Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"That's what she said" a book worth reading.

First learned about Joanne and her new book from her appearance with Fareed Zakaria.

The title comes from remarks overheard at a business meeting.  A male was given credit for something that had first been brought up by a female.  This all too common scenario is one of the events that inspired Joanne to write the book.

Joanne very early on explains this book is not about man shaming.  She recognizes gender equality will never be truly reached without the involvement of men. Fortunately many men are helping.  Women are also a part of the problem as they have too many unconscious notions of women's role.

Many women think the way to succeed in a man's world is to adopt male interests such as sports, dirty jokes, etc.  Sometimes it works, but other times they are thought of as unfeminine.  Asserting authority, even when they have it has a higher price than suffered by males.

Boys are raised to be competitive while girls are taught to be co-operative and deferential.

One critical, but contested fact is that diversity boosts productivity.  Our country has been run by white men and even now it is hard to break the mould.  Companies in different fields have found their profits increased as women more involved in decisions.

An early example was Tupperware.  It was invented by Earl Tupper, but he didn't really appreciate that his principle audience found it difficult to understand.  Brownie Wise had her efforts to achieve management level after being the top sales person were rejected.  She convinced Tupper to go the house party route and it turned the product around.

Diversity training has become more common, but Joanne found that it is relatively ineffective and often counter-productive.  Unconscious bias awareness seems to be more effective.  Google was an early pioneer as they were concerned that they were not hiring or retaining women to levels they thought would be beneficial.  Everyone is at least a bit sexist and a bit racist among other inapropriate thoughts.  Another blog that discusses the critical role of the subconscious is:

Deutch Bank became concerned that they were losing too many women to their competition.  They learned that the women were reluctant to ask for promotions and raises and assumed they were in a dead end situation.  After this was discovered more women were offered promotions.

Respect is a key concept.  Women are more interrupted than men, even at the Supreme Court level.  One example is that male doctors receive more respect than females and conversely male nurses are not as respected.  Transgender studies have demonstrated that transgender males gain respect than they received as females.  Transgender females lose respect after their transition.  

Speaking up is key.  Some companies encourage their staff (male and female) to point out bias even to the boss.

In the 2016 American presidential election Donald Trump expressed his anger loudly and gained respect, but Hilary Clinton was criticized for "shrillness."  Although there were a myriad of factors undoubtedly for many voters a female candidate didn't command enough respect.  During his administration Obama tried in many ways to close the gender gap, but Trump has rolled back many of the efforts.

Blind auditions for musicians gave women more orchestra and band positions  It has been extended to fields where talent could be evaluated without identifying a person.

Maternity and paternity policies are common in much of the world, except very limited in the United States.  Some companies are realizing to retain women long term they have to develop policies that acknowledge women will be concerned about child rearing.  One suggestion was to give them projects that would keep them in the loop.  Eventually their children grow up and they are free to  apply their talents.

Mentoring has always been an effective way to nurture and develop new employees, but early efforts to bring senior males with junior females had lots of problems.  One solution at the social level has been to include spouses and even children. 

She concludes her book by admitting that women are still living in a man's world, but that each day more men reach across the gender divide.  There were thousands of men in the Women's March, the day after the 2017 inauguration.  Men and women evolved to survive in a dangerous world, but as conditions change we need to develop new understandings and new habits to cope with new dangers and new opportunities.  Lots of suggestions are provided.

A bit more about Joanne:

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Katy Tur was encouraged to recount her adventures on the Trump campaign and the result was "Unbelievable."  The voters knew everything they needed to know to make a better choice, but many just didn't care.  Katy Tur didn't set out to be Trump's shadow, but circumstances conspired against her.

The story alternates between election day and various significant events. during the campaign  There is a lot about Trump much of which you have already been told, but may have forgotten because there was so much unbelievable.  A reporter in this campaign, Katy found herself in a very unique position.  Never before  has a candidate spent so much time insulting and intimidating.  Trump  for all his faults used members of the press for his own purposes.  Despite his public hostility towards Katy he consented for interviews.

From my position insulated from the actual campaign, Katy reinforced many of my prejudices.  Trump lies and lies and lies some more.  He sometimes puts it that he engages in harmless hyperbole and that offends my educated snobbery.  He insults.  He doesn't really approach discussing issues, but seems to know what his followers expect.

Katy recounts how Trump intruded into politics with his birther claims.   Most of us acknowledge that underneath it all was racism.  Talking to some of his followers without admitting to it confirmed the link.  Lyndon Johnson once said "If you can convince the lowest of white men he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket."  Hitting out at established prejudices such as the Chinese don't play fair, Iran is playing Americans for suckers, Mexicans are stealing jobs and bringing in drugs, etc. his base didn't care about his shortcomings.

