We can’t save your industry, journalists

Image courtesy of The Lexington Leader

27 years ago this January, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina releasing Mosaic, the first fully-realized Web browser and, in one of the few times in which this phrase is actually not hyperbole, changed the world.

Now of course you can search for information, reach a book, watch movies or TV shows, chat with whoever you want, get weather information, check your email, get traffic updates, and do any of a hundred other information-related tasks from a hand-held device you can carry with you at all times, almost anywhere on Earth. In the Hindu Kush, for all I know. I mean, that’s changing the world. In my life there have been a very few times when I’ve watched something happen and known it was history and felt the shiver of the realization run down my spine. Watching Apollo 11 lift off; being shown the Palm Pilot for the first time (for me, the iPhone was Steve Jobs gluing a Palm Pilot to a cell phone; a brilliant combination, but the Palm Pilot was the real innovation); and watching Mosaic being demonstrated by my friend Nate. I saw the world changing right there on his desktop.

We all know what this has brought to us as we text our friends across the country while in a virus lockdown. Hell, I talked about it in a blog post just a week or so ago. Not everyone recognized it for what it was at first, of course. I had a head start as a nerd, and of course Nate showed it to me. It took music companies a notoriously long time to adapt to online downloading, and only really got a grip once Apple came out with the iPod and Steve Jobs used his famed Reality Distortion Field to convince them to do it his way long enough to get things going. TV and Film companies eventually took it well enough to create what is now being called “The Golden age of television.” Eventually the world tends to adapt to new tech, even the Amish if they so wish. (They use roller skates, after all.)

25 years after wide adoption, however, print media is still flailing.

I’ve been watching almost since the beginning, and frankly it’s made me pretty angry. I love newspapers. I’ve been reading newspapers since I were a wee lad, growing up under the shadow of the Nixon administration just outside of DC in Alexandria, Virginia, during the Watergate era, reading the Post and enjoying four pages of comics. I love them. When I left home, I made sure my dorm subscribed to a newspaper. I moved 12 times during my years in Santa Cruz, and the first thing I always did on moving was to subscribe to a paper. And I continued that policy after getting married, and after moving to Austin, lo on up into the 2000s.

But the print media, they didn’t adapt. They just…didn’t.

Print media, historically, is a bit…well, weird. In ye olden days, it was built around one rich guy. Think Citizen Kane. I know that’s a fictional film, but it resonates because it’s based on a true story, specifically that of William Randolph Hearst and others of his ilk. A rich guy would start a newspaper, usually with a particular agenda, and would publish it and “encourage” stories and editorials of his liking. Later, papers evolved and they became less supported by one rich guy and rather a combination of subscribers and advertisers. Later, advertisers because a much bigger part of their cash structure, and rich guys less.  Much later came corporations who consolidated papers, so that dozens of local papers were owned by one giant company, who continued to fund them from advertising (both local and national) and subscriber fees. But the important thing here is, advertising was a big component in paying for your news.

Now, a knowledgeable person would tear this to shreds in the minute details, but this is an overall picture, so just bear with me here. The key point stands: Advertising made up a huge percentage of a newspaper’s income.

With the coming of the Web, suddenly you’re able to publish online for very little. No more did you need giant printing presses, tons of paper, lots of ink, fleets of trucks, and a bunch of paperboys on bikes. Now—just like me here at my laptop—you could file and send out a story by typing it and pressing a button, and literal millions could read it on their laptops. Advertisers, naturally, didn’t want to pay as much for online ads. The amount papers got in advertising money totally cratered.

So okay: Print media needed a new model.

And that’s what the situation has been for 25 years! The music industry—reluctantly, kicking and screaming, crying poverty the whole way—adapted. The TV and film industry adapted and are making spectacular amounts of money. What is the print media doing?

Well, starting in the 90s they began holding meetings. Convening think-tanks. Having conferences. Suggesting solutions. Making recommendations. And they came up with an idea: Pay walls.

Tech people had already tried this model. In tech, we had been doing online content for a while—I’d been doing it since 1991 or so—and we’d found it didn’t work. People hated it. You needed to do something else. But print media was convinced they could make it work. So for the last 25 years they’ve been trying it, in various flavors. (eg The NY Times pay “wall” is more like a sieve; there’s any number of ways around it. Some other media sites let you access current content but not old content. Others make you see advertising if you don’t subscribe but turn it off if you do. Some let you see X number of articles per month for free then you have to subscribe. Etc. No consistency; it various from site to site.)

It hasn’t worked.

