Thursday, December 24, 2009

Why I like decorating the Christmas tree

I'm always kind of last minute on putting my tree up. Between my husband's bah-humbug attitude toward "the season" and my own mild allergy to balsam, complicated by a major snow blast, I didn't get this year's edition up until December 22nd.

But up it is, and as a sort of Christmas Miracle, my ancient boom box didn't have any problems with Bing Crosby, Judy Collins, Linda Ronstadt, and Billboard's Greatest. (Usually I have to take a CD in and out a couple of times, then press down on the lid in just the right place to get the player to pick up. And, no, I did not play Bob Dylan while I decorated.)

There were a couple of small problems, however. (Nothing, of course, like the nightmares of my childhood, when if one light went out in a string, you had to test every single one to find the point of failure. Nothing says Christmas like Dad cursing under his breath as he unscrews one light bulb after the next. Talk about the Festival of Lights.)

But it wouldn't be Christmas without a wee problem or two.

For one, I had wanted a slightly smaller tree this year. But all Mahoney's Gardens had was biggish ones, so, thar'tree she blows: a seven footer - eight with the topper.  Actually, this is probably for the best. With our high living room ceilings, and the size of the living room in general (big), too small a tree would look ridiculous. Still, a foot less would have been okay. (And a nod to my brother Rick for tree-schlepping with me.  He even helped put it in the stand, minimizing the annual, minor 'the tree isn't straight?' hoo-hah that Jim and I always go through as we wrestle the tree into the stand. Another argument for a smaller tree, of course.)


The other glitch-een was my not looking at the tree from the side until it was fully decorated. Head on, it looked fine. Coming in to the living room, which is how everyone will first see it, there was a giant bare spot at 2 o'clock high.

So, there I was, gingerly twirling a fully decorated, seven foot tree around to hide the bare spot. Which, once I was done twirling, meant climbing on to the step stool to rejigger the tree topper, which only works in one direction (facing).  And which necessitated rehanging some of the key ornaments so that they're front and center.

What's up front?

Not necessarily the  most objectively beautiful ornaments, by any means.

But there's an honored place for the polar-bear Santa that says "Molly" that I got for Miss M's first Christmas. (Maybe someday I'll find the piece of the foot that broke off.) And the Caroline snow-lady that marked Lady C's first Noel.

Of course I had to make sure that my black lab ornament was at the fore, given that this year's new family addition - Trish and John's black lab, Jack - will be joining the festivities this year. (Wonder what old Jackeroo will make of his presents...)

I always like that have some of my sister Kath's old ornaments take center stage. She no longer has a tree, but I make sure the handmade Emily - her late, great cat - ornament is out front.  As is the wooden turtle that commemorates Rick's late pet, Sluggo. (This is Rick, as in brother-in-law, not Rick as in brother.) Somewhere along the line, I got a dreidel, dreidel, dreidel - not made out of clay - which is there to honor Rick (as in brother-in-law.)

The plastic Santa in his sleigh (note the one-legged reindeer), the plastic red boots, and plastic red bells are also high on my list of what's important. These were from my parents' first Christmas tree, in 1946. (And what a jolly, holly Christmas that must have been. A few weeks earlier, their first child, my sister Margaret, had died in an entisantaornrely avoidable birth accident.  As a family, this wasn't our only gruesome Christmas.  Christmas 1970, my father lay dying, away in Boston in a hospital bed. That night he fell into an irreversible coma. I still have the plaid wool Pendleton shirt I'd gotten him that year, stowed in my cedar chest. I used to wear it, and maybe I'll start doing so again. Oddly - he never wore it - I draw great comfort from just having it around.)

On a cheerier note, I also like to have some of my travel ornaments up front: the Belleek ones from Ireland, some of the painted eggshells from Prague and Krakow, a couple of boats from the great state of Maine.

The striped glass ornaments that came from my grandmother Rogers' no longer go on the tree. They're on special ornament hangers on the mantle.

I always put a few of my mother's hand-made cross-stitched ornaments out. And a pig or two (don't ask). Plus a few Beetle-themed ones. 

It should be easy enough to count, but, all told, I'm guessing that I have between 150-200 ornaments, most of which go on the tree.

This year, there are a couple of new additions:

  • Fenway Park Green Monster (Yay! Spring training's just around the corner.)
  • A stocking that says "Paris" from last spring's trip with Molly and Caroline.
  • A cupcake - birthday gift from my friend Marilyn, who, with me, eagerly awaits the opening of the cupcake shop on Charles Street.

I have to say, I really enjoy decorating the tree, especially  hanging the ornaments that came from a place that, or - better yet - a person who, means something to me.

(Gettin' sentimental in my old age, am I?)

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Pink Slip is off until the new year. See you all on January 4th.

The pictures aren't great, but this is from my Blackberry....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Scalped! What "free skating" at Fenway Park could cost you.

Well, it's nice to see that the local scalpers - not content to gouge on Celtics and Bruins tickets - have found a new way to make a few bucks and help ensure that their Christmases - if not yours - will be merry and bright. (Source: Globe.)

Not that I have much of a problem with enterprising individuals who pay for tickets, assume the risk that no one will want to see a game or a Neil Diamond concert, and make a few bucks on a transaction. 

I'm quite a bit less enamored of the "official" scalping that goes on, in which, two seconds after tickets for a game - or even a Neil Diamond concert - are available, they're only available on the approved secondary market for a lot more money than face value.  But that's another story. Today's story is about scalping tickets to go skating at Fenway Park.

And this is not ordinary scalping. No, we're talking people scalping tickets that they were given for free.

For those who don't give a puck about professional sports, for the last couple of years, the National Hockey League has held a New Year's Day game in the great out of doors, putting up a temporary rink in some stadium or other - the first, I believe, was in Buffalo - and inviting fans to have a near-death-by-hypothermia experience watching hockey.

This year's game is being held in Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, which, in Boston, is as close as we get to hallowed ground.

When the rink was put down last week, we got to see the touching - hey, I mean it: I still have a crush on Bobby Orr - spectacle of Boston Bruins legends skating around Fenway with the Green Monster in the background. (Toss in a bunch of pee-wee hockey leaguers for good measure.  And, throw in Red Sox Captain Jason Varitek lacing up his CCM's. He may have grown up in the south, but that boy was born in Michigan and, as he said, "I'm a fan, too.")

And then the City of Boston decided to get in on the act, and sponsor two days of free skating for the citizens of our fair (and unfair) city.

People lined up at outposts all over town, waiting for hours for the chance to score some free-bies for the January 3rd and January 10th skate-arounds.

Personally, I'd like nothing better than to zip around Fenway in a pair of figure skates. Unfortunately, although I skated pretty much every day of the winter as a kid - it's what we did after school: go skating at Hendy's (Henderson Pond) - I haven't had a pair of skates on in four decades.

At this point, the specter of a broken hip looms large, and the only way I'd care to go skating at Fenway would be if Bobby Orr held me by one arm, and Ray Bourque held me by the other. (Maybe Derek Sanderson could push.)

Since that scenario is not likely to play out, I didn't stand in line for tickets.

Of course, where you combine "waiting in line" with "Fenway Park" in the same sentence, there are bound to be scalpers.

And, gosh golly, there were.

So, from Craigslist to eBay, 'tis the season to be scalping, with tickets for four - which cost the "owner" zip - are being offered at an ask of $1,800. (Reportedly, Craisglist took its listings down at the request of the City of Boston.)

Apparently, tickets are not just being tendered by those who at least stood in line to get their freebies. One on-line listing - from one of our cherished local hacks - reads:

“I have 12 tickets total, will sell all for $4,000. 4 tickets for just $1,800. Once in a lifetime opportunity! No sob stories please prices are firm. Hard tickets in hand. I was given these tix by menino  [Tom Menino, Boston's mayor] directly and I will be there to ensure your entire party gets into the park. . . . VIP tickets include a meet and greet with Bruin Old Timers and free hot chocolate and donuts.’’

So, some Menino flunky or suck-up got 12 tickets that should have gone to a few Joe Sixpacks/Joan Threedeckers and their kids, and now he's got the nerve to try to sell them for big bucks. (I trust that Hizzoner read The Globe, and I hope that he and his non-scalping minions will be keeping their eyes out for this POSS (the additional "S' is for "scalper").  City Hall must have some sense of who this guy is. How many twelve packs did Tommy give out?

City Hall, meanwhile, is shocked, yes shocked, to find scalping going on here.

“These are free tickets that were arranged to be given to City of Boston residents to skate free at Fenway Park, they weren’t meant for people to make money off of,’’ Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said yesterday. “It was really the mayor making sure the residents of this city get something back, especially young people who, given this is Fenway, it might be their only chance to be there.’’

However, to their credit, the city - which was sponsoring these skating events with Sun Life - did have everyone who got tickets register and plans to "conduct spot checks to make sure people have the right tickets."

Boy, would I ever love to be the spot-checker who spots the City Hall insider who tried to move his 12 tickets - 12 tickets!  Those who stood in line in the cold to try for tickets could only get 4 -  for Four Large.

Meanwhile, tickets for the actual New Year's Bruins-Flyers game are scalp-tailing for $700 per.  But, hey, at least those tickets are from scalpers who got them the old fashioned way: they bought them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Anthony Armatys and the ultimate no-show job

I was browsing Fortune/CNN's list of the dumbest of the dumb business moments for the past year, and one that just jumped off the page was not any major corporate malfeasance, but the sad story of one Anthony Armatys, who found a little extra in his wallet, courtesy of Avaya.

