Some Notes on the End of The New York Observer

[I’m writing quite a bit right now about the election and what we can do to combat the negative effects of a Trump presidency, but here is something not Trump-related. Or only marginally Trump-related, at any rate.]

Patch did a little story on The New York Observer ceasing print operations here. The NYO is owned by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and I’m a former editor-in-chief of the paper and editorial director of Observer Media Group. I’m quoted in the story, but for a little more analysis, here’s my full response to the reporter:

Hey Brendan — I don’t find it surprising. The print edition of the paper has always been a loss leader and I think Jared thinks that you can just split off whatever’s not making money and then you’re profitable. Which is sometimes the case, but one thing he’s probably overlooking is that at least when I was there, digital sales were often bundled with print and contingent upon print placements. So I don’t know that digital by itself is sustainable — it depends on whether advertisers are willing to pay up for a product package that no longer has the flagship elements: premium feel, large display ads, etc.

That said, the print paper’s coverage has been going south for a while — it seems to be mostly entertainment coverage with a smattering of usual Observer fare about real estate and local politics and a heavily attenuated arts section. It feels more like a free alt weekly than a luxury publication, and the tabloid format doesn’t help.

And the digital version doesn’t offer a corrective on that front. The site traffic appears to be driven by commodity content (aggregation, service-y lifehacker lists, reaction to pop culture events) and the occasional gawking at some Trump-related piece. There’s nothing about it that makes it feel particularly Observer-y. I just took a look at the site, and I’m getting served Google ads. So who knows how sustainable that is?

I wish Jared would have sold it to an owner who cared about developing it, but owning the Observer was never about owning a great newspaper — or even a great business — in the first place. So now that he doesn’t need it to elevate his social profile — the White House will do that just fine — he’s probably happy to throw it away. I’m sad about that, but I also think it would need to be rehabbed editorially to claw back the influence it used to have, and it looks like that wasn’t going to happen anyway. So maybe the demise was inevitable.

Also, someone asked me why Jared didn’t just sell it. I don’t know. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to recapitalize it, and after months of complaining about what a pain it was to own, the then-president of the company (Christopher Barnes) and I broached the subject of allowing us to raise money for it and potentially buy him out. He said absolutely not, and seemed almost offended by the idea. The only explanation that seems plausible to me is that he didn’t particularly enjoy owning the paper — but he didn’t want anyone else to own it, either.

I imagine Donald Trump is going to feel (or does feel already) the same way about the presidency.

Lawyers, Guns, and Money

If the Trump campaign needs a late stage theme song, I’d like to suggest Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”, which seems topically appropriate:

Well, I went home with the waitress
The way I always do
How was I to know
She was with the Russians, too

I was gambling in Havana
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this

I’m the innocent bystander
Somehow I got stuck
Between the rock and the hard place
And I’m down on my luck
And I’m down on my luck
And I’m down on my luck

Now I’m hiding in Honduras
I’m a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan

Writing Elsewhere

I’ve been writing a lot more recently, both professionally and for myself, and it’s partly because I’m not doing editorial things full-time and that piece of my brain isn’t cannibalized as much. But admittedly, it’s also a function of the fact that there are so many things about this election cycle and the cancerous ugliness that the Trump campaign is catalyzing and gleefully promoting that some things can’t go unsaid.

So today I have an essay at Elle.com about why a certain type of guy thinks the worst thing he can say to a woman is that she’s ugly and/or unfuckable, and why Donald Trump is an extreme incarnation of this type. And naturally, I felt compelled to write it after some creeps on Twitter responded that way to something I wrote last week about why Trump’s comments to Billy Bush are not a “distraction” but primary commentary on what he believes about women and their right to bodily autonomy. (I don’t know anyone who looks for sexual validation on Twitter, but I think it says something about these guys, and their relative intellect, that they think that’s the sharpest tool in their arsenal.)