The industry has been contracting severely over the last 25 years. There’s been mass layoffs consolidation. Dozens of local papers have closed. Media people—high-visibility media people such as Rachel Maddow—have now taken to begging publicly for people to please, please subscribe to their local papers to help keep them alive. We need our local papers, people like Rachel say; they’re critical to the health of our country!

I couldn’t agree with Rachel more. But unfortunately, begging for people to subscribe based on their altruism is not a viable business model. It’s going to be even less successful than paywalls. I’m not saying this to be a harsh jerk; I’m saying it because it’s obvious and true.

Print media needs to do now what it seemed incapable of doing for the last 25 years: Seriously examine it’s business and make the changes it must in order to continue to survive. And the most critical of these is: No one is going to save it except the people themselves. The journalists and editors and reporters. Not the subscribers, the advertisers, the executives, and certainly not the publishers, who notoriously are rich jerk-weeds like Jeff Bezos. It’s the “individual contributors” (as we say in high tech, of which I am one!). You folks have to save yourselves.

And as I’ve always hated people that kvetch without suggesting things and, while I’m not a journalist, I do have a few thoughts. These are the thoughts of a naive technonerd, a non-journalist, who is well aware of his lack of journalism training. But I am trying to help, okay? Really. And yes, I do subscribe to a number of media. So here we go.

First, it seems to me are quite a few areas of cost that maybe you could lower in your current model. For example, what is the profit and loss of your print runs? Do you actually make money by maintaining all those printing presses, delivery trucks, drivers, paper boys, and what not? Seems like a lot of overhead to a nerd like me, who does his own publishing by pressing a button.

Another thing I often wonder about is coverage. Does every paper really need to have a White House reporter, a DC bureau reporter, a London bureau reporter, and so on? Can’t the various papers & magazines band together on this kind of reporting, especially the international reporting? Why the heck are there 200-or-whatever White House reporters? That’s just absurd. To be perfectly blunt: It seems like that huge corps of reporters only exists for the ego of the reporters themselves. Couldn’t the salary of one Jim Acosta be better spent on three local reporters covering city halls? Nothing against Jim Acosta, who I like, but do we need 200 Acostas?

The same thing goes for any bureau at a paper. Do you all need duplication of science desks, entertainment desks, etc? Wouldn’t it be much better to have those folks out covering local news? I’m hearing all these journalists begging for subscribers to local papers. I’m down for that, so long as local papers are covering local stories. Local government, local entertainment, other local stuff. Anywhere there’s duplication, that seems like wasted effort to me.

I’m sure some of these ideas are dumb because of my ignorance of the business. My goal here is to get these journalists thinking outside their standard model a bit. That model has been in place an awful long time, and when you’re in a bubble that long, it’s hard to think outside it. In tech, we don’t really get that luxury. (eg the White House press corps is ridiculously big; from the outside, it just seems stupid and redundant.) Because I’m serious: After 25 years, if the best you have is to beg for more subscribers, you’re screwed.

To hell with your advertisers, your publishers, and your executives; figuring this out is up to the members of this business. I love the industry. I don’t want to see it die. We can’t save it for you. So buckle on your damn thinking caps, journalists, and get thinking on how to save it for yourselves and us!

What moments may come

One never knows when a moment may come

In this time of fear and stress and panic, sickness and death, heroism and cowardice, wisdom and stupidity, moments, brief moments, can stand out and take on outsized meaning.

I’ve written a bit about some of these moments I’ve noticed. The quiet that seems to have descended on all of us, some of which can be frightening, but some of which can be blissful. I’ve written about the comfort that can come from the most mundane moments in life, and how it can tether you to reality, and help you to keep from drowning in your own fear and panic and those internal voices that threaten to overwhelm you. I’ve written and will keep writing and keep publishing in the hopes that these small personal insights will help the folks that read them, help you all keep your demons at bay, as they help me with mine.

I’m a romantic slob. It’s a part of my nature. I cried in Star Trek II when Spock died. I watch Sound of Music sometimes and turn off my snark circuit, because sometimes you need to bathe in the catharsis of schmaltz. And deep down, I think the most cynical in us needs those moments, just to reacquaint ourselves with the fact that, yes, there is real beauty out there, and it’s okay to appreciate it. It’s okay, in fact, to let it overwhelm you. Even if it’s just for a minute or two, when no one’s watching.

I was walking the dogs and listening to my iPhone on my headphones. As I was passing under a tree, The Beatles’ Blackbird came on, and a bird above me was singing along with it. All through the song I stood there, entranced, the song and the birds on the track in my headphones singing along with the real bird in the tree above as the light was fading slowly from the evening sky.

