Friday, March 23, 2018

Open door policy? Not such a good idea…

A couple weeks ago, five tourists were killed in a helicopter crash in the East River in Manhattan. (The pilot survived.) This wasn’t just a fly-over, it was something called an open-door tour, a tour that enables tourists to take pictures and get more of a bird’s eye view of what’s out there. And it was the open-door-ness of the tour that resulted in those deaths,because these types of helicopter rides use a different method of strapping someone into their seats than do regular old closed-door rides:

The five people who died when their helicopter lost power and had to put down in the East River were tethered to the craft by ropes attached to harnesses so they wouldn’t fall out through the open doors. They drowned after the helicopter rolled over and sank. Divers had to cut out the bodies, according to the New York Fire Department….

The passenger harnesses, which differ from traditional aviation seat belts, attached people from the rear and would have been difficult to remove in an emergency, said Eric Adams, a professional photographer who took a flight by the same company on the same night as the accident. The passengers were given knives to cut the ropes in an emergency, though training on how to use them was limited, Adams wrote in an account for an online publication called The Drive. (Source: Bloomberg)

The passengers were given knives to cut the ropes in an emergency, though training on how to use them was limited.

Think about that for a moment. You come in from out of town, you want to take that breathtaking sky-eye tour of Manhattan, and they issue you a knife to cut yourself free if the needs arises.

With my fear of heights, I wouldn’t have gotten into an open-door whirlybird flight to begin with. But, if I were the open-door whirlybird type to begin with, what would I have made of being issued a knife? Even with concerns about being able to cut my harness during an upside-down, head-under-water emergency, I probably wouldn’t have cut my losses and walked away. I’m sure I would have made some Crocodile Dundee joke. (“This is a knoife.”) And said to myself, how likely is it that the sort of accident that would require me to wield that knife will happen in real life. Sure, it’s a bit more dangerous that a trolley tour, or a horse and carriage jaunt around Central Park, but it’s gotta be safe. Safe enough. Doesn’t it?

The question to me is what obligation is the tour provider under to provide information on the risk, on how difficult it will be to cut yourself loose under tremendous stress? Is there any obligation, or is just caveat emptor. Use your common sense. No tourist guts, no tourist glory..

A friend of mine was on a jury in a trial in which someone was suing a roller rink because they’d broken their ankle. Well, if you don’t want to break your ankle, stay off roller skates.

Still, it does seem pretty reckless to operate this kind of a tour.

In fact, the Helicopter Association International:

…the leading trade group for helicopter operators has, for at least two years, urged a halt to open-door tours such as the one March 11 that ended in the death of five people in the East River off Manhattan…

“We just believe that helicopter tours should be flown with doors closed,” [HAI spokesman Dan] Sweet said. “HAI wants to create the safest possible flight for the public.”

But,  of course, doors-open flights are can be marketed as more interesting, more edgy, more out there than boring old closed-door tours.

Oddly enough:

The government standards governing their operations can be less stringent than for traditional tour flights, according to a person familiar with the practice. U.S. aviation regulations exempt operations including crop dusting, fire fighting and “aerial photography or survey.”

Not surprising, the parents of one victim are suing the company that ran the flight, and the pilot, citing negligence. The family is being represented by a “helicopter crash attorney.” The suit maintains that, if this had been a “normal” closed-door flight, with “normal” seat belts, the victim would have been able to easily unbuckle himself and swum to safety. The helicopter crash attorney had this to say:

“You would have to be Houdini to escape in that situation. It was truly a death trap for him to be hanging upside down in frigid water temperature tightly harnessed with the release inaccessible in the back and no advance training.” (Source: Washington Post)

Amazing that there’s an attorney that specializes in helicopter crashes. That tells me all I need to know. about getting into a helicopter tour.

In any case,

The deaths have led to scrutiny over open-door helicopter tours that experts say allow even novice riders to board helicopters without proper training.

And that scrutiny appears to have moved the Federal Aviation Administration to ground “open-doors” (or “doors-off”) helicopter flights. I suspect they’ll stop categorizing them alongside crop-dusting and aerial fire-fighting.

It really does sound like the right thing to do to ban these sorts of tourist death-traps . So good for the FAA.

