“For Example” is not Proof. Yiddish Proverb (continued)

The anti-vaccination movement not only indicates the power of anti-government feelings, but also important aspects of human thinking in general. We don’t like to live with uncertainties and the unknown. We want answers. My child has autism, and I want to know why. What caused it? For many, “we don’t know” is not acceptable, and they seek some sort of answer. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Mysteries are not necessarily miracles.” But for bad things, we look beyond miracles and often settle on conspiracies. Autism had to be caused by something, and the vaccine is blamed. We will make up an answer if no answer is available.

Misinformation that has taken root is hard to eradicate. Once we believe something, we want to continue to hang on to the belief. Instances of this are legion, and all of us can cite particulars. This trait permeates all strata of society. For example, a recent article by Gina Kolata, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/01/health/medical-myths-doctors.html, reports that nearly 400 routine medical “practices were flatly contradicted by studies published in leading journals.” An example: Ginkgo biloba is widely promoted as a memory aid, but a large study published in 2008 “definitively showed the supplement is useless for this purpose. Yet Gingko still pulls in $249 million in sales.” In spite of the scientific research, the gingko biloba myth lives. What T. H. Huxley said about science, indicating how it advances, should be a benchmark for all of society: “The great tragedy of science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” But all too often facts do not win out over what we believe.

Moreover, misinformation can easily take root because our instinctive reactions to empirical propositions are often wrong and because our education often does not do enough to train us to think more clearly about empirical propositions. The ground-breaking work of psychologists and economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky shows that human judgment and decision-making are frequently flawed in predictable ways. Of course, many people know of their studies, but they should be even more widely known than they are. Their research applies not merely to some academic or specialized field, but to all of us as we make judgments about the world in all aspects of our lives. Kahneman and Tversky’s seminal book written with Paul Slovic in 1982, Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases is not only readable but also fun as is Kahneman’s 2011 Thinking, Fast and Slow. Critical thinking should be part of our basic education, and the wit, wisdom, and research of Kahneman and Tversky should be included.

Critical thinking would also be advanced by the increased teaching of probabilities and statistics in our schools. This thought stems from my own high school math education, which had what might be considered the usual geometry, trigonometry, and algebra. These all helped my thinking, and while I have probably used that geometry more than I realize, I am like many others who say trig and algebra haven’t cropped up much in their adult lives. But I also took a course that had units that included calculus, set theory, and probability and statistics. As I look back, I realize that probability and statistics has been most important to my thinking through the years.

As most of us do, I encounter news of polls and medical and scientific studies, and their meaningfulness requires some understanding of probabilities and statistics as well as does much of the sports information I absorb. But most important was that P & S taught me important things about critical thinking in general, and it taught me to recognize my own and others’ sloppy thinking when we make factual assertions.

Even before reading Kahneman and Tversky, I had realized how bad intuitions, including mine, were about empirical propositions and that something more objective than gut feelings were needed. Probabilities and statistics helped me realize, for example, that a temporal sequence does not necessarily mean a cause and effect and that correlation and causation are separate concepts. Nevertheless, we all too easily fail to recognize our flawed causational judgments. A case in point: Just because autism is diagnosed after the MMR vaccine is given does not establish that the vaccine causes measles.

I learned from probability and statistics that comparisons are often needed to advance empirical knowledge but devising and assembling adequate control groups can be a tricky business. And we need to have some understanding of the statistics used to make the comparisons.

However, many of us who have not been deeply trained in science and math simply throw up our hands when we encounter either and fall back on some shortcut to determine what we decide to believe. My law school teaching showed me that time and again.

(concluded July 26)

“For Example” is not Proof. Yiddish Proverb

We have had an outbreak of measles even though a vaccine had seemingly eliminated this childhood disease. A lot of people don’t have their children vaccinated, putting their offspring and other people’s babies, who are not normally vaccinated in the first year of their lives, at risk for the disease.

One outbreak has been in orthodox Jewish communities where parents cite religious beliefs for the lack of vaccinations. I do not know what these religious beliefs are, but I don’t think measles or vaccines are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Other parents claim a non-religious personal belief for the failure to vaccinate. Many of these people believe the canard that the measles vaccine causes autism.

