Book Review: White Rage by Carol Anderson

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial DivideWhite Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you, like me, recently read “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, you’ll have found that book to be incredibly moving. I felt it really helped explain the environment that many Black men now in their 30’s and 40’s grew up in and that young Black men are growing up in now. However, the book only glimpses at touches of context. Obviously there are references, plenty of them, to great Black thinkers and political activists. That book is primarily an emotional book. To help a reader, targeted towards Black men but very much helps white people, empathize with a young Black man. It humanizes.

This book, this book, though, is a clinical look at our history. It starts out with context around the history of the Civil War, that it WAS a war fought over slavery and not state rights. Anderson highlights the failings of President Lincoln and eviscerates President Johnson (which if you read An Indigenous History of the United States you’ll be unsurprised he’s as horrific towards former enslaved people as Indigenous people).

This book outline the systematic tools white leaders have used to continually keep Black Americans down. How tactics shifted from outright racism to much more subtle approaches of racism. How immediately after freeing enslaved people, they were basically forced into labor and where their labor could be sold if they were caught being “vagrant”, the so-called Black-Code. I’d never heard of these.

The Black-Code morphed into Jim Crow, which stuck around for an absurdly long time. In fact, the book essentially argues we only had a few years without Jim Crow dominating and we’re back into a quasi-Jim Crow state with all the current “Voter Fraud” initiatives – which are really just carefully worded Racists preventing non-whites from voting.

The book is a history book, so it’s dry. That doesn’t mean it’s not an emotional book. There are points where your blood will boil. Where you will be infuriated that we, Americans, have treated through law a group of Americans this way.

I learned how much effort the NAACP put into getting education into southern states. They were the catalyst for Brown. I have to admit, I didn’t know a lot about what they did. I vaguely had a negative impression of them when I was younger, because my parents would both get angry any time they were brought up. Like they were a bad group that were only trying to help bad people. Other than that I was pretty ignorant of what they did. Now, I can only look at how my parents reacted to the NAACP as two white people experiencing White Rage at what the NAACP was doing. That my parents and many other people in my home town, practice the subtler form of racism that is dangerous. It can turn into a darker type of racism, like Dylan Roof (which Anderson specifically mentions in her book).

This book is incredibly well researched. The paperback version, with an afterward reflecting on Trump’s election, is only 180 pages long with 83 pages of end notes. For some chapters there are well over a hundred end notes. I learned a lot from this book and honestly, it was an overwhelming amount of facts that spanned from the 1850s-2016. Overall, the book is one of amazing perseverance by the Black community. I’m in awe of what they’ve been able to do despite intentional roadblocks along the way. These roadblocks, it’s important to note, didn’t just hurt Black Americans, they hurt all Americans and are STILL hurting America today.

We could have many more Black scientists than we do, but because of policies enacted in the 50’s to STOP Brown v. Education, we destroyed educational opportunities for multiple generations of Black Americans and poor white people. White Americans should be embarrassed, but instead, many are pushing laws to continue disenfranchising and holding back Black America.

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Algorithms are Intentionally Designed

During an NPR segment on my morning flash briefing, I heard an alarming, unchallenged, comment, “No one intended this to happen.” This is utter bull. The context doesn’t even matter, but in this case it’s about, what amounts to, interest rates based on what university you attended. Specifically, how alumni of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (along with Hispanic leaning institutions) receive higher interest rates than people that went to other universities.

Let’s start at the most basic point, what is an algorithm? A quick Google search returns this:

It calls out specifically that an algorithm can be as basic as for division. So, I think it’s fair that many people use the word algorithm over “computer program” because it sounds magical and difficult to understand. Now, there are plenty of algorithms that are very complicated, like the original algorithm for page rank.

However, the most common algorithm used is the basic regression model. This looks something like ax + c = y. You should recognize this as the most basic equation for a line. Each ‘x’ is a conscious decision of what to include. For example, let’s say you want to calculate fuel economy for the vehicle. In this case, x could be your speed at steady state, such as driving down the highway. If you want to make it more accurate, you need to include other factors, like temperature, your acceleration habits, the time between accelerations, how much weight you have in the vehicle, time between oil changes, you get the idea. This would look like a*speed + b*temp + c*acc+d*freqAcc + e*weight + f*oil + g = y.

