Saturday, May 17, 2014

Operation American Spring. Millions and Millions. Or Hundreds?

You may have read about the populist right-wing movement called Operation American Spring and its planned march in Washington, DC this weekend:

The “second American revolution” got off to a slow start in Washington, DC on Friday, falling roughly 9,999,950 people short of their goal of 10 million angry, constitution-weilding participants. (That was the low-end estimate. They were prepared for upwards of 30 million).
The few who did make it to Washington, D.C came with a laundry list of grievances, ranging from Benghazi, to Obamacare, to President Obama’s birth certificate, to general lawlessness.
“Our main goal is to return our government to the constitutional government,” said Marty Church, a protestor who traveled to Washington, D.C from the Maryland suburbs. “The whole administration is based on lies,” added Fred Lachance, another protester from Maryland.

It's all a bit confusing, as to the attendance numbers, isn't it?  How could people expect ten million marchers and end up with a few hundred?  This Washington Times piece suggests that the talk about millions wasn't based on just wishful thinking or at least not just on wishful thinking without any prior wishful thinking:

Initial projections were for between 10 million and 30 million to come from around the nation and converge on the downtown capital city streets outside the White House and Capitol Building — a number the organizer of the event, Army Col. Harry Riley, called optimistic yet doable, given one million militia had already agreed to come.
 It could be that more people will arrive before Sunday is over, of course.

The outside reactions to the events so far have had some Schadenfreude in them.  That's not too unexpected, given the birth certificate and Benghazi aspects of the organization's list of Most Important Grievances.  And, yes, I found this funny, but then I started feeling sorry for the organizers.  That latter feeling is a major flaw in my character and probably the reason why I have so little power and influence in this world.  I should be more brusque and mercurial, the way powerful people are (a subtle hint to the Jill Abramson posts below).

Is there any wider lesson in all this?  I believe so.  If you abstract away from the illogical and hope-based and weird bits, the warning for all of us is not to believe that those we follow on Twitter or read on the net Represent The Majority Opinions, not to remain in our comfy ideological bubbles all the time, not to interpret 10,000 comments from 100 fervid people on one little site as a sign of mass support.

The Internet has exacerbated the bubble phenomenon, and it does have this particular danger as well as wider dangers about people not agreeing on the same events, evidence or even the same reality.

Still, I think those organizers deserve any ridicule they get because they have enlisted a god on their side.  That is always extremely bad manners.

Friday, May 16, 2014

How I Can Tell I've Been Sick

The first sentence in the post below is one long paragraph!  A boa constrictor sentence, a sentence you cannot read without drawing in more breath, a monster of a sentence.

I write short, succinct and sarcastic (though with a gentle femininity), so the fact of that monster sentence, together with it not being edited by me is a sign of ill health.

And thank you, I am pretty recovered now, except for blips in the writing and some fatigue.  When I used to do karate I could tell an oncoming head cold or something similar by my sudden inability to do as many pushups or kicks or punches, even when the other daily stuff was still perfectly AOK.  Now I can tell similar stuff from a sudden inability to remember what "fist" is in Finnish ("nyrkki") or what the real word for"magnamonious" might be.

My divine theory about all that is this:  We have a fixed total amount of energy of all sorts.  When we get ill or contemplate getting ill, some of that energy is channeled to the immunity system and whatever parts of our bodies are hurting.  So there's less for other stuff, including grammar, pushups and being nice to people.  You can try that explanation next time people call you grumpy.  Maybe you are coming down with something?

What I Learned From The Firing of Jill Abramson

Remember how in my previous post about this I pointed out that the abrupt and brusque and pushy firing of the first female executive editor at the New York Times less than three years into her tenure was noteworthy because of the abruptness of the firing (which even clearly bad past executive editors didn't have to suffer) and because it was less than three years into the tenure of the first female executive editor at the Times?

And because the Times (or Arthur Sulzberger) seemed to have been utterly oblivious of the chance that this might provoke a few comments from the vast hairy-armpits-feminazi-army?  No Plan B, as far as I can tell, with the possible exception that Abramson was replaced by the first man of color to lead the Times (a good journalist, as far as I can tell,  who deserves a better beginning for his reign).

Here's the hilarious thing:  It seems that Arthur Sulzberger now has a brand new Twitter account, in which he reassures us all that none of this debacle had anything to do with sexism or gender problems:

If the account is real, this might be the Plan B!

The first lesson learned:  Lots of people don't take all that wimminz stuff that seriously. I'm not saying that this proves Sulzberger is a sexist, not at all.  What I'm saying is that he most likely never bothered thinking of that aspect of the story.

