Monday, June 25, 2012

On Not "Having It All"

All the world seems to be abuzz about the Anne Marie Slaughter piece in the Atlantic, Why Women Still Can't Have It All. Driving around today I flipped between NPR and CNN; Slaughter was on both. It's a terrific piece, very smart in its analysis of the subtle pressures on women who raise children and work in high-stress professions. I found several of her observations very familiar:

  • Women in two-career marriages are considered bad mothers if they fail to do the very things for their husbands are considered heroic. (Coming to parent-teacher meetings, for example.)
  • The utterly irrational use of hours-consumed as a proxy measure for quality-achieved is a killer for parents wanting to be involved with their children. And again, this injures women more than men. A woman who guiltily walks out of an endless, meandering faculty meeting at 5:30 is considered a clock-puncher; a man who announces he has to leave to pick up his kids is considered a model father.
  • A man who doesn't work Saturday in deference to his faith is admired; a woman who doesn't work Saturday to be with her kids is considered less than fully committed to her career.
And so on. The article is not just a set of grievances; Slaughter has some suggestions. But things won't be any better until those in power actually recognize the absurdity of paradoxes such as these. Setting up more rules and grant programs and so on may be helpful and will certainly be well intentioned, but until the dime really drops on the power structure, such devices will also make women feel that they must visibly separate themselves from the prevailing culture of their office or their profession if they want to have a family. They certainly won't solve the problem of what gets whispered behind closed doors or help women make imponderable choices between career advancement and family time.

Quite by chance, I saw my Aunt Mary (whom I talked about in this Morning Prayer homily) at her retirement home in Michigan just about the same time I read the Atlantic article. After Mary told me some stories about her childhood, I could not help thinking how in every generation of my family, things have improved for the women, and yet every generation seems to be working just as hard as the previous one.

My grandmother was an illiterate short-order cook, who spoke only Ukrainian until her daughters taught her English (they taught her to recognize the symbols on a dial telephone; that was the limit of her ability to read either letters or numbers). She had immigrated from Ukraine so her daughters would be able to have the education that she could not. My mother worked her way through medical school, graduating in 1938, and took about 15 years off to raise her two sons before hitting the books again and ultimately becoming superintendant of a state mental institution. My wife never had to stop working while our daughters were growing up (and, leave policies not having been then what they are now, probably couldn't have kept her job if she had stopped out). My older daughter, Elizabeth, just had our first grandchild, a girl named Alexandra; Elizabeth is on what seems to me a sensibly generous maternity leave from her job in private equity.

So, indisputable progress at every step for four generations or so. Each generation of women has a lot for which to thank the previous generation. And yet all the suspicions about motives, ambitions, and degree of commitment continue for working women in the professions, and continue to drive women out of certain career tracks. I hope it will be better for Alexandra, but it's the guys who will have to change to make that happen.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Sometimes commas are a good idea.

Sorry for falling for this bit of Photoshopping. I should know better! See comment below.

(Thanks, Dick!)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Harvard's Collusion

I thought that might get your attention.

While preparing a talk on privacy I gave earlier this week at the Harvard Club of Concord, MA (thanks for the warm reception!), I thought I would see how much Harvard itself is involved in enabling the data aggregation industry. My colleague Latanya Sweeney had introduced me to a new tool called Collusion and my curiosity provided an opportunity to try it out.

Collusion is an add-on to the Firefox browser that makes painfully clear the extent of tracking and data sharing that happens while you are browsing the Web. (Firefox is a free browser produced by a non-profit. You can download it here. It takes less than five minutes to install. Adding Collusion is also free and takes just a few minutes.)

There is a lovely demo showing how Collusion works. You can repeatedly start from a clean slate and watch the advertising and marketing data sites tracking you anew as you click around even among the most innocent, noncommercial sites.

It turns out that there really aren't any noncommercial sites. We expect data to be collected when we browse the Amazon site, and shouldn't any more be surprised when our Amazon habits affect some aggregated view of who we are. But Harvard? Well, Harvard is not #1 in social media for nothing.

When I visited Harvard's home page, right away cookies from Twitter, Google, and Youtube appeared. (The last two are the same company.)

Fine. It's hard to avoid Google anyway. But as soon as I pulled down a menu and selected the Athletics link,
the picture exploded.

 (I have added the names. In Collusion they appear one at a time as you mouse over the circles.) You probably have never heard of some of these places that now know about my Harvard browsing and are integrating that information with information obtained from other cookies installed when I browsed other sites. Below are screen shots from their home pages, which give you an idea of why they might be interested in knowing about people who visit the Harvard site. Remember, I got all this, and more, with a SINGLE CLICK from the Harvard home page.

There are things you can do to fight tracking. See, for example, the PrivacyChoice site, which will direct you to some add-ons that can help. But awareness alone is valuable; at least as an experiment, install Firefox and Collusion, go about your normal business, and then check the tracking graph. You are being watched.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Baseball as a Second Language

Last summer I published a short guide to the game of baseball, illustrated with photographs and decorated with quotations from newspapers using baseball terminology metaphorically. This year I decided the world need an edition specifically oriented toward the 2012 elections, so visitors from abroad can learn about politics and baseball simultaneously. It is amazing how nearly every baseball term has gotten used in the last couple of years to signify something that one of the presidential candidates has done. Available now from Lulu for $9.99; it will work its way over to Amazon eventually.