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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Marissa's Mess

Marissa Mayer is the 37-year-old CEO of Yahoo!. She is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and is equally famous for being "employee number 20" at Google. Building a career at Google to then jump to Yahoo! is a pretty good recipe for money-making success: Mayer is reportedly worth $300 million, with her Yahoo! contract valued at $117 million over five years.

Mayer is also the wife of a lawyer/investor, and the mother of a four-month-old son. She was married three years ago at the age of 34, making her 37 at the time she had her first child. A child, by the way, she was five months pregnant with when she assumed the helm of the struggling internet services company.

All of these facts are supposed to make other women, and perhaps especially other working moms, feel really great and vindicated and optimistic about that glass ceiling becoming all the more breakable. Indeed, many commentators take the position that women should be applauding Mayer for the fact that she is one of only 42 female CEO's among Fortune's 1,000 biggest revenue earners. By their logic, it does not matter how she behaves as a CEO, or how she became CEO, it only matters that she IS CEO.

I do not agree.

Listen. I think it's great Mayer is in a visible leadership position in an industry dominated by men. I think it's great she took on the role when she was pregnant. But women should look beyond the title and consider the full picture before they make Mayer the shining example of how women can compete and succeed in a man's world.

If Mayer is an example of anything, it is that women are men's equals in the workplace in the following sense: they can achieve whatever they want to as long as they don't let their family life get in the way.

That is simply not an option for many women.

Mayer first demonstrated her one-ness with predominantly male career patterns by taking only two weeks of maternity leave after she had her son. In workplaces that allow for paternity leave, it is usually on par with that two-week window Mayer allotted herself. She probably still wasn't able to walk comfortably, much less get a full night's sleep.

Now she has pushed through a new corporate policy that all Yahoo! employees must work out of a Yahoo! office. In other words, no more working from home. The memo, leaked Friday, that announced the policy shift reasoned that "[s]ome of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together." The memo even warned that if you have to "stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration."

The memo and the mentality that spawned it reek of a bygone era of business school cliches. It's as though Mad Men is being used as the blueprint for turning around a tech company of the 21st century. Everyone has to be office-hopping and water-coolering so that innovation can blossom and productivity can increase. Because there's only one way to get work done well, the policy implies, and that's sitting at your laminate-wood desk in front of a computer screen from 9-5 with breaks only for scribbling ideas on cocktail napkins or sitting in your supervisor's office playing nerf basketball as you spit-ball ideas on GUIs while comparing notes on the best sushi take-out spots.

Does anyone else see the irony that a tech company, trying to re-establish itself as a tech giant, does not think that technology can replace three-dimensional face time?

The business logic behind Mayer's decision is a fertile enough field for debate. The personnel play she's making here is what grates on me personally, even though I don't work at Yahoo! And now, certainly never hope to.

Why? It goes back to the fact that still today, in the majority of cases, the mother is the primary care-giver in the home. (Before you freak out about that statement, read it again - first, I acknowledge that my statement only applies to the "majority," meaning there are of course exceptions; and second, I said the primary care-giver, not the only care-giver.)

I am sure Mayer has convinced herself that her decision is not an intentional smack in the face of her female employees, and I'm also sure that she insists that she does not want to be the Poster Child for female empowerment. I also don't know the make-up of the Yahoo! employees her decision directly affects.

I don't care. There is a legal doctrine called "disparate impact," which provides that even if an action is not written to discriminate, it still discriminates if it disproportionately affects a certain category/class of people. What is more, Mayer's policy reverberates in workplaces beyond Yahoo!.

Flexible work schedules are especially important to women, including the flexibility to work always from home, sometimes from home, or sporadically at home. If a child is sick or there's a snow day or a child care provider cancels, a parent has to stay home, and often that parent is the mother. I know that I could not do the job I do if my boss directly, and my company indirectly, did not support me and my need for some accommodation. Yes, accommodation.

Sometimes I get to work a bit late. Sometimes I need to leave a bit early. Sometimes I cannot make it into the office at all. My boss always knows when that will be, and I only do it with her (her!) permission.

But there's a flip side. If my responsibilities at home get in the way of my responsibilities at work during "work hours," it means I make it up at some other hour of the day. On occasion, my work day is from 4-7AM and then from 8-??PM. I get my work done, and I produce the best work product I am capable of producing, but I do it at non-traditional hours.

The big, typical New York law firm I worked at allowed for the same flexibility, remarkable in view of the amount and type of work I was doing for them. The mantra of the partners I worked for was "I don't care when or where you get your work done, just get it done." If they had a particular need for me to be in the office for a particular project, they told me so and I made it work. And I'm sure if they had repeated issues with the quality of my output, they would have told me so and I would have made it better.

Neither my current company nor my former law firm would have upended an entire corporate policy because of frustrations with my individual performance.

Yet here goes Marissa Mayer, taking an ax where a scalpel probably would have sufficed. If she is concerned about worker productivity or innovation, why not have her managers address those concerns with the workers who are falling behind? If she wants Yahoo! to be a place where people are more collaborative, how is she helping that cause by making the logistics of people's lives more challenging?

And if you're asking a mother to choose between her demands at home and a job that refuses to acknowledge her demands at home, which do you think she'll choose? If she's lucky enough to have the option of working somewhere else, she'll choose somewhere else. If she's not so lucky, she'll come to work and be dogged with legitimate concerns about what is going on at home. She won't be psyched about hobnobbing over birthday cake in the break room.

