Taylor Swift kicked DJ David Mueller’s attorney around the courtroom, and the Google flap has become a Rorschach test…. (More)

“I’m critical of your client sticking his hand under my skirt and grabbing my ass”

Four years ago, Taylor Swift told her mom that DJ David Mueller groped her in a photo shoot after a concert. But she didn’t tell only her mother. She also complained to the radio station where Mueller worked, immediately.

I mention that because one of the most common arguments raised in shrugging off sexual harassment complaints: “If it was so bad, then why didn’t she say anything when it happened?”

Well, Swift did say something when it happened. Mueller’s boss apparently believed Swift, because Mueller was fired. So he sued her for $3 million, claiming “tortious interference” with his employment. I’ll wait while you go search for some conservative or libertarian railing against Mueller’s “frivolous lawsuit.”

Take your time.

Really, it’s okay. No hurry.

You didn’t find any either? Interesting….

Anyway, the case went to trial this week and Mueller’s attorney, Gabe McFarland, kept trying to bore into Swift’s testimony. He should have given up:

— After the alleged incident, Swift continued her meet and greet despite feeling stunned, because she says she didn’t want other fans to know what had happened. When Mueller’s attorney told Swift she could have taken a break if she was feeling so truly distressed, she shot back with, “And your client could have taken a normal photo with me.”

— McFarland also tried to redirect accountability to Swift’s bodyguard, who he said could have reacted to protect her if an assault really did occur. She reminded McFarland that her bodyguard, Greg Dent, is not the one who supposedly assaulted her, saying, “I’m critical of your client sticking his hand under my skirt and grabbing my ass.”

— Upon referring to the photo of Mueller and Swift from the night in question, McFarland told Swift that there is nothing visibly inappropriate going on. Swift, however, did not leave her media blackout or one of her many homes she owns in the United States to be gaslighted in Denver. “Gabe, this is a photo of him with his hand up my skirt — with his hand on my ass,” she told him. “You can ask me a million questions — I’m never going to say anything different. I never have said anything different.”

— Further using the photo as evidence of no wrongdoing, McFarland told Swift that the front of her skirt showed no signs of displacement. Swift came through with the facts for him: “Because my ass is located in the back of my body.”

— When the lawyer asked how Swift felt about Mueller losing his job at a radio station following their encounter: “I’m not going to allow you or your client make me feel in any way that this is my fault,” Swift said. “Here we are years later, and I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are the product of his decisions – not mine.”

— Swift’s best response may have come when she explained why no one else saw Mueller grabbing what Swift called “a handful of my ass.” Swift with the logistics: “The only person who would have a direct eye line is someone laying underneath my skirt and we didn’t have anyone positioned there.”

You might say she Swift-kicked his ass. And while most reactions were positive, of course some people disapproved of her blunt responses:

Huh. I’m torn between admiring her for not getting all weepy, which is more what I would expect, and thinking it’s not really a great idea to be “sassy” in court.
Probably the use of the word ass and the use of the attorney’s first name were a mistake.

Note: Men are “blunt” or “sarcastic.” Women are “sassy.” Just sayin’.

More’s the point, the judge didn’t seem to mind:

One day after Taylor Swift took the stand in court to defend herself against allegations that she got a Denver country radio DJ fired after false accusations that he groped her, a judge has thrown out the DJ’s claims, citing insufficient evidence.

You may read more about this in the coming days, as this was just one of three cases. The judge threw out Mueller’s complaint against Swift, but he also sued Swift’s mother and publicist, and Swift countersued for battery, seeking a token $1 in damages. Those trials will continue …

… and McFarland may be a tad more careful if he needs to cross-examine Swift again. Or he could wear a butt-pad.

“Absent that, it seems to me that Google employees will remain as uncertain as ever about what they can and cannot say at the company”

Cue the inevitable next step in male whining over Google firing James Damore: why can’t you tell us exactly where ‘the line’ is:

When CEO Sundar Pichai addressed a controversial memo about diversity that circulated inside Google, culminating in the termination of its author, James Damore, he began by telling the company’s 72,053 employees that “we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it.”

“However,” he added, “portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not okay. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct.”

I have a question for the CEO.

Given that the full text of the memo is public, that it is the subject of a national debate on an important subject, that many educated people disagree with one another about what claims it made, and that clarity can only help Google employees adhere to the company’s rules going forward, would you be willing to highlight the memo using green to indicate the “much” that you identified as “fair to debate” and red to flag the “portions” that you deemed Code-of-Conduct violations?

