“Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

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“Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Qaanol » Sun Jan 11, 2015 7:29 pm UTC

I’m having a disagreement with a good friend of mine, and before we discuss it further I’d like to hear what everyone here has to say. The short version is, my friend thinks Senator Barbara Boxer was disrespectful toward General Michael Walsh when she asked him to call her Senator instead of Ma’am during a televised committee hearing in 2009, and that she was shaming him by doing so. I disagree on both counts.

Background / transcript :
Spoiler:
As you may recall, some 5½ years ago Senator Barbara Boxer asked Brigadier General Michael Walsh, “Well why has it been delayed?”, and he began his response with, “Ma’am, at the LACPR…”

Senator Boxer interjected “You know, do me a favor, could you say Senator instead of Ma’am? It’s just the thing, I worked so hard to get that title so I’d appreciate it, yes thank you.”

General Walsh replied, “Yes Senator,” and continued to answer the question.

Here is a clip of the exchange: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0CprVYsG0k

And an NPR story from a few days after it happened: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105717857

I’m not just looking for confirmation that I’m right (or refutation thereof), I’d also appreciate ideas for some cogent arguments to help change my friend’s mind (or mine). For context, my friend is highly intelligent and currently in law school (I am not).
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby PAstrychef » Sun Jan 11, 2015 7:41 pm UTC

I'd say either was correct, but the likelihood that a male senator would have been called sir is pretty low.
On another hand, I'm curious as to why NPR sometimes refers to The President, or president Obama, and sometimes to Mr. Obama. I have no idea how they make that call.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Qaanol » Sun Jan 11, 2015 11:25 pm UTC

PAstrychef wrote:I'd say either was correct, but the likelihood that a male senator would have been called sir is pretty low.
On another hand, I'm curious as to why NPR sometimes refers to The President, or president Obama, and sometimes to Mr. Obama. I have no idea how they make that call.

Just to be clear, the disagreement is not about what General Walsh said. It is a disagreement over whether Senator Boxer was disrespectful of General Walsh (and/or the military in general) when she asked to be called Senator, and whether she was shaming General Walsh by doing so.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Derek » Sun Jan 11, 2015 11:54 pm UTC

PAstrychef wrote:I'd say either was correct, but the likelihood that a male senator would have been called sir is pretty low.
On another hand, I'm curious as to why NPR sometimes refers to The President, or president Obama, and sometimes to Mr. Obama. I have no idea how they make that call.

I don't think she was too disrespectful. He made a faux pas, she corrected him, and it looks like he accepted the correction. Some people can be more sensitive than others to using the correct honorifics, but I don't think it's too disrespectful to ask for the correct usage.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Mon Jan 12, 2015 12:41 am UTC

I Watched the YouTube.
That woman was Wrong!

It's ok to be Wrong.
Everyone is at sometime.
That woman was Wrong at that time.

She was being petty out of Habit.
She earned her Title in Petty US Politics.

That man is a General.
She has every right to address him.
She does not now nor will she ever have any right to chastise him.

Who the fuck does this Boxer Bitch think she is??
See? Petty Politics. I can stoop that low, too.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Azrael » Mon Jan 12, 2015 1:20 am UTC

Qaanol wrote: It is a disagreement over whether Senator Boxer was disrespectful of General Walsh (and/or the military in general) when she asked to be called Senator, and whether she was shaming General Walsh by doing so.

I think someone has to be trying really, really hard to find an issue if they're suggesting she could have been disrespectful to the military in general by asking one General to call her by her title in a hearing.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby BattleMoose » Mon Jan 12, 2015 1:33 am UTC

If she is performing the function of a Senator in a formal environment, which it was, them using the title "Senator" is appropriate. And asking for the correct title to be used I believe is also appropriate. It would only be a big deal if the general refused to use the title "Senator", but he did and all is well.

I do wonder if the general would have been more likely to have used the term senator, if it was a male senator. There is still a lot of covert sexism in our society and this might be an example of that, just one of those accidental things that slip out, but again, it was corrected and all is well.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Mon Jan 12, 2015 1:47 am UTC

Azrael wrote:
Qaanol wrote: It is a disagreement over whether Senator Boxer was disrespectful of General Walsh (and/or the military in general) when she asked to be called Senator, and whether she was shaming General Walsh by doing so.

I think someone has to be trying really, really hard to find an issue if they're suggesting she could have been disrespectful to the military in general by asking one General to call her by her title in a hearing.

Nah.
It is a widespread disrespect.