Amazing how fast they acted after the accident. With similar speed,within days after a French bulldog died on a United Airline flight after a flight attendant forced its owners to stow him in the overhead bin, a US Senator had pulled a bill together to forbid this practice. After all, he said, “Pets are family.”

Indeed they are. And family is family, too. So good that there’ll more scrutiny given to really dangerous helicopter flights.

What’s really amazing, however, is that we still can’t get any decent gun legislation passed, or even a reasonable discussion going, even after the recent deaths at Parkland. High school kids are people, too, Senator. Maybe if the school had been attacked by crop dusters…

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Blood Unicorn

A few years back, Elizabeth Holmes topped the list of the wealthiest self-made American women. The blood-testing startup she founded, Theranos, was worth billions. As was Holmes. And then it turned out that the girl-genius’ invention didn’t quite work as claimed, and the value of her company plummeted from $9B to less than one-tenth that amount. The new value of her company was, in fact, just about on the money ($800M vs. $724M) with the amount that had been invested in it by “smart money” hoping that there was a unicorn in all that blood.

For a while there, Holmes was a real golden girl, running around getting all sorts of super press, which helped pump her company’s valuation sky high. She was, it appears, quite an excellent bullshitter. She may well have believed her own BS, but BS she did. But as has been pointed out, there’s nothing illegal about lying to the press. Unfortunately for Holmes, it is illegal to lie to potential investors.

To back up a minute: Theranos had supposedly developed a blood-testing device that was supposed to be able to take a finger prick’s worth of blood and perform hundreds of tests on it. Immediately. This would, of course, revolutionize blood sampling. No more vials taken out of the best vein in your left arm. No more waiting for the blood to be sent out to a lab and wait some more for the results. You could just go into Walgreen’s – where Theranos had a big deal going – and get the job done on the spot.

Too bad it didn’t work.

Which didn’t stop Holmes from pretending it did. She used earlier versions of her product, devices from other companies, and even sent samples out the old-fashioned way to external labs, to fake up an elaborate “show and tell” that was light on the actual “show,” but pretty heavy on the “tell.”

Meanwhile Theranos and Holmes were going around giving interviews about how revolutionary their technology was, without ever mentioning that it didn't work and they didn't use it. This got them a lot of favorable press and a $9 billion valuation, which went on for a while until the Wall Street Journal's John Carreyrou reported in 2015 that the product didn’t work and that Theranos was lying about using it, after which Theranos fairly quickly collapsed. (Source: Bloomberg)

That’s when Holmes fell off of her perch on the self-made rich lady list.

But just because the company was a fraud didn’t mean that fraud had been committed.

It becomes fraud in the legal sense if you use those lies to get money. Theranos, in parallel with being a massive fraud, was also raising a lot of money… If you are going around lying publicly about your technology while also raising hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, that certainly suggests that you were defrauding those investors. But it's not a certainty. Theranos wasn't a public company; it raised all that money in negotiated private fundraising rounds where investors received disclosure documents and had the opportunity to conduct due diligence.

Could be that, as Bloomberg writer Matt Levine so wonderfully and facetiously speculates, while Holmes was going around self- and company-aggrandizing, she was making it quite clear to her investors that – heh, heh – the technology behind the talking points wasn’t exactly – heh, heh – what it was supposed to be. Investors would then have a better idea of the risks they were taking. 

But no, no, that's not what happened at all. Instead the Securities and Exchange Commission today brought fraud charges against Holmes, Theranos and its former president, Sunny Balwani, and its complaint alleges pretty strongly that the investors were just as bamboozled as everybody else. In fact, Theranos made direct use of its positive press to raise money: It "sent investors a binder of background materials," which included "articles and profiles about Theranos, including the 2013 and 2014 articles from The Wall Street Journal, Wired, and Fortune that were written after Holmes provided them with interviews" and that included her misleading claims about the state of Theranos's technology.

Theranos also faked up demos. And forecasted revenues that were orders upon orders of magnitude more than the revenues that were actually realized. I’m quite familiar with those miracle-occurs-here hockey stick forecasts, in which all of a sudden low, sluggish revenues go sky-high the next year. But nothing along the lines of what Theranos tried to pull off: forecasting $100M for one year when in actuality the revenues for that year amounted to $100K. Nobody with one shred of intelligence and/or sanity and/or integrity can be off by that much, no matter how loonily optimistic.