It was such a powerful moment of transcendent, heart-stopping beauty, right now, amidst so much fear and suffering and death, I just burst into tears from the sudden loveliness of it. I stood there, listening to the bird and the song and a young Paul McCartney singing alone, accompanying himself on the guitar, tears literally streaming down my voice, overcome. Nature, and a bird, and a song, all combined just for a moment of perfection, and I was there.

And I wanted to share it. Share it with you all.

I hugged myself there, on the sidewalk, the dogs waiting patiently, the light still slowly fading, my eyes wet. I paused the music after the song ended and pulled off the headphones. The bird had stopped singing too, as if she had sensed she needed to acknowledge something too. There was a faint rumble of a truck on the road, a ways away. A runner turned into the road heading towards me. A squirrel gave me a look. The dogs waited. The world kept turning, as it does.

Life can be so hard sometimes. And then it can touch us, just like that.

Relieving pandemic stress through the mundane

It ain’t poetry, but maybe it can soothe

I have been in bad pain now for six days.

This is where I would put the cliché “pain and I are old friends,” but you know what? Pain and I are long-time enemies. Pain is mother-fucker, a bastard, a son-of-a-bitch, an asshole. I hate pain. Pain is a demon that has been torturing and tormenting me, regularly, for as long as I can remember, from the usual childhood injuries of course, but mostly through the agony of migraines that started when I was a teen and continue to this day, and post-surgical chronic pain from nerve damage to my spinal cord that requires daily doses of opioids and regular steroid shots and radio-frequency “nerve burns” to keep at bearable level. But it never, ever, ever goes away. Pain has been pounding at the inside of my left eyeball and eyebrow, and clawing at the back of the base of my skull on the right-hand side, for longer than Gen Z has been alive. My neck pain is old enough to vote. My migraines should start getting mail from AARP any day now. Fuck pain.

And for six days now, I’ve been in pain where my migraines are alternating with a flare-up of my neck pain for supremacy. And you might wonder why this is. Well, it’s because I’ve been tensing my neck and shoulders and clenching my jaw.

From the stress.

You feel it too, don’t you? There’s a friggin’ pandemic outside your door. You can feel it, can’t you? Like a damn Stephen King monster, waiting out there for you to make a false move. You just want to walk the dog, or pick up a gallon of milk, or get a 4-pack of toilet paper (good luck with that!), or grab a box of tampons, or whatever, and you feel like you’re taking your life in your hands just by stepping over the threshold, don’t you? Hell, just opening the door! It doesn’t matter that your rational mind is telling you that the virus isn’t airborne and there’s no darn way you can get it just walking Fido down to the mailbox and back. Your panicked lizard brain is screaming at you, all the time. Someone touched your door handled! Someone brushed against your car door! The mailman wasn’t wearing gloves! That cat brushed against an infected person! Unclean, unclean! Stay inside or die!

Pretty stressful.

Right? You hear that voice; you know what I’m talking about. You’re stressed to the gills. My body is expressing it with tense muscles and a clenched jaw, translating to (goddammit) massive fucking pain.

But you don’t have my issues. So maybe you’re sleeping 12, 14 hours a day and thinking, “WTF is wrong with me? No on needs this much sleep!” Or maybe you’re obsessively watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. Or your favorite anime. Or playing Animal Crossing 10 hours a day. Or have read 4 volumes of Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and are halfway through volume 5. Or have been playing your piano so much your fingertips are dry and cracked. Or have completed 127 new cels for your next animated film. Or like me, have poured out thousands of new words of text.

(Or on the dark side, beating your partner or your kids. Or buying 20 sacks of potatoes at the grocery store. Or having long talks with your dead father. Or something even worse.)

Stress manifests in different ways in different people. I carry mind physically, partly because that’s how I’m built, and partly because I have an autistic son who needs me to keep it together and so flipping out is really not an option.

I can’t help much if you’re in the darker category other than to urge you if you’re locked down with an abuser to get out. I know it isn’t easy, especially now, and I speak from experience. But please try. Please. You don’t deserve what’s happening to you.

And for the rest of us—those sleeping 14 hours, or watching Cowboy Bebop on an endless loop or re-reading their Jane Austen collection for the ninth time or whatever—I would urge you to have some patience with yourself, show some kindness to yourself. You are going through a period of (literally!) unprecedented stress right now. Unprecedented! Cut yourself some slack. Adjusting to such stress is not something you can do by flipping a switch. If you need to take it slow, take it slow. After all, if you force yourself beyond your limits and snap, you’ll be no good to anybody, especially yourself.

