Thursday, February 28, 2013

Marissa Mayer and the Feminist Freak-Out

The Marissa Mayer feminist freak-out continues.

Feminists do not want a woman executive to make executive decisions. They insist that she make feministically correct decisions. If she doesn’t do as they want, they will punish her and undermine her authority.

Feminists do not believe that a woman executive’s decisions should be judged in the marketplace. They want to judge her themselves in newspaper columns and blogs. If she does not respect the party line, she will be excoriated for being retrograde, reactionary and retarded.

Alexandra Levit, for example, has just written a rant about how Mayer has dashed Levit's great feminist hopes. Feeling rejected and repudiated, Levit accused Mayer of hypocrisy, of going back to the Dark Ages and of being passive aggressive.

In her words:

And what makes it even worse is that such passive-aggressive behavior is so stereotypically female.  You know all the male CEOs out there are thinking:  “leave it to a woman to find an indirect, non-confrontational way of getting rid of people.  If she were a man, she’d just pick up the axe and cut.”

When Levit uses a psychiatric term like passive-aggressive she is slandering, and therefore undermining Mayer as emotionally unbalanced.

Had Levit bothered to think about what she was saying she would have noticed that there is nothing passive about issuing a directive. Asking everyone to play by the same rules is neither passive nor aggressive.

If Levit is right that Mayer really wants to cull the Yahoo staff, then she must also be a mind reader. But then, why does she think that it is better to be a man about it and to pick up an axe and cut? Why does Levit assume that men are naturally brutal, violent and abusive?

In truth, most corporate officers, male and female, try to exercise the greatest tact in firing people. They do not go out of their way to traumatize people they are obliged to let go.

If Levit is right that Mayer was trying to induce some people to resign, then the new policy might have been a  way to reduce the workforce while allowing everyone to save face. If that is true, more power to her.

Of course, Levit had wanted Mayer to be a great feminist role model. Now she is acting like a jilted lover, excoriating Mayer for failing to fulfill her ideologically driven expectations:

Like many of you, I had high hopes for Mayer.  I thought she would set a great example for all women who strive to lead families and companies at the same time.  But instead, she has betrayed her biggest supporters and may just have convinced everyone else why it’s risky to put a woman in a top position.

As for Yahoo!, it will be interesting to see if and how the company comes back from this.   How much will the inevitable mass exodus of talent hurt?  Will Mayer be forced to reconsider her policy, and how much face will she lose inside and outside Yahoo! as a result?  Will the struggling company get back on its feet, or, during this disruptive, transitional time when other organizations are moving forward but Yahoo! is moving backward, will this be a final nail in the coffin?  What do you think?

Allow me to analyze Levit’s rhetorical strategy. I would have examined the substance of her argument, but there is none.

Even though Mayer’s new policy will not be implemented until June, Levit has already pronounced it a failure. She describes it as something that the company will need to come back from.

To the best of my knowledge Levit has no managerial experience to speak of, yet, she denounces Mayer’s policy as “backward.” Since other high tech companies, like Facebook and Google have the same policy, though informally, does she believe that they are backward too?

To Levit, the policy has failed because Mayer’s “biggest supporters” feel that she has betrayed them. Apparently, she is thinking about all of her feminist co-cultists who believe that Mayer must make the ideological cause ahead of her responsibility for managing the company.

Do you honestly believe that anyone ever gets to become a CEO by putting ideology ahead of a company’s best interst?

When it comes to the question of whether Mayer can lead a company and a family at the same time, what makes Levit think that she will or could possibly do both, or that it matters to Yahoo's bottom line?

Clearly, putting a woman in such an important job does comport a risk, only not the one that Levit identifies. Mayer faces one problem that no male CEO would ever face. She is being attacked by a band of feminist scolds who are ginning up a lot of bad publicity and are inciting Mayer’s staff to ignore her directive. These feminists are producing a flood of agitprop that is designed to undermine Marissa Mayer's authority. And they are doing so because she is a woman. Misogyny, anyone?

Yet, if Mayer rescinds her directive she will, as Levitt notes, lose face. For a CEO, losing face is very bad indeed. It is extremely difficult to manage a company if everyone thinks that you will change policies because you have been subjected to outside pressure.

Those who believe that a woman should have the opportunity to lead a company should hope that Marissa Mayer succeeds.

Surely, one understands why Marissa Mayer has never had any use for feminism. But Mayer is not the only non-feminist among the successful woman executives in Silicon Valley. Many of them have figured out that if you spend your time seeking out grievances you will have less time and energy to do your job.

Hanna Rosin even suggests that Mayer’s success signals the eclipse of feminism:

When I interviewed the women in Silicon Valley for my book, The End of Men, my impression was not that they did not notice that most of the programmers and entrepreneurs were men but that they willed themselves to ignore it, because dwelling on sexism is “complete waste of time,” as Lori Goler, Facebook’s human resources director, said in a New Yorker profile of Sheryl Sandberg. “If I spend one hour talking about how I’m excluded, that’s an hour I am not spending solving Facebook’s problems.”

If such a band of smart and successful women have no patience for the term feminism, then the term is, whether we like it or not, getting relegated to history.