The SEC has weighed in and declared that real, honest to goodness (dishonest to badness?) fraud had taken place.

Theranos and Holmes settled with the SEC without admitting or denying the allegations; Balwani will apparently fight the accusations. Holmes agreed to pay a $500,000 penalty to the SEC, "return" 18.9 million Theranos shares to the company and relinquish her super-voting control, and be barred from serving as a public-company director or officer for 10 years.

$500K seems pretty featherweight, given that the bamboozlement amounted to nearly $800M. Apples and oranges, but Martha Stewart went to prison for 5 months for what amounted to some relatively penny ante insider trading. Like Elizabeth Holmes, Martha Stewart is a pretty blonde. The difference? Martha Stewart was in her sixties when she was issued her orange jumpsuit and sent up the river; Holmes is in her thirties. Hmmmm. Just hmmmm.

Anyway, I really can’t imagine, pretty blonde or not, that Elizabeth Holmes has to worry about “serving as a public-company director or officer for 10 years.” Really, who in their right mind…

Meanwhile, as Levine points out in his article, bad enough that Elizabeth Holmes was defrauding her investors. Theranos was “performing a lot of fake blood tests.”

The Wall Street Journal has reported on the “trail of agonized patients” who got blood-test results from Theranos that turned out to be wrong, and Theranos ultimately “voided” two years of results from its machines because they were not sufficiently accurate.

Bullshitting the press. Defrauding investors. Building a “trail of agonized patients.”

I’m guessing that the next time Elizabeth Holmes decides to become rich and famous, she’s going to have a harder time getting rich or famous. Can’t get blood out of a stone. Or out of a Holmesian unicorn. Sometimes a myth is just a myth.

Earlier post on Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

All out of guac? Oh, no…

When it comes to pushing my shopping cart around the grocery store, unless something is insanely expensive, I don’t pay all that much attention to prices. I know enough not to pay $10 for a bag of cherries, even if I want them. But mostly I’m not all that price conscious. Lucky me.

So I haven’t noticed that avocados have gotten more expensive.

I like avocados. I use them on salads. I put them on sandwiches – an especially goody-good sammie is avocado, tomato, sprouts, and cheese, open faced, toasted. Yummers. Sometimes I mash an avocado up in a baked potato and call it a day. Extra points if there’s a slice or two of bacon to add to it.

I will admit that I don’t make guacamole from scratch, even though it’s simple enough to do. (I know this because I have observed my sisters making it.) I just buy the tubs as needed.

I’ve also been known to stick toothpicks into the side of an avocado pit, suspend it in a juice glass full of water, and watch it grow. I may have ended up with an avocado plant out of it at one point – back in the day when I had macrame hangers for my plants – but mostly once there are a few leaves, that’s about where my interest ebbs and out it goes. Fun while it lasted…(I like it because it reminds me of putting the top of a carrot in a pudding cup full of water until it ferns up, which my mother let us do when we were kids.)

Any way you look at it, I’m a avocado-er, one of the Americans contributing to the avocado on it’s way to becoming our nation’s favorite fruit.

I suspect that, like most Americans, I don’t consider the avocado a fruit. Sure, it’s got a pit. Just like a peach or a plum. Still, it seems more veggie than fruit, which is how we all pretty much treat it. Sort of like a tomato, when you think of it.

Our per capita consumption was seven pounds in 2016 – up from one pound in 1989. I’m more than doing my bit towards making America a great consumer of avocados. As of 2016, we were up to gross domestic consumption of 2.3 billion pounds.

Avocado was not something – fruit or vegetable – that I was aware of as a kid. They weren’t on our table, and I don’t imagine the were in the fridges at any of my friends’ homes, either. The sum total of our avocado awareness was that some people had kitchen appliances that were avocado green. Not that I knew any of them, but even before the advent of HG-TV, I knew that avocado, alongside harvest gold, was a thing.

When my friends started getting married, we didn’t get them fridges or stoves, of course. But I’m pretty sure I bought at least one avocado-colored fondue pot as a shower gift. I had some kitchen implements – a spatula, an egg beater, a stirring spoon – with a plastic avocado handle.

In my memory, avocado as an accent color was out there before people started eating much by way of avocado.

I did have some avocado awareness. When I was in college, I worked in a student grill that served a sandwich called a Bacon-Avi. And the California Burger had avocado on it. So I can date my knowledge of avocado as an edible to my sophomore year. But avocado still wasn’t a big deal.