Each factor that you include is a choice of the person making the algorithm. In fact, there are tools, like sum of least squares which helps you identify factors that are actually significant (important) to properly estimating y. Furthermore, how you gather the data in your underlying set is also a choice. This is called sampling. There are statistical tools to allow a person to get closer to matching the actual population, but given how large the population is, it’s unreasonable to collect data on the entire population. So you’ll necessarily be estimating for a large portion of the people in your data set.

So, if your goal is to calculate interest on a loan using a regression model (algorithm) you have to pick which factors to include in your regression model. You have to pick how you sample the population. You have to pick the values you’re trying to get. You have to pick if you think something could be a proxy for race. You have to decide if you are going to do something about that.

Any bank will know all the factors that represent race. Zip code, high school, university, names, etc… In this case, they made the choice to ignore how these factors could be skewing the credit score and therefore the interest rate.

Anyone telling you that they had no way of knowing an algorithm is racist, is lying to you, thinks you’re stupid, or shouldn’t be trusted with your money. Probably all three. Reporters need to be more critical about accepting “iT wAs ThE AlGoRiThM” from any company.

Book Review: What You Do Is Who You Are

What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business CultureWhat You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As someone hired at a small company to implement change, determine how and where to change the culture has been a big challenge. “What you do Is Who You Are” really helps with clarifying limitations I am operating under as someone that cannot change our CEO’s vision of our culture. I’ve felt for a long time that culture is something a CEO owns and that any bad behavior should be pinned to the CEO and that CEO should be fired if they cause something like a financial crash. It is their culture that allowed and pushed someone to make a multi-billion dollar bet.

This book demands that the CEO takes ownership of the culture. It also elevates culture to one of the most important thing a CEO must consider. It is something that, Horowitz argues, must be continually reinforced in little action. He argues that to earn the trust of your employees, you have to do things that show you trust them. That you need to make sure they understand the ultimate goal for the company and to see WHY you’re saying this thing is part of your culture.

Horowitz uses some rather extreme examples to show how you can change the culture of an organization as a leader. He uses the slave revolt in Haiti and a prison gang leader. Both show that if you explain why to the people that report to you, that you can get them to radically change their behavior. For example, you’d expect former slaves to butcher and pillage the lands of their former slave masters. Louvatore refused to allow his troops to do this, because he wanted to create a healthy free state. If the land was razed there’d be no economy for all the freedmen in the country.

Similarly, Shaka Seghnor believed that for any gang to be successful, they must live by the code of ethics they claimed. It would lead to hard decisions and often forced contradictory behavior. Such as forcing one of his gang members to apologize rather than attacking someone that the gang member had robbed.

There were some real gems in this book and I strongly recommend every CEO or aspiring CEO read this book. it provides great ideas of what your culture could be and how to get there. It also includes great recommendations for how to have a healthy inclusive culture.

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Book Review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of The United States

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (ReVisioning American History, #3)An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read a portion of the Project 1619 publication in the New York Times Magazine. Which was really eye opening. I hadn’t realized the economy legacy of Slavery (or the cotton price crash related to slavery). I didn’t know about the immediate resurgence of the former slaves during the Reconstruction of the south with the swift and sudden destruction of that community. So, I was talking with my wife about how we needed a similar project for Native Americans. I happened to see a tweet from a writer I follower on Twitter, Eve E. Ewing about differences in coverage of Indigenous Peoples in other countries and the U.S. I tweeted how there needed to be a 1619 Project and she suggested I read this book. I really appreciated that, because I understand it’s not the responsibility of advocates to educate me on these topics. It’s my own.

So, on to the book. This book was a lot to read. It was a slow read for me. It’s not a very long book, coming in at around 250 pages. However, there’s a huge amount of information packed in to this book. As a reader, you get the impression that this is a survey of the histories of Indigenous Peoples. It has to be.

The book starts by setting the record straight on the science and cultures of the Peoples ranging from South America, Central America, and then into North America, before the first contact between Spanish and Portuguese conquerors and the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. After explaining how the Indigenous Peoples cultivated the land, including farming and creating deer parks (which were managed forests where it was easy to raise deer and hunt deer), Dunbar-Ortiz moves onto migratory patterns of people over the course of centuries and various trade routes. This set the stage that this was a very inhabited place whereupon colonizers usurped the land from the peoples living here.