Katy pointed out that Trump for all his bombast only made one change to the Republican platform.  That was to strike out plans to arm the Ukrainians. We are still learning more about the links from the Russians to Trump.

Just before one of the presidential debates NBC discovered the infamous Hollywood Access tapes.  Katy was the one who notified the Trump campaign that they had the tapes and would be publicly releasing them.  This seemed like a stunner, but not for long as Trump managed to round up a few Clinton accusers and brought them to the debate.  One of them was a woman that Hilary Clinton had defended her accused in a rape case in Arkansas.  The issue was soon neutralized with lots of voters offering their support.  It did spur some other women to publicly accuse Trump of sexual assault, but again he weathered that storm. 

 For anyone who took a good look at Donald Trump there was enough evidence that he was totally unqualified to be president.  It was easy to spot, but enough people loved his antics and with a few fortuitous events he pulled it off.  One of the fortuitous events was the Electoral College, heavily influenced by slave owners meant that he won despite getting almost 3 million less votes than Hilary.  James Comey, soon to be fired actually helped nail the coffin.  Who fully understands what the Russians (and other outsiders) were up to, but they didn't want  Hilary to win and had tools to diminish her chances.

There was a personal toll on reporters.  Katy, at the beginning had a happy relationship with a French man while she worked at an enjoyable job in London.  At the end she was planning a marriage to a fellow traveler on the campaign trail and moved back to New York.

Two  links to other Donald Trump blogs:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Triumph of Christianity--a history

Christianity might have become a Jewish sect or a minor religion, but instead it changed the world.  Its core believers at the beginning were mostly illiterate.  This book by Bart D. Ehrman can be interpreted as a marketing study.

After the death of Jesus, his followers did carry on his mission, but mostly talking to other Jews who were very resistant.  The author contends that Paul was a key factor.  As a Pharisee Jew he actually had attacked followers of Jesus, but after he "saw the light" he was the first to attempt converting non Jews to the Christian faith without having to adopt Jewish customs.  Paul would visit larger population centres and pay his keep with his trade of tent making and talking to whoever would listen.  After work he would continue seeking out people to talk to.  He would try to get enough believers to establish a church which usually meant meetings in homes.  He would move on to another town and repeat the process.  Only now he kept in touch with his famous letters.

Paul, unlike the original apostles tried to convert non Jews, but had suffered beatings in synagogues and elsewhere.  Pagans did not offer life after death and tolerated a variety of Gods.   Miracles impressed many converts.  One requirement was to reject pagan beliefs and over time this gave the movement more solidarity.  Fear of hell (a new concept for most) compelled many to be converted.  Christians felt a need to service others and this often included medical assistance.  Usually when one household member joined the other members followed.  Conversions were slow, but steady and over the first three centuries became significant.

Hardships and torture actually boosted the appeal of Christianity, although not as common as has been pictured.  Believers who could endure tortures and barbarities inflicted on them became martyrs in the hearts and minds of pagans.  Paganism provided few if any martyrs.

Bart D Ehrman analyses a variety of scenarios but feels most comfortable with the notion that  conversions were mostly in ones and twos, but that over a long time they would have an exponential growth.  The greatest success was among the lower classes and more women than men. 

Constantine was born a pagan, but was converted before a major battle.  He was not baptized until on his death bed, but the author feels it was a common enough personal preference as they would not have time to sin after the baptism.  Constantine did not not try to force Christianity on others, but it was natural that some would convert to gain his favor and others felt it was a natural choice as the new religion was officially approved.  He was very involved in the religion, even holding high level meetings to sort out theological disputes.  Later Emperors were more aggressive in promoting Christianity.

The author notes that before Christianity became the majority they favored the separation of church and state, but afterwards many advocated Christianity as the state religion.  Pagan statues were mutilated.  Anti Semitism was boosted as many Christians thought of Jews as God killers.

The book stops at the fourth century when Christianity had overcome many obstacles.  Obviously Christianity has had a major impact on civilization starting in Europe, but as Europeans conquered and colonized much of the rest of the world it grew in strength.  There are many historical observations and the author draws on the studies of many other scholars.

For a related perspective on how things become popular:

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

"In Love we Trust" is a movie title with deep meaning

As often happens my favorite movies are unexpected.  "In Love we Trust" (2007) was a random pick off the library shelf as a time filler.  A Chinese movie with no recognizable participants.

The plot sounds inconceivable, but it is theoretically possible.  The key factor is to find a bone marrow match that best insures survival for a particular dying person.  Today around the world there are lots of people desperately looking for a match usually found with a close blood relative.  Xiaoshuai Wang wrote and directed this movie at a time, 2007 when the Chinese were mostly enforcing a one child policy.

