Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Rumor Cascade

For lots of people, the world is simply going the wrong way. They are “being denied” the power and lifestyle that they always assumed were their entitlement. Populism was born in those feelings. My fascination with populism and how it has found traction within established democracies in the last 100 years is scattered all over many of my recent blogs. This political reaction to displacement, the resulting shift cultural and economic power away from traditional incumbents to cultural relative newcomers and super-elites, has challenged governments, constitutional barriers and standards of moral propriety the world over. At the core of such populism: wild swings to the right, conspiracy theories, intentional disenfranchisement of the newbies and the willingness of radical incumbents to do “whatever it takes” to restore their economic and political power and purge those whom they perceive are their “displacers.”
The biggest driver fostering populism during this period has been the use of fake news. It starts out with demagoguery, strong voices lashing out at scapegoats, manufacturing the existence of credible but false “evil” forces in order to create a cohesive group reaction to “fight back.” Fake news builds on itself, until it overwhelms. The demagogues become the leaders. For successful populists, not only is fake news the new normal for their followers, but ultimately contradictory truth is universally condemned, often to the point that the genuine truth tellers are derided and, in extreme cases, purged. Loyalty, patriotism and, eventually, legality itself are increasingly defined by the fever and willingness of citizens to accept the new mythology as the only truth. Adolph Hitler’s rise to power and vicious rule toe the line of this vision of populism right down into the smallest details, a clear if extreme example.
But the tools of populism equally reflect the times. Hitler probably could not have risen to power without radio. Today, it’s social media and digital communications, enhanced by segments of traditional media that have discovered the mass appeal of supporting the retro-populist movement. For those building their “truth” on “information” that resonates with their cause, assuming that anything that supports their vision of the world must be “true,” they are particularly vulnerable to the dissemination of fake news. The more they build that vision on fake news, the more their world is predicated on a complex nexus of falsehoods, the more they are inclined to “dig in” (“double down”) and defend their mythology with a passion that suggests how important that “structure of falsehoods” is sacred to their view of the world. Sprinkle in religion and the demand of religious leaders invoking “God,” and the results simply intensify.
This may explain the “why” such beliefs are so passionately held, and why, for example, intelligent people can deny man-induced climate change despite a near unanimous scientific consensus and popular opinion from virtually the entire rest of the world to the contrary. Contradictory factual information, to passionate mythologists who believe their very survival is conditioned on the “truth” of their mythology, is itself simply dismissed as biased fake news disseminated by their enemies. But beyond the “why” is the “how.”
A recent study from MIT explains how fake news explodes in a modern era. Russian media manipulators certainly inculcated a litany of carefully-crafted social media posts and email blasts into the fake-news-mythology-craving segment of the population, using commonly-available online sentiment-tracking to tailor messages for those most susceptible to a particular prejudice, bias or mythology. The notion that “I saw this in writing” justification for believing a falsehood seems to be at the core of why the Russian effort found traction, but this automated “bot” effort is not what created that tsunami of disinformation that spread so virulently into the right-wing consciousness. It is the propensity of those finding those false facts, attaching their names to the disinformation, and retransmitting that information to their connected network that defines the success of such populist media communications.
The March 16th Los Angeles Times explains: A new scientific analysis offers proof of something that social media acolytes have known for years: Twitter is an excellent platform for spreading actual news… Unfortunately, the analysis shows, it’s even better at spreading fake news.
Compared with tweets about claims that were verifiably true, tweets about claims that were undeniably false were 70% more likely to be retweeted in the Twitterverse. And false claims about politics spread further than any other category of news in the analysis.
A team of data scientists and social media experts from MIT came to these conclusions after examining the spread of thousands of tweets shared by millions of people over 12 years. The findings were reported last week in the journal Science.
‘Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information,’ wrote Soroush Vosoughi and Deb Roy of the MIT Media Lab and Sinan Aral of MIT’s Sloan School of Management… ‘It took the truth about six times as long as falsehood to reach 1,500 people,’ the trio added… The researchers considered ‘news’ to be ‘any asserted claim made on Twitter’ expressed in words, a photo or a link to a full article.
