The War on Education: Taxing Tuition Waivers

Candice eetimesThere has long been a divide in our nation between those who respect higher education and those who are either suspicious or just plain hostile to it.  One could hear the disdain in the refrain of enlisted men in the WWII and even before from working class men calling educated men “college boy” in same vein as could be heard on grammar school yards with, “momma’s boy”.  This was a disdain and an attitude that education was effete and even ‘effeminate’, comparing educated men to women and homosexuals.

Lately, college and university educated people, especially those with post-graduate degrees (the new “college boys”) are being smeared with the epithet of being “elitist”, a reference to class antipathies and anxieties, as well as “liberal”, a reference to our national divisions into tribalist groups.  Let me be clear, I strongly believe that it is those who label OTHERS as “liberal” / “libtard” / “elites”, etc. who are the ones walling themselves into a “bubble”, not the other way around.  This issue is one-sided… and for the simple reason that many of those who are thus labeled started out life within that bubble, but escaped it through education and travel to learn of a larger world, an experience which naturally breaks down parochial beliefs and prejudices.

The most recent House version of the GOP sponsored tax revision included the latest salvo on the war against education and educated people.  A provision would impose a tax on tuition waivers, treating them as though they were earned income.  The problem?  These waivers are NOT income per se, they are discounts.

Imagine getting a discounted airline ticket and receiving a tax bill for the difference between “full price” and your discounted price.  Would that seem like that had been earned income?  Seriously?

The concept of earned income is that in theory one can do anything one wants with it; spend it on movie and a dinner, blow it on a weekend at a casino, or invest it mutual funds, or simply sock it away in a savings account.  But how can a discount on goods or services be treated as having been earned income when it can only be recognized by having “spent” on one and only one item.

Let’s do this even more absurdly.  Let’s say that someone is selling an item, a one of kind item, like a house.  The seller has an asking price.  You have an offering price below the asking price which is accepted.  Should you then expect a tax bill for the difference between the original ask and the eventual accepted offer?  Well… that is essentially what this latest tax bill in congress is demanding.  An education is a one of a kind item.  It can’t be resold to someone else like a commodity, it exists only in the experience and memory of the student.

But this attack on education should be no surprise to us.  This is after all only a continuation of the anger, resentment, and even hatred, felt by those who have no education for those who have.  This anger is misplaced in that those without an education are so because of their own peers convincing them that they don’t need it and should hate those who have earned it, a class based self-foreseeing-prophecy as well as an example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

To say that if implemented that this will hurt American education and all those industries (including government) that need educated employees and citizens should be obvious to all… but as we have seen in recent events, there are people who would rather tear everything down around them rather than see others outside of their tribe prosper.  We need to include protection for our educational institutions and their future students in our plans to rescue our republic from those who would see it descend into chaos.

Further Reading:

Essay on how to assure access to higher education for all

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Al Franken Photo Isn’t Funny

Candice eetimesMany of us awoke to the internet abuzz with comments on the photo of Senator Al Franken joking around with a photographer simulating a date rape scene.  It’s not humor.

It’s not funny.

It’s a “boys will be boys” sociopolitical comment that Senator Franken is making without fully realizing that he is tacitly, perhaps even explicitly, approving and upholding the notion that when women are unable to defend themselves, it’s “OK” for them to become targets of sexual molestation.

It’s not funny.

In the past few years, we have become more sensitized to the wrongful sexual behavior of some of our most beloved celebrities and politicians.   Behavior that was previously excused, even jocularly winked at, as Franken is doing in this photograph, is finally being understood by the public for what it is, harassment and assault.

It’s not funny.

It’s not only not funny… it’s the very tip of the previously mocked as “over reacting” epidemic of sexual denigration of women.  But as we have been learning in these past couple years about how date rape, the taking advantage of women who are incapacitated by alcohol, drugs (often surreptitiously administered by the rapist, e.g. Bill Cosby), or simple exhausted sleep, we have also become sensitized to the pervading culture that makes light of such behavior.  We have learned about the gradations of sexual harassment in both public and private life.

It’s not funny.

Senator Franken has welcomed investigation into his behavior… and likely feels that he will be exonerated of any overt act of sexual molestation.  But that was NOT the transgression that we are concerned with Mr. Franken.  It was your smirk of approval of rape culture.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

I believe you Senator Franken.