This belief can be traced to Andrew Wakefield, then a gastroenterologist, who published a paper in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet in 1998, linking the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine to autism in eight children. A dozen years later, a British medical agency found Wakefield had committed professional misconduct and revoked his medical license, and Lancet retracted his study.

Almost a dozen studies since Wakefield’s paper have examined the connection between the vaccine and autism. None found a link. The latest and largest study was of 657,461 Danish children between 1999 and 2010. It, too, found that the vaccine did not cause autism, but it noted that autism often appears at about twelve months, the time when the vaccine is first given, leading to the unwarranted conclusion that the vaccine and autism are connected.

The United States National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a no-fault system started in 1988, covers claims related to fifteen childhood vaccines and seasonal flu shots. That program’s data show that during the last dozen years, over 126 million doses of measles vaccine have been delivered, but only 284 people have lodged claims with NVICP about harm from it. A mere143 claims were found to be meritorious.

The vaccine does not cause autism, and other harms from the vaccine are exceedingly rare. On the other hand, measles itself is much more dangerous than the vaccine. Hundreds of people die from measles each year around the world. Before the vaccine in 1963, 3 to 4 million people were annually infected in the U.S. with the measles causing 400 to 500 annual deaths. About one in four who get measles are hospitalized, and one to two out of a thousand are likely to die. Why, then, do parents put their children, and other children, at risk of measles?

Part of the reason is a mistrust of government and other “official” institutions. I saw that in strange way in the recent college class I taught when the measles vaccine was discussed. A student said that it was only natural that people were leery of vaccinations and referred to Osama bin Laden and the polio vaccine. I looked up some old news articles that indicated that our CIA had used a hepatitis B vaccination campaign to help locate the al Qaeda leader by seeing if the DNA of vaccinated people in a certain compound were his relatives, and this CIA initiative had added fuel to a Pakistani movement against the polio vaccine. I did not understand this story’s relevance to the measles vaccine. I am not aware of the anti-vax people in the U.S. citing the hunt for bin Laden as a reason for not vaccinating their children, but the comment, while not entirely correct in its details, conveyed a suspicion of governments that has prevented vaccinations. On the other hand, such suspicion does not undercut the fact that the measles, polio, and hepatitis B vaccines work, and that their benefits far outweigh any harms. The real takeaway from the bin Laden story is that Pakistan is now facing a polio outbreak because parents have an irrational fear of the vaccine.

(continued July 24)

Snippets

I thought that Ross Perot, who recently died and is now largely forgotten, looked like Howdy Doody, but Howdy had a more engaging more personality. And sometimes I lie awake at night listening for that “giant sucking sound.”

If the 2016 election brought increased sales for Brave New World and 1984, will the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein do the same for the marvelous and deeply disturbing Lolita? Or for The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman that chronicles the abduction of a young girl, an episode that mirrors and may have influenced Nabokov’s book?

I am Donald J. Trump.

I never admit a slump.

My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,

Of my brain, thou shalt not speak.

The handyman had come to look at a small project. I was wearing an anti-Trump shirt. He said that he liked it. I replied that I was careful where I wore it. He said that I should be because people got so angry nowadays. I realized that he had not absorbed all the writing on the shirt when he said that Trump had been sent from God. He had only limited times to do the job this week because of church obligations and volunteer work at a Christian radio station. He was an evangelical. And he was black.

I don’t understand many things. For example, I don’t understand many Americans’ fascination with British royalty.

A reason that I am not a conservative: I do not believe that wealth equates with moral worth.

My ears perked up when I heard that the podcast Planet Money was reporting from where I grew up, Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The story focused on how employees in a time of strong employment were gaining power. To illustrate its point, it discussed Kohler Company, which the podcast said was in Sheboygan, and interviewed one of its workers. I wanted to correct the report. As a native of Sheboygan, I never would have said that Kohler is in Sheboygan. It’s in the village of Kohler, which is in Sheboygan County, but not Sheboygan. Sheboygan and Kohler are separate places. The studio reporter asked the man in the field where the Kohler employee might go if the workers’ demands were not met by the company. He replied, “They could go to Sargento Cheese or Johnsonville Brats.” The studio guy sounded amazed, asking, “They are all in Sheboygan?” This Sheboygan native rebelled at the affirmative reply. Sargento is in Plymouth and Johnsonville Brats is in, hold your hat, Johnsonville. Both near Sheboygan, but not in Sheboygan. But then the field reporter said with a hint of smile in his voice something I had not known from my years there, “Sheboygan is a feast for the senses.” Even so, I am not planning a move back.

