up after us – then one day you or your children can be the new pioneers, living in the little house you made all by yourself, and no one, nor even the Indians, will be able to take it away from you. It’s how us white people got to be so rich, we lie. 

At some point the question of whether someone, especially a Christian, is actually a racist becomes moot and the question rebounds: Is racism a lesser evil? Can you justify racism because you favor other policies that a racist also likes? Would you be embarrassed to explain your politics to the child of a missionary whose parents have to give him up to go live in another country where he doesn’t even speak the language?

If so, it’s not my judgment you have to worry about.

A short play

Banksy, “The Banality of the Banality of Evil” (2013)

EXEC: what do we do about jeff lord

HR: we can say his schtick of calling black people racists is tiresome and inconsistent with our editorial direction

EXEC: that’s all he’s ever done, though

HR: yeah

EXEC: like it’s basically the reason we hired him

HR: yeah

EXEC: calling black people racists is super popular

HR: I know

EXEC: he could object and he’d kind of have a point

HR: maybe we could say we’ve changed our editorial direction

EXEC: no then I look dumb

HR: ok

EXEC: he is pretty racist now that I think about it

HR: yeah we’ve had complaints

EXEC: I guess hiring him as a commentator in the first place was kind of racist

HR: lol who are you, my anonymous complaints inbox

EXEC: lol

EXEC: we didn’t do anything about the complaints though did we

HR: god no

EXEC: lol

HR: lol

EXEC: so what else can we do

HR: we can say he said nono words and completely divorce them from context and then if people complain we can say hm very telling that you are the one who is defending the racist, never wondered about you before, very hm indeed

EXEC: why would we do that

HR: well then we can fire anyone whenever we want because people say dumb shit all the time

EXEC: what did he even say?

HR: he said “seig heil” to some guy at media matters

EXEC: that’s awesome

HR: well he was obviously trying to call the other guy a nazi. like it was in the column they were talking about. he calls liberals nazis all the time

EXEC: he’s sort of a nazi himself though. like everybody says

HR: sure whatever

EXEC: who cares lol okay let’s do that one

HR: lol okay

EXEC: lol

HR: lol

Fisking the Google Memo

My wife is out of town with our baby and I don’t get to see them until Friday so instead of doing something productive this evening I thought I’d take a pass at the Google Memo as though I was an editor and not a hack, and try to point out where he goes right and where he goes horribly wrong in this dumb thing. It is irredeemably stupid and written by someone who reads a lot of Reason magazine. Thanks.



go/pc-considered-harmful JESUS CHRIST, MAN

James Damore – damore@
July 2017
Feel free to comment (they aren’t disabled, the doc may just be overloaded). For longer form discussions see g/pc-harmful-discuss

Reply to public response and misrepresentation 1


Background 2

Google’s biases 2

Possible non bias causes of the gender gap in tech 3

Personality differences 4

Men’s higher drive for status 5

Non discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap 5

The harm of Google’s biases 6

Why we’re blind 7

Suggestions 8

Reply to public response and misrepresentation //THIS IS SUPER DEFENSIVE//

I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. GOOD POINT, WORTH MAKING

Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber. STOP SAYING “ECHO CHAMBER,” IT IS A DUMB BUZZWORD THAT PEOPLE RECOGNIZE FROM POLITICS AND SUGGESTS THAT YOU ARE ARGUING IN BAD FAITH

Despite what the public response seems to have been, UGH I’ve gotten many†personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change. WHY ARE THE PRIVATE RESPONSES FROM PEOPLE WHO ARE AFRAID TO PUBLICLY STATE THEIR APPROVAL OF YOUR IDEAS HERE THE ONLY ONES WORTH ADDRESSING? DID YOU CHANGE THE DOCUMENT AT ALL BASED ON THE NEGATIVE FEEDBACK?



  • ●  Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety. THIS IS FINE, PEOPLE ARE HAVING THIS ARGUMENT ON THE RIGHT AND THE LEFT
  • ●  This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber PLEASE NO where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed. TALKING ABOUT HOW “SOME IDEAS ARE TOO SACRED” IS ANOTHER TURN OF PHRASE THAT IS GOING TO OUT YOU AS A READER OF THE WSJ OP-ED PAGE
  • ●  The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
    ○ Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
    ○ Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
  • ●  Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why wedon’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.
  • ●  Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.Background 1People generally have good intentions, but we all have biases which are invisible to us. Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow, which is why I wrote this document 2 . Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology. What follows is by no means the complete story, but it’s a perspective that desperately needs to be told at Google.

    Google’s biases
    At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases. Political orientation is actually a result of deep moral preferences and thus biases. THIS IS A HUGE STATEMENT THAT GOES COMPLETELY UNSUPPORTED. WHAT ARE “MORAL PREFERENCES?” Considering that the overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media , and Google lean left, THIS IS ALSO A HUGE AND COMPLETELY UNSUPPORTED STATEMENT. GOOGLE LEANS LEFT? NEWS CORP LEANS LEFT? IS TOTAL CAPITALISM “LEFT” NOW? YOU SEEM TO REFER EXCLUSIVELY TO SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS HERE, WHICH IS WORRYING SINCE ECONOMIC CONSTRUCTS PROFOUNDLY AFFECT SOCIETY we should critically examine these prejudices:


    1 This document is mostly written from the perspective of Google’s Mountain View campus, I can’t speak about other offices or countries.
    2 Of course, I may be biased and only see evidence that supports my viewpoint. In terms of political biases, I consider myself a classical liberal and strongly value individualism and reason CAN YOU NOT JUST CALL YOURSELF A LIBERTARIAN? WHAT’S STOPPING YOU?. I’d be very happy to discuss any of the document further and provide more citations.

Neither side is 100% correct and both viewpoints are necessary for a functioning society or, in this case, company. SETTING YOURSELF UP AS ARBITER BETWEEN THESE TWO SIDES PRESUPPOSES A LEVEL OF OBJECTIVITY ON THE PART OF THE WRITER THAT YOU HAVE ALREADY REALLY FALLEN ON YOUR FACE TRYING TO DEMONSTRATE A company too far to the right may be slow to react, overly hierarchical, and untrusting of others. IT ALSO MIGHT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST WOMEN AND BLACK PEOPLE In contrast, a company too far to the left will constantly be changing (deprecating much loved services), over diversify its interests (ignoring or being ashamed of its core business), and overly trust its employees and competitors. I DON’T THINK ANYONE ON THE LEFT WILL AGREE WITH ANY OF THIS, AT ALL. YOU SEEM TO BE ARGUING FROM AN IMAGINED MIDDLE THAT LOOKS LIKE GARDEN-VARIETY CULTURAL CONSERVATISM TO ANYONE WHO DOESN’T AGREE WITH YOU.

Only facts and reason can shed light on these biases, THERE ARE LOTS OF FACTS, AND KANT DEMONSTRATED THAT YOU CAN USE REASON WITHIN ANY CONSISTENT SYSTEM IRRESPECTIVE OF CONTENT. AGAIN, USED IN CONJUNCTION LIKE THIS, THESE ARE BUZZWORDS FROM CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL COMMENTARY but when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture AGAIN, CAN YOU MAKE YOUR POINT WITHOUT PARROTING RIGHT-WING JARGON? “POLITICALLY CORRECT MONOCULTURE?” that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. EXAMPLES? This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist ARE THESE PEOPLE BLOWING UP SCHOOL BUSES? and authoritarian policies. For the rest of this document, I’ll concentrate on the extreme stance that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and the authoritarian element that’s required to actually discriminate to create equal representation.

Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech3

At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership. Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story.

On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because: YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY DESCRIBE THE DIFFERENCES BEFORE YOU ASSERT THEIR UNIVERSALITY

● They’re universal across human cultures
● They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
● The underlying traits are highly heritable
● They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective SAYS WHO?

Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. THIS IS A PRETTY GOOD POINT AND IT SHOULD PROBABLY BE YOUR FIRST SENTENCE BECAUSE BY NOW YOU’VE CONVINCED YOUR ENTIRE READERSHIP THAT YOU THINK UNDERREPRESENTATION IS BECAUSE WOMEN ARE UNSUITED TO EXECUTIVE ROLES, RATHER THAN THAT THOSE ROLES ARE TAILORED TO FIT MALE CHARACTERISTICS Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions. ____________________________________________________________________________
3 Throughout the document, by “tech”, I mostly mean software engineering.


Personality differences

Women, on average, have more:

●Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing). EVEN THE WIKIPEDIA PAGE YOU CITE SAYS THIS IS NOT SETTLED SCIENCE AND IS IN FACT QUITE CONTROVERSIAL. ALSO ITS ORIGINATOR IS BORAT’S DAD, JUST AS A MATTER OF INTEREST.

