"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, October 31, 2014

The War Between The Sexes–How Savvy Men Win All The Time

Recent data confirm what we have known all along – women do more than their share of housework and child-rearing.  Men take out the trash, and push their children on the swings on Sundays; but Mom does all the dirty work – diapers, discipline, and dregs.

Men are under increasing pressure to contribute more to the family, to relieve their wives of the scutwork of daily life.  After all, women have their day jobs too, increasingly high-paying jobs as lawyers, accountants, and business executives.  Why should they in these days of gender equality, come home from a hard day’s work and have to deal with squalling, hungry, pissy children?

Why? Because savvy men have figured out how to ‘have it all’, to turn gender tables upside down, and to remain top dog in the family.

These savvy men are not the stereotypes one thinks of when considering the gender wars.  They are not the kings of bass boat and trailer home, beer-drinking crackers.  They are K Street lawyers, Wall Street bankers, CEOs of profit and non-profit agencies alike.  They are liberal – or liberal-leaning.  They subscribe to the principle of gender equality and are concerned about catcalls, rape, and violence against women.  They encourage women at all times.

What they have figured out, however, is that the weight of history has not yet been lifted from the shoulders of women. They know that the interminable and incessant noise in liberal journals, cyberspace, and the social media about the plight of women today only means that women are still under the yoke of their fathers and American social mores, which even into the late Sixties was still very much patriarchal. .

In other words, women are not yet completely sure of themselves; and men understand that success on the gender battlefield revolves around this uncertainty.  Women are sure to find their footing, crack the glass ceiling once and for all, and rise to political, social, and economic equality; but until they do, men can still have a field day.

First and easiest is housework.  Every man knows that pitching in more than the average results in disproportionate rewards.  Since most men’s contribution to household drudgery consists of taking out the garbage, fixing the leaky faucet, and shoveling the front walk; anything above and beyond that bare minimum will be overvalued.  “My John shares in the cooking”, said one delighted wife. “Mine picks up the kids from school and helps them with their homework”, said another.

The savvy husband, of course, picks up the children from school, brings them to the home of his mistress where the Salvadoran nanny is in charge, and spends a delightful cinq a sept in bed.

“No, dear. You have too much to do today”, says the savvy husband, pulling the vacuum cleaner out of the broom closet. “I’ll vacuum today.” His wife is so delighted with this unexpected and out-of-character offer, that she smiles, kisses him, and ignores his Saturday ‘work at the office’ afternoons.

There is no way that a modern American woman who has given birth to and breastfed her children can possibly cede all responsibility for child-rearing to her husband.  Whatever feminists may claim, the very physical, biological link between mother and child is of a far more fundamental nature than any paternal sharing.  In fact, most women would prefer not to trust their children to their husbands. They are bombarded left and right about male predation, abuse, and testosterone-driven irresponsibility.  They may love their husbands, but they cannot completely ignore the feminist screeds which portray men as the enemy.

But women appreciate the offer, and therein lies the male advantage.  Women are still in thrall to Elizabethan notions of love and romance; and are willing to suspend their suspicions about men’s wandering and infidelity for the sake of this ideal.  Men marry for convenience, stability, and position, but certainly not for the love of Petrarch and the Romantic poets.  Having a loving wife to come home to is but one piece of the male mosaic.  The other colored shards are Marie from Accounting, Marta from Andalusia, and even Grace the Kindergarten teacher.

Keith Martin is a friend of mine who has played this savvy game for years. His wife talks about his involvement with the children, his help around the house, and his constant support to her in difficult periods of her career advancement; but it is all his smoke and mirrors.  His wife is so convinced of his fidelity and his loving engagement with the children; so proud of his gender-equal participation in housework and child care; and happy that he has considered her an equal, that she doesn’t even blink at his lame excuses. Even the oldest saw in the books – ‘working late at the office’ – doesn’t ring a bell or set off the security alarm.

It is very hard for many men to put up with their wives’ complaints about whiskers in the sink and toilet seats up – and few see this hectoring as valuable capital.  It doesn’t take much to swish out the sink; and there is nothing that will deflect a wife’s suspicions about tomcatting more than a spotless bathroom, scrubbed, deodorized, and finished with crisp, clean towels.

Keith likes to cook, but is not the arch-stereotype of the Modern New Age Man in the kitchen, chided for his attempts at coulis and food architecture.  He understands food and how it should be prepared. His artful meals, attractively presented and served, are an expression of his love for cuisine, the variety and intrigue of new ingredients, and his gourmandise.   His wife thinks that he is doing all this for her out of love, consideration, and plain affection.  Everybody wins; but especially Keith.

Keith has successfully negotiated his way through the current gender wars.  He has maintained his male integrity, his macho spirit, and his competitive edge by paying attention.  Women dress up and want to be sexually appealing and desirable. They cry and need a male shoulder to cry on.  They want to be listened to, respected, and loved. They sense that their primal purpose – childbearing – is not enough; but are still tentative and tenuous in their climb up the corporate ladder.  Keith has always been there for them.  All the women in his life have loved him deeply and all have thought that he, and he alone, understood them.

