Boston Museum of Fine Arts establishes a ghetto for female artists

If you’re looking to escape the Boston winter, our Museum of Fine Arts is showing “Women Take the Floor” currently.

The entrance sign explains that “[the underrepresentation of female artists in museums] is not because great women artists did not exist–they did, and they do. Rather it is the result of systematic gender discrimination… The MFA itself has had an inconsistent history in supporting women artists. We acknowledge the fact and seek to remedy it. …. we are dedicating this entire floor to work by women-identified artists…” A sign further notes that only 5% of acquisitions by the MFA in the past ten years have been “by known female-identifying artists”.

If there are so many “great women artists,” why the need for a female ghetto floor? If other museums and collectors don’t yet recognize these artists as “great,” why not sell off some of the insanely valuable work by male-identified artists throughout the museum and use the profits to buy currently undervalued work by “great women artists”? When other museums gradually shake off their sexism, the overall value of the MFA’s collection and endowment would vastly increase and visitors would see an organic mixture of male-identifying and female-identifying work throughout the museum.

The female art ghetto includes artists who explicitly stated that they did not want to be in a female art ghetto, e.g., Louise Nevelson (“I am not a feminist. I am an artist who happens to be a woman.”; she also rejected alimony, a pillar of modern feminism)

An artist who lived for 105 years is quoted as saying that there was a single time during which she felt discriminated against because of her sex:

There is a book section:

A poet speaks truth about power:

Canteloupe + video camera = art:

Elizabeth Warren’s cousins are depicted:

There are a lot of ways to be a “woman”, but if you’re not in a wheelchair you have to wear a dress or a diaper:

The largest special exhibition space, underneath the American Wing, is showing “Nubia: A Black Legacy”

Exercise for readers: What’s missing from the “Black Legacy” exhibit? (The photos above are not a biased selection.)

A reminder from Yoshitomo Nara that it might be time to go home and walk the dog:

Related:

  • “Baltimore Museum of Art will only acquire works by women in 2020” (Washington Post): “Over the past decade, only 11 percent of art acquired by America’s top museums for their permanent collections was by women, according to a recent survey. … The researchers found that to truly correct the canon, curators will need to rethink not just their exhibitions but their permanent collections.” (but how do they know which artists actually did identify as “women”? And in a country plagued by inequality and racism, how does a rich white female artist get priority over a poor black artist who has the misfortune of identifying as male?)
Full post, including comments

How was Ivanka Trump’s keynote speech at CES?

My Facebook friends were outraged that Ivanka Trump had been asked to speak at the Consumer Electronics Show. How was her talk?

A senior citizen white male programmer linked to “Ivanka Trump Keynoting At CES Is All That is Wrong For Women In Tech” (Forbes):

Both in 2017 and 2018, the keynote lineups did not have a single woman included on the main stage. … The presence of the so-called “booth babes” continues to anger many. While they were officially outlawed years ago by the CTA, it seems that booth babes are now on stage disguised under tight exercise clothing.

If you are a woman in tech, like me, you are very familiar with the T.WA., the “token woman appearance” on keynote stages and panels. I have been one myself several times, mostly being called to facilitate an all-male panel.

Whose job is it to decide that a person working in a booth is a “booth babe” and must be ejected?

[The author claims to be “in tech” and yet the biography at bottom says

Carolina Milanesi is the Founder of The Heart of Tech, a technology market research and consultancy firm focused on tech in education and diversity in tech.

Isn’t she actually in the diversity industry?]

All of his Facebook friends are white male senior citizen programmers. They were similarly outraged.

Of course, I couldn’t resist:

Me: It is refreshing to see older white men with the courage to boo young women off the stage before they have started to speak.

White Boomer Coder 1: She isn’t there because she is young or a woman. She is there only because of who her vile father is.

Me: I am just waiting for [the original poster] to ask “Why isn’t she home with her three children?”

