A Long Way to Go

Despite the demagogues rhetoric, the U.S. is becoming more inclusive. In part because of changing demograpics. Nearly eight years ago, we elected our first African American President. Then we re-elected him.

Odds are we’re going to elect our first female President this November. When though, will we elect our second female President? Our second African American? Our first Latino or Latina? Second Latino or Latina?

A conservative friend writes me and says this election shouldn’t have anything to do with gender. Only excellence. I guess I’m supposed to believe it’s a crazy coincidence that forty four times in a row a man has been most excellent just as one could flip a coin forty four times and have it come up heads everytime. Sure, that’s plausible.

Only when we join the following list will candidates’ gender start to fade in importance.

Countries that have had more than one female leader (includes acting, interim leaders etc)^

Switzerland (6) Six presidents*
Sri Lanka (3) One president, two prime ministers
Haiti (3) One president, two prime ministers
Finland (3) One president, two prime ministers
South Korea (3) Two prime ministers, one president
Lithuania (3) One president, two prime ministers
Argentina (2) Two presidents
Bangledesh (2) Two prime ministers
Central African Republic (2) One president, one prime minister
Guyana (2) One president, one prime minister*
Iceland (2) One president, one prime minister
India (2) One president, one prime minister
Ireland (2) Two presidents
Israel (2) One president, one prime minister
Liberia (2) Two presidents
Philippines (2) Two presidents
New Zealand (2) Two prime ministers
São Tomé and Príncipe (2) Two prime ministers
Sengal (2) Two prime ministers

*Switzerland has seen six female presidential terms, though two of those were held by the same woman. Guyana’s tally is also debatable, since their female prime minister and female president were the same person.

^ Source

The Whitest City in America

Portland, Oregon. Thought of by most as especially hip and progressive. We’re indebted to Alana Semuels for scratching well below the surface. She starts strong in her piece about the city’s racist history:

Victor Pierce has worked on the assembly line of a Daimler Trucks North America plant here since 1994. But he says that in recent years he’s experienced things that seem straight out of another time. White co-workers have challenged him to fights, mounted “hangman’s nooses” around the factory, referred to him as “boy” on a daily basis, sabotaged his work station by hiding his tools, carved swastikas in the bathroom, and written the word “nigger” on walls in the factory, according to allegations filed in a complaint to the Multnomah County Circuit Court in February of 2015.

Pierce is one of six African Americans working in the Portland plant whom the lawyer Mark Morrell is representing in a series of lawsuits against Daimler Trucks North America. The cases have been combined and a trial is scheduled for January of 2017.

“They have all complained about being treated poorly because of their race,” Morrell told me. “It’s a sad story—it’s pretty ugly on the floor there.” (Daimler said it could not comment on pending litigation, but spokesman David Giroux said that the company prohibits discrimination and investigates any allegations of harassment.)

The allegations may seem at odds with the reputation of this city known for its progressivism. But many African Americans in Portland say they’re not surprised when they hear about racial incidents in this city and state. That’s because racism has been entrenched in Oregon, maybe more than any state in the north, for nearly two centuries. When the state entered the union in 1859, for example, Oregon explicitly forbade black people from living in its borders, the only state to do so. In more recent times, the city repeatedly undertook “urban renewal” projects (such as the construction of Legacy Emanuel Hospital) that decimated the small black community that existed here. And racism persists today. A 2011 audit found that landlords and leasing agents here discriminated against black and Latino renters 64 percent of the time, citing them higher rents or deposits and adding on additional fees. In area schools, African American students are suspended and expelled at a rate four to five times higher than that of their white peers.

All in all, historians and residents say, Oregon has never been particularly welcoming to minorities. Perhaps that’s why there have never been very many. Portland is the whitest big city in America, with a population that is 72.2 percent white and only 6.3 percent African American.

Survey Scourge

scourge—noun. 1. a whip or lash, especially for the infliction of punishment. 2. a person or thing that administers punishment or criticism. 3. a Donald Trump-like cause of affliction or calamity.

