Tuesday, March 31, 2009

If these dry walls could only talk....instead of just smell

I apparently missed this story when it hit the news in January, but - from an last week on CNN - I picked it up the second time around. The big story? Chinese drywall.

As if things weren't bad enough real estate-wise in Florida already, many homeowners are now being plagued of smelly, corrosive-gas emitting, nausea inducing drywall problems.

Nothing seems to have been proven quite yet, but the fingers that aren't holding noses are pointing to drywall imported from China.

Unlike pristine, fresh, clean smelling American-made drywall, which uses virgin gypsum in its manufacture, some Chinese drywall may include power plant by-product in the mix. Given that so many Chinese power plants are fueled by sulfury coal, many surmise that this is the source of the rotten egg smell emitted from so many Florida walls, especially on humid days. Good thing there aren't that many humid days in Florida, isn't it? Oh, wait a minute; we're talking Florida-Florida here, not Florida, Massachusetts.

Bad enough your house stinks, and that you've got watery eyes, a bloody nose, and a wheezing cough, the Chinese drywalls are also said to be corroding wiring and destroying appliances like air conditioners. Good thing you don't need AC in Florida all that often, isn't it? Oh, wait a minute, we're talking about Florida-Florida here, not Florida, Massachusetts.

The drywall problem is not isolated to Florida - cases have cropped up in Alabama and Louisiana - but, given its late lamented housing boom, tens of thousands of Florida homes may have used the tainted drywall, imported because American supply was outstripped by American boom-town demand.

Since this is America, land of the free and the outraged, and we're living in the zero-barrier to entry age of the Internet, it's not surprising that a cottage industry has grown up around the issue of Chinese drywall. ChineseDrywall.com is an informational site set up by a Florida engineer who does consulting on the issue.

And when you google  the term chinese drywall, lawyers with a new-found specialty in Chinese drywall settlements crop up in the AdWord ads to the right. (The Internet means never having to chase an ambulance.)

Investigations, health reviews, lawsuits are flying every which-way on this. Developers, importers, manufacturers are all being called out, which is no surprise. If you had to gut your newly built dream-house; replace all the wiring; re-wallboard, skimcoat, and paint everything;  and buy all your appliances, you'd be looking for someone to pay up, too.

Several of the producers being sued are Chinese affiliates of Knauf, a multi-national Drywall 'R Us firm headquartered in Germany. Knauf-Germany is pretty much dk-ing the Chinese Knauf concerns, at least one of which lacks insurance.  This will, of course, drag on for years as plaintiffs try to sort through not just culpability, but figure out who's got deep pockets and whose pockets are empty.

I always like to look at the company-in-question's web site. Since I couldn't get to the Chinese Knauf sites, I had to settle for the generic, English-language über-site at www.knauf.com.

The company was founded in 1932 - okay, I was going to say "ominously", but I restrained myself - and there's little about its history, other than that they started to grow after WWII.

Well, bad enough being a German company founded on the eve of destruction, and one that's somehow involved - at however a long arm's length - with a product that emits what may be a poisonous gas,. There's also an eerie web site section that talks about gypsum-based wall surfaces that "work in a very similar way to the human skin." Knauf products, we learn, are "skin for the wall", promising "lifelong cosiness."

How positively gemütlichkeit!

Still, if I were a German marketer, I don't think I'd be using product analogies to human skin. (Just saying.)

Meanwhile, a whole pile of Floridians are living in houses that are likely under-water in terms of mortgages, and are smelly to boot. Nothing much to say, other than that the whole thing stinks.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Beam me up, Scotty. Me and my chair.

I am not now, nor will I likely ever be, A Star Trek fan.

For many years, in fact, I would suffer a temporary confusion between Star Trek and Star Wars, similar to the brief lapse I would have in introductory accounting when I struggled with the difference between a debit and a credit.

I overcame both struggles - I got an A in accounting, and I no longer even have to think about what's Wars and what's Trek:

Star Wars: Luke Skywalker, Jedi, R2D2, George Lucas (or is it Steven Spielberg), and a ka-billion dollars worth of special effects.