Oh puh-leeze. This reminds me of men’s endless “how can we be sure?” wails about consent for sexual contact. Never mind that consent is a very simple concept:

I’m gunna start going home with random very drunk guys and stealing all of their shit. Everything they own. It won’t be my fault though … they were drunk. They should have known better. I’ll get away with it 90% of the time but then when one brave man takes me to court over it, I’ll argue that I wasn’t sure if he meant it when he said ‘no don’t steal my Audi.’ I just wasn’t sure if he meant it. I said ‘Can I please steal your Gucci watch?’ He said ‘no’ but I just wasn’t sure if he meant it. He was drunk. He brought this on himself. You should have seen how he was dressed at the club, expensive shirts and shoes. What kind of message is he sending with that!? I thought he wanted me to come and steal all of his shit. He was asking for it. When he said ‘no’ to me taking everything he owned I just didn’t know if he meant it. ‘No’ isn’t objective enough, it could mean anything.

It has guys worried enough that the North Carolina Supreme Court said a woman’s consent is irrevocable:

In 1979, the North Carolina Supreme Court made a ruling that continues to reverberate today: A man can’t be guilty of rape if the woman first consented to sex – even if she later asks him to stop.

Women are asking the North Carolina legislature to change the law and close that loophole. Guess what?

[State Sen. Jeff] Jackson, a former prosecutor, said he first became aware of the loophole when his office was forced to dismiss a rape charge under such circumstances. As a lawmaker, he introduced his related bill during the 2015 session with two Republican co-sponsors. He said it has bipartisan support, although it’s unclear why it remains stalled in the Senate’s Rules Committee.


Anyway, Conor Friedersdorf’s complaint at The Atlantic, linked above, fits the same pattern: “Tell us exactly where the line is.”

Subtext: “So we can walk up and dance along it, being as offensive as we can without getting in trouble.”

Corporate codes of conduct typically avoid specific ‘red lines,’ but that’s not because they want to “create a climate of maximal fear-of-offending, and that is best done by never allowing employees to know where the uncrossable lines are.”

It’s because they understand the subtext beneath demands for such ‘red lines.’ Let’s say that “bitch” is on the no-say list, even if you were just talking about a female dog (really! honest!). But “witch” didn’t make the list because someone argued that it sounds like “which” and what if some witch misunderstood? So you get pissed off and mutter “witch,” and insist you shouldn’t be reprimanded because “witch” is not on the no-say list.

You don’t have to be an HR guru to see that coming. Any parent has seen it, dozens of times.

More’s the point, Friedersdorf’s claim that Damore merely cited “the scientific consensus” is utter bullshit. He’s not alone in spewing that. Andrew Sullivan said the same thing yesterday, as have countless right-wing (and conspicuously, white male) pundits.

And they’re all wrong:

Some critics sided with Damore. For example, columnist Ross Douthat of the New York Times found his scientific arguments intriguing.

But are they? What are the real facts? We have been researching issues of gender and STEM (science, technology engineering and math) for more than 25 years. We can say flatly that there is no evidence that women’s biology makes them incapable of performing at the highest levels in any STEM fields.

No, really, they’re all wrong:

Sex differences in cognitive abilities have been well-studied, so it’s intriguing that Damore chooses to ignore this vast literature to focus on personality. The reason, however, quickly becomes clear when we look at the evidence: namely, there’s zero evidence that suggests women should make worse programmers. On average, women score slightly worse on certain spatial reasoning problems and better on verbal tests. Their overall problem-solving abilities are equal. Women used to score worse on math, but inclusive environments negate that difference. Even the (relatively robust) difference in spatial reasoning can vanish when women are asked to picture themselves as male. The only published study of coding competency by sex found that women were more likely than men to have their GitHub contributions accepted – but if they were project outsiders, this was true only if their gender was hidden.

As Yonatan Zunger explained, empathy and collaboration are also central to competency, especially at senior levels. Published results confirm this: in a study that attempted to identify the factors that influence software engineers’ success, the most important attribute was being “team oriented”. Neuroticism might hold women back from promotions, but there’s no evidence it makes them worse at their jobs.

I encourage you to read all of that last link, a point-by-point scientific rebuttal from evolutionary biologist Suzanne Sadidin. This paragraph in particular jumped out at me:

True, gender gaps don’t always imply sexism. But sexism always implies sexism. We don’t need to infer the existence of sexism from the gender gap in software engineering, we can see it in the countless expressions of misogyny we hear from software engineers. Hiding sexism behind a mask of pseudo-rational argument doesn’t make you any less sexist – as Damore’s document illustrates.

