Todd Akin Comes Clean

Todd AkinAt The Onion, “America’s Finest News Source” is not just a slogan; it is an indictment of the entire mainstream media industry. A couple of days ago, they “published” an oped from Representative Todd Akin with the title, I Misspoke—What I Meant To Say Is ‘I Am Dumb As Dog Shit And I Am A Terrible Human Being’.

Of course, I don’t believe this. Well, I don’t believe he is any more dumb than your average Republican, which I will admit has a slight advantage over dog shit. I also don’t believe he is any more terrible than your average Republican, but, of course, that is pretty much the definition of a terrible human being.

Here is his clarification, which I think is very helpful:

You see, what I said was, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” But what I meant to say was, “I am a worthless, moronic sack of shit and an utterly irredeemable human being who needs to shut up and go away forever.”

It is clear to me now that I did not choose my words with care and did not get across the point I was trying to convey. In hindsight, I guess instead of using the words “legitimate rape,” I should have used the words “I am an unforgivable, unrepentant, and unconscionable subhuman dickhead.” Or better yet, “I am an evil, fucked-up man who should never have been elected to the United States Congress, and anyone who would vote for me is probably a pretty big fucking dumbshit, too.” See how much more sense that makes? It’s amazing how a few key word changes can totally alter the meaning of a statement.

Because, of course, it’s all about context. And yes, when you take what I said out of context, I can see how it might sound like I’m denying that women can be impregnated via rape. This is, I assure you, not what I was trying to express at all. Such is the age we live in that one little sentence excerpted in a news report can come back to haunt a person in a pretty big hurry. But if you actually go back and look at the remarks closely, you’ll see that what I was actually trying to convey in my statement was that

(1) I am a big fucking idiot,

(2) I am a nauseating slug of a human being who doesn’t deserve to live, and

(3) I am essentially everything that’s wrong with this country and with humanity in general.

Now I understand!

Mass Market Fun

XXXAs far as I know, my friend Will has never watched a whole movie during his adult life. He just can’t sit still that long. I’ve watched many films over at his place, but he is in and out of the room and if he sees a quarter of them, I’d be surprised. He’s fond of saying things like, “I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it didn’t make sense.” Or “I didn’t understand the ending of Gosford Park.” So when he tells me that he didn’t like a film, I figure that he didn’t actually see it.

Recently, we discussed the film The Matrix. Will told me he didn’t like it. His reasons were vague, but at least it seemed that he had watched much of it. But it’s hard to say. It is the kind of film that can be confusing if, you know, you don’t pay attention. But I found myself hard pressed to make the case for why I think it is an excellent Hollywood film. So I watched it again last night.

The most important thing about the film is that it is a big budget, mass appeal filmed version of William Gibson’s world. The scene where Neo is first prepared to be taken out of the Matrix is the best rendering of cyberpunk sensibility that I have ever seen. And this gets to the heart of the best aspects of the film: its art direction. The distinction between the ugly green of the Matrix versus the dark vibrancy of the real world is stunning.

It is my working theory that the reason we don’t see many musicals any more is that action sequences have taken the place of dances. Most of the time, it is a poor substitute. In The Matrix, however, the action sequences really are beautiful. As we see in the sequels, there is a strict limit to just how much of these we want to see, but the original only leaves me wanting more. I also find the conceit of the Matrix makes these over the top sequences believable in a way that the Mission Impossible films simply don’t.

On the first viewing, what is most compelling is the story itself. It is a good mystery. And even though the mystery is resolved before half the movie is finished, where it leads is so unusual that it propels the narrative all the way to the end.

And then there are the more philosophical issues of the film. I like that Neo and Trinity are about the same age. The references to Christianity are great (“You’re my own personal Jesus Christ” and “The One”), as are those from Alice in Wonderland. It is especially compelling that Neo is an every man who is too frightened to climb to the scaffolding but self-assured enough to give Agent Smith the finger. And perhaps most of all, the anarcho-syndicalism that is the philosophical basis of all the films is a refreshing change from the brain-dead individualism that poisons most action films.

On this last point, I think many people are in the dark. Over the years, I’ve come to see that Neo truly is the chosen one. The only thing that is special about him is that he has entered the Matrix as an adult. This turns out to be critical to him becoming the One. Left to his own devices, he would perhaps have become someone like Morpheus. It seems as though the cookie that the Oracle gives him is some kind of a program which turns him into the One. (See, for example, the cake in Matrix Reloaded.) This pushes against the traditional notion of heroes being born rather than created.

