Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nice to know that some things haven’t changed. (Harrumph…)

My first job out of business school was for a company that sold software and data to Wall Street.

The confluence of technology and finance? Well, let’s just say it was a perfect storm of sexism.

Shortly before I’d joined the company, they had run an ad that was notorious, even for the times. (This would have been the late 1970’s.) I can’t remember all the salacious details, but it featured a mini-skirted chick, legs spread, shot from behind while walking towards a bunch of leering men. I have fortunately blocked the caption completely out of my mind.

At one point while working for this company, I was the product manager for a forecasting tool called AutoBJ, which I occasionally had to demo to the Wall Street crowd. Let the hilarity begin.

I will say that the techies were not quite as bad as the traders, perhaps because half the techies had a touch of Asperger’s, and were overtly more goofy than puerile-y sexist. But in general, the tenor of the place was often hostile to women. There were few – if any – women in policy positions, and some of the senior executives were complete and utter skirt chasers.

Fast forward to a new company, where I was still in the technology for Wall Street game, and where I was the only woman on a team charged with plotting the company’s financial services strategy. At one meeting, one of the charmers on the team said, “Think of financial services as a prone woman, legs spread, waiting for us to penetrate her.” It goes without saying that our strategy failed abysmally – as did that company.

Somewhere along the line  - yet another tech company, but one not focused (thankfully) on The Street - I made my way into the management ranks, where I quickly learned that a woman’s voice was like a dog whistle: only certain ears were attuned to hear it.

Truly, I would say something at a management meeting and it would be totally ignored. Until a couple of minutes later, one of the men made the same point. I soon learned that the best thing to do was to say something like, “Thanks, Joe, for supporting me on this.”

Truly a grrrrrr situation.

Meanwhile, one of my fellow “execs” – we were such a small company, it seemed ludicrous to think of us as executives, but, indeed, that’s what we were – was famous for doodling breast-like doodles throughout our meetings. This same fellow, at one point, thanked me for helping him prepare for a major presentation by saying “Thanks for being my wet nurse.” (I don’t think he was being sexist. I did mention Asperger’s, did I not? Still, it will give you some sense of the climate for women back in the dark ages of the late 20th century.)

Given all this, I was not surprised at a recent article in The New York Times chronicling the troubles that women continue to have in tech – especially women who are themselves techies. The article leads off talking about Elissa Shevinsky, who realized she’d had it with the tech sector over the positive (hee-haw) reception that an app called Titstare which enables “you to take photos of yourself staring at tits.”

Ms. Shevinsky felt pushed to the edge. Women who enter fields dominated by men often feel this way. They love the work and want to fit in. But then something happens — a slight or a major offense — and they suddenly feel like outsiders. The question for newcomers to a field has always been when to play along and when to push back.

Today, even as so many barriers have fallen — whether at elite universities, where women outnumber men, or in running for the presidency, where polls show that fewer people think gender makes a difference — computer engineering, the most innovative sector of the economy, remains behind. Many women who want to be engineers encounter a field where they not only are significantly underrepresented but also feel pushed away.

Tech executives often fault schools, parents or society in general for failing to encourage girls to pursue computer science. But something else is at play in the industry: Among the women who join the field, 56 percent leave by midcareer, a startling attrition rate that is double that for men,according to research from the Harvard Business School.

A culprit, many people in the field say, is a sexist, alpha-male culture that can make women and other people who don’t fit the mold feel unwelcome, demeaned or even endangered. (Source: NY Times)

I find this colossally disheartening, especially since I am a major proponent of young women pursuing a STEM education and career.

Alas, the number of women in the computing field is actually going down:

In 2012, just 18 percent of computer-science college graduates were women, down from 37 percent in 1985, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

Which is really too bad, especially because this is where a lot of the good jobs are going to be.

It’s not just the jerk quotient that keeps women out of tech. It’s a complex combination of factors that Pink Slip is certainly not going to come up with a solution for.

And I will say that I very much enjoyed working with most of the techies I met over the years, and that some of my best friends are engineers.

Still, I’m bummed that 30-plus years after I started in technology, it remains a tough go for women.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A stroll down a not so pleasant memory lane…

Last April 15th, I/we were still guardedly optimistic about the treatment for my husband’s recurrent cancer.

