Category Archives: politics

Intersectionality as nonlinearity

I wonder if the idea of intersectionality would be better-understood in STEMmy circles if we called it “nonlinearity” instead.  Put that way, e.g.

“the condition of being queer and disabled isn’t the sum of the condition of being queer and the condition of being disabled, or even some linear combination of those, it’s just its own thing, which draws input from each of those conditions in some more complicated way and which has features of its own particular to the intersection”

it’s something I think most mathematicians would find extremely natural and intuitive.

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The past was bad

It’s looking tonight like the GOP will manage to pass some version of the AHCA, a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act and creating some kind of return to the pre-ACA status quo; hard to know exactly what, since the vote will be taken without the bill being publicly released, and the House has decided not to wait for the Congressional Budget Office to estimate just how much this bill will cost Americans.

GOP fans will say: “How can this be such a big disaster, crying liberals?  Ten years ago there was no Obamacare, and people did fine.”

Some people did fine!  Some people didn’t do fine.

You’ll hear people say, in the same sad snappish tone of voice, “Parents today are obsessed with safety, in my day kids rode in the way back of the station wagon, they didn’t wear seatbelts, they crossed the street by themselves, and they were fine.”

Some kids were fine!  But just so you know:  in 1975, about 1600 kids 13 and under were killed by cars as pedestrians, and another 1400 were killed in crashes while riding in cars.  In 2015, those numbers were 186 and 663.  Throw in teenagers and that’s another 8700 dead passengers in 1975; down to 2715 in 2015.

People did fine, except for the thousands of kids who got killed back then who wouldn’t get killed now.

A while ago I was reading the reunion book for the Harvard class of 1893, the people who graduated exactly 100 years before me.  You know what you notice in their bios?  A lot of people’s children died.  In 1920, about 8% of American babies died before the age of 1.  It’s now 0.6%.

People were fine!  They had a baby, the baby died, they got on with their life.

But I like it better when babies hardly ever die, when thousands of children don’t get killed in car crashes, and when Americans have access to affordable health insurance even if they’ve been sick before.  The past was fine.  But it was also bad.

 

 

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AB for President

AB was talking about being President this morning.

Me:  I think you could be a really good candidate; you’re funny, and you get along with almost everybody.

AB:  And I have great hair!

She gets it.

Vacuum cleaner on sale

I was explaining the “regular price” scam to CJ the other day. A store sells a vacuum cleaner for $79.95. One day, they put up a sign saying “SALE! Regular price, $109.95; now MARKED DOWN to $79.95.” The point is to create an imaginary past that never was, a past where vacuum cleaners cost $109.95, a difficult past from which the store has generously granted you respite.
This is what Trump’s team is doing. They’re trying to create an imaginary past in which the last 5 years of life in America was characterized by ubiquitous street crime, unchecked terrorism, and mass unemployment. So that life in America in 2017 and 2018 will seem comparatively placid, safe, and prosperous. Look how much I saved you on this goddamn vacuum cleaner. You’re welcome.

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In which South Dakota can’t actually do that

Voters in South Dakota approved a sweeping new government ethics law by referendum in November.  The South Dakota state legislature just overruled them.

Can they do that?

Yes and no.  A law passed by referendum is, in the end, a law; and laws can be repealed by the legislature.  A lot of states have protections against this practice, which is called “legislative tampering.”  South Dakota is one of 12 states that doesn’t.  So if you think the people can band together and pass a law by ballot measure there, you’re only sort of right; if the people’s will goes against the will of the legislative majority, as in this case, right out the window goes the popular vote.

But the legislature did more.  The bill, HB 1069, finishes off with the following language:

Section 35. Whereas, this Act is necessary for the support of the state government and its existing public institutions, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, and this Act shall be in
full force and effect from and after its passage and approval.

The declaration of an “emergency” does two things:  it makes the bill active immediately upon passage, thus preventing the ethics commission from coming into existence even temporarily, and it prevents the people of South Dakota from launching a new referendum to veto the repeal and restore the ethics law.

I don’t think they can do this.

Under the South Dakota Constitution, some kinds of laws are subject to veto by popular referendum and some are not.  Those laws protected from referendum are categorized as follows:

However, the people expressly reserve to themselves the right to propose measures, which shall be submitted to a vote of the electors of the state, and also the right to require that any laws which the Legislature may have enacted shall be submitted to a vote of the electors of the state before going into effect, except such laws as may be necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, support of the state government and its existing public institutions.

The legislature doesn’t have the power to protect a law from referendum just by declaring an emergency.  It has to fall under one of the two protected categories delineated in Section 1 above.  This was laid out in Lindstrom v. Goetz (1951):

 Only those laws which are not subject to the referendum, according to § 1 are subject to the emergency clause authorized by § 22. State ex rel. Richards v. Whisman, 36 S.D. 260, 154 N.W. 707, L.R.A. 1917B, 1. The same rule applies to municipalities. City of Colome v. Von Seggern Bros. Ludden, 56 S.D. 390, 228 N.W. 800. Whether a law or ordinance is subject to the referendum is a judicial question. If it is found that the law is not subject to the referendum, the legislative declaration of an emergency is conclusive. If it be found that the law is subject to the referendum, the declaration of an emergency is void, for then no emergency could exist.