An Experiment Gone Wrong…

Candice eetimes“Are you sure this will prove your theory of Quantum Temporal Improbability, Doctor Essex?  Are you sure it’s safe?  I mean, if you are correct, this will change the past, which will mean that it will change our present?”

“Of course it will work.  And yes, it’s safe.  The experiment will only slightly effect the probability of small things.  It won’t effect big things in the slightest.  Changes to history will always converge back to the higher probability events in time; so there is no danger.”

“How far back are you setting the change to be anyways?”

“Did you not read my whitepaper on that subject?  It has to be when the Earth is closest to the same position as it is now relative to the other major masses in our solar system and the center of the galaxy.  Thus, it has to be in increments of whole years so that the energy required to make change will be minimal.  Of course, that also means that one year in the past is the easiest to effect.”

“OK, what should be we look for?”

“Oh, I’m sure it will be quite subtle: a typo in some website that wasn’t there before… something like that.  So, I have setup a search of the web looking for changes compared to our locally stored web mirror.”

“OK… If that’s all it will be, you have permission to go ahead.”

“Thank you,” Dr. Essex said as he pressed the button on his computer that sent the signal to the CERN Large Hadron Collider to preform his side experiment.  “OK, that was it.  The search should find something….”

“What’s wrong Doctor?”

“This can’t be!  That’s not a small change !  My GOD.  Clinton’s no longer the president!”

“You can’t mean !!!  NO!  That’s not possible!…   NOT Trump !!!”

Star Trek “Science”

Candice eetimesI love Star Trek.  As a kid, I used to sneak out of my bedroom and down the hall just far enough to glimpse, at an awkward angle, the TV in the living room as my parents watched the original broadcasts such that they wouldn’t be able to see me doing so.  The show aired past my parentally enforced bedtime; but that didn’t stop me.  It wasn’t the only Sci Fi show I watched, of course, but it was my fave.

Today, I saw an essay by a Forbes blogger complaining, in a shocked and lamenting tone, that Star Trek had used bogus biological science as a plot take-off.  I’m also shocked… but not for the same reason.  I’m shocked that he thought that Star Trek and anything to do with science.  Seriously?  This is Science Fiction, emphasis on fiction.

Let’s start with the simple fact Star Trek is based on the premise that Faster-Than-Light (FTL) travel and communications is possible.  In good science fiction, it is said that one may have one impossible device or technology and build around that.  But Star Trek has used tons of “impossible” technologies and tech-babble.  The point of Star Trek was to entertain and perhaps, occasionally, moralize.

Oh… now I can hear some folks complain, “How do we know that FTL is impossible?”

OK, I’ll grant that we don’t know everything about the universe yet.  We don’t know what Dark Energy or even the more prosaic, Dark Matter are.  We don’t really know how gravity and quantum physics can be unified.  These are indeed deep questions.  But they don’t hint at anything that will allow FTL.

Why? Because the combination of Newton’s Laws of Motion and Relativity, both Special and General.  To get FTL, those laws would have to be shown to be totally wrong.  Oh… and you can forget time travel for the same reasons…  There may be a loophole for FTL communications… or not.  But forget FTL travel.

The other key area where Star Trek has ignored science is indeed biology.  The very casting of humans as aliens that look like humans?  Even considering convergent evolution, the type that has created brains, eyes, wings, and fins several times does NOT mean that it will create creatures like us with very different biology but very similar physiognomy.  Even worse, that these folks can conceive hybrid human/alien children? The writers of the later series, Next Generation eventually tried to create an explanation, that was even worse the than the original plot hole by suggesting that evolution had not done it alone, but was directed DNA manipulation by a progenitor species to control the end result of evolutionary processes on thousands of worlds.  Say what?

So that’s TWO impossible things… the list is long.

For myself, when I started out to write “All The Stars Are Suns” and to map out its successor books in the same universe (not a “series” per se as the characters will not be reappearing), I decided that there would be NO impossible device or technology.  Everything, every tiny detail, would be not only scientifically possible, but technologically probable.  The technologies are things that I would like to have been able to develop myself before I die.  But I can’t.  I won’t live long enough and don’t have the energy to pursue them all.  But I can write about them, popularize them, inspire future technologists to development them.

Excelsior Ad Astra

 

Me Too: It’s not just “harassment”. It’s Assault.

