Sunday, November 6, 2011

TWGLCM (pron. twiggle-kim) [Acronyms 02; PhD Ideas 02]

TWGLCM (pron. twiggle-kim) stands for Tall White Good-Looking Christian Male. TWGLCMs are given the benefit of the doubt as to their intelligence, competence and trustworthiness. Yes, even by me. I flatter myself that I detect smarts and sense only from real evidence, but I have to admit that I am slow to conclude that a person is a fool and a flake if he is a TWGLCM.*

Change a single adjective in TWGLCM and the favorable presumption decreases quite a bit.  If a man is short instead of tall; black instead of white; pleasant-looking rather than good-looking; Muslim, Hindu or Jewish instead of Christian, he will have to try harder to appear smart, reliable and honest. Change two adjectives and the man might as well be a woman. That is, change the noun from male to female, and, the presumption is almost entirely rebutted.

A woman who is TWGLC (twigglic), rather than, say, SBFLM (short black funny-looking Muslim), has a far better chance of being judged based on who she is and what she does and does not do, but she's still she. Without the right adjectives, the negative presumptions -- stupidity, incompetence, untrustworthiness -- will apply until there is overwhelming contrary evidence (or forever, despite it).  Move one of the first three variables (height, skin color and looks) to the middle range, and the woman's odds improve a little. Switch three of SBFLM to the TWGLC set, and baby, you're on your way to being evaluated on your merits, almost.

I say this having examined my own reactions, as well as those of everyone around me. It does not matter that the observer has few of the adjectives in his favor, or not even the noun in her favor.  I myself am a SWFLJF.  The problem is that few of us can escape what we've absorbed unconsciously throughout our lives, in our schools and communities and from the media, old or new. Of course, sometimes not being entirely TWGLC can work for a man: Ross Perot may have done better in the 1992 election because he was short and funny-looking, but then his platform was that he was different.

The reason this post is in the PhD Ideas series as well as the Acronym series is this: PhD candidates and tenure-track scholars in social psychology could test the TWGLCM hypothesis. The subjects need not be Americans or Westerners, either. Just substitute the majority religion for the C. Otherwise, the letters should stay except perhaps for the W which could be LS (light shade).  A future post will consider Shadism (pron. shade-ism) and how it appears to affect people of all shades, whether they are in a mixed society or not, and regardless of northern European (that is, very light shade) domination, influence or even presence.

If you know of any past experiments into TWGLCM prejudices, please let me know.  If you decide to do one yourself, please let me know that, too.  Thanks!

*I invented TWGLCM around 1995 after struggling to comprehend the poor performance of a TWGLCM student.  Ever since then, I have used the acronym occasionally in conversation and emails.  This written version was first drafted in 2010. - RJM

Now Boarding (Air Travel 01; Head-Smack 01)

Programmable displays at airport gates are wonderful, whether they are the new flat panels or the old dot matrix signs. Boarding by zones is also wonderful. Let's put these ideas together.

When it comes time for boarding, the gate agents should be able to change the display so that it shows what zone is boarding. Some airlines do this, but only in small print at the bottom of the display and/or intermittently with other information such as advertisements, the weather, or upgrade lists.
Does anyone in charge of gate signage actually fly?  Or do they all have super-premiere status, so they never have to worry about boarding by zones?

When the plane is boarding, it's too late to worry about whether you have an upgrade. You probably know that already. Anyway, it is an individual concern, irrelevant to the other 250 people taking the flight. They do, however, care about boarding the plane.

Head-smack Idea: Once boarding begins, the display behind the agent's desk and the one hanging from the ceiling should both show, in the biggest possible font, the four things that matter right then:
  • the flight number, 
  • the destination, 
  • the departure time, and 
With the press of a button, the gate agent should be able to change to this display as soon as ne announces that boarding will begin. Each time another zone is permitted to board, pressing the button should update the display. The button could be the same one that operates the loudspeaker. After all, the audio has problems. The announcements are often unintelligible; they may be incomprehensible to anyone from another country or another region of the United States; and they don’t help at all if you walk up to the gate after they are made.

True, the lack of decent signage fosters camaraderie among travelers. Friendly conversations begin “Did you understand that?” and “What zone are they up to?” But it also encourages people to jump the queue, either intentionally or not, which wastes time and can cause embarrassment and anger.

