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353 points by chrismealy 1149 days ago | 141 comments



How many times are we going to keep hearing the non-apology apology: "We are sorry if some were offended..."? I am so tired of it, it has become a cliche. When did the business world/lawyers decide this was the optimal legal response to customers? My blood boils every time I read it as it is the most disingenuous, calculated, shallow tripe you can trot out when you fuck up. What ever happened to just owning up to your mistakes? What exactly are the massive consequences between saying "We're sorry" and "We're sorry some were offended"? Is it liability, lack of character, "best practices", what?

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Actually apologizing admits to wrongdoing, which opens one up to liability and other consequences. Not apologizing at all is seen as callous and only incites the mob against you. A non-apology apology is still enough to settle the mob but not enough to open one up to liability. The only downside is that it upsets intelligent people like you and I who are capable of actually parsing and understanding these kinds of statements. Most people are content with something that sounds like an apology.

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IANAL, but in various contexts, apologies actually work to defuse the situation and prevent legal action. I've read research into malpractice and product negligence that indicates that sincere apologies actually reduce lawsuits, because, in many cases, the lawsuits are sparked not by the initial negligent act, but rather by stone-walling. I can't find those references tonight, alas.

But there is this research into problem resolution for German Ebay customers

http://www.psmag.com/culture/were-sorry-not-all-apologies-ar...

that indicates that a real apology from a vendor is more effective than (some amount of) cash in getting a customer to withdraw negative evaluations.

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That's probably true when dealing with decent people. I think the reason lawyers don't recommend that is because lawyers are professional assholes of a sort. I don't mean that as a slur on lawyers; I just mean that they're experts on what an asshole could do, and they use this knowledge to protect you from assholes. (Or alternatively, if you are an asshole, they help you achieve your aims.) Clearly an asshole would take a sincere apology and turn it around to crucify you. So lawyers recommend asshole-proof non-apologies instead.

This is, incidentally, also the rationale behind never talking to the police: unlike aggrieved customers, police more or less are professional assholes. It's not their fault per se, and it's not a slur on police officers, but even more than lawyers, police are more or less constrained by the adversarial nature of the criminal justice system to be total assholes almost all the time. Actually, this asshole theory seems to explain a lot about the legal system, for instance why divorcing couples seem to be total assholes to each other as soon as they both lawyer up.

Your point is that most people aren't assholes, and can be reasoned with. Fair enough! But there are assholes, and eventually you get bit by them, which is how big companies develop lawyerly antibodies to them. As for politicians, they're all lawyers already, and it's practically their job to be assholes to each other, and if they slip up there are plenty of assholes in the press to make up for it so appealing to the people's better nature is automatically more difficult.

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> Actually apologizing admits to wrongdoing, which opens one up to liability and other consequences.

I can't imagine that there are actual liability issues here; it's more than Dell (incorrectly, I suspect) thinks that using weasel words looks better than saying "oops, we're horribly thoughtless and incompetent".

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Not apologizing at all is seen as callous and only incites the mob against you. A non-apology apology is still enough to settle the mob but not enough to open one up to liability.

Historically, I'd agree, but my observation (and opinion) is that real time mass communications and an ever dropping attention span mean that half-hearted apologies (or even sincere ones!) merely fan the flames, whereas radio silence lets the storm clouds pass because people's attention spans are so short.

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That would sure be an interesting development, and I'll be on the lookout for it. But there's a very strong niche for people to deliberately sit around and fan the flames of outrage, and if anything that's become even easier as of late.

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Somebody should quantify and do research on that. We can't rely on mere conjecture.

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I’m not sure where (legal) liability comes in play here. I don’t think there is a way to successfully sue Dell for this (nor do I think there should be).

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In some cases there is legal liability. In others it's just a matter of not wanting to be on record admitting guilt for other reasons.

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I actually think there are lots of cases where it is perfectly warranted.

It's a big world; if you are on the world stage, it is quite difficult not to offend somebody no matter what you do. There are experts in the fields of diplomacy and etiquette who devote their careers to getting this stuff right, and usually even then there is someone offended about efforts to be so "proper". ;-)

So, I think it is a perfectly valid apology if basically the only thing you regretted about your actions was that it made someone upset. Most people don't get off on pissing other people off, but they do want to live their life and go about their business. That apology is perfect for that context.

What's freaky is when it is used for cases where you'd think there'd be a lot more that someone ought to be sorry for. What's even freakier is when someone everyone pretends it is apologizing for more than it is.

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I don't understand this viewpoint. What is an apology? An apology, at least to me, is a statement that you regret an action you performed, and hence are saying that if you were transported back in time and could relive that moment, you would have acted differently. Saying you are "sorry people were offended" does not imply that you would have acted differently.

If you do not wish you would have acted differently, do not apologize. If you do, then perform a real apology saying you made a mistake and wish to correct it. If you simply say that you regret others being offended, all you are really saying is you lament the fact there are people that exist that were offended by your statement. Ie, it is a shame that people disagree with you or are offended by your words, much like it's a shame that a stranger got a flat tire or that science has yet to cure the common cold. Ie, it's their problem, or at the very least, an existential observation of how you think things ought to be, not something that is your problem or responsibility to correct.

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Well, for me personally, if I've offended someone seriously then that itself is reason enough for me to regret the action under most circumstances. I might regret it more if I am able to emphasize with their offense, but just offending them is enough.

But if you're attempting to apologize in public, it doesn't make sense to try to explain that. You can say what you did was wrong, if you think so. If you do not then just apologize simply without dressing it up with qualifications. It doesn't mean the apology is necessarily insincere.