○ These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. UH, THEY DO? More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both people and aesthetics. YOU’VE JUST COMPLETELY WRITTEN OFF THE IDEA THAT SYSTEMIC PREJUDICE DISCOURAGES WOMEN FROM WORKING IN OTHER HIGHER-PAYING AND -PRESTIGE AREAS OF THE COMPANY. ***WHY?***

●Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness.

○ This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. THIS IS A HUGE MONOCAUSAL LEAP Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue. This leads to exclusory programs like Stretch and swaths of men without support.


○ This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs. JUST AS A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT, TRY TO IMAGINE SOME OTHER THINGS THAT ONLY AFFECT WOMEN AND CAUSE STRESS

Note that contrary to what a social constructionist would argue, research suggests that “greater nation-level gender equality leads to psychological dissimilarity in men’s and women’s personality traits.” Because as “society becomes more prosperous and more egalitarian, innate dispositional differences between men and women have more space to develop and the gap that exists between men and women in their personality traits becomes wider.” We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism. NO, WE DON’T! WAGE GAPS, HIRING DISPARITIES AND WORKPLACE SEXUAL HARASSMENT DON’T LOGICALLY FOLLOW FROM DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE SEXES.

Men’s higher drive for status

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.

Status is the primary metric that men are judged on 4 , pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths. THIS IS A GOOD POINT! YOU MIGHT EVEN READ IT AS A CRITICISM OF A PATRIARCHAL SYSTEM THAT DEMANDS MEN EXPRESS THEIR MALE PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS THROUGH COAL MINING RATHER THAN, SAY, PAINTING

Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap

Below I’ll go over some of the differences in distribution of traits between men and women that I outlined in the previous section and suggest ways to address them to increase women’s representation in tech without resorting to discrimination. Google is already making strides in many of these areas, but I think it’s still instructive to list them:

● Women on average show a higher interest in people and men in things
○ We can make software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration. GOOD IDEA! Unfortunately, there may be limits to how people-oriented certain roles at Google can be and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves or students into thinking otherwise (some of our programs to get female students into coding might be doing this). EVEN WOMEN WHO OVERINDEX ON ALL THE TRAITS IN THE RESEARCH YOU’VE CITED AREN’T NECESSARILY “PEOPLE-ORIENTED.” I BET IF WE ASK THE WOMEN, THEY’LL HAVE SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO MAKE THOSE ROLES MORE WELCOMING

  • ●  Women on average are more cooperative
    • ○  Allow those exhibiting cooperative behavior to thrive. ALWAYS A GOOD PLAN! Recent updates to Perf may be doing this to an extent, but maybe there’s more we can do.
    • ○  This doesn’t mean that we should remove all competitiveness from Google. WHY WOULD IT? COOPERATION AND COMPETITION AREN’T MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE Competitiveness and self reliance can be valuable traits and we shouldn’t necessarily disadvantage those that have them, like what’s been done in education. THIS IS ANOTHER NATIONAL REVIEW COLUMN APPEARING OUT OF NOWHERE
  • ●  Women on average are more prone to anxiety ____________________________________________________________________________
    4 For heterosexual romantic relationships, men are more strongly judged by status and women by beauty. Again, this has biological origins and is culturally universal. THIS IS THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT YOUR CITED RESEARCH SAYS

○ Make tech and leadership less stressful. Google already partly does this with its many stress reduction courses and benefits. GOOD IDEA!

● Women on average look for more work-life balance while men have a higher drive for status on average SHOULDN’T EVERYONE BE ENCOURAGED TO MAINTAIN WORK-LIFE BALANCE?

○ Unfortunately, as long as tech and leadership remain high status, lucrative careers, men may disproportionately want to be in them. Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work though can keep more women in tech. THIS IS ALSO A GOOD IDEA!

● The male gender role is currently inflexible YES!
○ Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, MEH but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. TRUE If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles. ONE FUCKING HOPES

Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women. WHY NOT? For each of these changes, we need principled reasons for why it helps Google; I WAS UNDER THE IMPRESSION GOOGLE WAS COMPOSED OF EMPLOYEES that is, we should be optimizing for Google—with Google’s diversity being a component of that. For example, currently those willing to work extra hours or take extra stress will inevitably get ahead and if we try to change that too much, it may have disastrous consequences. LIKE WHAT? Also, when considering the costs and benefits, we should keep in mind that Google’s funding is finite so its allocation is more zero-sum than is generally acknowledged. THIS IS AN INSANE STATEMENT. GOOGLE IS WORTH ALMOST $650 BILLION. THE COMPANY CAN AFFORD TO LET ITS EMPLOYEES TAKE AN AFTERNOON OFF OR GO HOME AND PLAY WITH THE KIDS.

The harm of Google’s biases

I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. YOU’VE ADDRESSED RACE NOWHERE HERE However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices:

  • ●  A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates SAME QUESTION
  • ●  Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate SAME QUESTION AGAIN
  • ●  Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias) SAME QUESTION A FOURTH TIME
  • ●  Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination 6 THIS IS A SERIOUS CONCERN AND WE SHOULD ADDRESS IT AS A COMPANY, FOR SURE.
    ____________________________________________________________________________5 Stretch, BOLD, CSSI, Engineering Practicum (to an extent), and several other Google funded internal and external programs are for people with a certain gender or race.
    6 Instead set Googlegeist OKRs, potentially for certain demographics. We can increase representation at an org level by either making it a better environment for certain groups (which would be seen in survey scores) or discriminating based on a protected status (which is illegal and I’ve seen it done). I NEED MORE DETAIL HERE Increased representation OKRs can incentivize the latter and create zero-sum struggles between orgs.

These practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions TENSION IS A TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE COST. THIS ISN’T ABOUT IMPROVING THE DISCOURSE, IT’S ABOUT PROVIDING PEOPLE WITH NECESSARY LIVELIHOODS. IT’S NOT A PHIL 102 SEMINAR. We’re told by senior leadership that what we’re doing is both the morally and economically correct thing to do, but without evidence this is just veiled left ideology 7 WHAT EVIDENCE HAVE YOU SOUGHT OUT? that can irreparably harm Google.

Why we’re blind

We all have biases and use motivated reasoning to dismiss ideas that run counter to our internal values. DO YOU THINK THIS DOCUMENT MIGHT BE AN EXAMPLE OF THAT? Just as some on the Right deny science that runs counter to the “God > humans > environment” hierarchy (e.g., evolution and climate change), the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ 8 and sex differences). Thankfully, climate scientists and evolutionary biologists generally aren’t on the right. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social sciences lean left ( about 95% ), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap YOU HAVEN’T SUBMITTED ANY ARGUMENTS THAT SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM IS A MYTH AND THE WAGE GAP IS VERY WELL-DOCUMENTED. YOU SEEM TO BE SOURCING A LOT OF THESE ARGUMENTS FROM RIGHT-WING NEWS SITES 9 . Google’s left leaning makes us blind to this bias and uncritical of its results, which we’re using to justify highly politicized programs. WHY ARE HIGHLY POLITICIZED PROGRAMS BAD OF THEIR NATURE?

In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females. As mentioned before, this likely evolved because males are biologically disposable and because women are generally more cooperative and agreeable than men. YOU DIDN’T SUGGEST EVIDENCE FOR THIS ANYWHERE ALTHOUGH YOU DID VAGUELY ASSERT IT. AT ANY RATE WE’RE NOT CHIMPS, WE’VE BUILT AN ENTIRE SOCIETY We have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue issue affecting men, he’s labelled as a misogynist and a whiner 10 REALLY? EVERY SINGLE TIME?. Nearly every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression. WHAT? As with many things in life, gender differences are often a case of “grass being greener on the other side”; unfortunately, taxpayer and Google money is being spent to water only one side of the lawn. NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE


7 Communism promised to be both morally and economically superior to capitalism, but every attempt became morally corrupt and an economic failure. YEAH, CHINA’S REALLY CIRCLING THE FINANCIAL DRAIN WHILE THE US GOES FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH As it became clear that the working class of the liberal democracies wasn’t going to overthrow their “capitalist oppressors,” the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy.” SON, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
8 Ironically, IQ tests were initially championed by the Left when meritocracy meant helping the victims of aristocracy. WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE PRICE OF TEA IN CHINA? ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT CONTEMPORARY RACE SCIENCE? I HOPE NOT
9 Yes, in a national aggregate, women have lower salaries than men for a variety of reasons . For the same work though, women get paid just as much as men. SIGNIFICANTLY, THERE ARE ALSO FEWER WOMEN IN JOBS THAT PAY MORE WHICH YOU’VE SPENT THE ENTIRE DOCUMENT WAVING OFF AS EVIDENCE OF EVOLUTION OR SOMETHING Considering women spend more money than men and that salary represents how much the employee sacrifices (e.g. more hours, stress, and danger), we really need to rethink our stereotypes around power. BULLSHIT. A GOLD MINER MAKES A LOT LESS THAN AN SVP PROJECT MANAGER AND THE GOLD MINER IS GOING TO BREAK HIS LEG FALLING OFF A PILE OF ROCKS WHILE THE PROJECT MANAGER GETS SIX WEEKS OF VACATION. NURSES UNDERGO STRESS YOU’VE NEVER EVEN DREAMED OF.
10 “The traditionalist system of gender does not deal well with the idea of men needing support. Men are expected to be strong, to not complain, and to deal with problems on their own. Men’s problems are more often seen as personal failings rather than victimhood, due to our gendered idea of agency. This discourages men from bringing attention to their issues (whether individual or group-wide issues), for fear of being seen as whiners, complainers, or weak.” THIS IS ALL TRUE! THIS IS A HUGE PROBLEM! WHAT IS IT A QUOTE FROM, THOUGH?