The Legislature, in HB 1069,  invoked the second category of protection.  That’s what I don’t think they can do.  The interpretation of what counts as “necessary for … support of state government” in South Dakota has traditionally been pretty broad, encompassing laws designed to enhance or even redistribute state revenue.  But it’s not unlimited.  Check this out, from “Restrictions on Initiative and Referendum Powers in South Dakota,” Lowe, Chip J., 28 S.D. L. Rev. 53 (1982-1983), p.61:

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-24-jan-6-05-pm

I don’t think you can say, with a straight face, that eliminating the independent ethics commission is an appropriation bill or a taxing measure.  So their claim dies here:  they can overrule the referendum, but they can’t prevent the public from overruling them right back.

Update: (July 2017)  The South Dakota legislature has passed a law bringing a state ethics board into existence, but one much weaker than the one the referendum was going to enact.  Good-government groups in SD are preparing a new referendum for the 2018 ballot; I guess, even if the legislature claims it can keep the public from vetoing its law, it can’t keep the public from bringing into existence an entirely new oversight body, which they’ll no doubt kill in its crib in January 2019, and so on, and so on….

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Women in math: accountability

I’ve talked about women in math a lot on this blog and maybe you think of me as someone who is aware of and resistant to sexism in our profession.  But what if we look at some actual numbers?

My Ph.D. students:  2 out of 15 are women.

Coauthors, last 5 years: 2 out of 23 are women.

Letters posted on MathJobs, last 2 years:  3 out of 24 are women.

That is sobering.  I’m hesitant about posting this, but I think it’s a good idea for senior people to look at their own numbers and get some sense of how much they’re actually doing to support early-career women in the profession.

Update:  I removed the numbers for tenure/promotion letters.  A correspondent pointed out that these, unlike the other items, are supposed to be confidential, and given the small numbers are at least partially de-anonymizable.

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Why did Terrill Thomas die of thirst?

Nobody decided to kill Terrill Thomas.  He kept flooding his cell at the Milwaukee County Jail and making a mess so they just turned off the water to his cell.  Then they left it off until he was dead.  It took six days.  Fellow inmates say he was calling out for water.  Corrections officers say they checked in on Thomas every half hour, and “he had made some type of noise or movement” every time.  Until the last time, when he didn’t make any type of noise or movement because he’d died of thirst.

How did this happen?  It didn’t happen because David Clarke — the sheriff of Milwaukee County, and a top candidate to lead the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration — wanted to kill a prisoner in the most agonizing way imaginable.  What kind of psycho would want that?  I don’t think Sheriff Clarke wanted to kill a newborn baby either.  The baby was the fourth person to die in the jail since April.

These people died because nobody really seems to care what happens in the Milwaukee County Jail.  The medical services there are run by Armor Correctional Health Services, a company which oversees healthcare for 40,000 inmates in 8 states.  What are you saying about your priorities if you call your health care company “Armor”?

Armor’s glassdoor page doesn’t make it sound like a great place to work.  One employee writes:   “Stop being bean counters and start listening to your employees. We are asked to do too much: too many patients, too many intakes, not nearly enough staff to be in compliance with your own rules!”  Armor was sued by the state of New York this year over 12 inmates who died in the Nassau County Jail, including Daniel Pantera, who died of hypothermia in solitary confinement; they settled the suit last month for $350,000 and are barred for three years from bidding for contracts in the state.  Armor does get a very nice endorsement, though, from Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who says right on the front of their website, “Armor stands out as an exemplary model of what partnership in correctional health should look like.”  Bradshaw’s department was held liable this year for $22.4m in damages to Dontrell Stephens, and this summer settled for $550,000 against a former U.S. Marshall who said he was roughed up by deputies after stopping to help the victims of a traffic accident.

Here in Wisconsin, Armor’s performance is overseen by Ronald Shansky, a court-appointed monitor and the first president of the Society of Correctional Physicians.  Some of what Shansky has to say, based on his visit to Milwaukee County correctional facilities last month:

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-1-dec-4-12-pm

As for the deaths:

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-1-dec-4-15-pm

Shansky also, I should say, has a lot of praise for some staff members at the jail, characterizing them as devoted to their jobs and patients and doing the best they can under strained circumstances.  And I believe that’s true.  Again:  the doctors of Armor didn’t want Terrill Thomas to spend six days dying of thirst.  Neither did the CEO of Armor.  Neither did David Clarke.  But it happened.  And everyone participated in creating the circumstances under which it happened, and under which it’s likely to happen again:  public services outsourced to companies without the staff or resources to do the job right.

It starts with jails.  But it goes on to schools, to parking, to Medicare, to policing, to the maintenance of our bridges and roads.  You’ll hear people say those services should be run like businesses.  We can see in Milwaukee County what that looks like.  Does it look good?

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How the popular vote matters

Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election, but won the popular vote by 2% over Donald Trump, roughly in line with the popular margin George W. Bush enjoyed in his 2004 re-election campaign against John Kerry.

Does that matter?