The hypocrisy at work here makes Mayer's decision all the more frustrating. She is a very rich woman. She can afford round-the-clock help with her son and her home. She has also built a nursery next door to her office at the Yahoo! headquarters. Her son can be nearby if and when she wants or needs him to be.

She has the resources and the authority to make her life as an always-working working mother work. No one else at her company can say the same thing. Mayer looks out of touch at best and callous at worst in telling her employees to figure it out, or move out.

The number of working mothers nation-wide who have a support system that is remotely similar to Mayer's is laughably small. Using myself as an example again, even when I was making a relatively good amount of money in private practice, child care expenses were a major drain on our family income and a constant source of stress. I had to carefully schedule my day so that I got things done within the hours of child care we could afford. If my firm had told me all firm work had to be done at the firm, I would have had to leave private practice even sooner than I did. Financially, emotionally, and practically, that line in the sand would have also been a noose around my professional throat.

The shining source of optimism I have seen, as a woman who wants to be a mother and a successful career-person, is that I thought corporate culture was shifting. I thought it was beginning to recognize that (a) career paths do not have to be a constant upward trajectory, but can allow for period of plateaus; and (b) that retention of quality workers sometimes require reasonable flexibility. Both of those steps bode well for everyone, but most particularly for women. I'm in a plateau period as I raise young children, but I still want to be in the game so that I can get a bigger office and a bigger title down the road.

Now that's being threatened by a fellow working mom.

Mayer shouldn't feel compelled to make certain decisions just because she's a woman, or just because she is a mother. If denying the option from working from home is the decision she wants to make, wow, and I disagree, but fine. It's a two-way street, though, and I don't have to like the decision just because she's a woman, or just because she's a mother.

In fact, I believe that so far, Mayer's tenure at Yahoo! has set a dangerous example. It sends a message that if a woman wants to succeed in business, she needs to be a man in woman's clothing.

Sitting pretty. Image via Glamour.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Poor Little It Girl

Do you hear the people sing? They're singing a song about hating Anne.
Last night, Anne Hathaway won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Fantine in Les Miserables. It seems as though the entire universe was both rooting for and against that very result.
The universe - at least, the part of it that's on Twitter - wanted Anne to win because it meant that she would (a) complete her sweep of the movie trophy season; and (b) have to get up on stage to speak again. These are two very important elements that feed off each other and, in that symbiosis, give fodder to the hate mill. It appears the more she wins, the more people love to hate listening to her react to and speak about all that winning.
The universe - again, at least the Twitter part - was rooting against another Hathaway victory because, well, the universe can't really stand Anne. It appears everyone out there thinks she transparently insists on being the center of attention, all while expressing a false, aw-shucks modesty that grates on b.s. meters.
For goodness' sake, in a compilation of the best Oscar tweets from last night, three included only slightly underhanded jabs at Anne's expense:
Image via
Now, I can kind of get where everyone is coming from. Big picture, I consider myself someone with a highly-sensitive b.s. meter, and I am certainly not someone who cuts celebrities a lot of slack. Small picture, some of my favorite people in the world can't stand this woman, including one of the featured Tweeters above. (That'd be @stamos. If you don't follow her already, you haven't been paying attention.) Medium picture, yeah, her cheese-ball lines about "dreams coming true," and her exaggerated "blergh" modesty, and her sometimes excessively-toothy grinning, do confuse me sometimes, too.
But you know what? All of these tendencies of Ms. Hathaway's do no more than that - confuse me. Both because I don't understand why she has such a hard time coming across as completely genuine, and because I don't understand why these "missteps" of hers inspire such animosity towards her.
At a superficial level, Anne is a lot of the things that usually drive fans the good way. She is gorgeous, has fantastic style, and isn't splashed across the glossies doing ridiculous things. Scratching just a bit deeper, she went through a public, nasty break-up that seemed to have left her entirely jilted and deserving of our sympathy and compassion. Now she's seemingly found and married the right guy, an event we celebrate like a national holiday when it comes to the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, or anyone from The Bachelor/Bachelorette.
Professionally, she can actually do the job she gets paid to do; she is not just some pretty face or skinny body or wild personality. I did not see whatever princess movie launched her to fame, but she has been good-to-great in every movie I have seen her in: quirky duckling-turned-swan in The Devil Wears Prada, dissatisfied wife in Brokeback Mountain, angry recovering druggie in Rachel Getting Married (for which she also received an Oscar nod), and frantic bride-to-be in Bride Wars. And she frigging killed it as Fantine; watch any five seconds of her performance of "I Dreamed A Dream" and try not to get chills. The point is, the lady is talented.
What's more, in any interview she gives she is well-spoken, game for whatever direction the interviewer wants to go in, and makes that interview a two-sided conversation. I mean, last night she began her interview with Ryan Seacrest by complimenting him on/inquiring about his hair.
When you're pretty, talented and coherent in Hollywood, you're going to hear - a lot - about how pretty, talented and coherent you are. I have a hard time knowing how to react when someone tells me they like my scarf; I can't imagine how awkward I would be if someone came within Mount Everest of fawning over me.
So, yeah, I'm not in love with the fact that Anne seems to have canned responses to accolades or affection. I wish she could play it more spontaneous. But again - you know what? Her dream did come true last night, and it's a dream that thousands of us have had at some point. Of course she had some lines memorized in the event she had to make an acceptance speech - I HAVE LINES READY IF I EVER WIN AN OSCAR. Was it really all that irritating to hear her acknowledge that the thing she'd always wanted to happen was, in fact, happening? Octavia Spencer pulled the exact same routine last year when she won in the exact same category for her role in The Help, and I never heard anyone dissing her for a lack of sincerity. And I thought Anne's line about her husband (the best moment of her life being the one when he walked into it) and about Fantine (may her story be confined to fiction and no longer part of some women's reality) were both beautifully stated.
Most important of all, though, is that you get the sense when watching Anne that she cares about what she is doing. She clearly loves being an actress, she loves the movie business and, yes, she loves the fluffy frivolity of it all, too. I think that's a refreshing change from the stars who act like it's all very been-there-done-that, or who act as if they are doing the rest of us a favor by waking up in the morning. I would take Anne's schtick over Kristen's schtick every day of the week and twice on any day I have to see a movie or turn on a television.
Everyone gets excited when good things happen to them. No one is good at accepting praise gracefully all of the time. Everyone in Hollywood enjoys the limelight.
To my mind, Anne is no different than her peer groups, except in the "right" ways. That's not to say anyone has to adore her, but it does make me wonder why such venom and vitriol get directed her way. In the end, it really doesn't matter, I suppose. Anne dreamed her dream and, yes, last night it came true. 


