Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Senate Rule Invoked to Silence Elizabeth Warren

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) employed a rarely-used Senate Rule to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Tuesday and force her from the chamber.

He was trying to prevent her from reading into the Congressional Record two letters, one by Senator Edward M. Kennedy and one by Coretta Scott King, concerning the nomination of Jeff Sessions (R-AL on Tuesday) to a federal judgeship in 1986. Warren referenced the letters in connection with Trump's nomination of Sessions to be Attorney General. Sessions was confirmed by the Republican members of the Senate the next day, after four Democratic male senators were able to read from those letters. (I refrain from discussing who has balls, what takes balls, and what shows ball-lessness.)

On Wednesday the Washington Post explained the origin of Senate Rule 19, the provision in question, explaining that it goes back to 1902 fistfight on the Senate floor. The full text of the Rule is here.

Rule 19, paragraph 2, was invoked to tell Warren (in the lingo of McConnell's boss, tweetybird the absurd) to "Shut Up." Paragraph 4 provided the authority for then telling her to leave the room.

I found Paragraph 2 the more noteworthy. It says
2. No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.
Really? Never? I thought about that and looked up the right of Senators to do something about fellow members who acted unethically or even criminally. And then wrote a comment to the Washington Post article:
The text of Rule 19 (2) by its terms would make it impossible for the Senate to excercise its Constitutional right to expel a member (Art. I, Sec. 5) or its traditional right to censure. That's because the rule says that "No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly ... impute to another Senator ... conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." But the Senate has held explusion and censure proceedings in the 20th century. If nobody can impute unworthy conduct to a Senator, then how can the reasons for expulsion or censure be debated? Time to repeal this Rule. It is unconstitutional.
"Impute," which means "ascribe," can sometimes have the connotation of "falsely or unfairly." If deterring unfair imputation is the purpose of the rule, then we must ask: Was Warren being unfair? Whether or not Sessions was as bad as Kennedy and King wrote in their letters, the letters were written. And became part of the public record although they were kept out of the Congressional Record back in 1986. The letters tell us what "people were saying," and not just saying but writing, quite formally, to the Senate, and not just any people but a member of the Senate and the widow of the most famous civil rights leader of our time, a man who died from an assassin's bullet. The result of what these people were writing was that Sessions was not confirmed by the Senate. He was rejected. It was neither false nor unfair to discuss that rejection nor to cite information that was before the Senate in 1986.
Perhaps Rule 19 can be saved by adding "with reckless disregard for the truth," the standard for defamation of a public figure. That would make it impossible to stop things like Warren's reading of those two letters. She did not show any disregard for the truth. On the contrary. McConnell's action, however, showed a disrespect for the truth. That's a disease that seems to be going among politicians of the less popular party. We need a cure.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Post-Election Haiku

Some people think in 140 characters. These days I find I think in 17 syllables.

1. Pessimism
Two days after the election I was talking to a friend. She said "Oh, you're always such a pessimist." That inspired this haiku:

      We pessimists have
      the advantage that when we're
      wrong we can rejoice.

Over the next few days, as I shared my haiku with friends, I found myself writing 17 more syllables:

      Lately I haven't
      been wrong, so no rejoicing.
      But I can still hope.

And I still do hope, but it's getting harder.

2. Indiagate
Today I woke up thinking about Indiagate (time to start calling it that, isn't it?), see, e.g., the Chicago Tribune report), and wrote 3 more haiku. (To be added.)

12/16/2016: Indiagate has disappeared from public view. Hello? The lessons of The Big Lie and contemporary incarnations like Birtherism - repeat it repeat it repeat it - also apply to truth. REPEAT IT.

Indiagate was among the first instances of the loser-elect using the Presidency for the Brand. It was tame compared to what has happened since then, but it deserves to stay on the list.

Here are the haiku inspired by Indiagate, TaxReturnGate, etc.

      Some folks try to be
      Above reproach, others choose
      To be below it.

      Using high office
      To feather one's nest? That's not
      The Patriot's Way.

      No blind trust _for_ you?
      Then no blind trust _in_ you. You're
      all for you, not us.

Or shall we say, the motto is "All for one, one for one."

