27 June, 2021

The Bias Narrative versus the Development Narrative: Thinking About Persistent Racial Inequality in the United States


“Hands up, don’t shoot.” That narrative was heard frequently after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, abetting the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. This was a singular event in the history of racial conflict in America. It would appear that, actually, there was no validity to the “hands up, don’t shoot” story. Rather, Brown attacked the police officer who, fearing for his life, then shot him. Independent investigations by local authorities and the US Justice Department concluded as much. Eyewitnesses have testified to this effect. The fact of the matter is that “hands up, don’t shoot” never happened.

But it did happen virtually. It happened in effect. It happened because of the force of the narrative: a black man brutalized by overbearing, vicious, and racist state power. For many, that story overwhelmed all the facts in the case. There is a documentary by filmmaker Eli Steele, narrated by his father, Shelby, called What Killed Michael Brown? The film reviews the Michael Brown case and concludes that “hands up, don’t shoot” is what Shelby Steele calls a “poetic truth”—an account so powerfully resonant with a narrative paradigm that it may as well be true. Once it gets out there, many will have a hard time believing that it is not true because the power of the narrative is so great. For many, stories about bias against African Americans have this allure. This has become a problem.



This massive detention center, the size of 13 football fields, is a cog in the largest-scale detention of ethnic and religious minorities in the world since World War II, in which 1 million or more Muslims, including Uighurs, Kazakhs, and others, have been rounded up and detained in China’s western region of Xinjiang. Publicly, China has claimed that Muslim detainees have been freed. Yet an ongoing BuzzFeed News investigation, based on dozens of interviews with survivors and thousands of satellite images, has exposed how China has built a vast and permanent infrastructure for mass detention in Xinjiang, marking a radical shift away from the government’s makeshift use of preexisting public buildings at the beginning of the campaign. Using the same techniques that revealed the scale of China’s expanding network of detention centers, BuzzFeed News can now expose the inner workings of one such compound. The Mongolk├╝re facility is one of at least 260 newly built sites bearing the hallmarks of long-term detention centers capable of holding hundreds of thousands of people in total servitude to the state.

Until now, relatively little has been known about what happens inside these forbidding compounds. Rarer still have been details about any single detention center. One reason is terror: The overwhelming majority of camp survivors still live in Xinjiang under constant surveillance and the threat of incarceration, as do their families and the wider Muslim population in the region. Many of those detained who have been able to speak out simply don't remember where they were held, having been taken from home with hoods around their heads and shuttled from camp to camp.

BuzzFeed News initially learned of the Mongolk├╝re site thanks to three former detainees who have fled the country and have spoken about the conditions inside despite the risk to themselves and their families. That testimony, combined with an architectural analysis of satellite photos dating back to 2006, allowed BuzzFeed News to digitally reconstruct the prison to understand its purpose and scope.

20 June, 2021

Embrace the Grind


For example, I once joined a team maintaining a system that was drowning in bugs. There were something like two thousand open bug reports. Nothing was tagged, categorized, or prioritized. The team couldn’t agree on which issues to tackle. They were stuck essentially pulling bugs at random, but it was never clear if that issue was important.. New bug reports couldn’t be triaged effectively because finding duplicates was nearly impossible. So the open ticket count continued to climb. The team had been stalled for months. I was tasked with solving the problem: get the team unstuck, get reverse the trend in the open ticket count, come up with a way to eventually drive it down to zero.

So I used the same trick as the magician, which is no trick at all: I did the work. I printed out all the issues - one page of paper for each issue. I read each page. I took over a huge room and started making piles on the floor. I wrote tags on sticky notes and stuck them to piles. I shuffled pages from one stack to another. I wrote ticket numbers on whiteboards in long columns; I imagined I was Ben Affleck in The Accountant. I spent almost three weeks in that room, and emerged with every bug report reviewed, tagged, categorized, and prioritized.

The trend reversed immediately after that: we were able to close several hundred tickets immediately as duplicates, and triaging new issues now took minutes instead of a day. It took I think a year or more to drive the count to zero, but it was all fairly smooth sailing. People said I did the impossible, but that’s wrong: I merely did something so boring that nobody else had been willing to do it.

18 June, 2021



Lenin’s one-party state was based on different values. It overthrew the aristocratic order. But it did not put a competitive model in place. The Bolshevik one-party state was not merely undemocratic; it was also anticompetitive and antimeritocratic. Places in universities, civil-service jobs, and roles in government and industry did not go to the most industrious or the most capable. Instead, they went to the most loyal. People advanced because they were willing to conform to the rules of party membership. Though those rules were different at different times, they were consistent in certain ways. They usually excluded the former ruling elite and their children, as well as suspicious ethnic groups. They favored the children of the working class. Above all, they favored people who loudly professed belief in the creed, who attended party meetings, who participated in public displays of enthusiasm. Unlike an ordinary oligarchy, the one-party state allows for upward mobility: True believers can advance. As Hannah Arendt wrote back in the 1940s, the worst kind of one-party state “invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

15 June, 2021



In certain young people today like these two from my writing workshop, I notice what I find increasingly troubling: a cold-blooded grasping, a hunger to take and take and take, but never give; a massive sense of entitlement; an inability to show gratitude; an ease with dishonesty and pretension and selfishness that is couched in the language of self-care; an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not; language that is slick and sleek but with little emotional intelligence; an astonishing level of self-absorption; an unrealistic expectation of puritanism from others; an over-inflated sense of ability, or of talent where there is any at all; an inability to apologize, truly and fully, without justifications; a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship.

I find it obscene.

02 June, 2021

AnathemaMaranatha's army story



The Top about-faced and stood at attention in front the company formation. I could see the grunts from where I was. Here and there, you’d see a soldier’s expression go from bored, to puzzled, to Holy shit!, to suppressed laughter. I was watching them pop off one by one.

And one by one, they were met by the cold, hard stare of a First Sergeant demonstrating, without a word or a motion, the finest example of military command and control I have ever seen. It was magnificent. One by one, as grunts in formation twigged on to what was happening, the Top stared them back into silence and back into military bearing. No sniggering. No laughter. Nothing.

Some things don’t change, even if you add helicopters and radios. Command and control is a personal thing. It doesn’t automatically come with rank. It isn’t always augmented by technology. A Roman Legionnaire would have recognized the First Sergeant’s look. And obeyed.

About now I should give a lecture on command and control, how it isn’t just yelling orders, how it’s a personal trait that cannot be instilled but can be trained... Nuh uh. I know it when I see it. That’s all I got.