Star Trek: Mr. Spock, Klingons, funny pajama uniforms, Gene Rodenberry, and about $200 spent on sets for the original TV show.

Now that I've straightened things out, I will note there's something more cultish about Star Trek. And, perhaps because of this, something sweeter.

It's that sweetness that appealed to me when I saw an article in The New York Times last week on people who lovingly create their own replicas of Captain Kirk's command chair from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Which, of course, they sit in while wearing the uniform that looks like funny pajamas.

One of those profiled, Scott Veazie, was not even alive when the original Star Trek series was on in the 1960's. Still, he managed to become a big fan, and built himself a captain's imagechair, which is a focal point of his living room.

“When someone comes in, it’s the first thing they comment on,” Mr. Veazie is quoted as saying.

I'm sure that's quite true.

While purists may elect to roll their own versions of the chair - using blueprints and supply kits available on the Web - you can also get an off-the-shelf version.

Diamond Select Toys of Timonium, Maryland - a place name with a nicely sci-fi ring to it, no? (Timonium, not Maryland) - is offering a limited edition version of the captain's chair for a little over $2700:

With the sci-fi status and geek grandeur of Captain Kirk's command chair in your collection you can boldly go where no fan has gone before! This full size recreation of the U.S.S. Enterprise's Captain's Chair delivers all the accents and details from the historic prop along with modern lighting and sound effects and phrases designed to thrill any Star Trek enthusiast! The working swivel design accentuates the two-piece construction, making this the perfect addition to any collection, display or museum! Limited to 1,701 pieces worldwide.

Please note this item requires unique shipping details to arrange delivery. 

The purists, I'm sure, wouldn't go for those modern updates. The original, and still the greatest, didn't spout any phrases that I'm aware of.

Still, there's the lure of the "unique shipping". Does it come in a UPS van designed to look like the Enterprise. Do the delivery men wear funny pajama uniforms? Is the chair beamed up?

Whether Trekkies are spending hours building their own, or just going ahead and springing for the ready-to-wear edition, as hobbies go, being a Star Trek fan seems pretty harmless.

Sure, it can be obsessional, but it's not porn. Sure, it can be costly, but it's not gambling. Sure, it may be a little weird, but it's not Second Life.

And it's probably safer than blogging, where you can really attract some nutters in the comment zone.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Giving up for Lent

Admittedly, I'm nothing more than a cultural Catholic, a neo-Pagan, so I'm not really giving anything up for Lent - especially not now, when it's half-way through.

And even when I was a real Catholic, a bona-fide anti-Pagan, I wasn't much for giving anything up.

Candy would have been easy enough: we seldom had it in our house to begin with. But my father did sometimes bring home chocolate for Valentine's Day, and if Valentine's Day fell during Lent - no way was I going to give that up.

TV? No way! I didn't want to miss Leave it to Beaver or Wagon Train.

Dessert? Out of the question. Hey, if I were going to have to gag down creamed corn and liver, I was hardly going to forego Congo Bars or Daddy's Favorite raisin-nut cake, was I?

Reading books? Sure, I suppose it would have been noble to swap out the teen-romances I favored - fabulous novels like Double Date, Double Feature, for a more edifying, religiously-oriented book such as Lydia Longley, First American Nun.  But, hey, I managed to get through 3 or 4 of both each week.

I might have been able to do without 'talking-back-to-my-mother-fighting-with-my-sister-being-mean-to-my-brother', but then I would have had nothing to say during my bi-weekly Confession.

One year, I tried to go to Mass everyday before school, but that only lasted until I came down with Scarlet Fever.

I did put money regularly in the mite box that they issued us at school so that we could save up for the missions. But, since I was living on 25 cents a week, 10 cents of which I already had to throw in my envelope at Mass each Sunday, there was only so much I could do.

But this year, I am giving up something for the rest of Lent. Since I'm pretty sure I don't have an immortal soul to do it for the good of, let's just say I'm doing it for my mental health.

