MIT weighs in on the future of cryptocurrency

The May/June 2022 issue of MIT’s alumni magazine, Technology Review, asks “Is cash over?” and answers the question with an implicit “yes” via the issue title: The Dawn of New Money.

When the enormous brainpower of all of MIT is harnessed, what do we learn?

A new generation of cryptocurrencies is emerging that promises to fix many of Bitcoin’s flaws. Stablecoins, cryptocurrencies whose stable value comes from being backed by reserves of US dollars or other reputable fiat currencies, are proliferating. Stablecoins are billed as reliable, easily accessible digital payment systems that will make both domestic and international payments cheaper and quicker. However, unlike Bitcoin, which is fully decentralized, they require transactions to be validated by the issuing institution—which could be a bank, a corporation, or just an online entity. This means users must trust that institution to validate only legitimate transactions and hold adequate reserves, and regulators currently do not require independent verification of either of those actions. Thus, despite their laudable goal of meeting the demand for better payment systems, stablecoins have raised a raft of concerns.

What happened with crypto while the issue was going through editing, printing, and mailing?

“Stablecoin implosion shows it has ‘no role’ as a form of money, says Bank of International Settlements’ Asia chief” (SCMP):

The recent collapse in the value of stablecoins shows they are ill-suited as a form of money and that their attempt to piggyback on money issued by central banks does not give them the stability their name suggests, according to the Asia-Pacific head of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS).

The implosion of several stablecoins, including TerraUSD which saw its value reduced to almost nothing in May from being the third-largest with a US$18.7 billion market capitalisation at its peak, has revealed the pitfalls of cryptocurrencies, said Siddharth Tiwari, chief representative of the BIS Asian office.

What about the #1 cryptocurrency? Bitcoin was at $38,000 on May 1. It finished out June (this is the May/June issue) at around $19,000 (i.e., half the value was lost during the on-the-newsstand time for the issue celebrating crypto).

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MIT weighs in regarding the war in Ukraine

Portion of yesterday’s email from Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Note the implication that Russians are suffering just as much as Ukrainians (in bold):

To the members of the MIT community,

Though 4,500 miles separate Kyiv and Cambridge, several factors make the shock of the Russian invasion and its terrible consequences feel very close to home.

I write to let you know how MIT is responding to this catastrophe and to offer some personal reflections.

Caring for members of our community [bold in original]

First in our minds are our students, staff and faculty who are from the region or have family there; we have reached out directly to everyone we are aware of from Ukraine. We have in addition been in touch with our students from Russia, who are also a long way from home in a difficult time. (As always, support is available to all students at doingwell.mit.edu).

A fellow MIT alum pointed out “Catastrophe makes it sound like an earthquake or a tornado.”

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MIT spirit in Washington, D.C.

“‘I am deeply sorry for my conduct’: Biden’s top science adviser apologizes to staff” (Politico):

[MIT prof] Eric Lander, the president’s top science adviser and a member of his Cabinet, sent a Friday night email to his roughly 150-person staff apologizing for speaking to colleagues in a “disrespectful and demeaning way.”

“It’s my responsibility to set a respectful tone for our community. It’s clear that I have not lived up to this responsibility,” Lander wrote in an email provided to POLITICO. “This is not only wrong, but also inconsistent with our Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy. It is never acceptable for me to speak that way. I am deeply sorry for my conduct. I especially want to apologize to those of you who I treated poorly or were present at the time.”

Lander heads the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and is leading President Joe Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot,” an initiative aimed at reducing cancer deaths that had its splashy launch event earlier this week.

The email appears to reference an investigation POLITICO has been conducting into Lander’s treatment of staff, which Lander acknowledges in his email. “I understand that some of you have been asked about this, and I thought it was important to write directly to you,” he wrote. “I also realize that my conduct reflects poorly on this Administration, and interferes with our work. I deeply regret that.”

Biden himself declared a zero-tolerance policy for improper conduct on the first day of his administration. He pledged that “if you are ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot. On the spot. No ifs, ands or buts.”