It seems that, in 2002, Armatys accepted a 6-figure job with Avaya.

At the last moment, he decided not to take the position.

Nothing wrong with that.  Sometimes a better offer comes in.  Sometimes you get cold feet. Sometimes your current employer sweetens the pot and, aww, you really wanted to stay put, anyway.

The first day I worked at Wang I would have quit, if my PC had been working and I could have written a resignation letter. (I ended up staying for two-and-a-half none-too-happy years. If only that PC had been working....)

Problem was, Avaya had him in their payroll system for direct deposit into his checking account. Which they did for over 4 years, to the tune of $470K.

Which Armatys blithely accepted.

In October, he pleaded guilty. Now he's been ordered to repay the nil-gotten gains, and, when he is sentenced in January, he could face 6 years in the slammer.

Bad news, Anthony. I don't think there are any 6-figure, no show jobs in the stir.

You may get paid 20 cents an hour to stamp license plates, fold laundry, or work in a call center. But I'm guessing they're pretty strict about showing up.

Sure, there'll be mornings when you want to turn off the alarm clock - which, come to think of it, will probably be a claxon in the corridor - roll over on your 2 inch mattress and catch a few more ZZZ's. Mornings when you just can't face the idea of putting on the old orange jump suit and falling into line with all the other drones, heading to their boring, monotonous job.

But when that happens, my guess is you don't get paid your 20 cents an hour.

And you probably get points taken off your good behavior for bad attitude, that will make any quasi-negative performance review you got seem like nothing - no matter how much you fretted over and/or bitched about it at the time.

One, of course, has to wonder what kind of controls Avaya had in place that allowed this to happen.

Didn't someone have to sign off on a yearly increase?

Apparently, Armatys was taken out of the HR system, but left in the payroll system. Which kept spitting out those direct deposits. Not to mention donations to Armatys' 401K system. (Bet they've got a control in place now, don't you think.)

It's the 401K that tripped him up, by the way.

Not content to have scammed nearly half a million, Armatys tried to make an early withdrawal. (Wonder what he said he needed the money for. Legal fees?)

Anyway, someone checked around and discovered that Armatys had never actually been employed by Avaya.

So, this guy - who's only 35 years old - may be headed for jail, where he'll have plenty of time to run this situation through his head (when he's not folding laundry for 20 cents an hour).

What was he thinking the first time the money showed up? Act of God? Miscalculation on his part - say, I didn't know I had another $2K around.  Maybe he figured, they'll figure it out, it's their problem, not mine. Maybe he figured, what's $2K to them? Maybe he never thought the second payment would show up. And then it did. And then the third one was in there...

Free money! Yippee!

It may have all added up to a nicer home, cooler cars, and swank vacations for Armatys.

He forgot to subtract out the fact that the money wasn't his to begin with.

So, now he's got a record - this has to be a felony, no?; he may be going to jail; and he's going to have a hard time convincing a potential employer to take a chance on him.

Boy, is he ever going to be sorry that he shot that application into Avaya to begin with.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oh, oh...Mercer, Mercer, me. Things ain't what they used to be.

Well, Mercer got a nice little early lump of coal in their stocking, courtesy of The New York Times, which reported yesterday on the HR consultancy's big trouble in little old Alaska.

In 2007, Alaska's Retirement Management Board sued Mercer, claiming that the company,which was brought in as the state's actuarial consultant, made a boo-boo when it advised them on how much it needed to put aside for health care and pension benefits for a couple of the state's retirement funds. This is making news again because of a recent Alaska state court decision to deny Mercer's request that the suit be thrown out because their (now acknowledged) mistake didn't cause any "compensable harm." (Alaska is looking for $2.8B in damages.)

As is so often the case, the "whoopsie" here is not that Mercer screwed up. After all, if mistakes are outlawed, only outlaws will make mistakes, and that'll be no darned fun.  No, it's what Mercer is alleged to have done after the fact is elevating this one from black-eye mistake to a problem that could put the company out of biz.

A Mercer actuary found the error before the 2002 valuations were to be presented to the Alaska plans and reported it, along with a colleague, to a supervisor. But after several discussions, the lawsuit says, the Mercer executives decided not to tell their client about the error.

...“Following standard Mercer policies designed to prevent clients from discovering Mercer’s errors,” Alaska’s lawyers contend, “Mercer’s actuaries carefully avoided creating a written record of their discussions and calculations, in order, one of them testified, to avoid creating a ‘trace.’ ”

If Alaska wins in court, the retirement system stands to get back a lot more than enough to make up for the mistake. They could get "punitive as well as treble damages."

Mercer has acknowledge that mistakes in judgment were made, but that this doesn't reflect on "the company’s corporate culture," which, if you look at their web site, is all (yawn) about being a "global leader in trusted HR and related financial advice"...working "with our clients as partners"...with those clients who "want strategic advice as well as flawless administration and execution of their HR programs."

Pre-resolution, there's already fallout that won't win Mercer any popularity contest with their competitors:

... while the suit is pending, actuarial firms are finding it impossible to buy liability insurance against such claims.

So much for Mercer's web site chirpery:

In our work with clients, we make a positive impact on the world every day.

(Be very, very careful of what you put on your web site.)

When will supposedly smart companies/pols/superstars learn that it's seldom the core offense that trips them up, it's the lying, scheming, cover-ups. Were Watergate and Lewinskygate all for naught?

Apparently so.

I can sort of understand junior employees being so scared that they'd cover up a mistake. Dumb behavior, assuredly. Frankly, the best thing to do when you f-up is throw it on your manager's plate. But when the cover-ups start making their way up the corporate hierarchy, well...

Don't these maroons read The Wall Street Journal , The New York Times, or The National Enquirer?

Lying may be fun. Lying may be easy. Lying may save you a bit of temporary embarrassment and discomfort.

But generally it jumps back up and bites you. Hard.

Or am I missing something?

Do people continue to do it because, in most cases, the lie is never found out?

Now, there's a thought...

Meanwhile, mercy, mercy, me. Things for Mercer ain't going to be what they used to be for a while, if ever.

Would you put your trust in this organization?

Come on. They're HR experts. Wouldn't you think they'd know better than, say, rapacious hedge fund gougers?

Then there's the hideous possibility that, if the great state of Alaska prevails, our girl Sarah will use this to foment more us vs. them outrage. Think that'll happen? You betcha!

Friday, December 18, 2009

It slices, it dices: coming soon to 'as seen on TV'

Just in time for the holidays, when everybody and her brother are looking for Yankee swap ideas, The New York Times had an article the other day on TeleBrands - 'Creator of the famous "As Seen
On TV" logo', and the outfit that has brought us the PedEgg (rid your peds of that unsightly rough skin), Doggy Steps (help your critters get on and off the furniture, which is just where you want them, no?), and the Bottle Top ("turn your drink can into a bottle", since it's so darned hard to drink out of a can....)

To tell you the truth, having wended my way over to the TeleBrands site, I was a little disappointed that the home of the Infomercial King didn't have more stuff on it: No Dog Snuggies, no OxiClean... They must live elsewhere.

But maybe they live elsewhere because they're not in TeleBrands wheelhouse. On TB's FAQ, we're told that:

Each of the company’s products is designed to save consumers time and money by providing affordable, convenient solutions to everyday challenges.

After all, the Snuggie - pet or human version - doesn't actually save consumers time and money, although apparently for at least some of the millions who ordered them, putting on a bathrobe or a sweater when they want to stay warm while reading, knitting, watching TV, or chatting on the phone is an everyday challenge.

I must say, I have been tempted by the PedEgg (which has sold 30 million units in under 3 years) - or would I go for Heel-Tastic, which is a cream -  but I actually have a pumice stone that works quite well. (Who'd have thunk that dry, cracked heels are one of the major problems that we, as a nation, face today. Go forth, Americans. Pioneer, o pioneers. Rid yourselves of yucky, peeling heels that snag your stockings.)

But the article in The Times wasn't about current stuff As Seen on TV, but about inventors who flock to TeleBrands New Jersey headquarters to pitch their concepts.

The most recent crew trying to attract the interest of the TeleBrands evaluators included:

...the Texas cop who pushed in a lawn mower to show off his patented mower caddy shelf; the smooth-talking guy from Los Angeles demonstrating his Find-It beeping keychain; the woman demonstrating her self-adhering wrapping paper; the man behind the all new EZ-Stack party dish. And hey, have you ever needed the Gutter Gremlin drainpipe screen?

Hmmm?  Aren't there already mower caddy shelves, a necessity now that people don't have the time or the large family crew of kids who can follow behind dad with the mower, raking up the grass clippings. And the beeping keychain? Aren't there variants on a theme out there already?

I don't have drainpipes, but the Gutter Gremlin sounds like it might be worthwhile for those with drainpipes, living in places where there's rain, wind, and leaves.

One of the inventors pitched a tie rack - yawn!

I'm pretty sure that most of the folks watching, and buying based on, infomercials aren't wearing ties to work. Just saying.

Another inventor was also onto the rack theme. He/she pitched the Hanky Tanky Hanger, a tie rack for tank tops. "No More Folding!"

Ah, yes, no more folding. That'll save you a cool 2-5 minutes per annum, depending on how many tank tops you own.

Thousands of hopefuls vie for the TeleBrand "As Seen on TV" imprimatur; about five are accepted.

Among the possibilities?

That EZ Stack party snack organizer, a:

"... so-so product, [Mr. Khubani] concluded...'but it could demo very well on TV and that could cause me to want to buy it.'”