Candice eetimesThe recent “Me Too” movement’s popularity on social media has brought much-needed attention to the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.  But it’s not just “harassment”, it’s sexual assault and how many corporations fail to address the issue in a fair and equitable manner.  We’ve already seen how several men who had been harassing women have been ‘outed’ in the press lately, some of whom were forced to resign from positions of authority and power.  A very apt analysis of this has been that “This man was not fired because he was harassing and/or sexually assaulting women, but because the PUBLIC found out about it.”

One of the questions that are asked by clueless bystanders is “Why didn’t she complain about it at the time?”  Well… I will address that in a bit, but first.

There is a danger to these narratives in the press lately in that they talk about men with power and authority being protected from the consequences of their actions by their employers and by a culture that tacitly accepts that men with power have that privilege as their natural right.

“I just start kissing them.  … I don’t even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do anything. … Grab ’em by the pussy.  They let you do anything.”

So why do women not report this at the time?  Because they are SMART !  They know that doing so will kill their careers.  I know, it almost killed mine before it began.

In late December 1978, I was a technician working for a company that was developing video disc technology.  I won’t mention their name for obvious reasons, but you can probably figure out which company it was.  I was excited about the opportunity.  I was working long hard hours during the night shift, twelve hours on, twelve off, plus attending company classes during the day where they were teaching the techs the deep theory of how the video disc technology worked.  On top of that, I was studying for my degree in physics I later earned.  I still remember and more importantly understand the tech I was helping to develop.  The tech was so new that they didn’t have enough working disc mastering systems so they had me, as a tech, using the R&D lab, mastering discs at night.  Thus, I stood watching over an open optical table where powerful blue laser light bounced around mirrors and lenses until the beam was focused on a spinning glass 18″ disc coated with photoresist by a microscope objective floating on a cushion of air, which was adjusted using micrometers (the kind you would find in a machine shop to measure the width of a part being machined).  I was young, ambitious, and very hard-working.  I should be writing about how I later helped develop CD, DVD, and CDR technology… but I never got the chance…

For decades, I never spoke nor wrote about this episode.  But last May, while speaking on a panel regarding Women In Technology I was asked what was the worse issue I had to face as woman in tech.  This:

One night, a bit after mid-night, I took a break from the lab, a chance to take off the yellow safety goggles, get a drink from the water fountain, and visit the restroom down the hall from the lab.  As it was close to Christmas, everyone had gone home.  I was completely alone in that building, save one, the night guard.  As I left the women’s room, the guard grabbed me and physically attempted to drag me into the men’s room all the while saying “It’ll be alright, it’ll be alright.”  He was literally lifting my mid-calf length full skirt in the men’s room doorway when I managed to hit him hard enough that I was able to escape his grasp.  I ran for my lab and locked the door behind me.

I hid in the lab for an hour before cautiously unlocking and peaking out.  I didn’t see him.  I bolted for the building door, the parking lot, and my car, racing my car out onto the street before I felt safe.  My heart was pounding the whole time.

When I returned after the short holiday break, I saw that the night guard was there every night.  I spoke with one of my co-workers, an out gay man about what had happened.  I didn’t want to say anything to management, but he asked, “Who will be next?”  That did it.  I couldn’t let another woman be raped by that man because I was a coward.  I went to HR and told them what happened.  BAD MOVE !!!

I was required to come in to work the next day and was taken to a very dimly lit room with a single table and two men I didn’t know.  I asked, very politely, that I would really like it if I could speak to a woman instead of men.  They denied me this courtesy… and then GRILLED me like I was a murder suspect.  I lost it… breaking down and crying.  I felt humiliated, abused… it was actually worse than the real event.  They made me feel DIRTY !

That night, I went to my lab as usual… but several times that night, several men, each separately, came to my lab to stare at me.  They wore VERY EXPENSIVE suits.  I recognized the type, senior executives come to gawk at the girl who was almost raped.

The next night, I was stopped in the lobby, handed a check and threatened that if I talked with any employees about what had happened, there would be career consequences for ME!  I was fired.

I never learned what happened to the night guard.

If you know labor law, you probably are now wondering how this company could legally do this, as it is illegal to do what they did to me.  But law has nothing to do with it… reputation in the industry does, for both the employer and the victim.  Remember, these men in the news lately weren’t fired because their employer found out… but because the public did.

ENOUGH !!!