Yes, we got that it was “treatable, no curable” But we hoped that “treatable” would translate into some sort of long and glorious remission, or something like “cancer as a chronic disease” in which, as long as you could tolerate the chemo, and the cancer kept at bay, “it” was just a condition you lived with.Like arthritis or hay fever.

So, feeling guardedly optimistic, last April 15th, we spent the morning at MGH for Jim’s chemo session, and had our traditional post-chemo lunch at Scampo’s at the Liberty Hotel. After which I had my traditional post-chemo, post-Scampo’s nap while Jim watched TV. He gave me a shout when the news came on about the Marathon bombings in Copley Square, which is maybe a mile from where we live.

My quick response at the time “What was up until 2:50 p.m. at glorious day” has a title that somewhat exaggerates the case. How glorious is any day on which your husband is being treated for a recurrence of the cancer that’s inevitably going to kill him? Still and all, Patriots Day has always been a glorious little holiday, mostly because it’s quirky and pretty much all ours.

My longer response, “That was the week that was,” pretty well sums up how I felt at the time – and pretty much still do.

Over the summer, some wildly misplaced romanticism about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev got me a bit irked. (“Free Jahar?” Give me a break.” More recently, I blogged about B Strong, the Red Sox-ized version of the ubiquitous Boston Strong rallying cry that took over the town last April.

And now, here we are, a year later.

It almost goes without saying that Boston’s media has been consumed with the anniversary of the bombing because that’s what the media does. And because it’s Patriots Day, which is our personal and particular thing, and because it’s The Marathon, which is another of our personal and particular things, that just happens to take place on Patriots Day, which this year falls on Monday, April 21st. So the consumption with the anniversary will take place in two parts, the actual anniversary (today) and next Monday, when The Marathon is run.

I’m sure that over the next week or so I’ll walk over to The Marathon finish line, and take a look at whatever’s going in Copley Square. I’m sure on Marathon Monday, I’ll turn on WBZ midday and watch stuff. And take a bit of a walk about to see the runners walking about wrapped in their baked potato jackets (the silver Mylar blankets the finishers are given).

But mostly I’m sure I’ll be thinking that, last April 15th, we/I were still guardedly optimistic about what the next year was going to bring.



Monday, April 14, 2014

In (department of) defense of the shoe industry

Although my “real” career has been in high tech marketing, I did make an early professional foray into the shoe industry.

Professional may be too grand a word to describe my minimum wage job at H.H. Brown. There I worked near the end of the assembly line as a finisher, responsible for putting shoe polish on the exposed seams of combat boots (black for the Army, brown for the Air Force – or was it the other way around?), and for using acetone to remove glue and other gunk that got onto the boots while they made their journey from piece of hide to shoe box. While I was busy as a finisher, my friend Kim – now a partner in a major Boston law firm – was working a few tables behind me as a “heel podder”, gluing thin strips of leather on the inside heel position of a boot.

My biggest nightmare as a shoe factory hand was the day they took me off finishing and set me to the task of removing boots as they came down the vertical conveyor belt from the second floor, and pulling out any nails that were protruding from the innards of the boots.

It took me about two minutes to figure out why the other folks who performed this task had their fingers swathed in adhesive tape. But I had no adhesive tape, so I had to feel around in those boots very gingerly.

Since I was so slow, I did not in the least keep up with the boots raining down on me from the second floor. I just let them go back from whence they came, while I slowly did my voyage of nail discovery, and yanked any nails I found out with a pair of pliers.

It was only when the former came raging over to me to tell me I was useless, and sent me back to finishing (where I bled all over those exposed boot seams for the remainder of my shift), that I found that if I didn’t remove a pair of boots from the conveyor belt, it dropped off somewhere in the bowels of the factory.

Live and learn that I really had no future in shoe biz.

Not that many folks in America did, especially in New England, where, by the time I was working at H.H. Brown, most of the shoe factories had gone south. Since then, they’ve mostly migrated to China and Vietnam.

But, apparently, the combat boot business stayed in the U.S., thank to a World War II era law:

Under a provision of 1941 legislation known as the Berry Amendment, the Defense Department must buy boots, uniforms and certain other items that are 100% U.S.-made. (Source: WSJ Online)

There are Berry Amendment get-arounds:

It can make exceptions if U.S. manufacturers don't have the capacity to make what it needs, and has done so for athletic shoes needed for boot camp.

