The Incredible Shrinking American Leadership

There was a time not so long ago that countries and the people that inhabit them looked up to the leadership of the United States as a shining example of how to manage a peaceful and powerful society. The undoing of this public persona has been accelerated greatly by the current Executive Administration through its insistence that leadership should reflect and embody some of the poorest qualities of its citizens.

Current and former White House officials are arguing that reactions to Donald Trump’s comments regarding so called “shithole” countries is nothing more than elitists misunderstanding the way every American thinks, speaks, and acts.

For example, a former White House official stated:

“It’s a classic example of how D.C. and New York react versus how the rest of the country reacts,” said one former White House official. “What people in the media class still don’t understand is that this guy talks like a normal person and that’s why he won in the first place. I’m sorry if it offends the media’s delicate sensibilities but the reality is more Americans speak like President Trump than speak like [CNN anchor] Jim Acosta.”

I’m not convinced that “more Americans speak like President Trump.” Even if such a thing is true, why is that sort of behavior and language considered acceptable and actively encouraged in a society where we should be striving to always improve ourselves and the human condition? There are enough problems in the world without impacting them with obviously racist approaches to domestic and foreign policy.

Supporters of this kind of sentiment will often rely on defending the literal words rather than the broader meaning and implications behind them. Here are just some of the intellectually dishonest defenses of such behaviors:

The countries really are poor and starved, so the statements are true!

In the context of immigration policy, discriminating based on the country of origin is prejudiced. A person’s skills and capabilities aren’t defined by their birth place but rather the quality of their character. The belief that poor countries produce poor people is fallacious. Therefore we can confidently dismiss this defense.

If the countries are so nice, why don’t people stay there?

The United States was founded by people united in the wake of oppression, struggles, and injustices. The founders were of course of European descent, but our government was setup to support the absorption of disenfranchised people of all descents, creeds, backgrounds, religions, and beliefs. Rejecting immigrants by measures such as the source country or the color of one’s skin is wrong, detrimental, illogical, and ignores the history of immigration in the United States.

Take a second to reflect on the waves of immigration in the United States during its short 242 years.

  • 1500 – 1815 > English, French, and Spanish colonialists (persecution, opportunity seeking) and African/Caribbean slave trade (forced)
  • 1815 – 1880 > Irish, German, Chinese (due to poverty or opportunity seeking)
  • 1880 – 1920 > Italian, Eastern Europeans (due to religious persecution, poverty, or opportunity seeking)
  • 1920 – 1960 > European (due to religious persecution, escaping war, opportunity seeking)
  • 1960 – Now > Asian, Latin (due to poverty, escaping war, opportunity seeking)

Some of the common themes in all generations of immigration waves include escaping war, escaping persecution, or seeking new opportunities.… Read more

No One in the Public Is Above Questioning in the United States

During yet another distracting week of drama coming out of the White House, the Press Secretary let loose this little gem:

If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that is something highly inappropriate.

In what country is this true? Certainly not the United States. The Constitution explicitly lays out the rights of individuals regarding speech and press and restricts the placement of “titles of nobility.” Additionally, The Declaration of Independence plainly states “that all men are created equal.”

On the idea of titles granted to individuals, the Founders were trying to prevent family and friends from passing the torches of responsibility to each other without a real democratic representation taking place. It also seems obvious that preventing titles encourages a sense of equality between leaders and their constituents.

I’ve written previously about respect and how simply being someone or something does not automatically confer gratitude and adulation upon one self. Being the so called President or a Super-Cool-Star General does not immediately require that all underlings bow unquestioningly before you. We live in a country where the very public foundations declare and require that everyone is on equal footing.

Notice that I slipped the word “public” into the sentence above. I wanted to make the distinction between public and private equality very clear because people often confuse the two. Public laws apply to every person equally. Politicians are held accountable by their constituents. Leaders are constantly reminded by a careful set of checks and balances established through centuries of debate and guidelines. In this way, no one is above being questioned regardless of what biased and uninformed administration officials spout.

This is different in the private sector where leaders often work their way up the ranks based on sets of standards and principles established by individual corporations. Freedoms of speech and the press as defined in the Constitution do not apply in this context. Chief executives are used to making a declaration and watching it come to fruition through a series of actions by lower level leaders and employees. Through this perspective, it becomes immediately obvious how the current Executive Branch of the United States would be frustrated by questions from journalists and uppity citizens. When you’re used to having your orders carried out in lockstep, every question seems like an attack on your personal character.