Lander pledges in his email that “[w]e will take concrete steps to promote a better workplace. We will schedule regular forums to check in with staff on how we are doing in creating and upholding a safe and respectful workplace. We will also ensure that every employee knows how to report conduct that concerns them.”

Lander is probably one of the nicer people at MIT (like being a dwarf among midgets, admittedly), so perhaps this shows that Science is something to follow every day while scientists are best restricted to their labs.

Related:

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Adult life at MIT

Excerpts from today’s email from MIT Hillel (Jewish organization on campus):

One trend we have seen is students are still craving IRL (in-real-life) interactions and events, even if MIT rules say no food at events, at least for the first two weeks of the semester. As this new term begins, coffee meet-and-greets have involved in-person conversations and to-go gift cards. Students in some of our on-going weekly classes have voted to still meet at lunchtime, despite the fact they won’t be fed or eat together. We are exploring “wellness break rooms” for puppy petting, or even coloring books and doodling, that students can pop into.

Within the same email, but from a student….

… as COVID seized the globe in early 2020, it became increasingly apparent that I would spend (at least) my first semester of college at the same desk I used for my kindergarten English homework.

Let’s hope that the above-mentioned puppies don’t grab and run with the cloth masks that the #FollowersOfScience typically wear! Here’s Mindy the Crippler (September 2020; see What to do when a family member is an anti-masker?) sharing her opinion of the effectiveness of non-N95 masks….

Related:

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MIT: Groundbreaking research on politics and racial justice

The December issue of MIT’s alumni magazine, Technology Review, arrived. this includes a special sub-magazine that is only about things that happen on the MIT campus or that are done by MIT alumni. The cover story: “MIT’s new chancellor laid a foundation for leadership through her groundbreaking research on politics and racial justice.”

What else was in the issue? “Discrimination by the numbers”:

When Phyllis Ann Wallace reached Yale University, in the mid-1940s, she was used to facing obstacles and proceeding anyway. Women weren’t expected to go into economics, especially at the graduate level, and for Black women like herself, breaking into the field decades before schools, buses, or workplaces were legally integrated was practically unheard-of.

Her book MBAs on the Fast Track chronicled how the experiences of men and women with equal education differ, and why women work longer hours for the same compensation.

She arrived [at MIT] as a visiting scholar at the Sloan School and quickly moved up to become the school’s first female professor, in 1975. In her office overlooking the Charles River, she wrote books and papers on women in the labor force, particularly Black women, often inviting students to coauthor or co-edit. She worked to ensure that male MIT students were aware of equity issues, believing that “if you can really educate them now, hopefully they will go out and bring about the revolution wherever they are.”

(Note: Americans upset by “why women work longer hours for the same compensation” and who want to work for just one hour and earn a lot more than the average MBA can refer to “Child Support Litigation without a Marriage” and/or the $2.5 million tax-free example of Hunter Biden’s plaintiff (she didn’t waste time getting an MBA!))

Anything about Science (the new capitalized-like-God version)? A brief interior article noted that David Julius, Class of ’77, “shared the 2021 Nobel in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries about how the body senses touch and temperature.” In other Nobel-ish news, a current MIT professor won the Nobel in economics.

Speaking of elite university experts on comparative victimology, “‘Rhodes Scholar’ claimed she grew up poor and abused — then her story started to unravel” (New York Post):

In November 2020, when University of Pennsylvania graduate student Mackenzie Fierceton won the prestigious and highly competitive Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford — one of just 32 scholars selected from a pool of 2,300 applicants — she was praised by the Ivy League school’s president in a newsletter.

“Mackenzie is so deserving of this prestigious opportunity,” declared president Amy Gutmann of the 23-year-old from suburban St. Louis. “As a first-generation [to go to college] low-income student and a former foster youth, Mackenzie is passionate about championing young people [and] dedicating herself to a life of public service.”

Multiple college consultants told The Post that the college application process now features more questions about overcoming obstacles. The 2021-2022 essay prompts from Common App, the organization that oversees undergrad applications for more than 900 schools, include “Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure.”