The Army, Navy and Air Force "allow members to select and wear the type and size of athletic shoe that provides the greatest comfort and reduces the potential for injury," regardless of where they are made, a Defense Department official said.

Well, the shoe industry – particularly in the M-states: Massachusetts, Maine, and Michigan, where sneaks are made – are pushing lawmakers to get rid of the sneaker exemption.

Shoemakers have to demonstrate that they’re capable of producing the sneakers that the armed forces need. If they do so, the Department of Defense may rule that G.I. soft footwear be born in the USA.

Local shoe darling, New Balance, is one of the companies lobbying for home-grown athletic footwear. New Balance:

…is the only U.S. maker of athletic shoes with large-scale production in the U.S. Its five U.S. plants in Massachusetts and Maine make about 25% of its shoes sold in the U.S.; the rest are imported.

New Balance spokesman Matt LeBretton said the company has spent more than $1 million on equipment and training to produce the midsole, which is normally imported. Orders from the military could create 200 jobs at New Balance, which employs about 2,900 in the U.S., and more at suppliers, he said.

Reebok and Converse are also from around here. Don’t know that much about what Reebok’s up to, but if the military’s worried about safety, it’s hard to believe that Converse’s Jack Purcell’s or canvas high-top Chucks would fit the bill. (In case you’re wondering, Jack Purcell was a badminton player. Chuck Taylor was a salesman/shoe evangelist.)

The armed forces give recruits stipends of about $65 to $70 to spend on athletic shoes, though sometimes it makes them buy a particular brand. Mr. LeBretton said New Balance could supply shoes in that range. "This might actually save them a few bucks," he said.

Sixty-five to seventy bucks, huh? I guess that rules of Nike Lebrons…

While New Balance is already making shoes domestically, Wolverine – which has Keds as one of its brands – could make sneakers in Michigan, if they had a market for U.S. made sneaks.

The military still has to be persuaded that U.S. shoe companies can ensure all recruits get the right fit and style. Wayne Hall, an Army spokesman, cited the stresses soldiers undergo during long runs at boot camp.

Worried about fit, style, and stress? Whatever happened to, This Is The Army, Mr. Jones?

Anyway, I’d just as soon have the sneakers that our service men and women wear made in the USA.

Forget that old saying about the Army moving on its stomach. The Army runs on its athletic shoes.

Let them all be made in an M-state.


Thanks to my sister Kath – who also put in time at H.H. Brown, I believe as a shoe boxer - for pointing this article out.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Forget what font it’s in: just get it in writing.

When it comes to fonts, you only need to take a look at Pink Slip to appreciate that I probably don’t spend a lot of time worrying about things like look and feel. (For the record, this is Georgia, which looks a lot like Times New Roman to me. I.e., it’s a bit less type-writer-y than Courier. Pink Slip aside, I tend toward Calibri, Verdana, and Tahoma. They just look  cleaner. However, I have been told that serif fonts are, however, easier to read than sans serif.)

Oh, well.

Anyway, while I don’t dwell on fonts, I do like them. And while I’m mostly a content person, I enjoy design as much as the next guys. I just don’t typically practice it.

And, in terms of the written/typed word, I think the world was getting along just fine when, it seemed, that there were only two choices, Times and Helvetica (which was pretty much the Arial of yesteryear).

But I like the idea of designers creating new fonts, making minute and subtle changes that most of us don’t notice one way or another: how thick is the outside of the capital O, how high does the i get dotted, where do you cross your t’s?

And I don’t like the idea of designers squabbling over their business after one gets screwed out of said business by the other.

Tsk, tsk.

But this has happened with what was once the partnership of of Jonathan Hoefler & Tobias Frere-Jones, of the company Hoefler & Frere-Jones, which over the course of many years developed some mighty important fonts, the most prominent and famous of which is Gotham, a font as sleek and modern as Gotham, a.k.a., Manhattan.

Gotham has appeared on Netflix envelopes, Coca-Cola cans, and in the Saturday Night Live logo. It was on display at the Museum of Modern Art from 2011 to 2012 and continues to be part of the museum’s permanent collection. It also helped elect a president: In 2008, Barack Obama’s team chose Gotham as the official typeface of the campaign and used it to spell out the word HOPE on its iconic posters. (Source: Business Week.)