Image via Yahoo! Movies.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ladies Second

On Wednesday, several of you joined me in a penetrating analysis of which Hollywood "leading men" are synonymous with bad movies. Today, we turn to the ladies. Remember, the challenge here is to identify which female leads, when featured near the top of the credits, are helpful clues that the movie will be unsatisfying at best, terrible at worst.

Again, some names quickly and easily spring to mind, but they're being taken out of consideration because it would make the game too easy. Some of those names include Julianne Hough, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker and Snooki. Like I always say, if your only credential for acting in a movie is that your face is pretty and/or recognizable and/or usually drunk and/or usually next to Ryan Seacrest's, you're really not credentialed for a movie.

With those rules in mind, here are my Top Five Actresses to Hire Only If You're Trying to Tell Me Not to See Your Movie.

5. Kristen Stewart. All right. It's true that this gal's personality is entirely off-putting to me. I admit that it is hard for me to separate my general annoyance with her public persona from my estimation of her as an actress. But I'm pretty sure my bias is not completely coloring my conclusoin that she is not a good actress, and that the movies she is in are not good movies. I honestly believed she peaked in Panic Room, and that movie was released in 2002. She was also in a diabetic coma or something for parts of it. She is now most famous for her role as Bella in the Twilight movies, which I think are only good movies if they are meant to be comedies or spoofs on dramatic films. Neither of those categories, I believe, are what the Twilights consider themselves to be.

4. Jessica Alba. She's gorgeous and makes one heck of a chem-free diaper, but I think she is seriously lacking in the acting department. In fact, I believe the only critical acclaim she has received for her work on the silver screen is when she gyrated in leather chaps for a bit in Sin City, released in 2005. She's gotten by since then on her work in the Fantastic Four series; comedies like Good Luck Chuck; and Little Fockers, the tired end of Ben Stiller-Robert de Niro's gravy train. I love seeing you on red carpets, Jessica, but I don't think I'll ever pay to see you in technicolor.

3. Cameron Diaz. I'm old enough to remember when everyone was really excited by "new-comer" Cameron Diaz. She was heralded as the cute, quirky gal who could hold her own with the then-titans of comedy. That was in the early '90s. While Something About Mary became Something of A Classic, and Being John Malkovich was a critical darling, in the 21st century she's done nothing more than provide the voice for an ogress and play The Bubbly Girl with The Big Grin in movie after movie. I get it, Cameron. You're kind of adorable and you're probably really fun. But I don't need to fork over $12 to relearn a lesson I learned a decade ago.

2. Katherine Heigel. Here's another spot for a confession: I loved Knocked Up AND 27 Dresses. I'm sorry, but I did. I also think my irritation with Ms. Heigel since those cinematic masterpieces is owing as much to her grating personality as to her terrible choice in/options for projects. When everyone dislikes you, it's hard to get work in any line of business. When you're a performer and you've made your audience cringe at the very sight of you, that increases the difficulty by a magnitude of Harvey Weinstein. You know your career is on the downturn when your most recent movies include a kitchen-sink kitsch and a bail-bondswoman rom-com. I'll bet Grey's Anatomy doesn't look so bad now, does it, Izzie Stevens?

1. Jessica Biel. Here's a question: other than marrying Justin Timberlake, has this woman done anything successful as an actress? Seriously, here's her resume. Please, show me something redeeming. She's the one who always complains that she can't get plum roles because she's "too pretty." In view of the crap-tastic roles that seems to have left her with, I can only conclude that she is a gajillion billion trillion times prettier than I, and perhaps even Justin, take her to be.

I look forward to your nominations.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Men Who Flop

On Sunday, Hollywood will shell out Oscars to recognize the actors, actresses and movies who do the best job at promoting their Oscar-worthiness. Oh, all right. The Oscars probably identify some of the best performances and some of the best film-making over the course of the night, too.

There are names that are synonymous with film acclaim. Relatively contemporary ones include Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Kate Winslet, Daniel Day-Lewis, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, even Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Beyond racking up nominations and sometimes wins, these names and others like them are usually reliable indicators that the movie they are in is decent. They can't all be Sophie's Choice or Forrest Gump, but you can also trust that you won't catch Kate Winslet running around screaming in Scream 5.

Then there is another set of actors and actresses. The set I'm referring to boasts the distinct dishonor of tending to be associated with movies that are, well, bad to awful. In fact, these actors and actresses have been in so many bad-to-awful movies that their name on the marquee has become a shorthand for a bad review, a rotten tomato, or a blinking light saying "don't waste your money on this one."