And -  remember, you heard it hear first (or second, if you read The Times) -

Next, two teddy bears bounded in — no, it was two women wearing their product: a terry cloth jumpsuit for after-showering. This hit a nerve with Mr. Khubani, who is still stinging from passing up the Snuggie robe, which caught another marketer’s eye and sold millions. He assured these jumpsuit gals they’d hear from him.

So, next year we may be seeing endless ads for these terry cloth jump suits, which seem to me to be nothing more than a variation on the theme of the terry cloth robe, which I don after every shower.

But who knows?

A snappy name, a compelling infomercial, this just might be next year's Snuggie.

It may not slice, it may not dice, and no one may actually wear one in real life, but the Snuggie folks sure have sold a ton of them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The company holiday event: personal worst

There may be some who actually believe that this is "the most wonderful time of the year", but when it comes to the holiday party, I find it hard to believe that there's anyone who actually looks forward to and enjoys this type of event. I am, of course, projecting my own feelings here, but existential dread is not too strong a term for my feeling about the company party.

I think it all goes back to high school, when the nuns would periodically stage some event or other that was always off the mark - girls in the 1960's were really not going to get all that excited about a Mario Lanza movie. When the Mario Lanza movie was announced, and we did not squeal with delight to the degree that only an appearance by the Beatles might have merited, the nuns became miffed. They went through the however many stages you go through - hurt feelings, disappointed, completely pissed off - and always end with a threat to never give us a treat again.

Since even a Mario Lanza movie was better than half of our classes, we bucked up, and learned to give a wild, cheering, standing O when some special event was announced.

We had a term for it: obligatory fun.

Obligatory fun is precisely how I viewed most company holiday events - especially the big production numbers where you had to get dressed up, drive miles in the dark into the back arse of nowhere, and circulate miserably and drink-deprived (you had to drive back out of the back arse of nowhere in the dark, after all) until you felt you'd seen and be seen enough to duck out.

My personal worst, however, was not a major company hoo-hah. It was a small appreciation lunch I took my small appreciated group out to one Christmas. Since I didn't want anyone getting all in a knot about a grab, let alone having anyone feel they needed to gift the manager - one admin I had once gave me  a Thomas Kincaid book; a few months later, I laid her off - not for that reason, of course, but it didn't help - I suggested that we all bring in a couple of used books we liked, put them in the middle of the table, and have everyone pick out the ones they were interested in.

Who'd a thunk this could backfire.

At that time, I had a very small group - 5 or 6 people, and only one man among them.

Well, didn't the lone guy bring in his girlfriend's old nursing GYN text book. Lame, but whatever....

In the car on the way back to work, I had as a passenger a young woman in the group who had made no bones about the fact that she resented this guy, mainly because she'd figured out he (deservedly) made more than she did.

Anyway, "Maisie" mentioned that she was offended by the fact that "Lon" had brought in a gynecology book.

I responded that, sure, it was a bit awkward, but that he hadn't meant anything by it. And, given some of the things that this young woman had told me, I was more than a little surprised that she was so offended.

Here's what hadn't offended Maisie:

She had told me that, before she joined my team, a very powerful, senior executive in the organization had told her a hilarious joke that involved Monica Lewinsky, oral sex, and Jews - a tri-fecta of offense that she found just a riot.

When she relayed this story to me, I told her that, if this had happened on my watch (i.e., while she was in my group), I would have felt obligated to go to HR with it.

Then I let it rest.

Fast forward a few weeks.

I receive a call from HR, informing me that I would be paid a visit by the EEOC police, because someone had (anonymously) complained about something wildly offensive that had occurred at my little holiday lunch.

The story gets more involved, but fast forward a few weeks, and "Lon" is brought up on charges, or whatever they call it. Anyway, he gets this warning that becomes a black mark on his permanent file, and, I believe, had to go through some sensitivity training.

Meanwhile, I'm not supposed to know that "Maisie" was the one who'd dimed "Lon", and couldn't say anything to either of them about the incident. Let alone do anything. Or even talk about the situation to anyone other than HR.

Meanwhile, "Maisie" - bless her heart - starts going from bad to worse.

Fast forward a few months.

"Maisie" is apprehended at the fax machine - by someone in HR - faxing a list everyone in our business unit (title, phone, e-mail) to a recruiter friend of hers.

"Maisie" is fired.

Entire group breathes sigh of relief.

Next holiday lunch for now much larger, more equally boy-girl balanced team, goes off without a hitch. But I did forego the idea of a book swap.

Company holiday party? No, thanks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


There was a little piece on yesterday about some night shift mechanics at the commuter rail maintenance facility in Somerville, just outside of Boston, who've been taking longer breaks than allowed.  When their new manager went looking for them the other evening, he couldn't find his errant guys, but he did snap the padlock on an electrical cabinet and found:

...three televisions, two DVD players, one VHS player, surround-sound speakers, a video game system, and DVDs, some of them pornographic.

Not clear whether there's a man cave hidden in the facility somewhere - maybe with a dorm fridge and a couple of LaZ Boy rockers - but I'm guessing that, if there is one, the same little bird that lead the new manager to the work entertainment center will be twittering in his ear about it. Maybe the break-men hooked up the videos in one of the passenger cars. (As someone who frequents our local commuter rail service, I really don't want to think about these guys watching porn on those blue and maroon leatherette seats. Bad enough they were watching Rambo, one of the videos that was nabbed.)

No one has come forward to claim the equipment, but 6 workers have been suspended for break infractions - included one fellow who allegedly was spending his nice long breaks at a bar that he owns.

Ah, Happy Hour!

In addition to violating break-time rules, whoever brought all the gear in violated a prohibition on:

... bringing in equipment likely to distract them from their jobs.

Pornography is also verboten.

Needless to say, I'm not wild about the idea of folks taking porn breaks (especially if they took them in train cars that I ride in).  And I absolutely don't like the idea of these quasi-government workers - these guys don't work for the transit authority, but work under a government contract funded by tax money and train fares, both of which I pay - shaving an hour or so off of their time at work each day. 

But what's the big deal if they want to spend their allowed 45 minute break playing Super Mario Brothers or watching part of a Rambo movie?  As long as they can resist the temptation to watch the whole thing, who cares?

Thus, the real story should be the long breaks, not the cache of DVD's they had hidden, even though it makes the story far more titillating.

Not that there's no such thing as goldbricking in the private sector (even before the days of cyber-goldbricking). And not that I haven't occasionally indulged in a bit of it myself. But here's where wage vs. salary factors in.

If the Somerville Six had been able to extend their work hours to take into account their Rambo time, and as long as they were hitting their deadlines and not holding any one else's work up, who would care?

I can't possible recall the number of times I blew off the better portion of a Friday afternoon at work, shooting the shit with colleague, looking for a duvet cover on Bluefly, or staring off into space. My downtime would begin the second I realized that, no matter how close my nose was to the grindstone for the rest of the day, I was going to end up coming in on Saturday, anyway. 

This could be argued either way: I had to work on Saturday because I wasn't productive, or I wasn't productive because I was willing to work Saturdays. Extra hours didn't always equate to extra work getting done.

(In my experience, the most time-efficient people I ever worked with were mothers of small kids. There was absolutely no fat in their day, other than whatever fat was in the sandwich they ate while sitting at their desk working over lunch. When you have to pick the kids up at 5:30 on the dot, guess what? You get your work done so you can leave in time to get them.

A lot of time, when I was still working full time, I'd hear people complaining that a lot of extra work falls on the childless. There was some truth to this - especially in the pre-Internet/pre laptop days when you couldn't easily do work from home. It was often assumed that those who didn't have kids were able (and, therefore, willing) to stay late to finish up the whatever, and take the crappy, last minute trip to East Overshoe.

Without getting all shrinky here,  there was also some truth - at least in my case, and I suspect, the case of a few others - to the notion that those without kids may make more of an investment in their jobs precisely because they don't have kids.)

Over the course of my full-time career, I also took plenty of long lunches. Given how many non-lunches, and lunch-at-the-wheel breaks I took, it probably averaged out to 15 minutes per day. Still, there were some memorable ones.

My favorite long lunches were actually not lunches at all. They were long walks.

When I worked at Wang, a group of us took a walk at lunch most days, walking for half an hour or forty-five minutes. Anything to take a break from the oppressive atmosphere of the Wang Towers. (I'm still shuddering, and I worked there 20 years ago.)

But some days, when it was just my friend Cathy and me, we'd look at each other and ask, is this a one hour walk or a two hour walk? And plenty of days, it was a two hour walk.

Mostly, we'd talk shop. But sometimes we'd just talk.

One day, we got to talking, and - when we finally looked up - we realized that we had wandered off of our usual path (which mostly led to a discount Gap outlet in Chemlsford where you could get tee-shirts for $2), or - in really nice weather - to an ice cream stand. We had wandered away from urbia and suburbia, and were on some two-lane black top in the middle of the woods.

We forged on, hoping that, when we crested the next hill, we could at least catch sight of the Wang Towers. Or find a road sign. Or see a house. Nada.

After an hour or so, a cop car went by - the first car we'd seen since we'd realized we were lost - and we flagged it down.

As it turns out, we weren't all that far from civilization. We turned down the offer to pull up to the front entrance, siren wailing and flashers on.