Confessions of a Sometime Public Defender–The Question (concluded)

          I could know I was defending the guilty, not merely assume it, only if the clients told me they were guilty. That only happened a few times, and I felt no moral qualms even in those situations. For example, Mary was a hooker on Brooklyn’s Coney Island Avenue–not the high-rent avenue then for anyone, and certainly not for a prostitute. She would do just about anything for a bit of food and some drugs. An undercover cop approached her and asked if she knew where he could make a big drug buy. She didn’t, but she asked what was in it for her if she could find out. He said $50. This was the equivalent of five or ten tricks for her.

She located where to get the drugs, and when the undercover returned, she took him to a seller in Harlem. She left after pocketing five tens. The cop made the buy, and Mary was arrested for aiding the sale. She told me this. She was guilty. She was not offered a plea bargain. We went to trial.

If convicted, the sentencing law required that she get a life sentence with at least a fifteen to twenty-five year minimum. That meant that she would have to serve whatever minimum a sentencing judge imposed before she would be eligible for parole, and, of course, she could be imprisoned until she died. I did not think such punishment just. She did something illegal, but a person such as she, who was barely surviving, could hardly turn down $50, and for that $50, offered to her by the police, she would get a life sentence. She was convicted. She got life as was required. And I felt that it was an injustice. If, by some miracle, I had gotten an acquittal, I would have rejoiced.

          I did think about the consequences of one acquittal, however. I represented a man, Ron, on the illegal possession of a gun. He told me a story that had some plausibility but was not likely to be true. The trial went surprisingly well. From the evidence, I began to believe that he might be innocent, and to my surprise, he was acquitted.

A few months later he called me. He was in jail again. He was charged with rape. I wondered what I had done. Had my acquittal gotten a woman raped? He wanted me to represent him, but his case had not been assigned to me, and I said no. Later the attorney who represented him on that new charge told me that it was as phony a rape case as any he had ever seen. Ron was acquitted of the rape charge, too. He was apparently innocent.

This sequence bothered me. Most often after an acquittal, I had no further contact with the defendant. Ron’s situation made me wonder if I had the moral luxury of feeling good about an acquittal simply because normally I did know whether the person I had helped free went on to do bad things. Would I have more doubts about what I did if I always found out what happened after a client was acquitted?

On the other hand, Ron made me think that for one of the few times I had abandoned my defender ethic. I had brushed him off instead of defending him again because I did not want to confront the possibility that he had committed a rape for which I perhaps should have felt a responsibility.

          Almost always, however, I could do the work and do it without moral qualms. I learned that the trial system works better than many believe. Attorneys want to believe that their skills and tactics make adifference. Once in a while the attorney does have a huge effect, but generally the attorney, at best, can only be a little bit better than the evidence presented at trial. My experience and my scholarly work convince me that almost always the verdict follows the evidence. If there is strong evidence that a person is guilty, almost always a guilty verdict follows.

          But the real reason I could do the work is that even though I respect police work, I also fear the power the police have. The same for prosecutors and judges. That fear allowed me to be a defender. The poor and the outcast need someone to stand up for them against a powerful government and its representatives.

(To be continued sporadically)

Related Post: May 29, 2019.

Confessions of a Sometime Public Defender–The Question

          “How can you defend the guilty?” This is The Question I have been asked many times. Sometimes my answers have been platitudinous: To function properly our legal system requires defense of all, guilty or innocent. Sometimes my answer has been facetious: A defender prefers representing the guilty. If the client is innocent and acquitted, it is merely the system working. If the client is guilty but found not guilty, it must mean that the defender is a really good attorney.

Sometimes I gave a third answer that was slightly less facetious: The defender wants to represent the guilty because there is a lot less pressure. It feels much worse to have an innocent client go to jail than a guilty one.

