Later On

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

Archive for July 12th, 2018

Bill Maher Is Stand-up Comedy’s Past. Hannah Gadsby Represents Its Future.

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I’m right now watching “Nanette” on Netflix, and this Vulture article by Matt Stoller Seitz is spot-on:

Last weekend, as Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix phenomenon Nanette continued to rack up impassioned reviews and think pieces, Bill Maher aired a new HBO special, Live From Oklahoma. If you watch them back-to-back, they seem to be in conversation, or debate. They have core subjects in common, including the cultural and political status of the cisgender straight man in the era of Donald Trump and #MeToo. But just as importantly, they represent comedy’s past and its future. Maher is the past. Gadsby is the future.

If you look at what both performers have served up as examples of their personal best, it’s hard not to be embarrassed for Maher, as well as anyone else in comedy who feels more kinship with him than with somebody like Gadsby. The Tasmanian comic’s Nanette, which shifts from a typical, joke-driven stand-up special into an explanation of why she’s quitting comedy, delves into her personal biography as a lesbian woman struggling to express her authentic self, and as a student of visual art history who scrutinized Western art painted mainly by straight white men that she unquestioningly accepted as masters because of their “reputation.” It’s a sensational special that veers from breezy slightness to unsettling depths before settling on a benevolent but challenging tone, in the vein of a teacher who entertains in order to teach but also teaches because she’s an entertainer. Gadsby discusses everything from Tasmania’s history of criminalizing homosexuality to her own coming out, her ingrained tendency to be self-deprecating (“It’s not humility, it’s humiliation”), and her suppression of her personality to please both the dominant, straight male–driven culture, and lesbians whose political identities are based around being demonstrative and emotionally transparent (“Where are the quiet gays supposed to go?”).

Nanette is also a deconstruction of stand-up specials, as well as several generations’ worth of straight male–crafted opinions on what “good comedy” is and what “great art” is. Gadsby poses a question which, if answered affirmatively, would validate her stated wish to quit doing stand-up: What if “funny” is the enemy of “honest,” or at least at cross-purposes with it? There’s plenty of funny surrounding the comparatively brief sections where she talks about being beaten up on the street by a homophobic man at age 17, and raped after that, and Gadsby constantly introduces and then releases tension throughout, usually by way of jokes. The result is a stand-up special about the distortions that seem built into the very idea of stand-up. What she’s doing here is not unprecedented — Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and other masters went dark, raw, abstract, and “unfunny” all the time; a generation of “alternative” comics like Janeane Garofalo pushed the boundaries of hyperpersonal storytelling in the ’90s; Patton Oswalt devoted about 40 percent of his latest stand-up special to stark material about his wife’s Michelle McNamara’s death; and just last month, Cameron Esposito recounted her own sexual assault in the hour-long special Rape Jokes — but Nanette is the highest-profile recent example of a woman veering between funny and raw and still having her venue present the result as, basically, “stand-up comedy” and put it on the Netflix menu along with Jerry Seinfeld. It’s more common to see this kind of project branded as a piece of theater in the vein of solo pieces by Lily Tomlin, John Leguizamo, Eric Bogosian, Whoopi Goldberg, and Anna Deavere Smith — people who would be the first to tell you that they tell stories, not just jokes. In Gadsby’s own words, “My show is not stand-up comedy because I got jack of an art form designed by men for men. Female artists often defy genre.”

One way Gadsby does that is by making comedy itself one of her main topics. Among other things, she argues that “jokes” are less useful for describing the totality of the human condition than “stories.” Jokes, she says, are incomplete thoughts expressed in two stages, the setup and punch line (or “a question” and “a surprise answer”). This structure ensures that jokes as a method of communication are always on some level “incomplete,” which means that by definition they can’t really challenge or change anything, and are therefore more conservative than progressive — reinforcing what we already believe rather than entertaining new information or unfamiliar philosophies.

Stories, on the other hand, have additional stages, or beats, plus layers, ellipses, and more. The good ones open up intellectual and emotional responses rather than trying to manage them or shoo them away. Of course all stand-ups tell stories, some of them quite long, and some end with a punch line — like the best bits in Dave Chappelle’s otherwise lumpy specials from earlier in the year — while others don’t. But I think what Gadsby is getting at here is an overall allegiance to the idea of the joke, the setup, the punch line; a traditional stand-up ideology, as it were, that prizes familiar and reassuring rhythms that she’s not loyal to anymore.