Of course, by Wang standards, a three hour walk barely counted as goldbricking. There were a couple of guys in my group who would get to work, turn on their computers, hang their jackets on the back of their chairs, and take off. First stop, head down to the caf for a leisurely breakfast, while reading the newspapers.  After that, there was an hour or two of work, followed by a nice long workout. Then a late lunch. We were all product managers, and Wang had such an intricate bureaucracy and matrix structure - which product managers tapped into on just about ever node - that we could be anywhere other than in our cubes. Eventually, they got laid off, but, over time, that pretty much happened to everyone at Wang who didn't have the presence of mind to quit.

In any case, I wouldn't want to be in the work boots of any of the Somerville Six.

It's Christmas, a bad economy, and their jobs were probably decently paid and relatively secure. Maybe it'll all blow over; maybe they'll lose their jobs; maybe it'll be something in the middle.

But they're already out their equipment and DVD's. The gear has supposedly been donated to a worthy cause, and the porn done away with.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Never Stop Being Pompous: North Face takes on South Butt

Oh, yes, I know that the price of being a Big Consumer Goods Company is eternal vigilance. It can't be easy having to be always on the lookout for imposter goods made on the cheap and sold at flea markets. The bigs argue that knock-off wares deprive them of revenue. In some cases - pirated videos and software - they've got a point. But it's hard to believe that someone who's buying a $10 "Vuitton bag" off a card table at The Flea does so instead of going into a Vuitton store and forking over $700 for the real deal. More plausibly - sorta - the bigs can argue that their brand is being impugned by shoddy goods bearing their name. But is the Vuitton brand really harmed when some gum-chewing big-hair girl whines about the cute pocketbook that fell apart in the rain?

Which brings me to The North Face, which is now up in fleece-covered arms over something that's not a direct knock-off of its product line, but, rather, a take-off on it.

The North Face - outdoor gear and the way-pricey, way-popular with the teens fleece jacket  - is suing The South Butt for itThe South Butt, LLCs send-up of their name, logo, and tagline. The South Butt is the brainchild of an 18 year old college kid, Jimmy Winkelmann, who dreamed his dream up to help pay for college. Clearly a rip off, as is the South Butt tagline - Never Stop Relaxing (vs. NF's Never Stop Exploring - which I guess includes never stop exploring ways to develop a high end, high price brand that young folks - at least for now - are clamoring for).

I don't exactly find The South Butt take-off HI-lariously funny. (Ha-ha, butt, ha-ha.) It's a bit too Beavis and Butthead-ish for my taste. But Jimmy Winkelmann is not interested in selling anything to me. He's interested in selling to those among his peers who find the dig at North Face - and brand consciousness, consumer madness, and conformity (other than their own!) -  HI-lariously funny.

Winkelmann's merch, by the way, ain't all that cheap. A fleece jacket - in ghastly mint green - costs $60. (Less than what I take to be its opposite NF number, which costs $165, but is, realistically, likely to be somewhat better made. Just a guess.)

But I don't see how anyone would mistake anything from The North Face for anything from The South Butt.

Left alone, The South Butt joke would likely have run its course, and its hard to believe that it does one iota of harm to The North Face.

What the suit does is bring more attention and, I'm guessing, a lot more in sales, to The South Butt.

And also makes The North Face - which has always had something of a ruggedly handsome, fresh air, wholesome image - look like a humorless bully. (The humorless may be dead-on. They use the word "amongst" on their website.) Whatever the legal and financial outcome - NF buys out SB, SB slapped with a cease and desist - Goliath never comes out of a David and Goliath suit without a slingshot blast to their image. No, Goliath doesn't end up dead. Just dinged up.

And David?

He makes enough to pay his tuition, gets his bit of fame, finds a job with a company that admires his initiative and humor, or starts up another company. Hard to believe there'll be any damages awarded to North Face, unless Winkelmann shows up in court as an arrogant, smug, punk, rather than an earnest goofball.

I'm betting on the goofball, and doff my cap to a kid who came up with a fun idea to help put himself through college, and is no doub learning plenty about business in the process. By the way, the cap I'll doff is the dark pink North Face ski cap I bought last year during a brutal cold snap. And, yes, it does keep my ears very warm.


(First read about this on

Monday, December 14, 2009

You've got to Accenturate the positive, eliminate the negative

It's no surprise that the golf shoes have begun to drop on Tiger Woods.

Yesterday's announcement by Accenture that they weren't going to be giving old Tiger a mulligan was pretty straightforward:

For the past six years, Accenture and Tiger Woods have had a very successful sponsorship arrangement and his achievements on the golf course have been a powerful metaphor for business success in Accenture’s advertising. However, given the circumstances of the last two weeks, after careful consideration and analysis, the company has determined that he is no longer the right representative for its advertising. Accenture said that it wishes only the best for Tiger Woods and his family.

Very circumspect, that "given the circumstances of the last two weeks," but I wouldn't expect them to state outright that one bimbo eruption after another, after another, after another, was one, or two, or three, or more bimbo eruptions too many. 

Maybe Accenture would have kept Woods on if it had been one or two babes in the woodwork. Or if his affairs of heart (or lower) had been with Accenture type women: button-down MBA's with their charcoal gray suits, horn-rimmed glasses, and briefcases. Of course, if that had been his type, we may not have seen quite so many media appearances by girls done wrong/doing wrong - waitresses, porn stars, hostesses - all trying to grab their chippie shot at 15 minutes of fame. In hopes, of course, that they can parlay it into a career, now that they've captured the media's attention. (Good luck with that, ladies.)

Giving its lineage, Accenture might be especially skittish about its reputation. (Say, didn't they used to be Andersen?????) Thus, they may have felt the need to act more quickly than others  (Nike, Gillette). 

I don't  know how and if being B2B to the Fortune 500 factors in here, either. We'll take Accenture's word for it: Tiger's no longer the "right representative" (although I can easily imagine that a lot of Fortune 500 execs would still be de-lighted to rub shoulders with Woods and golf a few Pro-Am celebrity holes with him; and, lets face it, do a little girl talkin').

Nothing new here, of course. Those with the means can always find the ways, especially when they're on the road a lot. My guess is that many a wife of a professional athlete makes a trade-off: philander globally, act upright locally. (What happens in [destination goes here], stays in [destination goes here].)

But that was before the days of 24/7 news, twitter, texting, secting, cell-cam, citizen paparazzi, and everyone feeling that, unless they're part of "it" they're nobody.

Truly, if you want to be a play-a, you're better off being the next level down: professional athlete making good money, but not the one who's on the cover of Sports Illustrated, let alone popping up in ads all over the place. No, if you want to get around, you're better off being a bit below the radar, making multi-millions a year, but not generally being recognized by anyone other than die-hard sports fans.

And, of course, if you're going to peddle a robotically squeaky-clean image as part of your package, to keep it robotically squeaky clean.

What I don't get is that, in this day and age, someone so famous could actually believe that they could get away with this sort of behavior and not be outed. Basketball player Wilt Chamberlain reputedly slept with 20,000 women during his career, placing him way out of Tiger's league, lady-wise. (Certainly not endorsement-wise. Old Wilt never made any $1B.) But that was then, and this is now.

And, of course, Chamberlain is unlikely to have had much of a sustained relationship with any/many of the women he slept with. It sounds like at least some of Woods gal-pals believed they had something going, at least some degree of longevity.

So, this inquiry mind wants to know if Tiger was so arrogant that he thought he could get away with it. If he's not all that bright to begin with. If he just completely lacks judgement, in terms of the women he got involved with. (Is there anybody left out there who's capable of kissing and not telling?)

Or maybe he's just sick of the whole fraud show aspect of being the Tiger Woods that Accenture and a lot of others want him to be.

Maybe Woods has gotten what he's really wanted: out of the sham, and free to figure out who he wants to be from now on.

He certainly doesn't need the Accenture money. It will be interesting to see, over the next few years, exactly what it is that he does want and need.

File this one under one more reason I'm glad I'm not a celebrity...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fame! I'm gonna live for ever, or, is being on "Bad Girls" a good career move

I've got as much of an appetite for junk reality TV as the next guy, which means that I am neither a reality glutton nor a reality anorexic. Like the next guy, I consume in moderation.

But I do occasionally consume those empty calories, even though, after the fact, I never feel all that hot, and regret that I didn't do something more healthful, like check out what's on the History Channel or watch something on Discovery about quarks.

One show that I've seen a couple of times is the Bad Girls Club on the Oxygen Network, a network aimed at women - which somewhat surprises me because Bad Girls has Spike written all over it. (Although, of course, women will be horrifically fascinated.)

The premise of the show is the gathering of a handful of young women under one roof - in a sexed up version of Barbie's Dream House (think glistening fake fur on the bannister). Add copious amounts of liquor - it appears to flow from all the water taps -  and let the fake fur fly.

Naturally, no one would want to watch if the show featured purposeful, thoughtful young women debating whether to go to law or business school, helping each other with their  résumés, and volunteering at a center for Alzheimer patients. That would be Good Girls, and it would get nada ratings traction.

No, people want to watch National Meretricious, not National Merit.

The show is, of course, "cleverly" edited to depict all trashy bitch-fest, all the time. And it succeeds. The two episodes I've seen mostly show the residents getting into each other's faces, getting trashed, over-reacting/over-acting, and doing what used to be called an alpha-male stomp: I'm the toughest bitch in this house, and I don't take nothin' from nobody...

Given the general tawdriness of this show, I have to ask myself why a local young woman, a senior at Boston College, would decide to participate. From what I gather, Kate Squillace decided to do this on a whim, and, in fact, turned down an internship at ESPN.

I read that she wants a career in PR.