Enjoying Life on the Mediterranean Diet

By now you have heard the good news. If you switch to the Mediterranean diet you will significantly lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found….

The diet helped those following it even though they did not lose weight and most of them were already taking statins, or blood pressure or diabetes drugs to lower their heart disease risk.

Hopefully, you already knew that the standard American diet was not very good for your health. The Mediterranean diet was compared to: … the usual modern diet, with its regular consumption of red meat, sodas and commercial baked goods….”

 Dr. Steven Nissen from the Cleveland Clinic observes:

 “Now along comes this group and does a gigantic study in Spain that says you can eat a nicely balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and olive oil and lower heart disease by 30 percent,” he [Nissen] said. “And you can actually enjoy life.”

That’s the strange part: we all believe that the right kind of diet will allow us to enjoy life. Obviously, illness is going to compromise your ability to enjoy life, but still… in Spain?

According to the BBC:

Unemployment in Spain now stands at a staggering 26% with no signs of falling.

In Greece, the home of the Mediterranean diet, the economic collapse continues unabated. Things are so bad that Greek pharmacies are running out of medicines.

The Guardian has the story:

Greece is facing a serious shortage of medicines amid claims that pharmaceutical multinationals have halted shipments to the country because of the economic crisis and concerns that the drugs will be exported by middlemen because prices are higher in other European countries.

Hundreds of drugs are in short supply and the situation is getting worse, according to the Greek drug regulator. The government has drawn up a list of more than 50 pharmaceutical companies it accuses of halting or planning to halt supplies because of low prices in the country.

More than 200 medicinal products are affected, including treatments for arthritis, hepatitis C and hypertension, cholesterol-lowering agents, antipsychotics, antibiotics, anaesthetics and immunomodulators used to treat bowel disease.

Separately, it was announced on Tuesday that the Swiss Red Cross was slashing its supply of donor blood to Greece because it had not paid its bills on time.

Of course, there is no necessary correlation between the economic conditions of Mediterranean Europe and their diet of olive oil, nuts and figs. Still, one does wonder whether the economic performance of these countries has something to do with their avoiding of red meat. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bored to Death?

Don’t ask me why, but Canadian psychologists are leading the charge in the new field of boredom studies. 

They are not alone, however, in having noted that boredom is bad for your health, that it can make you sick and that it can even kill you. Perhaps that is why people who work longer seem to live longer than people who retire sooner.

For one thing, boredom has serious consequences for health and productivity, they say, linked to depression, overeating, substance abuse, gambling and even mortality—people may, indirectly, be "bored to death." One 2010 study found that the boredom-prone are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease than their more-engaged brethren.

Psychologists have had trouble defining boredom. Clearly, someone who is actively engaged in a task, whether it is work or a hobby, is less bored than someone who is detached and disconnected from the world of work.

And yet, repetitive tasks that seem to be meaningless can produce boredom. Drudgery is boring.

Psychologists have suggested that meaning is the cure for drudgery. By that I assume they mean: if you understand how your routine task contributes to a higher good, it will become less boring.

Philosophers define boredom was what happens when we have nothing to do. Some suggest that boredom forces us to confront the meaningless of our existence.

Of course, the philosophical view is only a partial truth. When we engage in activities that feel meaningless, we are not confronting the emptiness of our existence. We are feeling socially disconnected.

When we have something to do we are fulfilling a role, following the rules, and feeling engaged with others.

If boredom feels like disconnection, then it must belong in the same class as feelings of abandonment, rejection and anomie. It derives from not being part of a group, a condition that is not enviable.

Of course, psychologists who have been telling people to explore their feelings seem to have missed the point. Our wellbeing involves being engaged in a purposeful activity, not on our being engaged with our mental processes or our emotional states.

Of course, some people try to overcome boredom without engaging in purposeful activity. They do it by consuming large amounts of entertainment.

Perhaps it’s a way to self-medicate boredom. People play video games, pore over internet porn, work on Facebook or watch television because these activities provide stimuli that counteract the effects of boredom.

People who consume entertainment material are, in a limited sense participating in the economy. They are not producing anything, but they are consuming.

The same applies to certain kinds of leisure. Playing golf is far less likely to be boring than is lying around a swimming pool.

It’s better to produce than to consume, but consuming is better than nothing. It does serve to obscure the fact that you are disconnected from others. If boredom threatens your well being you will not be very discriminating in how you forestall it. Any activity that eats time and keeps you involved counts as medication against boredom.

When you consume entertainment you are engaged with a world.  It might not be a real world, but it is still a world.

Scientists have discovered that when people are bored they tend to shift the blame away from themselves. The Journal reports:

Bored people typically blame their environment, not themselves, for the state, thinking "this task is boring" or "there is nothing to do," the paper found.

Being bored feels like being rejected by other people. After all, we say that other people are boring, but we never say that we are being bored by ourselves.

Entertainment, whether self-imposed or supplied by others does not cure boredom. It numbs the pain.

The cure for boredom is purposeful activity, especially activity that makes you a direct participant in the life of a group.

Standing Up to Presidential Bullying

Barack Obama has perfected the art of bullying Republicans into submission. Unfortunately, Republicans have perfected the art of submission.  