Nov. 23, 2016, added comment 20161216

Sunday, November 13, 2016

4NT: The majority voted for NO TRUMP

The majority of the country, including in many so-called RED states, voted for NO TRUMP. The popular vote was 53 to 47. If the electoral votes are assigned to Trump or NO TRUMP, Trump loses, 198 to 340. That's using numbers available on 11/11. It may be even higher for NO TRUMP when all the votes are counted.

That may not change the outcome, but it should be kept in mind when discussing the vote and what it means. Here's the map, with the NO TRUMP majority states shown in tan. (Click anywhere on the map to open a less fuzzy image.)


Acknowledgments: map is from 270towin.com, using the option to recolor states with tan instead of red or blue. Popular vote numbers are from uselectionresults.org, last viewed 11/11/16.


UPDATE: Today, 11/23/16, uselectionresults.org has the popular vote 1 point higher for No Trump
      4NT:   54%
      Trump: 46%
(rounding by the usual rules, or 53.58 and 46.42 to 2 decimals).
Hillary Clinton has the plurality of the popular vote by 2 million votes (1,963,091 to be exact).

UPDATE #2: Today, 12/16/16, CNN gives the popular vote numbers and percentages for Trump and Clinton "updated 11:20 pm ET, Dec. 14." Clinton's lead stands at 2.1%, more than 2.8 million votes. CNN does not provide the total vote nor the numbers for other candidates so I have estimated how many votes equal the 5.5% that didn't go to plurality winner Hillary nor to the loser-elect, and how many total votes were cast.

The map legend should now say:
Popular Vote: 4NT won 54 to 46

                   __%__      __Votes___
Trump       46.2 %      62,955,363
Clinton      48.3 %      65,788,583
Other            5.5 %        7,493,034(est.)
TOTAL     100.0 %   136,236,980(est.)

Conclusion: Less than 63 million voters voted yes Trump and more than 73 million voters voted for NO TRUMP.
-RJM

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ne-ner-nis - Rejected (Part 4) - LANGUAGE 04

In three previous posts I have proposed NE-NER-NIS as neuter pronouns. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that several hundred lexicographers met to decide on the best neuter subject pronoun and they chose THEY. Needless to say, I think they are wrong, and THEY is wrong. Before ne-ner-nis disappears from the lexicon, I would like to eulogize it. Or rather as Marc Antony said, "I come to bury [them], not to praise [them]" but we know he meant the opposite.

Singular or plural?

They - the lexicographers, not the pronoun - decided that it was OK that THEY (the pronoun) takes a plural verb on the grounds that YOU is also both singular and plural and takes a plural verb either way. Hmmm. There IS a difference. When you use YOU, the person(s) to whom you (the person not the pronoun) speak knows whether he, she or they (the YOU to whom you speak) is one or more than one. When you use THEY, the person(s) to whom you speak is different from the person(s) about whom you speak. He, she or they (the hearers) may not know whether he, she or they (the subject/object of your utterance) are one or more than one.

2. Because "he" was rejected for unknown or unspecified genders, and "she" was too new to some ears, many writers and speakers had schooled themselves to replace singular nouns with plural ones in order to use "they" thereafter. But that often led to ambiguity if there was another plural noun in the sentence. I discussed this in Ne-ner-nis (Part 2) (scroll down to "Natural Superiority"). Using "they" as a singular, makes the ambiguity a permanent feature of the language.

The Extinction Problem

As with natural species, these days we are losing words faster than we are gaining them. That is because when we use a word that has a specific meaning in place of another perfectly fine word with a different meaning, we lose the unique meaning of the first word and have to resort to multiple words to achieve what we had before done with a single one. (See The Reticent/Reluctant Hesitation.

The Veterinarian Problem

We need a neuter pronoun not only for transgender humans but also for animals. We also need one when (1) we speak of a human whose gender is unspecified, unknown or irrelevant and (2) it is logical to speak of that human in the singular. As to animals, the other inventor of ne-ner-nis, whose invention is independent of mine and preceded it by several years, was in fact a veterinarian named Dr. Al Lippart. If it's embarrassing and offensive to call Spot "he" when Spot is a "she" or vice versa, will it be better to call Spot "they"? I invite Dr. Al to weigh in on this question.

January 31, 2016, rev (minor) 7/13/16

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Obesity Epidemic

The obesity epidemic was the topic today on KQED's Forum. I emailed the show but my message didn't get chosen for on-air reading. I included a poem several of whose couplets I wrote almost 50 years ago. It has only become more true. For millennia the fat people were rich and the skinny people were poor. No more, not in this country.