I can hear the thoughts in their heads now: “We’re the chief executives of this country! Who do these people think they are?” Wrong. You are elected and paid by the citizens. As such, you are required to answer any and all questions regardless of how they make you feel.… Read more

Forced Attention

Stone statues salute silently while lookers at and passers by cheer.
Gusty gales cause commotion to the dismay of those most near.
Resulting rumbles snap onlookers from a trance when statutes fall.
Frustration forces former followers to point, sneer, and jeer. Up! Get tall!
While considered nothing down below, they are even less when left in tow.
Read more

Respect Cannot Be Demanded

As is usual for his tweets, Donald Trump recently tried to get ahead of another embarrassing rebuke.

He’s correct in his first sentence. Going to the White House is a huge honor considered as a once in a lifetime opportunity by anyone. The problem is that the president believes the occupant of the White House is automatically owed the respect and loyalty of its visitors. Sorry, Mr. Trump, it doesn’t work that way. People in the positions of power and leadership aren’t required to be revered by the citizens. The United States isn’t your kingdom and its citizens aren’t your subjects. Citizens are allowed to peacefully protest and show dislike for their so-called leaders.

I can hear some people responding now. “He’s allowed to rescind an invite! It’s his right as the president to determine who can and can’t visit!” Well, sure, that’s definitely true, but his reasoning for doing so in this case seems disingenuous. He seems to be implying that it’s disrespectful to hesitate accepting an invite. As citizens of the United States, we are free to do what we want within the bounds of the laws. If a someone doesn’t want to visit the White House, then he or she isn’t required to do so against their will.

If the president wants people to be genuinely glad to visit his residence, then he needs to learn the meaning of the word “respect.” Let us first review its meaning as defined in the dictionary:

respect
noun

  1. a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

verb

  1. admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Notice the important parts of those definitions: “admire,” “as a result of,” “elicited by,” “abilities,” “qualities,” and “achievements”. Starting with “admire,” let’s review its definition:

admire
verb

  1. regard (an object, quality, or person) with respect or warm approval.
  2. look at with pleasure

Here is where we start to link together the incompatibility between “respect” and “demand.” Respect requires admiration, approval, and pleasure. These three concepts are antithetical to the concepts understood to be associated with the word “demand.” Finally, let’s review that definition:

demand
noun

  1. an insistent and peremptory request, made as if by right.

verb

  1. ask authoritatively or brusquely.

Nobody has a “right” to be respected and commanding through authority certainly doesn’t evoke the sense of pleasure or admiration from the receiver.

This is where we come full circle. Donald Trump wants people to like him (almost to the point of desperation). If he’s serious about uniting the country and building admiration for him and his administration, then he needs to realize his constant demands for respect and admiration are working against his interests. Oh, and a halt to supporting hateful rhetoric couldn’t hurt. Be a good person and good people will come to you.… Read more

Hate Watch: Jason Kessler

Jason Kessler is a white nationalist, white supremacist, pro-Confederate supporter, and self-described independent journalist, author, and writer. During a recorded poetry reading in 2014, he described himself as cynical and skeptical of the government and the “power of love.” In an apparent foreshadowing of Kessler’s later escapades, he further stated that he doesn’t need to be “born again” or “saved.” Kessler gained national attention in 2016 when he exposed lewd and racist tweets from a Virginia Board of Education member ultimately leading to the member’s resignation.

Contrary to his self-proclaimed civility, Kessler has an extensive record of convictions (Jason Eric Kessler) ranging from shoplifting, obstruction of justice, failure to appear, and numerous traffic violations. In 2017, Kessler was charged with and plead guilty to misdemeanor assault. In describing the incident, Kessler claimed that the man he punched is using the “liberal nature of the city” and the “state government” to “force penalty” on him and asserted that a punch in the face is what someone should expect during face-to-face verbal disagreement.