This same compassion for those seen as weak creates political correctness 11 , which constrains discourse and is complacent to the extremely sensitive PC-authoritarians that use violence VIOLENCE?! and shaming to advance their cause. While Google hasn’t harbored the violent leftist protests that we’re seeing at universities SO NOT VIOLENCE, THEN, the frequent shaming in TGIF and in our culture has created the same silent, psychologically unsafe environment. AGAIN, I’D LIKE TO HEAR CONCRETE EXAMPLES OF THIS, BECAUSE IT DOES SOUND BAD BUT I’D LIKE TO KNOW WHAT IT IS WE’RE TRYING TO FIX BY DRASTICALLY ALTERING OUR COMPANY’S DISCRIMINATION POLICIES.


I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. I HAVE BAD NEWS My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. YOU HAVE NOT DEMONSTRATED THIS I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism THIS IS ANOTHER FEDERALIST HOT TAKE WORD AND MAKES YOU SOUND LIKE AN ASSHOLE).

My concrete suggestions are to:

  • ●  De-moralize diversity.○ As soon as we start to moralize an issue , we stop thinking about it in terms of costs and benefits, dismiss anyone that disagrees as immoral, and harshly punish those we see as villains to protect the “victims.”
  • ●  Stop alienating conservatives .
    ○ Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently. ACTUALLY, VIEWPOINT DIVERSITY IS UTTERLY WORTHLESS. DO YOU WANT VIEWPOINT DIVERSITY ON WHETHER THE HOLOCAUST HAPPENED? OR WHETHER THE MOON LANDING WAS FAKED? NO? THEN YOU WANT SPECIAL PLEADING FOR YOUR TEAM’S BAD IDEAS○ In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves. WHY? WHY IS CONSERVATIVE SELF-EXPRESSION A CORPORATE GOOD AMONG SOFTWARE ENGINEERS? DO YOU NOT GET PAID EVERY TWO WEEKS? IS CONSERVATISM A FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED RELIGION NOW? IS IT A DISABILITY?
    ○ Alienating conservatives is both non-inclusive and generally bad business because conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness, which is required for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company. IT IS VERY TRUE THAT CONSERVATIVES ARE OFTEN EXTREMELY CONSCIENTIOUS BUT THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO STAND TO HEAR PEOPLE SAY THINGS THEY DISAGREE WITH. THEY HAVE RIGHTS AS MEMBERS OF THEIR RACE, RELIGION AND SEXUAL IDENTITY BUT POLITICAL ALIGNMENT IS NOT INHERITED OR A FORM OF WORSHIP.
  • ●  Confront Google’s biases.
    • ○  I’ve mostly concentrated on how our biases cloud our thinking about diversity and inclusion, but our moral biases are farther reaching than that.
    • ○  I would start by breaking down Googlegeist scores by political orientation and personality to give a fuller picture into how our biases are affecting our culture.

○ These discriminatory practices are both unfair and divisive. Instead focus on some of the non-discriminatory practices I outlined. YOU’VE RECOMMENDED A COUPLE OF VERY TENTATIVE PRACTICES THAT WOULD NOT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE TO HIRING DIVERSITY THAT I CAN ASCERTAIN


11 Political correctness is defined as “the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against,” which makes it clear why it’s a phenomenon of the Left and a tool of authoritarians. PLEASE SUBMIT AN ADDITIONAL DOCUMENT OF SIMILAR LENGTH DESCRIBING THE REGIMES OF MARGINALIZED AUTHORITARIANS THROUGHOUT HISTORY


  • ●  Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs.
    • ○  Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts. AREN’T PEOPLE WHO WORK IN THEIR FIELD OF CHOICE GENERALLY HAPPIER THAN PEOPLE WHO DON’T, WHILE PEOPLE IN PRISON OFTEN WISH THEY WERE NOT IN PRISON?
    • ○  There’s currently very little transparency into the extent of our diversity programs which keeps it immune to criticism from those outside its ideological echo chamber. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY “EXTENT” HERE? THIS IS A POTENTIALLY WORTHWHILE AVENUE OF EXPLORATION
    • ○  These programs are highly politicized which further alienates non-progressives. DOES IT ALIENATE NON-PROGRESSIVE WOMEN AND PEOPLE OF COLOR WHO BENEFIT FROM THE PROGRAMS, OR ONLY WHITE, MALE NON-PROGRESSIVES?
    • ○  I realize that some of our programs may be precautions against government accusations of discrimination, but that can easily backfire since they incentivize illegal discrimination. THIS ASSERTION NEEDS EVIDENCE. IT IS VERY SERIOUS.
  • ●  Focus on psychological safety, not just race/gender diversity.
    • ○  We should focus on psychological safety, which has shown positive effects and should (hopefully) not lead to unfair discrimination.
    • ○  We need psychological safety and shared values to gain the benefits of diversity.
    • ○  Having representative viewpoints is important for those designing and testing our products, but the benefits are less clear for those more removed from UX. NO, DIVERSE ENGINEERS CONSIDER DIVERSE USE CASES
  • ●  De-emphasize empathy.

○ I’ve heard several calls for increased empathy on diversity issues. While I strongly support trying to understand how and why people think the way they do, relying on affective empathy—feeling another’s pain—causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts. THIS WOULD BE USEFUL ADVICE IF PEOPLE WERE ROBOTS BUT IN FACT PEOPLE DO THINGS FOR ALL KINDS OF REASONS, MANY OF THEM CONTRADICTORY AND SOME TOTALLY IRRATIONAL. EMPATHY IS AN IMPORTANT TOOL FOR COLLATING FACTS ABOUT MOTIVATION, NOT A WEIRD INTERFERING SIGNAL THAT OBSCURES FACTS

  • ●  Prioritize intention.
    • ○  Our focus on microaggressions and other unintentional transgressions increases our sensitivity, which is not universally positive: sensitivity increases both our tendency to take offence and our self censorship, leading to authoritarian policies. Speaking up without the fear of being harshly judged is central to psychological safety, but these practices can remove that safety by judging unintentional transgressions. GOOD FAITH WOULD SEEM ESSENTIAL TO THIS STEP, WHICH I COMMEND TO YOU
    • ○  Microaggression training incorrectly and dangerously equates speech with violence and isn’t backed by evidence. THAT’S A GOOD POINT
  • ●  Be open about the science of human nature. BACK AT YOU

○ Once we acknowledge that not all differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems.

● Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees.

  • ○  We haven’t been able to measure any effect of our Unconscious Bias training and it has the potential for overcorrecting or backlash, especially if made mandatory.
  • ○  Some of the suggested methods of the current training (v2.3) are likely useful, but the political bias of the presentation is clear from the factual inaccuracies and the examples shown.
  • ○  Spend more time on the many other types of biases besides stereotypes. Stereotypes are much more accurate and responsive to new information than the training suggests (I’m not advocating for using stereotypes, I just pointing out the factual inaccuracy of what’s said in the training). “STEREOTYPES ARE ACCURATE” IS NOT A USEFUL RUBRIC FOR INTERACTING WITH PEOPLE DEEPLY OR REGULARLY

Stray Comics Thoughts 7/31

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—Adrian Tomine, the brilliant artist behind Shortcomings and Summer Blonde, has the title story from his near-perfect collection Killing and Dying for sale through art dealer Todd Hignite and, to my surprise, every single panel of the story turns out to have been drawn on a separate 8.5″x11″ piece of paper.

Tomine excels at gestures like this, which become not much more than a weird background hum to even the most careful reader. But they are there: Shortcomings, you’ll be completely unaware, is set in real places, each of which was drawn carefully and proportionately by Tomine. In “Killing and Dying,” the artist draws at a size he needs for the precision necessary to achieve greatness, both as a theme of the story about a young woman struggling to become a standup comic and, as the quality of the story itself.

I know I went on at length about what a purely good collection of short stories Killing and Dying happens to be, never mind a collection of cartoon short stories or a a graphic novel, but its virtuosity continues to amaze me. I’ve read it several times and I always find something new and overwhelming in it.