White Boomer Coder 2: “before they have started to speak” is a rather bizarre claim. She’s not an unknown personna and she’s ever bit as vile as her father. And as already noted, she has literally no relevant skills to this conference.

White Boomer Coder 3: You seriously think she’s credible within the tech community? Age and gender have nothing to do with this. You’re missing the point entirely. I can think of multiple women, white and not-white, who would be almost infinitely more credible, intelligent and knowledgeable, than Ms. Trump. I’m incredulous that this decision was made for any reason other than to pander to the squatter in the WH.

White Boomer Coder 4: Philip Greenspun Are you a troll or an idiot? Serious question. She has no qualifying characteristics for delivering such a talk. It has nothing to do with race or gender. I don’t care one whit about boycotting CES or not. But shame on anyone who would attend that talk. And shame on the fools and tools who booked her. If you are serious about breaking the speaker mold, there are credible choices out there. However, you clearly are not serious about this…

How is CES lately? The folks protesting Ivanka Trump’s presence there make it sound like a sacred temple. I was there so long ago that silicone (adult film stars and their products) and silicon were able to coexist on the same floor. If almost everything interesting in technology is happening inside smartphones, how relevant is a show centered on “everything else”?

And, circling back to the top… how was Ivanka Trump’s talk?

Full post, including comments

Campusland: novel of sex and inclusion

Our ground school at MIT starts today (videos from last year linked from course web site). I’m hoping that there are no similarities with a recently finished novel: Campusland.

Epigraph:

Colleges don’t make fools, they only develop them. —GEORGE HORACE LORIMER

How to be a popular university president:

The protesters spotted Milton and instantly became animated. “Hey, Milton! Divest from Israel now! Stop the murder!” cried one. “Divest now! Divest now!” Their homemade signs thrust up and down like pistons. Milton smiled and walked over. “It’s great to see everyone. Really great.” He began shaking hands, much to the bewilderment of the protesters, who didn’t know what to do other than shake back. “Keep up the good work, and welcome back to school!”

Unrealistic: Mom walks out and leaves potential cash-fountain daughter with rich dad in Manhattan (perhaps an extremely poor understanding of New York family law?) After Dalton, Lulu ends up at Devon University, in “Havenport, Connecticut” (Yale?).

Her application was pushed over the finish line with a substantial check. … Her politics, to the extent she gave them much thought, closely adhered to the agendas of the benefits and political fund-raisers to which she aspired. This meant that by default she was a Democrat, like Sheldon (or she would be, as soon as she figured out how to register). She supported all the causes of the moment. Lately, she’d memorized a wholly impassioned-sounding plea for transgender rights that seemed to play well. Not that she’d ever met a transperson, but she was sure if she did, she’d know how to use the correct pronoun. Pretty sure.

The Progressive Student Alliance decides to target an English professor who includes Mark Twain in his syllabus, but not any African-American authors. The class is canceled and the professor goes on administrative leave and the subject of an investigation by Dean Martika Malik-Adams, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion. Lulu turns out to be his biggest defender against the diversity protesters, but things go south after a private moment in his office:

Lulu was drinking heavily, licking her wounds. She hadn’t told anyone about the incident in Professor Russell’s office, nor would she. There was nothing to gain from it. Sure, she’d been aggressive, but no one had ever turned her down like that, let alone heaved her unceremoniously onto the floor. Not even the ones with girlfriends. He must have known where she was going—she couldn’t have been more obvious, and she could feel him responding to her. How dare he humiliate her, especially after what she’d done for him!

After drunken sex with a frat boy, she falls and strikes a coffee table with her face.