Thanks to politicians, the term ‘fake news’ now means information that does not support one’s point of view. The researchers made a point of avoiding this phrase. Instead, they categorized news as either ‘true’ or ‘false.’ A tweet labeled ‘false’ doesn’t imply that the writer is trying to pull a fast one. It only means that the claim is inaccurate… When any type of news claim spreads on Twitter, it becomes a ‘rumor.’
The pattern by which a tweet spreads is a ‘rumor cascade.’ If a tweet is retweeted 10 times in an unbroken chain, it is a cascade with a size of 10. If two people tweet the same news and each of those tweets is retweeted five times in an unbroken chain, we have two rumor cascades, each of size five..
Vosoughi, Roy and Aral used this framework to map the spread of information on Twitter since its creation in 2006 through last year… They mapped out every rumor cascade rooted by a claim that had been fact-checked by snopes.com, politifact.com , factcheck.org , truthorfiction.com , hoax-slayer.com or urbanlegends.about.com. They wound up with roughly 126,000 rumor cascades…
Rumor cascades based on true news rarely spread to more than 1,000 people. But at least 1% of rumor cascades based on false news did this routinely… In the top 0.01% of both true and false rumor cascades, the false ones ‘diffused eight hops deeper into the Twittersphere than the truth.’
False news was more likely to be ‘viral.’ So not only were the retweet chains longer, but they were more likely to branch off into new chains… Rumor cascades about politics outnumbered those of all other topics, including urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment and natural disasters. The news that ultimately spread the most concerned politics, urban legends and science.
False news about politics spread to 20,000 people almost three times more quickly than any other kind of false news reached 10,000 people… Compared with people who spread true news, users who spread false news were newer to Twitter, had fewer followers, followed fewer people and were less active with the platform.
The researchers believe false news has more novelty, making it more surprising and more valuable — and more likely to be retweeted… They figured this out by studying a random selection of about 25,000 tweets seen by 5,000 people and comparing their content with the other tweets those people would have seen in the previous 60 days. They also examined the emotional content of replies to these tweets and found that false tweets prompted greater feelings of surprise and disgust. (True tweets generated replies expressing sadness and trust.)… “‘False news spreads farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it,’ the trio wrote.
Add this to the propensity of first impressions to retain sticky credibility, even if the recipient is convinced later that the information was false, and you can fully appreciate how populism grows merely by raising that mythology about all else. To the extent that mainstream media, like Fox News and conservative radio, join the fray, they are containing their most valuable advertising and subscriber base by supporting what their viewers/listener want to hear… and what they do not want to hear.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the ability of the purveyors of false mythologies to create such societal “truth” is and has been the biggest threat to the viability of democracy – where freedom to speak is at the core of the underlying value chain – since that political philosophy was first implemented.

Monday, March 19, 2018

It Just Won’t Go Away

American liberals and moderates are increasingly of the belief that Donald Trump and his populist mix of disgruntled blue collar workers, angry evangelicals and alt-right sympathizers are a short term phenomenon. Surely as Trump fails to deliver the kinds of seminal changes he promised, as the rich get much richer and those blue collar jobs continue to dry up and blow away, as evangelicals watch a profane-laced bully deal with his womanizing past, as environmental realities rip through farm states and coastal communities alike, populism and its brother Trumpism will lose all credibility, they believe. And while Mr. Trump might indeed be relegated to a single term, as the possibility of a shift of control in either of the two houses of Congress could well be the result of the November mid-terms, if recent history is any judge, populism will hang on like a bad case of herpes… for a very long time.
Modern polarization-driven populism, angry people watching their values and cultural/racial dominance while a younger, tech-savvy and globally-connected “majority of minorities” slowly takes their place at the helm of democracies the world over, is not going to dissipate anytime soon. Regardless of any seeming shift of power, those disenfranchised and displaced populist-millions are very like to continue to lose ground to the “rest.” They are hardly just going to fold their tents, put their tails between their legs, assuming that they do in fact lose political control, and go away. That they are well-armed here in the United States adds another ugly NRA-versus-gun-control dynamic that should give us all pause.