And then, set yourself reasonable goals. This won’t last forever (there; I fell into a cliche, but it’s true), and keeping that in mind will help. You can’t control it, so deal with the stuff you can. Cook. Shower. Eat regularly. Brush your teeth. Sleep regularly. I’ve worked from home a lot in my career, and it’s the little regular things that keep you going, believe it or not. Getting up in the morning. Having breakfast. Showering. Lunch. A break in the afternoon. If you need a nap to recharge, then take a damn nap. There’s a pandemic on, FFS; no one is going to begrudge you a 30 minute break. Bring in the mail. Empty the trash. Walk the dog. Feed the cat.

Anchor yourself in these mundane but very real tasks, because they are stuff of life, the tiny threads that can help hold you grounded to the world, help prevent you from coming untethered. Life is a series of moments, many of them mundane, almost all of them completely unrelated to anything to do with the virus. So do those, and think about them while you’re doing them. Yup, I know it sounds silly, but it’ll help.

This is not profound. This is not the universe in a grain of sand, nor am I the Dalai Lama. This is a time of huge fear and transition and stress, and I am a terribly right-brain, rational person. But it seems to me your dog needs someone who is worried more about feeding her, and your lawn needs to be mowed, and isn’t it time you vacuumed because that carpet is starting to make that awful crunching noise, don’t you think? I mean, yuck, right? And maybe in the mundane, you can find a bit less stress, and a bit more peace.

The quiet

(Image courtesy of CrossPointMinistry.com)

Today I was noticing the quiet.

I have unusually acute hearing. When I was last officially tested in my teens, my dad was still in the Navy and they used one of those soundproof booths where you face the wall, put headphones on you, and have you raise and lower a finger when you hear and stop hearing a sound. My hearing was charted as above average in most ranges and, literally, off the charts in some frequencies. That is, I was hearing sounds before you were supposed to be able to at certain frequencies. And at other frequencies I could hear sounds humans normally couldn’t. Not a dog levels, of course not, but an unusually broad range, and unusually acute through that range.

Mostly, this is an annoyance. It makes it hard to hard to sleep. It makes concentrating difficult, especially during tests. I’ve (unfortunately) passed it on to my daughter, who had to be tested for her dyslexia in a room lit by natural light because the humming of the fluorescents distracted her. I tend to speak so softly sometimes people say I “mumble.” Warning sounds and signals cause my actual physical pain. And so on.

Now sure, this has changed over the years. For one, loud music has dulled my hearing somewhat over time. And of course I’ve learned to live with it. Sami and the kids encouraged me to speak up. You can’t mumble in meetings if you want to be heard. You learn how to deal with ambient noise if you want to sleep. The invention of the Walkman and later things like the iPod was a godsend. But a world filled with a monstrous amount of noise pollution is kind of tough on those of us—for I’m sure I’m hardly alone in this—who have sensitive hearing.

And now, everyone’s quarantined-in-place.

Have you noticed the quiet? The streets are almost empty. Planes are hardly flying. Fewer buses, fewer cars, fewer trucks. Fewer people driving. No teens driving around in big trucks with spinning rims, windows down, blasting out their favorite music turned up to 11. (“Why do they do that, Dad?” Joseph asked me once. “Some of them are just being jerks, honey,” I said. “But some of them just love their music and are wanted to share their joy.”) It’s a lot quieter. Everywhere.

I didn’t really notice that until I went out today to pick up some meds and continue my (still fruitless) effort to buy more eggs. Sure, I had been turning the sound down on my headphones and small speaker that I listen to music on, but I hadn’t been thinking about it consciously. It was when I got into my car for the first time today and my iPhone automatically connected and the next song on my playlist queued up and I actually winced that it made me think.

We all know what it’s like to have been listening to music on the freeway and then the next time we get in the car to have to turn it down. But this wasn’t one of those “turn it down a couple of notches” type deals; I had to cut it in half. I had to turn it from 18 to 9. And even 18 is low for my car. I know these numbers mean nothing, of course, but I usually listen to music with the volume set to 20, sometimes up to 24 depending on road noise, whether it’s raining, or whatever. This would be wimpy by a head-banging metalhead with leather ears, who would crank it to 35 or more on my system. But even so, driving down the freeway on an ordinary day, I would find anything below 16 essentially inaudible.

Today I couldn’t bear to set it above 10. 12 actually hurt my ears.

It’s the quiet, you see. I’ve gotten used to the quiet. To quiet streets, quiet skies, a quiet house. Quiet music on my headphones, quieter shows on my speakers, a lower volume of life. Living in a quieter world. Even the dogs in the neighborhood seem quieter, seem to be barking less. It’s as if my—as if our—collective ears have unclenched from the ambient noise and are able to hear soft voices easier than shouts again.