Dear Every Business I Frequent,
Scratch that.
Dear Every For-Profit and Non-Profit With Which I Interact,
Scratch that.
Dear Every Entity En Todo El Mundo,
     I’m sick and tired of your stupid surveys. And I think I speak for every other human on the face of the Earth. You may think information is the lifeblood of your organization, but your surveys are so impersonal, they’re worthless. You should plant several trees to make amends and then have your heads examined for placing any faith in the feedback you receive.
     My vote for “most stupid use” of surveys goes to Olympia Honda whose service techs say, “If you can’t give me a ‘5’ for exemplary on every item, please let me know because I have to get perfect scores.” I don’t blame the techs, it’s the suits who should have their MBA’s revoked and then be tarred and feathered.
    If you REALLY want to know what I think about your service department, restaurant, product, organization, ASK me some open-ended questions. Then pay me for my time. Otherwise, knock that shit off.
Sincerely yours,
Ron

I’m an Idiot

Effective leaders mix humility, kindness, and composure, in what may be thought of quite simply, as “human decency”.

Most Republican primary voters do not share my view. The one candidate displaying the most decency is in last place. And it appears as if most Democratic primary voters do not share my opinion either. The Democratic candidate exhibiting the most humility, kindness, and composure is losing that race too.

I can’t help but conclude, I’m an idiot.

I also believe life in the United States has improved over the last seven years—fewer people are destitute around the world, GLBT citizens are enjoying new civil rights, more people are working and have health insurance, our environmental ethic is stronger, we’re opting for diplomacy over conventional warfare, the stock market has more than doubled in value, and everything has worked out beautifully on Downton Abbey.

Most Republican primary voters do not share my view. Apparently, the frontrunner’s success is the result of deep-seated, widespread anger at the state of things. In their view, we don’t win anymore. Who cares about people in other places, traditional marriage and religious liberty are under constant attack, socialized medicine means worsening quality of care, and who cares about the stock market when there’s not any savings to invest. If only “W” could have had a third and fourth term.

My whacked out thinking is probably the result of my white, male, well-to-do privilege trifecta. In the interest of going along to get along, maybe I should get more angry, think more negatively, and support the most brash candidate possible, human decency be damned.

 

 

 

The Art of Teaming With Others

My first nomination for Best 2016 Long Form Journalism piece is in, “What Google Learned In Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team” by Charles Duhigg.

Crystal clear and filled to the brim with trenchant insights into why most teams usually flounder. In short, Google researchers found individuals on the most productive teams “spoke in roughly the same proportion” as one another and were skilled at “intuiting how others felt”. Furthermore, the greater a team’s perceived psychological safety, measured by how comfortable team members felt being themselves, the greater that team’s “collective intelligence”.

Take Duhigg’s test:

Imagine you have been invited to join one of two groups.

Team A is composed of people who are all exceptionally smart and successful. When you watch a video of this group working, you see professionals who wait until a topic arises in which they are expert, and then they speak at length, explaining what the group ought to do. When someone makes a side comment, the speaker stops, reminds everyone of the agenda and pushes the meeting back on track. This team is efficient. There is no idle chitchat or long debates. The meeting ends as scheduled and disbands so everyone can get back to their desks.

Team B is different. It’s evenly divided between successful executives and middle managers with few professional accomplishments. Teammates jump in and out of discussions. People interject and complete one another’s thoughts. When a team member abruptly changes the topic, the rest of the group follows him off the agenda. At the end of the meeting, the meeting doesn’t actually end: Everyone sits around to gossip and talk about their lives.

Which group would you rather join?

Here’s the right answer based on the literature that informed the researchers’ work:

. . .you should probably opt for Team B. Team A may be filled with smart people, all optimized for peak individual efficiency. But the group’s norms discourage equal speaking; there are few exchanges of the kind of personal information that lets teammates pick up on what people are feeling or leaving unsaid. There’s a good chance the members of Team A will continue to act like individuals once they come together, and there’s little to suggest that, as a group, they will become more collectively intelligent.

In contrast, on Team B, people may speak over one another, go on tangents and socialize instead of remaining focused on the agenda. The team may seem inefficient to a casual observer. But all the team members speak as much as they need to. They are sensitive to one another’s moods and share personal stories and emotions. While Team B might not contain as many individual stars, the sum will be greater than its parts.

Google’s researchers conclude:

“. . . no one wants to put on a ‘work face’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘psychologically safe,’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.”