Tech Bros and Silicon Valley Misogyny

Candice eetimesMuch has been written about James Damore’s Google Memo (read: screed).  For a long time, I didn’t want to read the Damore missive, but I read what seemed like a rational take on it from a woman who spoke the kind of language of using science and not shying away from evidence that is unpopular or challenges received orthodoxy… which, is very much something that I strive to do.  So… I read Damore’s Google memo.

OMG! Does his misogyny and even racism leak like a sieve, especially in his footnotes and ending recommendations where the misogynist and racist dog whistles were the loudest. While he uses many science references that I happen to know quite well… he fails to note the effect sizes which he makes sound really big… but are in fact, so small that most psychologists believe that they can be best explained as artifactual based on stereotype threat, etc.  In one footnote he declares that “political correctness” is a “phenomena of the Left and a tool of authoritarians”.  In other words, having to be polite and respectful of others not like himself is felt to be an authoritarian oppression.  Wow!

screen-shot-2014-10-22-at-7-27-29-pm

But what REALLY got me, was that he referenced work that is outside of the mainstream (read: likely bullshit) that states that people’s stereotypes are actually quite accurate and reflect real differences between groups… and based on that, Google should stop its stereotype awareness training – You know, the training that helps people become aware when they are using a stereotype as a short-cut to decisions where they shouldn’t… as in our bias to see a resume with a female or culturally African-American name as less competent… a well documented phenomena.  (Because, hey everyone knows that women aren’t reallyinterested in tech, right?  They just earned that tech or science degree cause it was the way to get easy grades, right?)  In other words, he spent a lot of time dissing feminist orthodoxy (sounding almost reasonable, but in fact not being so) then basically replaced it with a call to allowing hiring and promotion to be based on stereotypes… of which he contributed several.

Let’s talk about women, their psychology, and interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), shall we?  Above I posted a great graph that showed that women, once finally (somewhat) unshackled from sexist limits imposed on them at the university level began to take more STEM largely due to Title XII passage in 1972 making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in the United States.  But it took time to be enforced.  To know how bad it was, consider that until 1980, Harvard admitted five men for each woman, and only ended that discrimination when gender blind admissions were instituted.  Note that this graph sums up what happened to women in my lifetime.  When I was a child, very few women were admitted to STEM programs.  But I earned my BS in physics in 1982 and was admitted to Stanford Graduate School in the Materials Science Dept. right afterwards, during the most rapid expansion of women entering STEM.  Please understand, the field of materials science, and especially at Stanford, is where one learns about applied semiconductor physics and integrated circuit fabrication technology.  Stanford’s Materials Science department was Silicon Valley’s premiere place to learn this field, along with the Electrical Engineering and Physics departments.   Until that fall of ’82, Stanford’s Materials Science Dept. would only allow ONE token woman as a graduate student each year.  In the fall of ’82, it jumped to one in three students.  There had always been women interested and applying… they just weren’t being admitted.

But something ugly happened in computer science around 1984 to 1986.  Suddenly, as the demand for programmers dropped due to a recession in Silicon Valley and massive layoffs became the norm, women took the brunt of it.  But as later total student admissions skyrocketed and along with it their salaries upon graduation, the subject became the province of tech bros and the relative percentage of women admitted to those programs plummeted even as the absolute numbers of women in computer science remained stable or even continued to climb.  But, still the data clearly shows that women like being in STEM.  Any discussion about women being unfit or disinterested in STEM fields is disproven by the data.  They just aren’t welcomed in computer science.

student-numbers-in-computer-science-210116-large

Damore made several insinuations common among misogynists and racists, namely that Google’s diversity efforts were anti-meritocratic, giving unwarranted opportunities to women and others, failing to note that Google was working to make hiring and promotion free of bias, while encouraging women and minorities to apply and to seek out promotional opportunities.  He made comments that Google’s culture was antithetic to “conservatives”, but never quite defined what or who a “conservative” is.  If he is an example, and I do believe that he was in fact making himself the exemplar, then he is defining “conservative” as someone who holds a view that working toward a diverse workforce should not be one of society’s goals.  In fact, he explicitly stated that Google, as a company, was a “zero-sum” game, with an insinuation that working toward a diverse workforce inherently punished men like himself.  To that, I would say, “To those who are accustomed to privilege, equality is mistaken for oppression.”

