Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 2018

Michael Hayden: The End of Intelligence

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Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, writes in the NY Times:

In 1994 during the height of the Bosnian civil war, when I was head of intelligence for American forces in Europe, I walked through the ruined streets of Sarajevo. A city of once-beautiful steeples, onion-shaped domes and minarets had been devastated by Serbian artillery in the hills rising above the Miljacka River. I wondered what manner of man could pick up a sniper rifle and shoot former neighbors lining up for scarce water at a shuttered brewery.

What struck me most, though, was not how Sarajevans were different from us, but how much they weren’t. This had obviously been a cultured, tolerant, vibrant place that had been ripped asunder by the conflict pitting Muslim Bosniaks against Christian Serbs and Croats.

The veneer of civilization, I concluded, was quite thin — a natural thought for an intelligence officer whose profession trends pessimistic and whose work is consumed by threats and dangers. Over the years I had learned that the traditions and institutions that protect us from living Hobbesian “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” lives are inherently fragile and demand careful tending. In America today, they are under serious stress.

It was no accident that the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2016 was “post-truth,” a condition where facts are less influential in shaping opinion than emotion and personal belief. To adopt post-truth thinking is to depart from Enlightenment ideas, dominant in the West since the 17th century, that value experience and expertise, the centrality of fact, humility in the face of complexity, the need for study and a respect for ideas.

President Trump both reflects and exploits this kind of thinking. It is fair to say that the Trump campaign normalized lying to an unprecedented degree. There was the candidate’s claim that legions of Arabs celebrated wildly in New Jersey as the World Trade Center collapsed. He defended his calls for the intentional killing of the Sept. 11 terrorists’ families because “they knew what was happening” and had “watched their husband on television flying into the World Trade Center,” something for which there is zero evidence. He insinuated that Senator Ted Cruz’s father had a hand in John F. Kennedy’s assassination and that the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia had been murdered.

When pressed on specifics, the president has routinely denigrated those who questioned him, whether the “fake” media, “so called” judges, Washington insiders or the “deep state.” He has also condemned Obama-era intelligence officials as “political hacks.”

David Priess, an intelligence officer who once gave presidential daily briefings, asked me whether I thought Mr. Trump could distinguish between truth and untruth. He raised the controversial speech Mr. Trump gave at a Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia in July 2017, a speech that was overly political and occasionally tasteless. In the face of sharp criticism, the president said that the Scouts’ leader had called him to say it was “the greatest speech that was ever made to them.”

Of course, no such call ever occurred. But was Mr. Trump actually able to draw a distinction between the past that had really happened and the past that he needed at that moment? Mr. Priess’s point was that you could sometimes convince a liar that he was wrong. What do you do with someone who does not distinguish between truth and untruth?

We in the intelligence world have dealt with obstinate and argumentative presidents through the years. But we have never served a president for whom ground truth really doesn’t matter.

For many Americans, this is not a problem. Last year, I met a few of them in the back room of a Pittsburgh sports bar where my brother had arranged for several dozen Trump supporters to meet with me.

I knew many of them, indeed had grown up with several. But we could have been from different planets. They were angry. They work hard, pay taxes and struggle to raise children, but feel neglected by their government. And Donald Trump is still their guy. “He is an American.” “He is genuine.” “He doesn’t filter everything or parse every word.”

They didn’t seem very interested in facts, either. Or at least not in my facts. Political partisanship in America has become what David Brooks calls “totalistic.” Partisan identity, as he writes, fills “the void left when their other attachments wither away — religious, ethnic, communal and familial.” Beliefs are now so tied to these identities that data is not particularly useful to argue a point.

Intelligence work — at least as practiced in the Western liberal tradition — reflects these threatened Enlightenment values: gathering, evaluating and analyzing information, and then disseminating conclusions for use, study or refutation.

How the erosion of Enlightenment values threatens good intelligence was obvious in the Trump administration’s ill-conceived and poorly carried out executive order that looked to the world like a Muslim ban.

That order was almost certainly not the product of intelligence analysis about the threat posed by immigrants from certain nations, but rather the president trying to fulfill a campaign promise based on exaggerated fears about immigrants and unfair criticism of the refugee vetting system. One former senior intelligence official told me that when the ban was announced internally, everyone was simply told to get on board. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2018 at 11:18 am

Wee Scot, D.R. Harris Arlington, and the iKon 102

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A fine way to start the week: An excellent lather from D. R. Harris & Co. Arlington shaving soap, thanks in part to the Wee Scot, and then a smooth and easy shave from my iKon 102, ending with a splash of Arlington aftershave.

