Monday, October 30, 2017

Andy Borowitz and Ms. Tracy Klugian

Back in 2011, I wrote about satirist Andy Borowitz and his habit of recycling the names of the imaginary people he quotes. The names that had caught my eye were Tracy Klugian, Harland Dorrinson (or Harlan Dorinson) and Davis Logsdon. I also observed that the pronoun "she" was a rarity among Borowitz' fictional characters. He had no choice but to use "she" when he wrote about an actual female, but even his oft-quoted Tracy Klugian, despite having a first name that is common for girls as well as boys, was always "he."

Today I noticed that Borowitz used "she" for Tracy Klugian. How refreshing! I then did a quick search on The New Yorker's website and found that so far in 2017 Tracy was "she" once - on July 31, 2017, "he" once - on Sept. 21, 2017, and without pronoun 4 times - on Jan. 22, Apr. 24, May 2 and May 4. By the way, on May 2, Tracy was a schoolkid as was Zach Dorrinson, no doubt the son of the fictional Harland. Zach was also quoted. Wonder why young Dorrinson wasn't Zelda or, to continue with unisex names and gender ambiguity, Pat, Leslie or Kim?

It was time to investigate the M/F data for Tracy. A 2007 yahoo best answer to the question whether Tracy is a boy's name or a girl's identified 7 famous people named Tracy, 4 male and 3 female. The site's list of celebrity and celebrated Tracy Somethings included pictures for at least the first 12. The score there was 4 to 8, men to women.

The US Census publishes good data on names, too. On this page , you can scroll down to 'Popularity by Name' and enter a name, select male or female, and then choose how far back you want to go. The search automatically goes through 2016. I chose to start in the 1900s and got a bar chart showing all the years when the chosen name was among the top 1000. I looked at Tracy, both female and male. For most of the years between 1942 and 2004, Tracy was in the top 1000 names for girls, but it did not make the top 1000 before 1942 nor after 2004 when it was ranked 951 . In 1970, its high point, the rank was 10. Among boys, Tracy had a longer run but was overall much less popular. It was in the top 1000 for many of the years between 1900 and 1999 and in that last year it ranked 808th. Its high point was 1967 with a rank of 98. The question is close but on balance Tracy Klugian's preferred pronoun should really be "she."

In 2014 I added Carol Foyler to my personal list of favorite recycled names. I had discovered Carol when I revisited Borowitz' naming habits in response to a comment posted to my 2011 piece. (That writer had wondered about Borowitz' preference for the University of Minnesota.) Of course, Carol can also be a man's name but I haven't noticed Borowitz ever call Fowler "he." Carol is not in today's piece but was, sans pronoun, there with Tracy (gender M) on Sept. 21. A few days ago on Oct. 28, Carol had a husband but chose to leave him to have surgery alone in order to come to Washington and join the hopeful crowd outside Mueller's office after Friday's news. How big was that crowd? Andy writes that a policeman (a man not an officer whose pronoun was "he") thought it could reach a million, and added "We definitely didn’t see anything like this at the Inauguration.” Borowitz does seem to live in a man's (or mostly men, anyway) world, whether real or imaginary, but he does have a way with words.

If you haven't yet seen today's Borowitz piece, rest assured that it includes your old guy friends Dorrinson and Logsdon, this time a clinical psychologist at, yes, the University of Minnesota.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Thinking Outside the Box

Today I got another chance to quote myself on the subject of the tech world's lack of diversity.
The rest of us think outside the box because we've never been allowed inside the box.
Here's why the quote sprang to mind. Once again, a Windows 10 update messed up Microsoft's Edge. I looked to Microsoft Answers Forums and someone recommended uninstalling and reinstalling IBM's Trusteer software. Yes, I thought, that has solved previous Windows 10 problems. Perhaps Microsoft includes this annoyance to get people to abandon Trusteer and move to a Microsoft product. But simple incompetence could be the cause, such as Microsoft only hiring 20-something males to write and test software.

As far as I know, I'm the inventor of the quote and variants but other people may have had similar ideas. Here's one of my variants:
Outsiders routinely think outside the box. Duh.
This past spring the concept was the basis of my 10-minute play, My Contribution. It was produced in a staged reading by Playwrights' Center of San Francisco as part of PlayOffs - Round 2. The characters are a young ~20-something man and an old woman, ~50-99. The setting is the young man's office at a company called Goober.* The play ends soon after the woman beats the man at the Hamlet's Soliloquy game, another product of my invention. The play is under revision but one thing that will stay until Google, Microsoft, etc. open their boxes, is that the Old Woman will identify "True thinking outside the box" as what she'd contribute to the company, and she'll explain why.