Building on previous nationalist and populist themes, Kessler’s blog posts, tweets, and YouTube videos mainly consist of topics such as “white genocide”, “anti-white racism”, “cultural Marxism”, and anti-immigration. Kessler has a history of creating articles, blog posts, poems, and videos about white nationalism, white ethnocentrism, the “alt-right,” and white genocide. Kessler’s language, volume, and inflection of the words and voices used in his writings and videos makes it clear that he attempts to take advantage of emotion and hate over logic and intelligence during a discussion.

Kessler was revealed as the primary organizer of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. The rally turned deadly and resulted in a death after white nationalist and white supremacist groups armed with body armor and shields became engaged in violent confrontations with anti-fascist and anti-hate counter protestors. Near the rally, a female counter protestor named Heather Heyer was killed when a member of the “The League of the South” drove his vehicle into a crowd at a high-speed. The rally was claimed to be organized in response to calls from Charlottesville officials to remove a local Robert E. Lee statue. It seems counter to reason and logic to employ intimidation tactics involving torches, marches, chanting, war cries, weapons, shields, and hateful rhetoric to solely protest the removal of a statue. It is suspected that these tactics are meant more to gain attention, fuel controversy, and provoke confrontations rather than drum up legitimate support for historical preservation.

After the rally, Kessler said in a now deleted tweet, “Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist. Communists have killed 94 million. Looks like it was payback time.” and linked to the now globally hated white supremacist Daily Stormer website. In an attempt to deflect any personal responsibility for the disorganization of the rally, Kessler claimed that the counter protestors committed civil rights violations against him. As is usual for Kessler, he blamed his repugnant behavior on external forces such as Ambien, Xanax, alcohol, death threats, stress, the government, and those who disagree with his positions.… Read more

Hate Watch: Richard Spencer

Richard Spencer is a white supremacist, white nationalist, Nazi-sympathizer, and self proclaimed “identitarian.” He has claimed to be the creator of the “alt-right” terminology and has claimed that it is determined to fight for “white identity.” He frequently quotes Nazi propaganda, chants Nazi slogans, displays Nazi salutes, denounces Jews, supports ethnic cleansing, and supports a “white homeland” (“Ethnostate”).

After Donald Trump’s election, Spencer made national headlines when a video surfaced showing chants of “Hail, Trump” followed by Nazi arm salutes. More recently, Spencer has made headlines when speaking out in favor of the August 2017 white nationalist “protest” in Charlottesville. Following the “protest”, Spencer seemed to gain legitimacy among some right wing members when Donald Trump appeared to implicitly support the white nationalists by delaying his scripted condemnation of their movement and eventually blaming violence on “both sides” and attributing blame to both white supremacists and anti-hate activists.

Spencer and those of the same cut are currently energized and on the move to continue their hateful rhetoric and activities. Be alert of any more “protests” from alt-right groups that use free speech as a cover for hate speech and violence. Additionally, these groups feel that they have the support of the President due to his inability and unwillingness to denounce the alt-right movement. A quick look at Spencer’s Twitter profile reveals that he lives in an echo chamber of ideas concerning only white nationalism and white supremacy.

It is highly unlikely that Spencer is open to anything that would introduce personal cognitive dissonance. Be on the lookout for and respond logically to any ignorant rhetoric from Spencer in the future. Also be aware that Spencer likes to make inflammatory remarks to generate headlines. It is possible that he cares more about publicity than the policies he espouses. In this way he is similar to his idol, Donald Trump.

UPDATE 10/19/2017
Richard Spencer attempted to give a speech at the University of Florida but was drowned out by protestors.Read more

Words Have Meaning Part I: Facts

The universe is a vast, confusing, and changing cosmic terrarium. We are confined by its rules and trapped by its expanding boundaries. In an effort to add some structure to the chaos, hone our understanding of the mechanics, and persist information beyond our generation, we use words, numbers, pictures, labels, diagrams, standards, and many more tools to calculate, predict, record, and preserve observations about the various universal processes that surround us.

When we assign a verifiable value to an observation based on our best collective understanding, we call that value a “fact.” Facts are tricky because they represent the current understanding of an experience. That distinction is important because it’s easy to become disheartened when journalists or scientists discover new information or issue updates about a phenomenon that was long regarded as factual. Facts can change through further observation, experience, and the discovery of more detailed experimental evidence. So what do we believe? Are facts rock solid or can we assume that nothing can truly be known?