In amidst the loneliness and fear and incompetence and panic-buying and worry, some amazing things are going on around us. Today, I noticed the quiet. Maybe you noticed it, too. And if you didn’t, maybe now you can, and it will give you a little boost during this tough time.

We’re not so distant as you think

“Social distancing” doesn’t have to mean actual distancing
(photo courtesy of Times of India)

As a rule, I’m a pretty upbeat, happy person. You might not get that impression from reading my blog posts, in which I tend to rant, but it’s true. My friends and family sometimes describe me as a goof, or a dork. I like to joke. I like to deal with difficult situations with humor, defuse tension with comedy. That’s the way I am.

Here in my blog, you’ll see my more serious side, even my angry side, some of my frustrations. Right now, when the world—I mean, jeez, the world!—is facing a deadly pandemic, I want to share more of my upbeat side in the hopes it’ll help.

People talk a lot about how technology atomizes society, how it creates a distance between people. How Millennials are always on their phones instead of talking to each other. How couples go out to dinner and are checking their Twitter feeds instead chatting about their day. How offices are filled with folks with headphones on instead of chatting with each other at the water cooler. And so on. I personally think this is overstated, but I understand the fears.

Technology atomizing society—in the 50s

Now we’re in a situation where not only are people needing to be careful with their physical contacts, but are actually being urged by government entities to engage in “social distancing.” This can be difficult if you’re like me, and a lot of your loved ones—your family, your friends, your family of choice—are hundreds or even thousands of miles away. I’d like to hunker down with my beloveds, but they live in San Francisco and Oakland and Olympia and LA and New England and Georgia and Maryland and Colorado and Montana and England and Vallejo and Santa Cruz and Lake Charles and all kinds of other places not exactly two streets over.

But you know what? We have cell phones with video capability. We have Skype and FaceTime and Zoom and Webex. We have Kik and Google Hangouts and FaceBook Messenger and WhatsApp. We have blogs and FaceBook and Twitter and Twitch and Instagram. We have MMORPGs and online DnD via Roll20 and virtual bridge and chess and backgammon and every other virtual interactive game you can imagine. I played Gō with a guy who lives on the shore of Lake Baikul, for the love of Pete! The very technology that everyone has complained has been atomizing and isolating us can be used to help us stay in contact, can be used to draw us closer together.

Yes, we are in a crisis. People are out there hoarding paper towels, TP, and vegetables (what they’ll do in three weeks with 200 rotting onions and potatoes I don’t know). But we don’t have to be isolated completely just because we’re forced to be isolated physically. Gather together around our technological fire with me and warm yourselves. Share our collective company through this amazing miracle we have wrought together. It is ours to share and celebrate. So let’s do so.

Let’s share it. Together. Because that’s how we survive.

Capitalism and the beer virus

Image courtesy of NewFrame

For several years I’ve been making the point that capitalism is amoral. Not from a Marxist, “evil, evil!” PoV, but merely as an opening observation to help explain why so many rich people (and the politicians who serve them) are evil. I want to be clear that I mean capitalism is not immoral, but amoral. Capitalism has no moral code, good or bad. It is solely about the accumulation of capital, ie money. You can go about that in moral or immoral ways, but the system itself has no moral code. We—the human beings using the system—have to impose that. (Side note: Communism is the same.)

The weakness of that kind of system is when a person or group of people become rich, they become powerful. And if they are evil/immoral, the system becomes immoral, and good/moral people are screwed. Why bring this up (again) now? The pandemic, which I call the beer virus. Yes, it’s a bad joke, but it’s my nature to joke about serious things, and in this case the topic is, quite literally deadly serious, and all the more reason to joke.

At times of crisis, the flaws and strengths of any system (and it’s leaders) are magnified. Right now the leaders of our country are selfish, immoral, power-hungry Republicans. And they are reacting in demonstrably evil, selfish, immoral ways. They have demonstrated this in multiple areas, more happening every day, but for me the classic and most telling is the response of the Federal Reserve Bank, or “the Fed”.

For years progressives have proposed various programs Republicans & “moderate” Dems have insist are “too expensive”. Better healthcare coverage. More generous care for the elderly, poor, homeless, & jobless. Etc. The programs have always been deemed “too expensive.” “Where will we get the money?” “We can’t possibly afford those programs.” “We have too much debt already!” And other similar excuses. (Which always fall by the wayside when they need to finance another war, but let’s set that aside.)

Currently, of course, the world is experiencing a pandemic. China, where it began, has a bizarre mix of a Confucian, authoritarian, pseudo-capitalist system. They are making progress in fighting back the disease. We on the other hand are the most capitalist country in the world, with the most capitalist-friendly government in 100 years (since just before the depression, ironically). And in our response, we’re flailing. Badly.