It is difficult to explain.
Her Self Elevation over the top of that man, translates to her elevation over everyone at his rank and below.
She let him know Who had Earned Respect and was going to demand it. Fucking Junior High School Girl shit.

Mean Girls intimidate everyone.
Governance should not be about the personality of The Senator.

I don't know that woman.
I don't Want to know that woman.

I'd like to talk to The General.
He may have earned his position and Title.

I think it is funny.
She said, "I worked so hard for my Title."

What work? What did she do?
Like any well paid Actor; Did she stay Relentlessly On Message?

EDIT:
I hate Politics.
I hate taking sound bites seriously.

I have No Idea what those people were discussing.
We all know she was out of line.
I have No Idea Why she was acting like that.

I don't want to Study her.
She's not that interesting.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Boxer

Her's is supposed to be a boring Job.
What?? Do they Spice It Up for the viewing audience?
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Cleverbeans » Mon Jan 12, 2015 2:00 am UTC

I'm pretty sure "ma'am" is what you would call a senior officer so I don't think he meant to be disrespectful. He immediately began using her preferred title when she asked him. Perhaps she was unaware that he'd been taught to address women in authority this way for his entire military career and just thought it was casual sexism? He's a general so he's probably just doing out of reflex at this point. I can understand how someone might think it was disrespectful. I'm not sure this was the time or place to make a stand on deeply ingrained gender bias in the military if she was doing it intentionally and if it was just ignorance well that's understandable too I would think. She's probably used to "ma'am" being used condescendingly rather than as a sign of respect. I guess I can empathize with both parties here.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Mon Jan 12, 2015 2:16 am UTC

yes, dear Poster.
All of that is true.

In the clip, he was doing his best.
It's so funny.

She said, "Don't call me m'am."
He said, "Yes, Sir." that's funny.

I felt sorry for him.
Politics is a guessing game.

Military Generals are expected to Know.
Well...Once upon a time in a dusty book somewhere.

That was Then.
This is Now.

Poor General.
He can thank his Lucky Stars he does not have to be a Senator.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby morriswalters » Mon Jan 12, 2015 2:18 am UTC

Check Senate testimony by the Military and look how they address male Senators.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Mon Jan 12, 2015 2:23 am UTC

morriswalters wrote:Check Senate testimony by the Military and look how they address male Senators.

Do they say Sir?
Or; Hey! You!
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Qaanol » Mon Jan 12, 2015 2:36 am UTC

morriswalters wrote:Check Senate testimony by the Military and look how they address male Senators.

To reiterate: General Walsh’s words are not being debated. My friend and I both agree that he was following proper military etiquette by using the word Ma’am. That is not a point of contention.

We are discussing Senator Boxer’s decision to speak up and ask to be addressed as Senator instead of Ma’am. I am of the opinion that she did nothing wrong by making that request. My friend claims that she was disrespectful and publicly shamed General Walsh.

Specifically, here are the main points of our discussion so far:
Spoiler:
My friend has said:
“Members of the military considered Senator Boxer’s comments to be a major show of disrespect.”

“The problem that I and other have with this incident is that he was trying to show respect toward Senator Boxer by addressing her with the deferential Ma’am. Senator Boxer did not show her respect for him in return.”

“General Walsh was abiding by established rules of etiquette that are designed to show deference to elected officials and to uphold the command structure…. Publicly shaming him for doing so was inconsiderate and disrespectful behavior that, I would argue, undermines the very command structure on which the military depends.”

And, “Senator Boxer should have reciprocated his respect and taken up her concern with the General in private or with his commanding officer after the hearing.”

My responses have included:
“General Walsh did not know how Senator Boxer preferred to be addressed, so she informed him. He subsequently used her title as requested. There was no disrespect on either side.”

“That wasn't ‘shaming’, that was asking to be called what she wanted to be called.”

And, “It seems evident that Senator Boxer was offended by the very ‘established rules of etiquette’ to which you refer, so she made what is literally a harmless request.”
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Mon Jan 12, 2015 2:43 am UTC

I agree with your friend.
If she wants to make a change like that, she can have him called into a meeting where he will have the word 'm'am' scoured from his vocabulary.

It was unfair to 'School' him in Public.
That man is an Adult.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby BattleMoose » Mon Jan 12, 2015 2:53 am UTC

Check Senate testimony by the Military and look how they address male Senators.


To reiterate: General Walsh’s words are not being debated.