What I am giving up is - ta-da - looking at the comments sections on news articles. Here's what I'll be giving up:

  • Comments calling President Obama a leftist punk.
  • Comments calling Republicans "Repugs".
  • Comments calling for Senator Grassley's resignation for suggesting that AIG execs should do the honorable thing and commit hari-kari.
  • Comments suggesting that everyone at AIG who got a bonus should do the honorable thing and commit hari-kari.
  • Comments about how the US is becoming a communist country.
  • Comments blaming the economic/financial crisis on "them."
  • Comments calling Nancy Pelosi a shrill, hyper-partisan hag.
  • Comments making jokes about John Boehner's last name.
  • Comments claiming that nothing bad would have happened if it weren't for Barney Frank (with the attendant comment subtext, nearly universally present: fat, gay, Jew).
  • Comments excoriating Baby Boomers for trying to keep working.
  • Comments excoriating Gen-X and Gen-Y for being pampered no-nothings with a ridiculous sense of entitlement and worth.
  • Comments extolling the Greatest Generation.
  • Comments referring to the NY Yankees as the MF Yankees.
  • Comments on Manny Ramirez, period. (I will, however, likely be talkin' Manny in a post at some point soon.)
  • Comments pointing out that the Octomom has a few screws loose.
  • Comments blaming Natasha Richardson's death on socialized medicine.
  • Comments about how the Natasha Richardson tragedy has had such a profound and utter impact on the commenter that they can somehow equate their grief with that of Ms. Richardson's family.
  • Comments stating that anyone who made $50K a year more than they ever did, and who's lost their job, "deserve it."
  • Comments calling for protectionism.
  • Comments name calling immigrants.
  • Comments on Michelle Obama's sleeveless dresses.
  • Comments on Jeremiah Wright.
  • Comments on Meghan McCain's weight and/or hot-quotient.
  • Comments by, for, or about Rush Limbaugh.
  • Comments pointing out the Dick Cheney looks sinister. (Tell us something we don't know, already.)
  • Comments stating that The Boston Globe is a leftist rag that will halt its presses soon because it is a leftist rag.
  • Comments saying that Gisele Bundchen is the world's most beautiful woman.
  • Comments saying that Gisele Bundchen looks like a man.
  • Comments calling Tom Brady a girly-man wuss.
  • Comments calling Tom Brady a living saint.
  • Comments telling other commenters to get a life.

Let's face it, in the old days, when you had to actually write a thoughtful comment, put your name - and a stamp - on it, and send it into the paper hoping that they'd publish it, there was a boatload more thoughtful commenting and a lot less screed.

Anonymity, and the pretty much everything-gets-published mentality, means that a goodly proportion of pretty much everything is vicious, nonsense, or vicious nonsense. Yet I sometimes find myself reading page after page of them. Looking for what, I don't know.

Assurance that the world will be a better place? Hah! I better start looking elsewhere.

Signs that a Know-Nothing, fascist coup is imminent? Too much points to that. No wonder I'm going crazy.

Well, I could go on, but, let me tell you, this giving up thing really works. My mental health has improved 100% just in the few days that I've stopped reading the venom-filled and/or moronic and/or banal comments that accompany every news article these days.

Maybe next Lent I'll give up reading the news entirely.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hey, Moe! The Stooges are coming back. (Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.)

I will confess to occasionally breaking out into a chorus or two of "B-A-Bay."

And like everyone else, when I walk into a hospital, I immediately think "Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard."

Certainly, I'm not the only person in the world who says, "Let's go places and eat things" (Curly voice, optional) whenever we're heading out the door for dinner. (I know for a fact that I'm not the only person in the world who does this, as sometimes my husband says it before I get the chance. Not to mention that it has been known to come out of the mouth of my sister Trish.)