On a lighter note, I’ve been recapping Westworld with Steve Bryant for There Is Only R, and we’re both interested in the VR and AI aspects of the show. You can read our recaps here:

The Voice of God: Episode 3. On suffering, consciousness and insanity. (No thanks for the memories!) – Spiers

A Bongard Problem: Episode 2. In which it becomes increasingly clear who’s human, who’s not, and who’s God. – Bryant

The Robots Are Coming for Us: Episode 1There Is Only R recaps Westworld through the lens of VR, AI, and US. (Er, us.) – Spiers

Medium Blogging

I’m thinking of migrating this site to Medium, now that they allow for custom domains and do automatic redirects for WP migrations. Has anyone done this? Thoughts?

I use Medium anyway when I’m writing longer pieces, and I like their ease of use and discovery mechanisms. I don’t love the way they treat responses/comments (it can be incredibly difficult to follow a thread, and having to constantly click to see new responses is annoying). But I don’t have a consistent commenter base here, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

When Money Talks — And Says Horrible, Bigoted Things

I hate to follow up that Rothenberg post with another story of someone in VR behaving like an asshole, but I also worry that when people who work in tech stay silent when things like this happen, it enables more of that behavior. It makes it seem like everyone else who works in VR isn’t too bothered by it, and I think that it implicitly discourages people who don’t fit the (young, white, male) profile from participating in and working in VR. So here’s something I wrote for There Is Only R about Palmer Luckey and the news that he’s funding an organization that creates white supremacist memes:

The Daily Beast reported yesterday that Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey was secretly funding Nimble America, a 501( c)4 “social welfare” organization responsible for generating white supremacist memes and lobbying for a Trump presidency.

[Just a thought: I co-founded a non-profit 501( c)3 organization in college, and from what I remember about non-profit law and IRS designations, political advocacy means ineligibility for ( c)4 or ( c)3 tax status. Now might be a good time to look at Nimble America’s finances.]

At any rate, Luckey seems to be unapologetic about it. “I thought it sounded like a real jolly good time.” He also notes that he’s doing it in part because he can — because he has the money to do it.

While his public explanation is that he just thought it would be funny, he points to a more serious motivation under his Reddit pseudonym:

“The American Revolution was funded by wealthy individuals…The same has been true of many movements for freedom in history. You can’t fight the American elite without serious firepower. They will outspend you and destroy you by any and all means.”

This grandiose, hyper-elitist, I-should-be-controlling-our-political-system-because-I-have-money-and-I-can viewpoint is not unique to Luckey, to be fair. But it seems to be a disease particularly acute and rampant among successful tech entrepreneurs. I think there are a few factors unique to tech that exacerbate it:

First is that returns for good technology ideas are explosively outsized and, with very few exceptions, wildly out of proportion to both genius of the idea and utility to society. I work in VR, so of course I think good head-mounted displays are amazing, but there are people who are literally curing cancer who will never see the wealth that Luckey has for being the not-even-remotely-first person to decide that VR was a good bet. Which is not to say that Luckey deserves no compensation for that, or that he shouldn’t be made wealthy from it. I mention it because the sudden acquisition of astronomical amounts of wealth often convinces the recipients of that wealth that they have it because they are smarter, more capable, etc.

And as a general rule, that’s not true. A lot of factors go into who ends up with a big exit and who doesn’t. Some of them really do have to do with ability — ability to pitch and sell your company, ability to produce a good product — and others are superficial (do you look the part? — i.e., are you twentysomething, white, male?), a matter of luck (were you at the right event to meet the right investor? were you born in the US? do you have the right network to begin with?), or a matter of what capital markets think can be positioned to generate returns, regardless of quality of product or founder. (I also worked as a tech equity analyst for a while and saw many sub-par companies with sub-par founders get exits simply because an investor saw an opportunity that had nothing to do the quality of either.)

So it’s dangerous to assume that, because you have resources, that those resources are de facto evidence of your brilliance and that brilliance itself is some sort of moral currency. There are plenty of brilliant despots and megalomaniacs, and you can’t argue that they haven’t been successful.

But that seems to be a recurring fallacy that’s particularly ubiquitous in tech, and I think it’s partially because of the often-disingenuous “changing the world” rhetoric that makes every entrepreneur with a consumer-facing distraction app think they have some inherent moral high ground. In no other industry do people wield this rhetoric so aggressively and self-righteously. I know people working on global refugee problems, curing giant epidemics, ending poverty, doing groundbreaking work on space exploration who would not be able to say “we’re changing the world” with a straight face, but I see it built into pitch decks all the time. At some point, any rational person has to admit that this kind of thing might be a weeeee bit grandiose.