You are missing the point. The point being raised is that this could be an example of accidental sexism. If male senators are referred to as "senator" and female senators are not, that is an issue and needs redress. And could very much be the core motivation for the request of the title "senator" to be used.

he was trying to show respect toward Senator Boxer by addressing her with the deferential Ma’am.


He was trying to show respect but as it turns out he achieved the exact opposite. Perhaps a public dressing down wasn't that appropriate. Either way, I just don't think any of this is as big of a deal for anyone involved.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Azrael » Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:00 am UTC

Qaanol wrote:To reiterate:

We aren't having your friend's discussion. You came here and asked what we thought, and it's being provided.

That being said, if:

Quaanol's Friend wrote:Publicly shaming him for doing so was inconsiderate and disrespectful behavior that, I would argue, undermines the very command structure on which the military depends.

I don't see a rational support for her supposition that a Senator disrespecting a General (undertaking for a moment this was such) undermines the command structure. It seems rather ludicrous. But, to Morris' point, I bet we could find similar examples -- likely far more disrespectful examples -- from male, Republican Senators that haven't eroded the command structure and see where your friend's true complaint lies.

EDIT: Oh look McCarthy once called a general a "five-year-old child" and "not fit to wear that uniform". And while it is cited as one the many factors that eventually lead to McCarthy's formal censure, surprising no one, the insult did not harm the military command structure.

Yeah. Asking to be called "Senator" isn't harming anything.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby elasto » Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:20 am UTC

Yah. Any appeal to 'command structure' makes no sense as the chain of command has civilians above the military.

The situation seems simple to me: The General made a faux-pas in forgetting that, while ma'am is respectful within the military, it might be seen as disrespectful outside of it. Different etiquette and so on.

She corrected him. He accepted the correction. Both happily moved on. Don't really see the big issue here.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:24 am UTC

Wait. Wait.
This is petty.

Chastiszing a General or anyone else from The Bench is ok, but (fuck) don't be petty.

I have a thirty second clip's worth of information.
That woman was all flustered, because That AssHole did not do His Job.

She should have said, "General; You did not do your Job. It is My Job to call your performance into Question."
"I want to know Where that paper is. I want to know NOW! Sir."

She may have The Right to have that man arrested.
How the fuck dare they show up meeting after fucking meeting with empty hands and empty heads.

His Command Chain is Broken.
It's His Problem.

Jail walls may inspire him into doing his fucking Job!
Let's not be petty. Let's be realistic.

He is an Important Adult.
When he does his Job Wrong, it's a Crime.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Qaanol » Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:25 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:The point being raised is that this could be an example of accidental sexism. If male senators are referred to as "senator" and female senators are not, that is an issue and needs redress. And could very much be the core motivation for the request of the title "senator" to be used.

Are you suggesting that is an argument I should use to convince my friend that Senator Boxer was justified?

1. I do not think that General Walsh was being sexist, not even accidentally.
2. I think that claiming he was sexist would be a difficult position to defend.
3. Therefore I am willing to freely concede the point and accept that General Walsh used Sir and Ma’am equally.

Moreover, my position is that Senator Boxer’s words were neither disrespectful to, nor shaming of, General Walsh, period. Regardless of any mitigating circumstances or lack therefore. Even under the presumption that General Walsh was following military protocol to the letter, and assuming that he used Sir for male Senators without qualification.

There could perhaps be an argument that the established military etiquette—the mere existence of gender-based honorifics—is itself sexist and therefore worthy of being called out. Would you recommend that as an avenue to convince my friend that Senator Boxer was not disrespectful?

BattleMoose wrote:Perhaps a public dressing down wasn't that appropriate.

Are you making the positive claim that Senator Boxer did in fact carry out a “public dressing down” of General Walsh? That seems equivalent to my friend’s contention that she was “shaming” him, and I strongly disagree.

The way I see the exchange, Senator Boxer did not admonish General Walsh in any way for calling her Ma’am, she simply asked that a different term be used, and said a few words to explain why she made the request.

BattleMoose wrote:Either way, I just don't think any of this is as big of a deal for anyone involved.

I concur. However I am told that affront to Senator Boxer’s words was widespread in the military, and I defer to my friend’s knowledge on that point.

Azrael wrote:We aren't having your friend's discussion. You came here and asked what we thought, and it's being provided.

I came here primarily to ask for recommendations on how to convince my friend that Senator Boxer was neither disrespectful nor shaming of General Walsh, or counterarguments to convince me of the opposite.

Azrael wrote:I don't see a rational support for her supposition that a Senator disrespecting a General (undertaking for a moment this was such) undermines the command structure. It seems rather ludicrous. But, to Morris' point, I bet we could find similar examples -- likely far more disrespectful examples -- from male, Republican Senators that haven't eroded the command structure and see where your friend's true complaint lies.

