Work Archives

January 23, 2013

Hell's Kitchen dancers, Hell's Kitchen pervs

Broadway Dance Center, and Private Eyes, on 45th St

There's an article today about a stretch of West 45th Street where a fascinating diversity of New Yorkers intersect. There's the Broadway Dance Center, a high-level school for aspiring young dancers that's been around for decades, and right across the street, there's a hotel for homeless people. Students and parents with kids at the school just learned that three sex offenders live (legally) at the hotel, including one guy who abused a 9 year-old, so now they're concerned. One 19 year-old student says, "We go home by ourselves every night at 11. It's dark and bad things could happen."

In addition to housing sex offenders, there have been violent incidents in the hotel, like a woman arrested for attacking a man with a knife a few weeks ago, who yelled "I'm the victim!" as she was led away. Residents of the hotel (and actually, anyone on the sidewalk) can see the Broadway Dance Center students dancing through large windows that face the street.

What this article doesn't mention, and the parents don't comment on, is the strip club immediately adjacent to the dance school, Private Eyes. You can see the sign in the photo above. I've long been amused by the variety of dance styles offered in one convenient midtown location.

All kinds of questions come to mind. Like: Do parents and students have any concerns about all the non-traditional forms of dance going on next door, while Broadway Dance Center students are walking home? Are parents worried about the Private Eyes patrons hanging around outside eyeing their 19 year-old daughters during ballet class? What about the Private Eyes dancers, many of whom are probably the same age as the students--is it dangerous for them to walk home after work past convicted rapists?

On a more practical level, do recruiters from Private Eyes visit the Dance Center to tell students about the job opportunities available to them after they finish Jazz, Tap, and Modern? Do Private Eyes dancers ever brush up their technique with a few Street Jazz Funk classes next door? Broadway Dance Center actually offers a class called Stiletto Heels, which seems like a perfect cross-over for students looking for an immediately lucrative career, right in the neighborhood.

One concerned mom with a daughter taking ballet says she doesn't like that the guys in the homeless hotel can watch her daughter during class. "The kids are all wearing tights, but they might as well be naked." She really said that, I swear.

April 19, 2011

Oil spill victims

Victims of the BP oil spill in Mathews, LA

This is my favorite photo related to the BP oil spill. It was taken at a meeting about compensation claims. I love these guys. All the anger, desperation, and weary determination that people in the Gulf Coast have been experiencing for the last year is all over their faces.

The photo is part of an article about the anger people in the region have for Ken Feinberg and the shoddy treatment they're getting in the compensation claims process. By many accounts, the process has been inconsistent, opaque, slow, and generally ineffective in helping people affected by the spill. Feinberg's law firm has been running the victims' fund since July, and in that time have given out less than 20% of the total fund. And they recently got a raise from BP. It seems like whatever hatred people had for BP when it all started a year ago has now been transferred to Feinberg.

In response to complaints that the claims system doesn't work, the article says that Feinberg admitted "there may be inconsistencies. But I think those inconsistencies are relatively rare."

I'd like to see him stand in front of these guys from Mathews, Louisiana and say that to their faces.

There's a really good series of short articles about different people affected by the oil spill in the Times, including a restaurant owner, a shrimper, and a Vietnamese shipyard worker.

January 31, 2011

Women and Wikipedia

Women pay gap

Wikipedia has determined that only 13% of its contributors are women. The site's usefulness depends on all kinds of people sharing knowledge about subjects they're interested in. Everybody benefits when the knowledge of a vast number of individual people is centralized in one place, and Wikipedia has done a fantastic job at collecting individual knowledge -- of guys in their mid-20's.

The Times article about the low contribution rates of women includes surprised speculation from people in media and computer studies about why this might be. I don't want to be cynical, but do these people live in the same world I live in?

Let's look at some major areas of public life:

Sensing a trend?

Of course there's a big difference between becoming a Senator or a CEO of a big company and contributing to a Wikipedia article. ANYONE can write something on Wikipedia. You still don't have to register with the site to add some verifiable facts to an existing article, and there's a help page for new contributors.

Since women's knowledge is so radically underrepresented in Wikipedia, we're all losing out. I don't know about you, but I probably look something up on Wikipedia every day. I don't want to only find what dudes are interested in up there.