—In the interest of determining what the fuck is wrong with people I’d like to draw our mutual attention to the case of a very nice Marvel editor called Heather Antos who posted a picture of herself and some coworkers holding milkshakes and then received scores of rude, cruel, or hateful tweets and DMs on Twitter related to Marvel’s various offerings of pseudo-woke superhero comics.

Look, corporate feminism, *especially* at the Disney Company, is patriarchal garbage designed to part women from their money and provide a sop to people who might otherwise use their energy to campaign for free birth control and paid maternity leave. We all know this. This was a reaction to a young woman posting a picture of herself and some buds with a snack, though.

I am, to a fault, interested in understanding not merely what makes people bigoted but why they personally believe they are behaving in what other people perceive as bigoted ways, so I’m asking this: What about a picture of seven smiling women drinking milkshakes on a Friday afternoon in July makes you want to—and I’m going to use the turn of phrase I think these guys would use—”start a conversation” about Marvel’s diversity-minded publishing slate? Why don’t Brian Bendis’s tweets of great comics artists make you want to do this? Why doesn’t Dan Slott tweeting about Doctor Who cause dozens upon dozens of people to tweet ugly things at him, delete them, and then deny having ever written them in the first place?

You might want to “start a conversation” because *you don’t like to see women enjoying themselves.* You think they’re smug. You think they’re entitled. You know Hank Pym’s birthday and Captain America’s shoe size and Iron Man’s annual salary adjusted for inflation and you think these people can’t possibly be as committed to the enterprise of creating comics as you, the person committed to the enterprise of reading them. Look at them! Young, smiling, friendly, normal-looking, by and large—everything you, nerd, have been expelled from.

So here’s the thing, fuckers: If women don’t look happy, confident and attractive, they are not allowed to have jobs or places to live or food. So, actually, these women are just trying to be normal within the incredibly limited standard deviation defined for them by a culture that, yes, includes the extremely mildly subversive but mostly overwhelmingly patriarchal product they are generating, in which there are, for some reason, very few superheroines who don’t look like underwear models, give or take a Morlock, and almost no publication designed exclusively for women in the way that the huge majority of Marvel’s books have been designed exclusively for men for the last fifty years. Weirdly, posting a picture of yourself *eating* something, especially something that is not lettuce, is itself kind rad for its dismissal of the shame and judgment that, for women, goes along with eating things. I’m not saying it’s calculated, I’m just saying it’s progress that they’re able to be comfortable snacking in public. The bar for women is that fucking high.

So actually maybe it’s kind of good that they’re devoting some time to at least clawing out a place where women allowed to exist at all, even if it’s as fictional characters wholly owned by Walt Disney’s shareholders, and even if those characters must be peak physical specimens who are compelling simply all the goddamn time. Maybe that is a tiny toehold, and maybe these tiny toeholds in the sheer rock face of patriarchal oppression are significant for their rarity, and maybe we can enjoy the subversive aspects of these books created by almost overwhelming capitalist malice at the same time that we demand far more of the financiers and executives who profit from them. Maybe, actually, the degree to which culture panders to men is worthy of the same scrutiny, given that patriarchy hurts men, too.

And maybe the people trying to roll that boulder up that very high hill deserve a fucking milkshake.

I don’t know, you tell me.

–I read a bunch of comics this weekend. Here they are:

  • One More Year by Simon Hanselmann, the Tasmanian cartoonist probably best known outside his work for cross-dressing and for “marrying comics” in a public ceremony a few years ago. I’d never read anything by Hanselmann; consuming his public persona felt like enough work. Surprise: One More Year is very, very, very dark and occasionally so funny I’d laugh very loudly on the subway reading it. It’s too mean, but I’m not sure that’s a knock. One More Year takes such an unblinking look at the lives of utterly hopeless druggies who’d be lost to despair if they had any sense, so thank God they don’t, that I’m still kind of depressed after reading it. It’s a very good book and it’s ostensibly comedy but it packs a wallop. Hanselmann’s art is really unexpected and cool—it looks like the children’s artist Richard Scarry’s images of funny animals, except the watercolors are all vaguely grayish and the setting is crummy suburbia. Hanselmann’s mastery of his characters is total; each of them feels like they’d be able to live a thousand more episodes like the ones contained in One More Year (Hanselmann has other books about his witch and cat protagonists, Megg and Mogg, on that note). They’re all fairly hateful people: Even Owl, who’s kind of the square of the group and thus the character I immediately wanted to root for, is so self-centered and priggish he’s hard to like—intentionally, I think. Megg is the most normal-seeming and Mogg is the funniest; Werewolf Jones, the final main character, is very similar to Matt Furie’s Landwolf in the sense that he is a huge asshole of the “I pranked you” variety, but Hanselmann makes him a little more entertaining than just that by making him totally uninterested in any consequences—to his friends, of course, but also to himself. The book’s denouement—and it does have one, which itself feels a little like a spoiler, so, sorry—sneaks up on you, but when it comes it’s utterly crushing. (Disclosure: Hanselmann is married to Jacq Cohen, the publicist at Fantagraphics, who has always been super nice to me and sent me books when I was laid off and so on. I’ve never met Hanselmann and am frankly frightened of him after reading this book but his wife is great.)
  • Uncomfortably Happily by Hong Yeon-shik, which is both virtuousic in its draftsmanship and such a meticulous reconstruction of performing the most tedious parts of creative work that it’s almost metonymyic; a tiny little piece of the grueling labor of producing itself. It’s a book about a guy who moves with his wife to the top of a mountain outside Seoul, far from the madding crowd, and tries to survive the winter working as a cartoonist for a big Korean publisher on work he doesn’t own, all while he pines to draw his own graphic novel. There’s a lot of subtext to the book but where One More Year is about the emptiness at the center of a repetitive, bizarre existence trying every flavor of controlled substance, Uncomfortably Happily is about trying to find fulfillment outside of variety. I’d have less patience for it if Hong’s drawings were’t so beautiful, but they are.
  • Mark Waid’s Avengers is a fun exercise in reverse-stunt casting—everybody’s either a B-lister or a controversial race- or gender-flipped variation on a Kirby-era hero—that would probably go great if Marvel would leave Waid alone to write it. This is always the problem with the Avengers, recently—they’re too integral to the way the Marvel Universe works to avoid being dragged along in whatever dreadful crossover story is happening this month. Like a bunch of really good books over the last couple of years, All-New, All-Different Avengers gets three volumes in before Marvel makes Waid reboot the whole enterprise and start back at volume 1 despite continuing the same story threaded through all four books so far. The art varies wildly; relative Mahmud Asrur’s work in the first few volumes is solid and assured but for some reason the much older and more famous artist on the book, Adam Kubert, just phones in most of his pages. It’s disappointing. The reboot has candy-colored psychedelic art by a guy named Mike del Mundo I’ll have to keep an eye out for; if the was the 90’s he’d be working in gouache and these issues of the new Avengers series would be “prestige format” editions at $5.99 apiece, but as it is he’s working digitally and he’s just the regular old series artist. Sometimes comics are good. The villain of the piece is Kang, a character Waid writes well; I’ll hang on until he’s done, I think. Waid’s long Marvel runs aren’t always a sure bet—the first two books of The Indestructible Hulk were the only installments of that series worth reading, and for largely the same reasons itemized above—but when they’re good, like his recent run on Daredevil, they’re loads of fun.


Dear DC Comics, I know why no one will give you their best work

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DC Comics publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio did something truly remarkable even by the comic industry’s extremely high standards for shamelessness at their company’s industry panel at San Diego Comic Con last week. Here’s how it went.

The industry panels are part fan maintenance, with superhero lovers asking questions about the fates of various characters, and part industry talkback, with executives and professionals comparing notes on what works and what doesn’t.

In the same panel, Lee and DiDio bemoaned the lack of high-wattage stories being written in superhero comics and confirmed that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Dr Manhattan, a character from the pair’s seminal 1986 story Watchmen, would turn out to be the true villain behind an multi-title crossover story that would also introduce the other characters from Watchmen into the publisher’s shared universe.

The story would also serve as a bit of intracompany literary criticism: The kinds of stories Moore wrote for DC in the ’80’s, before he left the company and vowed never to work with them again, tended toward the grim and the sad; because Moore is an astoundingly gifted writer, especially of superhero comics, his work sparked a trend of Moore-ish superhero comics, most of which tried to accomplish a sense of adultness through inserting clumsily handled gore and adolescent sexual fantasies.

Well, don’t worry, the new DC Comics will not have that sort of thing, or rather, it will have it in smaller measure, because DC is getting away from all that stuff and the true villain will turn out to be its progenitor, Dr Manhattan himself.

This, DiDio and Lee told the audience, would hopefully help rescue the industry from cratering sales, which have been plaguing superhero publishers of late. Blockbuster superhero action movies are wildly popular; the comics that birth them, however, not so much.