The previous post will be of interest to those who cook, and I’ve updated my current diet advice in various ways, including a game.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2018 at 9:08 am

Posted in Shaving

Dinner and a note on cooking chicken breasts

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Boneless skinless chicken breasts are 0 Weight Watchers points, so we have been having them often, chopped up in salads, added to chili, ratatouille, stews, etc. I have been poaching them the way Cook’s Illustrated suggested, as described in this post. Because the breasts are cooked relatively quickly, you must pound them to a uniform thickness (more or less) so that the thinner parts are not overcooked in the time it takes to get the thicker parts done.

However, I recently learned that bone-in skin-on chicken breasts are also 0 Weight Watchers points if you strip the skin off before serving. Since those are cheaper than the boneless skinless sort, I decided to go for it. I used my large (11″, 4-qt) All-Clad Stainless sauté pan and put in 2.5 qts water, 3/4 c soy sauce, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1/4 cups salt, and stirred it up. Then I put the 3 bone-in skin-on chicken-breast halve to marinate. They occupied a single layer (and were slightly cheaper than the boneless skinless versions).

I let them marinate for about 3 hours. There was no way to pound them to uniform thickness, so I needed to cook them very slowly so that the thickest parts arrived at 160ºF at around the same time the thinnest parts did.

So I drained them, returned them to the sauté pan, covered it, and put it in a 200ºF oven for 2.5 hours. Check the temperature then. If it’s above 160ºF in the thickest part, that’s fine with me.

Let it cool, then strip off skin and bones by hand and refrigerate for use in salads, ratatouilles, etc. The nice thing about cooking them this way instead of, say, roasting them, is that this way the skin is rubbery, pale, and unappetizing, quite unlike the crisp, brown, tasty-looking skin of roasted chicken.

And tonight we had a black-eyed pea salad that was quite good:

1 cup dry blackeyed peas
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 large yellow bell pepper, chopped
3-5 oz baby arugula, chopped
200g feta, crumbled—7 oz, essentially. I formerly used 8 oz, but now we’re in Canada, and metric rules.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice or lime juice
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp minced or crushed garlic
1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
1 bunch large scallions, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped small
1 cup sliced cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp capers, drained
3-5 anchovy fillets, minced
2 Tbsp tamari
NO salt (feta does it)
2 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 can chunk white tuna, 120g drained (amps the protein, adds no points)

Cook beans (they take about 45 min after soaking), drain, and add all ingredients. The arugula probably amounts to 2 cups, compressed.

Stir/toss well until thoroughly mixed. The Wife likes this as well.

They sell pickled eggs in the supermarket, and eggs—like tuna—are zero points and high in protein. So next time I might slice 2-3 eggs into the salad, with or without the tuna.

Feta is 22 points, olive oil is 8 points, plus 1 poit each for mustard, garlic, and lemon/lime juice. However, it makes an enormous amount: I estimate at least eight 1-cup servings—so 4 points per serving. If it is sufficient for 10 servings, as seems likely, then it’s 3 points per serving.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2018 at 6:47 pm

Scott Aaronson’s route to quantum physics

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Very interesting lecture by Scott Aaronson:

There are two ways to teach quantum mechanics. The first way — which for most physicists today is still the only way — follows the historical order in which the ideas were discovered. So, you start with classical mechanics and electrodynamics, solving lots of grueling differential equations at every step. Then you learn about the “blackbody paradox” and various strange experimental results, and the great crisis these things posed for physics. Next you learn a complicated patchwork of ideas that physicists invented between 1900 and 1926 to try to make the crisis go away. Then, if you’re lucky, after years of study you finally get around to the central conceptual point: that nature is described not by probabilities (which are always nonnegative), but by numbers called amplitudes that can be positive, negative, or even complex.

Today, in the quantum information age, the fact that all the physicists had to learn quantum this way seems increasingly humorous. For example, I’ve had experts in quantum field theory — people who’ve spent years calculating path integrals of mind-boggling complexity — ask me to explain the Bell inequality to them. That’s like Andrew Wiles asking me to explain the Pythagorean Theorem.

As a direct result of this “QWERTY” approach to explaining quantum mechanics – which you can see reflected in almost every popular book and article, down to the present — the subject acquired an undeserved reputation for being hard. Educated people memorized the slogans — “light is both a wave and a particle,” “the cat is neither dead nor alive until you look,” “you can ask about the position or the momentum, but not both,” “one particle instantly learns the spin of the other through spooky action-at-a-distance,” etc. — and also learned that they shouldn’t even try to understand such things without years of painstaking work.