New York Magazine’s Brian Feldman offers a roundup of other scientists’ rebuttals, none of which Damore or his broporters have addressed (except to dismiss those written by women, because “feminist!”).

A more telling point is that men have long used ‘science’ to defend patriarchal privilege.

Men once declared, as a matter of ‘science,’ that women lacked the biological prerequisites to be doctors. They weren’t smart enough. They couldn’t handle the grueling hours in med school and residency. They would get too attached to their patients.

Men once declared, as a matter of ‘science,’ that women lacked the biological prerequisites to be lawyers. They weren’t logical enough. They couldn’t handle the grueling hours of law school and a busy practice. They would be too easily horrified by the gruesome evidence in criminal trials. They would get too emotionally involved to be effective advocates.

And women are now almost half (49.8%) of new medical students and just over half (52.7%) of law school graduates. So, Damore-Friedersdorf-Brooks-Douthat-Erickson-et-al … explain why those arguments have been proven wrong about medicine and law, yet you’re so confident they’ll prove right about computer programming?

The fact is simply that this is a Rorschach test, as Vox’s Ezra Klein explains:

Damore’s memo is a wonderful document in that it has united observers of all political persuasions in the comforting knowledge that they were right along.

If you believed that Silicon Valley’s gender disparities are caused, in part, by a hostile culture filled with alt-right nerds who think women are biologically less capable of being computer programmers than men, Damore’s memo showed you were right all along.

If you believed that technology companies like Google are intolerant of alt-right views, and are so committed to a pro-diversity agenda that they won’t even permit discussion of whether modern workplaces are ignoring essential differences between the genders, Damore’s termination proved you were right all along.

If you believed the left’s commitment to workplace speech protections is a ruse that would be abandoned as soon as that speech tilted right and the employee being protected was a conservative, the reaction to Google’s firing of Damore proved you were right all along.

If you believed the right’s commitment to at-will employment, belief in the sanctity of private contracts, and opposition to safe spaces was a ruse that would be abandoned as soon as it was politically convenient, their reaction to the reaction to Google’s firing of Damore proved you were right all along.

And this isn’t a trivial issue, Klein argues:

In his remarkable report on how artificial intelligence learns to be racist, Brian Resnick describes a recent paper published in the journal Science that shows how as “a computer teaches itself English, it becomes prejudiced against black Americans and women”:

They used a common machine learning program to crawl through the internet, look at 840 billion words, and teach itself the definitions of those words. The program accomplishes this by looking for how often certain words appear in the same sentence. Take the word “bottle.” The computer begins to understand what the word means by noticing it occurs more frequently alongside the word “container,” and also near words that connote liquids like “water” or “milk.”

This idea to teach robots English actually comes from cognitive science and its understanding of how children learn language. How frequently two words appear together is the first clue we get to deciphering their meaning.

Once the computer amassed its vocabulary, Caliskan ran it through a version of the implicit association test. … She found that African-American names in the program were less associated with the word “pleasant” than white names. And female names were more associated with words relating to family than male names. … Like a child, a computer builds its vocabulary through how often terms appear together. On the internet, African-American names are more likely to be surrounded by words that connote unpleasantness. That’s not because African Americans are unpleasant. It’s because people on the internet say awful things. And it leaves an impression on our young AI.

This tendency can, of course, be caught. The AI’s algorithm can be reworked, modified, examined. But none of that is going to happen if the people building the AI aren’t themselves conscious of the racism laced throughout American society. It’s certainly not going to happen if the people building the AI don’t believe there is racism in American society, and if they tell themselves that the outcomes we see around us are simply biology at work.

So yes, it does matter whether Google’s algorithms are conceived by brogrammers or diverse teams. Google executives seem to be recognizing that, and they’ve begun policies to actively encourage teenage girls to enter programming, as well as policies like scholarships to the Grace Hopper Celebration – an annual, nationwide tech convention geared toward women – to encourage and support women who work at Google.

These policies directly address what Damore-Friedersdorf-Brooks-Douthat-Erickson-et-al insist is “the real reason” there are so few women in tech: that young girls and university students aren’t interested, and young female programmers leave the field for their own reasons. And these are exactly the kinds of policies Damore rejected:

I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices [including] Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race​.

In short, “I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity” … but Google shouldn’t have any policies that might actually encourage gender or racial diversity, because those would be “discriminatory.” Instead, Google should just wish that might happen – somehow, someday – even if it never will because, let’s face it, women just aren’t biologically cut out to be doctors lawyers programmers….

I bet Taylor Swift could teach them a thing or two.


Photo Credit: Mark Humphrey (AP)


Good day and good nuts