Tag Archives: communication

Comment Of The Day: “The Viral Google Diversity Memo”

The perspective Ethics Alarms readers often add to topics based on their personal experiences is a often great enhancement to the discussions here. This Comment of the Day by Alex is a perfect example, as he clarifies the context of the Google diversity memo through his own observations as an employee of another large tech company.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “The Viral Google Diversity Memo”:

Rather than rehash the memo or analyze it or say what is right or wrong with its reasoning, I’ll instead add my experience dealing with internal policies and “requests for comment” at a large tech (software) company – this is a direct competitor of Google, based in the Pacific NW and employing ~100,000 people (you can figure out who they are with that). My background is in Electrical Engineering with a strong focus on Computer Science, and I was hired by my previous employer just out of college after spending a summer internship with them. I worked there for 12 years, until the summer of 2016 (actually today is my one year anniversary at my new job). In my time there I can only describe diversity and HR policies around race and gender are schizophrenic, even if well-intentioned. These are my stories [insert Law and Order opening notes].

The official harassment/discrimination policy as stated in the employee handbook (which was updated every year) is incredibly vague, and this is intentional (although no one will come out and accept it publicly). We are in an at-will state, so you can be easily dismissed based on that one vague rule; and it has been used as a negotiation tactic on borderline performance dismissals to settle for a lower severance package. (“Do you really want us to state that you’re leaving for violations of the harassment policy? No? Ok, how about you settle for 2 weeks instead of 4?”) But I also have to state that the cases where I saw this section being arguably misused can be counted with the fingers of one hand. Also, I am certain that there are good intentions behind this policy, but as is the case with many well-intentioned rules, it is when the rubber meets the road that things get messy.

Every year we had to take Standards of Conduct training. Every year we had a new edition, and every year there was at least one case study dealing with gender or racial discrimination. Some years were better than others, but in general the training was terrible. If you had the cognitive abilities of a 7-year-old you could figure out what were the right responses without watching the videos or reading the policies. (The Saturday morning cartoons I watched in the 80s – G.I. Joe, He-Man, Transformers – had more complex moral dilemmas). I remember one year around the middle of my tenure when the videos and cases were actually interesting and engaging. A case that I still remember from that time is about an ambiguous situation between a male manager and a female engineer not in the same chain of command. There was a big internal debate about that one, and the next year we had the blandest possible training to avoid controversies.

The above two points are to set the stage: corporate policies are clear, you should toe the line, do not do anything that might be misconstrued, you can be dismissed for very small transgressions.

And then… well… tech companies are rebels, they thrive in chaos, and you’re expected to rock the boat. In many (may be even all) groups you can only grow so much by being a technical expert, you are expected to influence larger and larger teams as you get promoted to keep getting good performance reviews. You can be the only expert on a certain software component, but unless other people know about you and have been “influenced” by you, you are not considered good enough. This has the effect of incentivizing “visibility”. Other people and other teams should know you exist and be willing to state that you’ve had a positive impact for the company. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Leadership, Science & Technology, Workplace

My Breakfast Confrontation At McDonald’s

mcd-checkout

I’ve been mulling this experience for a while, and since it still ticks me off, and since today seems like an especially provocative time to raise it, here it comes.

I was accompanying my wife as she went to a clinic for some early morning outpatient surgery, and as she waited in the one-chair-short reception room, I went next door to a McDonald’s to order breakfast. As usual, my wallet had moths flying out of it, so I knew it was going to be a debit card purchase. My apparently mute clerk took my order —remember when Ray Kroc insisted that every employee say “Hello!” and “Thank-you”? Now you are lucky to get eye contact and a grunt—the modest amount appeared,  and I swiped my card. The machine told me that the card was rejected. I swiped again. Rejected again.

“OK, now what am I supposed to do?” I asked. : This is a good card, and there is plenty on money in the bank.”

My clerk  said only, “Pay!”

“I can’t pay, because of your stupid machines. I want to buy my breakfast. This is my only means of payment. The card readers is  malfunctioning!”

She said again, louder and with irritation, “PAY! PAY!”

“Don’t tell me pay pay, because I just told you, I tried to pay pay, and  your equipment won’t let me pay pay! Find a way for me to pay!” I replied, with the delightful intensity for which I am well-known.

Now she started angrily shaking the receipt at me, shouting PAY three times and nothing else, apparently having reached the zenith of her language skills.

“LOOK!” I said. “This is your store. All I want to do is pay a lousy 7 bucks for a sausage biscuit and a coffee, and this machine is stopping me. I can’t pay if your lousy equipment isn’t maintained. FIND A WAY FOR ME TO PAY! That’s your job!”

You’ll never guess her response.