Yes, PR is about getting exposure for your clients. But it's also about "positioning," and helping clients avoid situations in which they will appear drunk, trashy, and flashy. Unless your clients are the types of celebrities who are prized precisely because they appear drunk, trashy, and flashy.

I will say that, in the episodes I've seen, Kate appears more intelligent and collected than the average denizen of the Bad Girls House. But this is faint praise, I assure you.

Maybe she wants to get into famous-people PR, not corporate. Maybe she wants to get the type of "PR" job that entails pushing Captain Morgan in bars. Maybe the connections she'll make on this show - and the exposure (both persona and skin) - will pay off.

Maybe this is what you need to do these days, when knowing how to go viral is more important than knowing how to actually do something concrete (and, arguably, more useful). Or knowing how to think critically, beyond the critical thinking skills required to garner a lot of publicity for yourself.

Maybe it's just me, but if I googled Kate Squillace and came up with this show at the top of the list, I think I'd take a pass on interviewing her.

This is not one of those spur of the moment, posted on Facebook fiascos. It was a career move.

And aren't there other reality shows that would have made a better option? How about shows like The Apprentice, The Amazing Race, or Survivor that, while obviously trumped up to maximize bad behavior and personal foibles, do give participants the opportunity to showcase plenty of practical and interpersonal skills.

Maybe those shows weren't hiring. Maybe they're just too hard.

But I'm so yesterday.

In some fields, appearing on a reality show is likely a point of entry. In others, it's likely a point of no return phone call.

Sure, there have always been situations in which self-promoters achieve success. And it's always been the case that you won't get ahead if you don't have a teensy bit of the self-promo gene.

But all I can say is, if this is what it takes to "differentiate" yourself these days, if this is what it takes to get a job, I'm happy I'm neither looking nor hiring.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A hundred cans of beer on the wall...

Oh, these darned young folks!

They don't want to read good books like Lorna Doone and Misty of Chincoteague.  They just want to sext.

The girls all dress like s-l-u-t-s. The boys all wear these ridiculous, puffed up, out-sized baseball caps. And they wear them skewed to the side. I defy anyone to look intelligent in these caps when worn face-on, let alone sideways. Do you hear me, young man? OF course not - not with that iPod in your air.

None of these young folks want to work hard, either. They just want to be famous for being famous. And rich. Rich and famous.

I swan...if I hear one more youngster say 'peace out."

And, they're not joining swell organizations like the Shriners and the DAR.

Oh, pshaw.

But just when I thought things couldn't get any bleaker, the Wall Street Journal reports that they're not collecting beer cans, either.

Land of goshen, if it weren't for little Randy Langenbach of Hubertus, Wisconsin, who's 10 and has 200 beer cans in his bedroom - which, I trust, young man, you didn't imbibe from - there'd be barely a soul under the age of 30 who's a collector.

As the beer can nears its 75th birthday in January, many hobbyists are crying in their brew over their inability to lure young people to a pastime that hooked many of them when they were youngsters in the 1970s.

"We'd ride bikes to each other's houses and start trading cans," says Dan Baker, 47, an Illinois collector who started when he was 10. "That's what all the kids did back then."

While I'm sure the Mr. Baker is exaggerating at least slightly - I wasn't a kid in in the 1970's, but I'll consult with my youCollectornger sibs here and ask whether this was, indeed, what all the kids did back then - it sure is sad to see yet another vestige of the past lose its way. First it was ashes to ashes; now it's rust to rust, I suppose. (This picture is of Randy, by the way, not of Dan Baker.)

In order to reach out to the rising generation, the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, planning an essay contest that will award free memberships to youngsters who best describe why they like hoarding cans or other brewery relics, says John Fatura, its 66-year-old president. The group's local chapters also are reaching out to microbreweries, where they drop off fliers and display vintage cans in hopes of wooing some of the younger customers.

While, I can't exactly see parents encouraging the young-uns to write about why they like "hoarding...brewery relics", and I can't see the young-uns bellying up to the bar of writing an essay, the beer can collectors had better do something, and fast.

The club has been losing its fizz for a long time. Membership has slipped to 3,570 from a peak of 11,954 in 1978. Just 19 of the current members are under the age of 30, and the members' average age has climbed to 59. An annual membership costs $38.

Now, I am no expert on beer can collecting. I average about one beer per year, usually a Black and Tan (half Guinness/half Harp), which may not even count. My beer for 2009 was had in McSorley's Ale House in September, and I will say that mug of ale (which may not even count) was delicious.

But I can see the appeal of having cans for the lost brews of my youth.

Do any of these beers even exist anymore?

When was the last time anyone saw an ad for Narragansett? (Hi, neighbor! Have a 'Gansett.)  Carling? (The best beer in the world comes from Carling Brewery. On the shores of Lake Cochituate - da-da-dum-dum - New England.) Rheingold? (My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer. Think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer.)

An Knickerbocker Beer. My father was a couple of beers a weekend kind of guy, and, on a hot summer's day, after he'd just mowed the lawn, he'd crack open a can of Knick. But not before putting it up against the neck or forehead of whatever kid was around. (An excellent way to cool down, by the way.) Then he'd open the can and give us a sip, which never took, as I never acquired the taste for beer. And when the can was empty, we could peer into it, looking for the little Knickerbocker man, who was never there.

So, I wouldn't mind having a can of Knick on my shelf, since it's certainly on my shelf of life.

And, of course, while I'm saying "can" here, mostly my father drank from bottles - which is how I was able, in fourth grade, to fashion a historic figure Halloween costume of Peter Stuyvesant. Yes, most of the girls were Betsy Ross or Sacagawea, but my friend Bernadette and I chose men. (I think she was Lord Baltimore.) But I was intrigued by Peter Stuyvesant's peg leg, which was very beer bottle like.  So, my cousin's cast off football pants; a frilly white blouse; a wide red leather belt strapped bandoleer side across my chest. And a peg leg made out of a bottle of Knick....

Anyway, maybe one of the reasons nobody wants to collect beer cans anymore is that most of the new beer cans out there are Bud, Miller, or Coors. Ho-hum.

Most of the beer action these days seems to be micro-brewery, regional type beers. There certainly seem to be no end of those out there. But most of those beers - which have catchy names like Smuttynose, and cool logos  - come in bottles.

Maybe if beer can collectors tapped into bottles, they'd be more successful in attracting, if not 10 year old members, then some of the twenty-somethings that want to try every micro-brew there is on the market.

Just a thought.

But what do I know about beer can collecting.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I'm so glad, I'm so glad...

I'm so glad I don't have to go to any company holiday party, especially after I just read an advice column on how you should view said party as a networking opportunity. According to the column I read, you should find out everyone of interest - C-level execs, key clients - who's going to be there. Then you want to figure out how you can "connect" with each and every one of them. This means plotting out - and rehearsing -  what you're going to say to your marks. Don't be long winded, be pithy and trenchant. After the obligatory social nicety - what are you doing for the holidays? - ask your rehearsed question about the business. Or your rehearsed questions about their career. Don't forget to give them your personal, 15 second elevator pitch.  Follow up on social media.

All I can say is, if I were at the holiday party with anyone who took this advice, I'd be hitting the egg nog pretty heavily. Not that I would be on anyone's Christmas stalking list. ("Old geezer. Not a C-level. Nobody. Could damage your career to be seen acknowledging her existence.")

I also can imagine that many of those being stalked at the company party actually might want to be having a relaxing time at the party, time free from a bunch of toadying networkers.

It must be terrible being Warren Buffet. ("Oh, sage of Omaha, do you still like railroads? What about NetJet? Do you mind if I 'friend' you?)

So, I'm so glad I don't have to go to any company holiday party.

I'm so glad that I don't live in North Korea.

Forget that, beyond kim chee, I don't speak a word of Korean.

Forget that I'm not wild about cold, hunger, and drab gray clothing.

Forget that I like to read something other than biographies of the glorious leader.

Forget that I don't want to live any place where this describes typical TV news fare:

...a story about Kim Jong-Il touring a pickle plant ran for 30 mind-numbing minutes. It is perhaps not so much news as Pyongyang's version of George Orwell's 1984.

"Comrade Kim is determined to supply good food products to the people", says the reporter.

"Kim says a supply of nutritious pickles to the people of the North is essential." (Source: ABC/Australia News.)

Forget that living in a total-totalitarian society, glorifying the glorious leader, spending the entire year eagerly anticipating the ribbon dance I would do with 100,000 other ribbon dancers on the glorious leader's birthday, would not be my cup of green tea.

Nope, forget all that.

Now the glorious leadership has - to stave off any free-market impulses that might be emerging out of the cold, hunger, and drab gray - have revalued the currency.  And have wiped out most of the savings of their dirt poor population. Not that there was all that much to buy in North Korea, other than those nutritious pickles.

Still, to have your savings wiped out.

I'm so glad I don't live in North Korea.

Sure, there are a lot of other things I'm glad about. But these are the top two for today.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Where are they now? An update on Marilee Jones

Every once in a while, I ask myself, whatever happened with that person/place/thing/situation that I blogged about back in the day.

What about those kids at Hanover, NH high school who cheated?  What about the rift that formed among the full-bearded Santas? How about the guy who tried to buy the co-op down the street from where I live, but claims he was blackballed because he was Irish Catholic and the building was full of snotty WASPs. (That was one of my original posts, over three years ago now.  I don't know what happened to John Walsh, the protagonist in my post, but I will note that I walk by the building he was trying to get into every day. The unit he was after was on the first floor, street level with no frontage separating the building from the street. The unit, as far as I can tell, remains unoccupied.)