Some information is too delicate to transmit reliably in a public forum.

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> You can say what you did was wrong, if you think so. If you do not then just apologize simply without dressing it up with qualifications. It doesn't mean the apology is necessarily insincere.

If you don't specify what you are apologizing for, it leaves it to each listener to interpret what you feel sorry about. If you kill someone, and then say "I'm sorry", that could mean any number of things, "I am so sorry that I murdered him in his sleep so that I could take all his money", "I am sorry that while I was trying to take all his money, he caught me, so I killed him to stay out of jail", "I am sorry that I brought a gun with me to a robbery, because once he caught me, I had to either kill him or let him kill me", "I am sorry I was robbing him in the first place, I shouldn't steal, and killing him only made it so much worse", "that guy stole from me, and I was just trying to get the money back, but when he pulled a gun on me and said he'd kill me rather than let me take it back, I felt I had to kill him; in retrospect, I wish I had thought of another way to get the money back", "that guy was going to kill me then take my money, and I'm sorry that this was the case, but the only way I was going live was to kill him right then and there"....

While some of those examples do offer an explanation, one can be specific about what one is apologizing for without offering an explanation (indeed, I think that's exactly what Dell did, and in their case I believe that is shameful, because they ought to be sorry for a lot more).

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I didn't mean that you don't say what you're sorry for, just that it may not pay to be too specific in some cases.

Ideally we'd all say exactly what was on our mind all the time and no one would ever get hurt, but sometimes tact is important.

Also, in the case of something like killing someone you might well place a higher value on exonerating yourself to the maximum extent possible than on potentially (re)offending someone.

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> An apology, at least to me, is a statement that you regret an action you performed, and hence are saying that if you were transported back in time and could relive that moment, you would have acted differently.

I've been trying to think of how to express a response to this which is clear. Here's my best shot.

One can regret actions one performed, or actions one didn't perform. If you were to express such regret for either, it'd be deemed an apology.

Strictly speaking, "regret" doesn't imply that could you relive the moment, you would have acted differently. As per the dictionary definition: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/regret

1. To feel sorry, disappointed, or distressed about.

The negative consequences of an action or inaction is apparent only in hindsight. You might do something differently if transported back in time, if you somehow had that hindsight, but feel absent that impossible scenario, you acted as could be expected by anyone, including yourself.

Finally, you may have faced what amounts to a no-win situation, where there was no way to choose outcomes that would avoid negative consequences for someone else without betraying some defining principle by which you choose to live your life. You may regret your actions (or lack thereof) and their consequences for others, without feeling there was a way to do better.

Really, there is a lot more nuance and variation available on this.

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Your comment is contradictory. You start by saying that an apology implies regret. Then, you say that Dell's apology does not imply regret. Why not? If they're apologizing for offending people, then according to your first claim they must regret offending people, which means they would choose to not offend people if they were transported back in time. I'm not sure what more you want from Dell.

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>I don't understand this viewpoint. What is an apology? An apology, at least to me, is a statement that you regret an action you performed, and hence are saying that if you were transported back in time and could relive that moment, you would have acted differently. Saying you are "sorry people were offended" does not imply that you would have acted differently.

Yes, but the world does not owe us to deserve apologies every time that we are offended.

Sometimes we are offended, but we shouldn't be (because we are wrong), other times we are offended and it is arguable if we should or should not be (because it's a complex issue that can be seen either way).

So people can both be sorry that you were offended and _still_ feel like they have the right to say what they said. I.e they don't like offending people, but they feel that what they did was right and you should not feel offended.

Here's an extreme example:

I might say in a conversation that "Republicans are creeps". This might offend someone. Now, I could truly feel sorry for making that other person feel bad, but that does n't mean that I also regret my opinion.

The key here is that other people are not summed entirely in that one _thing_ that I might have offended them on (ie. my friend is not described entirely by the fact that he is a card-carrying republican). So, I might like them as people, as friends, as colleagues, etc, and feel sorry if I made them feel bad, but still dislike that _thing_ about them.

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So, I think it is a perfectly valid apology if basically the only thing you regretted about your actions was that it made someone upset

This is what makes it a non-apology.

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No, it doesn't. If you say something that offends somebody, what else is there to be sorry about? It's not like you killed somebody and offended somebody else, and are only apologizing the offending part. When you offend someone, that's the only bad thing that happens. Or, as comedian Steve Hughes puts it, nothing happens when you're offended.

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Uhm, no, that’s not what apologies are about. When you apologize for something, you are also expressing regret for doing something. If you could decide again you would decide differently.

In this case, a honest apology would be one where Dell apologizes for hiring that moderator: if we could go back in time and hire a moderator again, we wouldn’t hire that person.

Maybe their apology for the offense is supposed to imply that (presumably, since they are apologizing, they want people to not be offended, one option for them to prevent that is to not hire people like that in the future), but why not say that directly?

(I think the view that offense doesn’t matter and can be safely ignored is extremely damaging. And besides, it’s not as though offense is the worst thing about this. Dell gave someone the stage who legitimizes very weird views that would be disastrous if they became – even more – widespread in society or even the basis for policy. That’s why people are offended. And that’s a very good reason to be offended. Yes, words do matter.)

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I don't understand what you're saying. You say that an apology is an expression of regret, but then you say that Dell's apology isn't an expression of regret. Are you just saying that the Dell statement should have been more explicit?

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I'm not sure he agrees that it is an apology.

I think it is more fair to say is that they expressed regret, but the only regret they expressed is that other people were offended by what they did. The conclusion is that if they had it to do over again, and they could find a way to do it without offending those people (keeping it secret perhaps?), they'd do it.