Categorizing herself as a first-generation, low-income student with a history of horrific abuse — who also earned nearly straight A’s and was student body president in high school — Fierceton certainly fit the bill. She was admitted to Penn in 2015 to study political science, then began studying for a clinical master’s degree in social work in 2018.

When Fierceton’s Rhodes Scholarship was announced, the Philadelphia Inquirer profiled the academic star in November 2020, noting that she “grew up poor, cycling through the rocky child welfare system [and] bounced from one foster home to the next.”

As Fierceton said in that story: “I would trade [the Rhodes honor] to have been adopted and have a family.”

But after that Nov. 22, 2020, profile ran, an anonymous accuser sent an email to Penn and the Rhodes Trust, claiming Fierceton’s story was “blatantly dishonest.” The email reportedly alleged that Fierceton grew up in St. Louis, Mo., with her mother, an educated radiologist; that her family was upper-middle class; and that she had attended a fancy private high school and enjoyed such high-end hobbies as horseback riding.

According to Winkelstein’s subsequent report, Fierceton was raised in an upper-middle-class household; it also notes her mother is a radiologist and that her grandfather had graduated from college.

The Penn victimological bureaucrats criticize the young student for purportedly lying, but take no responsibility for their own incompetence. These are paid full-time victimologists and they can’t distinguish between true victims and the child of a radiologist? How are ordinary Americans supposed to accept the Ivy League say-gooders as experts on social and racial justice?

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MIT’s president weighs in on the shunned heretic

MIT’s President weighs in on the situation previously covered here in Corpus Juris Canonici for academic cancellations (MIT). A follower of the Climate Change Alarmism religion held a heretical belief that universities should not admit or hire people based on skin color. He was, appropriately in my view, shunned. (Why “appropriately”? If you’re going to run a religion, you should do it right!)

Apparently it is extremely rare for a group at MIT to develop something new and useful because the only subjects on which the president of MIT sends out emails are social justice-related (Donald Trump bad, low-skill immigrants good, our former best friend and major donor Jeffrey Epstein bad, coronapanic good, etc.). Continuing in that tradition, an email from yesterday….


To the members of the MIT community,

You may have heard about a situation centered on our Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) regarding an invited speaker, Professor Dorian Abbot.

In a recent letter to the faculty, Provost Marty Schmidt lays out the facts, some of which have not come through clearly in the media and on social media. I encourage you to read his letter. You will also find thorough coverage in The Tech.

The controversy around this situation has caused great distress for many members of our community, in many quarters. It has also uncovered significant differences within the Institute on several issues.

I would like to reflect on what happened and set us on a path forward. But let me address the human questions first.

To the members of the EAPS community: I am deeply disturbed that as a direct result of this situation, many of you – students, postdocs, faculty and young alumni – have suffered a tide of online targeting and hate mail from outside MIT. This conduct is reprehensible and utterly unacceptable. For members of the MIT community, where we value treating one another with decency and respect, this feels especially jarring.

I encourage anyone who is subjected to harassing or threatening behavior or language to reach out for support and guidance to the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) office.

I also want to express my tremendous respect for Professor Rob van der Hilst, department head in EAPS, who faced a difficult situation. I know Rob as a person of the highest integrity and character. We are fortunate to have his leadership in EAPS. In this case, when Rob concluded, after consulting broadly, that EAPS could not host an effective public outreach event centered around Professor Abbot, he chose to extend instead an invitation for an on-campus lecture; Rob took this step deliberately to preserve the opportunity for free dialogue and open scientific exchange.

Professor Abbot is a distinguished scientist who remains welcome to speak on the MIT campus, and he has been working with EAPS to confirm the event details.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this matter has caused many people inside and outside our community to question the Institute’s commitment to free expression. Some report feeling that certain topics are now off limits at MIT. I have heard these concerns directly from faculty colleagues, alumni and others who care deeply about the Institute.

Let me say clearly what I have observed through more than 40 years at MIT:

Freedom of expression is a fundamental value of the Institute.

I believe that, as an institution of higher learning, we must ensure that different points of view – even views that some or all of us may reject – are allowed to be heard and debated at MIT. Open dialogue is how we make each other wiser and smarter.

