Badass of the Month: Martyl and the Doomsday Clock

The Doomsday Clock first appeared in the June 1947 issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a newsletter-turned-journal for the discussion of science and policy related to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The Bulletin included this statement on the inside of the back cover:

When the bomb fell on Hiroshima, it broke a six-year silence which security imposed on the atomic scientists. It also shattered the scientists’ “ivory tower” of detachment from the social and political implications of their discoveries. For the scientists — who had six years to consider the implications of atomic warfare before these implications exploded on a stunned world — recognized that they had a responsibility to see that this force would be used for the benefit and not the destruction of mankind.

One of the greatest works in all of information design, The Doomsday Clock was a brutally visceral symbol of how the world was now (and possibly forever) near to nuclear war. With the hour hand near midnight and the minute hand only seven minutes away, the clock cut through all the rhetoric and hyperbole of nuclear politics with a clear and clinical measurement: This is where we are. This is how close we are to the end of everything. We are seven minutes away.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Cover, June 1947

Two years later, the clock moved forward four minutes after the Soviet Union successfully tested a nuclear weapon. Three minutes to midnight.

We do not advise Americans that doomsday is near and that they can expect atomic bombs to start falling on their heads a month or a year from now; but we think they have reason to be deeply alarmed and to be prepared for grave decisions.

The designer of The Doomsday Clock was Martyl Langsdorf, an accomplished visual artist with a fondness for landscapes. Known to the art world by her first name, by the age of 25 Martyl had sold a painting to George Gershwin at a private showing, painted a now-iconic New Deal mural of African American history, and beat classmate Tennessee Williams in a playwriting contest.

Martyl Langsdorf

Her husband Alexander was a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project only a few years earlier. They once took a train through Japan that stopped in Hiroshima, to allow all the passengers to step off the train and spend a moment at the Peace Memorial. He stayed in his seat, crying.

Road Ink, Martyl

The Langsdorfs bought a landmark Paul Schweikher home in 1953 and never moved out, drawing the constant attention of the CIA, FBI, and State Department through their activism for peace.

Martyl died March 26th. She was 96 years old.

Woman Boss May Lower Men’s Pay, Prestige

Woman Boss May Lower Men’s Pay, Prestige:

So guys who work for either a) high-powered women, or b) men who are in what are perceived as “women’s jobs,” are viewed as less manly, and this impacts both their social standing and earnings potential. There’s a price to be paid for being a trailblazer; for men, there’s also a price to be paid for working for one.

Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising if you think about it for a minute. Still total garbage, though.

A Fembot living in a Manbot’s Manputer’s world.

Little-known fact: The first computer programmers were all women. ENIAC was programmed by Jean Bartik, Marlyn Meltzer, Kathleen Mauchly Antonelli, Betty Snyder Holberton, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum, and Frances Bilas Spence.

Bartik and her colleagues debugged every vacuum tube and learned how to make it work, she said. Early on, they demonstrated to the military brass how the computer worked, with the programmers setting the process into motion and showing how it produced an answer. They handed out its punch cards as souvenirs. They’d taught the massive machine do math that would’ve taken hours by hand.

Jean Jennings Bertik and Francis Bilas Spence

what is this thing you humans call... love?

Littler-known fact: Many of the first computers were also women! In the days before ENIAC, ‘computer’ was a job, not a machine, and thousands of women were recruited by the US Military to do ballistics research to supply weapons trajectories to soldiers and bombardiers. Top Secret Rosies, a documentary about WWII’s female computers, was released last month.

Erickson’s documentary focused on women plucked from high schools and colleges to work at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1940s. They moved into dorms and apartments and went through a rigorous introduction to ballistics calculations in order to do the job. It paid well, and the women were close. They played bridge, shared dinners and danced together in the university gardens when the war in Europe ended.

On masculinity

I wrote this reply to a question posed on LiveJournal asking about the contemporary definitions of masculinity, and what (if anything) separates the masculine from the feminine. No one responded over there, so I’m reposting it here, because I’m interested in other people’s thoughts on the subject.

Do not reply to this post to argue about feminism.

I suspect that there’s a lot to be said on this topic with regards to fatherhood, but I don’t have any experience in that area to draw on.

There are a few different questions here, I think.