And that it has dangerous implications. If you’re convinced that every decision you make is correct and that your solutions to problems are automatically the best because you’re in the world-changing business, and your genius and essential correctness have been validated by capital markets, that’s a recipe for becoming a megalomaniac yourself.

I’m not suggesting, by the way, that you assume your efforts have nothing to do with your success, but you will never, ever really know how much luck and the aforementioned superficial things have to do with it — what you’ve earned and what you haven’t. And maybe Luckey should consider that before he assumes that his financial might equals right. (You’d think with his surname, it’d be built into his introspective narrative, but apparently not.)

And here’s the thing: Luckey has every right to back white supremacists (including white supremacists who happen to be the Republican candidate for president) both as a citizen and as a Rich Guy. [Update: A reader notes, “Although Luckey has a right to support Trump, he does not have a right to circumvent campaign finance laws on donation limits by becoming a straw donor-this is a felony.” If Luckey was maxed out on donations and viewed this a way around the caps, the reader has a point.]

But he doesn’t get to couch it in moral rhetoric that implies that what he’s doing is okay because he has money, and so obviously, his idea of freedom is the correct one. (In my view, freedom means things like not allowing discrimination against women and minorities, for example — and those things are obviously antithetical to Luckey’s view of it.)

And he his [supposed, alleged] brilliance doesn’t absolve him of consequences for what he’s doing. If this happened in a non-tech public company, he’d likely be asked to resign. Given Facebook’s dismissal of Peter Thiel’s equally abhorrent behavior, I doubt that will happen. But Oculus needs a lot more than support from white conservative men to be successful in the long run, and if Facebook chooses to look the other way on this, those of us who don’t fit that description will notice.

It should also be noted that this is happening the same week that Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg have announced that they’re spending $3 billion to end disease, which is wonderful. So I hope that if Facebook doesn’t do anything public to address this, that the Chan Zuckerbergs have a long talk with Luckey about what it means to have wealth and to use it responsibly, and in a way that isn’t just about egotistical self-expression, and certainly not in a way that is destructive to large swaths of society. (That said, I hope Zuckerberg addresses it because if he doesn’t, it’s enablement of a sort.)

But given his statements so far, I’m not optimistic that Luckey will actually listen.

Will Write for Money

Mini-rant: I just got a third request in as little as two weeks from someone asking me to write for their site for free in exchange for “exposure.” And in every case, these are tiny sites that get very little traffic and frankly don’t have exposure to offer in the first place. If anything, I would be giving them exposure by offering them free labor and then promoting the piece.

I do think that if you’re running a media property with millions of unique readers every month, there’s a argument to be made that exposure is valuable, but I’m talking about outlets like the NY Times, WSJ, the FT, etc. (And FWIW, I’ve written for all of those outlets, and never for free.)

But if are not running an outlet with a giant, valuable audience, you should probably reconsider the way you’re approaching writers. Because you’re not doing the writer a favor; they’re doing you one. You don’t have exposure to offer, and if you’re contacting them because you saw their byline in a bigger outlet, then they’re creating audience for you, not the other way around–and that should at least be acknowledged.

I should also mention that I’ve written for sites of all stripes and sizes, and rarely say no to potential paid assignments that come over the transom. And I do occasionally write for free–but I can’t say I’ve ever done it solely for “exposure.”

Some Thoughts on Rothenberg Ventures

[This will only be of interest to a small number of people, but if you’re working in VR or VC, you’re probably following this story.]

I just read this Backchannel piece (which is nicely done) on what’s happening at Rothenberg Ventures and have some thoughts and questions, in no particular order:

1.Why did Mike Rothenberg want to be a venture capitalist in the first place? Reading the story, it seems that he is/was personally interested in networking with powerful people and celebrities, and hosting big splashy events, and while it’s true that you might do that sort of thing in the course of raising a fund, it’s not exactly your primary job as an investor. (Rothenberg says something about aiming to host 100 events a year. Can you think of any VC who would consider events hosted a meaningful KPI? What if the parties and the celebrities and the moneyed bigshots weren’t part of it? Would he enjoy spending his time thinking about capital allocation? How to grow the businesses in his portfolio? Or is that only interesting inasmuch as it might be the means to more parties and bigshots?)

