May 09, 2017

Trump is a Two-Bit Dictator

Trump fired the head of the FBI today.

Eliminating anticorruption officials is the move of a middle-eastern dictatorship. We can no longer see Trump as a bumbling buffoon. He is our Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Next time you hear a political slogan about Freedom and Liberty: Just remember that the Republican party chose Trump over 16 other candidates. This is the true face of what the Republican party stands for.

Posted by David at 08:44 PM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2017

Dear Senator Collins

Senator Collins,

You are putting our democracy in danger. Your recent declarations about Trump's firing of Comey are unworthy of a democratically elected Senator, and you have lost my confidence to sit on the Senate intelligence committee and faithfully investigate matters related to Russian collaboration.

With yesterday's firing of the head of the FBI, our president is taking the actions of a corrupt dictatorship. By firing Comey after removing both Sally Yates and Preet Bhara, Trump has now eliminated the third senior official charged with examining corruption in the executive branch. It is clear that he will continue to fire investigators who dare to follow the facts where they lead, as soon as they lead too close to him.

How can you look the American people in the eye and say "Any suggestion that today’s announcement is somehow an effort to stop the FBI's investigation of Russia’s attempt to influence the election last fall is misplaced?"

Trump's continued massacre of our law-enforcement branch is as plain to see as it is when Egyptian leaders recently sacked their anticorruption officials, or when the Chinese communist leadership has imprisoned righteous lawyers. The charges are trumped up.

Previously to today I was a supporter. I believed you to be a smart, honest upstanding New England senator. But your shocking defense of President Trump's dictatorial actions has made it clear that you are either a cynical opportunist or thoroughly corrupt yourself. No patriotic American could love our constitution and also defend Trump's destruction of the Justice department and the FBI.

Consider yourself on this voter's "evil politician" list as of today.

David Bau

Posted by David at 03:50 PM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2017

David H Bau

I am named after my grandfather, who was the scion of a wealthy Shanghai family and an enterprising young banker in Shanghai and Hong Kong in the 1930's. But in 1941, the intellectually ambitious and multilingual young man grew restless and decided to to embark on a big "Act 2" for his life, leaving the comfort of a privileged life in China to travel to the U.S. to train himself as an international economist.

Act 2: A Mixed-Up Move to America

So, in the summer of 1941 at the age of 28, grandpa made the rare trek from Shanghai to the University of Maryland, together with his pregnant young wife Fanny and his baby daughter Deanna.

I do not know if David H. Bau, Sr. flew to the U.S. on the China Clipper into San Francisco or took a steamer like the Nippon Maru into Los Angeles, but there was certainly no convenient way of physically getting from Shanghai to College Park in 1941. While traveling halfway around the world and traversing the continental United States that summer, my grandmother went into labor. So they stopped in the middle of their trip and delayed their arrival at UMD for a few months to take care of the new baby. My father Paul was the first American-born kid in our family, and it is a fitting designation. Born in Chicago, my dad is really American through and through; he's all about football, poker, stamp collecting, and hamburgers, and he's a dyed-in-the-wool Republican.

Act 3: The American War Effort

But what should happen on December 7 of 1941 as David and Fanny were taking care of little baby Paul? When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America entered the war on the Pacific front, it brought an instant halt to normal commerce with China, and my grandfather found himself cut off from the funds from his family that would have supported his leisurely life and his graduate studies. He suddenly needed a job to pay the rent for his house in D.C.

So the young graduate student applied for a job at the U.S. war department, where his multilingual skills and knowledge of Asian banking and agricultural economics would come in handy in the fight with Japan. He was a thinker, not a fighter, and so naturally he was recruited as intelligence officer in the OSS, what they used to call the CIA. We don't know much about his job as a spy, but it probably involved the deskwork that would have been needed to wage economic warfare against Japan. To implement an effective blockade, you need to know which types of trade to interrupt and how. You need an Asian economist to study the problem. Due to the exclusion act, my grandfather might have been the only one in the country.

The war years witnessed global turmoil, including the communist revolution in China, during which the family's fortune in China was decimated. There are various old arguments in my extended family of which I am only vaguely aware, but I believe they go back to the stress and strain of dividing up scraps of remaining family wealth from those turbulent years.