Yolanda’s [graduate student RA] eyes narrowed. “Did someone do this to you?” “No, no one did anything.” “Something happened.” “Really, Yolanda, I just want to get a couple hours’ sleep and then get out of here…” “I smell alcohol, and your clothes are disheveled. What happened to you? Did you have sex with someone last night after drinking?” Yolanda’s eyes were now two slits. “Is there any other way it happens?” Lulu giggled, despite herself, which only made the pain worse. Why wouldn’t this woman go away? “You don’t understand. By university policy, a woman cannot give consent while under the influence. Sex under the influence is automatically assault.” Yolanda looked almost excited. As an RA, she’d had over thirty hours of mandatory training on sexual assault protocols, and she was sniffing the first opportunity to put her training to use. … Yolanda grew frustrated. “You’re not hearing me. In all likelihood, you’ve been raped, and on top of that someone obviously struck you. I’m a mandatory reporter, and— “A what?” “Mandatory reporter, which means I’m obligated by the Devon Committee on Title IX Enforcement to report this.” “Would you please relax? No one’s been raped.”

The book is in sync with the latest New York Times thinking that all U.S. wealth can be attributed to the profits of slavery (1619 Project):

One of the female students [occupying the president’s office] took up the reins. “This place, this place you call Devon, is white, white, white. It’s violent, in your face, everywhere you go. You, the university president, you’re white. It’s oppression. But know this: we owe you nothing. It’s Devon that owes us everything. We built this. This is ours. This place was built on the backs of our people, and yet we are second-class citizens on this campus!” The girl was so worked up tears were now steaming down her face. Milton nodded, as if in profound agreement, deciding not to point out that slavery was largely nonexistent in eighteenth-century New England when Devon was founded and was completely abolished by the time most of the current campus was constructed. But surely the girl was speaking metaphorically, and her pain was plainly real. “Please, tell me how I can help.”

[The occupation is eventually ended when the university agrees to require that all first-year students take a course titled “Identity and Privilege”.]

Lulu gets some inspiration from Columbia:

About halfway through, past the hard news, an article caught her attention. Called “Campus Nightmares,” it was about the wave of sexual assaults on American campuses. The victims—known as survivors—were bravely coming to the fore, exposing their pain for the common good. There was a lot about Emma Sulkowicz, the famous “Mattress Girl” at Columbia, who had carried a mattress around campus for an entire year to protest an alleged assault by a fellow student. Lulu thought there must be less exhausting ways to get attention, but she couldn’t argue with the results. Sulkowicz had become a campus celebrity and a feminist hero. She even got invited to one of Barack Obama’s States of the Union. Lulu googled Mattress Girl, and there were 2.7 million hits. Another girl had accused a teacher of assault and her whole campus had rallied around her cause. She was hailed with words like brave and pathbreaking and was said to be taking on the “power imbalance” between teacher and student. Something new was happening here. Victims as celebrities. Yolanda Perez had kept on her about that black eye last month, the one that forced Lulu to hide her first week in St. Barts. Perez had even shown up at her door with some woman from a campus feminist group. They pressed Lulu hard for a name, promising to “title nine his ass.” As much fun as it might be to get the hairy man-boy in trouble, Lulu didn’t have time for a bunch of dykes. As a likely English major, she was, however, intrigued that title nine was now being used as a verb. … She needed a plan. Simply being another run-of-the-mill “survivor” would not suffice. That market was getting crowded. Some of the early girls got a lot of play, sure, but only Mattress Girl had transcended her own campus. The mattress angle was clever, but it had been done. Lulu needed a bigger play, something original.

I don’t want to spoil the book too much, so let’s just say that she comes up with a brilliant plan.

The professor, meanwhile, goes through the Title IX process in front of Dean Martika Malik-Adams:

“Excuse me. A question, if I may. Where is the rest of the tribunal? If Ms. Coughlin is counsel, and Ms. Gomez is the stenographer, that just leaves … you.” “That’s correct.” “So where is everyone else?” “I am the tribunal, Professor Russell.” “Just you?” That lawyer warned him it might be the case, but Eph had found it difficult to believe that the university would put his professional future in the hands of a single person. “The majority of Title IX cases are adjudicated by a single person; it’s well within the federal guidelines. It’s a question of efficiency.” “Will there be an investigation? How does this process establish facts?” “I also perform that role, and it has already begun.”