2. It seems possible that Rothenberg did realize that he didn’t want to be a VC at some point, and he jumped into VR because it was different and exciting to him. (I get that. VR is exciting to me, and my company is working on a VR product, which is why this story is of interest to me — though in case this needs to be disclosed, I’ve never pitched Rothenberg Ventures myself and don’t know any of the principals.) But if you want to be in VR, and specifically, you want to run a VR company, why not just step down as a GP of the fund and go do that? It seems like a more reasonable choice than trying to do both, and if I were an LP, I personally wouldn’t want my fund manager to be operationally running a startup at the same time.

3. If you’re not going to do that, because you don’t want to or think you’re obligated to keep managing the fund yourself, how do you get around the fact that you’ve created an inherent conflict of interest? Your company now potential competes with other companies in your portfolio, and your decision to allocate a significant portion of the fund’s capital to your own company (at a round size that you haven’t done for an individual company to date) probably violates your fiduciary responsibilities to LPs to make allocations that are best for the portfolio. And I’m not sure if that constitutes self-dealing according to the terms of their agreements, but it sort of looks like it.

4. Why was it so important to Rothenberg that the firm spend so much of its resources (both in terms of money spent and his time) on raw marketing? I guess private fund advertising is the norm now, but Rothenberg Ventures seems to have gone so far overboard with it that it’s no wonder their events were parodied on Silicon Valley. (The description in the Backchannel piece almost makes it seem like SV didn’t go far enough.) To be fair, this one may be a cultural problem with the Valley in general. The appearance of success is often enough to get companies additional funding and by that metric, the most superficial of grand gestures can have a big payoff. Buzz often trumps substance. (This has always been the case, and I know that, but I still loathe it.)

5. There’s certainly a business to be had in producing 360 videos for celebrities and musicians. (For some insight into what that looks like, see here.) But it’s an agency/studio business, not a technology business. Would an early stage tech VC normally put 10% of its fund into a 360 video studio? A 360 video software product, maybe. But a creative studio that doesn’t scale and there’s no proprietary tech? I doubt it.

6. I think there’s a specific Silicon Valley type who has no problem raising money (and then sometimes getting away with mismanaging it for a while) because they exude an enthusiastic charisma and seem to be everywhere at once, spouting — or more likely, regurgitating — big ideas, and it’s seductive to people. This person is usually young, usually white, usually male, dresses a certain way (brand conscious, but casual), has the right pedigree (Stanford, Harvard), the right Rolodex (successful entrepreneurs who also went to Stanford, Harvard), and can trill the right rhetorical symphony on command (edgy, futuristic, and vague, but with safe-feeling credentials — i.e, “we’re going to be especially discerning in X bleeding edge space, but like Sequoia”.) And potential investors actually consider these things — maybe even subconsciously — indicators of mitigated risk. Or worse, de facto promise. As if they mean anything by themselves.

I think Mike Rothenberg probably hit all of those notes, and you can’t blame him for using what he has. But there probably wasn’t much evidence anywhere that he could manage a fund. And there, his investors probably bear some responsibility, too. If you write a big check to a guy you think has promise knowing he has no track record, you can’t really complain when it doesn’t work out. Early stage venture capital is the riskiest asset class available to an investor anyway, and if you’re gut-feeling your way into it based on little more than a personality assessment and someone’s social network, that might not be sufficient due diligence.

That said, I would imagine that given the sheer number of VR investments RV made, the fund might shake out okay because the sector is emergent and appears to be doing well. Rising tides, etc.

That said, even if Rothenberg is a bad fund manager, there’s a difference between being a bad fund manager because you have no talent for it, and being a bad fund manager because you are actively mismanaging the fund by not fulfilling basic fiduciary duties to investors. It still seems unclear which scenario was the case here. At least a few years ago he paid pretty good lip service to the notion that he’d never do the latter. In an interview with TechCrunch in 2013, he said, “I feel a very strong fiduciary duty to my LPs even though they know they’re taking a lot of risks.” Where did duty stop and start in Rothenberg’s mind?