Although he repeatedly stated that he was not bigoted… his very arguments and especially his ending recommendations belied that assertion.  His arguments regarding population level differences between men and women are in fact a strawman to the real issue at hand.  To wit, is there a bias against women in tech?  Does it affect the level of participation in tech, especially over time?  The answer is YES and HELL YES!  But Damore never addressed the evidence for bias against women in tech, especially in the computer sciences, of which there is plenty (e.g. identical resumes are evaluated differently depending on the perceived gender of the applicant, to the extreme detriment of women.)  Instead, he went off on the tangent of differential gendered desire to be a technologist… and on a non sequitur regarding whether boys or girls are the disadvantaged sex in primary education… that even if true, is meaningless to the issue of eliminating hiring and promotional bias inside of Google, which effort he recommended to be abandoned and replaced with a nebulous “psychological safety” concept that upon careful reading seemed to be premised upon his own feelings of being oppressed as a “conservative” man.  Again,  “To those who are accustomed to privilege, equality is mistaken for oppression.”

Recall that I am a Silicon Valley technologist and entrepreneur with over a forty-year career now.  I grew up in Silicon Valley (Sunnyvale and Los Altos).  Went to the same high school and at the same time, as Steve Jobs.  My first job was as a teenaged secretary at a high-tech company at the corner of Scott & Bowers, at the very heart of Silicon Valley, in 1976.  I worked my way up from there to be a founder and CEO.  I KNOW Silicon Valley.  I know tech.  I’ve seen the bias against women, those with disabilities,  ethnic, and sexual minorities first hand, sometimes up close and personal.  Heck, I’ve got over a hundred patents, a text-book chapter, and dozens of conference papers & journal articles… and a prestigious professional society award.  And yet, multiple times, my presence in tech and in tech management has been questioned by the likes of James Damore.

I’ve met with a goodly number of Google employees and executives, VP level and above…  up to and including Megan Smith and Sergey Brin.  I know that Google is making a sincere effort to eliminate bias in hiring and promotion.  Heck… they even offered me a position there (which as I was already CEO of my own start-up, I declined).  But this is an industry wide problem that no one company can solve on its own.

Oh… and I’m a very open-minded scientific “skeptic” when it comes to sexually dimorphic behavior, of which I have shown that there are many.  So I know the science.  I have managed many technologists, both men and women, from ‘baby techies’ to senior researchers that are far more talented than James Damore…  From all of that, I can personally tell you,

This shit of Damore’s stinks!


 

Embarrassment of Riches

Candice eetimesMany futurists have been thinking about the problem of increasing productivity, especially as we enter the age of Artificial Intelligence using Deep Learning combined with robotics.  The problem of decreased demand for unskilled labor and the inherent difficulties of providing skills training for those whose previous skills become obsolete weighs upon the long term horizon.  Already we have some calling for instituting a Universal Basic Income to ensure that the fruits of this future bounty are distributed to all.  But there are things to think about before that comes about.

First, is the problem of “moral hazard”.  As the productivity goes up creating surpluses, instituting a truly Universal distribution before we have enough surplus for all who would choose not to work may incent too many before we are ready.  This would cause labor shortages in some areas.  But, with just a little thought, we may already have a solution at hand.  We need a way of beginning to distribute the bounty without moral hazard.  I can think of one right away:  Universal Healthcare.

Already, most developed nations have some form of health care distribution to low-income individuals.  I propose that instead of a needs test, that we simply make it universal as soon as possible.  This will provide economic benefits of reducing friction in the delivery of services while simultaneously providing moral hazard free distribution of ever-increasing productivity.

The other way is through food distribution.  Again, we have mechanisms by which we determine who is a member of the “deserving poor” using WIC and Food Stamps (in the US) but these are both stigmatizing and inefficient.  We can and should provide a minimum food allotment that ANYONE may use without stigma.  Since going to fancy restaurants is not a basic need, there would still be incentive enough to earn money, but getting a properly nutritious meal at a basic fast food location should be available to all with no stigma attached.  The owners of the basic restaurants would be supported by the government.

Now I can hear the grumbling of old style conservatives talking about excess taxation and “takings”.  But, lets look at this rationally.  If we allow things to continue unchecked, we will see the rich get richer and the poor getting poorer… until a very small population of people can have anything they want, all made by AI controlled automation, 3D printing, etc., while the poor get nothing… and then comes tumbrels and guillotines.

Eventually, we will have a Universal Basic Income.  It is only a question of when and how we introduce it to minimize the disruption to the economy.