No matter what my answer has been about defending the guilty, the looks on the questioners’ faces never indicate that they are satisfied with the response. The Question, however, is one asked only by those outside the public defender business. We did not discuss it among ourselves, and I only occasionally reflected on The Question.

          There is no one answer to The Question because there are many different components to the public defender’s job. Defenders spend the overwhelming amount of their effort in the plea-bargaining process, not trials. The goal is to get a more favorable plea or sentence than would occur without the defender’s efforts. The defender knows that almost always the client is going to be punished. The issue is how and how much. I was like most defenders who know that the criminal justice system is awful in many ways. Our sentencing laws are often ludicrous; prisons are terrible places; prosecutors are arrogant; judges are often dim. It is (usually) easy in the plea process to try to help even the bad people in such a bad system.

          I did not romanticize those charged with crimes. I met many people who I thought should be punished. Even so, when I saw the system operate, I saw its many, many flaws, and it was seldom a moral challenge to try to help those caught up in it.

This was fueled by my anti-authoritarian nature. I believe in a strong government, but we must have checks on the government’s power. We must try to ensure that when the government exercises power, it is doing so properly. Danger lurks if we don’t. The government’s ability to fine, imprison, and even execute is among its most awesome powers. When, as happens so often in our criminal justice system, the government seeks to impose its will on the outcast and the poor, we need to have someone pushing back against the government. Defenders act in the deeply conservative traditions of our country by trying to check governmental power. I could defend not just because I was defending an individual but because I was fighting the government. And that also meant defending the guilty.

          The person asking The Question about defending the guilty, however, is not asking about plea bargaining. They are really asking, “How can you defend someone whom at trial you know to be guilty?” How can you work for an acquittal of someone who has committed a crime and very well may commit more crimes?

The questions seem to imply that this must be a common situation, but obtaining a not-guilty verdict for one who was guilty seldom occurred. Few who admitted their guilt to me went to trial. Mostly those who said they were guilty wanted to get the best plea bargain possible.

Clients going to trial almost always maintained their innocence. I did not simply accept what they said. Often the defendants who told me they did not commit the charged crime related stories that struck me as bullshit. If I had to make the decision, those guys were guilty. But they said they were not, and it was not my job to pass judgment on them. And every so often that farfetched, remarkable story had truth in it. They were entitled to have someone fight for them because even if all the indications were to the contrary, they might not be guilty. My duty was to present the best possible case for them, and let the jury decide.

(concluded July 17)

Related Post: May 29, 2019

The Mind of a Tennis Player

I admire the players as I watch the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Of course, I admire their athletic ability, as I do top performers in other sports. They are faster, stronger, more coordinated, quicker than mere mortals, but I also think about how they are different in ways that I can’t see in their contests.

They have honed and maintained their skills in hours upon hours of practice. This includes repeating the same motions over and over. The normal body might rebel at this. We would get micro tears, muscle strains, or stress fractures. Day after day of typing can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. The repetitive tasks on an assembly line can lead to joint or back problem. The athlete’s body, however, tolerates physical repetition or else the athletes would not be as skilled as they are.

Such practice, however, also requires a special kind of mind. Many athletes have regular practice sessions of four or more hours, and there would be no point in spending this time unless the athlete can concentrate on what they are doing during this time. I know that I cannot. I have practiced some of the sports I have played, but after fifteen minutes my attention begins to wander. My performance falls off, and if I continue, I begin ingraining worse habits than when I began. Good athletes not only have better athletic ability than I, they have minds that allow them to focus in ways I do not.

These body and mind attributes are there in all great athletes, but the nature of tennis means that its players must also have an additional mental attribute that many sports do not require.   Unlike in most sports, the tennis player does not get coaching during the match. Yes, I know that illegal coaching from the stands goes on, and that limited coaching is allowed in some tournaments, but the basic point remains. Tennis players almost always must decide whether or how to adjust tactics during a match without a coach’s help. Even in other individual sports this is rare. The boxer every two or three minutes hears from the trainer who also shouts instructions doing the round; golfers regularly talk with their caddies, who also help read the greens; the track athlete’s strategy is almost always set before the race begins. Tennis players in matches of one, two, three, or four hours must be able to make adjustments, decisions that they must make without outside help.