Then, all of a sudden, there were margaritas, and chips and salsa, and guacamole. Cobb Salads appeared out of nowhere. And they included avocado.

Fast forward a decade or two or four even, and there it is: almost our favorite fruit.

America’s enthusiasm for avocados may be dented, however, by soaring prices. The wholesale price for a case of 48 avocados peaked at $83.75 in September, up from $34.45 a year before, according to the American Restaurant Association. Some restaurants were forced to add a surcharge on guacamole, or temporarily to scrap it from their menus altogether. Others swallowed the bill. Chipotle, a Mexican-themed restaurant chain, said that “historically high avocado costs” were a big reason why it posted disappointing financial results last year.

Supply shortfalls, brought about by droughts, storms and wildfires in California, Chile and Mexico, help to explain the jump. Production in California dropped by 44% in 2017. Harvests in Mexico that year were off by 20%. Labour strikes in the country further reduced supply. (Source: The Economist)

We’re not the only ones getting in the avocado act. China’s going avocado crazy, and they’ve made trade deals with Chile and Mexico to forge trade deals that – catch this – eliminate tariffs on their avocados.

Maybe we need a trade war – I hear they’re fun and easy to win – that will get us to step out avocado supply.

Not so fast, I guess.

Raising production will be tricky. This is because avocados are a fussy plant to grow, says Mary Lu Arpaia of the University of California, Riverside. Salinity levels need to be just right, the slope of the terrain not too steep and temperatures stable. Erratic weather conditions can easily kill the crop.


I don’t want to live in a world without avocado. All out of guac? Oh, no.

Wonder if I impale the pit of the avocado currently residing in my fridge, put it in a water glass, and encourage it a bit – I can even play Mozart to it if needs be – I can figure out how to grow some avocados in my kitchen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Not so sweet news at Necco

The New England Confectionery Company used to be located on Mass Ave in Cambridge, and when you got anywhere near it, you got a whiff of that wonderful sicky-sweet candy smell.

In the early aughts, Necco moved out to Revere, just north of Boston, but they still kept making Necco Wafers, Sweethearts, Sky Bars, Candy Buttons, Mary Janes and Squirrel Nuts. Childhood standbys – even those Candy Buttons which were half-paper.

Even with the annual Valentine’s Day sales goose that Necco gets for Sweethearts, those little candy hearts with the message on them, Necco is ailing/failing. Unless they find a buyer in the next couple of months, they may have to layoff most of their workforce: 395 mostly worker bees, with a few execs thrown in for good measure:

Employees who could be affected include cooks, hard candy makers, truck operators, various machine operators and attendants, and administrative positions — including the chief financial officer and chief executive. (Source: Boston Globe)

Necco Wafers have been around since 1847. In truth, sometimes when you bite into a Necco wafer the feeling you get is that your roll might have been one of the first ones to roll off the line. Still, it’s hard to imagine a world without them. Even though, once I stopped playing Mass and using white Necco wafers for communion – and that would have been 60 years back – I have probably averaged one Necco wafer a year. And that’s a wafer, not a roll.

And a world without Sweethearts. Sigh. I just like the idea of them. So much so that, when some young friends had a baby on February 13th and invited me over to MGH to meet her on Valentine’s Day, I stopped by the pricey kids’ store on Charles Street and bought an absolutely adorbs little two piece outfit decorated with Sweethearts.

And I will sorely and surely miss my annual Mary Jane and Squirrel Nut, purchased (only if they’re fresh!) at Brookfield Orchards when my sister Trish and I make our annual apple run and load up on penny candy. I guess I’ll be okay as long as Happy Apple still stocks Boston Baked Beans and maple sugar candy (that wonderful New England invitation to a diabetic coma).

Ah, it’s so hard when these little blasts from the past fade away.

All may not be lost.

Necco chief executive Michael] McGee stated in the March 6 notice that the company “has been in ongoing negotiations with potential buyers to allow for its continued operations,” but that if a sale is not completed or if the company opts for layoffs, employees could be terminated as soon as 60 days from the date of the notice.