To others in the business, the team of Hoefler & Frere-Jones was considered a sure-fired pairing: peanut butter and jelly, green eggs and ham, Barnum and Bailey. Or, in the hallowed words of Debbie Millman, the head of the trade association for designers: “They were like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.”

The couple – Jonathan and Tobias, not Brangelina -  got along together for 15 years:

Last year, the duo won the AIGA Medal, the profession’s highest award. It seemed to be one of those rare situations whereby two successful soloists had combined to make an even better supergroup. Hoefler was asked if there were any troubles in their working relationship for a video produced for the AIGA in 2013. “We do have a longstanding disagreement over the height of the lower case t,” he said. “That is the only point of contention.”

…Within the industry, Hoefler is widely seen as the driver of that end of the company, with Frere-Jones credited for being the creative force.

And from Frere-Jones perspective, they were in a true partnership: both names on the door, even steven, one for all and all for one, etc… Then, after all those years of verbal agreements and an implicit understanding that they were, indeed, in it together, Frere-Jones started pressing to get it in writing. Then, and only then, did he find out that, whatever words had been passed between them, however many times their relationship was – for marketing purposes – referred to as a partnership, whatever the outside world thought they were about, they were just another unequal pairing of boss and minion.

Frere-Jones decided to sue, but Hoefler (surprise, surprise) believes the $20 M suit is sans merit.

According to the company statement, Frere-Jones was not Hoefler’s partner but a “longtime employee.”

And behind the curtain, the company that was doing business as Hoefler & Frere-Jones was actually a legal entity called Hoefler Type Foundry. Not to mention that Frere-Jones had, in 2004, somewhat dopily – especially in hindsight – “signed an employment agreement describing him as an employee of the firm.” And which includes a non-compete.

Frere-Jones doesn’t contest this, but claims that he only agreed because Hoefler was “always promising to formalize the partnership soon.”

Oh, my dear, sweet, naïve, trusting Tobias Frere Jones. (You really thought he’d respect you in the morning?)

Anyway, after 15 years, Frere-Jones decided he wanted to make the relationship officially official. Hoefler’s response wasL ain’t gonna happen. And, in anticipation that he may have ticked his partner, oops, employee, off enough to get him to leave, Hoefler registered a bunch of URL’s that someone named Tobias Frere-Jones might want for himself:

…,, and Anyone who types these URLs into a Web browser is now redirected to, the homepage of Hoefler&Co. When asked about the domain names, Hoefler writes in an e-mail: “The company maintains dozens of domains that are variations of its registered trademarks, in keeping with best practices.”

To me, the broken partnership promise makes Hoefler look like a snake; grabbing the URL’s that Tobias Frere-Jones might want to claim, and directing them to his homepage, makes Hoefler look like a Grade A bastard.

Several designers I spoke with said they were under the impression that Hoefler was almost exclusively focused on managing the business in recent years, leaving design to Frere-Jones. This makes it easy to cast Hoefler in the role of the villain exploiting the work of a naïve genius. But Hoefler and Frere-Jones’s relationship was more complicated than that, says Mike Essl, who teaches design at Cooper Union. Hoefler had all of Frere-Jones’s design chops, but also had the ability to propel Frere-Jones to prominence in a way he couldn’t have done on his own. Business partnerships rarely last forever, says Essl, and when they end, it’s often ugly. “Van Halen isn’t going to be Van Halen forever,” he says. “Someone is going to leave.”

Maybe Hoefler’s business savvy did propel Tobias Frere-Jones to the point where Business Week is writing about him (and Pink Slip is blogging about him: talk about prominence!). And maybe Hoefler will have the law on his side.

But I suspect that in the court of public opinion, Tobias Frere-Jones is winning. Too bad that’s not worth anywhere near the $20M Frere-Jones wants from Hoefler.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

What’s in a Word

I read recently that Pawtucket Rhode Island’s own Hasbro -  maker of such classics as Lincoln Logs and Mr. Potato Head, toys-come-lately like Furbies, as well as gamesters who bring us half the board games you can think of  - is reaching out via social media to update some of their games.