Let’s use Earth and Sun for examples. The understandings of Earth’s shape, its place in the solar system, and Sun’s place in the universe has changed over time.

It was an understood fact that Earth was flat in pre-classical Greece. Aristotle eventually showed evidence that Earth was in fact spherical. For a time, Earth’s flatness was a fact. Using our vast technology, we know now that Earth is an ellipsoid, but it wasn’t so easily understood in the past. Pre-classical Greeks were eventually proven to be incorrect and thus the facts changed.

Many people believed the geocentric (Earth-centered) model of the universe to be the correct explanation of Earth’s positions in the universe. The geocentric model remained as an agreed upon fact for approximately 2,000 years. When astronomers and scientists began studying planetary and other celestial objects combined with a greater understanding of physics, the facts changed towards a more heliocentric (Sun-centered) model of the universe.

Facts can thus be described as contextual-based and time-based explanations in response to an observation. When met with more information, we expand upon or reject pages in our current tome of facts.

It is important to note, however, that facts are not up for any kind of debate. We only adjust our facts when experiments reveal data which conflicts or supports our current understanding. We don’t attempt to adjust our understanding of gravity by randomly speculating that perhaps invisible pink unicorns are responsible for maintaining the force of gravity. Why not? Because we have no observations or evidence of any such invisible pink unicorns and thus do not adjust our understanding of the facts surrounding gravity.

In closing, facts are adjustable explanations of the world, but remain steadfast until new information and evidence is revealed through observation and experimentation.

See: http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htmRead more

Software Shop Success Checklist

Teams of people need structure. Humans are imperfect, forgetful, prone to mistakes, and often cut corners for convenience or “time saving”. Yes, structure and organization are important for teams of programmers and software engineers no matter how many times your leaders have declared that you’re an Agile (with a big A) and agile (with a little a) shop.

Ask Questions during Interviews

It’s easy to get swept up in the marketing techniques that a lot of software companies use during the recruiting and interviewing phases. Maybe you’ve been eyeing a particular position for awhile and finally have the opportunity to make it through the on site gauntlet. You may also be desperate for a job for one reason or another. Regardless, it pays off in the end to make sure you’re aware of how the business operates under the hood.

These guidelines are especially important if you’re signing on as a full time employee or with a company whose primary business is something other than writing software. The former because it’s mentally more difficult to give up benefits, vacations, and a consistent salary should you find out that you’re really not enjoying the job. And the latter because businesses that focus on something other than software are notorious for, frankly, not giving a crap about their various IT/software departments.

During the interview phases of your job search, make sure to take time to ask the interviewer your own questions. Many people overlook this part of the interview phase either because they’ve been in the interview process for 6 hours straight and want to go home, or they just don’t care. From personal experience, it’s a mistake to miss out on the only time you’ll be able to get details about the business, the team, and the project that you may be joining.

Define and Enforce Coding Standards

Many times, software shops will discuss their coding standards verbally but eventually get tired of repeating it to new hires. This means that on-boarding processes are abandoned, and new hires are left to come up with their own standards which may or may not conflict with the previous verbal standards. If your shop decides on a set of standards and holds developers to those standards during code reviews, everyone on the team now and in the future will easily acclimate to the various projects across the team’s code base. This reduces friction and increases coding efficiency.

Examples of what should be standardized include:

  • Comment styles and lengths
  • Names for projects, assemblies, classes, interfaces, and variables
  • Project architectures and structures depending on needs
  • Endpoint names and structures in APIs

This list above is definitely not exhaustive, and I’m certain that you could come up with a lot more to standardize. Remember not to go overboard. You don’t want to inflict too much regulation and pains on your teams to the point that they feel incapacitated.

Code Reviews and QA Standards

Reviewing what has been checked in and what is slated to be deployed are two very important and often overlooked aspects of software engineering.… Read more

Working “Crunch” Overtime Might Not Help a Team Deliver

The deadline is approaching. Your project is a mess. Your team doesn’t know if delivering on time is going to be possible. Your director has a genius idea. Everyone work overtime with no plan in mind! Have you ever been in such a situation? It’s quite common if you work in IT or software engineer. For some reason, management thinks that everyone working more hours is directly proportional to more productivity.