I worked at a couple of places that, because of the volume of jobs impacted, had to stick with this 60 day layoff notice. And it was always hell. Everyone would pretend to work – which is possible in a white collar professional environment in ways that it most decidedly would not be in a candy factory – but spent most of our time speculating about who was going to get the axe. Certain product lines? Certain departments? People hired after x? People hired before y? People at or above a certain level? People at or below a certain level?

We would make black-humor jokes. And tell layoff horror stories, including the one about the guy who had a heart attack and died the day before Layoff Day. At his desk. And, yes, he had been on the list.

Those who felt most vulnerable would update their resumes.

Those who knew people who knew people would try to glean whatever stray bit of inside scoop they could, even if they were sworn to secrecy and couldn’t share it.

Those were the days. Days that I don’t miss at all.

In high tech, whether we were staying (this round anyway) or going, most of us were pretty sure we’d find comparable work somewhere else. Not so likely this will happen in candy land. Cooks, hard candy makers…Not a lot of jobs like that around.

“We deeply regret and understand the uncertainty this action may cause our valued employees,” McGee said in the letter.

Not as much as those cooks and hard candy makers…


Nearly a decade ago, I did a post on Necco’s quality control guy (and, of course, on my Necco memories).

Monday, March 19, 2018

Oh, goody, the Winklevoss twins are back!

I must say, I do spend quite a bit of time contemplating The Big Questions. Sometimes, the questions are one-shots:

Why did the a-hole in the SUV, turning on a red light from the second outer lane on Arlington (not from the lane that comes with the right hand turn arrow, which at the moment of offense had a red light) into a crosswalk with a walk sign on Comm Ave – you know, the woman staring fixedly into the smartphone she was holding up – give me the stink-eye when I yelled at her for almost hitting me. I am a practiced jaywalker, so I know enough to look when I’m doing anything pedestrian-y, even if what I’m doing is 100% legal and 100% MY right-of-way. So, that’s the kind of one-shot Big Question I tend to ponder

Then there are the semi-recurring questions, as in:

Who the f bags up a dog poop and leaves it on the front steps of a building that’s not even theirs, especially when there’s a trash can less than 5 seconds walk away. (Variation on a theme: Starbucks cup, beer can, pizza box…) I know I live on a well-traveled main drag, but still, that trash can is seconds away. It’s your trash. How about you dispose of it, not me.

Not to mention the really Big Questions, the Mega Philosophical Questions:

Why? Why me? What for? How?

I also have a somewhat unique Big Question category, and that is Big Questions related to the Winklevoss twins:

Why? Why them? What for? How?

Would the idea of these guys be so amusing if they had a name like Gates or Buffett or Sergei Brin, rather than a name like Winklevoss?

Okay. You can’t help what your name is. And more than once I’ve wished for a surname a bit less boring than Rogers. But Winklevoss? This is just a funny name. A winkle. Sounds like a tiny little something-or-other. Like a tiny little sea snail. Oh, that’s because it is. Or, in an alternative meaning: extract or obtain something with difficulty. "I swore I wasn't going to tell her, but she winkled it all out of me.”

And that voss part? Low German for fox.

So a Winklevoss is a foxy little sea snail? Or someone who extracted a fox with difficulty?

Anyway, Winklevoss is something of a smile-on-the-face name, no?

Then there’s the fact that they always appear in tandem, leading to the question:

Would this connected at the hip thing seem less weird if they were regular old brothers, rather than twins?

There are, of course, other questions about the Winklevoss, and you may be asking the biggest of them all.

Who are they?

As those who saw The Social Network, the movie about Facebook, know, the Winklevoss twins were the prepped out fellows who claimed that Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea. They sued Zuckerberg and ended up with $65 million, which is several orders of magnitude removed from Zuckerberg’s wealth, which is $75 billion. In the movie, their big scene is when they go whinging off to the office of the president of Harvard to complain about their not-so-prepped out classmate who ripped them off. (As I recall, the president of Harvard just about laughed in their twin faces. He may even have called them douches. But that may have just been a thought cloud.)

That was then, and $65 million is only relative chump change, so the Winklevoss brothers (a.k.a, the Winklevi) have been able to eke out a modest existence as venture capitalists. And, hoping not to get screwed out of the big payday again, some of their venturing capitalism has focused on the bitcoin world. Because if an online platform where most of the users share pictures of their grandkids or run contests for the next flavor of Dorito turns into $75 billion, how much might a big old tulip-bulb of a disruptor like bitcoin be worth some day.

