In Cabinet Picking, Play Politics

Here’s a thought on how Biden should go about picking his cabinet. In making my argument, let’s look at some facts. First, let’s look at the Merrick Garland fiasco. Obama decided to put forth a moderate candidate for Supreme Court Justice. The Republicans painted him as too far left to fill a right-wing seat. So the seat went unfilled for 8 months.

Trump has been ceaselessly calling Biden a socialist, which has really worked to rile up his base and create solidarity on the right against Biden. Furthermore, this paints the Republicans as a much more centrist party than they actually are, they are a far right party. In fact, the GOP has more QAnon Congressional members than Black Congressional members.

Biden is center right, or centrist at best with his politics. To highlight this, Biden should work with a few potential cabinet members that are very far to his left. Like maybe even include Bernie Sanders or AOC as potential picks. However, work with them and plan for them to actually withdraw their candidacy for that office before the Republicans ever actually vote them down. Before they have to do anything like, resign from their seat. Put the boogeyman out there as a real candidate.

What this will do is create an anchoring point that the media can latch on to. That Republicans and Democrats can latch on it. A clear comparison between the first candidate(s) and whoever Biden would actually want in the role. This will work even better, if the next person they offer as a candidate CLEARLY has votes that are to the center of the original candidate. This will make it significantly harder (but of course not impossible) for the Republicans to paint them as Socialist. Democrats can point to their records and say, “No, this person is a center candidate and the republicans are simply upset that we aren’t installing republicans in these posts.”

If Biden offers moderate or even center right candidates for the office, the Republicans will try to pull Biden even farther right. The anchor that everyone will latch onto will be in the actual center, not the center between Republicans and Democrats.

There is a strong possibility that McConnell will do everything in his power to reject every candidate offered by Biden. He will do this unless Biden offers up someone far enough to the right to make McConnell happy. So we need to lay down the groundwork to show that Democrats are trying to meet McConnell closer to where he wants. We need to make him look ridiculous. We need to make it obvious to other Senators that these candidates are viable. They are not socialists and they are, in fact, centrists.

Biden is going to face an uphill battle to getting the people we want confirmed for the roles in government. Using anchors and decoys is smart politics.

Book Review: Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code by Ruha Benjamin

Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code by Ruha Benjamin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book builds on the research in Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism and Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness, so I definitely recommend reading those two books first. I’m not alone in that, in one of the talks I’ve watched Benjamin give, she explicitly mentions those books as influencing her. I really enjoyed this book, it brought together ideas from my own master’s degree, including the complexity of how technology is used. In one class we specifically discussed the Moses’s bridges in New York (despite this being taught in the Netherlands), which were designed to exclude the poor by preventing buses from crossing the bridge. In this book she discusses this bridge and how it can pull in the very people that were expected to benefit the bridge design (basically a bus full of rich white kids went across after they came back from a trip to Europe, the driver hit the top of the bridge which resulted in 6 people getting seriously injured).

She modernizes these examples by describing how algorithms are created to approximate details about people, such as determining their ethnicity to provide “targeted services.” Due to historical redlining, the practice of creating white people only enclaves in suburbs and portions of the city (a Jim Crow era set of laws), the zip code has become a reliable indicator of ethnicity and race. She gives the example of Diversity, Inc., which creates ethnicity or racial classifications for potentially hiring companies. They will look at the names of people and assess their ethnicity, however due to the history of slavery, many African Americans have white sounding surnames, like Sarah Johnson, to “correctly” identify the ethnicity of Sarah, the company uses her zipcode to assign her race.

Overall, I found a lot of examples in this book very illuminating. Benjamin finds the approach to Design favored in Silicon Valley wanting and excluding, primarily focused on empathizing for making money, which in many cases is empathizing with whiteness. Furthermore, Benjamin argues that empathy can lead skewed results, such as body camera video providing empathy for police officers even when they are killing Black people for crimes which aren’t capital offenses or no crime at all.

As an engineer, I took this book as a warning. That we need to understand how data is impacting those around us. That we need to understand how data that might seem harmless to me, could cause serious harm to someone else. That algorithms that seem to be doing good, could instead be quickly turned into something bad. Facial recognition is a great example. Facebook tags people in photos without consent and this can be exploited by law enforcement. Furthermore, since facial recognition software is so inaccurate, it can misclassify a person as the wrong sex, the wrong person, or in extremely bad past cases, as an animal.

Furthermore, engineers have the responsibility to ensure our work is used to create more equity in the world. Benjamin offers a few different organizations that are working to ensure justice and equity for everyone. Maybe it’s time that software engineers/developers have a responsibility for this the same way a civil engineer must ensure a bridge is safe.

I recommend that anyone that works at a social media company read this. Anyone doing work for algorithms in banks, insurance, hiring, and housing really understand the fact that algorithms aren’t objective. They are as objective as our history. Our history hasn’t been objective nor equitable. We must change that.



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Book Review: Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness by Simone Browne

Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness by Simone Browne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I wish the people that created the Netflix Documentary The Social Dilemma had read this book, I believe it would have provided a great deal of context around surveillance. Through the context of reading about race, I’ve learned a lot about American history that I regret not knowing earlier in my life. This is one of those books that does multiple things at once. First, it teaches about Black history in general, not just Black people in America, but in Africa as well. Second, it teaches about the history of prisons and the very first prison the Panopticon. Third, it discusses Surveillance and surveillance technologies.

It doesn’t teach these as separate threads, though. It’s impossible to teach these topics separately. Even when reading White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, small parts of these topics were brought up. In Between the World and Me, these same ideas were brought up, just a shorter time horizon for the history.