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But finding a way to do it without offending people is a perfectly fine solution, since the only bad thing that happened was that people were offended. I made that point in a previous comment.

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>> So, I think it is a perfectly valid apology if basically the only thing you regretted about your actions was that it made someone upset > This is what makes it a non-apology. reply

This issue is one that my views have changed on over the years, and I've spent some time thinking about it. I currently do sometimes give that "non-apology", if you will. What else do I say when A) someone was hurt by something I said, but B) I don't know what I should have said differently? I genuinely feel bad for someone who is hurt by my actions, even if I feel that I couldn't have predicted/avoided it.

It's kind of like when two people start talking at once--there's no real fault there; you can apologize without feeling "man, I really should have not started talking", assuming there were no cues.

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There's nothing wrong with giving non-apologies in some circumstances. All it does is indicate in a diplomatic way that you weren't really sorry for what you did. If there was actually a really good reason for you to be sorry (ie. inviting an outspoken sexist radical to moderate at your event), that's a good reason for others to be pissed at your unapologetic response though!

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This has nothing to do with being "upset" or "offended" or "proper" or "etiquette".

It has to do with little girls growing up thinking there are entire categories of things they can't do. And it has to do with grown women being unable to do their jobs because too much of their time is spend dealing with the fact that their coworkers can't handle working with a woman. I'm not "offended" that Dell is contributing to that, I'm sad.

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> it is quite difficult not to offend somebody no matter what you do.

Avoiding having a guy that is blatantly sexist and misogynistic is not exactly hard nowadays.

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It's a big world; if you are on the world stage, it is quite difficult not to offend somebody no matter what you do. There are experts in the fields of diplomacy and etiquette who devote their careers to getting this stuff right, and usually even then there is someone offended about efforts to be so "proper". ;-)

Can you give evidence for what you believe in?

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> How many times are we going to keep hearing the non-apology apology: "We are sorry if some were offended..."?

About as many times as we make powerful people apologise in public, especially when they're not really feeling guilty. And it's not always in that form, sometimes it's closer to Clinton's "mistakes were made". While most non-apologies are pretty standard, there is some variation and innovation.

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This is a arguable subject. For me personally I prefer a company that took some risks with their presentation and failed, over one that had some human-bot-figure reading the corporate-lawyer approved cards. Sure, based on the narrative of that visitor the whole story comes across very negative, but then again I would find it utterly amusing to have some insult-comedian perform at a corporate event just to watch all the let-me-tweet-how-offended-i-am faces.

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This wasn't someone who was telling insulting jokes just to get laughs. This was someone whose repeatedly stated and well known opinion is that a historically repressed group don't have an equal or valid place in the workplace.

It's not a joke by itself, it's joking of a kind with those bully makes while tormenting their victim in other ways.

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Theres a thing called professionalism. It is no more appropriate to invite the mocking of women in the workplace at a conference than it would be to mock multiculturalism, and support that only privileged white males deserve good jobs. It is not appropriate, and reflects very badly on the character and judgment of the execs at Dell. I wouldn't be surprised if this severely impacts their ability to recruit competent employees; no self-respecting man or woman should want to be employed by bigots.

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I prefer a company that took some risks with their presentation and failed, over one that had some human-bot-figure reading the corporate-lawyer approved cards.

That statement almost makes it sound as if those were the only two options for presentations.

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According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mistakes_were_made), some version of "mistakes were made" dates back to Ulysses S. Grant, though it seems that Nixon popularized it.

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The thing I don't understand about this is that it seems to me that when public figures, companies, etc come out with genuine apologies, it ends up being a net positive. They garner respect from their friends and their enemies. They get good press. They often manage to repair most of the relationships that were in question.

It almost seems like that even if someone were not feeling guilty, the logical thing would be to pretend like you are and submit a real apology. I find it hard to believe that folks who are already so good at stretching the truth to their own benefit like politicans would somehow let their personal ego and pride get in the way of them making a fake "real" apology if that would benefit them the most. It seems to me that there is some underlying calculus that all these actors have made that issuing a bogus one has a better net effect that a real one. I suppose I should be thankful that if this is the case then at least we are going to be able to tell the bullshitters from the honest people, since only the honest ones will be making genuine apologies despite their potential for harm.

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"I find it hard to believe that folks who are already so good at stretching the truth to their own benefit like politicans would somehow let their personal ego and pride get in the way of them making a fake "real" apology if that would benefit them the most."

I'm sure a lot of the 'real' apologies you hear are exactly of that nature. But ego and pride don't get checked at the door when someone enters politics - far from it. Not many politicians have the discipline to be perfect PR machines at all times. Many of them seem to oscillate between politically optimized and natural states.

"It seems to me that there is some underlying calculus that all these actors have made that issuing a bogus one has a better net effect that a real one."

If we're talking about actual politicians rather than corporate spokespeople then there's always the possibility of a little dog-whistling going on. If you trot out the standard pro forma apology then most of the people are somewhat aggrieved and those who actually liked or agreed with your original statement or action can say that the apology is just PR and you don't really mean it. I can't see that happening much outside of actual politics.

"I suppose I should be thankful that if this is the case then at least we are going to be able to tell the bullshitters from the honest people, since only the honest ones will be making genuine apologies despite their potential for harm."

I don't think it's a reliable guide for the reason I stated at the top.

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> It seems to me that there is some underlying calculus that all these actors have made that issuing a bogus one has a better net effect that a real one.