Readers: is this factual or literary license? Can a university have a single person investigating and deciding Title IX cases, expelling students and faculty from campus?

Per usual, authors and editors don’t go a great job with general aviation. A rich alum is going to show up in his Gulfstream G650:

Since this was his first trip to Devon in his new iron, his people had had to call to make sure Havenport Airport’s lone runway had the necessary length. It did, if just barely.

(New Haven has two physical runways (four distinct numbers, one for each landing direction) and nobody would call an FBO or airport manager to find out the runway length, since this kind of information is available in public databases and web sites.)

More: read Campusland.

Full post, including comments

What kinds of all-male clubs make sense?

A friend posted “Men are showing up to the Wing and women are pissed” (New York Post) to Facebook. Highlights:

The Wing was supposed to be the ultimate sanctuary for women … “There’s usually at least one [man] whenever I visit,” says Kaitlin Phillips, 29, a member in New York for the past two years. “It’s bizarre to choose to occupy a space women specifically wanted for themselves. Classic patriarchal entitlement complex.

The Wing, which started with one location in New York in 2016 and has grown to nine locations in seven cities, including a new international outpost in London, never had a membership policy, because, reps say, they didn’t think they’d need one. Instead, they simply billed themselves as a women’s co-working space and social club.

This lack of official paperwork garnered the attention of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, which in 2018 opened an investigation into the company. The Wing’s large membership — more than 11,000 worldwide, according to reps — meant it couldn’t pass as a “social club,” and therefore can’t discriminate based on gender. This, coupled with a lawsuit brought by a 53-year-old man earlier this year claiming gender discrimination, led the Wing to formally adopt a membership policy: “The Wing is a space designed for women with a women’s-focused mission. Members and guests are welcome regardless of their perceived gender or gender identity. Recognizing that gender identity is not always consistent with someone’s sex assigned at birth, we do not ask members or guests to self-identify.”

“It’s just annoying,” says Caitlin White, a 31-year-old West Hollywood member who sees at least one man working in the space each day. “Why do men need to be there? Why can’t they respect the spirit of the place? Men have to have everything.”

“Maybe make it one day a week that men are allowed?” White says. “There has to be a legal way to work this out that still respects the space.”

This prompted a response:

I can understand women wanting to have a space without men. What I never understood were male-only clubs. Why would men want a space without women?

Of course, I immediately attacked the responder for his gender binarism and proposed starting “Club 58, where everyone is welcome” (link to 58 gender ID possibilities). But his question remains. When does it make sense to have an all-male group? Some ideas so far…

What about a support group for recovery from the referenced “Classic patriarchal entitlement complex”? Wouldn’t it make sense to limit that to members of the “patriarchy” who suffer from this disorder?

Based on “‘I messed up big-time’: Former Miss Kentucky who worked as a teacher admits exchanging lewd selfies with 15-year-old” (Daily Mail), a group for males who have been similarly victimized. How could someone identifying as a woman understand the pain, suffering, and long-term psychological damage endured by a 15-year-old viewing pictures of Miss Kentucky’s upper body?

Readers: What else? (other than obvious male-only medical issue groups!)

Related:

Full post, including comments

Why do LGBTQIA+ workers want to be protected from discrimination by law?

At a dinner party recently, a person who identifies as a “man” and who is married to another person who identifies as a “man”, disclosed his hatred of Donald Trump (not a big risk in Massachusetts!). On the list of the Trumpenfuhrer’s crimes was “I can be fired if I tell my boss that I am gay.” I tried to refrain from pointing out that as an unemployed person in his mid-50s, he probably wouldn’t be hired in the first place simply due to his age (i.e., that he’d have to get hired despite his age before becoming eligible to be fired due to his sexual preference).

This thought made me wonder, actually, why Americans in the LGBTQIA+ community would want a law protecting them from workplace discrimination. The protected classes are people whom employers consider to be inferior workers:

Is there any evidence that employers currently believe that LGBTQIA+ workers are less healthy, less energetic, less intelligent, less motivated, less able, and/or less educated than non-LGBTQIA+ workers? If not, why spread this negative perception by adding LGBTQIA+ identification to the list of people who need the government to force employers to retain them as workers?