As many of my conservative friends have pointed out, it doesn’t matter at all as far as who should be President.  Contests have rules.  If you don’t win the most games in the AL East, you don’t win the division; doesn’t matter if you scored more runs than the other teams and allowed fewer.  That’s not how we decide who wins.

It doesn’t matter; but it does matter.  If you actually want to know not just which team won the division, but which team is better at baseball, you do want to keep track of runs scored and runs allowed.  Same thing if you want to make predictions about which team will win the division next time.  Or to give good advice as to whether a team needs to reshape its whole strategy or is best off sticking with its current approach.

My conservative friends also like to point out that the United States is a republic, not a democracy.  They’re right about that too.  Our electoral system, by design, will sometimes choose as President someone the American people don’t prefer and whose promised policies most of us don’t want enacted.  With a little effort you can even come up with a story that makes sense of this:  at some moments, you imagine, you need a President determined to protect the interests of the more vulnerable parts of America against the crude rule of the majority, who has a clearly articulated political vision that doesn’t sway with the gusts of public opinion, who fundamentally doesn’t mind being disagreed with, even disrespected, by the majority of the people he serves.

I don’t think that’s the guy we got.

 

 

 

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Roger Ailes, man of not many voices

From Janet Maslin’s review of Gabriel Sherman’s book about Roger Ailes:

Among those who did speak on the record to Mr. Sherman is Stephanie Gordon, an actress who in one part of that show dropped the towel she wore. She was asked by Mr. Ailes to come to his office for a Sunday photo session and felt extremely uncomfortable about having to do this for the producer. But she says Mr. Ailes could not have been nicer. He took pictures and later sent her a signed print inscribed: “Don’t throw in the towel, you’re a great actress. Roger Ailes.” But Mr. Sherman also has a story from a woman named Randi Harrison, also on the record, who claims Mr. Ailes offered her a $400-a-week job at NBC, saying: ‘If you agree to have sex with me whenever I want, I will add an extra hundred dollars a week.”

These don’t sound like the voices of the same man.

I think they totally sound like the voices of the same man.  It’s not like someone who sexually harasses one woman can be counted on to sexually harass every single woman within arm’s reach.  Bank robbers don’t rob every single bank!  “Why, I saw that man walk by a bank just the other day without robbing it — the person who told you he was a bank robber must just have been misinterpreting.  Probably he was just making a withdrawal and the teller took it the wrong way.”

And what’s more:  don’t you think Ailes kind of could have been nicer to Gordon?  Like, a lot nicer?  Look at that exchange again.  He put her in a position where she felt extremely uncomfortable, and declined to sexually assault her on that occasion.  Then he sent her a signed print, on which he wrote a message reminding her that he’d seen her naked body.

I think both these stories depict a man who sees women as existing mainly for his enjoyment, and a man who takes special pleasure in letting women know he sees them that way.  One man, one voice.

 

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court gets home rule wrong and right

The Supreme Court made a decision in the Milwaukee police officer residency requirement case I wrote about, peevishly and at length, earlier this year.  Chief Justice Michael Gableman is still claiming the home rule amendment says something it doesn’t say; whether he’s confused or cynical I can’t say.

the home rule amendment gives cities and villages the ability “to determine their local affairs and government, subject only to this constitution and to such enactments of the legislature of statewide concern as with uniformity shall affect every city or every village.”  In other words, a city or village may, under its home rule authority, create a law that deals with its local affairs, but the Legislature has the power to statutorily override the city’s or village’s law if the state statute touches upon a matter of statewide concern or if the state statute uniformly affects every city or village. See Madison
Teachers, 358 Wis. 2d 1, ¶101.

“In other words,” phooey.  The amendment says a state enactment has to be of statewide concern and uniform in its effect.  Gableman turns the “and” into an “or,” giving the state much greater leeway to bend cities to its will.  The citation, by the way, is to his own opinion in the Act 10 case, where he’s wrong for the same reason.

But here’s the good news.  Rebecca Bradley, the newest justice, wrote a blistering concurrence (scroll to paragraph 52 of the opinion) which gets the amendment right.  She agrees with the majority that the state has constitutional authority to block Milwaukee’s residency requirement.  But the majority’s means of reaching that conclusion is wrong.  Bradley explains: by the home rule amendment’s plain text and by what its drafters said at the time of its composition, it is and, not or; for a state law to override a city law, it has to involve a matter of statewide concern and apply uniformly to all muncipalities.  Here’s Daniel Hoan, mayor of Milwaukee, and one of the main authors of the home rule amendment:

We submit that this wording is not ambiguous as other constitutional Home Rule amendments may be. It does not say——subject to state laws, subject to state laws of state-wide concern, or subject to laws uniformly affecting cities, but it does say——subject only to such state laws as are therein defined, and these laws must meet two tests: First——do they involve a subject of statewide concern, and second——do they with uniformity affect every city or village?

Bradley concedes that decades of Supreme Court precedent interpret the amendment wrongly.  So screw the precedent, she writes!  OK, she doesn’t actually write that.  But words to that effect.

I know I crap on Scalia-style originalism a lot, partly because I think it’s often a put-on.  But this is the real thing.

 

 

 

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