The war between Donald Trump and California is the symbolic epicenter of the American populist struggle today. Trump lost the state by 4.3 million votes in November. California is profoundly diversified, significantly reflective of that power shift Trump’s base fears and hates most, a region that is deeply reflective of that “majority of minorities’” values, with a powerful Latino influence up and down the entire state. Therein lie the 3 million “fraudulent undocumented voters” Trump tells the world that “illegally” cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton. California is where those voters live. And California looks like what Trump’s base fears the United States could become.
If Europe is any metric for us, all those recently defeated populist movements are coming back in droves. Alt-right candidates are finding their way into parliaments where they were rejected just a few years ago. You can write that off as Malthusian overpopulation meets global warming meets battles for dwindling resources… or you can just look at the trends as reflective of society’s that just have not figured out how to take of the “casualties of change,” folks progress has simply left behind.
Italy’s Sylvio Berlusconi was a Machiavellian populist leader, like Trump a billionaire business tycoon with a notorious drive for the sexually inappropriate. Berlusconi controlled most of Italy’s broadcast media and, like Trump, loved insulting his opponents and taking outrageous stands on issues that resonated with those left behind in the massive tech-driven socio-economic changes that particularly devastated Italy’s working classes. His political clout seemed to be at an end in November of 2011. Convicted of corruption, Berlusconi was no longer allowed personally to run for political office, but his political leadership behind the scenes was the driving force behind Italy’s recent move-severely-to-the-right election, seizing on his nation’s rising antipathy for those migrant people of color escaping wars and famine in Africa and the Middle East.  Many had hoped that Berlusconi’s demise in 2011 was also the demise of destructive Italian populism.
“Less than seven years on, that hope is demolished. In last weekend’s elections, Berlusconi’s party made an unlikely comeback, taking enough of the vote to make him a kingmaker once again. Worse, during the years of his absence, his style of politics proliferated well beyond his party. In fact, two other populist movements eclipsed him this time: the far-right League, which combines his hostility to democratic institutions with a far more radical brand of xenophobia, and the ideologically amorphous Five Star Movement, which attacks the corruption of mainstream parties and promises a new form of democracy, but is itself run in a highly opaque manner. Between them, these populist movements took nearly two-thirds of the vote.
“Populism, it turns out, has staying power. As Berlusconi’s resurgence shows, the assumption that it somehow leaves the political stage when its most prominent practitioner is repudiated at the polls, or even punished in a court of law (as Berlusconi was), is wrong. The lesson applies outside Italy, too — and that matters for the battle against President Trump, the scandal-plagued billionaire whose brash political rhetoric against elites across the ideological spectrum resembles that of Berlusconi. Recent cases from Poland to Thailand demonstrate that populists often prove more resilient than expected. Even when they appear to be thoroughly discredited, populists can pull off surprising comebacks or pass the baton to relatives and political allies. Even when they lose elections, they can continue to sow chaos and instability. And even when a particular populist movement crumbles, other politicians can build on its success. If Americans want to defend not just against Trump’s attacks on institutions like the FBI and the Justice Department, but also against the larger danger to constitutional government he represents, we first need to understand how populism has survived — and even spread — in other countries.
“Poland is a good example. When the Law and Justice party under the leadership of twins Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski first took power in 2005, observers were alarmed by its extreme rhetoric and apparent hostility to the country’s core political institutions. But the government proved to be chaotic and ineffective. After losing its main coalition partner less than two years after taking office, the party had to face new elections — and was banished into opposition.
“For eight years, Poland went back to being relatively stable. Thanks to a highly competent government, the country barely suffered during the Great Recession. But many voters were frustrated with the prominent role that some former communists continued to play, afraid of rapid cultural change in a country long dominated by Catholicism and livid at a series of corruption scandals. In 2015, they gave Law and Justice another chance, and the party used it to full effect: Having learned from its previous mistakes, it has, this time around, proved much more effective both at delivering big handouts to its core supporters and in undermining democratic institutions. The party has given many Polish families a monthly subsidy of $150 per child, after the first one; turned Poland’s state broadcasters into purveyors of government propaganda; and crippled the independence of the country’s courts.” Washington Post, March 9th.