EDIT: Oh look McCarthy once called a general a "five-year-old child" and "not fit to wear that uniform". And while it is cited as one the many factors that eventually lead to his formal censure, surprising no one, the insult did not harm the military command structure.

Okay, the McCarthy example clearly illustrates that insulting a General does not harm the command structure. However, I’m not sure I want to bring McCarthy into this.

Azrael wrote:Yeah. Asking to be called "Senator" isn't harming anything.

This I very much agree with. Can we come up with more detailed explanations of why, exactly, that is true, in order to convince someone who currently holds the opposite view?

elasto wrote:Yah. Any appeal to 'command structure' makes no sense as the chain of command has civilians above the military.

The situation seems simple to me: The General made a faux-pas in not realizing that, while ma'am is respectful within the military, it might be seen as disrespectful outside of it. Different etiquette and so on.

She corrected him. He accepted the correction. Both happily moved on. Don't really see the big issue here.

Indeed, these are essentially my thoughts on the matter as well. And I am finding it somewhat difficult to clearly elucidate what precisely about Senator Boxer’s remarks qualifies them as non-disrespectful, because to me they simply are not disrespectful.

So that’s what I’m looking for help with.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:47 am UTC

We are human beings.
We are very sensitive to Right and Proper Behavior.

Yes. It bothers me.
Why?

Those people are Important.
They have a Job to do Together.

Boxer was making that meeting about her and how hard she worked to get a seat on The Bench.
We tune in to see them work. Neither one of those people were doing their Job.

What the Hell was the meeting about?
What project was Late?
What Order did he disobey?

That man must follow orders, too.
And; He doesn't.

That is called StoneWalling.
That man, by virtue of being a General, is a very Powerful Man.
He is our Employee. He is fucking up our Military.

Who is He?
What was his Job to do, that he did not do?

How many human beings will suffer and die,
because a soft, empty headed and empty handed man did not do his Job?

I don't care what you call him.
Is he derelict in his duty?
Is his uniform being used as a StoneWall?

1. What is that man's name?
2. What was that meeting about?

They are both Wrong!
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:58 am UTC

Is this the guy?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Welsh#Military_career
What was the meeting about?
Was it, by chance, about secret, secret CIA stuff?
Spoiler:
Welsh previously served as Associate Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for Military Support and Associate Director for Military Affairs, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C. from August 2008 to December 2010. As the ADMA, he served as the principal advisor to the Director of the CIA on military matters and was the primary bridge between the CIA and the Department of Defense for the coordination and planning of military and interagency operations. Additionally, he assisted in the formulation of CIA policies regarding military affairs, managed the provision of direct support to deployed forces, and oversaw the Director of CIA representation at the combatant commands and senior service schools.

well...If it was; Bringing up the McCarthy Era is not out of bounds.

No. We do not have a perfect reflection of McCarthyism, today.
McCarthyism did not have the Tools those AssHoles have, today.

And; To be fair; The Military had a separate sense of Responsibility and Honor.
That clumsy shit does not get in the way, today.

Politics Sucks.
Not in that good way, for most of us.
Life is, just, an exchange of electrons; It is up to us to give it meaning.

We are all in The Gutter.
Some of us see The Gutter.
Some of us see The Stars.
by mr. Oscar Wilde.

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Those that do not Know; Don't tell them.
They do terrible things to people that Tell Them.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby elasto » Mon Jan 12, 2015 4:29 am UTC

Qaanol wrote:Are you suggesting that is an argument I should use to convince my friend that Senator Boxer was justified?

1. I do not think that General Walsh was being sexist, not even accidentally.
2. I think that claiming he was sexist would be a difficult position to defend.
3. Therefore I am willing to freely concede the point and accept that General Walsh used Sir and Ma’am equally.

It frankly doesn't matter if you don't perceive his words to be even accidentally sexist; If he wants to avoid the perception of being sexist then he needs to avoid the implication that he'd refer to a male Senator using the contextually appropriate honorific but not a female Senator - which absolutely would be sexist.

However I am told that affront to Senator Boxer’s words was widespread in the military, and I defer to my friend’s knowledge on that point.

Sounds like they need thicker skins if they think that was disrespectful... Don't they have boot camps where far more disrespect is shown? Or are the cliches of sergeant-majors calling privates 'maggots' etc. a fantasy?