And, oh, yes, I do have a "Just Say Moe" tee-shirt, black with a nice big Moe Howard face on it. I don't believe I've ever actually worn it, but I do have one. Perhaps I'll pack it for my upcoming Paris vacation. Given that the French worship at the altar of Jerry Lewis, surely, they are Stooge aficionados as well.

All this said, I'm not now, and never have been - except in fifth grade, when it was the rage - a fan of the Three Stooges.

Stooge fandom is, I believe, something of a secondary sex characteristics. I don't know any women who like them, and I can only think of one or two men who don't.

Naturally, just as John Lennon was my favorite Beatle, and Adam (the brainy one) was my favorite Cartwright on Bonanza, I much preferred the more cerebral, zany, and inspired Marx Brothers to the Stooges. (Don't get me started on the Ritz Brothers....)

However, I can acknowledge that the original Stooges are classics of the nyuk, nyuk, eye-poke, head bonk genre. And, you don't mess with the classics.

But - you don't say - the Farrelly Brothers, local boys made good making not so good movies, are doing a big buck remake of "The Three Stooges." I can't imagine that it will have anywhere near the, dare I say, charm or verve of the low budget, black and white originals.

The big WTF on this one, however, is not that timagehere'll be a new Stooge film. It's the cast: Jim Carrey as Curly. Sean Penn as Larry. And - hold on to your socks - Benicio Del Toro as Moe. Talk about just say Moe. I mean just say "No".

Where to begin on this casting?

First off, I'm not a huge Jim Carrey fan, but he does have a manic intelligence, and a definite gleam in his eye - both characteristics that seemed to be completely lacking in Curly Howard. Oh, you might be thinking, 'Curly was just acting the moron.' But I recall seeing his brother Moe on a talk show, in which he explained that Curly's woo-woo-woo, head shaking little exercises were not really scripted, but were expressions of Curly's frustration when he couldn't remember his lines. Moe, I believe, said that "Curly was mentally stupid." And who better to know than his own brother?

Coming off of an Academy Award portrayal of Harvey Milk, I've got to say that I'm a bit shocked that Sean Penn would sign up to play Larry Fine. Maybe he's thinking it will be a big bomb that nobody sees... Surely, he's not thinking that it will garner him another Oscar nomination, let alone a chance to rant a little when he makes his acceptance speech. I will say that Penn does have quite a resemblance to Larry.

Then there's Benicio Del Toro as Moe. Del Toro has not yet agreed to take the role, but just the thought of it. As with Penn-Fine, Del Toro does look somewhat like Moe. But Moe was a mean, moronic menace - a menace that, if he were my brother, I might categorize as a mentally stupid menace: nasty, bullying. Del Toro, on the other hand, is a bona fide, scare the crap out of you, menacing menace. Oh, I'm sure that he can do a comic turn - can't every body? - but this piece of casting seems surreal to me, absurd. Che Guevara, Del Toro's last role, must be rolling over in his grave - wherever that is. (I don't know why I'm thinking "Samuel Beckett" here. Maybe it's the word absurd. Anyway, this is possibly the first time that Beckett and the Stooges have found themselves together in a blog post.)

All I can say is that at least they didn't pick Adam Sandler to play someone in this. That in itself makes the casting seem inspired.

Still, it does seem a bit odd to choose somewhat heavy-weight actors (if you consider Carrey a comic heavy-weight) to play in what has to be a completely light-weight film. It's rather like having Placido Domingo sing, well, B-A-Bay, isn't it? Sometimes you just have too much voice for the song.

In any event, I cannot imagine that I will ever see this movie -not in a theater, not on DVD, not in an airplane, not on Demand TV...

Just the thought of a full length, color Stooge film makes me shudder. But the thought of it does make me a little nostalgic for the Stooges - maybe the one where they play the plumbers. And I may actually have to sing multiple choruses of my favorite Stooge tune in the shower.

B A Bay, B E Bee
B I Bickie Bye B O Bo
Bickie Bye Bo B U Boo
Bickie Bye Bo Boo

I may even make it all the way up to F, or even G...