As the Post suggests, you can see it in Thailand, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Hungary. As well as the United States. Even as Marine Le Pen was soundly defeated by France’s Emmanuel Macron in the recent election, she continues to lead an effort to reconfigure her own party, even to the extent of ousting her own father (Jean-Marie) to make her platform more palatable to more voters. Her “far-right National Front definitively severed its ties to firebrand founder Jean-Marie Le Pen on Sunday [3/11], as the nationalist party completes a makeover designed to revive its fortunes after his daughter failed to win the presidency last year.
“Despite her troubles, Marine Le Pen was reelected to a new term as party president at a congress where she was the only candidate for the post. A new leadership structure and 100-member governing council were also named.
“The anti-immigrant party won a boost from a guest appearance at the congress Saturday [3/10] by former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon. He told National Front members that ‘history is on our side.’
“Party members approved new bylaws aimed at restructuring after internal divisions. One of the changes would abolish Jean-Marie Le Pen’s position of party president for life. The party tweeted that more than 79% of participants approved the new statutes… Jean-Marie Le Pen didn’t attend the congress.” Los Angeles Times, March 12th. Populism has terrifying staying power, even if its ugly “tear it all down” mantra threatens the very people it purports to represent.
“[Why] do so many citizens give populists a second chance, even when their flaws are well-known? One answer has to do with the depth of disenchantment with democratic institutions that usually precedes the populists. Since some populists experience a meteoric rise, breaking onto the political scene suddenly, it is tempting to think of the causes of their success as ephemeral. Yet populists in virtually every country have exploited deep social divisions (such as fears about immigration in Europe) and long-standing economic frustrations (such as the vast differences in prosperity between town and country in Thailand). Since these underlying causes are rarely remedied after populists are deposed, it’s not surprising that the same kind of politics can live on.
“Another answer has to do with the way populists destroy the most basic rules and norms of the political system. Leaders’ willingness to signal that their adversaries are legitimate participants in the system, and to respect the sanctity of institutions instead of pressing their partisan advantage to the limit, is largely dependent on the premise that voters would punish them for such transgressions. Italians before Berlusconi and Americans before 2015 assumed that a candidate who attacked the independent judiciary or called for his opponent to be jailed could never garner mass support. Once a ruthless and talented political leader demonstrates that this assumption is mistaken, it becomes more tempting for future politicians to break norms with abandon.” Washington Post.
All the assumptions that modern democracies abhor demagogues have turned out to be false. And unless we address the legitimate complaints of all those “natives” who believe they have lost the political, cultural and economic battles, they will continue to press their populist goals, one way or another, to the detriment of everyone else. Increasingly angry. Increasingly desperate. Increasingly with less to lose. We can address these issues… or continue to watch diehard populists continue to try and tear down the whole structure they believe responsible for their fall from power.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the short-term “I won the last election” gloat from both sides of the aisle does not remotely result in a going-forward sustainable democratic government.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Loose Change, Hard Facts

UCLA Professor, Jared Diamond noted in his seminal Guns, Germs & Steel book that civilization spread east-west, not north south, because sedentary agriculture – that transitional phase of human growth that actually allowed people to stay in one place and develop science, art, philosophy, political systems and complex interrelated economies – flourished only when temperatures were relatively consistent. A seed planted in one venue could easily be planted in land exposed to roughly the same seasonal climate (that’s east or west), but would not geminate in a substantially warmer or colder climate (north-south). That’s just the nature of plants.
Climate has always been a factor in social development… and as another of Mr. Diamond’s books explains, Collapse. With global warming, we are effectively imposing the functional equivalent of that north-south conundrum, but his time it’s the climate pattern, not the people, that is moving.
I’ve certainly blogged about the political ramifications of millions of people rendered homeless on fallow dusty farms, the costs of land mass erosion, fires, flood and mega-storms, but there are the slow changes that will upend all of our economic political assumptions about what we eat, where we live and how we survive. Right here in the United States. We can debate what causes what, but nature could care less. Changes will happen. It’s physics, which is not susceptible to change by reason of human whim. People will die. And life will change… everywhere.