The second way to teach quantum mechanics leaves a blow-by-blow account of its discovery to the historians, and instead starts directly from the conceptual core — namely, a certain generalization of probability theory to allow minus signs. Once you know what the theory is actually about, you can then sprinkle in physics to taste, and calculate the spectrum of whatever atom you want. This second approach is the one I’ll be following here.


So, what is quantum mechanics? Even though it was discovered by physicists, it’s not a physical theory in the same sense as electromagnetism or general relativity. In the usual “hierarchy of sciences” — with biology at the top, then chemistry, then physics, then math — quantum mechanics sits at a level between math and physics that I don’t know a good name for. Basically, quantum mechanics is the operating system that other physical theories run on as application software (with the exception of general relativity, which hasn’t yet been successfully ported to this particular OS). There’s even a word for taking a physical theory and porting it to this OS: “to quantize.”

But if quantum mechanics isn’t physics in the usual sense — if it’s not about matter, or energy, or waves, or particles — then what is it about? From my perspective, it’s about information and probabilities and observables, and how they relate to each other.

Ray Laflamme:

    •  That’s very much a computer-science point of view.

Scott: Yes, it is.

My contention in this lecture is the following: Quantum mechanics is what you would inevitably come up with if you started from probability theory, and then said, let’s try to generalize it so that the numbers we used to call “probabilities” can be negative numbers. As such, the theory could have been invented by mathematicians in the 19th century without any input from experiment. It wasn’t, but it could have been.

Ray Laflamme:

    •  And yet, with all the structures mathematicians studied, none of them came up with quantum mechanics until experiment forced it on them…

Scott: Yes — and to me, that’s a perfect illustration of why experiments are relevant in the first place! More often than not, the only reason we need experiments is that we’re not smart enough. After the experiment has been done, if we’ve learned anything worth knowing at all, then hopefully we’ve learned why the experiment wasn’t necessary to begin with — why it wouldn’t have made sense for the world to be any other way. But we’re too dumb to figure it out ourselves!

Two other perfect examples of “obvious-in-retrospect” theories are evolution and special relativity. Admittedly, I don’t know if the ancient Greeks, sitting around in their togas, could have figured out that these theories were true. But certainly — certainly! — they could’ve figured out that they were possibly true: that they’re powerful principles that would’ve at least been on God’s whiteboard when She was brainstorming the world.

In this lecture, I’m going to try to convince you — without any recourse to experiment — that quantum mechanics would also have been on God’s whiteboard. I’m going to show you why, if you want a universe with certain very generic properties, you seem forced to one of three choices: (1) determinism, (2) classical probabilities, or (3) quantum mechanics. Even if the “mystery” of quantum mechanics can never be banished entirely, you might be surprised by just how far people could’ve gotten without leaving their armchairs! That they didn’tget far until atomic spectra and so on forced the theory down their throats is one of the strongest arguments I know for experiments being necessary.


A Less Than 0% Chance

Alright, so what would it mean to have “probability theory” with negative numbers? Well, there’s a reason you never hear the weather forecaster talk about a -20% chance of rain tomorrow — it really does make as little sense as it sounds. But I’d like you to set any qualms aside, and just think abstractly about an event with N possible outcomes. We can express the probabilities of those events by a vector of N real numbers: . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it’s intriguing.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2018 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Math, Science

The Quest for the Next Billion-Dollar Color

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Zach Schonburn writes for Bloomberg:

Mas Subramanian, the biggest celebrity in the uncelebrated world of pigment research, glances at a cluster of widemouthed jars containing powders in every color of the rainbow, save one. He’s got OYGBIV. “We’re getting closer,” he says brightly. He points to a jar of reddish brown dust, smoky and rich as paprika. Fetching, but it isn’t what he’s looking for.

During his nine-year sojourn into the strange, finicky realm of color, Subramanian, a materials science professor at Oregon State University at Corvallis, has grown infatuated with a form of chemistry that he, like many of his peers, once considered decidedly low-tech. His renown derives from his accidental creation, in 2009, of a new pigment, a substance capable of imparting color onto another material. YInMn blue (pronounced YIN-min) is an amalgam of yttrium, indium oxide, and manganese—elements deep within the periodic table that together form something unique. YInMn was the first blue pigment discovered in more than 200 years.