My grandfather would recount the non-secret part of his job at the end of the war, which was exactly the opposite of the blockade he might have created during the war. General MacArthur recruited him into the army, and sent him into Japan to lead the agricultural reconstruction of that broken country. My grandfather was responsible for re-feeding Japan and getting its population back on its feet; he says that this was the most rewarding work of his life.

Act 3: International Economist

After the war, I do not know if he completed his graduate studies, but he did achieve his dream of becoming an international agricultural economist, working for the U.N. My father tells stories of a big family trip to Thailand where they lived in an old palace so large that they used to bicycle down the hallways. That must have been 1951: I can see on Google Books a U.N. report grandpa wrote that year called Agricultural Economic Survey of Sarapee District, Chiengmai Province, Thailand.

But then he turned down a senior post with the newly-formalized Food and Agricultural Organization, because he loved Washington D.C. and did not want to move the family to Rome. So my father and my aunt and uncle grew up as Washington D.C. kids. Their family house was just a few steps from the Capitol. To stay in D.C., my grandfather embarked on a new career as an American businessman.

Act 4: American Businessman

Due to the overt racism of the day, there were only a few realistic career avenues open for a midcentury Chinese-American businessman, and one of them was to open a Chinese restaurant. Apparently grandpa opened up two, one in Georgetown and a second one in the comfortable tropical climes of Puerto Rico where my dad graduated from high school (he still loves the island and has many friends there). My grandfather also used to recount stories of trying to become a farmer, unsuccessfully, with the new-wave crop of soybeans, on land in Puerto Rico. He failed at business several times before deciding that business was not for him. Then he moved on to his "Act 5", finding another way to live in his beloved city Washington D.C.

Act 5: Librarian of Congress

He went back to school, spending some time in Ann Arbor to get a degree in Library Science (I can find his graduate research funding support in 1962 and his graudation with a masters from University of Michigan a couple years later). With this training, he became one of the top Asian literature librarians in the country, taking a job around the corner from his D.C. house at the Library of Congress.

I found this 1995 obituary of my grandfather in the Washington Post. It summarized the story of his life after the war years.

DAVID H. BAU Library of Congress Librarian

David H. Bau, 82, a senior cataloguer at the Library of Congress since the early 1960s, died of lung cancer Feb. 16 at his home in Washington. He had lived in the area off and on for more than 50 years.

Mr. Bau was a native of Shanghai, China, and a graduate of Nanking University. He did graduate work in economics at the University of Maryland and received a master's degree in library science from the University of Michigan.

He did agricultural credit work for banks in Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong in the 1930s and was an agricultural economist with the Foreign Economic Administration in Washington during World War II.

He served with the Army in Japan after the war and was an agricultural economist with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization until 1951. He operated a restaurant in Georgetown, the Sino Cafe, and a restaurant in San Juan, Puerto Rico, before joining the Library of Congress.

Survivors include his wife, June Lee Bau of Washington; three children, Deanna Bau of New York and Paul Bau and Ronald Bau, both of Weston, Mass.; and four grandchildren.

The elderly senior librarian is the grandpa I remember, and he seemed so very happy in his Act 5. He brought me to his office at the LoC and showed me the shelf where he always had 10 asian-language books that he was speed-reading simultaneously to catalog them. He told me that being a librarian was supposed to be his retirement job, but it was a job that he did longer than any other in his life. He was always full of jokes and energy, and he always had some sort of crazy project going on such as renovating his own bathrooms, or processing his own raw soybeans into other food products in his kitchen.

He died shortly after I was able to introduce him to Heidi, who I married not long after his death in 1995.

Grandpa's many adventures have given me the confidence to try to reinvent myself in my own life. His life was an inspiration, and I still miss him.

Posted by David at 08:16 PM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2017

Oriental Exclusion

Interestingly for me, grandpa's travel to the U.S. was during the years of the discriminatory Oriental Exclusion Acts that limited immigration from China to to the U.S. to zero people per year, so I do not know how he entered the United States in 1941.

He was a student from an elite family and not one of the Chinese laborers that congress feared, so maybe he entered under a legal loophole. I wonder, suddenly, if that is why my Anglicized last name has a Germanic spelling, and why my grandfather and grandmother never spoke in Chinese in public, even to each other. Did grandpa enter under a German identity? Did he avoid speaking Chinese to avoid the attention of racist immigration officers? I think entry was probably very tricky, and very few Chinese-American families have the same immigration story and timeline as mine. Entry from China was virtually nil from 1924 to 1943.