This commitment to free expression can carry a human cost. The speech of those we strongly disagree with can anger us. It can disgust us. It can even make members of our own community feel unwelcome and illegitimate on our campus or in their field of study.

I am convinced that, as an institution, we must be prepared to endure such painful outcomes as the price of protecting free expression – the principle is that important.

I am equally certain, however, that when members of our community must bear the cost of other people’s free expression, they deserve our understanding and support. We need to ensure that they, too, have the opportunity to express their own views.

A path forward [emphasis in original]

The issues this situation has brought to the surface are complex. No unilateral declaration on behalf of MIT could either resolve them in the moment or prevent future controversies. So I believe it is vital now that we engage in serious, open discussion together.

As the provost’s letter described, we will begin with a faculty forum, being planned for the last week of October. Discussion in this working session might address questions like these: Given our shared commitment to open inquiry and free expression, are there further steps we should take to practice it consistently? Should we develop guidelines to help groups in their own decision making? Does the concept need more prominence in our curriculum? How should we respond when members of our community bear the disproportionate cost of other people’s speech?

It will be essential in this overall process to include the perspective and experience of graduate and undergraduate students; I have asked Chancellor Melissa Nobles to work with student leaders to decide the best way to do so.

I have also asked Provost Marty Schmidt, Chancellor Nobles and Chair of the Faculty Lily Tsai to begin immediately assembling a special ad hoc working group to consider the insights and lessons we should take away from this situation. I believe this extremely important topic deserves and will benefit from this kind of thoughtful, deliberative, nuanced approach, perhaps including experts from outside MIT. The themes that emerge from the initial faculty forum will help inform the working group’s charge.

From the comments that have come to me directly, I can attest that our community encompasses a wide spectrum of very strong views about what has transpired in these last weeks.

As we cope with the aftermath of this public controversy here at home, let us hold ourselves to the same standards in our interactions with each other as in our intellectual work: To learn more, assume less and ask more – and listen as closely as we can to each other’s ideas, perspectives and experiences.

I hope that, in this moment and always, we will all continue to value and respect each other as fellow members of one community, united in a single great mission.

Sincerely,

L. Rafael Reif


Speech generates an externality (“cost” repeatedly mentioned above). Thus, the sensible way to deal with it, according to Econ 101, is to charge people every time that they speak and distribute the funds received (minus an administration fee) to the BIPOC and 2SLGBTQQIA+ members of the community who currently “bear the cost” of this externality. There is already a “Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) office,” according to the above. This office could be tasked with running the tax-and-spend system.

(Note that the above email is self-contradicctory. President Reif says that expression is costing for those who hear it. Yet he says “I believe it is vital now that we engage in serious, open discussion together.” If “open” means that people are going to say things along the lines of what the heretic Dorian Abbot said in Newsweek, i.e., that universities shouldn’t consider skin color in admissions and hiring, won’t that generate a huge cost to be borne by “members of our community”? Wouldn’t this actually be worse than the lecture Professor Abbot was going to give? (the canceled lecture was not on the subject of skin-color-based university policies))

Related:

  • “Male Workers Allowed Into Baldwin, Unsettling Residents” (Oberlin Review): Baldwin Cottage is the home of the Women and Trans Collective. The College website describes the dorm as “a close-knit community that provides women and transgendered persons with a safe space for discussion, communal living, and personal development.” Cisgender men are not allowed to live on the second and third floors, and many residents choose not to invite cisgender men to that space. I was angry, scared, and confused. Why didn’t the College complete the installation over the summer, when the building was empty? Why couldn’t they tell us precisely when the workers would be there? Why were they only notifying us the day before the installation was due to begin?
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Corpus Juris Canonici for academic cancellations (MIT)

From a Johns Hopkins professor, “Why the Latest Campus Cancellation Is Different” (Atlantic):

Following a Twitter outcry, a scientist was stopped from giving a lecture at MIT for reasons that had nothing to do with the lecture itself.

For although most outlets have covered [Dorian] Abbot’s disinvitation as but the latest example of an illiberal culture on campus, it is qualitatively different from other recent instances in which invitations have been rescinded—and suggests that the scope of censorship is continuing to morph and expand.