At first, Trump, his Administration, the Republicans, and his backers on Fox News declared the pandemic a hoax and a plot to throw the election to the Democrats, and the federal government did nothing. Until the stock market dropped a huge amount in a few days. Then the government took action. Not when people were dying in China; of course not. Not when deaths started occurring in Europe. Not even when they started happening here. No; they were bestirred when plutocrats and oligarchs started seeing their funds shrinking. And what did they do?

Trump announced several absurd measures (such as closing the boarders to people traveling from Europe; a textbook case of “closing the barn door after the horses have escaped”), including a tax cut. In other words, he wants a monetary solution to a health crisis. As if you went to the doctor’s office for a measles vaccine and he gave you a Starbucks gift card.

The Fed, meanwhile, promised to pump $1.5 trillion into the economy to bolster the stock market. Again, during a health crisis. People are having to stay home from work, yes. They are being forced to stay home, actually. Will this money help them? Um, no. Again, this is like you going to your boss and saying, “Boss, I need money to tide me over for the next three weeks,” and her saying, “I’m sorry, Nahrain, but the Fed decided to give that money to your bank to keep them afloat instead.” I mean, nice the bank’s still afloat, but doesn’t help you too much in paying the electric bill or buying bread at the grocery store.

So to repeat: Rather than address a health issue with health measures, Trump did so with money. And while insisting we can’t afford to help the sick, the poor, the jobless, and the elderly because “we don’t have the money,” we somehow found $1.5 trillion for the stock market. When the choice came down to helping your elderly mom, or your granny, or your sick cousin, or your brother-in-law with the missing leg who’s homeless because of PTSD after his six tours in Iraq, Trump and the Republicans decided the stock market needed it more.

And the stock market went down the next day anyway.

And this is what happens under a capitalist system. And how it infects and warps everything. It puts thoughts of money first, and of people last. By design. It’s there on the tin: “Capitalism”. “Capital”, ie money, is right there on the label. Sorry to bang on this so hard, but right now we are seeing an extremely stark example of exactly what this kind of amoral system, when left in the hands of immoral, selfish, evil people, can lead to.

Trump and the Republicans have shown the ugliest side of capitalism. They have shown their preference when it comes down to it, down to the basics: Your family, or the stock market. It’s clear by how he’s panicking over perception (instead of the citizens of the country) that Trump is petrified over how people are thinking about his and the Republicans choosing stocks over people.

So ask yourself: Who do you want to live through the next few weeks: Your mom? Or the stock market? I know what my choice is.

Nervous Male Managers

For months I’ve seen a lot of media pointing to the statistic below, almost always in alarm, with the subtext of “How can we expect these poor nervous men to do their jobs?” And my first though is always the same: “Good; let’s go for 100%”

There’s a few things here to consider about these poor nervous men.

First, it’s a *good* thing they’re nervous, not a bad one. It means when they’re dealing with women, either in groups or 1-1, they’re *considering their behavior*. And when the problems happen is when guys thoughtlessly assume their behavior is *just fine*. When they think “Of *course* I’m not doing anything wrong! I’m a feminist! I’m a good guy! WTF are you talking about?” If they’re watching their own behavior, they’re a lot less likely to behave inappropriately.

That’s why I say we should go for 100%, and why I don’t get why the media always cites this stat as if it were bad. It’s *good*. Making managers more self-conscious is *a good thing*. So let’s see more of it!

Second, they’re managers, not delicate, emotionally fragile kindergarteners. They’re not teen boys worrying about how to ask someone out on their first date. Nor are they gay teens dealing with the agonies of coming out. These are grown men in a position of authority in business. Some of them have partners at home, kids, mortgages, bills to pay. Heavy work responsibilities. Are we really worrying about *making them “nervous” because they have to leave their office door *open* rather than closed for their weekly 1-1 with Jane? Seriously? Get over it.

Finally, have some perspective. When you’re marching out to your car in the middle of a dark parking garage one January night, consider Jane trying to do the same thing. Jane is clutching her keys in her fist as a weapon. Maybe her other hand is in her bag, finger on the trigger of some pepper spray. Or maybe she waited to leave until Sarah could walk with her. Or she car pooled so she wouldn’t have to be alone in a dark parking garage at night. I assure you Jane is way more than “nervous” about being assaulted—possibly by a co-worker!—than Joe Manager is about meeting with Jane tomorrow 1-1.