For one thing, they’re asking for play-ahs to suggest rule changes to Monopoly. Soliciting suggestions for new rules shouldn’t be all that hard, as there can’t be three people on the face of the earth who ever played Monopoly who didn’t make up their own rules at some point. Most of those rules were ad hoc, of course, and situation-dependent. Do you want to speed up the game because there’s no end in sight? Keep the game going by keeping players from folding? Help your pals (or the little kids) out with under the table, no interest loans?

Let’s face it, nothing could spoil a game of Monopoly faster than someone invoking the real rules.

It will be interesting to see what vox populi comes up with here.

I was certainly not impressed by the popularity contest decision to jettison the flat iron game piece in favor of a cat. I am personally opposed to replacing an iconic, historic, token-of-my-childhood with anything, let alone with a cat, of all things. But I suspect that cat fanciers have been lobbying for a cat piece since the Scottie dog debuted in the 1950’s. But replacing the flat iron….Have you no sense of decency, you Facebook Monopoly voters?

It’s not just Monopoly that Hasbro is looking to crowdsource. They’re also asking for words to add to the approved Scrabble lexicon.

For a word person, I was always pretty indifferent to the charms of Scrabble. Maybe it’s because I came of game-playing age in the house of weird, in which we had a low-end version of Scrabble called Keyword. (Of course, the fact that we also had the low-rent version of Monopoly, a game called Easy Money, didn’t stop me from adapting to Monopoly, which our family eventually owned.)

Anyway, I played some Scrabble over the years, but never as a blood sport. There were rarely any fights over whether a word would count, and those that did occur were settled by someone grabbing Merriam Webster. Who knew or cared what Scrabble officialdom had to say?

From my vantage point, for word games, give me Boggle, any old day.

But I do acknowledge that there are legions of serious Scrabble players, for whom a word must be blessed in order to count.

So, recognizing that languages grow and mutate over time, the makers of Scrabble are reaching out to its fans to figure out what to add to the lexicon.

Here’s a look at the words that have made the Sweet Sixteen.


Well, this certainly tells me that I am a completely out of touch old fogey.


Wazzup with me that I was not familiar with this one. Which, by the way, I think is an extraordinarily grand word. This generation’s version of what we used to call a lucky duck, with the era-appropriate monetary overlay.

Booyah is was familiar with, and, while I have used it, I don’t quite get it, as booing anything doesn’t sound like it’s all that good.

Next bracket down, I had never heard the word phablet (big-arse phone that looks like it’s a tablet), but it’s a good one. What I’m unclear of if this is kind of a cool thing – like those big-arse baseball caps that I despise – or whether it’s an uncool thing, almost as embarrassing as having a non-smartphone. (And speaking of embarrassing, there’s also a sexual meaning – thanks Urban Dictionary for your help with all these words – which I’m sure that the gray-haired ladies and gents playing Scrabble will ignore.) 

And I hadn’t heard the word emotypo, either. Rather than a word for a mistyped emotion – like putting the smiley ) in a frownie ( direction – I’d rather see a word for the texting howlers that appear if you don’t check what you’re texting. (For whatever reason, when I type the word “what” it “autocorrects” to ebay. (Huh?))

Moving right along, how can zen not be in the dictionary already? Or is what’s at play here is zen moving down the word chain from a Proper Noun to an uncapped everyday word?

Woot apparently comes from Dungeons and Dragons. And/or hackers. ‘Nuf said. Other than to say it means “woohoo.”

I finish out the left hand brackets in good shape, thanks to having two bestie, adorbs teenage nieces.

Moving right along, I have never heard the word hangry, but I have, at times in my life, experienced something approaching it. Maybe not angry-angry about being hungry, but being annoyed because, say, we hadn’t yet made the dining out decision for the evening.

Nowish I can see my self using. When? Nowish.

I don’t retweet, but I know all about it.

As for ew, I much prefer the eww spelling. (Take that, Scrabble-istas.)

Bitcoin hurts my head; and geocache would, too, I suppose. But probably not as much as bitcoin. (Geocache is something to do with using GPS to orienteer, which seems kind of cheater-pantsy to me.)

Cosplay stands for costume play, which is what sci-fi and anime fans do. (I was actually hoping it was co-splay, as when two folks simultaneously, say, splay their fingers. But what do I know. Nothing about anime, that’s for sure.)

We could all use a few lifehacks, i.e., “tools or techniques that make some aspect of one's life easier or more efficient.”