Also raises the suspicion that there is institutional sexism bubbling under there: Would there be such 'widespread affront' if a man had made the same correction? For example if Obama had asked not to be called 'sir' but 'Mr President'?

Feels a bit like how when a man stands up for himself he's perceived as 'strong', 'self-confident' or 'assertive' - but when a woman does the same thing she's perceived as a 'bitch' or whatever.

Azrael wrote:Yeah. Asking to be called "Senator" isn't harming anything.

This I very much agree with. Can we come up with more detailed explanations of why, exactly, that is true, in order to convince someone who currently holds the opposite view?

I guess the argument would be: Which is more 'harmful': Correcting a faux pas immediately, or allowing potential embarrassment to snowball by being endlessly repeated?

In another thread, a poster innocently referred to Japanese people as 'Japs' - not realizing that, these days, that is an offensive racial slur. When the faux pas was brought to his attention, he was grateful and corrected his language immediately. No 'harm' was intended by the person pointing out the mistake, and nor does it sound like the General perceived any 'harm' resulting from the Senator's correction either.
Last edited by elasto on Mon Jan 12, 2015 4:45 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Mon Jan 12, 2015 4:45 am UTC

Is The Job being done?
The details of procedure are an important matter.
Important, because that's the framework for getting The Job done.

Sexism is one issue.
It's an important issue.

It is not a good idea for us to focus on sexism when both men and women outside that Inner Circle will die,
Because, That Man Welch, did not do his Job.

We want our Top Brass to be treated well.
We want them to behave well, at all times.

It's a tough Job, when done right.
I think, he is not doing his Job right.
That's bad for all of us.

Did he ever follow orders?
Or; Is he StoneWalling?

We have had more than Fifteen Years of Blatant disregard from our most highly rewarded.
I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. Do you?
Life is, just, an exchange of electrons; It is up to us to give it meaning.

We are all in The Gutter.
Some of us see The Gutter.
Some of us see The Stars.
by mr. Oscar Wilde.

Those that want to Know; Know.
Those that do not Know; Don't tell them.
They do terrible things to people that Tell Them.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby elasto » Mon Jan 12, 2015 4:53 am UTC

addams wrote:Is The Job being done?
The details of procedure are an important matter.
Important, because that's the framework for getting The Job done.

Sexism is one issue.
It's an important issue.

It is not a good idea for us to focus on sexism when both men and women outside that Inner Circle will die,
Because, That Man Welch, did not do his Job.

It's important to realize that, in this context, the General is subservient to the hearing.

In that context, if the Senator used this opportunity to correct the faux pas as also an opportunity to assert her superiority - to demonstrate that she would not stand for any nonsense or evasiveness in answers made to her lines of questioning - then it's a double-win.

He may be used to being the one issuing the orders, but at that moment in time, he was the one receiving them - and noone who cares about accountability in our public servants should have a problem with her asserting her position on our behalf.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Mon Jan 12, 2015 5:08 am UTC

Yes.
But; Did she get The Job done?
Or; Did she turn the focus of the meeting toward her and away from The Job?

Did he perform his Job as ordered?
Is that man a big ole' SoneWall?

Is governance in the US collaborative performance art?
What were his orders? Did he do That? (bet, not.)
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Cleverbeans » Mon Jan 12, 2015 5:13 am UTC

I watched the video and her tone of voice seems really polite and not hostile at all. It looks to me like she found it distracting more than annoying. That being said she did interrupt him after asking a direct question and that's kind of rude in my books.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby addams » Mon Jan 12, 2015 5:26 am UTC

I still don't know.
Did he do his Job?

What do you think his Job is? Does he work for her?
They don't seem to know one another very well.

I was wrong. I watched it, again.
He did not say 'sir.' He said senator.

I'd like to know what the meeting was about.
To be fair, those two are better than Joe the Plumber and Dr. Phil.

I'm fed up with us.
We don't deserve anything better than Joe the Plumber and Dr. Phil.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Derek » Mon Jan 12, 2015 8:39 am UTC

elasto wrote:Also raises the suspicion that there is institutional sexism bubbling under there: Would there be such 'widespread affront' if a man had made the same correction? For example if Obama had asked not to be called 'sir' but 'Mr President'?

I suspect that probability of the exchange being viewed as an "affront" has more to do with the speaker's political leanings than their gender. The people who jump to defend the military are usually conservative, and Barbara Boxer is a well known liberal. Obama would probably get the same reaction, for the same reason.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby morriswalters » Mon Jan 12, 2015 10:34 am UTC

Qaanol wrote:
morriswalters wrote:Check Senate testimony by the Military and look how they address male Senators.