Below are the actors I'd put in this less distinguished category. I've taken the reality television stars, musicians, and supermodels out of the mix, because that's just too obvious and too easy. On Friday, I will identify the five lucky actresses fit to be pegged here.

The Actors

Luke Wilson: If he's part of an ensemble cast, hopefully one including his brother Owen, you can be somewhat assured that the movie will be somewhat entertaining. I'm thinking here, of course, of The Royal Tenenbaums and Old School. Even Legally Blonde, where he was a background-type. But if Luke has to carry the picture? Oh, boy. That's when you get movies like My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Super no.

Shia LaBeouf: This kid took a popular series and a cultural classic, respectively, and managed to tarnish each of their reputations. He played the young version of the titular character in Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull, which went on to be ranked by some as the most disappointing movie ever released. He also had the lead in the equally-disappointing sequel to Wall Street. Basically, he makes you feel like you've wasted your time when you try to spell his name correctly.

Nicolas Cage: Poor Nicolas Cage. He won an Oscar back in 1996 for his performance as a suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas. Now he can't get anyone in Hollywood to buy him a drink. At least, not the right people. Dogged by money problems thanks to his lavish spending habits, he is now seemingly compelled to take whatever bad role is offered to him. I mean, I think most people believe that Gone in Sixty Seconds is the description of his 21st century movie career, and that National Treasure is some kind of desperate subliminal message.

Gerard Butler: Now we're really getting to the cream of this crop. Mr. Butler got some acclaim thanks to 300, but I think that was mostly because people love to watch large batches of other people die in technicolor. He managed to follow that success up with the likes of P.S. I Love You, which single-handedly knocked Hilary Swank's career off the Oscar track, and The Bounty Hunter, which managed to make us all wonder if we'd actually been giving Jennifer Aniston too much credit.

Josh Duhamel: But lovely Josh Duhamel really takes the cake. He's easy on the eyes and hard on the conscience, as we all know the authorities allow him to go home with Fergie every night. I'm not sure he's ever been in a remotely decent movie. His newest release, Safe Haven, kind of epitomizes his entire career. He plays a stereotypical heartthrob-in-lumberjack's clothing in a stereotypical coastal village who sweeps a stereotypical damsel in distress off her stereotypical uneven footing. The movie comes complete with a save-the-damsel-from-a-raging-fire-scene. And lines like "I've had things happen to me in the past, things that still scare me," and "there's no safer place for you than here with me."


Who would you add or subtract? And who would you award with the title of Best Indication The Movie Will Be Bad?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pay Attention, Hallmark

You survived yesterday. You scrambled to buy the flowers, you wracked your brain for a creative way to represent love, you holed up in your apartment and watched a Real Housewives marathon. However you survived the day, the point is, it's over.

Except not quite. Because Hallmark? You need to take the next 364 days to improve your product line.

The options for Valentine's Day cards are not good options. Too many feature a bear holding a heart with a thought bubble that reads "Will You Be Mine?". Come on, Hallmark. The only time a bear holds a heart is when the heart used to be pumping inside the chest of the misguided camper lying beside the hungry beast. Also, bears don't issue requests, they just take what they want.

There are similar defects in cards featuring a single rose (signal: I'm too cheap to buy the actual rose), a long poem (signal: I'm too dull to craft a poem of my own), or a unicorn (signal: I'm under the impression you believe in fake things, like my sentiments).

I'm petitioning for cards that fit the reality of life. Here are some of my early drafts. Let me know which ones you like best. We can then move on to a discussion of royalties.


Dear Husband: Today when you ask me where you put your shoes when you took them off your feet in your closet, I will answer with a smile on my face. (Look down.)


I might not say I love you every day, but it's only because I'm too tired and that's such a long sentence.


We've been together for years,
I nursed you back from knee surgery,
 and your family likes me.
I accept that you still don't want to get engaged.
I understand you have a fear of commitment.
I do, too.
I fear the institutional care
 I'm going to require the next time you wonder out loud
Why we should "rush things," or
Jeopardize this "good thing" we've got going.
Despite that fear, I'm still here. I guess
I love you that much.
It's really starting to piss me off.
Happy Valentine's Day!

For Daughter

You don't understand what the word "love" means. Let me help you. Last night, you wet the bed. The one I was sleeping in. This morning, I made you breakfast. Love.


The prince-princess construct Disney has duped you into believing is going to yield wild disappointments as early as next year. Happy Valentine's Day!

For Son

You are already mine in the eyes of nature, the State, and the public school system. I don't think a card is required to further cement our connection. Mom.


Today, people will offer you items of clothing labeled "heartbreaker." Please don't be the type to understand that term as a compliment.

For Godchild

Jesus loves you.

For Boss

I would love it if you would give me the day off and dramatically alter what you conceive as my job responsiblities.

For Grandparents

Are you available to babysit?

For Friend

I love those pants. I do not love that you fit into them, and I do not.


Because I care about you and believe in guilt by association, you should know that people talk about your Instagrammed meal photos behind your back.


You had my heart at "God, she is so annoying, isn't she?"

Image via

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

She Liked Mike

Michael Jordan's professional basketball career began in 1984. The Chicago Bulls used the third pick of that year's NBA draft to select #23 from the University of North Carolina. He went on to define the city of Chicago, the sport of basketball, and the legend of an athlete. On Sunday, he turns 50.

My youngest sister was born in the summer of 1985. She grew up playing with the boys, being invited to join their soccer teams and beating them in pick-up games on the tarred basketball courts of the elementary school playground. On Sunday, she'll be with me and our two other sisters for an increasingly rare reunion.