One thing that bothered me for years was why the machines would choose to use troublesome humans as batteries when they could have just used rabbits or sheep. Why the humans? I’ve come to the conclusion (and yes, I’ve spent far more time on this than it deserves) that the machines were originally created to think like humans and that they must use the humans to make their own culture more rich. Frankly, that should have been the basis for the whole movie. The whole idea of the batteries is preposterous.

I’m equally fond of David Cronenberg’s Existenz. But they are entirely different kinds of films. Even though they both deal with virtual reality, Existenz is really a David Cronenberg film. It isn’t any different than Videodrome or Dead Ringers. As much as I may like them, they are not mass appeal films. The Matrix is. And as such, it is hard to beat.

The Value of Bosses

I found this paper The Value of Bosses via WonkBlog:

Do supervisors enhance productivity? Arguably, the most important relationship in the firm is between worker and supervisor. The supervisor may hire, fire, assign work, instruct, motivate and reward workers. Models of incentives and productivity build at least some subset of these functions in explicitly, but because of lack of data, little work exists that demonstrates the importance of bosses and the channels through which their productivity enhancing effects operate. As more data become available, it is possible to examine the effects of people and practices on productivity. Using a company-based data set on the productivity of technology-based services workers, supervisor effects are estimated and found to be large. Three findings stand out. First, the choice of boss matters. There is substantial variation in boss quality as measured by the effect on worker productivity. Replacing a boss who is in the lower 10% of boss quality with one who is in the upper 10% of boss quality increases a team’s total output by about the same amount as would adding one worker to a nine member team. Using a normalization, this implies that the average boss is about 1.75 times as productive as the average worker. Second, boss’s primary activity is teaching skills that persist. Third, efficient assignment allocates the better bosses to the better workers because good bosses increase the productivity of high quality workers by more than that of low quality workers.

The main thing that strikes me about this is the claim that the average boss is 1.75 times as productive as the average worker. The statistic that replacing a bottom 10% boss with a top 10% boss increases productivity by only 10% (one worker out of ten) is pathetic. I don’t see how the authors get from that stat to claiming that an average boss is 75% more productive than an average worker. But we’ll assume it does.

This doesn’t speak that well for bosses. In my experience, worker productivity in technology-based work is highly variable. I think the best employees are on the order of twice as productive as the average. This would make them roughly as productive as the average boss. Given that bosses are generally the best workers who have been promoted, wouldn’t we expect this? Doesn’t this imply that the bosses are just better than average workers and it isn’t their “supervision” that is adding to the productivity?

In case you are wondering, yes, I am suggesting that hierarchical systems are not very helpful in a business environment. I have found that they are often harmful. The best situation is where people have common goals and the best people guide their own work—which after all is what they know best anyway. Unfortunately, I doubt that a bunch of business and management graduates are going to be looking into this question.

48/2 + 7 < 37

Michelle GoldbergFirst things first: in preparing this picture, I had to crop out the copy of Victor Navasky’s history of the Hollywood blacklist Naming Names from Ms. Goldberg’s left. And this is important, because what I’m about to say is not just about the objectification of women. In fact, it isn’t even mostly about that, but she is cute as a button.

The only relationship rule that matters and actually makes intuitive sense to me is Half Age Plus Seven. It states that if your girlfriend or boyfriend is younger than half your age plus seven, it is officially creepy. For me, this age is 48/2 + 7 = 31. This is certainly true. In fact, it seems a little young. But certainly, a man my age having a relationship with someone 25 is beyond creepy. The younger one must have daddy issues and the older one—I don’t even want to think about it.

I bring all this up because I just want to go on record with the fact that I now have a crush on Michelle Goldberg, and although it is pathetic, it is at least not creepy because she is roughly 37 (or about to be). I like her writing and her style and much else. But mostly, this is all about the hair. It’s too cute.

Don’t get the wrong idea, though. This doesn’t mean I am giving up my many other crushes such as those on Emily Brewster, Sarah Vowell, and Kristen Schaal. But at my age, my ultimate fantasy is that they’d all come over for tea.

Emily Brewster

Sarah Vowell

Kristen Schaal

Michelle Goldberg

That Michelle Goldberg video is really inspiring.