Or to put it in different terms:  Sulzberger might have managed a slower and more honorable firing had he thought this through.  It could be that Abramson wouldn't agree to anything of the sort, but in that case you need your Plan B all ready in your hot little fingers.

The second lesson learned (in three parts) concerns new data on the actual salary discrepancies at the Times.  I cannot tell if the data is correct, sadly, but here we go:

Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given: As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes. She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her predecessor in that position, Phil Taubman. (Murphy would say only that Abramson’s compensation was “broadly comparable” to that of Taubman and Geddes.)
Murphy cautioned that one shouldn’t look at salary but, rather, at total compensation, which includes, she said, any bonuses, stock grants, and other long-term incentives. This distinction appears to be the basis of Sulzberger’s comment that Abramson was not earning “significantly less.” But it is hard to know how to parse this without more numbers from the Times.

What's the lesson here?  There are three, in fact.  The first is a reminder that people can, in principle, be paid less for the very same job than someone else if nobody knows what the pay levels are.  I've personally known a few cases where the information is revealed, accidentally, and shows tremendous and unjustified pay differences.

This is important to remember when you get those arguments on the net about how laws make paying less for the same job illegal.  If you have no idea you are being paid less, how would you take the case to court?

Should you wish to do so.  The second reminder here is that trying to get your salary raised on such grounds probably doesn't work if you also still want to remain employed in that same firm:

Abramson’s attempt to raise the salary issue at a time when tempers were already frayed seemed wrongheaded to Sulzberger and Thompson, both on its merits and in terms of her approach. Bringing in a lawyer, in particular, seems to have struck them as especially combative. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, argued that there was no real compensation gap, but conceded to me that “this incident was a contributing factor” to the firing of Abramson, because “it was part of a pattern.”

The take-home message in all that seems to be that a very powerful woman cannot get away by "Leaning In Like The Boyz Do."  Indeed, that very Leaning-in is judged as part of her whole problematic package.

It can be the case that none of the firing of Abramson had anything to do with her gender, at least if we decide not to dwell into those deep layers where the same move by a man and a woman is judged differently because they are a man and a woman.  But even so these events tell us something about the advisability of Leaning In.  It can be tricky to do that and not to topple over, and the reasons don't have to be your fault.  Though of course they may be, because telling discrimination apart from one's personal failings can be complicated as Ann Friedman reminds us here.

The third reminder about salaries is the response I've seen in a few places which boils down to the argument that it doesn't matter if the very highly paid workers are not getting paid the same by gender (or race, I guess), because even the lower paycheck is plenty to live on.  

I get that paying less to women  (or to men who belong to minorities) who are earning minimal wages to begin with is much worse.  But it's dangerous to assume that the patterns we observe among the one percent workers wouldn't be reflected on lower levels at the workplace, and it's dangerous to ignore the symbolic value of what happens on the highest rungs of the societal ladders:  Some people don't deserve as much money as other people on the same rung.  It's also dangerous to ignore what we learn about the power of negotiating from this particular case, especially because Jill Abramson should certainly qualify as one of those women whom Leaning In would help.

Besides, if we use that argument at all, how are we going to justify the even higher salaries of the men or white workers on the top rungs?  Or do they just get away with earning more, even if it's not required on the basis of objective factors?

The third, and final lesson I have learned (or, rather, been reminded of) is the one Friedman writes about:

From the outside, depending on your point of view, Abramson’s firing was either sexist retribution or a gender-blind decision to ax an ineffective boss. But from the inside, incidents like this are never so clear. Women never know whether they’re being met with a hostile reaction because of their performance — something that they can address and change — or because of both male and female colleagues’ internalized notions of how women should behave. I’ve asked these questions about my own career: Am I struggling because I’m not playing the game well enough, or because the game is rigged against me? Like Abramson, I’ve been a top-level editor who’s had trouble getting along with male bosses — so much so that a friend once offered to purchase acting classes for me so I’d be better equipped to “play nice.” If you’d asked me then, I would have said that learning how to get people on board with your ideas is an art, one that requires work to master no matter what your gender. I also would have told you that I was the only woman on a senior leadership team of more than ten people. 

The most intractable problem about any kind of discrimination is that it applies to an individual (usually in a state of relative isolation from his or her "group"), but derives from that individual's group membership.

Because no individual ever is perfect, almost any firing or demotion or not-being-hired can be justified by apparently objective criteria, even when the decision was based on some type of discrimination.   And this doesn't take into account that a personality conflict, say, might not be about two individuals not getting along but about one individual not getting along with people belonging to a particular demographic group.

