Shame Machine: an owner’s manual

Friends, I’m writing today to announce that I’m hard at work on a new book, called:


Shame Machine

an owner’s manual


It’s once again being written with my editor Amanda Cook at the publisher Crown Random House, just like Weapons of Math Destruction. The tentative release date is January 2021, after the next presidential election.

The idea of the book is to understand shame as a social mechanism. When, why, and how do we shame each other? Who profits from shame? Who maintains power or gains power through shame? When is shame valid, and when is it simply mean and cruel? How is shame delivered in the age of big data?

I come to these questions because of the proliferation shame-based interactions and strategies in politics but also interpersonally; from my experience of getting my insurance company to pay for bariatric surgery, to observing people interacting viciously on Twitter, to hearing how teachers were unfairly scored with the value-added model, it seems like shame is the informal glue that holds our system together. So naturally I started nerding out bigtime.

Shame Machine is a culmination of quite a bit of thinking and writing, research and personal development that I’ve been busy with for the last couple of years. Readers of my blog will have noticed that I’ve been posting a lot less, and this is why. Where I tried out a bunch of ideas for Weapons on this blog, and heard back from you guys (thanks again!), this time it’s quite a bit more personal, so I’ve been hesitant to write about it openly while I was still thinking it through. Suffice it to say I’m sure you readers would have had lots of great advice, and hopefully I’ll be able to ask you for thoughts in the future.

Anyway, I’m out of the hibernation/ideas/planning phase and into the writing phase, and it’s both amazing and scary.

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Sex Robots!

Guys I’m super proud of this Sex Robots essay I wrote for Boston Review:


A History of Cyborg Sex, 2018–73



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Bloomberg Opinion piece on Facial Recognition

My newest Bloomberg Opinion piece just came out:

Amazon Can’t Fix Facial Recognition

Companies lack incentives to stop the creepiness.

See the rest of my Bloomberg Opinion pieces here.

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At JMM 2019!

I registered for this year’s Joint Math Meeting by claiming to be Press so I think it’s only fair that I blog from the conference.

I got here Wednesday, met up with my BFF Aaron Abrams, and we promptly dashed to a fancypants reception to meet up with my buddy Ken Ribet. And yes, both of these wonderful men were wearing knitted hats that I knitted for them in the blistering Baltimore weather. Ken happens to be the outgoing AMS President so has lots of fancypants receptions to go to, and he was kind enough to let us in. The highlight, besides reminiscences with him and others, was when I got to write on a board about how Ken has been a great mentor to me since I was 18, welcoming me with open arms into the warm and wonderful community of mathematics. I also got to (re)meet Francis Su, who is awesome.

Then, yesterday I was honored to receive the MAA Euler Book Prize along with a bunch of adorable nerds receiving all kinds of mathematical honors onstage. It was fun, and afterwards there was a reception, which I went to. Then after that I ran over to a Budapest Semesters in Math reunion, and then the MAA dinner for prize winners. So that’s pretty much three more parties, bringing my total to hour as of last night. If you’re wondering what else I did besides party, the answer is I totally checked out the Exhibitor Hall and went to lunch with an editor from Cambridge University Press and a friend of mine who might write a book. Yes, we went to a pub.

This morning so far I’ve been to the HCSSiM reunion breakfast, I’m having drinks with Ina Mette, AMS editor, and I’m looking for receptions to crash later (please leave a comment if you know of any good ones!).

Finally, tomorrow I’ll be giving the Gerald and Judith Porter Lecture, which will be great in part because I got to meet Gerald and Judith Porter last night and they’ve very cool. Also, the title of my talk is “Big Data, Inequality, and Democracy”, which are three topics I love talking about. I’m considering inviting the entire audience to the aforementioned pub afterwards.

Besides my alcohol consumption, I have a few comments to make.

First, math nerds are and always will be unbelievably adorable.

Second, unlike many past years when I’ve visited JMM, I am less pessimistic of the future of mathematics. I was quite worried, for many years, that MOOCs and other “flipped classroom” type scenarios would take over calculus teaching. I’m no longer so worried about that, because I simply haven’t heard of it working on a broad scale.

Third, on the other hand, from the little I’ve understood talking to people, the other effect I’ve been worrying about, namely the slow replacement of tenured faculty by adjunct staff, doesn’t seem to be abating. So I will say that the profession of academic mathematics is not a growing or improving field in terms of quality of life for the median Ph.D. grad.