To reiterate: General Walsh’s words are not being debated. My friend and I both agree that he was following proper military etiquette by using the word Ma’am. That is not a point of contention.
The Senate isn't the Military. The point stands, was he responding to her differently than male Senators? Did he address them as Senator?

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Azrael » Mon Jan 12, 2015 2:33 pm UTC

Qaanol wrote:
Azrael wrote:EDIT: Oh look McCarthy once called a general a "five-year-old child" and "not fit to wear that uniform". And while it is cited as one the many factors that eventually lead to his formal censure, surprising no one, the insult did not harm the military command structure.

Okay, the McCarthy example clearly illustrates that insulting a General does not harm the command structure. However, I’m not sure I want to bring McCarthy into this.

I hear you there. Although "Look, this terrific fucknut acted far worse and it never harmed anything" does frame how minor the current issue really is.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby mcd001 » Mon Jan 12, 2015 5:06 pm UTC

As a former Army officer, I can confirm that sir and ma'am are normal, respectful, and acceptable terms to use when addressing superior officers. I am astonished to learn that it is disrespectful to address a Senator as sir or ma'am.

To me, Senator Boxer looked like a pompous ass when she interrupted the General and asked to be called Senator. I believe she automatically assumed he was a sexist pig and interpreted his words accordingly. (After all, he's a white, male officer in the U.S. Army. He *has* to be a sexist pig, right?)

That automatic and unthinking presumption of bigotry is what I object to.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby mousewiz » Mon Jan 12, 2015 5:17 pm UTC

mcd001 wrote:(After all, he's a white, male officer in the U.S. Army. He *has* to be a sexist pig, right?)

Well she's a female, liberal, senator, so that's *got* to be what she was thinking, right?

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Azrael » Mon Jan 12, 2015 5:27 pm UTC

mcd001 wrote:I believe she automatically assumed he was a sexist pig and interpreted his words accordingly.

That automatic and unthinking presumption of bigotry is what I object to.

You're objecting to an assumption that you made. An assumption nearly identical to the one that you think she made and are now unhappy about.

At least the irony is amusing.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby mathmannix » Mon Jan 12, 2015 5:32 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:
Qaanol wrote:
morriswalters wrote:Check Senate testimony by the Military and look how they address male Senators.

To reiterate: General Walsh’s words are not being debated. My friend and I both agree that he was following proper military etiquette by using the word Ma’am. That is not a point of contention.
The Senate isn't the Military. The point stands, was he responding to her differently than male Senators? Did he address them as Senator?

Actually, I think it was a faux pas on General Walsh's part, which was accurately corrected by the Senator. According to websites such as this, the correct form of address by a member of the United States Army for a United States Senator is always "Senator" or "Senator [Surname]", and the latter apparently only for male Senators. Note that for other offices, the form is different: for example, for a U.S. Representative (aka Congressman/-woman), the address is "Mr./Mrs./Miss [Surname]", not "Representative [Surname]". Also, "Sir/Ma'am" is an acceptable alternative for the following listed officeholders only: Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the [Army/Navy/Air Force], Governors, Mayors, and ("in prolonged conversation") President or Vice President.

That being said, however, an army officer would under normal circumstances report only to a member of his/her chain of command (or someone else of equivalent rank to a person in that chain of command). FYI, the chain of command for a Brigadier General (1-star, the lowest of the four General ranks) would be Several Other Generals -> Army Chief of Staff (a four-star General)* -> Secretary of the Army -> Secretary of Defense -> President. Superior officers (= higher-ranking Generals or Admirals, in his case) would be addressed as Sir or Ma'am. The last three are the only civilians in the chain, and as noted above, Sir or Ma'am is sometimes an acceptable equivalent for them. So, as the General was reporting to a person, and usually all the people he would report to would be addressed as Sir or Ma'am, that is why he called the Senator "Ma'am", and probably would have called a male Senator "Sir". But that doesn't make it correct.

(* - The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, another General or Admiral, is technically above the Army Chief of Staff and reports to/advises the Secretary of Defense and President as well, but is not directly in the Chain of Command.)
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby mcd001 » Mon Jan 12, 2015 6:50 pm UTC

mousewiz wrote:You're objecting to an assumption that you made. An assumption nearly identical to the one that you think she made and are now unhappy about.

At least the irony is amusing.