That is a little background, but the movie starts innocently enough with a likely sales woman trying to interest a couple to lease an apartment, but not succeeding.  A little detail that plays a role later on.

We soon see a man holding his laughing daughter and running down a hallway with a woman (could be the sales woman) following closely behind.  We soon realize that they are a small family.  Shortly the young girl is taken for tests as she has a persistent fever.  The tests reveal the young girl has cancer.  A bone marrow transplant is suggested and the mother is tested, but not a good match.  We then realize the man we have been following is her second husband, and not the natural father but understand that he is deeply involved with the young girl.

The first husband is informed and shows a lot of concern although at first he is introduced to his daughter as an uncle.  Unfortunately he is not a match either.  The mother is frantic and somehow after talking to the doctors realizes the most practical solution is to have another baby with her first husband.

Four adults all have their concerns which the viewer is led gently to appreciate.  The mother and her second husband have a very good relationship, but he had hoped that somehow they could have their own baby.  The man has totally accepted her daughter as his.  The woman had been abandoned by her first husband who remarried after a divorce.  Although the viewer might not have much sympathy for the actual father, he wants to be honest with his new wife.  They both have very busy jobs as he is a construction manager with a difficult project and she is an airline stewardess.  At first his second wife doesn't accept the idea of him being a sperm donor to his first wife.  She does feel a bit guilty and with a friend goes to visit the first wife who is away.  She meets the daughter with the step father and is touched.  She consents, but pressures her husband that she wants a baby.

All set, but it gets a bit more complicated.  Two attempts fail and the doctors refuse to consider another.  We learn the mother has had an abortion and some miscarriages.  With the one child policy the rules have already been bent.  The mother who is still resentful of her first husband says the only option is for them to have sex the old fashioned way.

This creates an emotional crisis for the other three adults.  The two left out adults are afraid of the intimacy part, but also resentful that they also want to be natural parents.  The first husband is worried about his new wife.  Everyone tries to be honest about it, but it feels like they are pushing it a bit much and there is push-back.  I can't say the movie has a happy ending, but the tension is relieved enough that the audience is satisfied  Oh, the detail from the beginning comes back to play a role.

Although the plot may seem contrived the actors are all very believable.   They trust love to maintain their relationships and to save the young girl.  There is no explicit sex, but the emotional tension holds attention.

The Chinese have since eased the one child rule.  I had learned previously that although largely respected there were a number of exceptions allowed.  Rich people, rural areas, unusual circumstances.  Still a demographic problem that will factor for future generation. One effect has been there aren't enough women for the men, which does not advantage the women as much as you might think.  More women are forced into prostitution.  Unattached males tend to be more aggressive. It also means that most Chinese children do not have aunts, uncles, siblings or cousins all of whom would offer traditional support.

The woman who plays the mother Liu Weiwei is especially effective and won a best actress award at a film festival, although this was only her second movie.  She is still active in television.

Jin-yi Zhang who played the first husband has won a few awards in China.  Nan Yu who played the second wife has won a few international awards. Her role perhaps generated the least sympathy, but she made a big adjustment that allowed the plot to move forward.

Taishen Cheng was the only one of the four leads not to have an IMDB photo, but had the most international experience.  He had a role in "Biutiful" with Javier Bardem.  He also played in the Chinese Mandarin version of "The Devotion of Suspect X," based on one of the best detective books I have read. 

The key to this movie is Xiaoshuai Wang who wrote and directed it.  He should be credited with eliciting some effective portrayals of the four main characters. Back in 1996 he used an alias to make a film to circumvent restrictive rules against independent films.  In 2001 he wrote and directed "Beijing Bicycle," with some resemblance to the classic "The Bicycle Thief," but even more class focused.  In 2003 he did "Drifters" which was about a man who had illegally emigrated to the States and had returned.  In "11 Flowers" there is more than a hint of political tensions.  A more recent movie is "Red Amnesia. " Xiaoshuai has received awards from the Berlin Films Festival (for "In love we Trrust and "Beijing Bicycle." and at Cannes (for "Shanghai Dreams"). 

"In Love we Trust" was put together carefully that the audience can feel the tension.  Sparse, but appropriate mood music provided by Wei Dou who later won an award for "The Equation of Love and Death."

Cinematography was provided by Di Wu who had done two previous films with Xiaoshuai before this one and went onto work on "Red Amnesia."  He also contributed to the mood in some cases using filters.

Editing was done by Hongyu Yang who had earlier worked on "Beijing Bicycle."  He also worked on the Mandarin adaption on "Miss Granny," a favorite Korean movie that reminded me of my wife's Grandmother, Nanny

I will be on the look out for more films by Xiaoshuai Wang.  At this moment this movie has left the most impressive feeling of 2018.