She wonders if participating in stand-up comedy as it’s usually defined (by men) is just enshrining negative emotions and reactionary thoughts. Here, again, she’s not so much rejecting an element in the basic toolkit — all stories employ tension to keep us excited or interested — as highlighting how it’s used to propagate ideas that don’t do people like her any favors. “Taking a joke,” from her perspective, is a nonphysical equivalent of taking a punch. The object of the joke is proving that she can withstand pain by laughing. This in turn reassures the joke-teller that it’s okay to say something that’s wounding, that punches down, that reminds particular groups of what society has decided is “their place.” This is how ideology reproduces itself.

To illustrate this idea, Gadsby tells a joke that both she and the audience agree is amusing: “What sort of comedian can’t even make the lesbians laugh? Every comedian ever.” When the room dies down, Gadsby describes that joke as “bulletproof” because it’s constructed in such a way that its target audience — lesbians — are all but required to laugh at it, in order to prove they aren’t humorless. Of course, that’s the entire point of telling that sort of joke: to get everyone to laugh together at the fact that lesbians are sourpusses who can’t take a joke. “We’ve got to laugh because if we don’t laugh, it proves the point,” she says.

We did laugh, though; Gadsby encouraged us and gave us permission. But thanks to her follow-up, which takes the joke apart like a sculptor dissembling an armature, we also understand the hidden intent of its construction. Which means next time, the laughter sticks in the throat. Or maybe it doesn’t. Either way, Gadsby got a laugh out of us, while also making us wonder why we laughed, and what larger social-conditioning role our laughter plays.

That’s a specific kind of magic trick. Gadsby does variations of that trick throughout Nanette, always pulling us along to the next joke, the next deconstruction of a joke, the next touching or wrenching personal anecdote, pointing out at each stage how she’s shaped the material to elicit certain reactions, and how other comedians find their own ways of doing it, whether their larger goal is to stimulate the audience’s imagination, shut down dissent, or just hear themselves talk. How we tell jokes and stories, and whether we decide to tell a joke or a story, expresses who we are and what we believe. Nanette is . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2018 at 4:39 pm

Nordic-walking poles arrived and tried

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Komperdell Nordic walking pole

My Komperdell Spirit Vario Nordic-walking poles just arrived. These are two-section poles: adjustable, but don’t collapse so short as three-section poles (often named “Traveler” or the like), which are designed for packing into a suitcase or backpack. Since I won’t be traveling, two-section is better: with fewer joints the chance of vibration is reduced.

In use, they feel very much like the NordicTrack ski exerciser I used for some years, with your arms doing the same smooth pushback (against resistance) as you stride. You exert the down-and-back pressure with the palm of your hand against the (detachable) glove, rather than by gripping the handle (which you hold loosely and release toward the end of the stroke, thus the attached glove). The glove identifier (left or right) is on the strap tab and is not at first obvious. (In the photo I’m gripping the handle. That’s wrong.)

As I Nordic-walked down the block outside, I noticed that the poles do indeed strongly encourage an upright posture as you walk, something I do not always achieve (particularly when walking uphill).

I also noticed that my arms tired rather quickly. I’ve been walking now for a couple of weeks (and am now doing a 45-minute walk), but my arms haven’t been involved. Until now. The poles will provide a good upper-body workout, much like the NordicTrack.

I’m very pleased with these. Komperdell is an Austrian maker, and the poles seem quite good. Indeed, I like them even more than I expected I would.

Update: What I learned in my first formal lesson. As is typical of self-taught practitioners, I fell into some common (and easily corrected errors—for example, in the photo above, my right arm should be much straighter and hanging by my side with the pole tip farther back, more like the left arm; and the left arm should be well past my leg, swinging behind me).

Since Nordic walking, like (for example) rowing and swimming, consists of continual repetition of the same actions, any flaws in technique are multiplied by the number of repetitions and thus their cost grows over time. I highly recommend getting lessons if a certified instructor is available. The post at the link describes a few common errors you can avoid.

Nordic pole walking links can be found in this post.

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2018 at 3:11 pm

Inside the Radical, Uncomfortable Movement to Help White Supremacists Reform

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Wes Enzinna has an interesting article in Mother Jones:

On July 4, 2013, one of Shane Johnson’s pals pushed through the front door of his trailer and announced that “a bunch of black guys” had just “said some shit to him.” Johnson was small and lithe, tattooed from neck to toe with swastikas, and his throat was inked with a portrait of Jesus and the words “I AM NOT A JEW.” As a teenager, he’d earned the nickname “Punchy” for his willingness to make up for his stature with an even shorter temper. It served him well as the leader of his Ku Klux Klan chapter in Kokomo, Indiana.