As long as Republicans do not seem to know how to stand up to the bully, no one will care what they believe in. Their message is being drowned out by their willingness to submit.

Most Republicans believed that they had done the right thing by nominating the most "electable" Republican. They discovered that when push came to shove, Mitt Romney did not know how to fight back. And they have recently seen their most fearless warrior, Governor Chris Christie shrink from confrontations with President Obama.

As long as the Republican Party acts as though it is Mitt Romney's party, it will not be able to lead. 

Republicans might have had a good political reason to give in on immigration, but their retreat looked desperate and unseemly. They thought that they were acting like statesmen in the fiscal cliff negotiations, but they got beaten into submission. In the Senate, Republicans put up something of a fight against Chuck Hagel, but, in the end they lost. Obama got his man and they went home to lick their wounds.

Being submissive in the face of bullying does not qualify you for leadership. The world does not respect people who do not act as thought they respect themselves. 

In the current sequestration brawl, the gods of politics have provided Republicans with yet another opportunity to show some backbone. For now, they have stood firm. Thus far, they have not paid a price. But will they continue to stand up to the bully when they see the political price rising?

Jonathan Tobin states the issue clearly:

But Republicans are right not to allow themselves to be bullied into submission only weeks after being bludgeoned into voting for tax increases with the idea that future deals would be about budget cuts, not more revenue being fed to the federal leviathan. Since President Obama has no credibility when it comes to promises about the entitlement reform that the country so desperately needs, or about making tough choices to reduce expenditures, GOP resistance to his pressure is justified.

There comes a time when you have to confront a bully. There comes a time when you figure out that conciliating a bully is a way to surrender. If you refuse to submit, you might get bloodied in the process, but at least you will walk away with your pride. For now, first things first: Republicans need to regain their pride. Until they do no one will care about what they think. No one cares what you stand for when you cannot stand up for yourself.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Defending Marissa Mayer

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review blog, MIT Researcher Michael Schrage defends Marissa Mayer’s much-discussed decision to ban telecommuting. Mayer's decision has provoked an excellent debate, here and elsewhere, so I think it worthwhile to include another contribution.

Schrage provides a larger context:

So when Mayer decrees seven months into the job that she wants people to, you know, physically show up at work instead of telecommuting — or else — I'm pretty confident this reflects a data-driven decisionmore than a cavalier command. In all likelihood, Mayer has taken good, hard looks at Yahoo's top 250 performers and top 20 projects and come to her own conclusions about who's creating real value — and how — in her company. She knows who her best people are.

Let's be serious: if significant portions of Yahoo top performers were "stay@home" coders, testers and project management telecommuters, do people really think Mayer would arbitrarily issue edicts guaranteed to alienate them? It's possible. But that would imply Mayer hasn't learned very much about her company's best people, best performers and culture since joining last July. Most successful technical leaders I know avoid getting in the way of their best people's productivity. But what do leaders do when even very good people aren't being as productive as you want or need them to be? Challenging them to be better onsite collaborators hardly seems either unfair or irrational.

The logical inference to draw from Mayer's action is that she strongly believes Yahoo's current "stay@home" telecommuting crowd would be significantly more valuable to the company — organizationally, operationally and culturally — if they came to work. The crueler inference is that both the real and opportunity costs imposed by Yahoo's "work@homes" greatly exceeded their technical and economic contributions. My bet is that Mayer believes that "working@home" isn't working for Yahoo — in both meanings of that phrase.

Schrage concludes by emphasizing the importance of corporate culture:

Culture matters. Ultimately, turnaround CEOs have to make the very public choice around not just how best to empower people but how best to hold them accountable. I take Mayer at her word that she wants to promote the values of "collaborative opportunism" and "opportunistic collaboration" at the "new" Yahoo. That should be a leader's prerogative. I similarly don't doubt Mayer knows full well that there's no shortage of technology enabling high bandwidth, highly functional, high impact collaboration across time zones and zip codes alike. My bet is that, sooner rather than later, the truly productive/high impact employees with special needs will enjoy a locational flexibility that their lesser will not.

But, for the moment, this CEO has done what I always thought good CEOs were supposed to do: identify unproductive "business as usual" practices, declare them unacceptable and incompatible with her cultural aspirations for the firm — and then act. I completely understand why it makes so many employees unhappy. I'm sympathetic to the changes they're being told to make. But, on this issue for this company, my deeper sympathies belong to the CEO. 

Marissa Mayer Shakes Up Yahoo, and Not Just Yahoo

Marissa Mayer has hit a nerve. A few days ago I posted about the directive issued by the new Yahoo CEO. To the shock of many, new mother Mayer decreed that her employees would no longer be permitted to work at home.

Since that first post, more people have weighed in on the topic, and the discussion has become compelling and engaging.  

Prior to Mayer’s arrival last year, Yahoo had been poorly managed. It was a fading, not a rising star. Mayer was faced with a series of problems, ranging from lack of innovation to low productivity to low morale. Her task was to right a floundering ship.

It’s difficult to judge her decision without knowing the background. An informed source told Business Insider about the problems that Mayer faced:

Yahoo has a huge number of people of who work remotely – people who just never come in.