7. I’m not sure if this has any implications for the VR industry at large, but it gives me some pause that one of the big motivations for River was Rothenberg’s desire to rub shoulders with powerful people in Hollywood, and maybe celebrities in particular. The entertainment industry is very important to VR and there are studios doing interesting, innovative VR content (Rothenberg investment WEVR among them, which is very impressive). But you have to wonder how far River will get if the founder’s primary interest is being in the same room with a specific type of person (famous, powerful, but mostly famous) rather than creating great content. Starfucking for its own sake is not a scaleable business with a discernible product, and I’d imagine it mostly just enhances the lifestyle of the founder. How interested is Rothenberg in the actual product?

8. If Rothenberg does want to throw epic parties and rub shoulders with celebrities, why didn’t he just cut to the chase and go straight to Hollywood, working in marketing for a big entertainment co or doing fundraising for movie studios, where he could have done all of those things and it’s exactly what he would have been expected to do? There are even jobs in the tech industry where that’s exactly what he’d be expected to do. Why choose to be a VC? Is this just Sean Parker Syndrome? (Which, let’s face it, pretty much only works for Sean Parker.)

9. I actually don’t think it’s a terrible idea for millennials to run VC firms. But I also think most VCs have to go through a few economic cycles to really know what they’re doing, and if you haven’t been through those things, you need some other sort of edge: experience as an entrepreneur, technical expertise, something. A network is a good and necessary thing to have, but Rothenberg’s pitch seems to have been entirely network-based. As in, I have a great network of entrepreneurs who are just as inexperienced as I am, and you as an LP, wouldn’t know who they are — because they’re inexperienced. Which, at best, is a sort of tautology. And on that basis that identifying the inexperienced and therefore underexposed, is an edge of sorts (assuming it is), you could probably hand every entrepreneurial Stanford CS grad a check for $100K for 10% of their first venture on their way to pick up their diploma and end up with a fund that performs comparably.

10. How much of a pass does Rothenberg get because he’s young(ish)? I’m conflicted on this one. On the one hand, I wouldn’t expect him to perform like someone with a couple more decades of experience, and I would expect some mistakes. But I also think if you’ve got 50 million under management, and your LPs are treating you like an expert and an adult by funding you, maybe you should be held to the same standards.

11. How much of a pass does he get because he’s in the Valley and seems to self-ID more as a technologist than an investor? Mistake-making is part of learning, and highly valued in entrepreneurial culture. Companies go belly up all the time, for a variety of different reasons. But I think it’s less tolerated in finance, and there are certain traits that you might want in an entrepreneur that you wouldn’t want in a money manager, even in what is again, the riskiest asset class available to an investor.

Which is not to say investors shouldn’t make mistakes. One big win can redeem an entire portfolio of mistakes sometimes. But a big fund failure is and should be a rare occurrence.

12. Maybe this is just a big high-profile outlier scenario. It could be. But I kind of doubt it because some of the things that seem to have led to it are not outliers: misaligned incentives, valuing culture fit and network over expertise, valuing inexperience and/or youth for its own sake, tech titans taking the rock star metaphor a little literally and being enamored with celebrity, and so on. These things don’t apply to everybody, but they’re not exactly rarities either.

If there’s a high note here, it’s that there are some good companies in that portfolio and they benefit from investments already made. And if Rothenberg manages to fix all of these problems, sort out his conflicts, pay back whoever needs to be paid back, the fund itself might be ok.

But he should probably think about what he really wants to do, and it seems like that probably doesn’t involve allocating other people’s money for maximum return or working head-down on product. For what it’s worth, I hear the weather is nice in L.A.

Confessions Of A “Cold” Woman: (Fuck Vivaciousness)

Yesterday the chairman of the Republican Party complained that Hillary Clinton, the first female Presidential candidate in the history of the United States, needed to smile more. Reince Priebus, notably, did not offer the same criticism of his own party’s candidate — who employed roughly the same ratio of smiling during Wednesday night’s Commander in Chief forum as Clinton did, but had no discernible appearance of being female, and therein lies the difference.