Two examples in the Times article: "Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in The Simpsons?" "The entry on Sex and the City includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on The Sopranos includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode."

Sure, it's just pop culture, but this is part of what happens when women are in so few visible leadership positions. As Catherine Orenstein, founder of The OpEd Project says in the Times piece, "When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies." Fewer women in media, business, and government seems to also mean fewer women and girls sharing a bit of knowledge in an online article about TV shows, authors, historical figures, cities, bands, or artists they like and know something about.

Contributing to Wikipedia doesn't require leadership or ambition, but it does require women and girls to think, "I have something to say", and with few exceptions, that's not happening. Boys and men obviously think they have plenty to say, and they're already saying it awfully loudly and in painstaking detail. Ladies: please speak up, I can't hear you.

In thinking about the small numbers of women in leadership positions in business, I realized that at every single job I've had since college, the person at the top has been a woman. This now seems incredibly statistically improbable, and I feel really lucky.

[Note: a reader points out that Wikipedia is intended to be a repository of known facts, not personal analysis or research, as described in the No Original Research entry. My point remains that contributors reflect their own personal interests by adding facts to an entry, making the whole of Wikipedia a sum total of the interests of its contributors, so if those contributors are 87% dudes, well, you get a lot of stuff about Matchbox cars and Civil War Reenactments.]

March 12, 2010

Public money double standard

Boys and Girls Clubs vs. Lockheed Martin

Today we heard that a group of Senators in the Finance Committee (all Republicans, btw) are concerned about the total compensation that the CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs Roxanne Spillett receives, which when you add up her salary, benefits, bonus, and payments into her retirement fund, is almost $1 million. The Senate is considering renewing a grant to Boys & Girls Clubs of $425 million over five years, but until the organization answers questions about the CEO's salary and their high travel budget, these Senators say they're not making any grant.

You probably know that Boys & Girls Clubs of America runs local centers for kids in cities all over the country. They do mentoring and after-school education programs for kids, mostly in poor neighborhoods. Their annual budget is over $100 million, and in 2007 they were the 7th biggest nonprofit organization in the country.

The Senators are concerned that this million dollar compensation for a CEO is too high, because she is the CEO of a charitable organization that receives public funds for about 40% of its budget.

This makes me want to spit. I don't necessarily think the CEO of a nonprofit should make $1 million a year (Roxanne Spillett's actual salary is $360,000) and I bet that the Clubs' staff who work directly with youth probably get unfairly low pay, like almost everyone in the nonprofit sector does. But this congressional scrutiny is based on an unspoken assumption that people who work for nonprofits should not be well compensated for their work. Like the sense of well-being they get from helping people should be adequate justification for a meager salary. Especially when some of that salary is paid for with public funds.

This is crap. Let's look at another big recipient of public support: Lockheed Martin. Lockheed is the world's largest defense contractor, and 85% of its income comes from the US government, i.e. public money.

Last year, Lockheed's CEO Robert Stevens' salary actually fell by 10%, due to government spending cutbacks and everything that was happening with the economy. So that reduced his compensation to $20 million. TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS. 85% of which is paid for by US taxpayers.

Lockheed is a much larger organization than Boys & Girls Clubs; it had $43 billion in revenue last year. The Washington Post said some people saw Lockheed's top salaries as "insensitive" during last year's financial crises.

When our government gets suspicious of generous executive compensation and questions travel budgets and benefits packages, and they go after the $1 million compensation of the head of one of the largest nonprofits in the country that helps 4.8 million kids a year, but don't think twice about the $20 million salary of the head of a weapons manufacturer that US taxpayers are funding, it drives me up the wall.

Another thing: Lockheed Martin is a publicly traded company. That means most of the shareholders' income essentially comes from US taxpayers, too. Apparently our government thinks it's OK for shareholders and executives to get rich using the public's money, but only if those people are making weapons. Not if they're helping kids.

Roxanne Spillett, I bet you earn every penny.

January 29, 2009

Lilly Ledbetter- The Little Lady Who Stood Up


Lilly Ledbetter of Alabama has had quite a year. She spoke at the DNC last summer, lost her husband (who voted for a Democrat for the first time in his life in November) in December, rode the inauguration train in January, danced with Obama at an Inaugural Ball and attended a White House signing ceremony today.