If you read this and smack your head – or say “I’ve always thought the same thing” – but can do nothing because you are not in charge of airport signage, I hope that from you to someone who is in charge is only one degree of separation.
drafted 5/22/10
finally posted, because the same problem still exists, 11/6/11
google/blogspot's messing with URLs: fixed 9/2/12

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mail voting, Oregon, and coercion in the family [Voting 02, PhD Ideas 01]

In my post on Mail/internet voting v. the secret ballot [Voting 01], I discussed my concern about replacing voting booths with mail/internet voting.

What worries me is a species of what might be termed false completion.  I am thinking specifically about a subspecies of such fraud, the kind that can occur within a household when people vote by mail (VBM).  When voters go to physical polling places and vote secretly at private voting machines, this kind of fraud is rarely possible.  With VBM it becomes much easier.

There are two obvious varieties of false completion within a household: coercion and usurpation. 
  • False completion by coercion occurs when voter X is intimidated by person Y in the household to mark the ballot in accordance with the preferences of Y not shared by X.
  • False completion by usurpation occurs when voter X's rights are nullified because person Y in the household takes the ballot away from X and completes it according to Y's choices,  choices different from X's.

I know that for the last several years the state of Oregon has required all ballots to be mailed.  I wondered whether Oregon had been concerned at all with false completion within households.  Or whether scholars generally have considered this problem.  What I found suggested that the problem of household coercion/usurpation is given lip service at best and has never been studied.

In a 2005 report on the Oregon experience by The Early Voting Center at Reed College, neither the word "secret" nor the phrase "secret ballot"is mentioned. The report makes passing reference to coercion as the third of three security issues, but does not follow up.  The Center's website, visited today, is full of interesting information and thoughtful analysis. Neither "coercion" nor "family," however, net any hits.

The Wikipedia entry on postal voting, viewed today, also refers to coercion as a possible issue but then ignores it.

The security issues that do receive attention are various kinds of fraud, in particular false ballot completion and false registration.  Nobody seems to worry about false completion within a household.  Rather, the imagined situation seems to be wide-scale voter tampering: fraud by strangers to the particular voters. For example, party X operatives might intentionally intercept ballots addressed to people registered with party Y and would then vote those ballots for party X's line.  That is something to protect against, and there are ways to detect it, at least after the fact For example, some of the Ys will complain that they did not get a ballot and will report the theft when they discover that their ballot has already been submitted. False completion within a household is much more insidious but could equally result in disenfranchisement and could skew election results.

I agree that it would be difficult to collect data on the percentage of citizens who did not vote their true choice because someone in their family was standing over them or grabbed the ballot out of their hands.  That information, unlike turn-out and other data that more readily pop out of computers, might have to be gathered by personal surveys undertaken in a setting where the possibly-intimidated voter was not intimidated -- so not door-to-door.  That would not be a cheap or easy study.

But maybe there is a way to learn about false completion within households that could be done with what I jokingly call  RISC architecture  (a play on the real computer science term RISC architecture).  Here are some suggestions, in case anyone is working on a PhD on voting rights.  Or family dynamics.

Ways to Use Data-mining to Study False Completion in Households

Select a past election where an age or gender gap was predicted by pre-election polling.  The vote can be for a candidate or a ballot measure, as long as some kind of demographic gap, one that would occur within households, was expected.

Gaps along the lines of race, ethnicity, or income, where all members of a household would likely be in the same group, could be a good control, but would not themselves reveal anything about false completion within households.

 In hybrid-voting states, where there are physical polls as well as the option to vote by mail, the study would look at whether the gap among voters who cast their ballots secretly at physical polls was statistically different from the gap among VBM voters.

In mail-only (or mail/internet-only) elections, the study could look at the whether the gap was statistically different for single-person households compared to multiple-person households. For example, if an age gap was predicted, the study might look at seniors living alone v. seniors living with relatives.  (Seniors living in assisted living facilities might also be subject to more widescale coercion/usurpation, but that would be a form of false completion by strangers rather than within households.)

Another study might compare measures/candidates on a single ballot, some for which a gap was expected, and some not, and then compare VBM voters and true secret ballot (private voting machine) voters.