Seemingly (at least according to Wikpedia), bitcoin has yet to deliver the success of their dreams (and Zuckerberg’s living reality). Their dabbling has been a decidedly mixed bag (emphasis mine):

The twins' company, Math-Based Asset Services LLC, filed to register a bitcoin-based exchange-traded fund called Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust in 2013. The fund was denied in March 2017.

In 2013, the twins led a $1.5 million in seed funding of BitInstant, a bitcoin payment processor. However, in January 2014,Charlie Shrem, CEO of BitInstant, was arrested and charged with money laundering related to the Silk Road online black market investigation. The brothers said they were passive investors in the company.

In 2014, the twins launched Winkdex, a financial index that tracks the price of bitcoin. The index uses data from seven exchanges, weighed based on the daily trading volume of each exchange.

In March 2014, it was announced that the twins had purchased seats on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic shuttle using the profits they had made from bitcoin

In October 2015, Gemini, the twins' Bitcoin exchange, received approval to launch from the New York State Department of Financial Services. The exchange is targeted at both first-time users and professional traders.

And now they’re looking to:

…create the Virtual Commodity Association, a self-regulatory organization meant to police digital-currency markets and custodians. The non-profit group would aim to develop industry standards, promote transparency and work with regulators including the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission to prevent fraud. (Source: Bloomberg)

God knows that mondo bitcoin could use some regulating. And a Commodity Futures Trading Commission commissioner, Brian Quintenz, has given the Winklevi a shout out:

“I congratulate Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss on their energetic leadership and thoughtful approach in outlining a virtual commodity self-regulatory organization (SRO) concept,” he said.

I’m sure I’m piling on here, especially given that I’m sure there have been plenty of times when my name has been coupled with a sib, and our last name used just once. But “Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss” sounds like they should be a married couple, not two professionals in business together. Wouldn’t Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss be a more serious way to refer to them?

But I’m sure that I’m being a complete and utter nitpicker here. Leading to the Big Question:

Why am I such a nitpicker?

And, of course, a final Big Question:

Will the bitcoin market, as currently constituted, explode or implode before the Winklevoss twins have the opportunity to regulate it?

So many deep thoughts, so little time…

Friday, March 16, 2018

“A Little Bit of Heaven…”

I have been at this blogging thing for a good long time. Long enough to have accumulated eleven posts that talk about St. Patrick’s Day, which all blather on about being an Irish American, what’s going on in Ireland, or whatever pops into my mind as this day approaches

What’s popping into my mind on this, the day before St. Patrick’s Day, is that, tomorrow evening. I’ll be leaving on a jet plane. And not just any old jet plane. An Aer Lingus jet plane. Heading for Ireland.

It will be an odd little trip.

One evening in the town my great-grandparents Trainor hailed from. A couple of nights in Dublin. A couple of nights in Galway.

I will no doubt be doing a post or two on the trip, but those won’t show up for another week or so. Next week’s Pink Slip schedule is stacked already.

So today I’m packing. And charging my Kindle. Making sure I have everything that needs to be printed out printed out. Making notes to myself to remember to pack my laptop.

I will be drinking a cup of Barry’s Tea. The better to wash down a slab of soda bread slathered with Kerry Gold Butter.

But, since I have so many oldies but goodies that cover St. Patrick’s Day and American Irish-ism, I won’t be spending any time coming up with a new angle on the day.

They’re all pretty good, but I think my fave is You Say Potato, which also includes the recipe for the world’s best Irish soda bread.

2017: Faith & Begorrah

2016: Kiss Me, I’m Half Irish

2015: The Wearin’ O The Green

2014: St. Patricks’ Day 2014

2013: The Ides of St. Patrick’s Day”

2012: Answering Ireland’s CallI

2011: St. Patrick’s Day 2011

2010: St. Paddy’s Day No More We’ll Keep.

2009: Irish Eyes Not So Smiling These Days.

2008: You Say Po-tay-to, I say Po-tah-to. Who’s Irish and Who’s Not.

2007: Kiss Me, I’m Irish.

I’ve titled this piece “A Little Bit of Heaven”, not because I believe Ireland is a little bit of heaven. I love Ireland, but if there is a heaven, it’s hard to believe it gets as much rain as Ireland. But when my father was growing up, he and his sibs and cousins all had a party piece that they were required to perform when called upon. My father’s was “A Little Bit of Heaven.”