No, go ahead, guess. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, language, U.S. Society, Workplace

Facebook Manipulation, Ben Rhodes And Hillary’s Tech Minion’s Missing Emails: Seeking A Path To Objective Analysis (PART 2 of 2)

suspicion

In Part I I examined the considerations involved in assessing whether the Ben Rhodes affair, which I also discussed here, is factual and justifies dire conclusions about our government.

Part Two will attempt to objectively assess the two other news stories that seem to compel progressives, in full confirmation bias mode, to deny, ignore, or trivialize, and conservatives, also driven by bias, to take as proof that conspiracies are afoot. Those stories both come down to suspicion and trust:

  • The claims from former Facebook employees that they were directed to suppress news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s “trending” news section, while pushing stories with positive implications for progressive readers.
  • The State Department’s revelation that it can’t locate Bryan Pagliano’s emails from the time he served as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior information technology staffer during her tenure there.

First, the Facebook charges. From the Gizmodo “scoop”:

“Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all. The former curators, all of whom worked as contractors, also said they were directed not to include news about Facebook itself in the trending module.

In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.”

And, like a typical newsroom, Facebook’s bias is heavily weighted to the left. The Senate has announced that it is investigating news manipulation at Facebook, though I can’t see on what theory.

Facebook unequivocally denied the charges, saying in part,

“Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to systematically discriminate against sources of any ideological origin and we’ve designed our tools to make that technically not feasible. At the same time, our reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense.”

Leaving aside confirmation bias and eschewing the six reactions to such stories I listed in Part I (I don’t believe it, AHA! I knew it!, So what?, ARGHHHH! We’re doomed!, Good, So how did the Mets do today?), we’re left with a “he said/they said” controversy that is either a stalemate, with the default judgment having to go to the side that actually has the guts to reveal its name, or a case of “Who do you trust?”

Does this seem like something Facebook would do? Well, let’s see, Facebook already admitted that it had performed unwilling experiments on random users to see if it could manipulate their moods. Facebook was credibly accused of restricting users from access to 30,322 emails and email attachments sent and received by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.  Last month, a report found evidence of  Facebook censorship on pro-Trump and negative Hillary news, and a Facebook employee’s question about whether Facebook should actively take measures to impede Donald Trump was discussed here.  Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is a big Democratic donor. Facebook’s fellow social media giant Twitter has been censoring some high-profile conservative users lately.

Gee, are there any reasons not to trust these people? Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Train Wrecks, Facebook, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

Ethics Dunce: Guardian Journalist Mona Chalabi

But Mona, doesn't you correcting people who correct people's grammar and calling them purveyors of white privilege make you an ANTI-grammar snob?

But Mona, doesn’t you correcting people who correct people’s grammar and calling them purveyors of white privilege make you an ANTI-grammar snob?

This won’t take long. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Mona Chalabi, a  journalist for the British tabloid “The Guardian,” has asserted that correcting someone’s grammar (and presumably word use, sentence structure and other aspects of effective communication) is racist.

“Grammar snobs are patronizing, pretentious, and just plain wrong, ” she says. “It doesn’t take much to see the power imbalance when it comes to grammar snobbery. The people pointing out he mistakes are more likely to be older, wealthier, whiter, or just plain academic than the people they’re treating with condescension. All too often, it’s a way to silence people, and that’s particularly offensive when it’s someone who might already be struggling to speak up.”

Of course, correcting anyone to humiliate them, embarrass them, or make them hesitant to speak is cruel and wrong, as would be slapping them in the face and shouting, “Shut up, fool!”  Neither of these, or other examples of bad manners and disrespectful treatment, is the conduct that Chalabi is condemning as a demonstration of white privilege, however. (Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, frequently quips, “White privilege—is there anything it can’t do?”) No, she is saying that the simple act of one human being pointing out to another that they have made a verbal mistake that may embarrass the speaker in the future makes the person offering the correction a “grammar snob,” and is unethical.

To the contrary, correcting anyone’s mistakes in speaking, when done with discretion and proper attention to the speaker’s feelings, is a gift, an act of social kindness and even a social obligation. Expressing oneself in a manner that causes others to conclude, possibly correctly, that you do not know correct meanings, grammar, construction and etiquette is a serious life handicap and an obstacle to success. A listener may conclude that you are badly educated, do not read, do not listen to those who speak to you correctly sufficiently to learn from them, are ignorant, are not very bright, or worse, know how to communicate but don’t have enough respect for the rest of the world to make an effort to do so. Unlike concluding such unflattering things about a stranger or casual acquaintance based on an accent or verbal regionalism, making judgments based on poor communication skills is not prejudice or bias. Communication is a vital life skill and occupational tool. Every individual has an obligation to master these as early as possible, certainly by young adulthood. Believing one has done this and being wrong is a dangerous and potentially tragic situation. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Daily Life, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Journalism & Media, language, Race