The United States created law after law, mechanism after mechanism, to surveil Black people. According to Browne, this as soon as an African was captured, they’d be branded, sorted, and documented. Then they’d be surveiled in the slave ship, which was a truly horrific environment.

There was something about how Browne described the slave ship that hit home a lot harder than when I’d seen the ships before. Maybe it’s the Pandemic, maybe it’s my own allergies, maybe it’s understanding that they were locked in this miserable condition for 67 days!

Speaking of the pandemic, the right-wing out bursts against wearing masks is laughable considering some of the laws we implemented in the past to protect white people from Black people. There were laws in New York City, called Lantern Laws where any Black person had to have a lantern lit at anytime after dark. They weren’t allowed to be in groups larger than three people and had to have a candle lit at all times. If they didn’t, they could get 40 lashings (apparently it was reduced later to 15). 40 Lashings could certainly kill someone.

Ultimately, the book moves from the history of surveillance to present day, which draws a pretty straight line to what we experience now at the airport after 9/11. However, in the airport Black and brown people experience significantly more surveillance than white people. This can lead to ridiculous things like having an afro searched for bomb materials and statistically higher search rates for Black Woman than white women even though statistically white women are more likely to have contraband. Further, this extends to accepting Black people as citizens, as given in an example with a Canadian woman.

I believe this book is critical in understanding our Government’s response to the BLM movement, the obsessions with Antifa, avoidance of investigating right-wing terrorism, and our current surveillance state. I think anyone that’s working in the social media space or adtech space, should read this book. If you care about ethical technology, you need to read this book. Because if we understand this and address the problems outlined in this book, we address surveillance issues for everyone.



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Book Review: The End of Food Allergy by Kari Nadeau

The End of Food Allergy: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse a 21st Century Epidemic by Kari Nadeau

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I bought this book, because I’m going through a LOT of food allergies right now. Even though we’re in COVID, I’m stuck in the house more than just about anyone else. I have allergic reactions to the pollen outside to the point that my throat feels like it’s closing up. On top of that, I keep rolling back my food uncovering new things that I’m struggling with. Testing can be a challenge and it’s kind of impossible to test for everything. Just the other day, I figured out that I couldn’t have pasta sauce, either because of basil or because of tomatoes. Regardless, things are hard and really stressful for me.

So, I bought this book looking for some other sorts of ideas that could help with my ongoing treatment. I’m currently undergoing Immunotherapy, which this book is basically all about. Well that and preventing food allergies in kids. So, if YOU are expecting and really worried about your kids having allergies, this book is for you! There’s seriously a full chapter on the different types of research conducted to uncover the root cause of allergies.

The general findings are that you need to expose kids early, with a bunch of stuff together, rather than waiting a long time. (There are things that make that easier). That and if your kid has dry skin, you better doing everything you can to heal it, cause that’s a major vector for food allergies.

The Authors spend a bit of time scaring the crap out of readers with short cases of allergy sufferers dying. Which kind of sucks to read. Cause they are young kids that unknowingly eat something that kills them. It’s a stupid tragic death. It’s terrifying, cause I feel like that could happen to me. I’m pretty sure that could happen to me if I eat ginger, so it’s looking at death in the face, if you have allergies.

However, there’s good news, because they go from talking about kids dying to talking about how they saved a bunch of other kids using Oral Immunotherapy. They also talk about a couple drugs that speed up the immunotherapy from a year or more to less than a few months. However, I’m actually ALLERGIC to that drug, so I hope, in your case, you have much better luck.

In terms of peanut allergy sufferers there’s even better luck, because there’s something of a “vaccine” that switches your immune system from attacking peanut protein to actually treating it as food. There are a number of studies in progress.

Overall, this book was really well written, there are fantastic layperson explanations of very technical immune system deep dives. There’s clear explanations of risks for any and every treatment options. There’s a lot of hope in this book. The other thing that’s really nice. They talk about the emotional and psychological toll these allergies take on a person. They strongly recommend finding a therapist to talk through the anxiety and stress of the disease.

My biggest complaint is the last of end notes to indicate what study they are referencing at any given time. They often have summaries that are cited at the very end, but it’s not like the Body Keeps the Score, which has notes to the actual papers as they are reference.

Highly recommended if someone you know is suffering from food allergies.



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Book Review: Think Like Amazon by John Rossman

Think Like Amazon: 50 1/2 Ideas to Become a Digital LeaderThink Like Amazon: 50 1/2 Ideas to Become a Digital Leader by John Rossman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I believe this book was intended to be written in the style of Amazon narratives. Some of them were well written others were uninteresting or felt like the author was pandering. I read this book over the span of a few weeks, I would say it was generally unmemorable. I really don’t remember many of the ideas listed in the book.

The reason I don’t remember them? Well, the chapter heading at three items on it. The title of the idea, a subtitle, and a pithy quote. The idea was written out in a little box which may or may not have been on the first page of each idea. Further clouding this, is that for each idea, and there were 50 1/2 ideas, there was one or two pages of introduction before getting to the meat of the idea itself. Often the ideas which acted as chapters, were only two to four pages long.

Some of the ramblings were speculation of what amazon could do if they got into health care, some was complaining about some business the author had to use, but did a bad job with their processes. In many cases, it showed a sad lack of empathy for the people the author was interacting with in these businesses.

Finally, the author hasn’t worked at Amazon in 15 years. He was in one major role, while it played a large part in Amazon’s overall growth, he doesn’t have any deeper understanding of AWS than anyone else looking from the outside in. Maybe a bit more because he might have some high up friends working there.

Ultimately, this book has a piece or two of interesting ideas, but is very short on execution. Don’t recommend anyone read this book.

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