Full post, including comments

Air pollution masks prove that women are more prudent than men?

As previously discussed here, air pollution in China, though it is being cleaned up gradually, is the one problem there that U.S. media is not exaggerating (see below for a good one, though!).

Anecdotally, it was women aged 20-40 who were most likely to be protecting themselves with a mask. Although helicopter parenting is no doubt common in Shanghai, it was uncommon to see children wearing masks. It was much more common to see a mother wearing a mask while the precious toddler inhaled filth than vice versa.

As only two out of 50+ gender IDs are recognized in China, I think I can safely refer to “men” versus “women” in this context. Based on observed mask-wearing behavior, I wonder if it would be possible to quantify, via a careful survey, the extent to which humans with one gender ID are simply more prudent than humans with a different gender ID.

Related:

Full post, including comments

Why aren’t LGBTQ activists working exclusively outside the US?

A Facebook friend posted “GOP reintroduces bill pitting ‘religious freedom’ against gay marriage”, adding the following:

I realized today that in future I should call this kind of discriminatory justification “Jane Crow”.

Not providing a marriage license? Won’t make a cake? Oh, I see: you support Jane Crow laws. Spread the word.

(As far as I know, he identifies as a cisgender heterosexual male living in a multi-million dollar house in Silicon Valley. So I think that his passion for LGBTQIA+ issues rather than, e.g., housing the homeless, is “yes” evidence for “Is LGBTQIA the most popular social justice cause because it does not require giving money?”)

I was in China at the time that he posted this. Although I agreed that having to find a non-Christian wedding cake supplier might be burdensome for an American, it occurred to me that I was surrounded by people for whom the adoption of rainbow flag religion would be a significant change.

If you want to be a warrior for this cause, you could come over here to China and liberate 1.4 billion people from the tyranny of mixed-sex marriage (link to “China’s parliament rules out allowing same-sex marriage”). Also, I have not seen a single all-gender restroom since landing in Shanghai. So you could pack a suitcase with rainbow flags and introduce the whole religion here! Note that it is illegal to be a single parent here and, since, same-sex marriage is not available, that means that a same-sex couple cannot reproduce (unless wealthy enough to pay for a child’s education, health care, etc. privately).

Why not copy the Gates Foundation with its “All Lives Have Equal Value” mantra? There are people in the U.S. who receive suboptimal health care, but the Gates Foundation folks concluded that, if all lives have equal value, the same amount of dollars and effort would go a lot farther in Africa. If “All LGBTQIA+ Lives Have Equal Value,” then wouldn’t it make sense to concentrate one’s lobbying in a country where same-sex marriage is not available at all, rather than one where same-sex marriage might entail some hassle?

A high-calorie hate parade in a Suzhou cake shop:

A righteous friend (another cisgender heterosexual male, I think) answered in the negative:

sadly, I think in this case we need to fight it here to keep our own house safe. then we can go deal with other nations. I am unhappy to say that, but it would be a shame to be off fighting for right in a foreign land, and then suddenly discover that you are no longer welcome back home….

I poked at him:

in the US, it seems that at worst a same-sex couple might have to patronize a cake shop run by the righteous. In China, the unhappy couple wouldn’t be able to get married at all (and if they traveled to Massachusetts on the spectacular Hainan Airlines for $650 round trip, as I just did, their MA marriage wouldn’t be recognized back home I don’t think). The Gates Foundation realized that the greatest need was overseas. Why isn’t the same true for the rainbow flag evangelists?

He responded:

a persons ability to BE an evangelist, and work a foreign country on issues like this, is 100% dependent upon that person having a strong place to stand in their home nation. the fastest way for the Chinese (or whomever) to sabotage the ability of americans to work in China on this (or any issue) is to attack them in the US, and I do not know if we get to blame China for the current difficulties here in the US, but those difficulties are certainly happening.