One of mine is turning off the Red Sox when they’re behind by more than six ones. Definitely makes life easier.

Anyway, Scrabblers will be weighing in on their choices.

I vote (metaphorically) for luckbox, lifehack, bestie, and ew/eww.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A-look me in the eye…

Let’s face it, in the grand scheme of things, it’s far more important that we groom the younger generations to fulfill their roles as citizen-consumers than it is to try to ensure that they become citizen-voters, citizen-do-gooders, citizen-citizens. I mean, seriously, the wallet is mightier than the ballot.

So get ‘em while they’re young, I always say.

I certainly regret that my marketing career has been in boring old grownup business-to-business and techie-to-techie stuff, rather than in the much more mission critical arena of consumer-goods-to-child-consumer marketing.

How much more rewarding it would have been to convince a kid that he had to have a high-fructose low-value cereal than to woo an IT director to pay a lot of money for an automated testing “solution.”

But, alas, I missed that chance.

Fortunately, there are plenty of bright and eager marketers out there who have taken up the cause. And some of them are doing the Lord of Consumption’s work on behalf of cereal makers.

In a study of 65 cereals at 10 grocery stores, researchers at Cornell University found that cereals marketed to kids are often placed at a lower shelf height—and characters on the cereal boxes are typically drawn to make eye contact with children. The report even has a suitably creepy title: “Eyes in the Aisles: Why is Cap’n Crunch Looking Down at My Child?” (Source: Business Week)

I suppose I wouldn’t find this quite so objectionable if, say, Kippy the Kangaroo was making eye contact with the little ones so that they would beg mommy and daddy to buy them Kale Flakes – They’re green! They’re crunchy! They’re air-dried! They’re healthful! But Cap’n Crunch?

“Eye contact with cereal spokes-characters increased feelings of trust and connection to the brand, as well as choice of the brand over competitors,” the report states. Consumers are 16 percent more likely to trust a brand of cereal when the characters on the boxes on the supermarket shelves look them straight in the eye. That conclusion’s based on a lab study of 63 university students who were more likely to pick Trix over Fruity Pebbles when the rabbit’s eyes were digitally manipulated to look out at them.

Not that marketing to kids was anywhere near as aggressive during my kid-hood as it is now, but in any case I would have missed out on Tony the Tiger, the Snap-Crackle-and-Pop boys, or the Sugar Crisp Sugar Bear looking me in my eyes, as we never went grocery shopping as kids.

Oh, I logged plenty of time in the grocery store running errands when we ran out of something or other, but my mother was a pre-Pea Pod pea-podder.

My mother didn’t drive until I was well into high school, so every Friday morning she called in her rather extensive weekly grocery order to Morris Market and, come Friday afternoon, cartons full of groceries were delivered by either Paul Bornstein – son-in-law of the eponymous Morris – or by Joey Hurley, a high schooler who lived across the street from my grandmother and whose family dog, Blackie, bit me (completely unprovoked) when I was in fourth grade.

Grocery deliveries were augmented by those occasional errands run by me or my sister Kath, but those were purposeful errands, meant to fulfill very specific requests: loaf of Roman Meal Bread, jar of Dailey’s Kosher Dill Pickles, can of Campbell’s Chicken Gumbo Soup. No roaming around the aisles making eye contact with Tony the Tiger. (And none of this “keep the change” nonsense, either. Most of the time my mother gave us the exact amount that the item was going to cost.)

It’s not just the kids who are the target of the seeing-eye marketers:

Adults, don’t think you’re not on marketers’ radars. The researchers also found that the cereal-selling personalities on the boxes aimed at grownups tend to make eye contact, too.

Gives new meaning to a favored expression in our family: Don’t Make Eye Contact.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Golf goes to the dogs. (As do plenty of other unwitting consumers…)

Perhaps because dogs are people, too, I find the idea of eating dog completely appalling. In a way that I don’t find the idea of eating chicken, beef, and pork.

I guess that once dog lips touch yours, and you don’t go all Lucy Van Pelt over the experience, you’re a dog person. And while dog lips might touch yours, dog anything will never pass them. (Seriously. Eating dog? I don’t care if it tastes like chicken.)