Incidentally, when people say Asians are a "model minority" and ask "why are Chinese people so smart?" I think the reason is that for many decades even before and after this period, there were draconian and racist exclusion laws that meant that you needed to be a sophisticated member of the elite, with money and access to lawyers, to navigate the loopholes and enter the United States. This continues to be true today.

Thus Chinese and other Asian immigrants have long been children of the rich, educated elite. No surprise that when they come to the United States, they join the ranks of the rich, educated elite.

Posted by David at 05:57 AM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2017

Government is Not the Problem

Dear Senator Warren,

I write to you because I believe your leadership may help steer this country out of our current national crisis. As impeachment becomes increasingly inevitable, we need our leaders to avoid feeding the disastrous antigovernment philosophy that grew out of the Nixon impeachment.

We need you to need to keep pounding away at the message:

Government is not the problem.
The destruction of government by the Republican party is the problem.

Since the Reagan revolution, the Republican party has worshipped the perverse idea that "government is always the problem," which is an oversimplification and corruption of Reagan's vision that government by the elite is dangerous. Advocating the destruction of government is a politically potent message since nobody likes paying tolls, taxes, or fines. But the message is a cynical repackaging of anarchy that benefits only the rich and powerful, and it is the exact opposite of Reagan's vision. The Trump administration is proof positive that trying to "deconstruct the administrative state" is a disaster for everybody but the most crooked and greedy of the elite. Our country is being sacked.

Please - Senator Warren - ideas are important, and we depend on articulate leaders like you to help shape the discourse of our nation.

We, the people, believe in good governance, not no governance.

Sincerely, your constituent and supporter,

David Bau

Posted by David at 08:03 AM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2017

Reinvention

I love programming, and have made a nice career of it at Google, Microsoft, and startups. But when I got old enough to contemplate what I want to do with the rest of my time on earth, I came to this realization:

Computers are designed to be programmed by humans.
But we create computers that program humans instead.

To push against this trend, I turned away from work on the social algorithm of search, and instead began creating tools and lessons to make programming accessible to children.

While child-oriented programming may seem a juvenile escape from the rigors of a competitive business, I think making programming more easily learnable is one of the most important problems facing society today. To avoid feeding a decline of the human condition where people become replaceable by computers, we must make our technology more comprehensible and programmable. Our industry needs to turn its focus away from algorithms that manipulate human behavior, and towards tools that amplify imagination. This means not only changing our technology, but changing the way people know how to use it.

My easy-programming project was called Pencil Code. It was a short book that became a website, and it got going while I was sitting near Professor Hal Abelson at his desk at Google Boston, where he coordinated a similar project, App Inventor. Hal is the author of one of the seminal textbooks in computer science which set the tone for a generation of practitioners, and he continues to lead the charge on issues such as privacy and security and ethics in our field.

Over many discussions with Hal, I came to realize that changing society cannot be done only by making widgets: changing society means articulating the ideas that frame everybody's thinking.

Eventually, determined to make a difference, I retired from Google. I packed up my desk and walked across the street to MIT to pursue a PhD and begin a new career as an idea-maker - a researcher.

A First Semester Realization

At MIT, professor Rob Miller also works on creating programming tools that make programming easier to learn, and he took me under his wing as I set out on that path. My first year would not be spent doing much research - my one academic contribution was to write a review paper surveying the field. Instead my first year as a new student was spent on the array of TQE classes they require for you to broaden your view of the field.

So I sharpened my pencil and re-learned the skill of writing homework and exams. I took classes in security and vision to update my knowledge, but I was left by a feeling that the problem of opaque computing was fundamental to these fields also. Programmers seem intractably blind to security holes; and the remarkable power of deep neural networks seems inextricably linked to their incomprehensibility by humans. I am old enough to see how the field has changed: these problems did not exist when I began in computer science. My conclusion was horrifying.

Humanity is rapidly losing its ability to program its computers.

MIT is a remarkable cauldron for incubating such ideas and putting them to action, so my story will continue next time I have time to write.

Posted by David at 06:04 AM | Comments (0)