It is significant that the four of us have managed to break away from our busy lives to spend a weekend together, just us. It is also significant that Michal Jordan is turning 50; the birthday itself is a milestone, and Michael Jordan is a cultural touchstone. ESPN has dedicated an entire week of its programming to a commemoration of the birthday boy.

The least I could do was dedicate a simple blog post to the little girl who didn't just like Mike, but loved him.

The growth charts of MJ's career and my sister's life follow similar arcs. As he was helping a franchise find its footing, she was learning to walk. As he began winning the first of his many league awards and advancing his team into the playoffs, she was showing her own early signs of athletic precocity. On Michael's 4th anniversary with the Bulls, Phil Jackson became the team's head coach, and my four-year-old sister ran a 3.5 mile loop around a bay in Portland.

The Bulls began their march into the record books in the early 90s. They won their first NBA Championship, and Michael was named MVP of the league and of the Finals. Both feats were repeated, twice, and in a row. In the midst of the three-peat, MJ brought the Dream Team to the Olympics.

Meanwhile, in a small town in Maine, my sister was beginning to understand what she could do and who she wanted to be. In a house full of girls, she eschewed playing with dolls in favor of going out to the driveway to shoot foul shots at the regulation-height hoop. She covered her short hair with baseball hats, dressed in windpants and t-shirts, and attended practice after practice, sports camp after sports camp. Her own collection of MVP trophies began to grow, and as a child who could not yet reliably tie her own shoes, she started to gain a local reputation as the girl who could do it better than the boys.

Her personality made her singularly determined, and her natural love for sports kept her happy as she toiled through the drills she assigned for the day. But soon she found motivation outside of herself, inspiration that propelled her still further in her ambition. It was Michael.

My most distinct childhood Christmas memory is traipsing downstairs in our traditional line, with her leading the way. As us older three delighted in the typical delights of little girls, she jumped up and down in front of a cardboard cutout of Michael, poised as if he were about to take a free throw. She was trying to hug the figure looming several feet above her. Every t-shirt she wore, every baseball hat she donned, was emblazoned with the Chicago Bulls logo. She watched every game, knew every statistic, owned every shoe.

After Michael left the Bulls for a season and then returned, he cemented the dynasty by winning another record three NBA Championships and three regular season/Finals MVP awards. This was the era of the Jordan-Pippen-Rodman triumvirate. This was when everyone started asking whether that team, and those players, were the greatest, ever, in all of sport.

Meanwhile, in a small town in Maine, my sister was in middle school. No longer allowed to play on the boys teams, she achieved the beginnings of her local phenom status. She was featured on the news for the first time, and the video showed her doing a stutter-step move and draining the shot. She'd learned that, of course, from watching Mike.

By the time he retired from the NBA, she was heading into a high school career that would lead her to a college career as the starting point guard for Boston College. Her once-short hair was by then pony-tail length, and she replaced the bull with an eagle. But the little girl with the gap-toothed grin and the too-big #23 jersey was still there, in the callouses on her hands and the behind-the-back-no-look passes.

Now Michael is 50. Now she is married. Now he works out of an office. Now she loves fashion and getting her hair done. But his office overlooks a basketball court. And she volunteers every day at a Boys & Girls Club where she spends most of her time on a basketball court, too.

The passage of time marches on. Michael is still Michael, even though he can't do Michael. And my sister is still the kid who idolized her hero, even though she carries his name in her memories and not on her clothes.

What Michael did as Michael will forever be the stuff of sports history. What my sister did in her pursuit to be like Mike will forever be the stuff of her history. And mine.

Thanks, Michael. And thanks, sweet sister. You both were really, really fun to watch grow up.

Image via

Monday, February 11, 2013

Questioning the Grammys

I watched the Grammys last night. You did too. I know because host LL Cool J kept making reference to how the Grammys kill it on social media and viewership in general.

In years past, I watched the telecast in a state of half-awe, half-confusion. The musical mish-mashing usually impressed me and I thought seeing performers actually perform, rather than just receive blunt objects for someone else's mantelpiece, was refreshing. I never understood 99% of the clothing choices and never recognized a good 33-66% of the attendees.

Grammys 2013, though, left me more confused, less awestruck. My mental loop was just a string of question marks. Maybe this is just a sign of old age. Maybe it's a sign I was largely house-bound for three days thanks to the 30+ inches of snow we received over the weekend.

Either way, here are some of my questions. Perhaps you have some of the answers.

1. Are the Grammys an awards show or a concert? During the 3.5 hour telecast, only 10 awards were presented. Statistically, someone who can do math could figure out that a gold-plated gramophone was delivered only once every ___ minutes. I'm not that someone. Point is, identify yourself, Grammys.

2. Of the 10 awards they do present, aren't like 6 of them for the same thing? The year's best Album, Song and Record are "each" independently recognized. So are the best performances in all the genres. Someone has probably explained the difference between these categories to me before, but I forgot. Because my brain refuses to accept that there is a difference. And now poor Fun. is left to wonder how their song "We Are Young" could have been so award-worthy, but their performance of that song so, well, not. (That confusion may be the one thing I have in common with the group.)

3. Was Taylor Swift told pre-show that she'd have to sing in addition to act out a trippy version of Alice in Wonderland? While the costumes and choreography for her opening number seemed very thought-out, the singing part of her song seemed much...less so. The only stanza she seemed to really put some breath into was the speaking part where she apologized for being busy, Mr. Nasty Ex-Boyfriend, but she was in the middle of opening the Grammys.