Here's the Variety article on this story, which was sent to me by my friend Sophia. Thanks, Soph.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Arakawa and Madeline Gins screwed by Madoff - a destiny that may not be all that reversible.


Anyway, that's what it says on their website - Reversible Destiny. They may not have updated that website, however, since they learned that they were scammed by Bernie Madoff.

Because I am a fairly rational and ordinary person who has not decided not to die - mostly because, quite practically, I really don't think that, in the end, I'm not really going to have all that much choice. Still, I'm marginally open to what these two have to say.

Arakawa and Gins ask us this question:

What lengths would you be willing to go to, or how much inconvenience would you be willing to put up with, in order to counteract the usual human destiny of having to die?

Although I have not decided not to die, this is a topic I find of the utmost interest - largely because I think that my generation, the love-'em-or-hate-'em Baby Boomers, is not going to exit stage left with any grace whatsoever. Indeed, I fear that, for the most part, we will be kicking, screaming, sucking up resources, and - as centarians - beating younger folks (those in their 70's and 80's) over the head with our canes to make sure we're first in-line for whatever life-extending potions, gizmos, or bio-engineered subcutaneous inserts are available that can extend our lives by a nano-second.

But it hadn't occurred to me that those life-extenders might be architecture. Architecture that can "can help you determine the nature and extent of interactions between you and the universe." What type of architecture may that be, you might ask yourself.

Well, it's procedural architecture:

...an architecture of precision and unending invention. Works of procedural architecture function as well-tooled works of equipment that help the body organize its thoughts and actions to a greater degree than had previously been thought possible.  Set up to put fruitfully into question all that goes on within them, (works of procedural architecture) steer their residents to examine minutely the actions they take and to reconsider and, as it were, recalibrate their equanimity and self-possession, causing them to doubt themselves long enough to find a way to reinvent themselves.

I actually don't have the imagination to fully translate this into living forever,  but here's an example of what an interior designed by Arakawaimage and Gins looks like. Live forever? Take it from someone who broke her should tripping over the corner of a rug, this has got death trap written all over it. Wake up in the middle of the night to pee and stroll through this living room....if you don't whack yourself on the noggin on one of those polls, you're apt to trip on that wavy-gravy and nubby flooring and trip, stumble, and fall your way into that pit.

But while I might not have the capacity and wit to figure out that procedural architecture means never having to say (or sing) "your sister Rose is dead," the  Wall Street Journal comes to my rescue! (Note: access to this content may require a subscription, and I assure you that access to this content is worth every penny of that subscription.) I guess they found the part of the website that state's outright: Arakawa and Gins want to use their architecture to "counteract the usual human destiny of having to die."

WSJ is interested in Arakawa and Gins because they are on the long and groaning list of those who made the very unfruitful decision to invest with Bernie Madoff, all of whom are now, no doubt, minutely examining the actions they took and reconsidering them. And talk about recalibrating your equanimity. When Elie Wiesel tells us that he doesn't have it within himself to forgive and forget, well, that's some recalibration. As for recalibrating self-possession, Madoff's victims are probably focusing more on re-possession of whatever watches, cufflinks, mansions, and yachts that Bernie and Ruthie have laying around.

Anyway, as the Journal tells us:

The pair's work, based loosely on a movement known as "transhumanism," is premised on the idea that people degenerate and die in part because they live in spaces that are too comfortable. The artists' solution: construct abodes that leave people disoriented, challenged and feeling anything but comfortable.They build buildings with no doors inside. They place rooms far apart. They put windows near the ceiling or near the floor. Between rooms are sloping, bumpy moonscape-like floors designed to throw occupants off balance. These features, they argue, stimulate the body and mind, thus prolonging life. "You become like a baby," says Mr. Arakawa.

Well, I don't see how "become like a baby" translates precisely into not dying. Haven't they heard of crib death? And [SB123784371903417881|section=US]their cribs look to me like an environment that it would be pretty easy to fall to your death in. Although, I will admit that from the outside, this design looks kind of cool.