An Urgent And Probably Futile Call For Empathy And Compassion For The Victims Of Cultural Whiplash

north-carolina-protest-transgenderIt is sobering to read  the hateful and contemptuous comments from so many of my Facebook friends about the legislators of Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi and other states that have either passed or have tried to pass laws allowing citizens to opt out of the cultural freight train that gives them the option of boarding or getting crushed. Whether these are “religious freedom” laws or “bathroom laws,” aimed at transgendered interlopers in the once orderly realm of public bathrooms, or whether they are designed to fight for the definition of marriage as “between a man and a woman,” these laws, every one of them unwise and unethical, and probably unconstitutional too, need to be regarded as the inevitable and predictable result when human beings are forced to absorb cultural shifts in a matter of years or less that properly would evolve over generations

Culture–what any society, country, region, religion, business, organization, club, family, secret society or tree house agrees over time as how they do things, think about things, what is right and what is wrong, what is remembered and what is forgotten–is a constantly evolving process. Efforts to freeze it inevitably fail, because human beings as a species can’t stop themselves from learning. Efforts to rush the installment of major changes, however, can be disastrous, even when there seems like no alternative but to rush.

Laws don’t automatically change culture. They are part of the process, both reflecting and facilitating cultural shifts, as well as institutionalizing them. They do not even mark the end of such shifts. Nobody should be surprised, angry or abusively critical when those who have been raised to believe in certain values and practices feel betrayed and mistreated, and see the need to resist when their sense of what is right is suddenly proclaimed as not only wrong but the sign of a character deficiency and a cause for denigration and disrespect. Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Facebook, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, U.S. Society

“What Responsibility Does Facebook Have To Help Prevent President Trump in 2017?”

Facebook qThis was one of the questions asked of Facebook employees in advance of a Mark Zuckerberg Q and A session in March; every week, the employees vote in an internal poll on what they want  Facebook CEO Zuckerberg to talk about. This week,  Zuckerberg openly criticized many of  Donald Trump’s various blatherings  during the keynote speech of the company’s annual F8 developer conference:

“I hear fearful voices calling for building walls and distancing people they label as ‘others.” I hear them calling for blocking free expression, for slowing immigration, for reducing trade, and in some cases, even for cutting access to the internet.”

This is his right, as much as any pundit, rock singer or blogger. Zuckerberg’s political positions on anything shouldn’t have any more influence than those of the guy next to you at the sports bar, because nothing about Zuckerberg indicates that he has any more expertise about national policy than Donald Trump.

Ethically,  every American has an individual ethical responsibility to prevent Donald Trump from becoming President, which means that everybody has a responsibility to keep him from being nominated. Do ponder that when you hear some of the worst of the Democrats and progressive biased journalists claiming that Trump cannot be fairly and democratically be denied the Republican nomination. They are either fools who assume that Hillary Clinton, who has proven herself capable of beating herself in any race, will waltz to the White House over Trump no matter what occurs in the chaotic future to come, or despicable Machiavellians who would knowingly roll the dice with the future of the country and the culture just to raise the odds of a Clinton presidency, itself a horrible prospect.

Facebook, however, is a communications medium that facilitates conversation, organization and the distribution of information among users. It does so under the illusion that users are in control of the process, but of course it is Facebook puling the strings. Facebook could definitely manipulate its service to undermine Trump. Gizmodo notes… Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Facebook, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Rights, U.S. Society

John Kasich Flunks A Competence Requirement: If You Can’t Think And Communicate Clearly, You Shouldn’t Be President

“We must be more forceful in the battle of ideas. U.S. Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting have lost their focus on the case for Western values and ideals and effectively countering our opponents’ propaganda and disinformation. I will consolidate
them into a new agency that has a clear mandate to promote the core Judeo-Christian Western values that we and our friends and allies share: the values of human rights, the values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. And it should focus on four critical targets: the Middle East, China, Iran, and Russia.”

Poor John Kasich. The Ohio governor is by experience, practical political views and demonstrated executive skills among the most qualified and able of all the Presidential candidates. Nonetheless, he is a lazy communicator and a clumsy one, and in a job where words and persuasion matter as much as any other tool of leadership, he repeatedly reveals himself to be untrustworthy. The above passage, from Kasich’s foreign policy speech this week, exemplifies this.

A President cannot say that he wants an agency that will promote Judeo-Christian values, because it will be heard, and fairly so, as an effort to promote some religions over others, something the United States government may not do, and may not even appear to want to do. Worse, Kasich chose the exact moment when his words were guaranteed to be interpreted in the worst light possible by Democrats and the news media, as the nation was immersed in an a debate about screening Syrian refugees that was being elevated to dueling hysterias by both the left and the right. Sure enough, I just heard CNN’s Michael Smerconish compare Kasich’s proposal to ISIS-style forced conversion.

Nice job, John. Continue reading

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Filed under Government & Politics, Leadership, Religion and Philosophy