Many of these people "weren't productive," says this source.

 "A lot of people hid. There were all these employees [working remotely] and nobody knew they were still at Yahoo."

These people aren't just Yahoo customer support reps. They're in all divisions, from marketing to engineering.

Mayer is happy to give Yahoo employees standard Silicon Valley benefits like free food and free smartphones. But our source says the kinds of work-from-home arrangements popular at Yahoo were not common to other Valley companies llike  Google or Facebook. "This is a collaborative businesses."

Mayer saw another side-benefit to making this move. She knows that some remote workers won't want to start coming into the office and so they will quit. That helps Yahoo, which needs to cut costs. It's a layoff that's not a layoff.

Bigger picture: This is about Mayer "carefully getting to problems created by Yahoo's huge, bloated infrastructure." The company got fat and lazy over the past 15 years, and this is Mayer getting it into fighting shape.

Even though Facebook and Google do not specifically ban telecommuting, both have created cultures that strongly encourage employees to show up at the office. In Silicon Valley the Yahoo policy was the exception, not the rule.

But Mayer did not have the luxury of creating a new corporate culture from scratch. Finding herself surrounded by a dysfunctional culture she issued a directive that was designed to right it.

Still, said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray & Christmas, an outplacement and executive coaching firm, “A lot of companies are afraid to let their workers work from home some of the time or all of the time because they’re afraid they’ll lose control.”

Studies show that people who work at home are significantly more productive but less innovative, said John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who runs a human resource advisory firm.

“Marissa’s trying to increase the energy and output and change the culture of the company,” he said. “She brings all the Google lessons to the table, and Google is very focused on having your life revolve around their campus so you can spend a significantly larger chunk of time at work.”

Still, Google, as well as Facebook, does allow people to work remotely on a case-by-case basis. But both companies also strongly stress in-person collaboration.

Standard Silicon Valley perks like cafeterias with free food, shuttle buses, gyms, ice cream parlors and dry cleaners not only make employees’ lives easier, but keep them on campus during the day and promote contact with other employees. Nearly all tech companies have desks packed tightly together without walls and communal work areas with sofas and beanbags.

Zappos, the e-commerce company owned by, previously allowed some customer service agents to work from home, but now has a rule against working remotely. The company locks all office doors except one so employees are forced to run into more people on the way out, and budgets fewer than 100 square feet per employee, versus the standard 120 square feet or more.

Telecommuting tends to increase productivity and to decrease innovation. Being physically present also increases face time and enhances interpersonal communication and group cohesiveness.

Rachel Silverman writes on the Wall Street Journal site:

From a collaboration perspective, research shows that face-to-face contact is usually the most effective way to engender trust and cohesiveness among work teams—particularly for new employees, or for teams whose members are unfamiliar to one another, says Michael Boyer O’Leary, an assistant management professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

Face-to-face contact is effective is because it is the most robust way to convey information. Indeed, more than half of emotional information in a conversation is communicated through facial expression, while over a third comes from a speaker’s tone and only 7% is transmitted from the actual words used, says Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade.

However, that doesn’t mean telecommuters are less productive than in-office workers. In fact, they may even work more. A recent University of Texas study found that telecommuters worked five to seven hours more than those who worked exclusively in offices.

On the Atlantic site Derek Thompson suggests that Mayer is wrong because working at home reduces commuting time and stress and makes people happier with their jobs.

But, then, Thompson addresses the question of why so few jobs being done via the internet. He answers:

And yet ... telecommuting isn't taking over the world. The vast majority of "telecommutable" jobs aren't done at home. They're done in the office. Why? 

One half of the answer is that people like working with other people. Telecommuting can be lonely and unfulfilling. But corporate policies like Mayer's are another part. Companies are jealous of their employees' time and allegiance, especially in competitive industries like media technology, and Mayer probably doesn't want to lead a massive hiring and turn-around effort while her deputies Skype in from their living rooms. It's understandable for executives to want to build an atmosphere where the office becomes a destination, a place where workers want to come together, where ideas percolate and bounce around an office and end up on a memo in the director's inbox that becomes a Hot New Thing. 

In the end, the market will decide. Either Mayer will have succeeded in righting the company or she will have failed. But, by defying the conventional wisdom and by provoking a firestorm of criticism she has shown great courage and real leadership. As a CEO coming to the company from the outside, she needed to take charge and to show everyone that a new leader had arrived.

[Addendum. Rocco Pendola on The Street wrote this:

Over the years at Yahoo!, incompetent people hired more incompetent people who went on to hire even more incompetent people. These B-players maintained the status quo, while implementing all of the perks Silicon Valley and other tech staffers have come to expect and enjoy. At Yahoo!, working at home became expected, not a convenient consequence of competence.

Mayer is simply making another move -- in a long series of moves -- to clean up the mess. Firing people is a pain in the ass. And layoffs look bad.

Do you really think Mayer did not, in some way, communicate with the A-players (or at least their direct managers) ahead of making this move? She's using this "edict" to further streamline a bloated, self-entitled and largely ineffective segment of the workforce. That much should be obvious. And, based on what I mentioned earlier in this article, there very well could be exceptions. It will be interesting to see how Mayer handles these things case-by-case….