Me (jetlag is a great motivation to prod the Facebook righteous!):

couldn’t you make the same argument for the Gates Foundation then? Until every American has perfect health care, they shouldn’t be trying to improve things for the world’s poorest? (separately, do you truly think the “difficulties” faced by an American same-sex couple are in any way comparable to the challenges overseas? In the US, a same-sex couple in which neither adult works can have four children, live in public housing, be on Medicaid (MassHealth here), and shop with food stamps (SNAP/EBT). In all 5 states (subject to public housing waiting lists) they can live an entirely taxpayer-funded same sex lifestyle, regardless of whether this proposed bill passes.)

Him:

if someone was threatening the gates foundation with the ability to exist, then yes, absolutely. but we all know that is not the case, they are a very richly endowed and powerful operation, so they do not have this problem.

Me:

I didn’t realize that this bill proposed the extermination of same-sex couples and their children. In that case, it is brave of opponents to take a stand against the US military and police state! (Like the NYT and CNN here in China. They bravely cover the crimes of Donald Trump, but don’t say anything about Hong Kong. Once Trump is fully impeached they will have a sufficient base of virtue to say something on the topic of Hong Kong.)

Him:

I do NOT think that the problems of same sex couples in other nations are the same as those in the US. In some countries, they would simply be executed. But, my point is not at all about making such a measurement of one vs. the other. I was pointing out that the ability of a US person to take the fight to other nations is very much based upon their ability to be at least somewhat secure in their selves here in the US.

Me:

like NYT/CNN! When the last Republican dies of old age or moves to Mexico (Canada having already been claimed by the Trump-resisting Democrats), they will then feel secure enough to cover events in Hong Kong in their China-distributed content.

Despite this learned exchange, the question in my mind remains live. Instead of trying to ferret out the last pockets of resistance to rainbow flagism in the U.S., why wouldn’t it make sense for LGBTQIA+ warriors to proselytize to the large populations worldwide that have never heard the Good News?

(Separately, I think it would be interesting to go to China with a male friend and go into a series of cake shops asking for an “Adam and Steve” themed cake for our upcoming nuptials. Ideally, get it all on video!)

Related:

  • “The Struggle for Gay Rights Is Over” (Atlantic): For those born into a form of adversity, sometimes the hardest thing to do is admitting that they’ve won. … Despite evident progress, however, many gay-rights activists are hesitant to exult in their victories. To listen to some movement grandees is to think that the situation has actually never been worse. … If you had told gay activists 10 or even five years ago that their energies would center upon campaigns related to various foods—forcing pious pastry chefs to make cakes and boycotting Chick-Fil-A, or “hate chicken,” because its Christian owner has donated money to efforts opposing same-sex marriage—most would have considered their missions complete.
Full post, including comments

Speechless in Seattle

“Amid outcry, Seattle Public Library weighs decision to provide venue for ‘radical feminist’ event criticized as anti-trans” (Seattle Times):

Community members including transgender locals and trans allies have inundated the Seattle Public Library with calls and emails, asking the library system to cancel an upcoming event hosted by the Women’s Liberation Front— a self-described “radical feminist organization” that has publicly espoused what critics call anti-trans views.

The group’s event, titled “Fighting the New Misogyny: A Feminist Critique of Gender Identity,” is publicized as “a critical analysis of gender identity” that will “make powerful arguments for sex-based women’s rights,” according to the event page. The event, scheduled to be held Feb. 1 in the Microsoft Auditorium at the Seattle Public Library – Central Branch, has placed the library at the center of a firestorm over how it can maintain its commitment to evolving ideas of intellectual freedom, provide access to information for the entire community, and be an inclusive space where all patrons feel safe and welcome.

Sometimes the best way to be inclusive is to exclude!