Of course Keith is simply a good meta-analyst, for whom sizing up women based on millions of bits of data on feminine behavior has not been difficult at all.  “Anyone who still asks the question, ‘what do women want?’, hasn’t paid attention.”

Keith said he felt sorry for the legions of intimidated men who had bought into the aggressive feminist creed of the day, who had ignored millennia of male-female episodes, who never listened to Shakespeare or Strindberg or Tolstoy, and who ended up cleaning toilets with no ulterior purpose in mind.

He reserved his scorn for the feminist groupies of Washington who attended women’s conferences, wrote impassioned op-ed pieces on the glass ceiling and men’s role and responsibility for breaking it, and were on the front lines of protests against campus rape, unequal pay, and spousal abuse.  “They’re like the Chickasaws who sidled up to Jackson and his Union cavalry, hoping to gain favor and reward.  Jackson recruited them into his army to fight the British, then sent them packing across the Mississippi.”

Keith understood that the war between the sexes would never end; and that despite feminist arguments to the contrary, there would never be either equity nor female superiority.  It was up to men to be as canny battlefield strategists as Napoleon and to win at all costs.

This is not to say that Keith was a misogynist.  Far from it.  He loved women, loved being with them, loved smelling their perfume, and running his hand over their smooth bellies and breasts.  He loved them for being women – alluring, crying, and as tough and savvy as Margaret, Dionyza, Tamora, and Cleopatra. 

He knew that that ‘war’ was a misnomer, for no one wants to annihilate the enemy they love. It is simply an exercise in sexual dynamics, one no different than any other historical struggle; and must be won.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Recipes–Tandoori-Style Grilled Salmon

This recipe is simple to make involving just a marinade, a few hours resting, and a few minutes cooking.  I have tried to get this right many times – I recreate from memory and sometimes I forget few things – and this time I’ve done it.  This dish is designed to be grilled in an oven, but there is no reason why you couldn’t grill it on an outdoor grill.

Tandoori-Style Grilled Salmon

* 1 1/2 lbs. Atlantic filet, skin removed, cut into 2-3” pieces

* 1/2 cup reduced fat or whole milk yoghurt

* 1 Tbsp. whole coriander seeds, pounded

* 5 whole cardamom seeds, pounded

* 2 tsp. whole fennel seeds, pounded

* 5 whole cloves, pounded

* 1 Tbsp.  (approx.) ground cumin

* 1 tsp. ground masala (optional)

* 2 tsp. curry powder

* 2 tsp. ground cinnamon

* 2 tsp. garlic flakes

* 5 grindings fresh black pepper

* salt to taste

- Put all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix well

- Refrigerate for 5 hours (3 is the minimum), mixing once or twice

- Place the salmon pieces on a piece of tinfoil on an oven grill and grill for 8-10 min.

- Salmon is done when the tops are browned

What Is A CEO Worth–Or Any Of Us For That Matter?

There has been a lot of flap recently about executive pay and how it has ‘gotten out of hand’; yet the salary-and-benefits packages are not decided by senior executives themselves but by boards of directors.  They decide whether or not the remuneration offered to top executives is worth it.  

Since there is no x/y equation to plug in performance and spit out salary levels, firms and their boards must make often very subjective judgments as to worth and value.  While objective criteria form the basis for selection, and past performance regarding corporate profitability, labor management, financial savvy, etc. is scrutinized very carefully, subjective judgment will always come into play. Corporate bunglers sneak in under the vetting radar all the time.  The genius at Sewickley Ball Bearing may not be able to transfer his skills to mining or software.  The fact that he raised the profitability of his former company by 50 percent in two years, cleared employee dead wood while neutralizing difficult unions, and negotiated risky Wall Street investments without ultimate liability, does not mean he can do the same in a different environment. 

The board of directors seeking to hire him may have been so impressed by his categorical successes that they overlooked the facts that in their state the Attorney General was on a tear, the IRS increasingly nosy, the labor unions among the most powerful in the country, and the labor force far less educated and motivated than at Sewickley.  They might have been enticed by the candidates pushing the envelope and skating close to the edge of law and corporate propriety, but have misjudged how far he crossed the line.

This happens all the time.  Baseball managers go bust in one season. CEOs who transfer from private to non-profit agencies don’t get the cant and ‘mission’ and in driving the bottom line to the floor send the rats scurrying from the ship. Church pastors are found with their hands in the till and their hands down little boys pants. Army colonels on their way to the Pentagon are caught in delicto flagrante with the hot major in Supply; or who are so addled with anger and vendetta over the loss of a company that they do something stupid and more soldiers are killed.

The point is, you never know, and you pay for what you think you are going to get, not what you may actually get. Given the relative subjectivity of the employment decision, it is not unusual that decisions on benefits packages are even more subjective.

Attempts to apply objective criteria to salary levels will always fail.  If a company is failing, although there may be textbook cases and historical evidence to suggest time to profitability, no two companies are exactly alike.  Furthermore, the amount of money available to rectify structural problems may be limited.  Finally, as above, the wrong rider might be in the saddle.  Projections to profitability are almost always wrong.