Fourth, I’m kind of surprised how slowly the world of publishing in math has changed, and its flip side, the world of credentialing. It seems like there’s just as much gaming, counting, and other kind of dumb metric stuff going on as ever. I guess it’s because I’m on the outside now looking in, but I’m wondering when people will start seriously contributing to things like the Stack Project – and figure out a way of giving credit to people for those contributions – because it seems like the obvious future of mathematical contributions. Tell me if I’m wrong.

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Our Dystopian Future and the Next Cold War

My newest Bloomberg Opinion column just came out, about the international competition for AI dominance:

Want To See Your Dystopian Future? Look at China


See the rest of my columns here.

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Karaoke is even better in French

As I found out on my last night in Paris. I dare you to tell me I’m wrong.


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Guest post: How I Voted and Why

This is a guest post by Aise O’Neil, a freshman at American University.

1. How I Voted:

NYC Ballot Proposals:

#1: Yes
#2: No
#3: No

NYS General Election:

Governor and Lieutenant Governor: Howie Hawkins (Green)
Attorney General: Michael Sussman (Green)
Comptroller: Mark Dunlea (Green)
NYS Senate District 30: Brian Benjamin (WFP)
NYS Assembly District 69: Daniel O’donnell (Democrat)

Some Judicial elections:

The Democratic nominees will win anyway. They are running unopposed. Just write in some names for the hell of it.

Federal General Election:

NYS Senate: Kirsten Gillibrand (WFP)
US Congress (NY’s 10th district): Jerrold Nadler

2. Why:

NYC Ballot Proposals:

#1 (references: here and here):

Currently, candidates are given the option to receive funds from the government proportional to the amount of money donated to them by individuals. However, they may not be compensated for any money they receive in donations in excesses of $175. Hence, when a candidate receives $100 from 10 people, the candidate get a contribution proportional to the full $1000 in donations that candidate received. Meanwhile a candidate only gets government contributions proportional to the first $175 dollars from a $1000 donor. This program strengthens the effect of an individual (non-business, non-union, non-pac) donation, especially a “small-money” one.

This ballot measure strengthens the program by offering additional money: governments will give money proportional to eight times the individual donation, instead of six times which is the current number. The government will match the first $250 worth of contributions instead of the old $175.

Additionally, the proposal would loosen requirement to qualify for public contribution matching and would hand out public funds earlier.

The proposal would also lower contribution limits. The contribution limits for NYC campaigns are currently $2850 for city council campaigns, $3950 for borough presidents campaign and $5100 for other campaigns. The proposal would set the limits for $1000 for city council campaigns receiving public money, $1500 for city council campaigns not receiving public money, $1500 for borough president campaigns receiving public money, $2500 for borough presidents not, $2000 for city-wide campaigns receiving public money, and $3500 for city-wide campaigns not receiving public money.

Furthermore, the amount of public money a candidate receives is limited. This proposal would raise the limits. Mayoral campaign limits would go from $4007300 to $5464500. City council campaign limits would go from $104500 to $142500. Borough President campaign limits would go from $902000 to $1230000. Other campaign limits would go from $2505250 to $3416250.

The proposal would be fazed in in 2021 and fully implemented in 2022.

I think this proposal is a good step towards a campaign system which promotes candidates and behaviours that can attract popular support instead of the support of moneyed interests. It is unseemly for candidates to be calling people and asking for thousand dollar sums of money. It is always good to find a fair and non-partisan way to put money into campaigns. When campaigns have the resources to maximize exposure, things become less about getting noticed and getting the money to be noticed and more about having the right ideas. While one could certainly think of ways to improve upon the system that this reform would leave, the reform is no less an improvement in itself.

Exact text can be found here.


This would amend the city charter to create a 15 member commission. The mayor would appoint 8 members of the commission and make one of them the chair. The mayor can hire and fire the chair at his discretion. The remaining seven members will serve terms of either four and two years. Besides the fact that each of the two largest parties in the city by membership must have a member in the council serving four terms, the Mayor can appoint any New Yorker City residents not currently holding office he wants to the other seven seats Effectively, once the mayor has served for 4 years, he will have stacked the commission with an eight-person majority of sycophants.

The commission will have three primary purposes. The first is to ensure adequate access to translators at poll sites. The second is to allow local communities to have more of an active role in budgeting public money used in their area. This will happen through participatory committees with purely advisory authority which will take input from any resident (documented or otherwise) of an area above the age of 16. The third is public-private partnerships with youth groups and other institutions to promote civic engagement.