This is the reason why I think non-apologies are a genuinely advantageous long-term strategy, especially for men in position of power. I don't believe it to be an entirely concious strategy resulting from some cold calculation but it seems common among leaders, from soccer team captains to presidents. Maybe some alpha/beta atavism.

That is not to say that it's optimal. Throwing a sincere apology every once in a while, especially when it's sincere, may work well.

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>And it's not always in that form, sometimes it's closer to Clinton's "mistakes were made".

That phrase far predates Clinton, probably Nixon or earlier was the first I heard it attributed. There is also a great book by that title (Mistakes were made, but not by me) that talks about the psychological drive to quell dissonance and how it can lead to absurd scenarios.

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Well it was either Reagan, or Nixon, but never Clinton.

I think you owe the Clintons an apology.

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But that's exactly what they're sorry for. It's not like Dell's going to say "We're sorry we hired a jerk." That implies that they meant to hire a jerk. "We're sorry you're offended" means "We didn't do this out of malice, but we recognize that it was hurtful regardless, and that's why we're sorry."

I always get the feeling that what they're really supposed to do is grovel--to admit that it wasn't an honest mistake, but that they really were being evil, and that they've finally been caught and forced to own up. I don't think people are comfortable with diversity when it means that some people think it's totally okay to do something that other people would find horribly offensive.

I'm sorry if that's offensive. But that's all I'm sorry for.

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"We're sorry. We made a mistake." == taking responsibility for what they did.

"We're sorry you feel that way." == passing the responsibility back onto the other person.

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> But that's exactly what they're sorry for. It's not like Dell's going to say "We're sorry we hired a jerk." That implies that they meant to hire a jerk.

Say what? That doesn't imply that at all. It implies they made an error of judgement, be it due to poor due diligence, a misperception of what is appropriate, weighing the options between "controversy" and "politically correct" and falling too far to the one side, and so on. It has nothing to do with intent, it has to do with making an error and telling your customers/audience that you learned from the error and will not make a similar one in the future.

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Then it's not enough. If they aren't sorry for blatant sexism (despite Dell global policies) then they should be. And if they aren't they should lose sales. IMHO :-)

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What would be the better apology? Giving one million dollars to everyone in the audience, for mental pain inflicted?

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Might be liability, but it seems like PR flacks tend to also work for politicians who have a long history of not actually apologizing.

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I do think it is the correct response to nutjobs - so whenever I see this, I read it as a statement that the company is REALLY saying "I disagree with your points completely: still, I would prefer if you weren't offended right now!"

If a nutjob were to tell you, "Hey gfodor, your comment is extremely offensive to those of us working in public relations. We're the people who are actually trying to placate the population, yet you paint us as disingenuous, calculating, and shallow. Even though we have NO other job than to placate the public after we mess up. That's the ONE THING we do. How can you be so offensive to us?"

Then the proper response would be "Well, I'm very sorry if you are offended. I do like companies to take genuine corrective action, and any company that has public relations employees who make true apologies out of regret for the hurt and other negative effects they have caused, especially if these people also have enough power and will within the organization to effect policies to ensure the company can't do such a thing in the future, is a company that I support."

see, the nutjob was completely misreading you. You don't have to apologize to them.

This is the CORRECT use for "Well, I'm sorry you feel this way." It means you disagree, but still, would prefer the other side see things correctly. You care about them, but you stand by your actions.

In summary, I completely agree with you. But given the number of nutjobs out there, sometimes a nutjob-placating response is appropriate. Whenever I see nutjobs attacking a company for completely stupid reasons, I am glad to see this response trotted out. In the present instance, like you, I am not happy to see it.

Also, if an intelligent person uses this formula with me, "I'm sorry you feel this way" it means that they are interested in my understanding and feelings, and interested in talking about why I feel this way, but feel that they are justified (without crossing their arms and lifting their chin about it). This is very valuable feedback, and can open the dialogue to where either I or this person modifies their view. It's a lot better than just shutting down or blindly apologizing! No one should apologize 'genuinely' just to placate people, if they feel they did the right thing. They should at least give the reasons for their actions. On the other hand, if they know they did do the wrong thing, then they should take responsibility for it.

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It's either 100% lack of spine or 100% no clue.

Look at how well startups apologise when they get things wrong compared to long-established companies. They admit wrong and seek to put things right as soon as they are called on it. This is not just good PR: It's good morality, but it takes backbone.

Startups, though, are still run by their founders: people who know what they started their company to achieve and what moral code they were determined to adhere to while they achieved it…

…Dell on the other hand is, these days, run by some guy called "Michael Dell". Oh. Hang on.

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I've been on hacker news long enough to know that many startups are just as bad at apologizing. Some established companies are very good making things right. I don't think you can generalize so easily.

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Just to give a short recap of who this Mads Christensen guy is, coming from a Dane:

His tag line is "Denmarks big show-off" and he basically markets himself as a provocative bragging show-off, always with the rolexes, sports cars, slick hair and better-than-thy appearance.

He's not perceived as a comedian but rather as an entertainer hired for various corporate events - some obviously less successful than others.

Unless this was booked by Dell US without doing any kind of checkup, they would've been aware what would be coming. He's knowing for his provocative presentations and I have a hard time seeing exactly how a Danish Dell branch would find it appropriate or interesting to book Mads Christensen. If they wanted stand-up comedy we've got lots of skilled comedians. Mads Christensen is not in that line of work.

To be fair I don't think Mads Christensen personally believes what he presents on stage. It's the persona he's built up. Not that that makes it better in this scenario, just so flak is directed where it's most appropriate - Dell, and especially whoever made the decision to book him.

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So this would be the equivalent of someone complaining about a popular US comedian well known for making racist jokes?