Certainly, I am speculating just like Mayer's detractors, but, frankly, it's far more logical and rational speculation. I consider very real contexts from which Mayer might have made this decision. I do not cast her off as a bumbling fool who made an errant move. That's not the Marissa Mayer I have watched lead Yahoo! for the last 7-8 months, presiding over a roughly 35% increase in her company's stock price.]

Monday, February 25, 2013


You would think that left-leaning people would celebrate the state of Israel as a beacon of democracy in the midst of cultural darkness.

You would think that left-thinking people would celebrate the only state in the Middle East that practices liberal democracy and free enterprise, that respects human rights and that rejects homophobia and misogyny.

Many liberals and progressives are staunch supporters of Israel. And yet, when you move to the more radical left, you find an entirely different state of mind.

The radical left takes its inspiration from socialism, especially totalitarian socialism. It rejects liberal democracy and free enterprise as ruses meant to narcotize the masses into accepting their own oppression. When Israel promotes human rights the radical left denounces it as a ruse to cover up its imperialist and colonialist ways.

The more radical the left, the more it hates Israel.

Israel is a living repudiation of everything the radical left holds sacred. An eminent American academic, Judith Butler has even asserted that Hamas and Hezbollah are “progressive” “social movements” that belong to the global left.  Butler insists that she does not condone their violent tactics, but she approves of the fact that that both groups oppose imperialism and colonialism.

When groups define themselves by their waging violent jihad, saying that you reject their violent tactics is empty rhetoric.

When Hamas and Hezbollah take a stand against colonialism and imperialism, which country do you think they are preparing to attack?

Judith Butler takes serious offense at the notion that she might be providing moral support to an anti-Semitic and racist organization. After all, she is Jewish.

But, she is also a fool. Someone who is supposed to be a great proponent of what is called “critical theory” did not bother to test her judgments against reality. This demonstrates yet again that critical theory and other trendy academic pseudo-philosophies care more about promulgating propaganda than seeking the truth.

David Efune points out the obvious:

Hezbollah militarily occupies large swathes of Southern Lebanon, as a well-documented proxy of a foreign power, Iran. Hamas occupies Gaza which it seized in a military coup, and exercises totalitarian control over its inhabitants.

Both organizations are constitutionally mandated to extend their imperialist ambitions over the neighboring sovereign state of Israel.

Butler has done away with all semblance of critical thought and swallowed the words of an internationally recognized terror group's parroting apparatchiks as fact. There is not a shred of evidence to support their 'anti-imperialist' claim and her support of it.

Butler’s prominence is a symptom of the inroads that anti-Semitic thinking has made on American campuses. There, the radical left is hard at work discrediting Israel, as a state and as a culture. 

By leftist lights, Israel’s accomplishments are really a ruse designed to cover up its more nefarious motives.

So, the City University of New York is holding a conference about what it calls Israel’s “pinkwashing.”

The term “pinkwashing” is the brainchild of CUNY Professor Sarah Schulman. She believes that when Israel promotes human rights, especially gay rights,  it is merely trying to cover up, that is, to “pinkwash” its oppression of the Palestinian people.

Alan Dershowitz reports on the conference and the idea:

“Homonationalism and Pinkwashing,” sponsored by CUNY’s Gay and Lesbian Studies Center, is scheduled for April 10-11, 2013; the cosponsors include New York University’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and several other centers and programs at both schools. We’re told the conference will be academic, but much of the emphasis plainly will be on the claim that Israel is “pinkwashing” its mistreatment of Palestinians by promoting gay rights in Israel.

The conference’s coordinator and inspiration is gay activist Sarah Shulman. In a New York Times op-ed and elsewhere, she has argued that Israel’s positive approach to gay rights is “a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violation of Palestinians human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.”

Dershowitz correctly points out that this is pure anti-Semitism. Any success that Jews accomplish, from the existence of the state of Israel to the respect for human rights, must be hiding a malevolent intention.

If you are gasping in disbelief, you have failed to keep up with the radical left. 

Dershowitz sets the record straight:

Israel is easily the most gay-friendly country in the Middle East, and among the most supportive of gay rights in the world. Openly gay soldiers have long served in the military and in high positions in both government and the private sector.

In the West Bank and Gaza, by contrast, gays are murdered, tortured and forced to seek asylum — often in Israel. Indeed, in every Arab and Muslim country, homosexual acts among consenting adults are criminal, often punishable by death.

It feels useless to add that cultures that practice honor killings, execute homosexuals, imprison rape victims and stone adulteresses are not leading the way to a more liberal, more democratic, more progressive future.

The anti-Semitic thinking does not stop with gay rights. Dershowitz offers some other examples:

So when Israel sends help to tsunami and hurricane victims, the ideological soulmates of the pinkwash brigade accuse the Jewish state of merely trying to garner positive publicity calculated to offset its mistreatment of Palestinians. When Israeli medical teams save the lives of Palestinian children, they must be up to no good.