SKINNY - AND WELL-NOURISHED

It's upper class
to have no ass

You'll fit in at the Ritz
If you have small tits

Be thin as a rail
And you just can't fail

No gut, much glory
Is a well-known story

Among the fast-paced
You'll find no waist*
     * pun intended

A FAT chance is tiny,
a big empty blank,
A SLIM chance is one you
can take to the bank

So if you'd like a mansion
or to look like you can buy it
then, my friend,
you'd best go on a diet.
                rev (add br's) 12/8/2015 rjm

Monday, June 2, 2014

Google's Diversity Numbers and the Women CS majors of the Class of 1994 (Morris Number 09)

Google has decided to publish its diversity numbers -- the very numbers it successfully prevented CNN Money from obtaining not so long ago. I am glad the company had a change of heart.

I doubt, though, that anyone at Google has thought about its Morris Number - the number of men above the fifth highest ranking woman - or about the diversity breakdowns of its compensation deciles. But somebody should.

Google's now-revealed EEO-1 report shows that the Morris Number cannot be less than 33. That's because the top management category has 36 people and only 3 of them are female. How many men besides those 33 are above the fifth highest woman? In part 10 of this series I will address Google's Morris Number range and how it compares to the ranges for the five companies for which CNN Money did have data. Right now, however, I want to discuss something else published by Google about gender and computer science.

A web search for "google diversity" led me not only to Google's EEO numbers but also to a Google Diversity page entitled "Inspiring the next generation of tech innovators." I clicked on the tab "For women" and saw the heading "CS: Education, Research & Advocacy: Some of our longer-term investments." What jumped off the screen at me there was this quote:
But today, women make up just 18% of CS degrees, down from 37% 20 years ago.
The next sentences explain that the company had commissioned a study so that it can "craft strategies that will change awareness and perception of CS education ..." Excellent. But did anyone at Google familiar with that study consider that CS would be more attractive to future female students if the glamorous and prosperous employers of Silicon Valley would show some interest in the female students studying CS right now? More young women might be convinced to pursue a bachelors in computer science if more jobs were offered NOW to the females who already have that degree. Their numbers may be low but they are not zero. Which brings me back to those percentages from 2014 and 1994.

According to Google's quote and my arithmetic, twenty years ago 3 out of 8 (37%) computer science majors were women. Where are they now? Sure, those ladies are over 40, but so are Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and they are still able to lead productive lives in the tech world despite their advanced age.

Google's history page indicates that its first employee was hired in 1998: a male CS major from the Harvard College class of 1994. Like that lucky young man, the women CS majors graduating in 1994 had been out of college for four years. Were any of them hired by Google in its first year of operation? Or in the next five years? How many female CS majors from the college class of 1994 have ever been hired by Google? (Marissa Mayer is a little younger; Sheryl Sandberg is a little older and her major was economics.) Are there any female CS majors from the class of 1994 at Google now? What about women CS majors in any graduation year up to 2000? Google has hired thousands of CS majors in the last 16 years. Compared to their male counterparts, what were the chances for women to land those jobs?

Google is now spending a good deal of money to improve its image, and I trust also its reality, with regard to gender discrimination. Why not try to find some of the women who were in that 37% and offer them jobs? Might that not benefit Google in all the ways companies say that a diverse workforce is good for business? Thinking outside the box is considered a necessity at places like Google. Those women would have the advantage of having lived outside the Google box in terms of their job experience and probably outside the Silicon Valley box, too, because Google's hiring practices -- characterized by homosocial reproduction, as the sociologists would say -- are typical for the region. A critical mass of new hires who are female and over 40 would undoubtedly be disruptive of the culture, and "disruptive" is considered a good thing in business these days. Those women would also
     - enrich Google's pipeline of internal female candidates for management positions, and
     - serve as mentors, role models and colleagues for younger women.
Win-win-win-win-win.

(Additional thoughts on how the tech industry could improve its EEO numbers sooner rather than later will be in part 11 of this series.)
***
A couple of months ago Michelle Quinn of the San Jose Mercury News wrote an excellent article entitled "Silicon Valley's Other Women Problem". She reported that:
Recently, 24 firms, including Google, Yahoo and eBay, submitted their internal data to the Anita Borg Institute for an assessment of how well they were doing recruiting, retaining and advancing female technologists.
I wonder if the Anita Borg Institute will recommend that Google change its answer to the question "Where are they now?" from "Who cares? Not us!" to "Right here with us and we are lucky to have them!"