So I get completely skeeved out by the thought of dog on the menu, as is pretty common in parts of Asia. But:

Not just the dog meat is prized. Factories use leather from dog skin for use in everything from drums to guitars, says John Dalley, co-founder and vice-president of the Soi Dog Foundation, a nongovernmental organization in Thailand devoted to canine welfare. Manufacturers of golf gloves also prize dog leather, Dalley adds, especially from the skin of the testicles of male dogs  “because that skin is particularly soft.” (Source: Business Week)

Okay. There’s dog skin, and then there’s dog skin.But whatever the source of that dog skin, I really don’t want to be wearing it.

(, the business-to-business website owned by Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba, has lots of listings for gloves made from dogs.)

Couldn’t resist. I just clicked through. And while I did not see any mention of the t-word, I’m going to have to try and figure out whether my good pair of leather gloves are dog. Fortunately, most of my trusty winter go-to’s are made out of Polarfleece or the like.

The dog trade is illegal. And the trade is down, thanks to folks like Dalley putting pressure on Asian governments to crackdown on smugglers. Still, where there’s money to be made…

But these are pets, for crying out loud.

Thailand has a large population of stray dogs wandering the streets of major towns and cities, but most of those captured for meat or pelts are stolen from pet owners or temples. “Stray dogs are extremely difficult to catch,” explains Dalley. “It’s far easier to catch pet dogs or unwanted service dogs.” The illegal trade is based on “extreme cruelty from start to finish,” he adds. “We see over 100 dogs stuffed into cages in the back of pickup trucks. Lots of dogs are skinned alive. It’s a horrendous industry with absolutely no regulation.”

As for golf gloves made out of dog, don’t expect to see Poodle or Chihuahua gloves sponsoring the Masters anytime soon.

Sure, it’s one thing for Alibaba to talk dog. In China, they eat it so why not wear it?

But once they get to the pro shop, all those Phil Mickelson wannabes aren’t going to be trying dog on for size – or at least they won’t know that’s what they’re doing. Whatever its provenance, the leather will probably say “cabretta”, which is sheep skin. Which seems perfectly acceptable. After all, how many people accept sheep kisses? Isn’t that how anthrax is spread?

Of course, I wouldn’t put much of anything past golfers. If there’s something out there that will improve their game, most golfers I know – even those who are pretty much duffers – will go after it. I’m quite sure that if some golf guru claimed that using a mashie niblick would help trim a few strokes off their norm, there’d be a run on mashie niblicks (only this time around they’d be made with titanium).

I know, I know. It’s easy to accuse golfers of going to the dogs.

But there’s apparently quite a trade in canine (and feline) hides being passed off as a fur that gets a less visceral reaction – like fox or raccoon or any other animal that you’re not likely to have curling up beside you when you take a nap.

Skins from these animal go into making full-length and short coats and jackets. Fur-trimmed garments. Hats. Gloves. Decorative accessories. Even toy stuffed animals. All made with the fur of dogs and cats. (Source: Case4, a vegan on eBay – I take my information where I can get it. Some of Case 4’s comes from InFurMation)

German Shepherds are apparently considered especially desirable.  (Say it isn’t so. The thought of old family retainer Grimbald being shanghaied and turned into a stuffed animal!)

One shipment from a Chinese company to the Czech Republic, reportedly for the Czech army, contained 5,329 kilograms (11,924 pounds) of "house cat skin jackets + plates", representing the slaughter of 40,000 to 55,000 cats.  Chinese fur factory told investigators that it had 100,000 cat skins stored in its factory.

Just as, on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog, half the time information sources are undated, so it’s not clear whether there’s still as much dog and cat fur flying around out there. From what I can tell, domestic pet fur is now prohibited in the EU and the U.S. Which is not to say that it’s no longer used, Likely, it’s just passed off as something else. China doesn’t appear to have any regulations against using it – or lying about it.

I don’t want to be too much of hypocrite here. I don’t eat a ton of meat, but I’m by no means a vegetarian. (Vegetarian is at least within the realm of possibility; vegan: never.) I wear leather shoes, and wool sweaters. But I pretty much draw the line at fur. And I don’t want any animals to suffer cruelty in the service of mankind, however mediated my consumption of animal products is by Whole Foods or Zappo. And I find the idea of dogs and cats being kidnapped from their owners and sold off so that someone can have a faux-fox trimmed hood on their parka, or nice and soft golf gloves, completely appalling.

Completely. Appalling.

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