Sure, there are some recurring characters in my blogs - Bernie and Ruthie Madoff  had an evergreen run for a while - but mostly, once something's in the rear-view mirror, I don't look back.

But when the update presents itself to me, well.... Clearly I need to jump on it. Especially when I am in desperate need of a blog post, am grasping for ideas - do I have time to read Super Freakonomics tonight? - and I'm really, really tired. Plus my nose is really, really cold.

Thus, I read with interest an article in today's NY Times, conveniently available yesterday when I was on the hunt for a blog topic, on Marilee Jones, the MIT dean of admissions who was caught up in a scandal a couple of years ago because of a few more-than-little-white-lies on her CV.

I just re-read my blog post on Marilee, and I must say it's an essay that stands the test of time. (And I'm not just saying that because I'm really, really tired. And my nose is really, really cold.)  See for yourself.

Anyway, Ms. Jones has resurfaced, and is doing something that she is highly qualified to do: set up a consulting business, working with admissions offices and parents.

“I dropped off the grid, on purpose,” she said in a recent interview. “I needed time to reground and heal.”

She's also gone full mid-life: she's moved to NYC and gotten a divorce.

Good luck, Marilee, in your new venture. What you did to cause your fall from grace was human, forgivable, and pretty much did no harm (other to you and your family - which is not nothing, but nonetheless....)

As une femme d'un certain age I wish her all the best, and note with interest that she's not looking for full time work.

“I don’t want to work that hard,” she said. “And at this point in my life, I’m not interested in institutions that don’t really move me.”

I can certainly identify with her feelings here, but I'm guessing that she'll be working plenty hard with those NYC parents who are willing to fork over $500 to pick her brain about getting their little darlings into an Ivy.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The perfect snowball maker

I'm a big L.L. Bean fan, and I like nothing better than getting a paper catalog. Although nothing all that much changes from year to year, I eagerly browse through, turning down corners on the items I need and/or want. And then I go online to buy them. (I really should call in, however, because the folks who work the order lines there are really nice and I do want to keep them employed.)

So I was quite content paging through the big, fat holiday catalog that showed up last week.

Perhaps it has been there for years, but one item that jumped out at me as I grazed the book, trying to decide which of my turtlenecks - the ones with the necks stretched from turtle to tortoise - are ratty enough to merit replacement:

A snowball and snow castle maker, which - for $29.95  - will let you "build snow forts and fill them with perfect snowballs."

Hey, kids, and all you moms and dads out there. Here's something you might not be aware of. You can actually build a snow fort and fill it with snowballs (although they may not be perfect) for free.

Here's how you build a fort:

  • Make sure the snow has some moisture. If it's all poofy-powdery, make some snow angels. Jump into drifts. Once the snow gets down the back of your neck - which probably isn't allowed these days - go back inside for a cup of cocoa.
  • If the snow has some moisture, scope out area where you want your fort to be. If you're anticipating that your fort might be attacked - which probably isn't allowed these days - and you don't have enough kids to cover all sides, look for a location where your back is protected. Up against the house won't do - windows could get broken - but up against a wooden fence or hedgerow would work.
  • Pace out the perimeter. Don't get over enthusiastic here. Just because every room in your McMansion is the size of the house your grandparents were raised in doesn't mean you need a McSnowfort. You just need enough room to fit all the kids who a working on the snow fort with you.  (Note: before pacing out the perimeter, make sure you're wearing your galoshes.)
  • Situate yourself and your posse within the perimeter. Start pushing the snow out to build up the walls. You can use a shovel. But don't go down to grass level. It's more fun if the floor is snow-covered.
  • Pack the snow down as you go. You can use a shovel. If you need more snow, get some from outside the fort. You can do this by carrying the snow in  your arms or pushing it. You can use a shovel.
  • Don't be discouraged. Your original idea was that the fort was going to be over your head height, and would have cool window holes, so you could spy on your enemies and throw snowballs through. This is way too much effort. Plus you can't throw snowballs very effectively through a window hole.
  • Settle for waist high.
  • Then settle for knee high.
  • Decide whether you'd be better off with Plan B, which is to find a big mound of snow that the plow has left, and either declare it a fort as is, or hollow some of it out. This probably isn't allowed. The plow could come back and crush you.
  • Either way, you now have a fort.
  • If it's really cold, you can get a couple of pans of water to pour on your fort. This will turn the walls to ice. Caution: if it's not that cold out, this will turn the walls to mush.
  • Now, you can continue to play, or you can come to the realization that your galoshes aren't water proof and your feet are wet. That snot has frozen to your cheeks. And that what you really want to do is take a picture of your cool fort and put it on your Facebook page.  In which case, some jerk will no doubt come over and write something on your wall making fun of your cruddy snow fort.
  • You aren't allowed to swear, but under your breath you call your dad an a-hole because he wouldn't get you the L.L. Bean fort maker. You realize too late - with global warming, this might be it for snow this year - that you should have asked your aunt with no kids to get you one.

If you're still outside, you now have a fort. So you need snowballs. (Note: you can make snowballs even if you don't have a fort.)

Here's how you make a snowball.

  • First, see instructions on what to do if snow is poofy-powdery.
  • Then, if it's okay to proceed, make sure that you're wearing mittens.
  • Scoop up snow with both hands.
  • With back and forth wrist motion, pack the snow into a ball.
  • Place inside fort (if you have one).
  • Your original idea is that you will have a pile of snowballs the height of the fort.  (Here's where you realize it's not so bad to have a fort that's only knee high.) The other part of your original idea is that your cache of snowballs will look like the pyramid of cannon balls at Fort Ticonderoga.
  • It won't.
  • Don't get discouraged.
  • And don't do something evil like embed a stone or a block of ice in your snowballs. You could take someone's eye out with that. Or break a car window of a cantankerous old geezer (ha-ha), or some nice lady coming home from the pediatrician with her 6 month old baby. You could end up wrecking someone's car, or hurting someone bad. Even if nothing happens to anyone, the cantankerous old geezer could be so pissed off that he complains to your parents. This could be big trouble. You could be blamed. You could have your Facebook privileges taken away. Or your ultra-cool parents (who knew?) could yell at the old geezer, and tell him to get off your property or they'll call the police. (Ha-ha.)
  • In any case, you now have at least a few snowballs.
  • If there's no enemy gang to attack, divide up your crew. Make half go outside the fort. (Whoever's yard it is gets to stay in the fort. Just because.)
  • Throw snowballs back and forth until a) you run out of snowballs which, even though they are a rather renewable resource, are actually boring to make in large lots; or b) some whiner actually gets (fake) hurt, or decides that it's no fair that he/she's stuck outside the fort he/she helped build, or gets snow down the back of his/her neck and calls it quits.
  • Decide that this was sort of fun, but that it would have been better if you'd had that snowball maker, because then your snowballs would have been perfect.
  • Make a note to ask your aunt to get you one next Christmas.
  • Decide that it would be even more fun to have a snowball maker that was automated.
  • Go into the house to invent one.
  • Get bored inventing the automated snowball maker - inventing's so hard.
  • Search on line for automated snowball maker.
  • Discover to your chagrin that everyone in your class is madly texting about what a lame-o dork loser you are to be spending time building a fort and throwing snowballs when you could have been texting.
  • Inform your parents that you don't feel well, and that you may be too sick to go to school tomorrow.
  • Lay down on your bed and feel sorry for yourself.
  • Plot revenge on your enemies, including fantasizing about throwing a humongous snowball with a big rock in it right through the screen of your arch-enemy's laptop.
  • Call your great-grandmother in Naples, Florida, and ask if you can move in with her. No perfect or imperfect snow forts and snowballs to worry about there.

The perfect snowball maker! Bah, humbug.

There's a snowball's chance in hell I'll ever be buying one!

And don't get me going on those snowman making kits...





Friday, December 04, 2009

What IF the Hokey-Pokey is what it's all about?

I've always been a fan of both reading the obituaries (a.k.a., the Irish sports pages) and asking the "big questions". (Who am I? Why are we here? Why did it take me nearly fifty years of bra-wearing to get one that fits?)

So, quite naturally, I had to click through on an obit in The New York Times the other day on the death of Robert Degen, one of multiple claimants to the authorship of the "Hokey Pokey".

Degen passed on to the Chicken Dance in the Sky at the age of 104, if not exactly demonstrating that the "Hokey Pokey" keeps you young, then at least showing that putting your left hand in and taking your left hand out doesn't hurt.

It's the provenance of the "Hokey Pokey" that's apparently been shaken all about.

It was popularized in the U.S. in the early 1950's trough a recording by the Ray Anthony Orchestra, as the B side to the "Bunny Hop." While I am quite familiar with the "Bunny Hop" - dah-da-dah-da-dah-da, dah-da-dah-da-dah-dah, dah-da-dah-da-dah-da, hop-hop hop - I am mighty confident in asserting that Side B has long surpassed Side A in terms of usage. Still, "Bunny Hop" and "Hokey Pokey". What an A-B punch.

Anthony's recording was of the Larry LaPrise version, created in the late 1940's by LaPrise and the Ram Trio at Sun Valley, Idaho, as a bit of après ski diversion. Talk about a kinder, gentler time. Think of all those wholesome, rosy cheeked, hot toddy guzzling sophisticates - just in from a schuss on their long wooden skis - hokey-pokeying up a storm in their reindeer sweaters. Fast forward to a junior high mixer of today, where the little darlings are grinding to Kanye West....

