the last words of 2020

more on Timnit Gebru and a santa sack of #techsupportrecs

I thought I would wrap things up with a year-end list, framed with purpose and gravitas, like 2020’s Top 10 Barn-Burning Reads for the Modern Tech Worker to Illuminate the Struggle Ahead! I started with a lot of steam yesterday, cracking my knuckles, rooting around my Twitter likes, squinting to remember what I read this year. I stumbled upon one such barn-burner (“The Silent Majority” in Harpers by Rana Dasgupta, h/t my friend Danish Aziz… “incredibly powerful analysis” I typed into an empty Google doc after reading ~11% of it) but then got distracted (the hours–nay, days–I’ve lost to scrolling Instagram in the name of self care, my friends…). Later, Meredith excused herself from an organizers group chat to go to a Black Marxist reading group and I second-guessed the gambit altogether (“wow, Claire, would it kill you to do a bit more of The Work?”, I said to myself before reflexively resuming glass-eyed Instagram scroll).

What’s done is done now, or rather what’s not done is not done, so I will just keep expectations low and note herewith a couple of things I’ve been *half-heartedly mimes conducting an orchestra* following recently, and retreat quietly back to my hearth.

  • Since I last wrote, the Timnit Gebru situation has remained a stunner on every level (Nitasha Tiku’s piece today in the WaPo is a great snapshot—amazing new tidbit that Timnit had just been promoted with a glowing review from Jeff Dean 2 months before the firing!). More than 3,000 Googlers and 4,000 academics signed a petition supporting her. Elizabeth Warren, Yvette Clarke, Cory Booker and other algorithmic bias watchdog types on the Hill wrote a letter to Google basically asking WTF they were thinking. Timnit’s team (a merry band of radical genius misfits for real) sent a letter over to the CEO proposing the clear solution to the harm he said he wants to repair, the commitment to racial equity he said he’s eager to re-affirm: rehire and promote Timnit. Crickets, of course. Think of the points they’d score, internally and externally, for taking the L on this one! That they won’t shows what’s at stake (or rather what’s more valuable) to them now: unfortunately I don’t think we can make any mistake that this is brute-force, wrong-side-of-history message about workers’ rights, ethics, and people of color in the company. “They wanted my presence,” said Timnit on NPR this week, “but not the reality of me.” But by all means, carry on with your diversity OKRs, Google!

  • Ripple effect, righteous rage edition: Timnit inspired Google’s ex-top diversity recruiter to spill some serious tea in a viral tweet-storm. Ripple effect, regular rage edition: Pinterest whistleblowers Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks inspired ex-COO Francoise Brougher to come forward with a discrimination claim. This past week Francoise got a $22.5M settlement from the company, while Ify and Aerica—who risked more, sacrificed more, and paid a bigger cost—got less than a year’s severance when they left. How does that possibly compute? "A metric ton of white privilege.”

  • “This moment is not a tunnel with a bright light at the end.” This year exposed and/or sped up the various disasters and crises facing humanity, and despite the squeaking triumph of #theResistance last month, do we have any choice but to face what’s ahead of us? The voice I’ve must clung to is prolific, prophetic activist-scholar Mike Davis. I learned so much from his appearance on TrueAnon in October talking about the California wildfires, climate change, the significance of evangelicalism, etc. And his election analysis is depressingly perceptive and true (“expecting 2008, Democrats got 2016 again” in the LRB here, on Dig Radio here).

  • On a jarringly different note, felt such a rush of warmth and good will toward my community for alerting me en masse to POOG, a podcast about wellness from the brilliant comedians Kate Berlant and Jacqueline Novak. Wellness here is defined as basically the intersection of beauty and new age, a panoply of topics that have become mortifyingly huge mindshare for me during quar, plus their banter almost feels like an adequate sub for my IRL friends *eyes fill to brim with tears*

  • All the aforementioned warmth and good will for the community has just drained from my body as I’m reminded me that no one alerted me to How to With John Wilson??? Even Jake Tapper saw the whole thing before me *insert the reddest maddest about-to-explode emoji*. New York City, the Nathan Fielder connection, lonely, life-affirming lols....does the word of mouth network know me at all anymore?? It’s on HBO so I can’t really link but this 9 minute promotional clip is un très bon gouter.

  • Indulging in a spontaneous body percussion performance @ this tweet from AOC.

  • A true IYKYK, but Tavi Gevinson is an artist and a seer, and her medium is instagram comment (here, here)

  • Merry Christmas! The season officially commenced in our household with a long trumpet-like groan from my husband after finding me howling with laughter @ Kate Berlant and John Early’s Last Christmas video. It’s actually from last Christmas, and there’s no better proof of the cold humorless heart of humanity than the low viewcount on this absolute masterpiece.

Wishing you and yours happy holidays and imminent vaccinations!

Send me your existential questions for the New Year, we hear for you <3