The solitary nature of tennis also means that when players hit a rough patch, lose their edge or focus–which often happens in a long, close match–they alone must find a way, if they are to be successful, to regain the lost form. The tennis player does not have what is available in team sports: teammates to buoy up the player or fill in for a while or up the level of their own play so that the player’s slough can be tolerated. The tennis player must do it alone.

I watch a tennis tournament, and I admire not only the players’ skill, reflexes, power, and grace, but also their remarkable mental agility and resilience.

Snippets

The Wimbledon tennis tournament is played at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. I am not a member. Is there a Partial England Tennis Club that would have me?

I am writing a book for my level of tennis: The Offensive Use of the Short Lob.

Executive privilege is incomprehensible.

Needed, but often reprehensible.

I recently shaved off the beard I had for the last three years. Some friends noticed and commented that I look younger. I don’t ask, “Than what?” Others see my face as changed but don’t know why and ask whether I got a haircut or new glasses. Some others ask if I have lost weight. I wish.

MY JOB IS

KEEPING FACES CLEAN

AND NOBODY KNOWS

DE STUBBLE

I’VE SEEN

BURMA-SHAVE                                                    

Many of us have many personal electronic gizmos—phones, tablets, watches, fitness and GPS devices—that need regular charging. Can’t they make them so the same charging cord could be used for all of them?

I heard a woman on her phone say, “He is self-aware of that.”

The op-ed headline asked, “How Should Christians have Sex?” The right answer is obvious: Missionary position.

Near the front step of the country house lay a dead, baby skunk. My mind reverted to old-world peasantry and wondered if this was some sort of message. If so, it failed. I neither knew what it meant nor who had sent it.

The crying, three-year-old girl said to her Dad, “I’d rather be invisible.”

A reason I am not a conservative: I am not inordinately afraid of or repulsed by people who do not appear to be just like me.

I am Donald J. Trump.

High I.Q I claim, but grump,

History’s not my forte.

Rebel’s had no airport?!

It’s the Fourth. Celebrate Lincoln, Too

John Adams predicted that the fireworks and other hullaballoo would be held annually on the second day of July, for it was July 2, 1776, that the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Lee Resolution for independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. John was close, but give him no cigar. (Did the founding fathers smoke cigars or only pipes?) We, of course, instead celebrate the Fourth of July, which this year lands on July 4. July 4, 1776, was not the date on which the thirteen colonies declared independence; it was, however, the date when the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

The Declaration now plays a frequent role in our Fourth of July celebrations, but that was not true in the eighteenth century. The act of independence was considered important, but not so much the document that proclaimed it.

In the early nineteenth century, the Declaration of Independence produced controversies. Slavery was at the core of the disputes. At issue was the Declaration’s most famous passage: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The apparent hypocrisy of that pronouncement in a slaveholding country was almost immediately pointed out by the British.

Abolitionists in the nineteenth century maintained, against much evidence, that the Founding Fathers had been opposed to slavery in principle. Those who supported the extension of slavery into American territories argued that the Declaration was irrelevant because it was not the Constitution. Moreover, they maintained that the assertion “all men are created equal” was false, that it was not a self-evident truth, but a “self-evident lie.”

In the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Stephen Douglas maintained that the Declaration referred only to white men. Abraham Lincoln said that the Declaration did not “declare men equal in all respects. . . . They defined with tolerable distinctness in         what they did consider all men created equal—equal in ‘certain inalienable (sic) rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, or yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had not power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for a free society which should be familiar to all, constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even, though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere.”

 

Whether historically correct or not, Lincoln’s view of the Declaration became widely accepted. He further cemented that reading with the Gettysburg address’s opening sentence: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” When I learned what a score was and subtracted eighty-seven from 1863, I realized that he was referring not to our Constitution, which does not contain a broad statement of equality, but to the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration had been seen by many as a dead instrument that had accomplished its purpose—separation from England. Lincoln, however, saw it as still living in all ages providing a goal for which we should always be striving.

On the Fourth of July we should honor Thomas Jefferson and the others who signed the document, but we should also honor Lincoln for reviving the Declaration of Independence so that it remains relevant today and tomorrow as an expression of what should be best about America.