And when news surfaced that the Israeli Army has the lowest rate of rape against enemy civilians, radical anti-Zionists argued that this was because Israeli soldiers were so racist that they didn’t find Palestinian women attractive enough to rape!

There you have it. Anti-Semitism is alive and well in American universities. It is being propagated by leftists who have no use for freedom, no use for democracy, no use for free enterprise and no use for human rights.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ross Douthat on Leisure and Flourishing

You probably don’t spend too much time wondering where all the pundits get the ideas for their op-ed columns. I don’t either.

I am on occasion struck by the fact that a columnist picks up on a subject that I have posted about. Last Saturday, 2/16, I posted about, “The Pursuit of Leisure.” Today, Ross Douthat wrote a column about leisure in The New York Times.

I was not the first to address the topic.  As I duly noted, I found it on Lifehacker. It also appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

Douthat does not mention any of these sources, so I have to assume that it’s all coincidence, but still….

Currently, Douthat is the best of the New York Times op-ed columnists, so I am not surprised to see that he approaches the question cogently.

After observing that hard work has increasingly become the province of the wealthy, he moves on to describe blue collar work as pure drudgery. He adds that a society that has become very good at producing goods and services will also encourage people to indulge their taste for leisure. Then, in a twist, he concludes that when people spend their life pursuing leisure, society loses.

In Douthat’s words:

Those riches mean that we can probably find ways to subsidize — through public means and private — a continuing decline in blue-collar work. Many of the Americans dropping out of the work force are not destitute: they’re receiving disability payments and food stamps, living with relatives, cobbling together work here and there, and often doing as well as they might with a low-wage job. By historical standards their lives are more comfortable than the left often allows, and the fiscal cost of their situation is more sustainable than the right tends to admits. (Medicare may bankrupt us, but food stamps probably will not.)

There is a certain air of irresponsibility to giving up on employment altogether, of course. But while pundits who tap on keyboards for a living like to extol the inherent dignity of labor, we aren’t the ones stocking shelves at Walmart or hunting wearily, week after week, for a job that probably pays less than our last one did. One could make the case that the right to not have a boss is actually the hardest won of modern freedoms: should it really trouble us if more people in a rich society end up exercising it?

The answer is yes — but mostly because the decline of work carries social costs as well as an economic price tag. Even a grinding job tends to be an important source of social capital, providing everyday structure for people who live alone, a place to meet friends and kindle romances for people who lack other forms of community, a path away from crime and prison for young men, an example to children and a source of self-respect for parents.

It’s an excellent piece of analysis, though I would offer a slight objection. A life on food stamps and welfare payments might well count as a life of leisure, but it is certainly not desirable or fulfilling. Douthat would have done better to point out that living from hand to mouth is not anyone’s idea of a good life and that we still, like it or not, attach a stigma to idleness and sloth. The pursuit of sloth does not help your flagging self-esteem and does not make you feel very good. This form of leisure is really a poisoned gift.

All told, however, Douthat has done a very good job. But then, at the end of his article he trots out a trendy concept that you hear from everyone who wants to show that he belongs to the cognoscenti. The concept is: human flourishing.

Douthat writes:

In a sense, the old utopians were prescient: we’ve gained a world where steady work is less necessary to human survival than ever before.

But human flourishing is another matter. And it’s our fulfillment, rather than the satisfaction of our appetites, that’s threatened by the slow decline of work.

Contemporary philosophers have been telling us that flourishing is the goal of human life. The concept seems anodyne enough, so no one questions it. In fact, it’s a trap.

Philosophers believe that the concept of flourishing encompasses all forms of human excellence. It does not. When you privilege flourishing, you are also replacing other concepts like: excelling, achieving, accomplishing and even winning.

When a team wins the Super Bowl or a nation wins an award you do not normally think that they are flourishing. When you win a contract for your company you do not go out to celebrate your flourishing. When you work hard to compete in a math contest you will feel good about your success, but you will not think that you are flourishing.

Think about it. The term flourishing comes to us from the world of flowers. To flourish means to bloom or to blossom. It means opening out and expanding, and incidentally exposing beauty. You need not be a Freudian to understand that the term refers to one gender and not the other, that it privileges one gender over the other. Surely, you see that the concept is aesthetic more than ethical, that it privileges a natural process over human competition.

In a world that values high self-esteem, especially the kind that is doled out regardless of accomplishment, flourishing is exactly the right world. But the concept diminishes the importance of competitive striving. No one flourishes in the arena. Or better, if you know someone who says that he is flourishing in a competitive arena, you should bet on his opponent.

Marissa Mayer: Former Feminist Icon

Feminists were positively giddy when Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo. You see, Mayer was 7 months pregnant at the time and was about to become the world’s first working-mother-of-an-infant CEO.

As you know, feminist dreams of combining motherhood with career advancement depend, to some part, on flex time and telecommuting. (It was part of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s vision of a brave new gender-neutered world.) In the dreamworld, a mother who works from home and defines her own schedule can have a successful career and be a parent at the same time.

Naturally, the media has been awash with studies showing that flex time and telecommuting are the wave of the future and that employees who avail themselves of these options are happier, healthier and more productive.