Ledbetter recorded a tough attack ad for Obama, quoting McCain opposing the Fair Pay Act, saying that women "just need education and training."

Now Ledbetter's name will be associated with this breakthrough for equal pay. When the bill passed the senate, she said "I'm so excited I can hardly stand it." This in spite of the fact that she still won't get the back pay a jury tried to award her. As Gail Collins points out, the current situation was ridiculous: "Let us pause briefly to contemplate the chances of figuring out your co-workers’ salaries within the first six months on the job."
From all of us, thanks Lilly.

September 18, 2008

The Joads, 70 years later

Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother

One of the books I read in high school English was The Grapes of Wrath, which we read for its social commentary on the Great Depression-era exploitation of desperate people and their struggle to maintain some dignity as they fight to survive. Mostly what I remember about that book is being grossed-out by the last scene in which Rosasharn breastfeeds a dying old man. That one scene probably prolonged millions of teenagers' feelings of confusion and revulsion over their adolescent bodily development for many months or years.

But one other scene I remember is where Pa Joad, the patriarch of the Joad family that we follow on their journey to find work out west, is confronted by a man who explains the harsh economic truth behind the myth of plentiful jobs in California that all the people in the migrant camp have been clinging to.

From the screenplay based on the book:

"How many of you all got them han'bills? Look at 'em! Same yella han'bill--800 pickers wanted. Awright, this man wants 800 men. So he prints up 5,000 a them han'bills an' maybe 20,000 people sees 'em. An' maybe two-three thousan' starts movin, wes' account a this han'bill. Two-three thousan' folks that's crazy with worry headin' out for 800 jobs! Does that make sense?"

Today, AP describes our current economic situation as "the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression". In another article, they describe modern-day Joad families setting up tent cities in western towns where people have come expecting to find jobs. Except that instead of looking for fruit picking jobs in California, they're looking for casino jobs in Reno:

A few tents cropped up hard by the railroad tracks, pitched by men left with nowhere to go once the emergency winter shelter closed for the summer. Then others appeared — people who had lost their jobs to the ailing economy, or newcomers who had moved to Reno for work and discovered no one was hiring.

Within weeks, more than 150 people were living in tents big and small, barely a foot apart in a patch of dirt slated to be a parking lot for a campus of shelters Reno is building for its homeless population. Like many other cities, Reno has found itself with a "tent city" — an encampment of people who had nowhere else to go.

Out of a dozen people interviewed in the tent city, six had come to Reno over the last year, hoping for casino jobs.

"I figured this would be a great place for a job," said Max Perez, a 19-year-old from Iowa. He couldn't find one and ended up taking showers at the men's shelter and sleeping in a pup tent barely big enough to cover his body.

The casinos are actually starting to lay off employees.

The article also refers to growing tent cities in Santa Barbara, Fresno, Portland, Seattle, Chattanooga, San Diego, and Columbus.

June 12, 2008

Straight people: Start being more like non-straight people

I love my Moms

Lisa "Opt out revolution" Belkin has a piece in the upcoming NYT magazine about parents who, radically, share the work. The Times is clearly prepared for this to be the most-emailed article of the week, having already given Belkin a blog entitled "Equal Parenting". As usual with Belkin, the article is really about middle class problems. Although she claims that the maldistribution of domestic work persists across economic classes, this 'solution' is apparently only appropriate for middle class couples.

Many of the couples in Belkin's article used an organization called Third Path, to help them figure out how to organize work and family time. Third Path will give couples "one-on-one coaching to develop their unique work-family solution" for the low, low price of about $125 per hour. Third Path helpfully suggests that you could give (or request) this coaching as a wedding or baby shower gift. Ew.

This week the Times also published a piece on what straight folks can learn from same-sex couples,(something Belkin also discusses):

"In heterosexual couples, women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the financial responsibility; and men were more likely to initiate sex, while women were more likely to refuse it or to start a conversation about problems in the relationship. With same-sex couples, of course, none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to share the burdens far more equally."

So the take home message seems to be: Be fairly wealthy, be more like gay people, pay for expensive life coaching.

Image by arimoore.

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Amy's Robot in the Work category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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