“As a result, DC is shifting its focus,” wrote Tom Bacon, a reporter who covered the panel for Moviepilot.com. “Lee talked about the importance of what he called the ‘evergreen’ stories — the tales that never grow old, like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. The challenge facing DC is a simple one; how can they make the next generation of ‘evergreen’ stories, that don’t require in-depth knowledge of superhero continuity, but that stand the test of time and transform the genre? Part of it is getting key writers on board; the only one Lee named in the panel was Neil Gaiman.”

It’s a little surprising Lee even named Gaiman, because DC habitually treats comics creators like garbage, most recently by violating its right of first refusal on characters derived from Gaiman’s seminal comic The Sandman and then embarrassingly having to walk back a press release just last week after it was pointed out to them.

And the two people most egregiously and unnecessarily insulted and swindled by DC’s complete apathy toward the people who could, if they wanted, revitalize the company’s library of valuable intellectual property, are Watchmen creators Moore and Gibbons themselves. In 1986 when DC gave Moore and Gibbons their contract, the company, not the artists, was publicly very high on the unorthodox nature of the agreement, which returned the characters to the artists if they went unused for a year.

It was a propitious moment for that kind of publicity: Marvel, under a historically unpopular editor-in-chief named Jim Shooter, had embroiled itself in a nasty public legal dispute with Jack Kirby, who had created a good 75% of its valuable unreal estate singlehandedly, and the publisher was holding his art hostage until he signed a form giving them the rights in perpetuity to make movies from his work, reprint it and derive new work from it without remunerating him in the least. DC saw opportunity.

“What would be horrendous, and DC could legally do it, would be to have Rorschach crossing over with Batman or something like that,” Gibbons mused in a panel discussion in 1987, “but I’ve got enough faith in them that I don’t think they’d do that. I think because of the unique team they couldn’t get anybody else to take it over to do Watchmen II or anything else like that, and we’ve certainly got no plans to do Watchmen II.”

It goes without saying that DC did not return the rights to the characters to Moore and Gibbons; the 12-issue limited series was so successful that it did something few had thought possible: It proved popular in the collected, novelized form sold in bookstores as well as in its original comic book-sized format. So, DC reasoned, since it still ran printing after printing of its Watchmen graphic novel, it was in some sense publishing work containing the characters and didn’t have to return the rights to them to Gibbons and Moore, and of course it hasn’t been out of print in 30 years.

Moore was angrier about this than Gibbons, but the artist’s famous even temper was apparently simply an invitation to walk on him: Not only did DC put out a series of Watchmen follow-up comics a few years ago over loud protests from Moore (Gibbons agreed to work as a consultant), a few years later they didn’t even bother to tell Gibbonsthe creator they were still ostensibly on good terms with, that they would be going ahead and realizing his worst fears of corporate malfeasance. Rorschach will indeed meet Batman, Dr Manhattan will enter the DC Universe, and the homogenizing tentacles of corporate comics will have illimitable domain over even Watchmen‘s eccentric and brilliant creations.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first printing of Watchmen, originally through an imprint of Warner Books, because DC didn’t even have an in-house collected editions division at the time. To celebrate it, DC will be stripping its writer and artist of the last measure of dignity they retain in relation to its creation.

So when Dan DiDio and Jim Lee pretend to have no idea what on earth it is that keeps prominent creators away from corporate comics when they are needed so badly to keep the intellectual property factory functioning at peak capacity, please understand what they’re really saying is that they hope some day soon to meet talented people who are also willing to be swindled.

The Name of Progress

Carson Holloway, a visiting fellow with right-wing think-tank (which is, admittedly, a redundant turn of phrase) has this compelling lede in an article in the conservative Catholic journal First Things this month:

Last year, Christian conservatives had serious reservations about Donald Trump. I was among them. But many of us voted for him anyway. For most, the calculation was straightforward. The end—protecting ourselves, our children, and our country from an increasingly hostile ­progressivism—justified the means, the Trump presidency. This raises a crucial question: May Christians make such a calculation? Or did those of us who voted for Trump on those terms forfeit our Christian principles?

It will disappoint some and surprise no one that Holloway has absolutely no intention of honestly exploring the answer to either of the questions he poses here, so I have some of my own, for him and for others who think like him. Holloway spends his word count carefully masturbating about Niccolo Macchiavelli’s The Prince, a work of genuine profundity to the college freshmen and a code-word for tiresome conversation ever after.

Trump is either a “benign Machiaveillian,” in which case it was wise to vote for him, a “dark Machiavellian,” in which case it was reasonable if unpleasant to vote for him, or “a truly dark Machiavellian prince bereft of moral principles,” in which case there was no choice but to vote for him, because “[t]ruly principled statesmen… are rarely available.” Indeed,

In supporting Trump, Christians may be doing something unwise—there are no guarantees in public life. But they are doing nothing un-Christian.

But of course this is horseshit of the rankest vintage and Christians who voted for and publicly support Donald Trump ought to beg God and their fellow man for forgiveness because Trump is not even an ordinarily venal and contemptible politician but a despicably wicked person who has undertaken for his entire career to enrich himself at the ruinous expense of the vulnerable and destitute and now proposes to inflict this project on the country at large.

If his loathsome mistreatment of women does not disqualify him in the eyes of a Christian church that, admittedly, has little use in its current form for the sex that bears children, perhaps people who supposedly take into account the opinions of Jesus Christ ought to be disturbed by the behavior of someone who sold the dream of wealth to the very poor for tens of thousands of dollars, with special emphasis on black people, through infomercials, high-pressure sales tactics, and positive student evaluations obtained by duress through his unaccredited and unlicensed Trump University.

Perhaps it ought to bother people who claim to have any familiarity with the Gospels that Trump systematically refused to sell apartments in his buildings to black people, or that he took out an ad in the New York Times calling for five black children to be executed as punishment for a crime of which they had been falsely accused, or that he told his supporters to beat up protestors, and that a number of those supporters happily complied, beating Hispanic and black people at his rallies.

When someone brags, not in private, but in an interview with a national news network, that he strategically refuses to repay his creditors in order to enrich himself and calls himself “The King of Debt;” when he says that not returning public money to the IRS “makes him smart;” when the Mafia, for some unexplained reason, builds his casino with undocumented Polish workers who charge far below the going rate, work 12-hour shifts, don’t wear hard hats and eventually sue him for refusing to pay them even their meager wages; then, perhaps, we can begin to reliably infer that at the time of Jesus’ suggestion in Mark 10 that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, the image in the mind of our Lord, of someone whose girth exceeds the diameter of heaven’s gate, might have borne a passing resemblance to Holloway’s supposed champion of conservative virtue.

And, additionally, once we have considered for that quiet moment that Christ’s imprecations against progressivism are difficult to locate using Cruden’s Concordance, it might behoove us to look back on the nature of most of these offenses with a little introspection: Why doesn’t it bother us that Trump stole from black students or refused to sell condos to black house-hunters or bought ad space to demand that the state murder innocent black children? Why do we find ourselves unmoved or even uninformed about the white nationalist who assaulted a black woman at a Trump rally? Why do we roll our eyes when we hear people suggest that there might be some sort of nasty, subsonic valences in Trump’s imprecations against the inner cities and his invocation of murder statistics in Obama’s home town of Chicago and his repeatedly mislabeling Ferguson, Missouri, Brooklyn, New York and Oakland, California as “among the most dangerous [places] in the world?”

Perhaps there is a common thread there.

These are just Trump’s personal statements. His policies are, if anything, worse in their systemic immiseration of defenseless people. And yet Christians yawn at the deportation of Americans brought here by their parents as children, including the adopted children of missionaries. Kris Kobach, the politician responsible for purging black people from voter rolls, has been enfranchised with a special commission that will enable him to operate on a national level—fine. 22 million of our fellow citizens will lose health insurance if Trump’s crushing legislative agenda, such as it is, passes its first hurdle in the Senate—all right.

It’s said often in both progressive and conservative circles that the presidency is most useful in domestic terms as a figurehead; a sort of example to the world of the kind of place our country is, or ought to be. In Trump, his voters, largely wealthy and middle-class baby boomers who will be the final American generation to better themselves socially without college degrees, have found a particular kind of avatar, and not of faith in Jesus.

The most fundamental act of Christianity, clearly, is confession; Trump, for all his sins, is notable for his refusal to apologize except in the most perfunctory fashion and under the harshest duress. When he was for a moment shamed into addressing a recording of his bragging that he could grab any woman he wanted “by the pussy” because he was a celebrity, he denied, absurdly, that his clandestine admission of the kind of mistreatment a dozen women had already accused him of perpetrating constituted an admission of guilt. He said “I apologize” but he didn’t say to whom or ask anyone for forgiveness. If there is a system of belief opposite in every way to the humble practice of Christianity, Trump demonstrates it in his person and his policies.