What all that means is that the individual worker is usually unsure about what's going on.  Do I really talk too quietly/little/much at the meetings?  Am I imagining that the set of rules I was given for promotion suddenly are different when I completed all the previously required steps?  Is it really just the case that Don is a nasty guy who is nasty to everyone but happens to pinch my butt just because?

It can be a hallucinatory experience, that inner questioning, the attempts to fix whatever can be fixed, the odd shifts which do seem to come from outside (but then perhaps they come from outside to everybody?)

And this is why evidence is so important, why I tried to look at earlier firings at the New York Times and the way male journalists were treated or criticized.  Even that isn't enough, because Abramson is just one single individual.  If similar patterns applied to men and women more widely, we'd be on firmer ground.

Not everything is discrimination in the labor markets, not all workers are good workers, and that's what makes telling the different reasons for how Abramson was treated so difficult.  It helps to look at her Pulitzer prizes or how the newspaper has been doing under her tenure and it helps reading about the specific accusations others have aimed at her.  But ultimately the only fool-proof way of judging the impact of gender in this case would be if we could have all the same history but with Jack Abramson, Jill's identical-except-for-gender twin.

In the absence of that, getting lots of evidence and preferably evidence about many individuals at the same time is the best way of answering these types of questions.  That, and the kind of consciousness raising feminists in the US practiced in the early 1970s and which is now carried out by many different demographic groups on the net.  Once you learn that others have had exactly the same experiences (or not had them), the hallucinatory atmosphere becomes more breathable.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Firing of Jill Abramson

She was the executive editor of the New York Times, from September, 2011 until now.  That is one of the top jobs in journalism on our puny planet, and Abramson was the first woman in that job.  But it's crucial to remember that one man truly rules the New York Times:   publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.. 

Sulzberger gets what Sulzberger wants, in other words.  And what he wanted was to fire Abramson, in a way which has rarely done before.  I'd call the manner of her going abruptrude and punitive.

But then Abramson has a reputation of being mercurial, pushy, a bad manager.  Not At All Nice.  And Sulzberger never got on with her.

Now it may well be the case that Abramson is an unusually rude person, an unusually bad manager, an unusually uncooperative peg in the vast machinery of the newspaper.  It may even be the case that she would have been fired "unceremoniously" had she been a good journalist with the same credentials but called Jack Abramson.  But the history of firings at New York Times suggests that even pretty bad editors didn't get fired just so speedily and abruptly.  Take the case of Howell Raines:

The last editor to be forced out by the Times, Howell Raines, was someone who, like Abramson, did not always enjoy a fuzzy reputation within the newsroom. “Howell ruled by fear,” was how one source described his tenure in 2003. Raines was forced out after it was discovered that one of his reporter protégées, Jayson Blair, had been fabricating stories. But even in the midst of the tumult over Blair, Sulzberger remained affectionate toward Raines, at one point handing him a stuffed moose. When Raines finally left the paper, it was with an address to the staff; his wife was present. In the paper’s report about the departures of Raines and his deputy Gerald Boyd, Sulzberger was quoted as wanting to “applaud Howell and Gerald for putting the interests of this newspaper…above their own.”
Observing the sharp contrast between this kinder, gentler transition and the cold glee with which Abramson was tossed on her ass today made me hope that eventually we will learn that she was stealing from the company cash register. Because that’s pretty much the only crime I can think of that would merit as swift and brutal an exit for a woman who—good or bad at her job, or, more likely, like most bosses in the world, some combination of the two—represented an undeniably historic first in journalism and at The New York Times.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Gaming America Cover in Reason Magazine: Freer And More Fun. And Sexist?

The Reason magazine' recent cover about video games in the US provoked some comments.  Here's the cover:

I haven't read the insides of the magazine from which the cover is taken, so what I write here is about the cover, and in particular about the sentence:  How gaming is making America freer -- and more fun.

Two people are picked to represent this story.  They are both white, one wears a business suit and sits on a bed, kinda relaxed.  The other one stands in the doorway, arms akimbo, either in a somewhat hostile position or perhaps a defensive one.   That one wears sedate bikinis and winter boots.

The player, sitting on the bed is a man, the bikini-clad observer is a blond-haired woman. She's not playing.  It's hard to know what her role in this cover might be.  Is she disapproving?  Is she standing for a character in the game?  Is she coming in to play?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How To Attract Women. The Republican Campaign Primer As Interpreted by Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush.

I have followed the talk about the US Republicans' woman problem with awe and fascination.  It's terribly exciting, a bit like some Earthian trying to figure out which end of an alien the food should enter and which end it should leave. 

It must be very very hard to have to learn, quite suddenly, how to do political campaigning that could reach a little more than one  half of all American voters!