The library bureaucrats had only the best of intentions in selecting the kind of speech that would be allowed in this taxpayer-funded venue:

Marcellus Turner, chief librarian for the Seattle Public Library (SPL), said in a statement that the event request from the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) was initially processed because it was labeled as a women’s-rights talk.

What if government bureaucrats are too busy to censor and deplatform on their own? Help is available from Alabama:

WoLF is not listed as a hate group in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s extensive documentation of such groups in the U.S.

(If the SPLC lists WoLF next year, they can do another story about how hate is thriving under the hated Hater in Chief: “Hate groups reach record high: The number of hate groups operating across America rose to a record high – 1,020 – in 2018 as President Trump continued to fan the flames of white resentment over immigration and the country’s changing demographics.”; note that the same SPLC page says that the number of hate groups in 2011 was 1,018. U.S. population was only 311.6 million in 2011 while it is 330.1 million today and therefore the number of hate groups per capita has actually fallen by roughly 6 percent. The Age of Trump is the dawning of a new Age of Brotherhood/Sisterhood/BinaryResisterhood?)

Below, the proposed venue in which attendees may be triggered by hearing that “Women are female and men are male. It’s just not complicated,” from “Kara Dansky, a lawyer, WoLF board member and a scheduled speaker at February’s event.” If anyone needs to run out to find a safe space, he/she/ze will have a $166 million palace of hardcopy books in which to seek shelter. What turned out to be a Rem Koolhaas homeless shelter opened three years before the Amazon Kindle was launched from the same city (2004 and 2007):

Related:

  • “Is LGBTQIA the most popular social justice cause because it does not require giving money?“: “Seemingly at least half of the retail stores in Seattle have an overt expression of support for the LGBTQIA community, e.g., a rainbow flag. Americans identifying as LGBTQIA are not half of the population, right? Why would stores managed and staffed by cisgender heterosexuals hang rainbow flags outside of Pride Month? Maybe folks in Seattle are unusually big-hearted and sympathetic to the vulnerable and victimized? Evidence against that theory is the enormous population of homeless who wander the streets and receive no assistance or attention from passersby. The good citizens of Seattle will step over a homeless person to get into a Tesla and drive to the rainbow flag shop. I didn’t see any store with a sign admonishing customers to do more or care more for the homeless or the poor.”
Full post, including comments

The female roots of all computer science, vol 17: Barbara Liskov

“The Architect of Modern Algorithms” (Quanta) is a recently popular link among some computer nerds on Facebook (all of the sharers, when I last checked, identified as older white males):

Barbara Liskov pioneered the modern approach to writing code.

But by the late 1960s, advances in computing power had outpaced the abilities of programmers. Many computer scientists created programs without thought for design. They wrote long, incoherent algorithms riddled with “goto” statements — instructions for the machine to leap to a new part of the program if a certain condition is satisfied. Early coders relied on these statements to fix unforeseen consequences of their code, but they made programs hard to read, unpredictable and even dangerous.

When she was still a young professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she led the team that created the first programming language that did not rely on goto statements. The language, CLU (short for “cluster”), relied on an approach she invented — data abstraction — that organized code into modules. Every important programming language used today, including Java, C++ and C#, is a descendant of CLU.

Note that in the discredited male-authored history of computer nerdism, the modern programming language dates back at least to ALGOL 60, developed when Professor Liskov was 21 years old. The public war on goto was waged not by Liskov, but by the developers of ALGOL and Edsger W. Dijkstra, a Dutch curmudgeon, who wrote “Go To Statement Considered Harmful” in 1968, pointing out that “the remark about the undesirability of the go to statement is far from new” and describes some of the history since at least 1959 (criticism by by Heinz Zemanek). Note that Dijkstra is also known for saying “The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offense.” Liskov, for her part, was known at MIT primarily for developing and teaching the standard software engineering class, 6.170, in which the CLU language was used by students. She was a usually modest and always hard-working person who believed that properly engineered software could function perfectly: “If you find a bug in your code, you should be as embarrassed as if you found a cockroach in your kitchen,” she memorably noted (we had a lot of cockroaches in our East Campus dorm and they were regularly visible during visits to restaurants in Central Square at the time!).