On his orders, he and several of his buddies tied bandannas to padlocks and stuffed them into their back pockets. Johnson, who had been awake for three days on an Adderall and whiskey bender, led his posse to a nearby park where a band was performing an Independence Day concert for a crowd of families. Johnson didn’t see the kids who had trash-talked his friend, but on the edge of the grass he spotted something even more offensive—an African American man and a white woman sitting on a blanket holding hands. He and his crew fanned out, swinging their padlocks at anyone within reach, shouting, “White power, you niggers!”

Indiana has long been a hotbed of white supremacist activity. In 1923, Kokomo hosted the largest KKK rally in US history. Two years later, half the city’s residents were Klan members. Today, infamous movement leaders like White Aryan Resis­tance founder Tom Metzger and alt-right figurehead Matt Heimbach live in the state, and Klan branches remain active in major cities. Johnson grew up in one of Kokomo’s best-known Klan families; his dad even appeared in full robe and hood on The Jerry Springer Show in the ’90s. “Nobody liked me,” he says. “I didn’t have any friends or anything.”

Starting at the age of five, he received two hours of daily Bible study from his dad. He was schooled in the doctrine of “Christian Identity,” which holds that the enslavement or extermination of all nonwhites will usher in the second coming of Christ. In kindergarten, Johnson got in trouble for refusing to sit next to a black child. He dropped out in seventh grade to dedicate himself to the march toward racial Armageddon. “We was told we’d go to eternal damnation if we didn’t fight Jews and blacks,” he says. “That’s some scary shit for a young kid.”

Yet in the months before the attack in the park, Johnson had had flashes of doubt, moments when his indoctrination and reality didn’t seem to match up. There was the “proof” that Adam and Eve were Caucasian—­something about how the sand in Eden was white—which “just didn’t make any damn sense.” He’d started to feel pangs of embarrassment about getting that Jesus neck tattoo. But the most troubling moment came one day as he and his girlfriend, Tiffany Gregoire, were driving around and she asked him, “If there was a black baby right here and you could kill him or her and get away with it, would you?”

“Fuck yeah, I would,” Johnson remembers answering. “That would potentially stop a whole bunch of black people from being born. I don’t believe they have souls, anyway. It’d be like killing a dog.”

Gregoire, who had been dating Johnson since she was 17, grew up in a tolerant household in Georgia before moving to Indiana. She had been gently prodding him since they met, introducing him to rap music, or “seed planting,” as he would later realize. But even though she wished he’d change, she didn’t like confrontation and loved Johnson despite his beliefs.

“What, you think less of me or something?” he said, noticing her disappointment.

“No, no, that’s fine,” she said, turning the music up. “I don’t care. I was just wondering.”

As he drove near the route where 200,000 Klan supporters had marched in 1923, he had an inkling of an epiphany, which he tried to put out of his mind. Nah, hell no I wouldn’t murder a black baby, he thought. There’s no fucking way.

If he actually believed in white supremacy and race war, what did this hesitation mean? In the past, he might have asked his dad, a lifelong Klan member, who would have rebuked him and reminded him that doubt was Satan talking. But for the first time, Johnson wasn’t sure he wanted to know what his father would say. When his dad died in mysterious circumstances soon afterward, it was a mixed blessing. “It sounds bad,” Johnson recalls, “but I’m glad he died.”

That uncomfortable conversation with Gregoire popped into Johnson’s mind when he woke up in the Howard County jail the day after the park attack. During the seven months since his dad died, he’d been on a near-suicidal binge, drowning his anger and uncertainty in a sea of booze and pills. Now he was viciously sober, his head throbbing, his fists bruised and cut up, his neck and back aching from where the cops had kneed and punched and tased him. Johnson had hurt people before, but this time his hazy memories of what he’d done in the park made him feel guilty—the way the man on the blanket just went down after he thunked him over the head with the padlock, or how the white woman with two biracial children looked while he chased them screaming “nigger lover!”

Next to him in the cell, one of his friends just shrugged about the prospect of prison. “So, you think we’re going to join the Aryan Brotherhood when we get in there?” he asked. Johnson thought to himself, “What the fuck am I doing with my fucking life? How are we the supreme race? We’re fucking idiots.”