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He is not a comedian, more like a fashion, lifestyle and relationship expert. When he says that men should learn to say "shut up, bitch" it is not intended as a joke but as legitimate relationship advice. His viewpoints are well known, and Dell got exactly what they could expect. What is surprising is that Dell thinks this kind of relationship-advice is appropriate entertainment for a business conference.

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Sounds like he's basically a professional douchebag-for-hire.

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I wouldn't go as far as saying he's explicitly known for making racist jokes. He is however known for (and markets himself as) being politically incorrect - which may very well include both racism and chauvinism.

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He did get into trouble for saying that "some negroes do look like monkeys" on national radio. But generally he is more known for controversial relationship advice and armchair heroics.

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There was also that controversy last year when he said Breivik would've killed fewer people if Scandinavians weren't so passive, and were more willing to fight like Americans. I'm surprised that after that kind of press, corporations wouldn't steer clear...

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Rumor has it that Rickles is still doing the occasional corporate gig...

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Sounds some what like a corporate Tucker Max. (Well, before his recent repentance.)

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Are we talking about the same Mads who created BlogEngine.Net?

Just curious? I would hope not, but if so, my entire image of him got thrown out the door.

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We are not, completely unrelated. The surnames are spelled differently too - Christensen (show-off) vs. Kristensen (BlogEngine).

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Thanks for that.

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Most likely not.

Mads Christensen is kinda the danish equivalent of John Smith

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Thank you, I was wondering where I had heard the name before.

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So he's basically the Danish Tucker Max?

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Like a non-political Rush Limbaugh?

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More like Glenn Beck.

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So he's a Danish Sacha Baren Cohen? (Borat, etc)

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No, Borat etc. are clearly acts separate from Cohen. Christensen is not an actor, he believes what he says, although he uses exaggeration to get his point across.

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This is beyond disgusting. How did the people in the room not simply walk out?

ETA: Scripts are good for these things. It's difficult, in the shock and confusion of the moment, to decide what to do. So, here's one script. When you're in a presentation, and a speaker starts talking like this (or talking about "gang-bang interviews" or whatever else) you stand quietly, and you leave. You tweet what happened. If there isn't a clear apology (and we haven't heard one from Dell yet) you don't attend the conference the following year. This is how we, as a community, communicate to one another what kind of behavior is and is not acceptable.

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After a recent experience of being confronted with sexism and, ultimately, not handling it how I feel like I should have, I think this is a really good idea. Having a script (or at least thinking about what I would do, in advance) would've made a big difference.

A lot of the time, our natural response is to freeze or act as if it didn't happen, and that's not ok. Raging on twitter after the fact is not nearly as effective as direct and immediate feedback.

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I don't think leaving and tweeting about how you feel is a very useful response. It could lead to a form of evaporative cooling[1] and cause the behavior of the group to worsen. It may be better to put pressure on the group to change. Find someone who is in charge and complain about the behavior you find inappropriate and encourage other people who find the behavior inappropriate to complain as well.

[1] http://lesswrong.com/lw/lr/evaporative_cooling_of_group_beli...

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Picture this if you will:

Half way through Mads Christensen's 'spot/tirade' Michael Dell walks onto the stage carrying a microphone. Mad's microphone goes dead. "Well Mads, I know we (Dell) asked you to come along and speak today" says Michael "but your views about women are very, very wrong. They don't represent my views, the views of my company, and they have no place at this conference. We're going to have a 15-minute impromptu Q&A with Nicolai Moresco while I make sure the PR people who invited Mads here today never receive another cent from Dell, and then I'll host the panel. I'm deeply sorry for this mistake."

Michael Dell stamps his authority on things, shows leadership, puts forward a positive message, guaranteed to be a memorable moment/talking point with attendees rather than some the usual bland corporate crap. Wouldn't the world be a lot better if there was more of this?

Once when I was a kid the TV station (Channel 9 in Australia) ran a show with some highly questionable content. I was a kid so I didn't see it but from what I gather it was pretty base. Half way through the show the guy running it (Graham Kennedy I think) came out and said Kerry Packer (who owned the 9 network) had called up and cancelled the show. I didn't/don't care much for Kerry Packer, but I remember thinking at the time that this was a classy move.

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Was the show you were wathching "Australia's Naughties Home Videos"? I know that was cancelled half way through it's first episode by the network owner.

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If only it were Home and Away...

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Yes, I think so.

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Yes. The story is that Kerry Packer, who used to actually watch the shows his network put to air, started watching it and after about 5 minutes and a number of segments of animals fornicating called the night shift operator and said "Get this shit off the air!". After which the Channel 9 logo graphics appeared, then it went to an ad break, after which they aired a rerun of Cheers.

The host was Doug Mulray, who was fired the very next day and who said on his radio show that "I am the first man in Australian history to be pulled off by Kerry Packer". I doubt that Graham Kennedy would ever have put his name to the show.

Sadly, after his death, someone decided that it would be a good idea to actually air the show. It wasn't as bad as Packer said. It was worse.

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Thanks for the clarification Chris. As I said, I didn't watch the show. Apologies to Graham Kennedy for confusing him with Doug Mulray.

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I agree. I cannot see why he did not do this, as not doing it implies that he's really just a shadow of his former self...

Sad, really.

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Where you there at the show? Is this whole thing being overblown?

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I'll keep an open mind about the company for now, because I've not found their side of the story (this occurred a few weeks ago), but Michael Dell should personally and sincerely apologize for his company. This doesn't match at all what I have long understood to be their internal culture.