These take-aways are equally applicable to most non-work teams. In my experience, a recurring challenge in applying these lessons is team members who dominate discussions often lack self awareness. Even beginning teamwork with an explicit emphasis on the importance of balanced participation sometimes does little to prevent the most loquacious among us from repeatedly dominating discussions. Those most loquacious team members also don’t realize their teammates quickly fatigue, and shortly thereafter, begin tuning them out.

Another challenge in improving teamwork is people have a multitude of negative team experiences as points of reference for every positive one; as a result, they anticipate one or a few people dominating and scant attention being paid to people’s feelings.

That’s why this research deserves a large audience. It not only illuminates why groups often get sideways, but provides a roadmap for improved work and non-work teamwork.

[Thanks FK for the link.]

The Sorry State of Social Studies Education

These are tough times for myself and other past and present social studies educators.

Exhibit A. Kathryn Schulz’s cogent explanation of everything that’s wrong with Netflix’s 10 hour long documentary “Making A Murderer”. Thanks Alison for the link, you saved me 9 hours and 20 minutes. Not quite sure how to spend those savings, maybe an extra hour of sleep for nine straight nights!

Excerpt 1, “. . . we still have not thought seriously about what it means when a private investigative project—bound by no rules of procedure, answerable to nothing but ratings, shaped only by the ethics and aptitude of its makers—comes to serve as our court of last resort.”

Excerpt 2, “. . . the documentary consistently leads its viewers to the conclusion that Avery was framed by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, and it contains striking elisions that bolster that theory. The filmmakers minimize or leave out many aspects of Avery’s less than savory past, including multiple alleged incidents of physical and sexual violence. They also omit important evidence against him, including the fact that Brendan Dassey confessed to helping Avery move Halbach’s S.U.V. into his junk yard, where Avery lifted the hood and removed the battery cable. Investigators subsequently found DNA from Avery’s perspiration on the hood latch—evidence that would be nearly impossible to plant.

Perhaps because they are dodging inconvenient facts, Ricciardi and Demos are never able to present a coherent account of Halbach’s death, let alone multiple competing ones. Although “Making a Murderer” is structured chronologically, it fails to provide a clear time line of events, and it never answers such basic questions as when, where, and how Halbach died. Potentially critical issues are raised and summarily dropped; we hear about suspicious calls to and messages on Halbach’s cell phone, but these are never explored or even raised again. In the end, despite ten hours of running time, the story at the heart of “Making a Murderer” remains a muddle. Granted, real life is often a muddle, too, especially where crime is involved—but good reporters delineate the facts rather than contribute to the confusion.

Despite all this, “Making a Murderer” has left many viewers entirely convinced that Avery was framed. After the documentary aired, everyone from high-school students to celebrities jumped on the “Free Avery and Dassey” bandwagon.

Excerpt 3, “As of January 12th, more than four hundred thousand people had signed a petition to President Obama demanding that “Steven Avery should be exonerated at once by pardon.” That outrage could scarcely have been more misdirected. For one thing, it was addressed to the wrong person: Avery was convicted of state crimes, not federal ones, and the President does not have the power to pardon him. For another, it was the wrong demand. “Making a Murderer” may have presented a compelling case that Avery (and, more convincingly, Dassey) deserved a new trial, but it did not get anywhere close to establishing that either one should be exonerated.”

Exhibit B. The Republican frontrunner (tRf) repeatedly says we don’t win anymore and he promises to make America great again. His strategy of playing on people’s zenophobia, fears, and ethnocentrism is working. Most disheartening, few ask how a simplistic, single-minded focus on the U.S., will end up benefiting the U.S. in the medium and long-term. Similarly, few ask why international competition holds more promise than international cooperation.

Because his name wasn’t in the headline, tRf probably skipped this news story from last week titled “Slow Growth Clouds Progress on Global Poverty.”

“Unprecedented global economic growth over the past quarter century has lifted an estimated 1.25 billion people out of poverty, in one of the greatest recent achievements in human history.

. . . . In 1990, 37% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, which the World Bank defines as living on less than $1.90 a day. Today, the bank estimates that 9.6% of the world is in this destitute state—agricultural workers and others who live in rural mud huts with no electricity or running water, work others’ land, and spend nearly all of their resources on food, often going hungry.”

We don’t win anymore only if “we” is defined in the most narrow of ways. Social studies education has failed when so many are so taken with someone who thinks so narrowly. If we had done a better job as social studies educators everyone reading about the stupifying progress on global poverty would immediately realize the positive ripple effects including slower population growth, reduced regional and international violence, increased security, military savings, and increased global trade.