Is Abbot a climate-change denier? Or has he committed some terrible crime? No, he simply expressed his views about the way universities should admit students and hire faculty in the pages of a national magazine.

In other words, cancellation is often a good idea. Suppose, for example, Professor Dr. Dorian Abbot, Ph.D. (colleague of Professor Dr. Jill Biden, M.D., Ph.D.) had expressed skepticism about the latest 100-year simulations. Perhaps Dr. Professor Dorian Abbot, Ph.D., might have noted that his field is one in which the experts rejected plate tectonics and continental drift until the late 1960s. That would have been tantamount to climate-change denial and, therefore, it would make sense to nail Dr. Dorian, Ph.D. to a cross of #FollowTheScience.

On the other hand, the Corpus Juris Canonici does not provide for cancellation, at least according to this Hopkins professor, for the particular infraction of which Professor Dr. Abbot, Ph.D. was guilty (questioning the skin-color-based university admissions systems that have been implemented across the U.S.).

The subtleties are fascinating!

Related:

  • “The Diversity Problem on Campus” (Newsweek), the hate-filled article that generated the Tweetstorm leading up to MIT’s cancellation: The new regime is titled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” or DEI, and is enforced by a large bureaucracy of administrators. Nearly every decision taken on campus, from admissions, to faculty hiring, to course content, to teaching methods, is made through the lens of DEI. This regime was imposed from the top and has never been adequately debated. In the current climate it cannot be openly debated: … [MIT proved Abbot right on that last point!] … DEI compromises the university’s mission. The core business of the university is the search for truth. [??? Harvard spent all of its time searching for truth and just incidentally acquired $42 billion?] We propose an alternative framework called Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) whereby university applicants are treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone. Crucially, this would mean an end to legacy and athletic admission advantages, which significantly favor white applicants, … [an athlete does not have more “merit” than someone who watches TV all day?] Viewed objectively, American universities already are incredibly diverse. [because all possible human ages are represented in the range from 18 to 22?]
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MIT uses the butterfly effect to heal our planet

Dr. Jill Biden, M.D., Ph.D.’s colleague Dr. Jeff Goldblum, Ph.D. explains the Butterfly Effect, i.e., that a butterfly flapping its wings in China could change the weather weeks later in the U.S.:

MIT is taking advantage of Dr. Goldblum’s theoretical result. Here’s a recent email from president Rafael Reif:

Dear MIT Alumni and Friends,

As we mark the successful finale of the MIT Campaign for a Better World, I find myself thinking back to where we started.

As a community, we began the Campaign with bold aspirations — and a passionate belief that the work of MIT can have broad and lasting value for the world. In the years since, I have been deeply moved to see the global MIT community embrace this Campaign, grounded in our shared mission and values, and I could not be more grateful for your willingness to answer its call to action.

The Campaign’s closing milestone speaks to the breadth of its appeal: 112,703 donors collectively raised $6.2 billion.

MIT transformed

But most impressive and indelible are the ways that the Campaign is transforming MIT and will advance our mission. Because of your gifts and volunteer service, MIT’s magnetic ability to attract the world’s finest talent and to help every member of our community flourish has never been stronger. Hundreds of new scholarships, fellowships, and professorships across the Institute have been complemented by extensive new funding for labs, learning spaces, innovation and entrepreneurship, and discovery research. And unrestricted gifts made during the Campaign were crucial in helping MIT adapt to the unexpected challenges of Covid‑19.

Because of your support of the Campaign, MIT’s physical campus and academic landscape are humming with new potential. Just a few examples: Kresge Auditorium, the Hayden Library, the Chang Building, and the Simons Building have all been renewed. The Samberg Center offers an exhilarating new place for our community to gather. Before long, the members of our School of Architecture and Planning will come together in a first-rate new hub, the Earth and Environment Pavilion will unite our research communities focused on environmental and climate questions, the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing headquarters will rise as a new intellectual center of gravity on campus, and the MIT Museum will have a brand-new roost in Kendall Square to welcome the world in. We’ll soon have a new wind tunnel and, as a wonderful coda, the Institute will have a worthy new home for music, right where it should be, at the center of student life.