I just mention this because yesterday I again saw this 60% figure mentioned as if it were some horrible thing and I was disgusted. I’ve been a manager. And in my area of tech, tech writing, I work with a lot of women. I’ve had far more women managers than men. I’ve had more women reporting to me than men. So if you’re a man with women reporting to you and you’re “nervous”? Good! Use it as an goad to examine your behavior and make adjustments. Ask your direct reports if they have any suggestings. And above all FFS quit whining.


Sketch of a Moment

Sometimes an image flashes just for a moment, a lucky instant, and gets captured there in your mind. Mostly not, mostly they float away, but sometimes the beauty that is all around us, unnoticed usually, hits us suddenly, is noticed, and is remembered.

She was just six, maybe, or seven, and I was pulling over to get the mail. She lives down the block; her name is Zoe and she’s a delight. I see her in front of her house when the evenings are fine, with her mother, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk or being pushed on her swing. My puppies love her, and I try hard to show a level of interest that’s not too creepy; hard in a middle-aged man in these suspicious times.

And now there was Zoe, moving towards the street! I’m driving! Uh oh! And snap, a moment:

I look over, concentrating hard, because I don’t want to hit her. But she’s not running into the street; she stands, one foot on the curb, right hand outstretched, left hand back for balance, fiercely focused on something just in front of her, not moving.

They float there, three shimmering, translucent spheres, almost invisible, hanging in the air. Zoe’s mom, a big smile on her face, stands with the big bubble paddle still extended and dripping on the sidewalk, watching Her Girl trying to pop the bubbles before they do it of themselves.

The moment is frozen in my mind; just a moment, ordinary and beautiful. The bubbles glittering in the setting sun; her mom’s smile; her intent expression and outstretched hand; my worry turning into pleasure. Only a moment.

My mind is already trying to turn it into a picture, wishing I could draw, or paint. Wishing I could freeze time like a speedster superhero like the Flash or Quicksilver so I could whip out my phone and take a picture. Wishing I had the drawing talent of my friends like Paul or Becky and could take the image in my head and set it down on paper, unburdened by my nerve damage and shaky, poorly-coordinated hands.

All I have is words. Words to convey to you her brown-blonde hair frozen as she moves towards those three bubbles hanging in the air, stops on the curb, weight held on that one front foot as she reaches forward towards the shimmering bubbles. The tables of the two observers on either side: Her mom who initiated the moment, and the lucky man who got to observe it my merest chance and bring it to you, whoever you are, wherever you are, and let you fold it into your mind.

It’s not a painting, or a drawing; it’s my sketch, in words. I hope you liked it.

An election case in point


Well, it wasn’t a blue wave, but it wasn’t a total flop, either. This mid-term election of 2018 restored a tiny bit of balance to the political terrain of the country, with Democrats taking back the U.S. House and some Governorships (I’m particularly pleased by Kansas rejecting the vote-suppressing Breitbart jerk-weed), but Republicans keeping the Senate, other Governorships, and of course lots and lots of members of the court.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about a very, very minor but critical wave that I think has turned during this election: The progressive wave.

(Yeah, yeah; I know it sounds hopelessly vainglorious. Sorry about that.)

Lots of folks—I hope—will be talking about the large (but still IMO insufficient; we have to keep fighting until it’s more than 218!) numbers of women going to the House this year; more than 100. And that’s awesome. But the one I want to focus on is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just elected as the representative for New York State’s 14th Congressional district.


Why make a hoorah about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez? Well, she’s the youngest woman ever elected to congress, for one. She’s Hispanic, for another. But for me the biggest issue is she’s an unrepentant, in-your-face, vocal progressive. She even has the juevos to call herself an American Socialist, in the mold of Bernie Sanders.

Aside: An “American Socialist” is not someone who advocates total statewide socialism, but rather a mixed system more in the European model. Think Sweden. I will continue to call her a progressive because that’s what I call myself, and because her positions are so close to mine. But if you prefer to think of her and me as “American Socialists”, go ahead. But do not think of either one of us as “socialists” in the mold of Stalin, because that is a canard designed solely to denigrate.

That’s significant all by itself, of course. Because as you might imagine, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez took no end of abuse for her positions from the right-wing media, right-wing politicians, and plenty of sneering, inside-the-beltway and NorthEastern media outlets as well.

The “common wisdom” with this latter group, which has ruled the Democratic Party since the Clinton years, is that you simply can’t win by being too liberal. “New Democrats,” “Neo-liberals,” the folks that used to make up the old “Democratic Leadership Council”…it is an article of faith with them that the progressive base is a bunch of unruly, long-haired, wild-eyed hippies who don’t understand how politics really works, who propose totally nutty ideas, and who don’t have the slightest chance of winning. Only the “adults”—i.e. themselves—understand the “game” of politics, know how to play it, and know how to win.