And at least I was aware I was making an assumption. (See weasel words sprinkled through my prior post):
mcd001 wrote:To me, Senator Boxer looked like a pompous ass when she interrupted the General and asked to be called Senator. I believe she automatically assumed he was a sexist pig and interpreted his words accordingly.

Of course it's unknowable and unprovable what Senator Boxer believes in her heart of hearts. Is her insistance on being addressed by her title (as if there was any doubt by anyone in the room) really a sign of self-important pomposity (as I believe) or just a misunderstood desire for propriety and protocol? Make your own assumption; there's little doubt in my mind which it was.

mathmannix wrote:Actually, I think it was a faux pas on General Walsh's part, which was accurately corrected by the Senator. According to websites such as this, the correct form of address by a member of the United States Army for a United States Senator is always "Senator" or "Senator [Surname]"...

Looks like you're right; per the website, 'Senator' is the correct form of address in conversation. However, the same website also says the proper form of address for military officers in conversations is full rank, or rank and name.

example from the website:
General, Colonel, Lieutenant Doe
(full rank) (full name) (position title)

In addition to being incredibly awkward and stilted, this flies in the face of convention and usage in the actual military. I never thought twice when any soldier called me sir, and no senior officers ever blinked an eye when I addressed them as sir or ma'am.

And for the record, if any senior officers (whether male or female) had demanded that I address them by rank, I would have considered them to be pompous asses (even while I kept that opinion to myself).

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Jan 12, 2015 7:08 pm UTC

Qaanol wrote:And an NPR story from a few days after it happened: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105717857[/spoiler]
I’m not just looking for confirmation that I’m right (or refutation thereof), I’d also appreciate ideas for some cogent arguments to help change my friend’s mind (or mine). For context, my friend is highly intelligent and currently in law school (I am not).


She was. He's military, you use sir for male superiors, ma'am for female. Use of the formal title is fine as well, depending on context, but sir/ma'am is utterly standardized within the military and is a little like objecting because a military guy saluted. At *best*, it indicates a lack of familiarity with the military.

PAstrychef wrote:I'd say either was correct, but the likelihood that a male senator would have been called sir is pretty low.
On another hand, I'm curious as to why NPR sometimes refers to The President, or president Obama, and sometimes to Mr. Obama. I have no idea how they make that call.


By the military, in direct address? Sir, almost universally. Hell, this was even true for the vice president. I've been around the pentagon a 'lil, where generals and high ranking civilians are delivered by the bucketload, and this is routine.

Azrael wrote:
Qaanol wrote: It is a disagreement over whether Senator Boxer was disrespectful of General Walsh (and/or the military in general) when she asked to be called Senator, and whether she was shaming General Walsh by doing so.

I think someone has to be trying really, really hard to find an issue if they're suggesting she could have been disrespectful to the military in general by asking one General to call her by her title in a hearing.


It's not a reach. I don't think she was *trying* to be disrespectful to the military, and thus, his response was entirely appropriate. Best to minimize the issue and carry on, rather than squabble over titles. But being offended over such a thing is strange, and is....very odd to a military mindset. My assumption would be as Cleverbeans said. That she was objecting to a perceived gender-centric label, without fully realizing the military framing of the title.

Azrael wrote:[EDIT: Oh look McCarthy once called a general a "five-year-old child" and "not fit to wear that uniform". And while it is cited as one the many factors that eventually lead to McCarthy's formal censure, surprising no one, the insult did not harm the military command structure.


You're citing McCarthy as...NOT a bad influence? Really? I would say that McCarthy's attitude, which is showcased in this comment, was indeed negative. Not only to the military, but to the nation.

Now, THIS instance probably doesn't have any real damage(more of mildly rude), but McCarthy....ehhhh....

elasto wrote:Yah. Any appeal to 'command structure' makes no sense as the chain of command has civilians above the military.


This may not make sense to you, but it is taught to literally everyone in every military service in basic training, complete with memorization of the entire chain of command, civilians included.

elasto wrote:Also raises the suspicion that there is institutional sexism bubbling under there: Would there be such 'widespread affront' if a man had made the same correction? For example if Obama had asked not to be called 'sir' but 'Mr President'?