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That's my feeling too. It's plausible that Dell outsourced the entertainment to a local Danish agency of some sort, and that to Dell it just looked like "Mads something, some Danish comedian". Although Mads Christensen is vaguely notorious in Denmark (for multiple things), afaict this is the first incident that actually made the English-language media, so you'd have to read Danish (or ask someone) to know who he was previously. Though whoever in Denmark recommended/booked him certainly knew who they were booking. Possibly Dell should've exercised a bit more control over the program. Definitely should've reacted more emphatically, though it's not too late to say something now.

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If this is true, how were people not walking out?

“The IT business is one of the last frontiers that manages to keep women out. The quota of women to men in your business is sound and healthy” he says. “What are you actually doing here?” he adds to the few women who are actually present in the room.

Are you kidding me?

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Honestly to me that sounds like a sarcastic joke. Surely he can't be serious. Regardless, that kind of "comedy" is wholly inappropriate for a corporate event.

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The fact that nearly everyone there was an employee might have something to do with it.

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Although Michael Dell is ultimately responsible, I think the blame here lies squarely with Dell's Danish office.

Dealing with cultural differences is a minefield for multinationals. To take an extreme example - imagine running a similar event in Kyrgyzstan, where the rural population has a charming tradition of kidnapping teenage girls and forcing them into marriage. Reckon a local MC there would be a pillar of progressive commentary?

One reason that Dell has regional offices is precisely to avoid offending the local population. If the Danish CEO said “To stay within code of conduct I don’t want to comment on what you just said. But you did a good job” then he should be harshly sanctioned and possibly fired. If he isn't called to account, well that is Michael Dell's responsibility.

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In the danish version of the article (http://elektronista.dk/socialt/dress-code-blat-slips-og-mand...) there are some comments from people from Dell who was present. Most of them disparage the journalist for not getting the joke, and several finish with a witty "Shut up bitch" (the journalist is a woman), echoing what MC said in the show.

Several commenters underline that it was only comedy and not intended to be taken seriously - and noting that it is typical for women not to be able to take a joke and overreact and play the victim and wanting special treatment.

So I don't know if Dell have a culture of misogyny, but they clearly have their share of stupidity.

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I'll keep an open mind about the company for now

Seems like a sound approach. The whole thing was a surreal read; something has got to be afoot.

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Part of that might be a bad translation.

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I read the Danish version -- it did not provide any substantial new information, so I doubt it was the bad translation, (I am a native Dane, so I would properly have spottet it if this was supposed to be a joke).

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Review:

Christensen is the best speaker I've ever heard, a paragon of equality. After hearing his deeply enlightened views on women in the workplace, my whole perspective on hiring and employee management changed. Absolutely recommended five stars A++.

XKCD: http://xkcd.com/958/

EDIT: Let this be a lesson to other companies out there, vet the people you book for...anything.

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Humor, irony, and subtlety, even with the xkcd link, are generally lost on the HN crowd.

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It's funny because that comment shifts every half an hour or so between getting a few upvotes and then getting a few downvotes.

Even if I end up with some downvotes in the end it's worth it just to watch the lovers and haters contest each other.

EDIT: It's too bad people can't leave a reason for up/down voting, it would be interesting to see weather people actually think I believe that, or if they just didn't think it was funny.

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I'm staying neutral on this one, but I can imagine that may people don't think this comment contributes much to thoughtful discussion of the topic. Promoting these comments, or even not downvoting them creates a culture where these comments become accepted. I can see a comment like this (if upvoted) easily starting one of those "pun trains" commonly seen on reddit.

I don't see anything specifically wrong with the ironic humor of the comment, HN does need to lighten up sometimes, but if we let one of these get upvoted... it will only lead to many more by precedent. The line has to be drawn somewhere. I personally wouldn't want to see a HN where each topic has 10+ "witty/ironic/humorous" comments. I go to reddit for that.

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>I can see a comment like this (if upvoted) easily starting one of those "pun trains" commonly seen on reddit.

It actually did, there's a copycat at the bottom of the page. Which I downvoted.

I actually felt bad about that aspect. A joke told twice or more is spam IMO. And while good natured spam is fine on Reddit as you say, on HN it dilutes the signal to noise ratio.

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Your comment is at the bottom of a long page, which adds latency to it being reviewed. When it's in the positive it gets downvotes by people who didn't think it was very funny and people who don't want to encourage that kind of joking. When it's negative it gets sympathy upvotes, like the one I just gave you.

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Although I think that XKCD comic is funny, I downvoted you for the reasons makeramen pointed out.

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The crazy part of this is it seems once he started spouting this crap, no-one from Dell pulled him off stage and did any damage control! So people say "let's not judge Dell," etc but we can judge their employees' lack of action.

If someone speaks like this at an event I'm running and I'm within earshot, I'm getting in their face, no matter how famous the speaker. I'd hope other organizers and chairs would act similarly.

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Nearly impossible to read that article with that stupid bar thing hanging over the text on the left side.

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I hate these. Who wouldn't.

Firefox: View/Page Style/No Style turns the page into plain, readable text.

Think of all the effort someone went through, to take perfectly good content and deface it.

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I had to click back to the site after reading your comment, as I didn't even notice it, so YMMV.

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Eh, that's one of the less offensive ones I've encountered. Narrower than most, and not animated.

edit: oh, it's just a bit buggy. make your window narrower, and it disappears :) that makes it way better than most I've seen.

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http://i.imgur.com/nw6TM.png

That's what it looks like to me with my browser maximized. How people design things like this and don't do a quick check to make sure it works well for different reasonable browser window dimensions is beyond me.