Of course, the positions of the dirty hippies—higher minimum wage, better healthcare coverage, legal marijuana; that tax cuts for the rich increase the deficit and the debt and don’t help anyone but the rich; that global warming is a catastrophic problem; that tearing down regulation on the financial industry will lead to serious trouble (remember 2008?); etc—have been shown to be right over and over again.

But that hasn’t mattered. “Mainstream” Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer and Chuck Shumer and their ilk (and yes Barack Obama and very much Hillary Clinton) have spent decades making fun of the progressive base. Have colluded with the mainstream press at “hippie bashing,” a favorite Washington D.C. sport. Being right apparently doesn’t matter when you’re on the left (a topic I’ve touched on previously).

Which brings us back to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. She espouses a lot of classic progressive positions from which the “moderate” Democratic Party leadership recoils, and touts them proudly: Tuition-free college; transitioning to renewable energy; single-payer healthcare. Positions that many Americans support, and are only “radical” to Republicans, Democratic politicians, and the mainstream press. (Also on the list: Gun control, and raising the minimum wage.) But Common Wisdom demands you not mention such heretical notions during your campaign, and glory above, Ocasio-Cortez championed them. She highlighted them.

And by doing so, in the face of a total lack of support by the party, she booted out a 10 term incumbent and entrenched party apparatchik who had the support of all the Democratic elected officials in the state, just about. She was outspent by 18-1. The Democratic establishment did all but publicly sneer at her. And not only did she win, she crushed her opponent by 15 points. A 10 term incumbent.

Ocasio-Cortez didn’t have a Wikipedia page until after her primary victory. She was basically ignored by the press. No money? You’re a full-throated progressive? Must be a loser!

Well, now that loser is going to DC.

And this is why I’m talking about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. She is the acid test for the proposition that people don’t want “real” progressives, they want moderates. That people don’t want anyone young, don’t want women, don’t want people of color. That Democrats should only offer up bland, middle-of-the-road white guys who are essentially Rockefeller Republicans because no one will ever vote for a real progressive.

Guess what, Democratic “leadership”? We will. And we did. And now some of them are going to Washington to hopefully kick some of your entrenched waffled butts into gear. Because we have had more than enough of being condescended to, being sneered at, and being told we were “too leftist”. We’re winning, we’re going to keep winning, and you better get used to it.

Media Framing

When folks talk about how important it is to keep an eye on how media “frames” the news, I can understand people’s eyes glazing over. But let me present a good example here, and maybe it’ll be both clearer, and unsoporific. Consider this article from Wired about high tech contributions: https://www.wired.com/story/tech-workers-overwhelmingly-support-democrats/
What’s the headline lead you to believe? If you’re me, it’s that tech folks spend the majority of their contributions on Democrats, right? “Overwhelmingly” would imply a *huge* proportion. But look at the chart below.
Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 1.26.56 PM
What’s the actual breakdown? Tech folks spend 1% of their contributions on Republican candidates/causes, 9% on company PACs (which is a whole different post), and 23% on Democrats. So yes, 23% is “overwhelmingly” greater than 1%, sure. But the thing that genuinely surprised me was we spend 67% on non-partisan groups.
67% is a huge amount, nearly 3 times what is spent on Democrats and far more than all other categories combined. And *that* is the real piece of news here. A much more accurate, less deceptive headline would be “Tech Workers Overwhelmingly Support Non-Partisan Causes.” That’s the actual news here.
Is it a surprise that tech people vote for Democrats? No, of course not. So why trumpet it? Why to throw fuel on the partisanship fire and sell more magazines, obviously. Highlighting the findings differently wouldn’t cause that frisson of anger in Republican readers that drives clicks.
And the thing is, IMO the chart shows you how tech workers think better than, “They’re all Democrats!”, which is what the headline implies. We’re not all Democrats. We may be massively progressive—I believe we are—but not to the point where we think our money is best spent by a party that is only nominally progressive and is entirely too close to Wall St., too hawkish, too wimpy to fight for the causes we believe are important.
What would be far more interesting, WIRED, would be if you broke down that other 67% and showed just which non-partisan groups tech workers contributed to. Because that would show what we care about, and that might even show the hidebound Democratic Party what they might actually want to spend their time and efforts on if they want to attract tech workers.
This is IMO deceptive news framing in action, and it happens all the time. (And I know for a fact that reporters are frequently driven crazy by headline writers, who are a different group entirely.)
Do better, media. The friggin’ country is at stake.