Finally, what is this “increasingly hostile progressivism” that so frightens Holloway that all of this is somehow the lesser evil? If it is a set of policy positions worse than the above, I applaud its creators for their vivid imaginations.

If, as I more strongly suspect, it is an inchoate social force that promotes a cultural pluralism with no higher good than to live and let live, and seems to privilege the unconventional for sake of pure novelty, and the coruscations of unfamiliar desire that pleasurably accompany that shock of the new, I suspect the name it wants, the name that struggles and fails to deserve it, is America.

You’re Asking the Wrong Questions

American FlaggAnother day, another offensive image to be upset about, another group of painfully marginalized and sympathetic people demanding the artist who created it suffer consequences; in another quarter, another essay on the ways “freeze peach” mouth-breathers from the web’s underbelly stifle the worthy work of people less privileged than they are.

In all of this there’s a particular video worth watching, called “What Happened at Vidcon?” detailing a minor spat between two YouTube celebrities, Boogie2988, the online handle of an Arkansas man named Steven Jay Williams, and Anita Sarkeesian, the feminist media critic who has managed to barter her notoriety as the victim of persecution by legions of unbearable internet trolls who threaten to rape and murder her into a semi-positive position as a commentator. The video is below.

So there are a few things worth noting here, among them that Williams seems legitimately frightened of Sarkeesian, who is much more famous than he is and will doubtless “win” in a social media beef with him and possibly damage his standing in the video-maker community, which is entirely dependent on various surprisingly large microcults. This is a newish form of entertainment and it is entertaining precisely because it is quite real; the people who are able to make a living on YouTube must strike a balance between participating in intramural drama between other vloggers and remaining likable to their viewership.

Williams makes a number of implicit and explicit requests for sympathy from his audience, which is about par for the course (another video starts with his complaining about his sleep deficit), especially with multiple references to his anxiety, by which I assume he means a psychiatric disorder, possibly professionally diagnosed. Google him and you can learn his family history fairly easily, which has apparently been the subject of some of his videos.

What’s most interesting is that Williams actually does generate scripted work in the form of comedy sketches starring a character he writes called “Francis,” a stereotypical video game nerd. No one, though, could mistake Francis for Williams’s product; his product is himself. He’s not selling art, he’s selling the experience of being close to an artist and knowing the person who creates something of value, which in turn conveniently obscures the value of the the art itself.

In the New York Times today, the comedian and writer Lindy West observes, not for the first time, that the Constitutional right to free speech is a function of government and that therefore it is self-evidently idiotic to accuse her of censorship when she is not at work in the government, but is instead trying to defend people like Sarkeesian, who features prominently in the article, from cruel, anonymous strangers.

The problem with this argument is that when people accuse writers like West and others of impinging on the right to speak of people they disagree with, they are not telling West she has committed a crime, they are saying she has violated a principle, and that of course is true. West is very frank that she thinks people should be fired for saying racist and sexist things on the internet and that’s a statement that feels true until you think about who defines offensive speech, under what circumstances and to what ends.

Which is to say, anyone at all, whenever they want, for whatever reason suits them.

Standards of racism and sexism vary wildly throughout American culture. Liberals often like to think of bigotry as being defined carefully and taxonomically by sober academics who deploy precision and good judgment, conscious of the weight their findings will carry once they are published, but of course academics are the first people in line to use accusations of prejudice to torpedo career tracks, ruin reputations and drive people out of their jobs.

The fact of the matter is that current standards of racism and sexism are not enforced by a council of social scientists but by large corporations and universities who react exclusively to threats to their financial well-being and do not give a good goddamn about what is or isn’t “actually” racist or sexist, only what appears to be publicly damaging to their reputations. West and others have developed complex rubrics and they are often worth examining and understanding but they are entirely worthless in the real world because no one who will fire an employee for saying something outside of work that outrages a group of influential people actually possesses any sort of moral compass.

This seems very obvious to me and to many others but the potential to misuse these incredibly powerful tools of public shame hasn’t stopped people like West and others from lobbying for their creation, and so we now have them: Logrolling campaigns on Twitter and Facebook, doxxing, calling the offender’s employer to tell them about the ugly thing they’ve done; these are all now part of the antiracist and the feminist’s toolkit.

And of course they are also part of the white supremacist’s toolkit, the misogynist’s toolkit, and the troll’s toolkit. While feminists and antiracists often understand ideals with a laudable degree of precision, committed Nazis and chauvinists inherently understand norms, because they tirelessly test them for weak points and invest their intellectual resources not in honing their arguments through committed discussion with their peers, but in finding interruptions and exceptions that will allow them to more easily prey on women and  exclude minorities. A rapist’s mission is very clear; a feminist’s goals are created anew every day by that rapist’s shifting emphasis on new and untried ambiguities.

There’s no more fertile farm for ambiguities than the internet, where no one wants to think about anything for very long, and so West finds herself in a bind she articulates very well near the end of her piece: “It’s not hard to draw a straight line from internet culture warriors’ misappropriation of free speech to our current mass delusions over climate change, the Hyde Amendment, abstinence-only education, health care as a luxury and class as a meritocracy.”

It’s true, the notion of “free speech” has been effortlessly coopted by fantastically wealthy ideologues in order to fund shadow ecosystems of news that traffic exclusively in misinformation. But those things didn’t grow up because they were popular, as West seems to believe; they were carefully nurtured with gobs of money by people who have a vested concrete financial interest in their propagation. The American government, as West observes, does not regulate speech, but it also does not regulate much of anything else, including healthcare, which is the real payment for most modern jobs.

So two things are definitely true, then: The first is that the Right has just as much power as the Left to deploy grievance culture in the service of punishing individual speakers—West cites a number of sad examples in her op-ed, most significantly Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, who had to cancel two of her talks after receiving credible threats, on top of dozens of vile, hateful emails, for describing the President as a “racist and sexist megalomaniac” in a speech at Hampshire College that was subsequently aired on Fox News, which is an amazing tool for kickstarting astroturf outrage campaigns through the scores of aggregator outlets that rereport its already breathless coverage at an even higher pitch. Reports in conservative media tied Yamahatta-Taylor’s speech to the decision by Hampshire, where she does not teach, to fly the flag at half-staff to protest post-election violence, an affront to a particular stated value of conservatives, namely respect for veterans (some of whom protested the decision). The resulting spasm of rage demanded, and got, one thing from Yamahatta-Taylor: Silence. This despite the fact of both the lowered flag and Yamahatta-Taylor’s speech being political dissent, presumably exactly the sort of speech any law or principle ought to protect.

The second truth is that the only way to purge a speech act from the public square is to demonstrate that its expression is a significant enough financial liability to an employer that its fiscal state would be improved by cutting ties with the speaker. That will likely either force the speaker to shut up or apologize in the hopes of retaining his job and healthcare, and it will send a powerful message to everyone else: Say this thing, and your child might die of strep throat.

And so at last we come to poor old art, the bastard cousin of conviction, and its latest offense against the people: the cartoonist Howard Chaykin has drawn an ugly picture.

It is in fact an incredibly ugly picture, an image of a man being lynched, his genitals apparently mutilated, and it appears on the cover of issue #4 of Chaykin’s embarrassing comic The Divided States of Hysteria, which communicates with, at least, a great deal of sincerity, a cable-news-watching middle-aged white urban liberal’s idea of what’s wrong with the country and the world. It’s supposed to be a revenge fantasy, I guess, but it traffics in eye-rollingly racist caricatures in exactly the sort of way that is hard to forgive even when it’s clear that the genuine offense it gives is unintentional.

The book also features a transsexual prostitute, like a great many Chaykin books, notably the author’s Black Kiss neonoir comics, which are also very bad.

I’m not going to spend too much of our precious lives defending Chaykin’s body of work beyond saying that it deserves such a defense; Time^2 is a terrific graphic novel series and his long-running American Flagg book broke new artistic ground in a wide variety of ways. His recent stuff has been good, too, notably a 12-issue miniseries about the birth of television with the writer Matt Fraction called Satellite Sam.

The question of whether the cover is in poor taste is a settled one: Yes, absolutely. On a book that is not very good? You got it. On a book that is not worth defending?

Well, now, see, those are fighting words.

The discussion of Chaykin’s work online at the moment is split between bad-faith readings of all his work in an effort to show that he is attempting to convert his readers into trans-hating monsters, well-meaning defenses minimizing a specific tone-deafness that has permeated a long and distinguished career, and highly contemptible efforts to psychologize him and pin down the forces of influence in a life and a mind nobody writing has any access to. These are all hugely, obviously, wrong approaches: Chaykin is not Steven Jay Williams. He is not selling his anxiety disorder on YouTube. He is selling drawings and stories, and if they say something about him personally, you probably don’t know what that thing is. Williams has spent quite a bit of time crafting his personality for maximum likability; Chaykin has spent decades trying to do things with comics that no one else has ever done. To treat the Chaykin the way you would treat Williams is to do the former a tremendous disservice. He hasn’t given you access to his personality and you don’t understand it.