All this corporate sabermetrics, however, is valid only after an new CEO his hired – that is, his salary increases may be tied to some objective criteria – but the question of how much to offer him to get him to join the firm is another question altogether.

If the board of directors has faith in a candidate based on his past performance, personality, professional and social contacts, intelligence, and machismo; and if they feel that because of his attractiveness he has many suitors, then they can and should pay whatever it takes to hire him, so long as his benefits package does not break the bank.

So, under these conditions, is a benefits package of $10 million too high? One of $100 million? One of a billion over three years?  No CEO salary is too high if the there is money in the till and confidence in the minds of the board.  Private corporations are not like municipal government where public service employees are hired for life as long as they are loyal and show up. If the new CEO turns out badly, he can be cashiered on two weeks notice.  High-stakes capitalism is a risky business, and sometimes investments turn out badly.  You simply turn the page.

The non-profit world is more regulated because of its many government contracts.  Salary levels are rigorously controlled and tied to salary history rather than performance.  If you made $50,000 last year in your last government contracted job, you cannot be paid $100 thousand, regardless of your unique contributions to the firm.  A CEO of a large profit agency in Washington once tried to do this and found ways around the rat’s nest of public regulations.  The candidate had exactly the right skills to manage a key division of the company and bring it back from the dead.  He had the technical background, the agility, the political savvy, and the intelligence to turn the whole company around. Yet at the relatively low salaries the non-profit was traditionally offering, he would have paid them no mind whatsoever.  However with the enhanced benefit package devised by the CEO, he was at least listening.

The howls from the staff were wild and savage.  As a man he was throwing off the new initiative to redress female salary inequality.  As a corporate outsider he was jumping many pay grades above the most senior staff in the organization.  Morale would become frayed, initiative dampened, etc. etc. Worst of all, his ‘outrageous’ salary was an affront to the ‘mission’ of the company.  How could he be paid a Wall Street salary when there were poor, starving children in Africa?

In the private sector, no one cares about any of this nonsense; and companies are free to spend their money on whomever and however they want.  Risk is implicit in any decision.

So why the outcry over executive salaries? Why, for example is the invidious comparison made between the salary of the CFO responsible for a portfolio of hundreds of millions of dollars in a volatile market and the stock-and-errand boy.  The fact that the CFO makes 100 times as much is completely irrelevant.  The stock-and-errand boy should be paid a salary commensurate to his responsibilities and the demands of the market independent of any other job category.  What relevance does the smaller income disparity among job levels in Sweden have to do with corporate America?  Different culture, different economic system, different history, and different social contract.

I had a boss once who was a whiz at winning government contracts; and she was rewarded for her performance.  The reality of his department, however, was far different. Everyone who rowed in her slave ship was tired, disaffected, and angry.  Her model – work ‘em to death; the line of job applicants goes out the door – was good for short-term profits.  While her market analysis was right, and that the supply of bright young things did indeed outstrip demand, she did not count on the intangible of reputation.  Word got around that she was as unforgiving as Simon Legree and an arrogant, dismissive, and intolerant manager who ruled by fear and intimidation.   The line outside the door dwindled.  Those employees who secured new employment put molasses in her gas tank, went viral in their condemnation, and joined class action lawsuits against her.

The board of directors had missed the downside of her very appealing drive, ambition, and work ethic. After five years of rising profits, the curve went south, trusted employees left the firm, and she was out on the street in months.

Her high salary was worth it to the company for five years, but the irreparable damage she did to corporate image and integrity was incalculable.  In other words, her salary which was many times that of any one under her and as high as anyone but the President paid dividends. No one on the board batted an eyelash at the One Percent protestors in the park.  They paid her what she was worth, rode her coattails for five years, then took a loss.  Her replacement was paid even more.

Corporate enterprise is a risky business; and companies should be free to do what they please and either reap the benefits or suffer the consequences. No matter who has a say in executive pay decisions – top management, boards of directors, or stockholders – decisions will always be subjective and given to the whims of the marketplace.

‘There are no whiners in private industry’ said R. Whitfield Hunt III, one of the new breed of laissez-faire capitalists of the early 20th century who were too busy building America to notice anything else but expansion and profits.  “Whiners”, he said, referring to the progressives of the era, “should go back to running soup kitchens and managing bread lines.  Up here this is America.”

Today’s capitalism is a rather meek version of yesterday’s muscular enterprise.  There has been some softening of the edges and a lot more government regulation; but it still remains a bare-fisted arena. The unions have  been destroyed, the collaboration between corporate America and Wall Street restored; the consumer cannily manipulated by the use of big data and savvy advertising; and the landscape continually altered by sharp merger-and-acquisition lawyers who find ways around Congress just as successfully as they have in the past. 

Therefore, don’t look for any corporate mea culpas over executive pay anytime soon; and expect the whining from the One Percenters to die down and be forgotten.  The American capitalist juggernaut is back after some years of downturn. Lessons were learned, especially how to outflank, outrun, and outthink government, and business is thriving.  As Whitfield Hunt said, “Up here this is America.”