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4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how pissed do we think Bruno Mars is that Justin Timberlake stole his "retro" look, complete with finger snaps and Instagram filter?
Justin Timberlake, Grammys 2013 (via

Bruno Mars, Grammys 2012 (via 

5. Where was Jay-Z's butler hiding? Did you notice that Mr. Z either had a flute of champagne (see below) or a crystal goblet of amber liquor in his hand every time the camera panned to him (which was every minute ending in an odd number)? Man, I hope he had cash on hand to pay someone to drive him and Mrs. Z home.

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6. With all the emoting that Rihanna did during her performance of "Stay," how is it possible that Battleship didn't do better at the box office? 
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7. Why is it called "Best New Artist" if the winners themselves keep talking about how old they are and how long they've been around (which is more than a decade)?
If these men are new to music, then I am new to the tax base. Image via
8. Portia de Rossi. Does she smile? And why didn't she want to take off her coat? Is that the question Ellen is asking in this picture?
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9. Was Frank Ocean's performance a joke? Did he really write a song about Forrest Gump? Was that a sweat band? This is the guy who Chris Brown claims beat him up?
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10. Prince?
      Are you there, Prince?
      If you are there, at least you're prepared to encounter things like the floor, the lights, and        
      circulating air.
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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

So God Made A Lawyer

There was a Super Bowl ad that followed this formula:

God + Farmers + Truck = $$

It was the Chrysler ad that featured a voice-over from Paul Harvey, an unmitigated declaration that farmers are Heaven-sent, and an ambiguous tie-in with large trucks. Paul Harvey was a conservative radio broadcaster, and he made the speech that was used to frame the 2013 ad back in 1978. The purpose of the decades-old speech was, according to Forbes, to drum up public support for struggling farmers. As a piece of prose, it was, and continues to be, applauded as inspirational and masterful.

The commercial has prompted declarations that the spot is the most acclaimed advertisement of all time. It has been targeted with condemnations that it is nothing more than a cynical manipulation aimed at cushioning the bottom line. It has inspired copy-catters.

Writing for MarketWatch, Brett Arends borrowed from the Chrysler/Harvey script to draft "So God Made A Banker." It features demand-supply connections such as:

God said, "I need someone who doesn't grow anything or make anything but who will borrow money from the public at 0% interest and then lend it back to the public at 2% or 5% or 10% and pay himself a bonus for doing so."
So God made a banker.
As I read Arends' interpretation of God's decision-making process, I was cackling to myself and annoyingly fist-pumping Arends in my mind's eye. It had me all fired up in a self-righteous sort of way. Then I remembered that (a) I am a lawyer, and (b) God created glass houses to remind all of us not to cast stones.

Instead of some "Hail Mary's" or choking on a rosary bead, my self-imposed punishment for my momentary lapse in perspective is to draft "So God Made A Lawyer." Here we go.

And on the eighth day God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need someone who can push paper and make it look complicated.”

So God made a lawyer.

God said, “I need someone who doesn’t create anything or even really move during the day except to pick up the telephone to tell someone to order lunch.”

So God made a lawyer.

God said, “I need someone who will draft long memos detailing various legal risks without identifying where the client is most exposed or which scenario is most likely, and who will then have the chutzpah to charge that client a Wal-Mart clerk's annual salary for the work product. Plus meals and cab fare.”

So God made a lawyer.

God said, “I need someone to be willing to speak on any issue, at any time, regardless of qualification to do so, and to expound at length on that topic and in that setting without coming to any conclusion, facilitating any decision, or maintaining a linear train of concrete thought.”

God said, “I need someone who believes they need three years of additional schooling to 'learn how to think,' who believes productivity can be measured in 6-minute intervals, and who believes that dry-cleaning services and having meals delivered to desks are job perks." 

God said, “And I need somebody who proclaims the nobility of her profession even while the Internet clogs with millions of jokes about that same profession.”

So God made a lawyer.


Monday, February 4, 2013

5 Funniest Moments from Super Bowl XLVII

Was it just me, or was last night's Super Bowl hee-larious?? Maybe not having a team I remotely cared about in the game allowed me to have some distanced perspective on the whole spectacle. And that perspective told me the whole night was just short of hysterical. The only thing missing was Will Ferrell streaking across the field.

The build-up to the Big Game doesn't help with the whole you-must-take-this-seriously effort. What with ESPN's New Year's Resolution to provide 24/7 coverage, the network made "mining the details" an art form. I'm sure you were as thrilled as I to know when the 49ers arrived in New Orleans and what potential advantage that timing could give them.

I also appreciated that Tedy Bruschi or Shannon Sharpe or Boomer Esiason broke down play after play after play for me, using lots of arrows and squiggly lines and the rewind-fast forward button. It works out great, because I'd always wanted to give my kids dinner from a pistol formation,and now I know exactly how to do it.

I just wish these so-called journalists had taken the time to uncover that the two coaches from the two teams are - get this - BROTHERS! I mean, how crazy is that?!? I'm no media professional, but I'm convinced the sports world would have really enjoyed hearing about an intra-family rivalry. I, for one, would have enjoyed an interview or two with these boys' parents because, like, WHO ARE THEY GOING TO ROOT FOR?

Finally press-time became game-time, and all those large men in shoulder pads ran out behind crazed flag-bearers and sparkly, shooting lights. Jennifer Hudson looked angry in front of the Sandy Hook chorus, Alicia Keys milked every stanza of "The Star Spangled Banner," and 8 college graduates peered intently at a coin with two sides. Time for kick-off.

Cue the laugh track.