What ought to be said about Chaykin is that he is a tremendously talented artist and a less talented if still very gifted writer who is interested in writing about and drawing transwomen in a very lurid way that isn’t consistent with contemporary progressive ideas, and the fact that his new work still contains those particular blind spots can seem grotesque and to interfere with the baseline pleasure of reading a comic book.

What cannot be said about Chaykin is that he has “exploited” anyone—he draws from memory, not models and his characters are invented—that he has done violence to anyone by drawing a picture no one is being forced to look at, or that he has somehow abdicated his right to publish his comics.

The discussion of his work in the comics community is mostly devoted to whether he understands trans people in his heart, what his relationship to them is and has been, and whether he harbors bigotries that express themselves through his work. All of those are discussions worth having about Steven Jay Williams, because he has invited them. Chaykin has not, and there is no text from which to argue that he is a toxic or harmful person. His person is unavailable.

Many artists have very bad, regressive, perverse or just stupid ideas. Robert Crumb’s obsessions with degrading the women his proxy characters have sex with and with eye-wateringly grotesque ethnic caricatures make much of his early work very difficult to read. They are also obviously necessary for him to work through whatever it was he needed to work through to create some of the most beautiful and insightful satire anyone has ever been able to publish in any form and are of course incredibly valuable to the world for exactly that reason, and he seems to be a decent person in his dealings with other artists and with his family. Conversely, Charles Schulz notoriously drew entire subplots in his  family-friendly Peanuts comics that detailed the ways he was cheating on his wife with a woman 22 years his junior. The character of the artist and the character of the work are so far separated that they are often diametrically opposed, and so you can never really divine the one from the other.

As to what a work of art means, that’s an aspect of art that the artist has never controlled and will never be able to control; it’s what makes it a work of art and not a statement of fact.

Image Comics, the publisher of Chaykin’s current book, pulled the cover last week and issued an apology. It gave me chills. Irrespective of the carefully worded mea culpa, what the statement actually said was this: “We are frightened. We worry that our relationships with our fellow artists and our readers will be adversely affected by work we had already agreed to publish, and so we are reneging on that agreement in order to appease people who might do us harm. We are easily swayed, and unwilling to stand by our editorial decisions on principle, and to defend the economically precarious artists we employ from baseless attacks on their character.

“We will probably behave the same way next time.”

I updated this to correct an error: Keeanga Yamahatta-Taylor was not fired, she had to cancel talks because of credible threats to her safety. I had the incident confused with the case of John McAdams, a public policy professor at Marquette who was stripped of tenure after he blogged some retrograde opinions about a more junior teacher’s handling of a discussion of gay marriage. That case is complicated by the way the right responded to McAdams’ blog, which was by trying to bully the younger teacher into silence. My contention here remains that the bullying and the firing are expressions of the same phenomenon.

Ten questions about journalism

A friend doing a survey for a class she’s taking asked me this stuff. I took enough time with it that I thought I might put it up here in case it’s interesting to people. I was very honest so I hope none of this is shocking. I’ve lightly edited it for repeated words and typos and a couple of identifying details.

1. Tell me what influenced you to choose your profession.

Honestly, fictional portrayals of reporters in movies and comics. Tintin, Clark Kent, Peter Parker; they all seemed like they wanted to do the right thing so much. I never really grew out of that. Beyond that, when I got out of school, the one thing people told me I was good at was writing arts criticism, so I sought out a career doing that. Over the subsequent years I floated toward work that could both sustain me financially (arts writing isn’t really that because it’s been deprofessionalized by websites that don’t pay their contributors) and allowed me to try to do some good in the world. Now I’m in political reporting, where I think there is the capacity, at least, to change things for the better. It’s always hard to tell whether or not you’re doing that.

2. Has it been what you expected so far? If not, explain.

Definitely not, but I don’t know what I expected, really. It’s a very desirable job and I’m extremely lucky to have it, which I mostly do because people were nice to me along the way. There’s a hierarchy among journalists driven by class, personal wealth and connections that has absolutely nothing to do with talent, intelligence or hard work and that’s difficult to square with my idealized notion of the profession as vital truth-telling. Ability, acumen and reliability really don’t correspond at all to questions of who will get a cushy job at a TV network or a major newspaper and who has to take a buyout and switch careers in their forties.

But it’s still a very interesting job even if the conditions under which I perform it are often less than ideal. A shocking amount of really good, solid, effective journalism requires nothing more than a warm body, a working phone, and a willingness to keep on doing the work until it’s done. I also thought there would be more writing involved, but in fact the writing itself is the easiest, most enjoyable, least time-consuming part of the process. The hard part is winnowing down your theories into stuff that has a high probability of being true, getting as close to the people and documents who could tell you whether those things are true or not as you can, and then adjusting your the presumptions you started with to fit what you’ve learned. It’s a discipline I wish more people understood because it helps with consuming the news as well as writing it.

3. Where do you think your profession is heading? Do you view yourself as influencing your profession?

I don’t know where journalism is headed, which is an increasing worry to me as I approach middle age. I think there’s enough recognition that it does society good that it will probably be around for a while, but it’s being pushed toward amateurism really aggressively by people who think they understand what a reporter does, but don’t. No one can tell the difference between an opinion writer and a beat reporter any more, which is quite dangerous because it leads people to believe that every story is based on nothing more than the reporter’s personal beliefs, and increasingly, newsrooms encourage staff to do all their work from a computer. You learn very different facts from the internet than you learn by talking to people on the phone; you learn a third set of facts by meeting them in person. People are very important to journalism, and I think the digitization of the broader world – not just the end of print newspapers but the cessation of voice-to-voice phone calls and technologized general isolation – have damaged our ability to report on the vital human part of most stories, even as our ability to glean factoids in a matter of instants grows exponentially.

As to whether I’m personally influencing my profession, I don’t know. Maybe. I hope I’m influencing it for the better. When I can, I tell my immediate colleagues, who are almost all extremely organized, efficient, idealistic women in their twenties, “Do what you want to do with your life. Don’t be afraid people won’t hire you or promote you because you got married or had kids or took all your vacation days.” It’s all so arbitrary anyway. We all get fired when we turn 40. Ageism is a terrifying force in my profession; hardly anybody gets to retire any more. I was recently laid off and every open position seemed to be looking for someone who was ten years younger than I am and was hungry to pay their dues by working six days a week and filing five times a day. I can’t work like that any more. I regret the time I *did* spend working like that as a younger man; all it teaches you to do is ignore your personal well-being and write sloppy stories. I was incredibly lucky to find my current gig, which is not like that, and I hope I do well in it, but I also hope I can remember how much I learned about what is personally important during the two months I was jobless. If I’m having an influence I hope it’s by convincing people to go home on time and play with their dogs or something. It’s a very hard job and it drains you of a lot of your emotional and intellectual resources which can stunt your personal relationships and isolate you.

4. Is there a philosophy, theory, or framework which guides your practice? Please describe it for me and explain how you use it to guide practice.

The philosophy of journalism is to tell the reader the truth. People have a lot of very different ideas about what that means but it’s a simple enough rule. In general it breaks down into some guidelines that are pretty direct but are hard to follow:

-Seek reliable sources.
-Consider the need of your reader to know something above the need of a source to conceal it, but report only matters of sufficient public interest.
-Report as fact only something for which you can find two corroborating sources.
-Attribute controversial facts and facts without corroboration to people making the claim.
-Don’t ascribe guilt to someone who’s been accused of a crime, only to someone who’s been convicted of a crime.
-Publish corrections when you make mistakes.
-Be kind to regular people who are going to be affected by your reporting, especially if they’re going to be affected adversely. That doesn’t mean don’t ever do reporting that will affect the regular people in your stories adversely, but it does mean to be as thoughtful about it as you can.

And, for me personally, I think it’s important to show far less mercy, if any, to people who have sought power and attained it.

The question of “sufficient public interest” is both difficult and important—for example, Breitbart News, a site I abhor, used to have a story tag labeled “black crime.” The stories weren’t bad in and of themselves—they carefully reported actual incidents that had happened in the world—but because they reported them so selectively, even the most diligent reader would come away believing black people committed all crimes, which is already a harmful stereotype that perpetuates crimes against black people. So if their goal was to diminish crime, they were failing at it really badly. Story selection is an incredibly delicate and amorphous discipline and the one I worry about the most.

5. Tell me about any conflicts between your personal philosophy and the philosophy you use at work.

I often feel bad for the people I cover, especially low-level employees in communications offices working for large and immoral companies or parts of the government that are acting counter to the public good. Often they used to be hacks like me. Those people don’t make the decisions that have caused their employers to receive critical coverage, but they’re very easy to hide behind and blame and they frequently lose jobs or get in trouble over a stray remark to a person like me. I try to square that suffering with the good I think it does the public to know that, for example, a nuclear power plant is so decrepit it might melt down and kill people, but it’s hard. You always wonder if your reporting has made a difference even in a situation like that—which I covered last year, by the way, it’s not a hypothetical—and if it hasn’t, whether it’s worth the misery it causes.