It isn’t only the exotic blueness that has excited the color industry, but also the other hues the pigment can generate. Subramanian soon realized that by adding copper, he could make a green. With iron, he got orange. Zinc and titanium, a muted purple.

Scanning these creations, scattered across his workbench like evidence of a Willy Wonka bender, he frowns. “We’ve made other colors,” he says. “But we haven’t found red.”

The world lacks a great all-around red. Always has. We’ve made do with alternatives that could be toxic or plain gross. The gladiators smeared their faces with mercury-based vermilion. Titian painted with an arsenic-based mineral called realgar. The British army’s red coats were infused with crushed cochineal beetles. For decades, red Lego bricks contained cadmium, a carcinogen.

More than 200 natural and synthetic red pigments exist today, but each has issues with safety, stability, chromaticity, and/or opacity. Red 254, aka Ferrari red, for example, is safe and popular, but it’s also carbon-based, leaving it susceptible to fading in the rain or the heat. “If we sit out in the sun, it’s not good for us,” says Narayan Khandekar, director of Harvard’s Straus Center for Conservation & Technical Studies and curator of the Forbes Pigment Collection. “That’s the same for most organic systems.” One red is stable, nontoxic, and everlasting: iron oxide, or red ocher, the ruddy clay found in Paleolithic cave paintings. “It’s just not bright in the way that people want,” Khandekar says.

A new pigment can generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually, affecting product categories from plastics to cosmetics to cars to construction. The most commercially successful blue, phthalocyanine, is found in eye shadow, hair gel, even the cars on British railways. Subramanian’s blue appears to be superior, but that doesn’t mean it has made him rich. What began as a scientific pursuit has opened up a whole new set of challenges getting YInMn approved, produced, and on the market.

With that process in motion, Subramanian, more scientist than chief executive, is now hunting for a similarly safe, inorganic red derivative of YInMn—something that could put Ferrari red, which is worth an estimated $300 million annually, well in its rearview mirror. Mark Ryan, marketing manager at Shepherd Color Co. in Cincinnati, says whoever finds such a red “wouldn’t have to come into work the next day.”

Told of Ryan’s promised reward, Subramanian chuckles. “I’d still come in to work,” he says. “I love what I do.”

Subramanian is 64 and short, with a slight paunch and a dark mustache that curls down the sides of his mouth. Raised in Chennai, on the southeastern coast of India, he developed a fascination with the makeup of objects by examining beautiful seashells that had washed ashore. “How does nature make these things?” he would ask himself. It wasn’t until much later that he began asking how the shells got their colors.

Technically speaking, colors are the visual sensates of light as it’s bent or scattered or reflected off the atomic makeup of an object. Modern computers can display about 16.8 million of them, far more than people can see or printers can reproduce. To transform a digital or imagined color into something tangible requires a pigment. “Yes, you have this fabulous blue,” says Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, which assists companies with color strategies for branding or products. “But wait, can I actually create the blue in velvet, silk, cotton, rayon, or coated paper stock?

“It’s not just the color,” she adds. “It’s the chemical composition of the color. And can that composition actually be realized in the material I’m going to apply it to?” . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more and it’s interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2018 at 3:32 pm

Despite So Much Winning, The Right Feels Like It’s Losing

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Conservatives seem to do a lot of psychological projection, and one common projection is to label liberals as “sensitive” or “snowflakes,” when quite clearly conservatives are easily upset when the cultural tide turns against them. Tim Mak reports for NPR:

Diamond and Silk caused a spectacle on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

“Facebook along with other social media sites have taken aggressive actions to silence conservative voices such as ourselves,” the pro-Trump social media stars charged.

It’s a claim Facebook denies, pointing out that the social media network has changed its settings so that users see more content from friends — and less from political groups of all stripes.

But beyond the fireworks before the House Judiciary Committee, the two online celebrities reflect a broader point within the conservative movement right now. Many feel unfairly persecuted by the powers that be in American culture.

“I think that is a difficult thing for a lot of liberals to get, that for them you know they look and say, ‘Trump’s in charge, Mitch McConnell’s out there, Paul Ryan — well Republicans have got everything,’ ” said John Hawkins, the founder of Right Wing News, a Facebook group with more than 3 million followers.

President-elect Donald Trump proclaimed on election night 2016: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

With his victory, Republicans held more power than they have had in nearly a century. Conservatives had control of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House, and held a majority of the country’s governorships. Conservatives also now have a majority on the Supreme Court, in no small part because of Trump’s election.