Yet another might look at household solidarity (all voters in one household voting alike on every ballot choice) of VBM households versus physical poll households.  That could be done in Oregon, comparing patterns before the switch to mail-only with those after the switch.  It would, however, mean that the researchers would have to see voting data associated with addresses.  That might be impossible due to privacy concerns, even for historical data.  But maybe there would be a way to safeguard privacy by having the software do the seeing and having the humans only learn aggregate results?  Anyway, it's a thought.
If such studies already exist, please let me know.  If you embark on such a study, please let me know that, too!
11/4/11 rjm
rev 11/6/11, typo corrected 6/24/12

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mail/internet voting v. the secret ballot [Voting 01]

Voting by mail has surprisingly few critics.  I want to change that before neighborhood polling places disappear forever.

When people vote in voting booths, they can disagree with powerful members of their households -- a spouse, sibling, parent, child, caregiver, etc. -- and it is nobody's business but their own.  That is the beauty of the secret ballot.  People can say they voted for the family favorite, but they don't have to do it.

When, however, ballots must be completed at home -- the usual image is that everyone sits around the kitchen table and says, 'Who did you choose for dog catcher?' -- the opportunity to vote independently may be severely compromised.  Maybe not in my household or yours, but definitely in some. Once voting by mail or the internet becomes the only way to vote, that problem could become serious.
What about in Oregon, where for several years now voting by mail (VBM) has been the only way to vote?  Well, nobody knows, because as far as I can tell nobody ever thought to find out.  See next post about VBM, coercion, and an idea for some research.
Consider also some of the countries to which we hope to export democracy, countries where restrictions on women's rights still exist.  In Saudi Arabia, for example, the King recently announced that women will finally have the right to vote starting in 2015.  They still can't drive a car, however.  I hope that in 2015 there are private voting booths at polling places that are within walking distance of home.  Otherwise, the women's right to vote may have little substance left.

Would web-voting be better than VBM?  Probably not. Maybe people can vote on their own computers without anyone else looking over their shoulders, but maybe not.  If they get away with it this time, they may not be so lucky, or so fearless, next time.

Sure, some household powerfuls will appreciate that the secret ballot is important to our democracy and they will affirmatively want the rest of the family to think independently.  But some will think they have a right to control behavior, including thinking and voting, because they provide food, clothing and shelter.  Without the safety of a publicly-provided, privacy-insured voting booth, their wishes can become, quite literally, law.

Instead of one person, one vote, we will have one household, multiple votes.  And some in our society will be disenfranchised.

Who we elect will be affected, too.  The recipients of these unwilling votes are more likely to have greater respect for power than for democracy, and less fear of despotism than of the will of the people.
I understand that providing physical polling sites is expensive, and that mail/web voting helps local governments save money.  That's finance.  That's not our national values.  One person, one independent vote, is something we thought we treasured.  We could be in the process of relinquishing it.  And other countries, importing our kind of democracy, may end up with an inferior substitute.

We need to protect the secret ballot.  That means making sure it can be kept secret.  From big brother, not just Big Brother.
11/3/11 rjm
rev 11/6/11

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Andy Borowitz, Tracy Klugian and Harland Dorinson

For a couple of years now I've subscribed to The Borowitz Report and I am a big fan. I also have a good memory for names, which could be why I noticed that Borowitz recycles them. Very often he attributes quotes from spokesmen, men on the street, or experts to either Harland Dorinson or Tracy Klugian. Also, Davis Logsdon, as I discovered writing this blog. And there may be others. By the way, Tracy is always "he," as far as I can tell, although Tracy can be a woman's name, too. As to the use of "he," Mr. B. should read NE-NER-NIS to learn how easily he could avoid choosing a sex for ambiguously-named persons.
          Nowhere on the web could I find a mention of the ubiquity of Klugian and Dorinson. This leaves me wondering whether they are completely fictitious or just (un)lucky enough to be associated with so many different statements and fields. They also grow old and young and old again at Andy's fancy: he always

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Acronyms 01: WIBOTT (pron. why-bott)

For years, I used the term "pre-med" as shorthand to describe someone with no intellectual curiosity whatsoever, someone who only ever wanted to get the job done and never cared about getting it  right. Of course, sometimes getting it done is more important. And of course number 2, sometimes focusing on getting it right means it never gets done, which can be a disaster. But the best people are those who instinctively make a judgment about where on the 'done/done right' continuum each task ought to be and then get it done with the appropriate amount of attention to getting it right.