6. In what ways do you use research in your position? Are you comfortable reading research articles?

I love research. When I talk to other reporters it’s often just bullshitting about old newspapers and lawsuits on PACER. It’s static, it’s all there on paper and can be rereported, and the public has a short enough memory that there are frequently bits and pieces readers find shocking or titillating despite their having been a matter of record for years or sometimes decades. A lot of the happier reporters I know have gone into true crime writing or book-length recent history projects.

7. Tell me about someone who has been (or currently is) a role model for you. How did you find this person? How does this individual help/guide you? Is this person aware that you view him/her as a role model?

My friend and mentor Linda Winer will probably always be my role model. We’ve fallen out of touch over the last few years but I still hold her in such high esteem. We met during a workshop when I was fresh out of undergrad and she was an august critic at Newsday. She liked me enough to introduce me to her editor, who gave me my first real assignment. She said so many smart things to me whenever we spent time together, and she hung on through so much upheaval in the industry not merely as an arts critic, which I think of as a hugely vital but often woefully underappreciated position, but as a woman at a time when it was even harder to work in this industry as a woman than it is now. I hope they name a theater after her when she’s gone and I hope that doesn’t happen for a hundred more years.

8. How do you use information technology in your work? How has this changed since you entered your profession?

Information technology has made the processes of reporting much easier by creating open access to things like lawsuits and public records, but it has totally devastated the business model. Everyone expects to get their news for free from Twitter or aggregator blogs that rip off the extremely difficult work of beat reporters. As unions have collapsed it’s also resulted in an era of “always-on-call” reporting where you’re expected to be available on your phone at all times, which ruins your free time and saturates you in the news in a way that prevents you from keeping perspective on what is and isn’t important on your beat. Small changes seem seismic and subtle shifts in interest and direction that will ultimately tell you what the reader finds useful go unnoticed. I hope some day I can get rid of my smartphone.

9. When you first entered your profession, did you feel welcomed and supported as a novice in the field? How do you view your view your role with novices currently?

I felt welcomed by specific people when I first started as an intern at Variety; John Dempsey, the senior TV reporter, was incredibly kind to me and always had time to answer dumb question after dumb question. My boss David Rooney was also very supportive; he scared the hell out of me at first but he inspired a lot of loyalty and he worked very hard on my stories. I don’t say he was patient but he cared at least as much as I did about the quality of my writing and as someone who wanted to be taken seriously as a theater critic at a very tender age that meant the world to me. I miss criticism a lot but I feel like working under David was wonderful training for work as a political reporter.

I love novices. They tend to be incredibly enthusiastic and reward institutional advocacy and support with loyalty and hard work. It’s really important to show up for them if you’re a senior reporter because they’re not going to complain if they get a short check or someone tells them not to file their hours. I hope as I get older I can throw my weight around a little more on their behalf; I think it’s one of the best things you can do at any job. Beyond that, there’s so much territoriality and credit-hogging in journalism that if you make a space for younger reporters you’ll often find them very accommodating and helpful. I think I’ve grown into that; as a younger man I felt threatened by people my age or younger who were working the same patch. But the longer you’re around the greater your expertise becomes, and the harder it is to step on your toes. If someone writes a story I want, that’s OK. I’m pretty confident I’ll have another good idea tomorrow. If someone with my knowledge base is constantly on my patch at my publication, there’s the potential for our work together to be twice as good. That perspective took a lot of time to grow into.

10. Do safety, security, quality, and confidentiality play any role(s) in your current position? Explain.

Yes, a huge role. Reporting on governments, which have unlimited money and are very comfortable with violence, is a dicey proposition. My computer is locked up tight as a drum and I’ve come up with a bunch of ways to secure it so even I can’t get into it if I’m ever in real trouble. I’ve often traveled to out-of-the-way places for my work where it would be hard to call for help, which makes me paranoid now. As I’ve written about Russian hack attacks over the last couple of years I’ve gotten at least one email I’m sure was from a hacker; it was quite a convincing one, too. It’s important for me to maintain the confidentiality of people who speak to me under certain conditions, because they could be subject to lawsuits, deportation, firing or any number of other consequences. Every journalist loves a whistleblower but they’re a huge responsibility and you can endanger them by going to press even if you’re very careful. An acquaintance I like very much published a piece not too long ago that I hope will lead to some major governmental reforms, but a secret tracking code on the document he published was traceable back to his source—whom even he had never met—and she was arrested and will probably go to prison for years. It’s sobering.

Linda, my theater critic mentor mentioned above, gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard about information security, which is a topic with a lot of charlatans muddying the waters with jargon and half-baked theories: It was after we’d been to a show Linda was reviewing and I’d wanted to talk about one of the actors or maybe a producer (Linda ritually refused to talk about the content of the show because she didn’t want your opinion coloring her own). Anyway I tried to strike up this conversation, which I thought was far enough afield from the quality of the show that it wouldn’t transgress on her rule, and she shook her head and pursed her lips and told me to wait until we were three blocks from the theater. So we walked three blocks from the theater and I kind of rolled my eyes and asked her why she’d made us walk all that way when there was obviously no one who cared to eavesdrop on us. And she gave me a big smile and said, “The walls have assholes.”

I hope you can learn to let go of your composure

Over the last few months of conversations with friends, colleagues, and strangers on the internet, conservatives among them, some of whom care for me personally and most of whom hate me and just want to score points off me while seeming nice at the same time — yes, these people mostly describe themselves as Christians — have said a peculiar thing: “You just seem really angry, and I hope you can let go of that.”

This came from close friends at first, sometimes as an eye-rolling “calm down” and sometimes as a gentler “I’m worried about how angry and stressed out you seem,” but irrespective of context, my reflexive response is the same every time, if a little complex. Here it is:

  1. Fuck you.
  2. FUCK YOU.
  3. FUCK
  4. YOU
  5. You stupid motherfucker, you spent eight years of Obama afraid the New Black Panther Party was going to make you get gay abortions, and now we’re headed into a likely stronger-than-average hurricane season without an agency head for NOAA and a bunch of cuts to everything that makes America worth a good goddamn proposed by devil-worshipping Republican supply-siders who want to replace all public benefits with taxpayer-funded contracts for their thieving campaign donors’ businesses. You fucked it up. You, personally, because you have no morals and are a selfish, regrettable asshole, fucked it up for me, and for my wife and son who are so much more vulnerable than either you or me, because you believe stupid dogshit bumper-sticker bromides about how it’s people’s character that makes them great and how America was founded on better ideals than any other country. Well, it wasn’t. It was founded on shitty ideals, like every place, and the only measure of its greatness is its generosity to its least privileged, and in that vital respect, you are the least great thing about it.Your ear-plugging stupidity about global warming means that we don’t even have the incredibly slim chance to save people from disastrous sea-level rises we might have had, and your disinterest in civics means that our friends, relatives and neighbors stand a better than usual chance of losing their Medicaid benefits; or being suddenly deported for the crime of being brought into the country as children by parents who wanted a better life for them, or just murdered on the spot by racists in an act that will now probably not be given the special legal status afforded hate crimes because we have a secessionist cartoon of a Bull Connor-era Alabama racist running the Department of Justice. The children you don’t know are gay are now more likely to be murdered, too. The fact of your interracial grandchildren will be held against your daughter. If your wife’s boss shows her his dick at work she will now have a harder time getting HR to listen to her. All these things were around the corner, but there was a chance to at least pay lip service to the effort needed to avoid them. You saw that chance, and you said to yourself, “Women, blacks and gays are walking around like they own the place. I’m gonna show ’em the score.” Well, congratulations! You did that. Eat shit.
  6. By electing Donald Trump to the presidency, you have empowered every white supremacist fringe group in the United States of America, which is a shit-hot ton. You don’t believe these people exist because they treat you with respect and deference because you are a white man or woman. But in fact, they are terrorists in the same way that Osama bin Laden was a terrorist. Wahabbist Islamists are not a magical people uniquely inclined toward acts of terror; white Christians conservatives are a dangerous group of fanatics obsessed with guns and extralegal justice, too. They have killed people and will kill people again, because you have made them feel enfranchised and given them the courage to act. So good job.
  7. Maybe you should try being especially kind and generous to people of color and your gay friends, and if you don’t have friends who are gay or people of color, get some, listen carefully to them when they tell you about their lives, when you want to argue with them about politics, shut the fuck up, and then meditate on what their lives are like because of selfish assholes like you.
  8. Pray that Jesus forgives you.
  9. Don’t talk to me again until you are also angry.