And of course — in keeping with the Campaign’s aspirations — your support has helped position the Institute to take on humanity’s great challenges, from climate change, environmental degradation, water and food scarcity, and cancer, to economic, educational, and health inequality around the globe.

In other words, nearly all of the money was spent on gold-plating some buildings in Cambridge. How can that lead to the “better world” that headlines the fund-raising campaign? Maybe it could be a “better campus” for those privileged enough to be on campus, but the whole world? Answer: chaos theory tells us that gold-plating a building in Cambridge could result in the entire Earth being gold-plated/healed.

Separately, “an exhilarating new place for our community to gather”? How is that responsible in the Age of Corona? MIT says it is “standing with the science”, so maybe “science” is different from “#Science”, followers of which would refrain from gathering, even if equipped with saliva-soaked cloth face rags that the media refers to as “protective”. Open a big new indoor museum to attract visitors during the peak Maskachusetts respiratory virus season (winter)? Doesn’t that give SARS-CoV-2 a chance to spread along paths that would otherwise have been denied to it?

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Follow-up on the Coinbase corporate version of Florida

A year ago, the CEO of Coinbase paid employees who were the most passionate about social justice and political causes to leave. See “Coinbase is a mission focused company” and also “Taking a Stand Against Social Stances” (NYT, 9/29/2020). (If he’d been a Southerner he might have said “Don’t let the screen door hit you on the butt on your way out.”)

In other words, he was trying to create something like the Florida that we’ve experienced. After nearly two months here, I have seen exactly one Black Lives Matter message (bumper sticker on a black (not “Black”) Toyota Prius as we were on an excursion to Miami (IKEA, Guitar Hotel, and Marlins baseball game)). Supposedly there are a lot of people here who voted for either Trump or Biden, but there is no evidence of that from lawn signs or bumper stickers. Bumper stickers are display at perhaps 1/200th the rate compared to in Maskachusetts and the most common type of bumper sticker is school-related.

What happens at a company without on-the-clock activism? Discrimination against those who identify as Black, according to the NYT… “‘Tokenized’: Inside Black Workers’ Struggles at the King of Crypto Start-Ups” (11/27/2020):

One by one, they left. Some quit. Others were fired. All were Black.

The 15 people worked at Coinbase, the most valuable U.S. cryptocurrency start-up, where they represented roughly three-quarters of the Black employees at the 600-person company. Before leaving in late 2018 and early 2019, at least 11 of them informed the human resources department or their managers about what they said was racist or discriminatory treatment, five people with knowledge of the situation said.

One of the employees was Alysa Butler, 25, who worked in recruiting. During her time at Coinbase, she said, she told her manager several times about how he and others excluded her from meetings and conversations, making her feel invisible.

“Most people of color working in tech know that there’s a diversity problem,” said Ms. Butler, who resigned in April 2019. “But I’ve never experienced anything like Coinbase.”

(Wikipedia says Coinbase is “remote-first”, so how do employees know anything about the race IDs of other employees? See Achieve college student skin color diversity via image processing? as well)

How did it go for Coinbase from Management’s perspective? The CEO who wanted people to fight their social justice and political battles on their own time followed up with a Twitter thread:

It’s been about a year since my mission-focused blog post. It wasn’t easy to go through at the time, but looking back, it turned out to be one of the most positive changes I’ve made at Coinbase, and I’d recommend it to others.

We have a much more aligned company now, where we can focus on getting work done toward our mission. And it has allowed us to hire some of the best talent from organizations where employees are fed up with politics, infighting, and distraction.

One of the biggest concerns around our stance was that it would impact our diversity numbers. Since my post, we’ve grown our headcount about 110%, while our diversity numbers have remained the same, or even improved on some metrics.

Several people told me this would never happen when I circulated the original draft internally. It turns out that there are people from every background who want to work at a mission focused company.