I am relatively certain that plenty of people are willing to take issue with Obama's statements. I think they would be quite willing to accuse him of disrespect to the military. It might be framed slightly different(probably more dictatorial than sexist) due to the differences at hand, but yeah, people probably would take offense at a similar statement by Obama.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby azule » Mon Jan 12, 2015 7:34 pm UTC

mathmannix nailed it. Everyone listen to xir. ;)

I think it would be similar to calling a judge "sir" or "ma'am" when everyone and their mother knows it should be "your honor" (even if you have no respect for the person). If they are corrected and comply, no issue.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Qaanol » Mon Jan 12, 2015 9:35 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:
Qaanol wrote:And an NPR story from a few days after it happened: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105717857[/spoiler]
I’m not just looking for confirmation that I’m right (or refutation thereof), I’d also appreciate ideas for some cogent arguments to help change my friend’s mind (or mine). For context, my friend is highly intelligent and currently in law school (I am not).


She was. He's military, you use sir for male superiors, ma'am for female. Use of the formal title is fine as well, depending on context, but sir/ma'am is utterly standardized within the military and is a little like objecting because a military guy saluted.

Just to clarify, when you say “She was”, do you mean, “She was disrepectful to him”, or “She was shaming him”, or both, or something else?

I have a lot of respect for your opinions, so I’d like to understand better what you’re saying here.

In particular, taking it as a given that General Walsh was following common military practice when he addressed Senator Boxer as Ma’am, that he meant no disrespect by it, and that he would call a male senator Sir in the same situation—even given all those thing, how exactly is it disrespectful for Senator Boxer to request to be called Senator instead of Ma’am?

The way I see it, she did not say that General Walsh had done anything wrong. She did not say that he had made a mistake. She did not insult him or the military. All she actually did was ask to be called Senator, and I do not understand how that is offensive or disrespectful.

Tyndmyr wrote:At *best*, it indicates a lack of familiarity with the military.

I would say it is entirely possible (indeed, quite likely) that Senator Boxer was well aware of the military use of Ma’am, and nonetheless still preferred to be called Senator.
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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Jan 12, 2015 10:06 pm UTC

Qaanol wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:
Qaanol wrote:And an NPR story from a few days after it happened: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105717857[/spoiler]
I’m not just looking for confirmation that I’m right (or refutation thereof), I’d also appreciate ideas for some cogent arguments to help change my friend’s mind (or mine). For context, my friend is highly intelligent and currently in law school (I am not).


She was. He's military, you use sir for male superiors, ma'am for female. Use of the formal title is fine as well, depending on context, but sir/ma'am is utterly standardized within the military and is a little like objecting because a military guy saluted.

Just to clarify, when you say “She was”, do you mean, “She was disrepectful to him”, or “She was shaming him”, or both, or something else?

I have a lot of respect for your opinions, so I’d like to understand better what you’re saying here.


Disrespectful, not shaming. I don't see indication that she was attempting to make him ashamed as a result. I'm not sure that she was intending to be disrespectful, either. Could be just one of those miscommunications that happens when people come from different backgrounds, etc. Or it could have simply been rude/a power thing. *shrug* Disrespectful is a safe assessment, though.

In particular, taking it as a given that General Walsh was following common military practice when he addressed Senator Boxer as Ma’am, that he meant no disrespect by it, and that he would call a male senator Sir in the same situation—even given all those thing, how exactly is it disrespectful for Senator Boxer to request to be called Senator instead of Ma’am?

The way I see it, she did not say that General Walsh had done anything wrong. She did not say that he had made a mistake. She did not insult him or the military. All she actually did was ask to be called Senator, and I do not understand how that is offensive or disrespectful.


It's a display of power. In the US, at least, using a position of power to correct someone when the other person hasn't really done anything wrong is rude.

It's as if your boss called you in, and you came into his office asking "What do you want, sir?", and he stated you were not to call him that, but to call him "boss". Yes, he CAN do that. But he's also a jackass for doing so.

Tyndmyr wrote:At *best*, it indicates a lack of familiarity with the military.

I would say it is entirely possible (indeed, quite likely) that Senator Boxer was well aware of the military use of Ma’am, and nonetheless still preferred to be called Senator.


Likely, yes. Then it falls into being strictly rude. Lack of familiarity usually excuses a certain degree of rudeness, and not knowing Sen. Boxer well, I wanted to leave open the possibility rather than jumping to a particular conclusion.

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Re: “Could you say Senator instead of Ma’am?”

Postby mcd001 » Mon Jan 12, 2015 10:13 pm UTC

Qaanol wrote:I would say it is entirely possible (indeed, quite likely) that Senator Boxer was well aware of the military use of Ma’am, and nonetheless still preferred to be called Senator.

Actually, it's entirely possible she was not aware of the military use of "Ma’am". These days it's much more common to find politicians at all levels of government who have never served in the military than it was in the past. Senator Boxer probably has very little direct experience or knowledge of military customs and traditions.


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