Dunbar-Ortiz then moves on to the first contact with the Spanish, Portuguese and other Europeans. From then on, it is an unblinking look at the hard truths of the slaughter of Indigenous Americans. As most of you know, historians use lenses to explain specific events. To me, it felt like the lens used here was the interaction between Settlers/Colonizers/US citizens and various native nations. For example, the Sioux were introduced at two points, once to explain their migratory history (which shows migration from South and Central America to North America has been happening for centuries) and when there was land theft and aggression by illegal settlers and/or the US Government.

I think this is the appropriate context for an accurate understanding of the relationship between the US and Indigenous Nations. So much of the US’s history is predicated on exterminating the Indigenous Nations preventing Manifest Destiny. George Washington called for the elimination of Native Americans. Andrew Jackson built his personal brand on the slaughter and flaying of Muskokee (Creek) villagers. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan and you like Ramsay Bolton, Andrew Jackson was your President. He literally flayed villagers and turn their skin into tack for his horse. He was proud of doing this.

Throughout history classes that were taught at my conservative high school, we glossed over much of the interaction between the US Government and Indigenous Nations. Things like the Trail of Tears (perpetrated by Jackson) were sad things that happened, but weren’t the norm, according to my 10th grade history class. However, reading this book, it’s clear to me, that was the norm not the exception.

Even in cases where the forced migration wasn’t as obvious as that, there was forced migration to avoid war with illegal settlers or the US Army. Going back to the Sioux, that Nation was forced away from it’s holy land, The Black Hills. You might know that as where Mt. Rushmore resides. I cannot imagine what it would be like for something so foundational to me as a people being destroyed with the faces of your oppressors.

You might say, “But Lincoln is on there! He was a good guy!” Well guess what, DURING the Civil War the US Army was attacking the Navajo in New Mexico and Arizona. Every person on that monument is someone that made it their goal to destroy native peoples while they were President.

This book was brutal to read. I’m sitting here drinking my tea enjoying the legacy of these atrocities. While reading this book, I would oscillate between disgust and a desire to help the Indigenous Peoples of the various Nations in North America. Fortunately, the author gave some recommendations at the end of the book.

First and foremost, encourage the US Government to honor the treaties (that are still in effect) they made with the Indigenous Nations. That includes repatriating portions of land back to those Nations. Treat them as true Sovereign Nations with all the rights that gives.

For US Voters, that also means supporting candidates that don’t pretend they are Native Americans of any kind, unless they are literally recognized by that Nation as a citizen.

This book should be required reading for all seniors in high school. It’s important that we have honest discussions about where the US came from. Because, as the last chapter explains, all our wars with other foreign nations use the same Total War tactics as we did against the Indigenous Nations of America.

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Book Review: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

WanderersWanderers by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every day I went into the office for work or hung out with friends instead of reading this book, I was very torn. I was riveted by this book. The concept of sleepwalkers making their way across the US is a fascinating idea and I can see why Mr. Wendig decided this idea was worth fleshing out into a full book.

This book does an amazing job of combining real risks, such as pandemics and white supremacy with the fantastic, AI that can talk across time using Quantum entanglement, Nanobots that can put people into a stasis mode (while making them walk around) for almost 6 years. While telling a compelling believable story. Even the fantastical parts of the story, could very literally be fact in a number of years. We have no idea how AI might work with Quantum computing in a few years.

The truth is, Wendig pulled back the veil on how close we are as a society to a catastrophic pandemic. How easy it would be for a plague to spread if the right person was infected. He does a fantastic job of show how fragile the entire US system is, because of people like Alex Jones. Because Alex Jones doesn’t believe what he’s spewing, but there are a lot of people that do believe it. That weaponize it. Wendig is clearly taking the Trumpian politics of 2019 and imposing them on a catastrophe.

That’s just the backdrop though. The characters he writes about are living breathing people. Many of them, I feel like I grew up with or that I have known in my life. The aging RockGod feels like an authentic person. Someone that probably exists and is lost and lonely. There are people who have lived and lost and they are only teenagers, barely having started their lives and they’re already so far behind. Then they lose more because a family member becomes a sleepwalker.

The human element in this book is beautifully tragic and so very human. I loved this book.

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