Or, so it seemed, until a couple of weeks ago when Marissa Mayer sent shock waves through the matriarchy. Then Yahoo's HR department sent out a memo decreeing that beginning in June Yahoo workers will be required to show up, to be present, to be in their offices and to interact with their colleagues.


Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun.

With the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

Why would anyone be shocked to see a CEO making decisions as a CEO, not as a feminist revolutionary? Marissa Mayer works for the Yahoo shareholders; she is charged with keeping her company profitable so that its employees will continue to have jobs. Only in the twisted minds of ideological zealots is such behavior unacceptable.

Speaking for movement feminists Lisa Belkin was outraged:

I had hope for Marissa Mayer. I'd thought that while she was breaking some barriers -- becoming theyoungest woman CEO ever lead a Fortune 500 company, and certainly the first to do it while pregnant -- she might take on the challenge of breaking a number of others. That she'd use her platform and her power to make Yahoo! an example of a modern family-friendly workplace. That she would embrace the thinking that new tools and technology deserve an equally new approach to where and how employees are allowed to work.

Instead she began by announcing that she would take just a two week maternity leave, which might have been all she needed, but which sent the message that this kind of macho-never-slowed-down-by-the-pesky-realities-of-life-outside-the-office was expected of everyone.

And now there's this. Rather than championing a blending of life and work , she is calling for an enforced and antiquated division. She is telling workers -- many of whom were hired with the assurance that they could work remotely -- that they'd best get their bottoms into their office chairs, or else.

Belkin is showing us that the blather over work/life balance is really about advancing an ideology at the expense of both work and family.

Kudos to Marissa Mayer. She has shown us that being an effective CEO means doing what is best for the company, even when it discomforts the ideologues among us. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

How to Deal with a Jackass

Here’s some news you can really use. Someone has done a study that shows the best way to deal with a jackass. For the most part you know a jackass when you see one, but a complete jackass is someone who has no manners, no couth and no respect. He is likely to be rude, obnoxious and disrespectful, and it is normally painful and demoralizing to have to deal with him.

A jackass might be trying to bring you down; he might be bringing you down despite himself. Either way, it is not so easy to know how to deal with him without looking or sounding like a jackass yourself.

Of course, some jackasses are making fools of themselves; others are trying to make a fool out of you. The study does not seem to distinguish, but in either case you are not going to suffer rudeness gladly… unless you can succeed in making a laughing stock of the person who is insulting you.

In a world that is presumably overflowing with the milk of human empathy, and where the old manners have gone out of style, people seem to believe that engaging in a conversation is like performing on a stage.

People become jackasses by trying to entertain you. They might even by trying to make you their foil, the better to entertain a third person at your expense.

Under normal circumstances you do not waste your time trying to deal with jackasses. If you have reached the age of adult reason you know that trying to engage with a jackass is a losing game.

You do not want to end up on the same level as the jackass. And if he is incapable of meeting you on your level you will have to lower yourself to meet him on his. 

If you needed confirmation, researchers from Baruch College in New York have run a test that has showed that it is better for you to ignore a jackass than to  engage with him.

The Vancouver Sun reports on the findings:

Turns out, when somebody is so obnoxious that it's exhausting just to talk to them, cutting conversational ties is actually a positive mental health strategy - one that allows people to save their cognitive capital for more fruitful activities. Say, watching paint dry.

"It's depleting to force yourself to have difficult conversations when all you want to do is ignore the person," said lead author Kristin Sommer, associate professor of psychology at Baruch College, City University of New York. "Ostracism can serve the regulatory goal of allowing people to conserve resources."

The research notes correctly that learning to walk away from jackasses is: “a positive mental health strategy.” It belongs in the category of choosing your friends wisely and well. But, it is important to underscore that if you surround yourself with jackasses then either your reputation will suffer for being associated with them or else you will be accepting their rudeness as something you deserve.

The research has also shown that the contrary is true. If you are approached by someone who is affable and congenial, you do best to engage with the person. Conversing and connecting with other humans is a natural instinct. Suppress it and you will hurt yourself; cultivate it and you will do well by yourself. 

In brief, you will damage your psyche by trying to engage with a jackass and you will damage your psyche by failing to engage with someone who is congenial.

Of course, life is rarely as clear cut as a laboratory experiment. Let’s say you are a political candidate and your opponent starts running ads that diminish, demean and slander your character? Should you react the way you would if you were having a conversation with a jackass?

In truth, you should not. Woe be unto the political candidate who mistakes a campaign for a conversation.

Everyone agrees that Mitt Romney made a fatal error when he allowed the Obama campaign’s attacks on him go unanswered. He chose to ignore the attacks on the grounds, apparently, that he was above the fray.

But then, what does the public conclude when it sees someone who is in a competitive arena declaring that he is so far above it that he does not need to compete?

He is going to come across as arrogant and condescending… not to his opponent, but to the public whose votes he is seeking. And he will lose. Imagine a football team deciding not to fight back because, as an American president, it is "too proud to fight." Doesn't that sound like pure arrogance?

Besides, if you choose to ignore a public attack on your character, people are going to assume that the charges are true.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The President Who Cried Wolf... on Sequester

Peggy Noonan calls it government by “freakout.” You might consider it brinksmanship. It’s classic Obama; leadership by demagoguery.