Meanwhile, Google could continue being a leader in gender diversity transparency by publishing its Morris Numbers and the diversity breakdown of its compensation deciles. If Google does it, so might other tech companies who have largely avoided hiring women CS majors from the class of 1994 or any class before or since. It is easy and simple to calculate the numbers if you can do the math, and surely Google, Yahoo and eBay have a few people around who can do the math. Imagine if companies would compete over their Morris Numbers. Imagine if college career offices would not let companies participate in on-campus recruiting unless they published their numbers. Maybe Google and those who followed its lead would find after a few years that
- when the Morris Number in every department is less than 10, and
- when all the compensation deciles have similar diversity statistics, instead of white men being over-represented at the top and everyone else being over-represented at the bottom,
the companies enjoy higher profits and better customer and employee satisfaction and loyalty. Imagine.

Postscript:
1994: I wrote this post believing that Google's "37% 20 years ago" was accurate. I wanted a corroborating link for myself, though, so I did a search.

What I found is that "20" should be "30." For example, a blog post by Robert L Mitchell from April 2013 says that the "high water mark" for women in CS was 1986 not 1994. Mitchell associates the number "37%" with the academic year 1984/5. He gives the source of his data: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), "Degrees and Other Formal Awards Conferred" but the linked page does not in fact have a breakdown by sex. A compilation by the Association of Women in Science of many statistics about women in science includes another table from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), one that has the M/F breakdown for computer science and information technology degrees, but only through 2004-5. If the highest female percentages in Computer Science were in the mid 1980s, how low had they fallen by "20 years ago"? By my calculation, the percentages for the years 1992-3, 1993-4 and 1994-5 were around 28%. That is still a good deal more than the 18% that Google quotes for today.

I decided to stick with 1994 in my discussion here. Convincing Google to hire a few dozen 40-something women with CS degrees will be difficult; 50-somethings would, I fear, be impossible in the TECMY culture.
June 1, 2014; updated 20140603 and 0605

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Women in Silicon Valley: A Prediction from 2000 (Morris Number 08)

The Future for Women in Silicon Valley
in the 21st Century
as Predicted in October 2000

When I was doing some research about female CEOs for the Morris Number Series, I happened upon an article by Particia Sellers in the October 16, 2000 issue of Fortune entitled "The 50 Most Powerful Women In Business: Secrets of the Fastest-Rising Stars.". Sellers wrote:
Cisco CEO John Chambers has an opinion:
"When I first came out to the Valley in 1991," he recalls, "an Asian-American group talked to me about their glass ceiling. My view then was that while nothing is perfect, these people are talented--and they'll move up."
He continues,
"Today more than 29% of Silicon Valley CEOs are Asian-born--from a rounding error a decade ago. It's primarily because the talent is there, waiting to be tapped. You'll see the same thing happen with women."
In 2014, we have yet to see "the same thing happen with women." I do not know what fraction of the Silicon Valley population was "Asian-born" (Chambers' phrase) or ethnically Asian in 2000, but I am fairly sure that the females were and are about 50%. Woman CEOs? Not 50%. Not even 29%. And even including the near-CEOs -- the COOs (Sandberg at Facebook) and Presidents (James at Intel) -- we may just be seeing the Indira Phenomenon rather than that female talent "there, waiting to be tapped" is being tapped instead of left waiting. Which is why we need to publicize - and companies need to start addressing - Morris Numbers and Morris Deciles.
For woman today, the problem is less that the ceiling is glass (whether or not that was the problem for Asian-Americans in 1991) and more that the doors are padlocked and the key is a Y chromosome.

Interestingly, Chambers had not been asked "Will there be more women employees in Silicon Valley in the future?" He was in fact responding to this question:
Do the guys who rule corporate America (yes, it is still guys in 88% of the senior jobs) know how to handle powerful women?
The way to handle powerful women that is most preferred by the powerful guys who rule Silicon Valley is a variation on an old grade school joke: If we don't give them an inch, they'll never be able to think they are rulers.

Read Sellers' whole article. It is very good and, because it was written more than 13 years ago, very sad.