Here, for your listening pleasure, “A Little Bit of Heaven”.

Not my father’s voice, by the way.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Just in case that link doesn’t work – and I’m thinking it won’t – here’s the bare-naked URL:











Thursday, March 15, 2018

Famous Volcano Has Strange Effect On Women

I like to think of myself as someone who pays absolutely no attention to ads, but this is absolutely not true. I may not respond to them, but I do pay plenty of attention. Ads are always catching my eye. Or my ear. Or both.

In the former category was a full-page ad that appeared in a recent Economist.

Their ads are generally low-key and/or highbrow. Quarter page b&w or full-page 4-color for an upscale business or for someone to direct the railway system in some Indian state. And then there was one with this headline:

Famous Volcano Has Strange Effect On Women

And this subhead:

Man and nature collaborate to create a glamorous green ring guaranteed to rock her world!

Well, mark me down as someone who wouldn’t mind at all if man and nature were to collaborate to rock my world, but I’m afraid the Spirit Lake Helenite Ring doesn’t have a strange effect on me:

Spirit Lake ring

Okay, it’s only $99 – and they throw a pair of stud earrings in for
“FREE” (EXCLUSIVE). But this deal definitely doesn’t grab me in the least. 

The ad also contains this gobbledygook:

Your Offer Code: SLR520-02. You must use this insider offer code to get our special price.

Special price only for customers using the offer code versus the price on without your offer code.

Of course, the price on the website – $478 – has all kind of red-letter notices that, if you use the online offer code, the ring and studs cost only $99. So…

Okay, it’s not in the same league as an email from a Nigerian prince,
but I really would like to know whether anyone in the history of Helenite (the manmade gemstone made from Mount St. Helen’s ash) ever paid that $478 for this jewelry. I’m guessing no.  And I’m also guessing that there aren’t a lot of Economist readers who took advantage of this fantastic offer, unless there are some teenage boy readers out there who fell for the “strange effect on women” headline and ordered one for the teenage girl of their dreams. Or for Dear Old Mom.

The other ad that caught my eye, and my ear, is the one that educates us about PD. It shows the zipper area of a pair of jeans, partially unzipped, and asks:

If you’re curved below the belt…

Well, if you are curved in your nether regions, you might well have PD, which stands for Peyronie’s Disease, which I’m quite sure is no laughing matter. Not familiar with PD? It’s basically curvature of the penis, and if your penis curves like a scimitar, it apparently can be painful. The pharma company running the ad presumably has a drug the helps with PD, but it’s not mentioned.

Unlike the ad for the Spirit Lake Helenite Ring, the PD ad does have a strange effect on this woman. And that effect is to think need-to-know-basis, and to wish it out of my hearing and sight.

For crying out loud – which is how we used to say ‘for fuck’s sake’ in the quaint old days before we had ads for PD and ED – I was just getting over being bombarded by ads for ED. I’ve pretty much become inured to them to the point where I don’t even know if the Viva Viagra and Cialis in the bathtubs ads are still running. I’m guessing that if they are still on the air, they’re airing on the same network where I’m seeing an occasional PD ad, which is MSNBC, which presumably appeals to the demographic that would be concerned with both PD and ED.

Maybe it’s like the ads for Frebreeze that talk about being noseblind. I no longer notice the ED ads. Thankfully.

Anyway, I remember when it was a big deal to have ads on TV for “feminine” products like tampons. Guess this was one area in which grrrllll power was ahead of the curve. (Note: curve curve, not penile curve) We’ve come a long way, baby.

Speaking of which, there’s also an ad that considers the ladies for the Book of the Month Club – and who knew that Book of the Month (which I grew up with, and subscribed to on my own as a young adult) still existed? In this ad, women are raving about getting their monthly book, and those listening to them think they’re talking about getting their periods. The ad belabors the point, but it’s pretty funny. At least the first time around.

As it turns out, Book of the Month is remaking itself by aiming at women in their 20’s and 30’s. (Interesting article on BOMC on Wapo can be found here.)

Guess us old gals will have to stick with Amazon and Kindle.

And maybe I should turn off MSNBC (and put down The Economist) and pick up a good book for a change. Think of it: AD FREE!