He suddenly realized he wanted to escape the Klan. But how? He was 22 years old, had no skills and no job, had $100 to his name, and was covered in white supremacist tattoos, and his criminal record was about to get longer. He’d hardly read any books except the Bible and the Kloran, the KKK’s secret handbook. He’d spent nearly every hour of his life dedicated to a vision of white supremacy that he wasn’t sure was so superior anymore. Besides Gregoire, he had virtually no friends outside the movement. If he turned his back on his family and crew, they might try to kill him.

Johnson was experiencing a reckoning that’s common for many white supremacists, a sort of ideological hangover after waking up from years of hate. Since Donald Trump rode a wave of racial resentment to the White House in 2016, America’s white supremacists have been emboldened. Yet as the movement’s visibility has increased, so has the number of extremists trying to escape it. Efforts to understand the minds of violent racists like Shane Johnson have gained newfound urgency as the country struggles to defeat the next generation of extremists.

Leading this effort is a loosely affiliated group of scholars and activists, some of whom are former white supremacists themselves. The deradicalization movement combines insights gleaned from social work, 12-step programs, psychology, neurochemistry, and the personal experiences of “formers” who have left extremist groups. It’s tricky work. Few extremists make clean breaks with their past. Many liken hate to an addiction—hard to quit and easy to relapse into. The process is slow and one-on-one; it doesn’t promise to defeat hate groups so much as chip away at a movement that includes more than 400 organizations with thousands of members, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center—not to mention fellow travelers in the alt-right and online hate communities, bolstered by websites like the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer that cheer on racist violence. Deradicalization activists are, in turn, facing a crucible: Can their fragile, nascent project provide a new path to Americans like Johnson who want to leave hate behind?

How people join hate groups has been studied extensively, but researchers are still learning how people quit. Starting in the late 1980s, Tore Bjørgo, a Norwegian sociologist, interviewed white supre­macists as they attempted to leave the Scandina­vian neo-Nazi movement. His findings were counterintuitive: Many became hardcore racists only after they had joined white supremacist groups. Rather than preexisting anti-Semitism or xenophobia, a cocktail of experiences such as isolation, depression, anxiety, or childhood abuse typically served as the stepping stones to extremism. This suggested that the behavioral and social rewards of participating in hate groups are perhaps more fundamental to understanding—and stopping—extremist behavior than the ideology behind it.

Arie Kruglanski, a social psychologist at the University of Maryland and a Holocaust survivor, hit upon a related discovery: While researchers had believed that some combination of class, gender, geography, intelligence, and age determined who was most likely to become a white supremacist, Kruglanski found that psychological signposts were better predictors of radicalization. He called these factors “the three Ns”—need, narrative, and network. It doesn’t matter if they are skinheads or jihadis; everyone who gets involved in hate movements has a deep urge to participate in a greater cause. Yet that cause, Kruglanski argued, needn’t be destructive. To successfully deradicalize a neo-Nazi, a new, constructive set of Ns—which might stem from education, a job, a partner—would have to replace the old, hateful ones.

In 1997, Bjørgo helped create Norwegian Exit, the first group to put this growing body of research into practice. Staffed by social workers, the government-funded organization offered a place where people struggling to disengage from extremist groups could get access to therapy, learn new skills, and talk with job counselors. Just as importantly, participants could make friends outside their insular hate movements and meet Muslims, Jews, or immigrants whom they’d demonized yet had never interacted with personally.

While Exit sought to lure people away from neo-Nazi groups, it only focused on helping motivated extremists who wanted to get out, rather than trying to prevent new recruits from being radicalized. Fighting the neo-Nazi movement as a whole, Bjørgo and other Exit leaders believed, was a large-scale political task; Exit was there to provide a mostly apolitical refuge for individuals who’d grown disenchanted. The Exit model quickly spread to Germany, Sweden, and Finland. The success rates were astonishing: In Germany, only 8 out of 280 formers over a six-year period returned to hate groups. During a three-year period in Sweden, only 4 out of 133 relapsed.

Nothing similar existed in America when a former neo-Nazi in Wisconsin named Arno Michaelis started an online magazine called Life After Hate in 2010. Michaelis had found himself adrift after he’d abandoned the Hammerskin Nation and sought to take responsibility for his violent past. He’d never heard of Exit, and he didn’t realize so many people felt like him until he received letters from other former hate group members struggling with the transition to normal life. “Your story holds a very eerie resemblance to my own,” wrote Rob from Kentucky. “I just wanted to talk to some one who may relate to my life of regret.”