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I employ the 'readable' bookmarklet for situations like this. http://readable.tastefulwords.com/

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Yeah, that's what I eventually ended up doing. I only bothered to turn on my bookmark toolbar and use it in this case though because I had a particularly strong interest in reading this article. In most other cases I would have passed it by.

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Did you try making it narrower? It hides the floaty sidebar thing when the window is narrower than the main page content.

Totally unintuitive, but better than leaving it there, which is what most sites do.

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Actually impossible when you want to zoom in, because the text is fairly small.

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Wait, so is he a comedian MC'ing the event? If it's a roast or something, and he's poking at the fact that there's not a lot of women in tech:

The IT business is one of the last frontiers that manages to keep women out. The quota of women to men in your business is sound and healthy

As in, what are you guys doing to cause not a lot of women to be in IT. It's almost as if there's a quota!

If that's the case it's still terrible and tasteless, but at least sort of comprehendible. If he's serious and those are his actual beliefs, the situation is so far outside the range of reasonable corporate behavior, I don't know what to think. I'm just perplexed, really.

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He is not a comedian but kind of a pundit and lifestyle expert. He sincerely believes women are getting stronger and more successful than men, and men have to fight back. For the sake of entertainment he presents his viewpoints in an over-the-top and exaggerated manner, so it is hard to say how much is serious and how much is hyperbole.

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He's an act, the similar manner Christopher Hitchens was about religion and Jeremy Clarkson is about cars. Not that they are fakers, but their presentations are intentionally over the top and insensitive to arouse interest and entertain the audience.

Danish Dell fucked up this time. This is really not the kind of PR Dell can afford to receive.

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I don't recall Hitch ever being "over the top" about religion -- he simply called spades spades.

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... did this seriously happen? How absurd that in 2012, people with hateful viewpoints such as these are given the stage.

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It's mind boggling that this could happen. And that when it happened no one did anything. Why wasn't this person booed off the stage?

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Chock can do that -- and somebody has to be the first guy to get up, which can be quite scary.

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Dell really should just liquidate and give the money to the shareholders.

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Someone needs to be fired. Preferably the Danish CEO of Dell.

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I am quite lacking words here. Not that some people believe this -- some people hates Jews, so why not women -- but that they would him on stage.

The only guess I can come up with is that we currently, or until very recently, had politicians with power in the government who wanted quotas for the number of females in the boards of companies. This may be what he referes to when he talks about having a nice female ratio.

What gets me though is that usually US companies go way too far on the other side on the PC issues like this.

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Unreal.

It's especially brutal that people involved in tech believe they're changing ("improving") the world yet decide gender determines skill.

What really matters: the people without prejudice - who will hire/work with talented engineers regardless of gender or race - will have an advantage via a larger talent pool.

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While some might say I've missed the point of the article for making the following comment, I think it's somewhat relevant to the whole concept of the author's argument:

USE SPELLCHECK.

I don't disagree with the sentiments of the author. The tech industry is one that is very much male dominated, and one where women are very much underrepresented. Some of the brightest people I have worked with in my time in the tech field have been women, and I welcome the opportunity to work with them; or anyone regardless of race, creed, color, background or sex, as long as they're intelligent and can do their job and do it well.

But when I read something put up for public display on a high-traffic blog such as this, and the author forgets to use spell check... I can't help but point it out.

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"You're getting a Dell, dude."

I guess that was a typo, one too many commas.

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And it was "dude, you're getting a Dell"

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I wanted to read this, but the gigantic pop-up won't let me on my tablet. Oh well, now I don't.

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That page had a totally obnoxious in-page pop-up which half-loaded and took a full 15 seconds to load all the parts (background image of popup and importantly the close button).

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I know it's fashionable to have a knee jerk reaction and not actually check backstory etc, but just quietly. http://www.madschristensen-foredrag.dk/mc/Aktuelt-og-media This guy is clearly a comedian / over the top on purpose, to say that he actually genuinely believes the purposefully crafted bullshit on display in this particular article is to say that Les Patterson from Australia actually thinks that it's appropriate to be a permanent drunken idiot, or Guido Hatzis http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=domXumvTVI8 really thinks everything he says.

Actually, do US comedians have this brand of self deprecating over the top humor? Nothing springs to mind, perhaps this is why it doesn't translate well?

As to whether the choice of this guy was appropriate? Different question but even there you'd need to assume that the audience wouldn't "get" that this was all an act and honestly felt insulted by it. I guess it's already clear they've misjudged their audience but it maybe wasn't so obvious beforehand that this would actually be the result?

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Here's the thing: it's not humour. It's misogyny thinly dressed as an "edgy" dig so that anyone who protests can be deflected with this sort of defence. It's a tried and true technique to broadcast bigotry and slander with a wink and a nudge.

I'm not saying you agree with his sentiments, but I am saying that it's not ok to say "it's just a joke". And it's not ok for Dell to let him continue to moderate their conference - even if they didn't realise what they were getting into, they should have removed him at the first sign things were not as they seemed.

PS we have very different definitions of 'self-deprecating'.

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> PS we have very different definitions of 'self-deprecating'.

It's self deprecating when you make ridiculously over the top statements about how awesome you are because it makes you look like an idiot. That old "I'm a pretty big deal around here" chestnut.

It is humour, whether or not it is taken as such is a different issue, when Bill Hicks gets up on stage and repeatedly tells people in advertising to kill themselves, he's not actually serious. Some might take that seriously but he's a comedian and it's humor.

If an advertising exec is heinously offended that he was just repeatedly directly told he ought to kill himself because he will never amount to anything or accomplish anything good in his life, does that mean that it wasn't humor?