I suppose that Priebus could have topped the cliché somehow: maybe criticizing her hemlines if she weren’t such a pantsuit aficionado, or telling her she belonged in the kitchen, or just coming right out with it and calling her a bitch. But telling a Presidential candidate that she should be projecting cheerfulness while talking about military policy, terrorist threats, and wartime engagements abroad is as preposterous as the prospect of Clinton actually laughing and bubbling her way through that discussion would be disturbing. If that’s the vein in which he gives women foreign policy advice, you can almost imagine him telling her she’d get along better with Vladimir Putin if she put on a bit more makeup and showed a little leg.

Because the reality is, Priebus thinks Clinton should be smiling not because it’s what the President of the United States should be doing in that context, but it’s what women should be doing perpetually.

And Clinton is aware of this. She knows that her failure to meet this expectation leads some people to assert that she seems “cold”, and she addressed it a bit in a some posts on the Humans of New York Facebook page:

“I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk.”

The hard path she’s talking about is distinctly paradoxical: what is expected of the Platonically Good Woman is directly at odds with the qualities that are typically identified with successful men: emotional control, courage of one’s convictions, a willingness to defy conventions in order to innovate. And there is always downside to conforming to the Platonically Good archetype. For example:

You are expected to be demonstrative emotionally because it’s a marker of femininity (but you will be punished for being too emotional and having no self control if you are). You are expected to be warm and sensitive (but you will be perceived as vulnerable and by extension, weak, if you are — because these are “soft” traits). You are expected to be liked by everyone (but being liked by everyone will often mean avoiding controversy, strong opinions — or opinions at all — and never publicly disagreeing with anyone). You are expected to be the communicator and the nurturer, whose primary function is to get everyone on the same page, often at your own expense (but you will be perceived as a serial compromiser with no backbone if you do that). You are supposed to be decisive (but if you are, you will be punished for not getting enough input from other people, or being arrogant for not second-guessing yourself). You are supposed to be upbeat and bubbly (but if you are, people will think your bubbly-ness is a function of your airheaded-ness). And so on.


Personally, I’m incapable of doing some of these things. I could wear a dress made of Alka Seltzer in a swimming pool and no one would describe me as “effervescent”. The emoticon that best represents a strong emotional reaction from me is 😐. My humor skews deadpan and one of my closest friends described me in an essay about our friendship for the late Moremagazine thusly:

She is all head, I am all heart. Her creativity moves in a linear fashion; mine is a splatter painting. She runs businesses, speaks Arabic, starts websites, calculates tips. All those activities are foreign to me. Aside from being brunettes of the same age, we couldn’t be more different. As a child, when she fought with her mother, she would win arguments by saying, “You’re being illogical.”

(Small fact-check: I never won an argument with that, but it did infuriate my mom, which was admittedly sometimes the intended effect. We get along well, but sometimes I think my parents were expecting that they’d get a princess-y girl-child who was sweet and liked pretty things and playing house when they adopted me, and instead they got a miniature Mr. Spock who wanted a microscope for Christmas and unlimited trips to the library. To their credit, they rolled with it, mostly.)

I also tend to be quiet, especially in groups. This isn’t because I lack opinions or things to say (I make a portion of my living writing op-eds) but because I’m listening or just observing and don’t feel the need to constantly interject. I’m fine being a beta talker in a group conversation. I’ve been told that this sometimes makes people who don’t know me think I’m silently judging them. (I am also sometimes a bit shy when I don’t know people. It is not malicious or judgmental.)

There a million different reasons why someone might be quiet in this scenario and I suspect that quiet men are not generally accused of quietly judging people when they choose not to speak.


On a Myers Briggs test, I’m an INTJ — the “Architect” archetype. Wikipedia notes, “Women of this personality type are especially rare, forming just 0.8% of the population.” (Wikipedia also says Hillary Clinton is “believed to be” an INTJ, but I’d imagine that’s more a function of crowdsourced armchair psychology than leaked Myers Briggs results, and to be fair, Wikipedia is not exactly an unimpeachable information source anyway.)