I live in much-maligned California, the most hated state by those most passionate MAGA followers, the bane of red state politicos and the rather unsubtle enemy of Trump administration. We’re a whole lot more than the Silicon Valley or Hollywood. By itself, California is the sixth largest economy in the world and one of America’s most important food producers. Rapidly changing climate patterns are searing into that reality. The dead California orchard pictured above is just the beginning.
Prepare for higher food prices in the near term and severe food shortages in the foreseeable future. Michael Hiltzig, writing for the March 11th Los Angeles Times, explains: “The California we know is the breadbasket of the nation, producing more than two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts, including almonds, pistachios, oranges, apricots, nectarines and prunes, and more than a third of its vegetables, including artichokes, broccoli, spinach and carrots. It’s all valued at more than $50 billion a year.
“That’s the assessment of a recent paper by a University of California team led by Tapan Pathak of UC Merced. But the researchers focused on a different aspect of California agriculture: You can kiss much of it goodbye because of climate change.
“The paper, published in the journal Agronomy last month, is the most thorough review of the literature on the regional impact of climate change in recent memory. It makes grim reading.
“Among the chief manifestations of climate change will be changes in precipitation patterns, leading to more drought and more flooding, and spottier water storage. Generally warmer temperatures, not to mention more frequent and severe heat waves, will reduce yields of wine grapes, strawberries and walnuts; shorter chill seasons will make vast areas no longer suitable for chestnuts, pecans, apricots, kiwis, apples, cherries and pears. Plant diseases and pests will move into regions where they haven’t been a problem before.
“Few crops will escape the dire effects of the transformation. Seasonal chilling is necessary to break some crops out of dormancy and launch pollination and flowering.
“By the end of this century, according to a study cited by the UC paper, the shrinking winter chill period will reduce the acreage of the Central Valley suitable for chestnut, pecan and quince by 22%, and for apricot, peach, nectarine and walnut by more than half. By 2000, only 4% of the Central Valley was suitable for apples, cherries and pears, but none of that will be left by 2060 under almost any climate change scenario.
“Put it all together, and the prospect is for a dramatic change in the mix of California produce and overall output. The UC paper foresees a decline of more than 40% in avocado yields, and as much as 20% in almonds, table grapes, oranges and walnuts. (Wine grape yields will be generally unaffected, but their quality might be compromised.)” Ah, the Mid-Western grain belt is right there with us as well. Red states without sustainable crops? Count on it!
But cutting back on pollution, including releasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and effluents into our public waterways and aquifers favors new forms of business (lacking the equivalent political clout of incumbent mega-industries) that provide green jobs and alternative energy at the expense of big corporate forces that prefer to make their traditional revenue flow without the costs of socially-responsible pollution controls and environmental limitations.
Supporting these business incumbents doesn’t particularly change the number of jobs; it simply favors old world polluting jobs over the growth of new jobs in clean energy and environmentally responsible manufacturing and resource extraction. Even as the Trump administration pulls back the EPA, you will notice that manufacturing and resource extraction are increasingly automated, where a real-job impact (a) is still falling and (b) the highly-paid skillsets are the ones most targeted by this automation effort. Donald Trump has also nixed his own political appointees call to open a formal debate and federal study to settle the (truly non-existent?) climate change dispute as a waste of federal money. He’s right; this dispute was factually settled a long time ago.
But so much of what is happening is so destructive, so contrary to what the majority of Americans really want, that governmental decisions and policies have to be sheltered from public view. Also writing for the March 11th Los Angeles Times, Evan Halper illustrates with a very harsh example: “As Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt jetted around the country last year, regularly flying first or business class at hefty taxpayer expense, his stated mission was often a noble one: to hear from Americans about how Washington could most effectively and fairly enforce the Clean Water Act.
“Yet when Pruitt showed up in North Dakota in August to seek guidance on how to rewrite a landmark Obama-era water protection rule, it was clear there were some voices he did not care to hear… The general public was barred from participating in the roundtable Pruitt presided over at the University of North Dakota. An EPA official even threatened to call security on reporters who tried to linger.