1: What is the contemporary definition of masculine?
2: Can you construct a contemporary definition of masculine, using positive traits that are exclusive to men?
3: What traits should be deferred to men so as to consider those traits exclusively masculine?

The answer to the first question isn’t terribly flattering, and the nature of the second question makes it impossible to answer without being sexist (as it is equivalent to asking “what positive traits do women lack?”).

Personally, I don’t agree that a trait can only be ascribed to one or not the other in order for it to be masculine/feminine, because the context of the male experience and the female experience are so different that a trait (let’s say, promiscuity, or humility) is not the same thing for a man that it is for a woman. Saying that humility is a masculine trait might be positive, because to be humble men may have to recognize their own male privilege. Saying that humility is a feminine trait might be negative, because it’s morally elevating a symptom of oppression.

This article is interesting, I think. It makes a lot of positive “men are” declarations about men that would be totally unremarkable status quo statements if said about women, (A man doesn’t point out that he did the dishes. A man looks out for children. Makes them stand behind him. A man can tell you he was wrong. That he did wrong. That he planned to.) and a number of fairly provocative statements that I don’t think translate as easily, for better or for worse. (Maybe he never has, and maybe he never will, but a man figures he can knock someone, somewhere, on his ass. A man knows how to lose an afternoon. Drinking, playing Grand Theft Auto, driving aimlessly, shooting pool. A man fantasizes that kung fu lives deep inside him somewhere. A man knows how to sneak a look at cleavage and doesn’t care if he gets busted once in a while.)

Personally, I don’t think contemporary society is terribly interested in buying into the idea of positive masculinity. It’s dangerous to say “this is male, this is good” if you’re adverse to the idea of inferring something bad about being not-male.

Badass of the Month (First in a series)

On this first day of the Octomonth (birthstone: opal; flower: calendula), I would like to introduce you to Hedy Lamarr, the first (of many) BADASS OF THE MONTH(s):

Hedy Smoking

“Any girl can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.”

Hedy was a successful actress as a young teenager, but her big breaththrough came in the controversial Bohemian (as in, from Bohemia) film, Ecstasy. It was 1933, and people were excited and outraged about a skinny dipping scene; the most outstanding thing about this movie, however, is that it was the first studio film to have a sex scene in it — and the first to depict a female orgasm.

The movie is special not just for its prurient content (and it should be said, the camera never leaves the actors’ faces when things get heavy), but for being an powerful study of a young woman’s sexual empowerment. It was released a year before the Hays Code crackdown began, and so there’s no moral play at work. No virgin/whore complex to feed, no pretense that women live identically sexless lives, who only acquiesce to their husbands after shopping trips (while thinking about their kitchen duties the entire time).


After Ecstasy’s release, Hedy married an controlling Austro-fascist arms manufacturer thirty years her senior who forbade her from making movies. He would take her with him to his business meetings (where military technology and highly technical problems were debated), and force her to entertain at his parties (which Mussolini often attended).

In 1937, after having enough of his crap (and after being forced by her husband to sleep with Hitler to get an arms contract), Hedy dressed up for a ‘party’, drugged her husband, and left Austria (with all of her magnificently expensive jewelry).

Over the next 10 years she made close to twenty films, had two children, and developed a backstage reputation as a voracious bisexual (second only to her sometimes-lover, Marlon Brando). In her time, she was reportedly involved with Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Johnny Carson, Howard Huges, Errol Flynn, JFK, and even Charlie Chaplin.

“I don’t think that anyone would call me a lesbian, it’s just that I seem to be the type that other women get queer ideas about.”

More importantly, however, she also did this.

U.S. Patent #2292387

U.S. Patent #2292387

That is the design drawing for her 1942 invention of Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum communication, upon which all WiFi, CDMA cell networks, and countless other technologies rely. It went like this: Radio controlled torpedoes are more accurate than ‘dumb’ torpedoes, but it’s easy to jam the frequency that the torpedo control channel is on. By rapidly changing the frequency that the control channel was transmitted on, you prevent the adversary from jamming your signals.

Working with experimental composer George Anthiel (who once composed a symphony that required 16 player pianos), she placed a modified piano roll in the torpedo and the controller plane, allowing them to switch frequencies in sync with each other. Unfortunately, it was nearly two decades later before her the importance and potential of her invention was realized. The Navy of the time did not take seriously a device invented by a woman that ran on musical equipment, and suggested to Hedy that she could best support the war effort elsewhere. She did, once raising $7,000,000 in a single event where she sold kisses for fifty grand each. (When honored by the EFF in 1997 for her contribution of spread spectrum technology, she was quoted as saying “It’s about time.”)