The purposes of the committee seem undefined. A program to ensure access to translators at polling sites already exists. What ought to happen is the NYC board of elections should be given more funding to provide adequate translators at polling sites. The city charter should not be amended to create a bizarre committee with undefined legal authority. There’s a very good chance that the committee does nothing of note: In which case it is unnecessary. Their is also a slight chance that this unelected 15-person committee takes an active role in the budgeting process or other political processes. If this were the case, it would work counter to the goals of increased democratic and civic participation and would exist mainly as a vehicle for mayoral influence. It is also an issue that those members appointed to the commission to serve four years (four by the mayor and one by the city council speaker) as well as the five appointed by borough presidents to serve three year terms could serve for years after those who appointed them have been voted out of office.


Requires the borough presidents to provide on their website: the names of people who serve on community boards along with their specific community, their nominating party, positions in their council and dates of service. Statistical, anonymous and self-reported demographic information would also be provided about members of the community boards on borough websites. The websites will also be provided with information about open community board seats, online applications for these boards and a run down on how the search and vetting process of the new member is being handled. Borough presidents are also supposed to publicize “The particular methods used to seek out candidates for membership from diverse backgrounds, including with regard to race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, sexual orientation, language, geographic residence, and other characteristics the borough president deems relevant to promoting diversity and inclusion of under-represented groups and communities within community boards;”

“The  borough  president  shall seek  out persons of  diverse backgrounds, including  with regard to race, ethnicity,  gender, age, disability status, sexual orientation, language, and other characteristics the borough president deems relevant  to promoting diversity and inclusion of under-represented groups and communities within community boards, to apply for  appointment.”

There is some language about how the commission in ballot proposal #2 will create reports about the overall state of community boards.

The central focus of the proposal is to place pressure upon borough presidents to engage in corrective discrimination on lines of race, sex, religion, nationality etc… when hiring board members. This is achieved by ordering borough presidents to do so, to write on their websites how they are doing so and to publish statistical evidence so that the people can judge for themselves if they really are doing so. Additionally the rules explicitly limit the amount of civil servant and young people on community boards. I find generally any form of demographic discrimination, objectionable. This is especially the case when it comes to political office. I want the borough president to appoint people who can get the president’s policies implemented as competently as possible. The last thing one should want is that the person who sets zoning laws determining how many houses get built (or how many people get housed) only has their job because of their race or religion.

While this proposal will do a good job of increasing transparency in community boards, I do not think that the increased transparency is worth the cost of mandated racial discrimination.

NYS General Election:

Governor and Lieutenant Governor:

There are five people on the ballot running for governor: Andrew Cuomo, Marc Molinaro, Howie Hawkins, Larry Sharpe, Stephanie Miner.

Andrew Cuomo (incumbent, Democrat, WFP, Independence and Women’s Equality nominee) is well known to be corrupt. He started the Moreland commision to investigate corruption in the government, did not let in investigate his own office and shut it down suspiciously. He also vetoed legislation to legalize gravity knives.

Marc Molinaro (Republican, Conservative and Reform nominee) is very concerned about upstate New York. He runs primarily on the promise of “cleaning up Albany” and cutting property taxes by at least 30% he’ll do this partly by having the state pay more for medicaid, which lessens fiscal constraints on poorer upstate counties.

Larry Sharpe (Libertarian nominee) writes very favorable things about criminal justice reform (promising to decriminalize marijuana and homelessness) and about fighting against restrictive zoning rules and community boards. However he is also strongly in favor of “overhauling labor laws” (he was against the raising of the tipped minimum wage for instance), promoting crypto-currencies and removing licenses for various occupations. He has proposals to make jail more humane and bail more affordable (while not promising to eliminate it for non-violent offenders). He also talks about his plan to end public education at the 10th grade. He is against environmental protections, promoting the benefits of fracking. These reasons and many others including a promise to end the State’s income tax are why I cannot support this man.

Stephanie Miner (Serving America Movement nominee) is the mayor of Syracuse. She was referred to by Cynthia Nixon as “kind of a moderate.” The Serving America Movements website emphasizes that they care little about policy and care about “principles” instead. The party emphasizes the need for cutting the deficit, and her website makes constant reference to taxpayer money being “wasted.” Hence we can assume she plans to engage in spending cuts to various programs. However she has proposed the state paying a larger share of medicaid spending, and makes a lot of “good-governance” anti-corruption promises.