In 2011, Michaelis was invited to attend the inaugural Google Ideas Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin. There, he met some of his site’s contributors, a group of charismatic former white supremacists who would become America’s leading deradicalization activists. There was Christian Picciolini, an ex-member of the Hammerskin Nation in Chicago; Angela King, a former neo-Nazi leader from Florida; Tony McAleer, a former member of White Aryan Resistance in Canada; and Frank Meeink, an ex-Nazi from Philadelphia. And there was Sammy Rangel, who considered himself a former extremist because he had led a Latino gang that targeted whites. They joked about how, unlike the reformed jihadis at the conference, with their immaculate beards and smart suits, they were covered in tattoos and scars like a roadhouse rock band. “Our stories were all pretty much the same,” Michaelis recalls.

One night, they bonded at the hotel bar over their shared identities as “formers,” a term they’d just learned from their Euro­pean counterparts. They realized that through their experiences of overcoming hate, they might repair the harm they’d caused others and begin to heal themselves. They had stumbled upon a collective redemption narrative that could offer another sense of meaning and belonging to hate group members hoping to build new lives. By the end of the trip, they had decided to create an American version of Exit. They named it Life After Hate.

Since 2011, Life After Hate has helped about 150 people disengage from extremist ideologies. Unlike the original Exit group, it is composed mostly of formers and has largely operated on a shoestring budget without a physical headquarters. It has just three full-time staff members, and Rangel, now the organization’s director, is aggressively fundraising to handle the demand for its services. Over the past year, the number of messages sent to Life After Hate’s “extremist hotline” by people seeking assistance for themselves or someone they know has jumped dramatically, from about five messages a month to as many as 10 a week.

In January 2017, the Obama administration awarded Life After Hate a $400,000 grant to expand its work and help the Depart­ment of Homeland Security identify and fight hate groups. The Trump administration revoked the grant in June 2017, seven weeks before alt-right activists and white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia. Life After Hate’s profile was boosted by Trump’s refusal to condemn the deadly violence at the rally and his administration’s policy of playing up threats from Islamists and immigrants while largely ignoring attacks by white supremacists. In 2017, donations shot up from $32,000 to nearly $800,000 (including $50,000 from quarterback Colin Kaepernick).

Confronting white supremacists online and in the streets may feel personally gratifying and politically urgent. Yet as liberals and the anti-Trump “resistance” fawn over Life After Hate, deradicalization activists argue that much of what the left thinks it knows about shutting down racist extremists is misplaced. When it comes to changing individuals, denunciation may counteract rather than hasten deradicalization. If that seems like surrender, consider that some researchers who study hate groups think we should view violent extremism not only as a problem of ideology, but also as a problem of addiction: a craving for group identity, adrenaline, and the psycho­logical kick of hatred. As with substance addiction, there may be no silver bullet for curing extremism, only a lifelong battle to leave such impulses behind. As Peter Simi, a sociologist at Chapman University in California, puts it, “You probably don’t ever fully move on from violent extremism.” The uncomfortable truth is that the best way to reform racist thugs may be to offer them precisely what they aren’t willing to offer others, and precisely what many people in this polarized political moment feel they least deserve: empathy.

After the attack in the park, Johnson was sentenced to eight months of house arrest. He would spend the next three years stumbling in the ideological wilderness before finding Life After Hate, a typical experience for many formers, who often wrestle alone with uncertainty before seeking support.

Johnson was forbidden from seeing his family and co-conspirators, so an acquaintance who wasn’t in the Klan put him up in a trailer about 30 minutes from his dad’s old place. The seclusion allowed the seeds of doubt in Johnson’s mind to germinate into curiosity. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2018 at 2:10 pm

Excellent snark from Kevin Drum

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Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2018 at 11:11 am

Inhuman Resources: Mike Picarella wanted to protect a co-worker from humiliating sexual harassment. He didn’t expect his own life to be destroyed in the process.