But before there was Larry LaPrise, there was Robert Degen, who, in 1944, had copyrighted "The Hokey Pokey Dance."

Degen sued LaPrise, and the case settled out of court, with both parties agreeing to shared ownership.  The rights ended up in Sony's hands, and Degen's son reported that his father received regular royalty payments over the years - using a 2005 check for $47K as a proof point. ($47K worth of hokey-pokey! Note to self: write novelty tune.)

But wait, there's more.

Soldiers stationed in England during WW II cut the rug to the "Hokey Cokey", penned by either songwriter Jimmy Kennedy or bandleader Al Tabor.

All this over the "Hokey Pokey."

And, of course, there's even more.

Just as the origins of the "Hokey Pokey" are muddled, so is the root of that dynamic duo of a name.

It may or may not be derived from "hocus pocus". Which may or may not be derived from "hoc est corpus meum" - words used in the consecration of the host during the Roman Catholic mass.

At considerable risk of limb, I dragged out my Abridged Oxford English Dictionary; dug up a magnifying glass; and looked up the definition of "hocus pocus." Certainly, there's some logic that ties "hocus pocus" - conjuring, magic -  to "hoc est...."  But there's no definitive proof that the term was intended to parody the Catholic mass. None whatsoever.

I didn't look it up when I opened the OED to check out "hocus pocus", and I was absolutely not going to lug the tome out again, but I'm a-guessin' that the OED is silent on hokey-pokey.

There has, however, been some brouhaha of late in Scotland over the use of the "Hokey Pokey" as a taunt used by the fans of the Scots football team, the Rangers, aimed at the fans of the Scots football team Celtic.

In much the same way as Catholics are likely to cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame, so, I suspect Mormons root for BYU and Methodists are fans of Southern Methodist.  For whatever reason - perhaps the name "Celtic" is a giveaway - the Irish, including Scots of Irish lineage, support Celtic.  Many of these fans are nominally Catholic. Many of the fans of Ranger are nominally Protestant.

Fans being fans, they feverishly take up sides. And, apparently when it comes to football chanting, fans in the UK are a bit more creative and demonstrative than just chanting "[Enemy Team's Name Goes Here] suck!" And, unlike in the States, where the rally songs - in Boston, that would be "Shipping up to Boston" and "Sweet Caroline" for the Red Sox - are sung in support of your team, in the UK, they're used against the opposition. And they can be a bit more biting than Yankees fans chanting "Who's your Daddy" to Pedro Martinez, who, many years ago, made the ill-considered decision to say, after a major loss to the Yankees, that they were his Daddy.

On the Glasgow football pitch, Ranger fans started using the "Hokey Pokey" (or was it the "Hokey Cokey"?) to get in the face of Celtic fans.

There is apparently quite a history of fairly mean-spirited, droogish bigotry associated with football in the UK, with fans making fun of the race, creed, and national origin of any and all players who are even a bit other-ish. (Remember, this is the country that gave the world the soccer hooligan.  Hooligan. Hmmmmmm. That sounds like a non-PC word, if ever.) So it's not as ridiculous as it might first appear that some took umbrage to the use of the "Hokey Pokey" as a football chant.

Still, it does seem somewhat ludicrous that, last year, some in the R.C. hierarchy in Scotland toyed with the idea that chanting the "Hokey Pokey" should be outlawed and categorized as a hate crime. (Had they so little else on their plate to contend with?)

I didn't know Robert Degen, but I bet he and Larry LaPrise are both rolling around in their respective graves, putting their right foot in, taking their right foot out...

You know how it goes: if the "Hokey Pokey" is outlawed, only outlaws will do the "Hokey Pokey."

Is it just me, or does the banner ad for Bob Dylan's Christmas album appear every time I look at a news story in the New York Times? Is this particular to me, an example of the too smart Internet that knows that I both googled on and blogged about said CD? If it's particular to me, note to the Internet: I already bought a copy. Two, in fact: one so I could write about how awful it is first hand, rather than just imagine it in the abstract; the other as a gag gift. So, NYT, cease and desist with the Bob banners already.

And speaking of Bob's "Christmas in the Heart", when I was wrestling with the OED, I accidentally turned my CD player on, and there was Bob croaking  "Little Town of Bethlehem."

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Just in time for Christmas: Walmart pays up

There'll be a bit more jingle in the pockets of Walmart workers in Massachusetts.

The Boys from Bentonville have settled a nearly decade-old class-action suit, and will be paying $40M out to upwards of 87,500 workers (current and past).

The class action lawsuit was filed in 2001 and accused the retailer of denying workers rest and meal breaks, refusing to pay overtime and manipulating time cards to lower employees’ pay.

Payouts will range from $400 - $2.5K, and the article I saw in yesterday's Boston Globe stated that the average worker will be getting $734. (Must be the new math. By my calculation, in order for 87,500 people to average $734, the payout would have to be $64M, not $40M. And that's without the lawyers. However, this could be one of those mode-mean-median situations. We've ruled out "mean", so maybe this is the mode. Or the median. Man, what a pain in the butt to have a parochial school education compounded by a couple of years spent in grad school at MIT. Can't just take the numbers on face value.)

Whatever the amount is, it's probably not enough to make up for having to actually work at a Walmart. But it's also a nice boost to someone making $12.66/hour (which is what Wally-workers earn in Massachusetts).  A $400 payout translates into 31.5 hours of work -  nothing to sneeze into a Puff about, especially these days.

Let us hope that the workers use the money wisely, and don't spend it all loading up carts full of crap they don't need. Although, having just dropped a birthday bundle on really good bras for the first time in my life, who am I to carp about non-essentials.

Anyway, according to Bloomberg,

The Massachusetts agreement brings the total amount of Walmart wage-and-hour lawsuit settlements to almost $900 million.

$40M, $900M.

We think 'ka-ching'; Walmart just yawns.

In their last quarter reported, Walmart's revenues neared $100B, with earnings of $3B.

So the $40M they'll be paying out in Massachusetts barely makes a dent.

Which makes you kinda-sorta wonder why Walmart has historically had such heinous overtime, hours, and lunch break practices in place. It's not like they'd be living on the edge if they didn't behave like such inhumane, rapacious jerks. Not to mention the fact that, if they did have a better reputation for treating their workers decently, more people would be inclined to shop there.

Surely, no one hops in the mini-van to head out on a shopping excursion saying to themselves, 'Hot damn, I can't wait to pull into the parking lot at Walmart. Just knowing that they treat their employee like crap - and that that 70 year old greeter is going without lunch - makes me want to buy an extra canned ham and flat-screen TV.'

And just as surely, someone who at present loathes and despises Walmart might be more inclined to go there to load up on Cottonelle and tube socks if they thought that the company, while maybe not the type of store they really want in their town, at least behaves decently towards the poor souls who don't have much choice, except to work there.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

More inventions, good, bad, indifferent

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on the first half of an excellent list of inventions that Time published. Just based on the names of the inventions - Dandelion Rubber, Wooden Bones, the Edible Racing Car - Round Two promises to be another venture into the Mind of the Inventor.

The Robo-Penguin, flying under water, is beautiful to look at. But it doesn't appear, as yet, to have any function following its form. The company intends to adapt it for automated production systems. 'Til then...swim on, oh robo-penguin. Frankly, I would much rather watch you swim aimlessly than have to sit through The March of the Penguins for the second time. (Life, it is so cruel. We march. We march some more. We march some more. And then we die.)

Until I saw this list, I hadn't realized that rubber trees are being wiped out by a fungus. So it's a good thing that someone's come up with Dandelion Rubber. Just think. All those years my father spent digging out every dandelion that dared assault his front lawn. We could have been living on a rubber plantation. Who knew?

Wooden Bones brings to mind George Washington's wooden teeth,  but, because they're organic, they acclimate to your body better than metal bones do. I will keep this in mind if and when (probably when) I'll need a hip or knee replacement. Wonder if you can special order? I would like cherry. Or birch, which is nice and bendable.

The School of One - individualized learning that incorporates interactive games - is probably the wave of the future, as there will be pressure on teachers to come up with bespoke lesson plans that take into account each child's learning style and needs. The other way of achieving the School of One is to put Sister Paulina in front of one-hundred 7th and 8th students, doubled up two-to-a-desk when Sister Florence takes ill. So what if it took a couple of months to replace Sister Flo? Sister Paulina could create that School of One by sheer force of will, the fear factor, and the snip-snap of her clicker.  Individualized learning plans? Fuggedaboutit.

Shut up, open your books, and let the learning begin.

An enterprising Spanish inventor, Pep Torres, has come up with The Human-Powered Vending Machine , by which those who want a snack have to pedal on a stationary bicycle in order to earn their goodie. He's hoping to install this in schools and subway stations. What happens if your train comes in when you're half-way to a bag of M&M's?  And how does the vendor get paid? Ergs? Or do you have to pedal and put in cash. This idea might be more applicable for use in the home. If I had to pedal every time I wanted a Skinny Cow fudge bar, that could only be a good thing. But mostly I suspect it's a non-starter.

With Meat Farms, we'll be growing chicken breasts and leg of lamb in petri dishes. On the upside, we won't have to worry so much about animals ingesting crap (their own and that of others), salmonella, e coli, animal torture, and all the other worrisome things that accompany the non-vegan life. On the downside.... shudder, shudder.

When I read the name The Levitating Mouse, my first thought was computer peripheral, and I was starting to imagine the benefits of having one that levitates. Alas, it's a literal way to suspend a mouse in mid-air, using magnets, as part of space research. With a levitating mouse, can the levitating mousetrap be far behind?