But beyond politics, Hawkins said, the average American conservative feels bombarded daily with disrespect.

“He turns on a TV show where he’s insulted, and then he’s like, ‘well, maybe I’ll just unwind and watch an awards show’ — the Oscars or something — where he gets trashed all day long,” Hawkins said. “He goes to Twitter and he’s got some you know guy calling him in a-hole … this is sort of like a pervasive all-out attack if you’re a conservative. And it’s all the time sort of thing.”

“Politics is downstream from culture. And I do think that it’s true that conservatives have lost in many ways the culture,” said Matt Lewis, a conservative columnist for The Daily Beast who has previously worked for conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and Human Events.

He also said, “There is a sense on the right that is apocalyptic and fearful.”

Earlier this month, Jesse Kelly, a writer for the mainstream conservative website The Federalist, wrote that Americans on the left and right can’t get along anymore, that domestic unrest could be coming and that the best alternative course would be to just split the country up.

“We’re just not on the same page on anything anymore. Rather than the constant fighting and before it gets really nasty, I think we should just go our separate ways,” Kelly told NPR.

Kurt Schlichter, a columnist for the conservative Townhall.com, recently wrote a column speculating about whether there could be another civil war. He concluded there could be one and predicted how the left would lose a violent conflict if it came to it.

“We want to be treated with respect, and we will not tolerate anything less which is just unacceptable for this to continue. I’m tired of Hollywood spitting on us. I am tired of academia spitting on us. I’m tired of the news media spitting on us,” he said. [Notice that there has been no actual spitting; Kurt Schlichter just can withstand criticism, which to him apparently feels like being spat upon. This a canonical example of a “snowflake.” And he should be aware that conservatives do not hold back in the contempt for liberals, including name-calling, but I don’t see liberals asking for their own special country where they will not have to face disagreement. – LG]

Trump ran on these frustrations — but his election, as well as the election of many other Republicans to positions of political power, haven’t dulled them.

This feeling of losing the American culture war reflects polling of white, working-class Americans. A poll taken last year by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic showed 48 percent of them believe that “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”

“I mean, shoot, I had a conversation with my mother about this a couple of years ago,” Kelly said. “This had nothing to do with the election or anything else. Like something’s coming, it just feels that way and I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.”

These feelings pop up on all sorts of political issues, from Diamond and Silk — also known as Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson — to accusations of “fake news” to the schadenfreude on the right over Kanye West’s complimentary tweets about Trump this week. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2018 at 8:48 am

Posted in GOP, Politics

At Nike, Revolt Led by Women Leads to Exodus of Executives Guilty of Misconduct and Harassment

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Julie Creswell, Kevin Draper, and Rachel Abrams report in the NY Times:

For too many women, life inside Nike had turned toxic.

There were the staff outings that started at restaurants and ended at strip clubs. A supervisor who bragged about the condoms he carried in his backpack. A boss who tried to forcibly kiss a female subordinate, and another who referenced a staff member’s breasts in an email to her.

Then there were blunted career paths. Women were made to feel marginalized in meetings and were passed over for promotions. They were largely excluded from crucial divisions like basketball. When they complained to human resources, they said, they saw little or no evidence that bad behavior was being penalized.

Finally, fed up, a group of women inside Nike’s Beaverton, Ore., headquarters started a small revolt.

Covertly, they surveyed their female peers, inquiring whether they had been the victim of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Their findings set off an upheaval in the executive ranks of the world’s largest sports footwear and apparel company.

On March 5, the packet of completed questionnaires landed on the desk of Mark Parker, Nike’s chief executive. Over the next several weeks, at least six top male executives left or said they were planning to leave the company, including Trevor Edwards, president of the Nike brand, who was widely viewed as a leading candidate to succeed Mr. Parker, and Jayme Martin, Mr. Edwards’s lieutenant, who oversaw much of Nike’s global business.

Others who have departed include the head of diversity and inclusion, a vice president in footwear and a senior director for Nike’s basketball division.

It is a humbling setback for a company that is famous worldwide and has built its brand around the inspirational slogan “Just Do It.” While the #MeToo movement has led to the downfall of individual men, the kind of sweeping overhaul that is occurring at Nike is rare in the corporate world, and illustrates how internal pressure from employees is forcing even huge companies to quickly address workplace problems.

As women — and men — continue to come forward with complaints, Nike has begun a comprehensive review of its human resources operations, making management training mandatory and revising many of its internal reporting procedures.