* Old Woman: I haven't been keeping up with the news. When did you merge with Uber? Young Man: We didn't merge with Uber. The B is for Face*B*ook and the ER is for the end of Twitter. Old Woman: Should be BS for FaceBook, and I'd love to see the end of Twitter.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The March for Science: my goals

I just filled out a survey about the March for Science. I said that my goals for the march were:
     1. Fostering awareness among politicians and policy people that science has strong public support.
     2. Lifelong/long-term goal: Making it as socially unacceptable in the US to say 'I hate science' as it is to say 'I hate sports.'
     3. Showing that everyone who loves truth and respects the achievements of the human mind, should be proud to march for science.
     4. Reminding ourselves that SCIENCE HAS NO PARTY.
     5. Getting people to realize that if they like their [air, water, cell phones, cars, bikes, running shoes, garden, roads, your-noun-here], they like science.

Asked how effective I thought the March would be in the long-term for reaching those goals, I said 'slightly effective' for 1, 2 and 3, and 'moderately effective' for 4 and 5. I suppose my optimism grew as I focused more on 'long-term.' And maybe I thought, with cock-eyed optimism, that item 2 might get more attention by reason of my saying it in this survey.

I had mentioned item 5 to friendsincluding one who was among the early organizers of the march. Alas, it did not get on a mass-produced t-shirt. But at least during the march I saw other people with signs with the same basic idea. Maybe in the coming months it will get more traction.
Hey! 'Getting traction' is a science-based metaphor. Name three other science-based figures of speech in the Comments section below, ones that are not already named by other commenters, and win ... recognition on this blog, if not something even better.

Another survey question was about concerns about the march. Among the answers I checked was 'lack of diversity.' And it's probably not the lack you were thinking of. What struck me was that there were very few Asians. Yet the proportion of East Asians and South Asians who are in science or have family and friends in science is far greater than it is in the US population as a whole. I am aware that when I write "Asians," I am lumping South Asians and East Asians together, ignoring their vast differences in culture, and also ignoring West and North Asians because, based on appearances alone (not interviews or other information), they are part of the great mass of White.

The survey had other interesting questions, and I had other interesting answers, perhaps, but I'll stop now and wait to hear your favorite science-based similes and metaphors. And by the way 'greased lightning' and the like don't count. Please explain so I don't have to.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

New Insect on San Francisco's Skyline - Salesforce Tower with Cranes (Cranes 01)

I don't post photographs as a rule because I'm not much of a photographer. But I'm posting this one, fuzzy though it is -- it was the best I got -- because I like the image of the insect-skyscraper. It's the new Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, a few weeks after it was topped off.

I took this picture out a car window. Don't worry, I was the passenger. I happen to love how cranes look against the sky and this sky was particularly beautiful. My lousy reflexes would have done better in a traffic jam but alas traffic was moving. I hope you can still make out the big bug's antennae. There's even a second set of feelers barely visible above the next-tallest building angled away from the viewer.

As locals may guess, I was on the ramp from 101 into the city. Or rather what folks in the Bay Area call "the city". We former New Yorkers know that in fact "the city" is 3000 miles away.

As to my love of cranes: I am now motivated to post two other crane photos, one taken during a walk on the High Line in New York City in 2015, one taken a couple of weeks ago from the roof of the Kennedy Center.

I loved cranes even before I read David Leavitt's The Lost Language of Cranes (1986). Probably that's why the book popped off the shelf at me back in the late 1980s at the Berkeley Heights, NJ library. Or was it the old Carnegie Branch on Amsterdam at about 69th? Anyway, the jacket cover told me that Leavitt meant construction cranes, not the whooping kind, so I read it. It's good so I kept reading Leavitt's books over the years, including the one I think is my all-time favorite, The Indian Clerk (2007).

I like the whooping variety of cranes too, ever since a high school classmate, an ardent supporter of saving those cranes from extinction, told me about their endangerment. I wonder if she'll be at our upcoming 50th next month. Hope so.

I also like apartment building water towers. I could see a few from my family's second apartment in Lincoln Towers. The first faced New Jersey but we didn't have a river view because the West Side Highway was in the way. Nowadays that view has been replaced by other Towers.

I suppose I just have a fascination with rooftops. Which brings to mind the wonderful and beautifully illustrated book Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold, published in 1991, a year after I moved away from the [real] city.

Free association, thy name is MINE. If you mind, or don't mind, please let me know.
May 9, 2017 rev 0

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.