Sometimes I would refer to someone with the "get it done and be done with it" mentality as an "inbox-to-outbox" type. This was in honor of a fellow associate at a law firm, who, according to another associate, was well-regarded by the partnership because ne moved things from nis inbox to nis outbox promptly and reliably. Quality, or its lack, my informant added, was of little importance to our employers. But "inbox-to-outbox" is cumbersome, and its meaning may not be patently obvious.

The term "pre-med" gave me pause, too, because I know quite a few post-pre-meds (that is, practicing medical doctors) who do try to get it right whenever possible, people whose intellectual curiosity and

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nature/Nurture 01 and Teaching 01: The Lima Bean Effect

The Lima Bean Effect, or Why You Should Like in advance of Actually Liking

When I was a little kid, I ate everything.  I used to think that this was because I was such an obedient child, intensely aware of what my mother didn't like and earnestly eager to please.  My mother had nothing but contempt for picky eaters, or rather for the mothers of picky eaters.  In her view, children naturally loved all foods and only expressed dislikes to manipulate their parents.  Over the years, I've realized she was wrong.  People's taste buds vary, like their hair color or the length of their limbs, even relative to other limbs.  (Some people really do have short arms and long legs, and it's not because their mothers made them run for everything and would never accept a hug.)

The fact is that I and my mother are blessed with good tongues: we are less sensitive to bitter tastes and probably more sensitive to sweetness.  Maybe we are also more tolerant of variations in texture.  My daughter is equally lucky. But she has a friend who won't eat fruit and dislikes almost all vegetables.  I can see rejecting romaine, but strawberries with sugar?  Something hard-wired in this girl’s tasting apparatus must be involved, especially if the only vegetable she'll touch is overcooked frozen broccoli.

But broccoli is not the subject here. Lima beans are. They were the exception that proved that I was not a perfect eater.  I really did not like them.  This was a problem because they were a not-infrequent vegetable offering during my childhood.  My mother knew about nutrition, so we always had fruit to start (fresh grapefruit or canned fruit cup), and then a protein source, a starch, and a vegetable.  It was before Atkins.  Also before great produce was sold in supermarkets and before frozen foods occupied a whole aisle.  Often my mother made a salad:  iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, and those awful tomatoes sold in plastic-wrapped groups of 3 that we said were like cardboard, because styrofoam, although it had been invented by then, was not yet a household word.  Any non-salad vegetables came from cans:  canned spinach -- which I actually liked: it had a sour lemony quality and a soft slimy texture that was not like anything else -- or canned green beans or canned zucchini in tomato sauce (which I can still eat with gusto straight from the can).  When she could afford the splurge, my mother bought canned asparagus.  And for variety, she'd pick up a can of lima beans.

What to do about the lima bean problem?  I was a stubborn and hard-thinking child, with a preference for the elegant (in the mathematical sense).  Not for me to dump the beans in my lap when nobody was looking.  And I knew enough to know that confession and a plea for sympathy would have done no good at all.  There was only one solution: I declared that I loved lima beans, and waited to see what happened. 

What happened is that I do love lima beans.  Especially the tiny ones in cans.  But also the little dried ones that go into homemade beef barley soup.  Lima beans are a pleasure.  Thus I learned that sometimes a lie can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Fast forward to the early days of my later-in-life teaching career.  (At age 40 I became an adjunct law professor at Michigan, teaching patent law and sometimes copyright.)  In the first years, I would occasionally have a student who was very attentive, very eager, but basically a pain in the neck: interrupting, showing off separately-acquired knowledge, catching me if I misspoke.  The problem was, of course, that such students were also the smart ones, the ones who were going to go on in the field, the ones I'd be glad I'd had a chance to know before they conquered the world.  I decided to treat them like lima beans.  It worked.  I began to love them. I appreciated that they were keeping me on my toes, that because of them I was not only thinking more clearly and intensely but also enjoying the experience more deeply and doing a better job overall.  After a while, I internalized this process, and in later years I only noticed my students' lima characteristics in retrospect.  But I still remember my early crop of human beans vividly.  I am still in touch with them from time to time. They are the best.

Choosing to like, in advance of actually liking, is a good idea.

(The ideas for this essay were first committed to electrons in 2003; above is a minor revision from a September 2010 rewrite. 6/24/12: typo corrected.)