Anyway, this couple - who were, no surprise, have been an important part of the conceptual art movement - have been able to do their work because of income from their investment Chez Bernie.

Their work, which has been exhibited at the Guggenheim, includes a number of "reversible destiny" lofts in Japan.

A typical apartment has three or four rooms in the shapes of either a cylinder, a cube, or a sphere. Rooms surround a kitchen-living room combination with bumpy, undulating floors and floor-to-ceiling ladders and poles. Dozens of colors, from school-bus yellow to sky blue, cover the walls, ceilings and other surfaces.

One tenant claims that he feels a bit rejuvenated by living in one of the lofts. His wife, however, hates that she keeps bumping her head on the ground level window when she crawls through it to hang out the wash.

("That's one of the exercises," says Ms. Gins.)

Over time, the couple had put several million into their account with Madoff.

We all know how that went.

Now, they're trying to sell

...their seminal work, the "Mechanism of Meaning," a series of 84 8-foot-tall panels that took them 10 years to complete, for about $17 million.

Unfortunately, with the depressed economy the few museums who would be interested in the work may not have that kind of scratch these days - although there may be some weird cachet to the artists having been duped into Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Barring a sell-off of their collection, the couple fear they won't realize their dream of building a "reversible destiny" village with homes and parks that would combine their theories of life into one community.

It's one thing to learn that the Shapiro Foundation won't be able to fund as many hospital wings and university buildings. But this! What an outrage!

Frankly, I'm unclear about whether Arakawa and Madeline Gins really believe in "reversible destiny" in a literal sense, or in a mere metaphorical sense. But one thing that has become clear to me. Bernie Madoff may not have been a scam artist after all. Maybe he was a conceptual artist all along, and he's going to let us in on the high concept any day now.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

'Live Free or Die' - so let them live free AND die, already....

It seems that our neighbors to the north, the good people of New Hampshire - or at least their state legislators - are considering a law that would make the use of seat-belts mandatory. (Source: Wall Street Journal. Access may require a subscription.)

Some folks take that license plate motto "Live Free or Die" pretty seriously, and they're doing some heavy lobbying against passage of the law. They fear the nanny state - or worse.

Bob Hull, a computer technician dressed in camouflage hunting gear, came to say that "the state is moving toward, basically, communism." Ivy Walker, a local restaurant owner, grew teary-eyed. "What's next?" she asked. "Will they mandate that I can't have more than three cheeseburgers next week at McDonald's?"

I hadn't been aware of the connection between communism and seat-belts, but perhaps this is the slippery slope we hear so much about. Today, seat belts. Tomorrow collective farms, comrade.

In any case, New Hampshire is the only state in the US that doesn't legally require that adults buckle up. They've been standing alone since Maine buckled under in 1995.

Much of this is being blamed on the influx of liberal, Massachusetts Democrats who have moved across the border for less costly housing and no state income taxes. This has been going on for years, and has even gone so far as to turn New Hampshire into - if not a completely and reliably blue state, at least into a swing state.

Since the Mass invasion, New Hampshire has okayed civil unions, banned smoking in restaurants, and is even considering a state income tax. (Seems like all those folks from Massachusetts want state services that somewhat resemble what they had in the place from whence they fled.)

Well, I'm one Mass-hole who actually doesn't believe that wearing a seat belt (or a motorcycle helmet, a perennial hot button issue in this state) should be required by law, other than for children.

Personally, I wouldn't drive ten feet without buckling up, but if someone wants to go without, well....

This is not to say that I don't think there should be widespread education on why wearing a seat belt is a good idea, including mandatory screenings to drivers-ed classes of macabre videos showing the bodies of dead teenagers who died as a result of not wearing a seat belt.

As it happens, the proportion of people who do wear seat belts in New Hampshire - 69% - is not any different than that of many other states (all of which have seat belt laws). So it's not clear that actually having a law would increase the proportion, or save any lives. New Hampshire also has an overall automobile fatality rate that's well below the national average. (Obviously, this has nothing to do with their lack of a seat belt law, but it's interesting nonetheless.)