If he is putting employees into buckets based on skin color in order to get “diversity numbers”, isn’t he himself engaging in a social justice cause at work? There was no legal requirement for Coinbase to gather these data, right? (Let me guess right now that age is not one of the axes of diversity for which Mr. Armstrong is anxious to get numbers!)

In other diversity news, the guy who stirred up hatred at University of Chicago (see “Geophysical Sciences Grad Students Call on Faculty to Denounce Videos By Department Member” 12/2/2020) got literally canceled at MIT, where he had been scheduled to give a lecture. From the Daily Mail:

…. after outraging ‘totalitarian’ Twitter mob by arguing that academic evaluations should be based on merit not racial ‘equity’

Dorian Abbot was denied the opportunity to give the Carlson Lecture, which is devoted to ‘new results in climate science’ and hosted by MIT’s Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

The lecture was scheduled to be delivered on October 21, but Abbot learned over the weekend that EAPS would be canceling his talk.

In August, things took a turn when Abbot co-wrote an opinion piece for Newsweek in which he argued that the ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ (DEI) initiative embraced on many college campuses nationwide ‘violates the ethical and legal principle of equal treatment.’

DEI, according to Abbot and co-author Professor Ivan Marinovic, ‘treats persons as merely means to an end, giving primacy to a statistic over the individuality of a human being.’

Abbot and Marinovic instead proposed ‘an alternative framework called Merit, Fairness, and Equality (MFE) whereby university applicants are treated as individuals and evaluated through a rigorous and unbiased process based on their merit and qualifications alone.’

(But who decides “merit”?)

It is kind of exciting for alumni when MIT can share a newspaper with Joe Biden’s $2.5 million granddaughter.

What would Dorian Abbot have talked about? He seems to be at least a little interested in Snowball Earth, one of my favorite geology subjects ever since reading an awesome book on the subject. He’s also interested in exoplanets, which fascinate everyone far more than how their Windows 11 computer or iPhone work. Maybe if Professor Abbot can get Elon Musk to blast him off to Gliese 273b (shouldn’t take that long to go 12.2 light-years in a Plaid Edition rocket), his critics will forget about him?

Related:

  • “Tesla must pay $137 million to a Black employee who sued for racial discrimination” (NPR, 10/5/2021), in which we learn that the article doesn’t match the headline. The now-rich elevator operator worked for a contractor to Tesla and was never directly employed by Tesla. (electrek has a more accurate headline: “Tesla is ordered to pay ex-worker $137 million in racial abuse lawsuit, releases blog about verdict”: Mr. Diaz never worked for Tesla. He was a contract employee who worked for Citistaff and nextSource. Mr. Diaz worked as an elevator operator at the Fremont factory for nine months, from June 2015 to March 2016. There was no witness testimony or other evidence that anyone ever heard the n-word used toward Mr. Diaz. Even though Mr. Diaz now complains about racial harassment at Fremont, at the time he said he was being harassed, he recommended to his son and daughter – while they were all living together in the same home – that they work at Tesla with him.)
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Harvard and MIT: Love Asians, but don’t let them into your school

My inbox has been filling up lately with emails regarding purported hate crimes against Asian-Americans. Somewhat curiously, these emails are coming from institutions that explicitly discriminate against Asian-Americans (see “A Ceiling on Asian Student Enrollment at MIT and Harvard?”, for example, and Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard).

Harvard graduate Tom Lehrer wrote about this in his song “National Brotherhood Week“:

it’s Fun to eulogize the
People you despise
As long you don’t let them in your school.

From Larry Bacow, President of Harvard:

For the past year, Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders have been blamed for the pandemic—slander born of xenophobia and ignorance. … Footage of individuals being targeted and assaulted has driven home a rise in aggression and violence across the nation. Today, we continue to reel in the wake of eight murders in Georgia—six of the victims of Asian descent—and to contend with events that shock the collective conscience.

(If only six of the victims were of Asian descent, what’s El Presidente’s theory for how this was an anti-Asian hate crime? The murderer hated Asians, but was not intelligent enough to distinguish between Asians and non-Asians?)

Harvard must stand as a bulwark against hatred and bigotry. We welcome and embrace individuals from every background because it makes us a better community, a stronger community.