Here's one approach that will be tried:

O'Connor singles out an ad aired by Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon seeking the Republican nomination for Senate in Oregon. In the ad, a woman tells the story of Webby operating on her daughter.
"Dr. Wehby was going to open her back and reconstruct my daughter's entire lower spine," the woman says. "She just hugged me and kissed my forehead, and she said, 'It's going to be OK, sweetheart. I've got her, and I am going to see you in a couple of hours.' "
 "This is a 60-second ad and it's not particularly issue-driven," O'Connor says of the spot. "It sort of goes to this point that when talking to women, I don't think you necessarily have to be delivering factual information to move them. I think connecting with their heart and really trying to build emotion is more effective."
That may sound a little sexist, but appealing to emotions is what all effective advertising does. And the fact that Republicans are trying to do it is the biggest new development in political ads aimed at women.

Isn't this great?   Bolds are mine, of course, as are the happy tears of emotional attachment to this particular campaign strategy.  Now I can't stop thinking of all the kinds of ads we are going to get from the Republicans:  Benghazi and hugs, Benghazi and fuzzy kitten, Benghazi and evil monster Hillary Clinton attacking fuzzy kitten.

Never mind that, because there's a real live example of this, out of the mouths of Jeb Bush (yes, of that extended presidential family) and Paul Ryan:

Bush and Ryan offered a decidedly softer tone on the nation's problems than some of their more conservative Republican colleagues.

Having toured the country in recent months focusing on the nation's poor, Ryan declared that "the best way to turn from a vicious cycle of despair and learned hopelessness to a virtuous cycle of hope and flourishing is by embracing the attributes of friendship, accountability and love."

"That's how you fight poverty," Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 vice presidential nominee, told a crowd of roughly 750 dressed in tuxedos and gowns.

Bush, the son of one president and brother of another, called for more welcoming immigration policies, while offering his own poverty prescription: "A loving family taking care of their children in a traditional marriage will create the chance to break out of poverty far better, far better than any of the government programs that we can create."

All the bolds are mine!   Are our conservative politicians learning yet (to paraphrase the most recent Bush president)?

I love love love all this talk about love, and in particular the sneaky way "traditional marriage" enters the love-fest.  Because the meaning of that is in the moist eye of the beholder.  It could be a statement opposing same-sex marriage or it could be a statement telling us that the husband is the head of the household and the wife the compliant helpmate, or it could be about single-parent households as not being filled with love at all and therefore so very poor.

And indeed, this particular conversation isn't very issue-driven!  Love and friendship are not terribly effective in combating poverty, unless the love and friendship is felt by the politicians and "job creators" who actually have power to affect the economy!  But it's good stuff for the wimminfolks!

China's Excess Women Problem

Didn't that headline shock you?  After all, what China has is the exact reverse of that: an excess men problem.  Indeed, the probable number of young men who will not be able to marry (at least within China and into a monogamous heterosexual marriage) is now around 32 million.

But the Chinese still have time to worry about the poor, poor educated women who will never be able to marry men above themselves in the societal hierarchy.  The Economist recently reviewed a book about China's return to worrying about uppity single women: Leftover Women:  The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China:

In 2007 China’s official Xinhua news agency published a commentary about women who were still unmarried at the age of 27 under the title, “Eight Simple Moves to Escape the Leftover Woman Trap”. The Communist Party had concluded that young Chinese women were becoming too picky and were over-focused on attaining the “three highs”: high education, professional status and income. Newspapers have since reprinted similar editorials. In 2011 one said: “The tragedy is they don’t realise that as women age they are worth less and less, so by the time they get their MA or PhD, they are already old, like yellowed pearls.”

If any of that sounds familiar to you, it might be because several conservative anti-feminists in the US write identical warnings to women:  Education and motherhood do not mix!  And NO! you cannot both go to school and have children!  Hurry up and marry before your eggs go all stale and smelly!

What's so mind-boggling about all that is the real problem in China, which is very much about the leftover men, not about any leftover women.  The upside-down focus on women as the sex with leftover bits really is just the death throes of patriarchy whining about the societal changes that are happening.   Or so I hope.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dorothy Hodgkin Day On Google Doodle

This is an interesting story about her 1964 Nobel Prize and how it was written up in the UK:

Hodgkin remains the only British woman to have ever won one of the Science Nobels, which she was awarded in 1964, but the British press were unable to forget her gender. The Daily Mail reported at the time: "Oxford housewife wins Nobel", while the Telegraph wrote: "British woman wins Nobel Prize – £18,750 prize to mother of three."

A salutary reminder of the fact that progress does happen and that things have gotten better over time when it comes to such reporting.