The Edible Race Car is not really edible, it's just eco-friendlier than a gas-guzzling Escalade. It's a Formula 3 rac car that:

...has carrot fibers in its steering wheel, potato starch in its side mirrors and cashew-nut shells in its brake pads. The whole thing runs on a biodiesel mix of chocolate and vegetable oil.

As someone who's had rat infestation under the hood, I would not recommend that anyone park this buggy in an urban area. If rats like wires, what would they make of cashew-shell brake pads?

Someone's figured out how to make silk out of spider webs. Unfortunately, the business model's not quite there yet. It took 4 years, half a million bucks, and 1 million spiders (give or take) to spin up an 11 foot long piece of cloth. (Spiderweb Silk)  Sounds like it's time to figure out how to dramatically increase the size of a spider - and I don't want to be around when that happens. (Eek!)

Since I singularly lack the inventor's imagination, I find that it's always fun to read about the feats of those who invent. Even if half the time wondering, what were they thinking?


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

You say it's your birthday. It's my birthday too, yeah.

And what a birthday it is: The Big 6-0.

Despite the blogging and the Blackberry, I'm getting on in years.

Just typing and posting that, I feel like I'm coming out of a closet. Yikes! Now the people I work with and for, who probably think I'm somewhere in my 50's - which I was, up until just yesterday - will know the wrinkled truth.  You're 60? What's up with that? No one but no one over the age of 60 is still working in high tech product marketing.

We were supposed to have struck it big by now, cashed in, cashed out. Too bad all those options I was granted over the years ended up snorkling.

On Thanksgiving Day, my (65 year old) cousin said, "It's just a number."

But it's not, really.

Yes, I can realistically expect to live for another 25, 30, 35 years - here's hoping in pretty good health, working and/or volunteering for as long as I can, surrounded by the people I care about. But there's no getting around the fact that, statistically speaking, I'm now lumped in with the elderly. (Although I did find one definition of middle age that extends it to 64. Bless you, Erik Erikson, for that.)

So, I haven't exactly welcomed this birthday with open arms and a big wide grin. I have, in fact, surprised myself by how much I have been dreading it. (Surprised myself because not one of the other big birthdays: The Big 3-0, The Big 4-0, The Big 5-0, bothered me in the least.) But The Big 6-0? The song I'm actually associating it with is not the Beatles' Birthday Song, but Barry McGuire's Eve of Destruction.

I can't really put a finger on just what is bugging me about sixty.

Maybe it's just the wistfulness of knowing that from here on out will be, more or less, the home stretch. Or the anticipation of the losses in my generation that will be starting, if not in this decade, then soon enough. Two close friends lost sisters (both in their mid-sixties) to cancer in the last year. Yes, they died too young - but not remarkably so.

Maybe I'm just jealous of all the beautiful, sexy, on the go young people I see out there who have it all ahead of them. And who haven't yet caught on to the fact that they're going to die someday, too.  I've always known the 'going to die someday' bit - you can't grow up Irish-Catholic and not have that knowledge in your repertoire. But I am jealous that "the kids" do have it all ahead of them.  Damn! I want to get a big promotion. Make out with my boyfriend in a bar. Show off my legs in a mini-skirt. (They're still good, at least from the front.) But of course I won't be doing any of the above.

And then there are the little physical markers. The crepey skin on my arms. (When did that happen?) The need for ever more powerful reading lights. The cold tip of my nose. (Sign of aging.) Not to mention the small memory glitches. I used to never forget a name or a face. Sure, there are a lot more names and faces to remember at this point in life, but it's starting to happen occasionally. (We've met?)

Which is not to say that I won't have adventures, fun, interesting work, travel (Paris next May!)...

And look at my fellow 49-ers: Bruce Springsteen, Meryl Streep. Still going strong.

Of course, they have achieved greatness, something I haven't managed to do. (I am, of course, still waiting for greatness to be thrust upon me. Who isn't?)

All in all, this is the homestretch. And I know it. It's still my world, but just barely. Mostly it's the world for the rising generations.

When my Aunt Margaret was in her early eighties, she was visiting my cousin at the Cape. She went for a swim, and when she got out of the water, she told her daughter that this was the last time in her life she'd go in. It was.

I'm sure it will be many years before I start marking off those 'last times', if I ever do. (Driving a car, flying to Europe, wearing jeans.)

Still, I'm feeling a little bittersweet about this birthday.

You say it's your birthday. It's my birthday, too, yeah.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Other than some online gifts for my aunts, and some end of year charitable donations, I've pretty much wrapped up my Christmas shopping. All that's left is the wrapping. Then, it's a wrap.

I had thought that I still needed something for our Christmas Eve Yankee Swap but, mirabile dictu, I found an item that I had gotten quite a while back and had forgotten about. It's a doozy. I can't wait to see who wins it.

In any case, I don't actually do all that much Christmas giving anymore.

Having wound things down to the "pick a sib or in-law" practice for a while, my sibs and I decided a number of years ago to stop exchanging gifts entirely. For a couple of years after, we did stockings, but that was getting out of control, both monetarily and, more important, in terms of unneeded crap accumulation. There is occasionally some sister gifting, or a bit of small stocking stufferish activity (nothing official). Mostly, we've broken the habit. And it sure takes a lot of the stress out of the holiday season.

By mutual consent, I've stopped exchanging with a couple of friends, as well.

Enough is absolutely enough.

I still get gifts for my nieces, a handful of other friends and family members who genuinely like to exchange gifts, and three aunts (two elderly, one not so). But it's a manageable number.

And once I get online - which I'll probably do on Cyber Monday, just to keep my spending hand in -  and order up whatever it is I'm going to send the aunts, I'm done! (Come to think of it, these three aunts would probably all enjoy Sarah Palin's Going Rogue, but no can do. Politically, my mother was the rogue in her family. The other aunt's an in-law who's always kept a Ronny-and-Nancy calendar in her kitchen. Sigh.)

Anyhow, now that I'm (mostly) over an done with, I could read an article in yesterday's Globe by the author of Scroogenomics, with some disinterest.

Joel Waldfogel, a Wharton economist, maintains that the $65 billion that's supposedly going to be spent this holiday shopping season in the US alone represents "an orgy of value destruction."  That's economist-ese for 'you're buying something for $50 that may not have $50 worth of value to me'.  As he puts it, if you give someone a sweater that they don't end up wearing, "You may as well have lit that sweater on fire."

Which is not quite true. The gift-ee can donate it to charity. Somebody, somewhere in the world will end up wearing it, or it will be ragged and recycled into another sweater that someone else won't like.

Nonetheless, I get the notion of value destruction. I am well past the stage where I'm going to buy any article of clothing for my 12 or 13 year old nieces that has not been specifically vetted by them. I knew that worm had turned about five years years back, when I pointed out a really cute outfit in a catalogue and they both recoiled with horror. What they wanted was not the flowered skirt with the ruffled top, but the glittery pink tee-shirt with unicorns on it.

Waldvogel has conducted surveys, and he has found that people value things they buy for themselves at nearly 20% higher than they do the gifts they receive. He translates this into $12B worth of annual value destruction.

Talk about a Jolly, Holly Christmas.

But when you think about it, history is littered with a lot of gift mistakes - probably since the Three Kings of Orient Are brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Baby Jesus. I'm sure Mary and Joseph were delighted to get that gold, but I'm equally sure they were thinking some Bethlehem version of WTF about that frankincense and myrrh, when they could have used a couple of changes of swaddling clothes, spare milk-sop, or even a donkey stuffed with manger hay.

Waldvogel is not a total humbug.  It's okay to buy gifts for those you're close enough to to know what they'd like. And for the kids in your life - who, up to a certain age, are (temporarily) happy with anything. Other than that, he recommends gift cards, or charitable donations, for the brother-in-law who really doesn't need "another golf-themed tchotchke."  Been there, bought that. No golf-themed tchotchke heading to Dallas this year. But I didn't need Waldvogel to tell me that my sister- and brother-in-law don't need any more crap. I could see that with my own eyes. Which is why they'll be getting something nice and New England smelling from L.L. Bean.

I've been doing a bit of that charitable giving for the last couple of years - even in the name of kids, which Waldvogel doesn't recommend. But I had been giving small gifts to a lot of kiddies - children and grandchildren of friends and relations - and when I saw how much these kiddoes were accumulating, the word "basta" went off in my brain. (Actually, what went off was BASTA!)

So now the Globe Santa gets a few bucks in the names of H, B, T, C, G, C, J, A, and M-K. And part of the gift for my nieces is a donation made in their name to either the Globe Santa or Heifer International - they get to pick. (Self-serving? Yea, baby! I get the charitable deduction.)

There's so much pressure onus all to shop up a storm. It's almost as if it were our patriotic duty to rev up the economy by shopping 'til we drop into an exhausted heap at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Yet the out of control shopping - for items large (the non-affordable dream house), medium (flat-screen TV), and small (aw, that sock monkey's so cute; take two, they're small) - by so many helped get us into the mess we're in to begin with.

What's a country to do? Especially when the vast majority of people who inhabit it have way too much stuff already.

Anyway, the one bright and shiny spot in Waldvogel's article was this:

...our [the US] per capita holiday spending is far back in the pack, behind Norway, the United Kingdom, Italy, Finland, and France, among others. The United States is 12th among 26 large world economies in holiday spending. The good news is that we’re not the world’s most vulgar commercializers of Christmas.

What a relief.

On Dasher, on Dancer. Just not to the nearest mall.