I long for the day when I no longer have to send such messages. It is our collective responsibility to repair this imperfect world. To Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders in our community: We stand together with you today and every day going forward.

(Is there, in fact, anyone who blames “Pacific Islanders” for COVID-19 or coronapanic? Readers: Have you heard someone curse Samoans, Fijians, or Tongans for causing the deaths of 82-year-olds in Maskachusetts?)

From Martha Tedeschi, director of the Harvard Art Museums, where the paychecks keep coming despite the museum being closed.

I am reaching out to the extended museum family of the Harvard Art Museums in the face of Wednesday’s breaking—and heartbreaking—news of the deadly shootings and violence against women of Asian descent in Atlanta. I want to state my own shock and horror—sentiments I know so many of you share—that once again we are confronted by a wave of racist violence that makes it impossible for so many communities in this country to feel safe. Anti-Asian hostility has a long history in the United States. … want to say emphatically that the Harvard Art Museums stand firmly against Anti-Asian racism. It feels only moments ago that I was writing to you about the murder of George Floyd and so many others and the importance of banding together in support of our black and brown communities.

(Do we think that George Floyd, with his minimal employment history, would have been a likely customer for a $20 ticket to Martha Tesdeschi’s museum? If not, what qualifies Martha Tedeschi to talk about those in Mr. Floyd’s socioeconomic stratum?)

What if we go downmarket and down the river? From L. Rafael Reif, President of MIT:

This message is for everyone. But let me begin with a word for the thousands of members of our MIT family – undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and Corporation members – who are Asian or of Asian descent: We would not be MIT without you.

(But, as noted above, “we also don’t want too many of you”?)

Bizarrely, for a school that claims credentials are important enough to spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars acquiring, the president of MIT, with no credentials in criminology or political science, claims expertise in criminology and political science:

Across the country, a cruel signature of this pandemic year has been a terrible surge in anti-Asian violence, discrimination and public rhetoric. I know some of you have experienced such harm directly. The targets are very often women and the elderly.

These acts are especially disturbing in the context of several years of mounting hostility and suspicion in the United States focused on people of Chinese origin. The murders in Georgia Tuesday, including among the victims so many Asian women, come as one more awful shock.

Lumped in with the discussion regarding spa workers, because she happened to have identified (maybe?) as an Asian female:

Earlier this month, we lost an extraordinary citizen of MIT, ChoKyun Rha ’62, SM ’64, SM ’66, SCD ’67, a professor post-tenure of biomaterials science and engineering, at the age of 87. Raised in Seoul in a family that expected her to become a doctor, she came to MIT because she wanted to be an engineer. In 1974, she joined our faculty; in 1980, she became the first Asian female faculty member to earn tenure at MIT. Dr. Rha went on to build a remarkable career as a teacher, a mentor and a scholar.

It is difficult to imagine how alone she must have felt in her early years at MIT, when women students and Asian students numbered in just dozens. But the trail she and so many others blazed helped lead to the rich diversity of MIT we treasure today.

Is this an example of “All Look Same”? In the context of killings of spa workers in Atlanta, what’s the relevance of someone who defied her family by becoming an engineer rather than a doctor and never lived in Atlanta?

(Also, Rafael Reif says that she must have felt alone (how can he know?). If so, given that she stayed at MIT for four degrees and to work as a professor, isn’t that equivalent to calling her stupid? An intelligent person would have left MIT, presumably, and gone somewhere where she didn’t feel alone.)

Circling back to the title of this post… if the presidents of Harvard and MIT love Asians so much, why won’t they let them into their respective schools?

(If the answer is, “we just can’t find enough Asians whose personalities we like, notwithstanding their superb academic achievements,” here are some numbers from “The Rise of Asian Americans” (Pew, 2012): “The modern immigration wave from Asia is nearly a half century old and has pushed the total population of Asian Americans—foreign born and U.S born, adults and children—to a record 18.2 million in 2011, or 5.8% of the total U.S. population, up from less than 1% in 1965.”

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Readers: Are you getting a lot of email from bureaucrats expressing their new-found love for Asians?

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