“What happened at the meeting is still a mystery to all but the invitees, a list dominated by industry and Pruitt’s political allies. The same is true of many of the other 16 such roundtables Pruitt held as he developed his plan to weaken a federal rule that protects the drinking water of 117 million Americans.
“Such behind-closed-doors deliberation is a hallmark of the agency under Pruitt, an EPA administrator who spent $25,000 to set up a secure phone booth in his office and said security concerns guided his luxury plane travel. Pruitt’s security detail said flying in coach exposed him to too much interaction with hostile members of the public. Under fire for the costly plane tickets, which were revealed in records obtained by the nonprofit watchdog Environmental Integrity Project, Pruitt said Feb. 28 that he would start trying to fly coach when possible.
“But the buffer Pruitt has created from critics among the public extends beyond his choice of airline seating. It also defines decision making at his agency… Pruitt purged scientists from an independent EPA advisory board that, among other things, rigorously reviewed the science behind President Obama’s water rule and found it to be sound. An EPA regulatory reform task force advising Pruitt on the rollback of clean water and air rules operates largely in the shadows. Pruitt’s advisors ordered economic data that reflected the benefits of Obama’s water rule erased from a key federal report, over the objections of career staffers at the EPA.
“Pruitt rejects any suggestion he is bending the rules. He says the agency is working ‘through the robust public process of providing long-term regulatory certainty across all 50 states about what waters are subject to federal regulation.’… The effort is aimed at removing federal Clean Water Act protection from millions of miles of streams and wetlands, including more than 80% of the waters in California and the arid West. In January, the Trump administration suspended for two years the new guidelines protecting those waters as it scrambles to draft a replacement rule that substantially narrows the reach of the act.
“Pruitt is, indeed, making a robust effort to connect with stakeholders — spending a lot of public dollars along the way. But his audiences are typically handpicked, and almost always industry-friendly.”
Our next collective opportunity to send a message to those in power now will be the November mid-term elections. We have to tilt against a still-significantly-gerrymandered reality in many red states, plus a Citizens United bias that still favor rich business interests over any other voice, but if enough Americans can cut through efforts further to polarize us (hello, Russia) and the reams of truly fake news disseminated by alt-right sympathizers and their enablers, we just might stem the tide of incredibly negative destruction of the air we breathe and the water we drink… perhaps even the productivity of our farms. And then there is the presidential election in 2020. Step by step, we can take our country back… to the betterment of most of us!
I’m Peter Dekom, and “yes we can.”

Saturday, March 17, 2018


We’ve come a long way from the long-since-discontinued Chinese practice of foot-binding for women. “Foot binding was the custom of applying tight binding to the feet of young girls to modify the shape of their feet. It was practiced in China from the Song dynasty [960 – 1270 AD] until the early 20th century, and bound feet were considered a status symbol as well as a mark of beauty [and wealth; servants would do the work]. Foot binding limited the mobility of women, and resulted in lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects, although some women with bound feet working outdoors have also been reported. Feet altered by binding were called lotus feet.” Wikipedia. Walking, to put it mildly, was at best exceptionally difficult. Even for those who survived into the 20th century, corrective surgery was virtually impossible.
Forcing distortions to women’s feet have been pervasively cultural for a long time, but they are often so societally acceptable that people ignore the pain. For example, high heels not only make a shorter woman taller, a tall woman seem “statuesque,” emphasizing a slim ankle and teasing a more slender leg, but they have driven the fashion industry ($$$$$$) for a very long time. Surprisingly, such high heels did not start out as accoutrements for women. They came about as a fashion statement about men who were so successful that they could flash they did not have to cater to practical physical labor requirements. Higher heels, higher stature.
“High heels, in terms of 21st century standards, did not come about until around the 1600s in Europe. Men wore them to imply their upper-class status; only someone who did not have to work could afford, both financially and practically, to wear such extravagant shoes.” Wikipedia. As time progressed men continued with thick clunky heels to reflect status, women adopted the slim, ankle-enhancing version. Heels fell from fashion’s grace in the West for a period during the middle of the 19th century, but they surging came back under the pressure of WWI.