Her later years were noteworthy for her lavish parties, five husbands, two shoplifting arrests, a star on Hollywood’s walk of fame, and a Boeing recruitment ad featuring her as a woman of science, with no mention of her film career.

So, here’s to you, Hedy Lamarr. You kicked ass, you took names, you did what you wanted, who you wanted, when you wanted, and you changed the world.

Hedy Lamarr

“Jack Kennedy always said to me, Hedy, get involved. That’s the secret of life. Try everything. Join everything. Meet everybody. “

sexual harassment for fun and profit

There are a lot of things happening in my life that I’d like to write about, but my heart is heavy and my skin is raw. Instead, I’m going to write about this new contest from Electronic Arts:

Stay classy, EA.

Stay classy, EA.

I’ll give you a minute to re-read the ‘How To Win’ section a few times.

That’s right, EA literally wants you to sexually harass the booth babes at Comic-Con. You don’t have to settle for staring awkwardly at scantily-clad flesh and working up the nerve to brush your hand against an ass or two as you walk past them; their employer has actually posted a sexual bounty on them — so please feel free to grab a handful and get your money’s worth! And if your photos are the most ass-grabbingly great (keeping in mind step 3!) you’ll get to take them out to dinner in a fancy limo!

Goddamn it if EA isn’t the worst thing to happen to video games since Ultima Online. (Actually, scratch that. They published Ultima Online. I guess they’re just the worst thing.)

Every now and then I think about dropping everything and getting back into the video game industry, but then I am gripped by this fear, this panic, that somehow someday somewhere I would end up working for EA, and that’s enough to shake those dreams from my hair.

Oh, booth babes. Have we not yet visited enough ignominy and nerd germs upon you? Truly, you are the most underappreciated of all sex workers.

Corey & Vampirella

Corey & Vampirella. photo: roadkillbuddha

You are in a maze of twisty little corporations, all alike…

A new paper offers some insight on the glass ceiling, and the confusion that was the Apprentice. From Alex’s analysis:

The authors compare male and female performance at solving mazes across different incentive systems. In a simple piece-rate system men perform slightly but not markedly better than women, on average the men solved 11.23 mazes in 15 minutes compared to 9.73 for the women, a difference of 1.5. But in a tournament, in which only the highest-paid performer wins, the men significantly improve their performance and the women hardly improve at all. As a result, the gender-gap in performance rises (men complete 15 mazes, the women only 10.8 for a difference of 4.2, stat. significant at p=0.034).

Now here is where it gets really interesting. One might think that this shows that women are less competitive than men. To test this the authors run single-sex tournaments. Surprisingly, in the single-sex tournaments the women’s performance improves considerably relative to both their performance in the piece rate system and to their performance in the mixed tournament. Women do like to compete just not against men! Men’s performance stays about the same as in the mixed tournament. As a result, when comparing the peformance of the all-male groups versus the all-female group, the gender gap shrinks considerably.

What does this mean? In a corporate environment, promotion to executive positions is almost always a competition. This study indicates that (all things being equal) women under-perform in a mixed-gender environment, when it comes to high-stakes competition.

Now, game and tournament theory provide us insights as to why this may be the case. Tournament theory states that when competing for a prize, the players with less confidence or incentive perform less well than an equally-skilled player with more confidence or incentive. Hence, the diminished performance in women could be a result of any number of morale-based sociological factors. (Overconfidence in men, underconfidence in women, etc.)

It also gives an easy explanation for what happened during The Apprentice. When the teams were gender-segregated, the women (which, to my eyes, was the stronger team) kicked the hell out of the men for a good long while. After the teams were shuffled, the women (who were now in direct competition with their male teammates to avoid getting fired) began to underperform.

This study opens the doors to new approaches on dealing with the wage gap. If the performance gap is due to the reasons suggested by tournament theory, then efforts to create more confidence in underrepresented groups (not just women, but ethnic groups, etc.) could have a very real effect on gender and race distribution in executive positions.

(The full paper: Performance in Competitive Environments: Gender Differences)