Thursday, March 17, 2016

Disrupting Social Mobility

There's a company I've seen a lot of advertising for lately, called SoFi, which creeps me out mightily.  It's a bank, but won't call itself that.  Kinda like how Uber doesn't have any employees.

SoFi aggregates a bunch of information about its clients and then bestows on them the honor of SoFi's approval for loans and refinancing - for life.  They pick the best financial bets and give them loans.  (Isn't that what a bank does?  Yes, except a bank does this on a loan-by-loan basis.  SoFi signs you up for life.)

The for life  part is what I hate.  I don't think it's bad business, but it seems like an ideal way to permanently separate members of different economic classes.  

And I didn't even get to the most dystopian part yet: they want to create a dating platform for their clients.  Forget about subtle class markers like accents or dental work.  

The most insidious part of this is that it makes perfect business sense.  SoFi offers unemployment insurance to its clients, so that they don't lose their big bets to the random financial setbacks that throw careers into chaos.  

Granted, taxpaying Americans all have access to unemployment insurance, but the public program is not always sufficient to keep people afloat during bad times.   I imagine that SoFi's offering is significantly better than what you'd get from the government.  

But if availability of unemployment support makes Poors too lazy to find work again, why won't it foster indolence among the SoFi class?  

The better we get at figuring the odds, the better we get at stacking them.  

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

More than an Oopsie

I fit in pretty well to the category of cissexual woman.  My phenotype, and I assume genotype, are pretty easy to read.  I have occasionally gotten lazy about how considerate I am to those who don't quite fall on one side of the spectrum.  But I've decided to shape up, mostly spurred by Naomi Gordon-Loebl's essay on The Toast.   I usually think that if you don't comform very well to a gender binary, people will occasionally misgender you, and it's probably on accident so it's no biggie.  However, I've heard many times that it's almost always hurtful, regardless of whether it's an accident.

I have a few trigger issues like that, so I'm going to be extra-sensitive about the things I know are others' sore points.  To that end, I was reading some stuff about gender-neutral language and found a pretty exhaustive guide to making languages less gender-binary.    The languages I am acquainted with are not very accommodating to gender-neutrality.  In fact, when I have taken Spanish classes, I've gotten somewhat stern lectures telling me to shove my feminist sensibility, and I have to admit I've just accepted highly-gendered language as the way of the world.

But now I'm inspired to pay more attention, and not just retreat into a safe ignorance of these issues.  I don't expect that the whole of the Spanish-speaking world will ever go for it, but the way I've seen English pronouns like "zie" or "hir" take off in some parts of the Internet gives me hope that degendered language variants could have viability.

I can't speak much for languages other than English, but if I use new gender-neutral pronouns, I feel I can safely assume that anyone who has a hard time understanding what I'm saying is playing dumb in the hope that I'll switch to their preferred pronoun scheme.  People learn words by context, and a gender-neutral pronoun is a simple concept.

I am not sure exactly what I'm committing to here, but I'm trying to be more careful.  I am not quite ready to give up "he" and "she."  On the one hand, it seems like it would be ideal to use gender-neutral pronouns in situations that demand formality, but on the other, formality usually comes alongside conservatism.  When I think about the way I tend to speak and write, it will probably be sort of random.  I've always liked to keep a variable tone in my writing and speech - it keeps people paying attention, and adds an element of humor.  

Now, as a reward for reading a long discussion of pronouns and their gender politics, here's a song I loved from the 90s, from a band that really seemed to rebel against gender expectations.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Reporting about Sexual Assault Sure Seems Hard

Buzzfeed has come up with something alarming and strange: a huge number of customer support contacts made with Uber include the terms "rape" or "sexual assault."  Buzzfeed got some screenshots from a former Uber customer support representative.

In one screenshot, a search query for “sexual assault” returns 6,160 Uber customer support tickets. A search for “rape” returns 5,827 individual tickets. Other variations of the terms yield similarly high returns: A search for “assaulted” shows 3,524 tickets, while “sexually assaulted” returns 382 results.

That seems like an awfully high number of criminal acts happening in conjunction with Uber rides.  Uber suggested that the search used was returning a lot of typos or out-of-context text strings (and has now been shown to be wrong that this would be why these results are coming up in a search of their software.).  Since I am not a huge fan of the company, my first instinct was to jump on the "They're scum!  Hang 'em!" bandwagon. But a few hours later, it struck me that this is a really strange find.  There do seem to be a strangely-high number of Uber horror stories out there, but the indication of the Buzzfeed findings is that Uber drivers are engaging in an up-to-now invisible, systematic campaign of sexual assault on customers.  It's not impossible, but I'd be truly surprised if that were the case.     

This was brought to my attention on Jezebel, where the implication is that Uber is doing a terrible job of to cover up a huge problem with sexual assault in the face of damning proof.     

Uber did respond to Buzzfeed's piece, but then retracted some of its claims about how the search worked.  

So that's the story so far.  

This all seems very weird.  In my experience, high-profile stories about sexual assault tend to fall apart in strange ways.  That's probably to be expected, given the sensitivity of the subject and the pressure on the parties involved.  

I've learned not to draw conclusions as these stories spin up.  Usually, it's fair to assume someone did something bad, which may or may not rise to the level of a criminal act.  

Given Uber's clumsy attempts to save face in this, I am growing ever more secure in that assumption.  

Monday, March 07, 2016

Voting my Conscience

Hillary Clinton is too much of a hawk, and has caused thousands of unnecessary deaths.  She's also a weird rich person, with whom I have almost nothing in common.

I still admire her ability to keep a strong, progressive career going in the face of opposition at every turn.  I suspect a lot of that ability is related to the things about her I really despise.  The personality and way of thinking it takes to be a truly powerful politician are fundamentally a mystery to most of us.  Ultimately, I think she has what it takes to be a good President, and I'm voting for Hillary Clinton this year.  

I'd be happy to vote for Bernie Sanders in the general election, and I like how he's kept a lot of focus on economic equality in this primary.  But I hate how his campaign has mutated into a Hillary Hatefest that's convinced otherwise smart and strategic people to think they should vote for Donald Trump instead of Clinton.  The overtones of voting to punish Clinton for her sins just come off as delusional.  Voting is a lot more like a duty than a joy, and that's okay.   Maybe my calculations are wrong, and Clinton is a horrible bet for the presidency this year, but I don't think so.               

I can't make the powerful feel anything in particular by casting a ballot.  It reminds me a lot of when the ACA was painfully being cobbled together and progressives wanted to kill the bill because it was going to let those assholes get away with what they've done.

They already have (and had, in the case of the ACA) gotten away with it, and revenge is not just around the corner.  It will probably never come, and even if it did, some truly bad people would be living in truly bad circumstances.  The idea of making them sorry is not a fantasy I am so attached to that I can risk contributing to the Trump agenda.  

I think there is a nonzero chance that Trump could be elected president, and I want no part of that.