“With the 1900s bringing two devastating world wars, many countries set regulations for rationing almost all aspects of life. This included materials previously used for making heels, such as silk, rubber, or leather; these began to be replaced with cork and wooden soles. Another one of the numerous outcomes of these wars was an increase in international relations, and a more proliferate sharing of fashion through photography and films, which helped spread high heel fashion as well. Examples of this were the brown and white pumps with cutouts or ankle straps combined with a peep toe. Their practicality yet professional look appealed to the new, fast-paced lifestyle of many women.
“Alternatively, World War II led to the popularization of pin-up girl posters, which men would often hang in their bunks while at war. Almost all of these girls were pictured wearing high heels, leading to an increase in the relationship between high heels and female sexuality. The tall, skinny stiletto heel was invented in 1950, strengthening the relationship between women, sexuality, and appearance.” Wikipedia. Today, with a few rare exceptions, high heels remain mostly a female affectation, but as the press for equality moves forward, there are some very real questions, and some surprising recent trends, that suggest a change is… er… afoot.
Let’s face it, in addition to increasingly the likelihood of bad fall (picture a high heel stuck in a sidewalk grate), high heels can cause pain and discomfort, make walking and running that much more difficult and cause serious anatomical damage: “‘From an osteopathic perspective, we’re looking for the body to be centered from head to toe. High heels put the foot at an angle and pull muscles and joints out of alignment, so the effects aren’t limited to the feet,’ Dr. Surve explained. “It’s not unusual for people who spend lots of time in high heels to have low back, neck and shoulder pain because the shoes disrupt the natural form of the body.”
“Structurally, the plantar fascia in the foot is connected to the calf muscle, which in turn connects to the hamstring. The hamstrings attach to the pelvis and low back, which is why wearing high heels can make your back ache along with your feet. Also, walking on the balls of your feet will shift your center of gravity forward, forcing you to arch your back when you stand and further contributing to back pain.” Osteopatic.org. Well, perhaps “equality” will spell the end of this torture that is culturally inflicted on women.
The March 8th Los Angeles Times reports that we are seeing new culturally-driven fashion trends that seem to bringing even the most fashionable women back down to earth. And face it, high, spikey heels have never been comfortable! “Around the country, women are trading in their high-heeled stilettos for sneakers and ballet flats. Workplaces are becoming more casual, and it is increasingly acceptable to wear sneakers to dinner. But analysts say there are other changes afoot too: More Americans are working from home, and even among those who do go into the office, fitness trackers such as Fitbit have made people more aware of how much they are — or should be — moving.
“‘Even after we get to work, we’re trying not to sit at our desks all day,’ said Katie Smith, director of retail analysis at Edited. ‘We stand. We take the stairs. We walk to lunch. We’re constantly counting our steps, so it makes sense to wear comfortable footwear and clothing.’
“Sales of high heels dropped 12% last year, while sales of women’s sneakers rose 37% to $2.3 billion, according to NPD Group’s retail tracking service… The sales decline wasn’t for lack of options: High heel inventory rose 28% from the year before, according to Edited, a New York-based market research firm. And the sagging sales didn’t have much to do with price: About one-third of high heels had been discounted by an average of 47%.
“‘This is not a burn-your-heels moment — the majority of women still have heels in their wardrobes,’ Smith said. ‘But there isn’t an expectation anymore that if I go to a party, I have to put on my spiky heels, stand for two hours and then want to die. Social mores are changing.’
“It doesn’t hurt that flats — which are popping up on runways and the red carpet — are having a pop culture moment, either. Marc Jacobs’ latest fashion show featured models in silk lace-up brogues and crystal-embellished ballet flats, while actress Gal Gadot wore gladiator sandals to the ‘Wonder Woman’ premiere. Even First Lady Melania Trump, known for her love of high-end high heels by Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik, traded in her stilettos for a pair of white sneakers last year for a trip to Texas after Hurricane Harvey.”
Maybe I am just getting older, but watching the women in my world wear spikey heels generates my concern for the pain they must be feeling much more than the normal, “wow, that’s so sexy” response you might expect. Maybe I’m not alone in that?
I’m Peter Dekom, and beauty-through-serious-discomfort just seems a bit out of place in the modern world.