Howie Hawkins (Green nominee) describes himself as an eco-socialist and promises to make New York State’s energy usage 100% renewable by 2030. He endorses various other proposals including public banks, promoting cooperatives, providing everyone with a home through public housing projects, legalizing marijuana, releasing all non-violent drug offenders, providing reparations to those most hurt by the drug war, require housing in a neighborhood to be mixed-income, have the state fully fund medicaid, cut state income taxes on the poor and raise them on the rich, allow local governments to implement income taxes, taxing undeveloped land, banning plastic bags, etc…. I agree with a great many of his proposals while thinking he goes to far on environmental issues. Fortunately, I think the legislature would be in a position to hold him back on those issues. I think he is the most adamant in reforming the criminal justice system and ending homelessness. Hence I voted for him.

Attorney General:

There are five people on the ballot running for this office: Letitia James, Keith Wofford, Nancy Silwa, Christopher Garvey and Michael Sussman.

Letitia James (Democrat nominee) was backed strongly by Governor Cuomo who effectively pushed her through the primaries (not a good thing for someone who is supposed to impeach the governor if need-be). Furthermore, she said in an interview she was worried about being thought of as the “Sheriff of Wall Street.” However, I want the Attorney General to be the sheriff of Wall Street.

Keith Wofford (Republican and Conservative nominee) lists three issues on his campaign website: Economic Growth, corruption and opioids. He promises to work with DA’s to hunt down opioid-dealing gangs (favoring a traditional “lock them up approach”) and to sue the manufacturers of prescription drugs (a popular promise but one that probably wouldn’t be workable). He promises to investigate corruption in the Governor’s office or the legislature even without the governor’s endorsement. His economic growth section of his website delivers general talking points about how New Yorkers face too much taxation and regulation. Ultimately he would be a right wing attorney general, but one more willing to challenge Cuomo the Letitia James.

Christopher Garvey (Libertarian nominee) writes in his website, “As a Libertarian, my priorities would be to prosecute crimes where force, threat of force, or fraud were used against persons or property.” This means he wouldn’t prioritize any labor law violation, such as paying someone below the minimum wage, so long as both parties knowingly agree to an illicit contract. However he does promise, “ I would not enforce a law that violates the US Constitution.”

Nancy Sliwa (Independent nominee) is running a campaign primarily focused on animal rights.

Michael Sussman (Green nominee) has announced he does not intend to defend blatantly unconstitutional state legislation. I view this as good. Some argue that the state lawyer ought to defend the state whenever it is sued, that’s the job. My response is this: insofar as doing one’s job leads to immoral outcomes, one should not do one’s job. He would not be afraid of challenging the governor when he feels the need to. Furthermore, a core message of his campaign is challenging election bribery and implementing a public campaign financing system. I support him as the candidate most likely to weed out corruption.


There are four candidates running for State Comptroller: Thomas Dinapoli (Incumbent, Democrat, Independent and WFP nominee), Jonathan Trichter (Republican, Conservative and Reform nominee), Mark Dunlea (Green nominee) and Cruger Gallaudet (Libertarian Nominee). Thomas Dinapoli and Cruger Gallaudet both don’t seem to be promising much reforms. Jonathan Trichter wants to stop risky public pension-fund investments into hedge funds and ensure greater oversight over the cash flows in the SUNY system.

Mark Dunlea wants to divest pension fund investment from fossil fuel companies. He also has a series of legislative reforms, which as a comptroller, he won’t be able to implement:

reform economic development programs so that the function more as cash transfers to local community bodies rather than tax cuts for corporations; make it illegal for government contractors to make campaign contributions; create a public bank, etc…. I support Mark Dunlea, because general promises to catch people illegally using government funds are made by all campaigns. Only he and Trichter offered something substantial and quite frankly I don’t trust a major party candidate to be good on anti-corruption issues.

NYS Senate District 30:

Brian Benjamin is running unopposed.

NYS Assembly District 69:

This is a two person race between Daniel O’donnell a Democrat and Corina Cotenescu, a Republican. Corina says she is running because she grew up in a communist country and does not want socialist to take power here in America. While I don’t like Mr. O’donnell and encouraged people to vote against him in the primary for his passing of zero-tolerance anti bullying bills and objection to mixed mma legalization, I’m gonna have to vote for him over Ms. Cotenescu.

Federal Election:

Both my house and senate elections were two way races with a democrat on one side and a republican on the other. Due to my opinions of the national parties, I voted for the democrats in both races. However, on my ballot I voted for them under the Working Families Party ticket. This is because I prefer the WFP to the Democrats most of the time and wished to support them in this small way relative to the Democrats

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