By now, we all know the script only too well.

Threaten the populace with a calamity to end all calamities.

Insist that the only way to avert it is to give him what he wants.

Gin up public sentiment against those who would, by denying him what he wants, precipitate Armageddon.

Watch his opponents submit to his will.

Pat himself on the back for a job well done.

What does Obama want? Jonah Goldberg says that Obama wants more tax increases:

Obama wants more tax hikes and thinks he can convince the country to accept them if the choice is between what he calls reasonable revenue increases and catastrophic cuts that will let people die in the streets, leave children to go hungry and illiterate, and allow poisoned food to sit rancid on supermarket shelves.

I agree, but only up to a point. It is more likely that Obama wants, above all else, to get his way. He wants to assert his authority over the opposition. He does not care to compromise or negotiate, because he does not know how. He wants to impose his will on his opponents because that is the only way he can feel like he is really in charge.

It is a portrait of the modern demagogue. By now, however, Obama’s sounding like the boy who cried wolf… once too often. Even if the looming sequester is a calamity, Obama is no longer a credible Paul Revere.

White House threats about sequestration sound more and more hollow. Peggy Noonan offers some mild ridicule:

Seven hundred thousand children will be dropped from Head Start. Six hundred thousand women and children will be dropped from aid programs. Meat won't be inspected. Seven thousand TSA workers will be laid off, customs workers too, and air traffic controllers. Lines at airports will be impossible. The Navy will slow down the building of an aircraft carrier. Troop readiness will be disrupted, weapons programs slowed or stalled, civilian contractors stiffed, uniformed first responders cut back. Our nuclear deterrent will be indefinitely suspended. Ha, made that one up, but give them time.

Jonah Goldberg offers a more biting satire:

We are just days away from a cataclysm of biblical proportions. The cuts foretold in the Budget Control Act of 2011 are young as far as prophecies go, but apparently they are every bit as terrifying as rivers of blood and plagues of locusts. Any day now we can expect White House spokesman Jay Carney to take to the podium and read a prepared statement: “And when he opened the seventh seal, there was a small decrease in the rate of increase in federal spending.”

Obviously, there comes a time in everyone’s life when he has to take a stand. Is now the time for Republicans to stand up to Obama?

Bullies and demagogues have this in common. They can never be placated by a single victory. Submit once and they will never let up until you submit again and again.  

Obviously, the administration has important cards to play on sequestration. It will cut the services that are most visible and most vital. When something bad happens, as it will be hoping and expecting, it will blame Republicans. Its flunkies in the mainstream media will tar and feather the Republicans for whatever goes wrong, regardless of whether it has anything to do with sequester.

Goldberg summarizes the situation:

If an agency has a billion-dollar budget and someone proposes cutting a dollar from its scheduled increase in funding, that dollar will be the one earmarked for the screw needed to keep a bridge from collapsing on a grade school’s Thanksgiving parade.

He continues:

The GOP will probably lose the public-relations battle over the sequester, because that’s the Republicans’ job in the age of Obama. A U.S. ambassador is murdered in a terrorist attack the administration ineptly responded to — and blamed on a video — but the only real story is that Republicans are so crazy, they want to know what happened. The president nominates a middle-brow pol to run the Defense Department, one who must recant all of his well-known views in order to get the job, and the story is how irrational the GOP is for caring. If the White House dispatched a drone to circle Boehner’s home, the front-page story in the New York Times would be on the speaker’s troubling paranoia.

On the other side, Republicans are not providing a plausible counterforce to the Obama juggernaut. The most recent election was a Republican debacle and what remains of the party does not inspire confidence.

Noonan describes the showdown in terms that are none too flattering to the Republicans:

… Mr. Obama thrives in chaos. He flourishes in unsettled circumstances and grooves on his own calm. He spins an air of calamity, points fingers and garners support. His only opponent is a hapless, hydra-headed House. America has a weakness for winners, and Republicans just now do not look like winners. They have many voices but no real voice, and no one saying anything that makes you stop and think. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, is a singular character who tells you in measured tones that we must have measured answers. Half the country finds his politics to be too much to one side, but his temperament is not extreme and he often looks reasonable. With this gift he ties his foes in knots to get what he wants, which is higher taxes. He wants the rich to pay more and those he judges to be in need to receive more. End of story. Debt and deficits don't interest him, except to the extent he must give them lip service.

You cannot fight something with nothing. The last Republican standard-bearer turned out to be a consultant-driven empty suit. Now, with the Republican party in tatters, largely because he performed so poorly, Mitt Romney is going to step back on the political stage by giving a speech at CPAC. Hasn’t he tarnished the Republican brand enough already?

Ever the optimist, Noonan explains wistfully that Obama is overplaying his hand and is doomed to fail. If she is right, the Republican Party can only profit if it speaks with one voice and defines itself as a plausible alternative.

But, how can the party speak with one voice when it could not perform the most elementary of political tasks: offering a single reply to the president’s State of the Union address.

Rand Paul may believe that he is standing up for principle, but he has shown a lot more vainglory than principle. He seems not to understand Benjamin Franklin’s basic principle: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”