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David Dayen has a long piece in the Huffington Post:

ON MAY 5, 2011, Mike Picarella’s first day at HSBC, his boss wanted to know if he was sexting. “No, no,” he reassured her—his wife was just curious how things were going, so he was texting her back. His boss then inquired whether his wife had ever heard of the three-minute rule. “What’s that?” Mike asked. Well, his boss said, leaning in, if she ever wanted her husband to do something, she would give him a blowjob that lasted exactly three minutes, and voila, her wish was his command. Surveying Mike’s blank stare, she belted out one of her giant, guttural laughs and plopped herself down at her desk, a mere two feet from his.

Mike, a 22-year veteran of Wall Street, learned quickly that this was just the way Eileen Hedges interacted with the world. She was raised in a well-off suburb in New Jersey and joined HSBC, one of the largest foreign-owned banks in the United States, shortly after graduating from college in 1991. It was a time when male behavior on Wall Street was particularly noxious. “Women started getting jobs … and men did everything they could to make them feel like they didn’t belong,” says Susan Antilla, author of Tales From the Boom-Boom Room, a history of women in banking. That meant parades of strippers in the office, Playboy centerfolds hung up at the desks, care packages for female employees containing dildos or calzones shaped like penises. It could also mean verbal abuse or sexual assault.

And yet, Eileen managed to thrive in this atmosphere, eventually becoming head of business development for HSBC in the Americas. She moved up, in large part, by cultivating a reputation for being brash, boisterous and profane. By becoming one of the boys. Short and stocky, with blond hair and a penchant for holstering her Blackberry in her bra, Eileen would pant like a dog with her tongue out when certain men walked by her desk, Mike said. Sometimes, he would overhear her musing about which executives would be better in bed: “Mike H. would be fun but Mike S. would be boring.” (Apparently, there is no shortage of men named Mike at HSBC.)

On most work nights, Eileen posted up in her favorite seat at Windfall, the neighborhood bar a block from HSBC’s offices, where bartenders treated her like Norm from “Cheers.” Mike had even been told there was a drink named in her honor, “The Eileen,” a pink concoction with vodka and club soda. She held at least one performance review with a subordinate at the bar. And from time to time, Mike discovered, Eileen would have an assistant book her a hotel room nearby while her husband and two kids slept across the river in New Jersey. Her drinking buddies became a support network for her, a club, an identity. As she wrote to a male co-worker after a night out: “I’d rather hang out with you guys and laugh. … I at least feel normal?”

Mike wasn’t sure what to make of Eileen, but he had strong incentives not to think about it too hard. “He was hired with a view to ultimately being her successor,” said Ian Mullen, a managing director who helped bring him to HSBC. If Mike did end up taking her job, he’d rise to the level of managing director, the fanciest position of his career, worth at least half a million dollars a year in salary and bonuses.

Mike’s arrival boded well for Eileen, too. Having a viable replacement would set up her own promotion to the upper echelons of the bank, maybe some posh new assignment in Hong Kong or London. “Did I tell you I love my new guy,” Eileen wrote a colleague on Sametime, HSBC’s internal chat network, a couple weeks into his tenure. “I am almost floored. … I don’t have to go to meetings with him.”

He was making her look good, she was in a position to make him rich, and both of them were poised to get exactly what they wanted. Little did they know what lay ahead for them and for HSBC—the years of acrimony, the firings, the lawsuits, the trial with the surprise decision. And the trouble started just a few weeks into Mike’s tenure, when the third member of their team, a junior analyst in her mid-20s whom I’ll refer to as Jill, broke down at her desk, crying and shaking.

THE BANKING INDUSTRY is hardly known for its moral rectitude. But if you look beyond the executive suites and venture into compliance departments and operations back offices, you’ll find a handful of sticklers and self-appointed heroes who have made it their mission to save Wall Street from its excesses. Mike is one of them.

As a young banker, he spent his free time volunteering at New York Hospital, feeding Jell-O to burn victims. His mother had worked three different restaurant jobs to support him and his brother, and when he became a father, he figured the best way to honor her was to be there for his four children as much as possible. He coached their football and basketball teams. He also taught adult Bible study and served on the church council at St. Luke’s Lutheran on Long Island. “Mike is not about Mike,” says Charles Froehlich, the former pastor there. “He is about helping others.”

But Mike can sometimes act like the kid who tells the teacher she forgot to assign homework. Take the mooing incident. It was the late ’90s, and Mike was working at Morgan Stanley, where all the trading desks had “squawk boxes”—intercoms that analysts and brokers used to relay information during the trading day. Mike’s problem was that some of the young guys at Morgan Stanley abused their squawk boxing privileges by mooing loudly into them, disrupting colleagues who were trying to get work done. Mike asked his boss to tell everyone to stop, and a meeting was scheduled during market hours. That meant the traders had to call in. And as anyone who has ever met a banker could have predicted, midway through, somebody busted out the gnarliest Mooooooo! in the history of moos. The whole floor went nuts.