People the Barricades! We Need a Pronoun Revolution (concluded)

Until recently I had not paid attention to how often we use binary gendered pronouns, but, of course, they are nearly ubiquitous, and I am now more sensitive to their use. I might be asked, “What is Amelia doing?” My response, if I am being diligent in the way I ought to refer to the NBP (the nonbinary progeny), might be, “AJ is working for a neat nonprofit.” If the conversation continues, however, the conversation sounds stilted if I remain as diligent in respecting AJ as a nonbinary person. “AJ each day helps collect the flowers. AJ is responsible for managing the volunteers. AJ makes sure the bouquets are correctly delivered.”

If you are explaining someone’s work, your conversation would be dotted with binary gendered pronouns. “He balances the books.” “Her boss really seems to value her.” “He often gets aggravated by his job, but he is good at it.” While using gendered male pronouns after indefinite nouns and pronouns may seem technically noninclusive, but are grammatically inclusive, our binary gendered pronouns exclude much of humanity.

I don’t have pronouns to use for my child (and referring to the adult, accomplished AJ with “child” seems demeaning). Perhaps worse, years of conditioning often has me using “her” or “she” when I refer to AJ, and each time I hear such a gendered term leave my mouth, I feel is if I committed a small act of betrayal.

But if I could train myself to eschew the gendered pronouns, what would I say instead? I could just keep repeating “AJ” or replace it with nouns like “the child” or “the offspring” or “the descendant” or, after explaining it, “the NBP,” but all these formulation in ordinary conversation would sound from silly, to pretentious, to nonsensical.

Some nonbinary people state the desire to be referred, pronoun-wise, as they, them, and theirs. That doesn’t work. Not only does it jar on the ear, it often is unclear. “AJ was passing a store with friends. They went in, and they bought a bag of carrots.” If “they” could refer to AJ, did all of them go into the store? Did all of them buy the vegetables? Or was it only AJ? If AJ wanted third-person collective pronouns to refer to AJ, I would try to do it, I guess, but the NBP has indicated that it is not a successful solution, and I agree.

Some other languages offer possibilities with problems of their own. On a trip to Thailand, a guide told me that the Thai language has pronouns for those who are not one of the binary genders. That would be better than what English has, but it is still a limited solution. It is often not apparent that a person is nonbinary. Should a correction be made every time the wrong-gendered pronoun is used for that person? Won’t that stilt conversations and writings?

Chinese offers another path. The spouse worked for decades with a man from mainland China, and he told her that he had trouble with English gendered pronouns because Chinese uses a universal pronoun. She had forgotten the pronoun, so she chatted with our always pleasant and smiling mailman, who is ethnic Chinese. He told her that the universal Chinese pronoun is “ta” as in “tada” and said that it covers he/she/it and him/her/it.

I am little surprised that there is one pronoun for both the objective and subjective cases. It seems as if this would lead to confusion. Last week Evan Osnos, New Yorker reporter and author of the National-Book-Award-winning The Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (a marvelous book. Go read it.), told me that the universal pronoun did not cause problems in Chinese because that language was about context, and in context ta was almost always clear.

I am not sure that would hold for the English language. Imagine: “Both my son and daughter want the panda, but I bought it for ta.” Of course, with this simple formulation, the ambiguity could be avoided by replacing “ta” with the favored child’s name, but most often we would say “his” or “hers.” My guess is that sometimes the lack of the subjective/objective distinction with a universal pronoun would lead to problems in English. But what problem is there if there were one pronoun for he/she and another for him/hers, say, for example, ta and tans? Wouldn’t the meaning almost always be clear? “AJ ( or a more gendered moniker such as Amelia, Herman, Waldemar, Heidi) works for the Teddy Bear Restoration Company. Ta is good at tans job.”

Is our language really enriched by having gendered pronouns? Or do gendered pronouns make us instinctively think in unnecessarily gendered terms. “Jones has been CEO for a year. She is excellent.” This construct makes us think of the officer as a woman, which only distracts from the message to be conveyed—the person is good at the job.

Perhaps someone could create a new set of pronouns so that the language does not act as if the nonbinaries don’t exist, but so far I haven’t seen anything emerging. I am left in a quandary, but I should be joined in my predicament by all those who value the more precise use of our language.

How do we get better pronouns?