[The article also notes that Liskov is concerned about the impact of the Internet:

I’m worried about the divorced couple in which the husband publishes slander about the wife, including information about where she lives. There is terrible stuff going on.

Yet if one of these two sued the other, the most common precursor to their divorced status, the lawsuit, and anything said by a party during it, as well as the mailing address where the plaintiff wants the checks sent, was already public information, available to anyone who wanted to go down to the courthouse, decades before women developed microprocessors and TCP/IP. (see this study on Massachusetts court records, though records of litigation following out-of-wedlock sex are sealed) Reporters were covering divorce litigation in newspaper stories prior to the computer age, e.g., a November 11, 1939 piece in the NYT describing an allegation of “cruelty”, and one from December 2, 1934, “a charge of extreme cruelty won a divorce here today for Mrs. Edith Crocker Sanger from Prentice Sanger of New York City.” Divorce was apparently a good business even in the Depression. From September 24, 1931: “More than $1,000,000 was handed to Mrs. Eunice Essig Brach of Winnetka today with a divorce from her husband, Frank V. Brach, president of a candy company.” Certainly someone launching a divorce lawsuit and obtaining a profitable judgment in 2019 gets a lot less publicity than he or she would have prior to the Internet.]

Readers: What will the next edition in the “female roots of all computer science” saga be? What other fundamental technologies can be plausibly attributed to a person who identified as a “woman”? My vote: find a woman to replace William Shockley as developer of the semiconductor transistor and Silicon Valley. How can it be done? Here’s a National Public Radio story that credits Hedy Lamarr with having invented frequency hopping. Wikipedia contradicts this story to some extent and the actual patent to Ms. Lamarr and George Anthell reveals that they narrowly claimed a specific piano roll-style mechanism for controlling frequency hopping, not the broad invention of frequency hopping. So we need to find an early patent on a specific application of semiconductor transistors in which one of the inventors has a female-sounding name. Then we can discover the female roots of the modern transistor and rely on the fact that reporters won’t read the patent claims to see that they narrowly cover an application of transistors, not the transistor itself.

Also, will this article on Barbara Liskov and the promotion of the article by “allies” have the desired effect of getting more people who identify as “women” into computer nerdism? The article reveals that Barbara Liskov, despite having invented essentially all of practical programming technology, was not popularly recognized until she reached the age of 80. Moreover, she describes having to struggle as a result of her identification as a “woman” (see also a 2008 interview, in which she notes that “there were a large percentage of women” at her first programming job at MITRE in the early 1960s, at which she learned FORTRAN (several years after inventing ALGOL?) and then got a PhD working with John McCarthy, credited for now at least with the development of Lisp, and then met Dijkstra in 1969 (giving him the idea to write his 1968 screed against goto?)). Compare to Britney Spears, a top-of-the-charts success at age 17 who has never described being a cisgender female as a career handicap in her industry. Why wouldn’t a cisgender female aware of both Liskov and Spears conclude that computer science should be a last resort?

Related:

Full post, including comments

Why is the Gender Snowperson white?

Lexington, Massachusetts runs what is generally considered the best of the Boston-area public school systems (a task made slightly easier because the typical student there now is the child of Chinese-American PhDs). Unlike our suburb, when they want to build a gold-plated new school building they (a) do it with roughly 50 percent state money, and (b) do it in the parking lot or soccer field of the old school so that nobody has to move into trailers for three years.

Part of being the best: “Public School Uses ‘Gender Snowperson’ to Teach 9-Year-Olds Never to Assume Boys Have Penises” (Pluralist). The best comment: “Why is the snowman white?”

[How good are the best public schools in our state? A Chinese-American PhD friend who lives there says “Most of the teachers are bad.” Fortunately, no matter how bad they are at their job, the union contract guarantees them a paycheck through retirement!]

Related:

Full post, including comments