“I still get teased about this,” Mike says. “My friend referred to me as the guy who put an end to the mooing.”

When HSBC called Mike in for an interview in early 2011, he knew almost nobody employed there and had trouble picking up any color about the organization. HSBC wasn’t like Morgan Stanley or Lehman Brothers or any of the other banks where he’d worked. It had $2.5 trillion in total assets, nearly three times more than Goldman Sachs, but the culture was insular, bordering on impenetrable. Most promotions came from within. Some senior managers had even gotten their start as tellers.

After the collapse of the financial industry in 2008, HSBC seemed motivated to lead the industry in scandals. There were accusations of doing business with criminals and rigging markets. In 2010, the year before Mike started, French investigators announced that they had information on 79,000 clients who may have been using HSBC’s private Swiss bank as a way to avoid taxes. (France’s budget ministry reportedly recouped more than $1 billion in penalties.) The same year, U.S. regulators identified “deficiencies” in HSBC’s anti-money-laundering practices, and a Senate report admonished HSBC for letting an Angolan central bank representative attempt $50 million in questionable transfers. HSBC may have even set up offshore accounts for the Angolan rep in the Bahamas.

“It is the poster child of regulatory infraction—the gift that keeps on giving when I give studies on how not to do things,” says Mayra Rodriguez Valladares, a consultant to banks and regulators who has worked with HSBC.

Mike’s role on the sales business management team included pitching new clients and making sure the company hit revenue targets. Still, he was irresistibly drawn to the compliance duties of his job. He saw issues right away—unnecessary bottlenecks, undefined processes and just a general looseness with the rules. In 2011, all major banks, leery of the new Dodd-Frank financial reform package, vowed to make regulatory obedience a top priority. And Mike sincerely believed his bosses would reward him for spotting problems before the feds did. “I thought they could use someone like myself,” he said. He was wrong.

THE TRADING FLOORS at HSBC headquarters in New York are giant, wide-open spaces, rollicking and loud, with hundreds of employees packed in shoulder to shoulder, back to back. You can read your neighbor’s computer screen or hear someone talking to his wife a couple seats down. Privacy is a joke, personal space a luxury best forgotten.

Which is why Mike found it so unsettling, a few weeks into the job, to see Jill crying at her desk. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2018 at 10:44 am

54 newsrooms, 9 countries, and 9 core ideas: Here’s what two researchers found in a yearlong quest for journalism innovation

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Interesting that long-time standards—e.g., objective reporting—may fall by the wayside in the competition for clicks. It seems as though that will lead to increased divisiveness and increased informational isolation. Per Westergaard and Søren Schultz Jøgensen write at

Editor’s notePer Westergaard is a longtime editor-in-chief and CEO of a range of Danish regional, national and digital titles. Søren Schultz Jørgensenhas worked as a journalist and editor at several Danish news media during the last 20 years. Last year, they undertook an international inquiry into the state of newsroom innovation; here’s what they found.

The news media most successful at creating and maintaining ties with their readers, users, listeners and viewers will increasingly be media that dare challenge some of the journalist dogmas of the last century: the dogma of arm’s length; the dogma of neutrality; the dogma of objectivity; the belief that journalists have a special ability to find and choose what is important for citizens. And not least: the basic idea, that journalism is primarily about transporting news and information from A to B.

For journalism to be relevant for citizens in the future, it will to a large extent need to challenge these deeply rooted professional dogmas, thus creating a media landscape that is more varied, more lively, more organically open to the citizens and much more diverse than the news industry we have seen for a hundred years.

These are some of the conclusions in our book, The Journalistic Connection, published in Danish this past March under the title Den journalistiske Forbindelse. The book is the written result of a yearlong research journey, undertaken in 2017, through nine European countries and the United States, visiting and studying 54 media companies pioneering new ways to connect with their audiences and communities.

We identified nine different ways by which news media in the Western world are currently trying to forge closer ties and stronger relations to their communities and audiences. Below, we’ll take a look at each of the nine ways. First, however, we need to clarify the purpose and the ambition of our journey.