I also have some reservations about the validity of Myers Briggs tests, but apparently that is also just the sort of thing you’d expect from an INTJ, given that INTJs

“apply (often ruthlessly) the criterion ‘Does it work?’ to everything from their own research efforts to the prevailing social norms. This in turn produces an unusual independence of mind, freeing the INTJ from the constraints of authority, convention, or sentiment for its own sake.”

Or, say, the constraints of a maudlin attachment to a possibly outdated personality assessment tool that may not even be accurate.

But this certainly resonates and reminds me of a certain Presidential candidate:

“Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense.”

This is a particularly vexing problem when your opponent is Donald Trump.

Also characteristic of INTJs: “They tend to be pragmatic, logical, and creative. They have a low tolerance for spin or rampant emotionalism. They are not generally susceptible to catchphrases and do not readily accept authority based on tradition, rank, or title.”

(A thought experiment: when a person is described as pragmatic and logical with a low tolerance for emotionalism and a natural distrust of authority, do you assume that person is male or female?)


I do not always conform to the usual notions of How A Woman Should Live and Be in the World, and sometimes I pay for it. When I became the second female and youngest editor in chief of the New York Observer, one of the first stories that came out about it called me aloof and arrogant, because I had not been warm enough or demonstrative enough to an anonymous colleague at New York Magazine nearly a decade before. A tech reporter once drunkenly yelled at me for a solid twenty minutes because I did not express enough enthusiasm upon meeting him and he determined, not knowing a thing about me personally, that this was because I thought I was “too good” to have a conversation with him. (The irony is that I tried to, but he kept talking over me.) I once got berated in a performance review for not saying hi to all of my colleagues when I came in to the office every morning, even though I’d never seen a male manager do that, and it had nothing to do with my actual job or our agreed-upon performance metrics.

This is all, of course, epic bullshit. But if there’s a silver lining, it’s that when these things happen, they’re a screening mechanism of sorts for sexist idiots.

I also console myself with the belief that in the longer term, the sexist idiots tend to sabotage their own performance with those same biases. They treat women badly and do not have female allies as a result. They don’t recognize female talent and get bested by competitors who do. They view women as intellectually and fundamentally inferior and get blindsided by women who outperform them. When they’re not being destructive to women, they are unwittingly being destructive to themselves.

I’ve also discovered that you don’t have to be liked by everybody everywhere to succeed professionally or be happy personally. And that’s fortuitous, because it’s impossible. If you don’t care what anyone thinks at all, that’s another extreme, and you may be a sociopath, but there’s a happy medium. For the most part, you’ll probably be fairly happy and fulfilled on the likability front if the people you personally like and respect reciprocate.

Hillary Clinton knows this. She tries to be persuasive but doesn’t waste energy trying to convert the conspiracy theorists, the people who think she’s inherently inferior because she’s a woman and argue as much, or the people who think that she’s secretly controlled by her husband.

She also knows that if she behaved even a fraction of the way Donald Trump does publicly, traits that people view as an appropriate display of passion or patriotism would be viewed as unhinged behavior if she did the same thing. In the Facebook post, she wrote:

“I’ve learned that I can’t be quite so passionate in my presentation. I love to wave my arms, but apparently that’s a little bit scary to people. And I can’t yell too much. It comes across as ‘too loud’ or ‘too shrill’ or ‘too this’ or ‘too that.’

But she is also a pragmatist and is okay living without those things if it gets the job done. I am personally a bit sad that she does, because I’d like to see her pound the table to emphasize a point, occasionally, and I enjoy it when she’s truly appalled by something (as she was by Donald Trump’s statement that Putin is a better leader than the sitting American President) and can’t hide her disdain. And I think should be able to get angry without being called a bitch.

If she chooses not to, she shouldn’t be derided as cold or unemotional. If emotional control and reserve are positive characteristics for men, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be viewed the same way for women. (I’ve heard men described approvingly as “stoic,” but never a woman. I’ve also never heard a woman described as “the strong silent type”, even though I know many strong women who are also reserved.)


Several years ago, when I was running Dealbreaker, a Wall Street site I started, I moderated a panel at Wharton for and about women who worked in finance. The panel consisted of female partners at four bulge bracket banks. At the end, we conducted a Q & A, and a business school student asked for any last minute advice for women who were entering the field.