You may well have a point about the venue potentially being inappropriate for this kind of thing, however to actually take the content of the comedy literally and seriously and be offended by it is just completely missing the point.

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> "It is humour, whether or not it is taken as such is a different issue, when Bill Hicks gets up on stage and repeatedly tells people in advertising to kill themselves, he's not actually serious. Some might take that seriously but he's a comedian and it's humor."

Firstly, the standard of conduct for the moderator of a corporate event is not the same as for a comedian working his routine in a club.

Secondly, Bill Hicks used outrageous punch-lines to underscore a biting social commentary to his paying audience. This guy used weak jokes to push misogyny onto a captive audience. I'm pretty sure Bill Hicks would have been less than impressed with you equating the two.

> "however to actually take the content of the comedy literally and seriously and be offended by it is just completely missing the point."

This is more misdirection ("oh, I didn't literally mean it, lighten up - I suggest you read this: http://therealkatie.net/blog/2012/mar/21/lighten-up/). I take the intent of the message seriously, and I find it offensive. It is not missing the point, but until you recognise the directly destructive effect of telling women they shouldn't even be there, even in jest, from the pulpit, you will won't get it either.

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"This guy was not funny" is a different criticism to "This guy engaged in straightfaced serious misogynistic commentary" is a different criticism to "This guy should not have been hired for this particular venue".

The only thing I have a problem with is the statement "This guy engaged in straightfaced serious misogynistic commentary". And that is a large portion of the criticism here, it's missing the point.

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It's hard to be sure without a full transcript, but there doesn't seem to have been any actual humor. Or plausible attempt at humor. Just serious sexism in a flippant tone.

Why would people laugh at this? There are three possibilities:

* Classic Flippancy: The idea of women outside the kitchen is absurd to the point of humor.

* Self-Parody: This level of sexism is absurd, and we're laughing at the character with the microphone. This is Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat" schtick and it's very hard to pull off because of Poe's Law.

* Commonality/Relief: This is what we've all been thinking but can't say because of the PC police. It's such a relief to be in a safe space where we can say it. This is the how most "observational humor" functions.

Options 1 and 3 are seriously misogynistic even (especially) if the audience laughs.

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I agree, I am just saying it's abundantly clear that it's option 2. Look at the guy's website if nothing else.

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> "This guy engaged in straightfaced serious misogynistic commentary" is a different criticism to "This guy should not have been hired for this particular venue".

Actually, in this case, in America, the former implies the latter. This kind of rhetoric simply isn't appropriate in this kind of venue, whether it's meant comedically or not.

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After reading the chain of comments above, I can't help but find your comment inappropriate.

A) Someone gave a back story, that this guys is a actually a comedian. Do I get upset when a comedian makes fun of fat people? No, whether people laugh or not, it is quite obvious that it was a joke. Granted, it sounds like this guy was not funny despite females getting tossed under the proverbial bus, leading to point

B) When its your company you can choose which ever speaker you like. Until then, your just going to have to settle with your opinion, which is frankly is neither relevant nor funny.

And not a fuck was given.

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It's amusing to me that you construe my comment as inappropriate, but not this guy telling a room full of technical conference goers to tell their wives "Shut up, bitch!" I haven't even use a swear word yet.

Of course this comic has the right to say this. Of course the company has a right to hire him. What I'm saying is that, in America, if a company did this, they would face the consequences. If people are offended because your company appears to support misogyny, you will lose business and "but he's a comedian!" will not suffice as an apology. At least, if you have been projecting an image of corporate neutrality. I suppose if your brand identity is, we're a bunch of brogrammer morons, it probably would help your image. But we're not talking about a company like that, we're talking about Dell.

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The first two sentences of your comment are unrelated to the rest.

The "I'm a pretty big deal" thing is just a joke. A lot of the greats have spun bits around it over the years (I think Steve Martin is among the best). That is exactly 0 defense for encouraging a room full of business people to say "Shut up bitch" or asking the (few) women in the room what business they have being there.

To say that it's inappropriate doesn't begin to cover it. Have some empathy for the women in that room and those in our industry.

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It's humor, but I'm pretty sure Bill Hicks was being serious about people in advertising killing themselves.

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Nitpicking/clarifying a little bit:

"It's self deprecating when you make ridiculously over the top statements about how awesome you are because it makes you look like an idiot."

Usually self-deprecating humor has to be a little more direct to be called such. Conan O'Brien is an good example. Acting ridiculous is a different kind of humor if even if it does make you look like an ass.

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It is not an act. He is not a stand-up comedian or actor, he is a writer of self-help books about lifestyle and relationships.

He uses exaggeration, hyperbole and humor to get his point across, but he do actually sincerely believe the core of his message, and his show is intended as a pep-talk to men to help them "be real men", and stand op to the women who is pushing them around.

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I'm pretty sure Andrew Dice Clay will not be on stage at WWDC.

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Thank you, I've been struggling to remember his name since I heard about this! That sounds like exactly what this would be like.

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Well, Dell is getting plenty of PR out of this, so congrats to the people who hired the Danish version of Andrew 'Dice' Clay.

Little miss muffet, sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider, who sat down beside her, and said, "What are all these bitches doing in Information Technology! Eyyyyy!"

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Well, Dell is getting plenty of PR out of this, so congrats to the people who hired the Danish version of Andrew 'Dice' Clay.

Little miss muffet, sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider, who sat down beside her, and said, "What are all these bitches doing in Information Technology!" Eyyyyy!

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If Dell are going to pull this kind of shit then don't buy things from Dell.

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