Instead nationalism and demagoguery are winning the day. Given that, the profession and I get a big fat “F”.

One of Us: The Story of Anders Beivik and the Massacre in Norway

One of the things I most enjoy in life is traveling to different countries and eras through the filmmaker’s lens.

In 1990, at the Denver International Film Festival, I saw Rojo Amanecer, or Red Dawn, which told the story of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City from the point of view of a family that lived in one of the apartments facing Tlatelolco Square during the shooting. “The film, Amaya Rachelle Elizindok writes, “became one of the biggest hits in what’s since been dubbed The New Mexican Cinema Movement.”

The entire film takes place inside one apartment. It does not end well. Afterwards, I was overwhelmed by sadness, unable to speak or move while the credits rolled and rolled and rolled. Same with everyone in the theatre. Lifeless, we sat perfectly still for several minutes.

Twenty-six years later, I felt the same after finishing One of Us. Completely drained. Heart-broken for the families of the seventy-seven people who were killed. The word “sad” doesn’t do justice to Asne Seierstad’s story of the 2011 massacre in Norway. An entirely new word is needed. Seierstad’s account is comprehensive, thorough, disciplined, and intimate. A remarkable work of journalism. It’s a disciplined telling of the story in the sense that she describes the events and the psychiatrists’ differing analyses, only offering her perspective on Breivik after 522 pages.

03best-seierstad-slide

Wrapped within the tragedy are innumerable social scientific questions concerning child development, family dysfunction, interpersonal relationships, video gaming, mental illness, the media, violence, policing, and criminal justice. An Abnormal Psychology professor would only need this text.

Seierstad’s first and last words were most memorable. The first are from an epilogue where she quotes Hjalmar Soderberg, the author of a 1905 novel, Doktor Glas:

We want to be loved; failing that, admired; failing that, feared; failing that, hated and despised. At all costs we want to stir up some sort of feelings in others. Our soul abhors a vacuum. At all costs it longs for contact.

And from page 523:

One of Us is a book about belonging, a book about community. . . . This is also a book about looking for a way to belong and not finding it. The perpetrator ultimately decided to opt out of the community and strike at it in the most brutal of ways.

That view is echoed by Karl Ove Knausgaard in his essay “Inside the warped mind of Anders Breivik“. Knausgaard writes:

What can prompt a relatively well-functioning man to do something so horrific in the midst of a stable, prosperous and orderly country? Is it possible to ever comprehend it?

Based on Breivik’s political rhetoric and his self-understanding, and also on his chosen targets – Regjeringskvartalet and the ruling party’s youth organisation – it is natural to compare his act with the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, where Timothy McVeigh, in an anti-government protest, parked a truck bomb outside a federal building and murdered 168 people. Indeed, Breivik took the Oklahoma City bombing as a model for the first part of his attack. However, almost everything else regarding Breivik and his crime points away from the political and the ideological and towards the personal. He made himself a sort of military commander’s uniform, in which he photographed himself before the crime; he consistently referred to a large organisation, of which he claimed to be a prominent member but which does not exist; in his manifesto he interviews himself as if he were a hero; and the impression this gives is of a person who has erected a make-believe reality, in which his significance is undisputed. The way in which he carried out his crime, and the way his thoughts contextualised it, resembles role-playing, rather than political terrorism. The solitude this implies is enormous, not to mention the need for self-assertion. The most logical approach is to view his actions as a variation on the numerous school massacres that have occurred in the past decades in the United States, Finland and Germany: a young man, a misfit, who is either partly or completely excluded from the group, takes as many people with him into death as he can, in order to ‘show’ us.

A few months before Breivik carried out the assault, he visited his former stepmother and told her that soon he was going to do something that would make his father proud. His mother had left his father when he was one, and it had been years since Breivik had spoken to him.

He wanted to be seen; that is what drove him, nothing else.

Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.

In the United States we need to incentivize the giving up of guns and implement much tougher gun control laws. At the same time, Seierstad and Knausgaard remind us that seeing the invisible in our midst is at least equally as important. Seeing means making eye contact with and talking to those who’ve given up and begun withdrawing. Some of the most alienated are children. To reduce domestic terrorism, we need to see them most of all.