“If you do your job well, someone is always going to call you a bitch, eventually,” one partner offered. She explained that it sometimes offends men when women do well — they find it threatening, or just can’t wrap their heads around the notion of women as peers — and they will assume that those women did something wrong or behaved like assholes to achieve their success. “It’s just going to happen,” she said. “Ignore it.” Being called a bitch is not the worst thing that can happen to you, she continued, and it doesn’t mean you are one. It’s just a word that people use when women do things they don’t like.

Another partner offered: “put yourself as close to revenue as possible.” It’s a quantitative measure, she said. No one can argue that you’re doing a bad job for cultural reasons (e.g., someone thinks you’re a bitch) if you’re bringing in money and outperforming your peers. Revenue is an objective metric. Cold and unemotional.


When I was in my early twenties, I was dumped by a guy I was dating because he said he felt like he needed to be with someone more “high energy”. My internal reaction was WTF, but on the surface, it was probably 😐. I tried to tease out what he meant by “high energy” and it turns out he meant vivacious. Bubbly. I wondered for a while if all men wanted high-energy, bubbly, vivacious women, and if that meant I would be alone forever, being reserved and deadpan and analytical, perhaps in a studio apartment full of cats. I wondered if I should just learn to be more demonstrative, throw my head back when I laughed, burst into group conversations, loquacious and cheery. Pretend that everything was exciting! Wonderful! Interesting! That I was never bored, or anxious, or just plain ambivalent. Could I even do it? Could I pretend to be every Julia Roberts character, ever?

No, I could not.

So I decided to own it. I began writing online and said what I wanted to say when I wanted to say it and not how or when I was expected to as Platonically Good Woman. It allowed me to be myself and get comfortable with what that meant.

I met a guy who was not in the market for a bubbly woman, and we got married and had a kid. (We do, however, live in an apartment, and it does in fact contain a cat.) I post baby photos of our son on Instagram at an alarming rate, and sometimes friends tell me that this surprises them because they didn’t peg me for the type. Like, it would make sense if I were posting Baby’s Aggregate Quantitative Metrics, but cute photos are so sentimental. They are warm and soft and imply maternal love, which is an odd look on Ol’ Robot Spiers. I get it, and I’m not offended by it. I joke that they hurt my feeling.

Singular.

The Thiel Precedent

I’ve written about the Thiel / Gawker cases pretty extensively and don’t want to repeat myself endlessly. But here’s something that I think people are under-focusing on, and it really, really matters:

I really don’t know the answer to the last couple of questions, so if anyone with more media law experience could enlighten me, I’d appreciate it. But it seems like Harding’s firm could go after Gabe Sherman by arguing that indemnification by New York Magazine constitutes a conflict of interest because Ailes is suing both the pub and journo, which is what Harding did with Gawker and AJ Daulerio (knowing of course, that AJ wouldn’t be able to personally fund his own defense.) What’s to prevent this from happening? And what resources does Sherman have at his disposal to fight it?

Yes, Minister

I only just saw that Anthony Jay, the creator of Yes, Minister (one of my all-time favorite TV shows) died this week.  Yes, Minister is brilliant and funny and particularly enjoyable to watch in the middle of an insane election cycle, but here’s one of my favorite, clips–wherein Humphrey explains to the Prime Minister why the EU exists:

Here’s the relevant dialogue:

Hacker: Europe is a community of nations, dedicated towards one goal.

Sir Humphrey: Oh, ha ha ha.

Hacker: May we share the joke, Humphrey?

Sir Humphrey: Oh Minister, let’s look at this objectively. It is a game played for national interests, and always was. Why do you suppose we went into it?

Hacker: To strengthen the brotherhood of free Western nations.

Sir Humphrey: Oh really. We went in to screw the French by splitting them off from the Germans.

Hacker: So why did the French go into it, then?

Sir Humphrey: Well, to protect their inefficient farmers from commercial competition.

Hacker: That certainly doesn’t apply to the Germans.

Sir Humphrey: No, no. They went in to cleanse themselves of genocide and apply for readmission to the human race.