While the departure of top executives has been covered in news accounts, new reporting by The New York Times, including interviews with more than 50 current and former employees, provides the most thorough account yet of how disaffection among women festered and left them feeling ignored, harassed and stymied in their careers. The Times also viewed copies of three complaints to human resources.

“I came to the realization that I, as a female, would not grow in that company,” said Francesca Krane, who worked for five years in Nike’s retail brand design area before leaving in 2016. She said she grew tired of watching men get promoted into jobs ahead of women she felt were equally or better qualified.

Many of those interviewed, across multiple divisions, also described a workplace environment that was demeaning to women. Three people, for instance, said they recalled times when male superiors referred to people using a vulgar term for women’s genitals. Another employee said that her boss threw his car keys at her and called her a “stupid bitch.” She reported the incident to human resources. (She told her sister about it at the time, the sister confirmed.) He continued to be her supervisor.

Most of the people who spoke to The Times insisted on anonymity, citing nondisclosure agreements or a fear of being ostracized in the industry, or in the Portland community, where Nike wields outsize influence. Some have spouses or family members still working there.

In response to questions, Nike portrayed its problems as being confined to “an insular group of high-level managers” who “protected each other and looked the other way.”

“That is not something we are going to tolerate,” said a spokesman, KeJuan Wilkins.

In a statement, Mr. Parker said the vast majority of Nike’s employees work hard to inspire and serve athletes throughout the world. “It has pained me to hear that there are pockets of our company where behaviors inconsistent with our values have prevented some employees from feeling respected and doing their best work,” he said.

For Amanda Shebiel, who left Nike in September after about five years at the company, the promise to address longstanding systemic problems is welcome, but late.

“Why did it take an anonymous survey to make change?” she asked. “Many of my peers and I reported incidences and a culture that were uncomfortable, disturbing, threatening, unfair, gender-biased and sexist — hoping that something would change that would make us believe in Nike again.”

“No one went just to complain,” Ms. Shebiel added. “We went to make it better.”

An Inner Circle of Men

With a market value of about $112 billion and annual revenues of around $36 billion, Nike is a global behemoth in the athletic market, where its dominance went largely unchallenged for several decades.

But the company is facing significant business hurdles. Adidas, one of its biggest competitors, has gained ground in key markets like apparel and footwear. Nike is also struggling to get traction in women’s categories, the fastest-growing segment of the market.

Some of those interviewed by The Times said the weakness in women’s products in part reflected a lack of female leadership and an environment that favored male voices. Nike’s own research shows that women occupy nearly half the company’s work force but just 38 percent of positions of director or higher, and 29 percent of the vice presidents, according to an April 4 internal memo obtained by The Times.

And while Nike executives have told investors that the women’s category was a crucial part of its revenue growth strategy, former employees said it was not given the budget it needed to roll out the sophisticated marketing campaigns that were the hallmark of traditional men’s sports, like basketball.

When Nike did put money behind campaigns targeting women, it sometimes flailed.

Last year, Mr. Edwards, the former president, gave the green light for a marketing campaign for the fall launch of the VaporMax shoe for women; the female British singer FKA Twigs was given creative license for a shoot in Mexico City. The result, according to a person who saw a rough cut of the commercial and another who saw the final cut, featured few shots of the shoes and instead had a woman twirling on what looked like a stripper pole and male athletes in sports bras striking odd poses. The campaign was killed, costing Nike millions of dollars.

Asked about the aborted campaign, Mr. Wilkins of Nike said the company was proud of its relationship with the singer. “We have a history of pushing the boundaries in marketing, just as we do in product development,” Mr. Wilkins said. “We create a lot of material that is not deployed in the marketplace.’’

Nike forcefully disputed the notion that women were not involved in the creative and marketing operations, noting that a female executive leads its women’s division. But Mr. Wilkins, the spokesman, acknowledged that, in areas like basketball, “there was more room and opportunity for the company to increase female representation in its senior positions.”

While women struggled to attain top positions at Nike, an inner circle of mostly male leaders emerged who had a direct line to Mr. Edwards. Within the company, as reported earlier in The Wall Street Journal, this group was known as F.O.T., or Friends of Trevor. They texted him in meetings or bragged about having lunch or dinner with him. . .

Continue reading.

Oddly, the original headline read “At Nike, Revolt Led by Women Leads to Exodus of Male Executives,” as if the problem were that the executives were male. That was not the problem, as the article makes clear.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2018 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

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