There’s a problem with that. The common 40 hour workweek was created from evidence-based research. For nearly all professions and activities, the productivity, efficiency, and general output of a worker drops off dramatically after a certain number of hours in a day. It’s easy to simply say, “Work more hours!” It’s a lot more difficult to use a logical approach and discover the root of what’s causing delays in the project.

It’s disheartening when your director or boss says something like, “We signed up for this profession. We knew what to expect when joining this company. Every project has a “crunch” time for people to work overtime. That’s the industry!” I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that reasoning. If projects are consistently late or require “crunch”, then something has been fundamentally wrong with the project planning from the beginning each and every time.

Look, I get it. Really, I do. People want to solve problems. In an engineering profession, people have a genuine interest in producing solutions to problems. Unfortunately, a lot of the solutions attempt to fix the wrong problem. Projects are behind or off track for a lot of reasons, none of which are solved by simply throwing more person-hours at it.

  • The initial product requirements were not well documented
  • The schedule is poorly planned, maintained, or enforced for the life of the project
  • Constant employee turnover due to poor working conditions, culture, or mentoring
  • Little to no documentation of features and development
  • Little to no knowledge transfer between new and outgoing employees
  • Little to no interest from leadership and veterans to mentor employees
  • Little to no enforcement of working standards from leadership and veterans
  • Little to no involvement from the business and users

That’s not even a comprehensive list. That’s just from the top of my end due to personal experience. Ask yourself which of those could even begin to be solved by working overtime during a “crunch” period. If you guessed zero, then you just won a prize. Most of the solutions to the above list can only be solved by changing the culture of the company and hiring people with an express interest in the time-honored tradition of steady, cautious, and logical construction.

Make sure you ask the right questions during your interview: “Is there a lot of employee turnover? Are project standards established and enforced? Do you have good documentation? How do you gather requirements? Is the business involved in your project?” Run quickly if any of these throw up your red flag. You’ll thank me and your sanity.… Read more

Open Offices Aren’t Always the Solution

What’s with the latest craze in the office organization of the service industry? Are we really going back to huge, open spaces with no sense of privacy at all? With companies like Facebook, Google, and even smaller companies like Valve praising the open office concept, it sure seems like it will be here to stay for awhile. That’s unfortunate, because open offices suck!

The Concept

Look, I get it. Someone saw the cube farms and said, “Why are all these people locking themselves away? We need to be more collaborative! Our products are failing because no one is talking to each other. Tear down these walls!” Down came the walls. Soon enough the facility planners were shuffling desks together, removing all partitions, knocking down walls and replacing them with fishbowl style glass walls, and preaching Agile processes. All the while the seasoned veterans are running for the doors as quick as possible.

The Good

There really isn’t a whole lot that I like about open offices (as an introvert), so this might be a biased section. However, I will say that open offices do encourage you to talk to people near you that you normally wouldn’t. This can be a good thing in the sense that you get to know your coworkers. But when a project needs to be worked on diligently, the open office spaces seem to encourage people to just chit chat about random stuff all day. Joking, yelling, talking loudly, and throwing stuff around is just a little bit of what can be experienced in an open office. See, I wasn’t really a good candidate to praise whatever virtues open offices may have.

Is this my desk? Cool. Wait, why is the guy across from me turning on his radio. Oh wonderful, I guess I’ll learn to like Insane Clown Posse.

The Bad

The walls weren’t the only thing to fall. Efficiency, privacy, and and overall sense of quiet-time came crashing to a halt. Where you once had the opportunity to sit, relax, and think on a problem without much interruptions, you’re now constantly bombarded from all senses. Annoying coworkers throwing a beach ball around? Yea, it’s in your line of sight. People blasting music because it’s “collaborative?” Sorry, you just have to put up with LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOR until 5 PM. Deal with it. Forget about concentrating on anything useful when this kind of behavior is tolerated or even encouraged by the management.

All Things In Moderation

To be honest, I’m sure there are varying levels of the open office concept. Some offices have no partitions, low partitions, half partitions, or see-through partitions. Others may have only glass walls, some glass walls, or no walls. I’ve worked in the most extreme concept of open offices in which the entire office is one large space with no separation between desks and only glass walls between other rooms.

There were literally no opaque walls in my office at the time of working there.… Read more