5. Jim Harbaugh

"Coach Jim," as he was referred to last night, has six kids, and my guess is they've only misbehaved once in their respective lives. Because their father is a man prone to exasperation and the most googliest-moogliest of eye-popping outrage. If his headset could talk, it'd be crying.

At various points during the game, I was nervous his eyes would explode. Then I worried he'd separate his shoulder from all the herky-jerky gesticulating. I was most impressed, though, by the solid wind effects he provided for Beyonce's hair from all his angry sighing.

He ended the game in fitting fashion: throwing his hands above his head and then ripping them to his chest, violently and repeatedly. I'm told by 6 analysts from CBS that said motion is the international sign for "God, stop staring at Ray Lewis and throw a bone over here! I'm over here!" Or it's referee sign language for "holding." Either way, Coach Jim really embraced the maneuver and gave it some furious flair, like only he could.

4. The Compare/Contrast

As I've mentioned, on the other sideline, na-na-na-booing at Coach Jim was his older brother, Coach John. The big brother is known to be more laid back in the facial-expression department, and he held true to form last night. Except when he decided to verbally undress a middle-aged, slightly paunchy, in-over-his-head stadium security guy with a walkie-talkie who had the unfortunate task of explaining to Coach John that "the lights are out." (You can watch the dressing-down here, but only if you're allowed to see movies rated PG-13.)

Well, then comes the second half of the game, and the 49ers start making their comeback. Which includes them scoring touchdowns.

The fancy CBS producers got it in their heads that it'd be cool to do some split screens comparing-contrasting the brothers. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz must have given the gimmick a solemn nod/thumbs up, and after one of those lead-winnowing touchdowns, someone in the control room yelled "CUT TO SPLIT SCREEN! CUT TO SPLIT SCREEN!"

So they did. On the left, there was an image of Coach Jim putting his hands in touchdown formation over his head, a look of not-displeasure passing over his face. On the right, Coach John turned his head away in disgust and maybe exhaled.

Phil or Jim made penetrating commentary along the lines of "And that, folks, is how these two different brother react to that play." Whoa, that's a lot of genetics/child psychology/Freud to take in one pictorial. Could it be nature or nurture that's to blame for the one guy looking relieved/not suicidal and the other guy looking kind of disgruntled? Gosh, this just adds a whole new dimension to the game!

Wait, oh, what's that? You think their differing reactions might be because one guy's team just scored and the other guy's team just let the score happen? Well, surface-level thinking like that is why you're sitting on your couch and not in a press box with a plastic card on a lanyard around your neck, AMATEUR!

3. The Power Outage

Jack Black and Melissa McCarthy had a love child and they named it Third-Quarter Power Outage. Just after Jacoby Jones returned the longest kickoff in NFL history to give the Ravens a commanding 28-6 lead, the lights went out in the Superdome. And the wheels officially fell off the wagon.

Joe Flacco leaped up from the Ravens' bench, grabbed his helmet, and started doing the stop, drop and roll. Phil and Jim were condemned to radio silence since power went out in the booth. That left the on-field commentators to pick up the slack.

Shannon Sharpe opened with something about the Ravens taking the power out of the 49ers, and then he used the word momentum as a noun, verb and adjective. Cut to players stretching on the field. Back to Dan Marino, talking about momentum. Cut to Colin and Coach Jim having a game of catch. Shannon again, saying "momentous." Cut to a clock counting the seconds the power outage has gripped the Superdome in its failed CTRL+ALT+Delete.

Then came my second favorite part about the power outage: the non-updates. One fellow after another appeared or was quoted on air as reporting that the NFL refused to issue a statement about what caused the power outage. We heard this several times. "Hey guys, no news about what caused the power outage! (P.S. Momentum.)"

4. The Quarterback Question

My FAVORITE part about the power outage came about 5 minutes into it. Bill Cowher, he of the On-Field Analysts, was so desperate to fill time that he actually said the following:

"I don't know the team as well as Jim Harbaugh, but I think Alex Smith could run a better one-minute offense than Colin Kaepernick."

Read that sentence again. Every clause of it is awesome. The perceived need to establish that you, an ex-coach and paid talker, do not "know" the team as well as its coach. And then the quick jump to insinuating what the coach should do. And the insinuation being that the quarterback controversy that was laid to rest weeks ago should be exhumed. And then the leap that a one-minute offense is needed when we're about one minute into the second half.

Somebody, get that man a seat at the Modern Family writing table.

5. Ray Lewis

Oh, Ray Lewis. Or should I call you Mr. Lewis? Or Disciple Lewis?

I daresay they are few men with less perspective about themselves, their profession, or their place in the world than Ray Lewis. This man's job is to hit people, really hard, and hopefully hurt them enough that he doesn't incur a fine but does make them think differently about running or throwing towards him. The soundtrack to his work-day is a snarling growl. He accentuates his uniform by adding a Silence-of-the-Lambs mask to his helmet.

He played a controversial role in a double-homicide that took place outside an Atlanta nightclub in 2001. In college, the police were called on two occasions when two girlfriends, each pregnant with his child, accused him of domestic violence. Today, he has six children with four women.

He came back from a torn tricep injury to play in these play-offs. Average recovery time for such an injury reportedly takes 6 months; he did it in 10 weeks. Now there are reports he did it with something less like miracles and more like a banned substance swabbed from the antler of a deer. Or something.

Yet watch Ray before, during, and especially after a game - including last night's - and you'd think he's a monk with a freakish build and otherwise rare desire to barrel men into turf. He's crying, he's gazing heavenward, he's wearing t-shirts footnoting Bible verses.