Our angle on the current state of journalism is this: The crisis of journalism and legacy news media is structural, and not just a matter of technological challenges or broken business models. When citizens of Western societies, to a deeply disturbing extent, turn their backs on original news journalism, spend less time on news on radio and television, buy fewer newspapers, and express a growing distrust of media institutions, we need to submit the core content of the news media — journalism itself — to a critical review.

Today’s core questions for news media — old or new, small or big, privately or publicly owned — must be social and cultural: How can journalism regain its relevance, meaning, and trusted prominence in society? How can journalism reconnect with citizens?

These were the questions that guided our journey, starting at home in Denmark, where we researched an initial list of 120 media that could be rewarding to visit — new media, legacy media, born-digital, radio, television and printed newspapers. We sorted through that list and ended up with just over 50 of the most interesting and innovative outlets in the international media landscape today.

The outlets were selected because they try out new ideas, in areas such as journalistic engagement, cooperation, listening, and activism. But at the same time, they’re able to demonstrate that new ways of connecting with and engaging citizens create better results in terms of user satisfaction, circulation, audience, or earnings.

The journey in the U.S. took us through New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Austin, Dallas, San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle. The European leg of the trip led us through Spain, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, the U.K., Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

Half of the interviews were conducted in the U.S., the other half in Europe, with the ambition of gathering inspiration, ideas, and strategies that both American and European news professionals can mirror themselves in and — hopefully — learn from. We need to learn from the best on both sides of the Atlantic to a much greater degree.

As mentioned above, we identified nine ways — or movements — through which news media are pushing their journalism in a more engaging, cooperative and community-oriented direction:

1. From neutrality to identity

Many news organizations are working intensely on sharpening their own profiles and identities, challenging the dogma of neutrality and fleeing away from the catch-all omnibus news ideal for several reasons. The need for a clear media identity grows when online news content is spread in small, unidentifiable bites across the Internet. Also, in order to make people relate to and identity with you, you must show them what you stand for. Show them who you are, and from which perspective — geographically, socio-demographically, or politically — you view the world. Prime examples of news media working with their identities in this targeted way are the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen (The Class Struggle), the regional online news site Voice of San Diego and The Evergrey in Seattle.

2. From omnibus to niche

Niche media’s ability to create relevance for users — and to mobilize both interest and willingness to pay — is far greater than the ability of the omnibus media. And apart from a very few media with global reach (e.g. The Guardian, BBC, CNN), all news media can be considered niche operations. However, many broad-reaching legacy media hesitate to openly show and communicate which niche audience they seek to engage. Maybe because the democratic value of niche media is somewhat controversial: creating strong bonds among a homogenous audience instead of bridging different communities. Nonetheless, targeted niche media like the Seattle-based tech site GeekWire, Berlin-based youth site and the intellectual daily Information in Copenhagen show that is possible to create both quality journalism of high public value and cater to targeted audiences at the same time.

3. From flock to club

Gathering people around the news media, in clearly defined communities — clubs — is a strategy gaining momentum on both sides of the Atlantic. This implies transforming what were formerly known as subscribers, users, or readers into members, that must either register or pay to join the inner circles of the crowd around the news media. Spanish El Diario and French Mediapart have put membership models at the heart of their identities and their journalistic operations. Many American media companies — from legacy players like The New York Times and the Gannett group to online startups organized in the News Revenue Hub — follow the same path.

4. From ink to sweat . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2018 at 10:38 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Media

Phoenix Artisan Avo Nice Shave, Green Ray brush, and Feather AS-D1

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The “Avo” in the name is pronounced like the “avo” in “avocado”—so Avo Nice Shave sounds like Have a Nice Shave with the “H’ silent.

I really like this shaving soap: light fragrance but present, and seems a very nice summer soap. The Green Ray brush is also a favorite: very pleasant feel and a nice look, reminiscent of horsehair in appearance, though with Plissoft softness.

My AS-D1 is highly efficient, though I’ve encounter examples of the model that were not (and thus Feather ended production of the AS-D1 in favor of the AS-D2). Three passes, perfect smoothness, and a good splash of Avo Nice Shave aftershave—followed by a 45-minute walk, up hill and down, and still short of my 5000 step goal (but close: 4887—I’ll easily hit 5000 in the course of the day, particularly since my Nordic walking poles will be here today and I’ll want to take them out for a spin).

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2018 at 8:33 am

Posted in Nordic walking, Shaving

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