Pre-game, he explained his trip to the Super Bowl by noting that God was "using him....for His glory." Post-game, he simplified the Ravens' victory by remarking that "When God is for you, who can be against you?"

Oh my gosh, Ray. You're killing me.

But seriously, please don't kill me.

I hope God's with me on this one.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Twitter into Vine

All you Bible readers know that Jesus' first miracle was the transformation of water into wine at the Wedding at Cana. I think even non-Bible lovers can agree that is a pretty legit miracle.

Not to be outdone, Jack Dorsey has transformed Twitter into Vine. Or maybe it's vice versa. Either way, I'm not quite as excited about this one.

Vine is a stand-alone video-sharing app that Twitter launched last week. The application allows users to create videos that play on a loop and share them on social media sites. The maximum length of a Vine video is a whopping six seconds.

In its first week of existence, Vine has been busy. It has managed to awake the sleeping Facebook giant, as that particular social  media platform refuses to allow Vine to find a user's Facebook friends on the new service. It has experienced service outages and "bugginess." And it has a "porn problem."

#porn indeed. In the first few days post-launch, critics declared the early Vine videos "boring." So human creativity did what human creativity does best, and it started shooting six-second "graphic" videos. Or what plain-speakers like to call #porn. A #porn video was even featured in Vine's "Editor's Picks" category. Now the service has had to disable the #porn tag and issue a warning about inappropriate content.

Because who would have thought that people would use an Internet service to share porn?

I'm not here to cast stones or evaluate tech glitches. I live in a glass house, and I am a tech glitch. Not to sound "out of it" or "older than 30," I'm just here to say this:

We all need to calm down.

All these experts and advisors and consultants who are shouting about "new opportunities for businesses!" and "an enhanced way to connect with your audience!" need to calm down. All these would-be Annie Leibovitzes and Steven Spielbergs need to stop it with their "it's the Instagram for videos!" All these people who are going to tell me I need to be active on Vine if I want to fulfill any of my writing aspirations need to think before they speak.

When I first read about Vine, my reaction was an out-loud laugh, followed by an out-loud sigh. The laugh was because, um, are we serious? How much more social, exactly, do we need to be on social media? I already know everything about you, from what you watch to how you dress to why you dislike string cheese to who you voted for to where you go for pad thai to when you plan on changing your clothes. Because you've described it to me in 140-characters or less, checked in via Foursquare and linked that to Facebook, photographed it and filtered it for maximum dramatic effect, pinned it, tagged it, liked it, gif'd it. Am I forgetting something? Probably. I probably am forgetting something.

Moreover, where's the real technological breakthrough we're all rushing to embrace here? As referenced above, when I can't get enough information from your words, I can already get a leg up through the assistance of pictorial representations thanks to:

  • The still camera on your phone.
  • The video camera on your phone.
  • The Instagram application on your phone.
  • The animated gif functionality on your phone.
  • The encyclopedia of emoticons on your phone.
Am I forgetting something? Probably. I probably am forgetting something.

It is hilarious to me that we all get so excited about, and feel so beholden to participate in, a technological evolution that Darwin himself would have had a hard time pin-pointing. I am for sure late to most of these parties, and am for sure only marginally attuned to the full power of these do-hickies and thing-a-majigs, but here's how I see it:

  • Tumblr is Instagram, just without the filters and the interface with Twitter/Facebook.
  • MySpace is Facebook and/or Tumblr, but with worse business people.
  • Facebook is Twitter, but with more room to brag about your children or detail the affliction/infection you seem to have contracted, and with less famous people in the audience.
  • Blogs are journals, except you want people - especially strangers - to find and read them.
  • Twitter is texting, only for ideas that are a propos of nothing and meant to convey wit as opposed to usable information.
  • Pinterest is your high school yearbook, only prettier.
And Vine? Vine is the worst of the worst! Vine isn't quite a stand-still picture, but it also isn't quite a video. It's slightly longer than a gif, but it's basically a gif. Vine is really just a subtle way to insult the artistry of the maker and the perceptiveness of the viewer. Because who, seriously, can create visual content meant to inform or inspire in the amount of time it takes to say "Hi, I'm Abby"?

Now before you go all high-and-mighty on me, I know. I KNOW. I'm a shameless self-promoter and interactor on almost all of the media addressed above. I've drank the Kool-Aid, jumped on the bandwagon, become an all-out lemming. That doesn't mean I like it. It doesn't even mean I understand it. I just means I'm desperate and will do almost anything you tell me to.

So here's where the out-loud sighing comes in. Someday, in the not-too-distant future, I know that I will install the Vine app on my phone, and I'll start taking six-second videos of my son trying to eat a football and my daughter dancing to Pitbull's "Don't Stop The Party" while watching her reflection in the window. And I will start taking off-kilter micro-documentaries of myself at my computer, powering through the writer's block, so that you can see art in action. I'll do it because I'll believe I'm missing out on an opportunity to cash in on the connectivity the Smart People say the Internet is there for.

Today, though, I'm sighing because fortune and early-retirement were staring me in the face and I missed the boat. All I had to do was say "Hey, wouldn't it be great if that 45-second video was shorter and less descriptive? Why are we limiting ourselves to content that has the benefit of telling something of a story or conveying something of a message? I'm not content with mediocrity - let's push the boundaries and go for the truly meaningless!"

(Not for nothing, please be on the look-out for Fliterog, my supremely awesome invention that allows users to post a picture of something that blinks and then overlay 3 words of text that that either (a) tells readers how the photographer feels about the day; or (b) shares a new way to bake a brownie. Coming soon to an app store near you!)

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