But back to my personal belief on seat belt laws: why not do away with something that's largely unenforceable to begin with - those kids who are flung to their death because they're not wearing seatbelts are unlikely to have been stopped and ticketed, or to have been convinced to buckle up, based on a law.  Instead, focus efforts on education: graphic videos in school, public service announcements, big signs in the state liquor stores that all seem to be located right off the highway. And let the market do the rest.

How about: if you're in an accident and not wearing a seat belt, your health insurance doesn't cover your injuries. Or you end with a big-time deductible  - say $10K or $20K. Sure, if you're the one who's brain-injured because you weren't wearing a seat belt, someone else may be stuck with paying that deductible. But wouldn't the pressure - parents to children, husbands to wives, children to parents - to use the damned seat belt result in more people using the damned seat belt.

Same goes for motorcyclist who want that Easy Rider feel of the wind in their hair as the gun along the highway.

No helmet, no brain injury coverage - or a big, whopping premium to pay. Your choice.

You get to live free. And you might get to die because of it. But you're free to choose.

Of course, New Hampshire isn't exactly free to choose. There's a cost associated with their holding out on a seat belt law. And that cost is the $3.7M in federal funds they won't receive if they don't pass a law.

The law has gotten by its first hurdle, but there's another one to come.

And that $3.7M is looking mighty good these days.

But, frankly, I'll be a tiny bit disappointed if our neighbors to the north give in and vote for mandatory seat belts.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Naked Came the Hiker

Well, now that spring has sprung, it's time to start thinking about shedding some of those winter garments, isn't it?

Personally, I can't wait to swap out those wool sweaters for cotton. To put away all those bulky scarves the length of a MiniCooper. To banish everything - well, almost everything: this is New England - made of polar fleece. And to start showing a bit o' flesh.

In my case, once I dig out my tee-shirts and bermuda shorts, that flesh extends from elbow and knee down. And, now that the weather is pleasant enough to allow me to permanently unwind that loonnnnggg scarf, and doff my North Face chapeau, without risking hypothermia and frostbite, from the neck up.

The only circumstances under which more of me is exposed are the trips to Cahoon Hollow Beach or Long Pond that I make when I'm at my sister Kath's on The Cape. Then I will be wearing an age- and flab-appropriate LL Bean swimsuit.

Having long ago reached the tipping point where you look better clothed than naked, that LL Bean swimsuit is about as close as I'm going to come to indecent exposure.

But, then again, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a naturist - even though the thought of roaming around in nature, au naturel, is kind of appealing. As long as the weather is pluperfect, the bug equivalent of St. Patrick has driven all the insects out of the country (except for butterflies), and there is not another sighted person within, say, 10 miles.

But, weather-schmeather. Modesty, schmodesty.

Nude hiking is "in" in Switzerland.

Okay, before you shake your image of the button-downed, button-upped, rectitudinous Swiss, not everyone in Canton Helvetia is doing it, doing it. And not everyone there is liking it, liking it.

Still, there are, as The New York Times reported last week, enough nude hikers out there to make their existence news fit to print.

In recent years, it has become fashionable for a growing number of Swiss and some foreigners to wander in the Alps clad in little more than hiking shoes and sun screen. Last summer, the number of nude hikers increased to such an extent that the hills often seemed alive with the sound of everything but the swish of trousers.

This is disturbing the peace of some Swiss, and deeply concerning the elected worthies of the Alpine town of Appenzell, who are "worried that the town might become a Mecca for the unclad."

Appenzell is an unlikely Mecca for nude hikers. The town is so conservative that it didn't grant women suffrage until 1990. (Yes, you read that right: 1990. Perhaps they feared that wanton women would vote in nudity.) So they're a bit alarmed that their town is popping up as the place to be in blogs and chat rooms frequented by nude hikers.

Nude hikers maintain that the folks they run into on the trail aren't bothered, although the one interviewed did admit that in winter he is often asked whether he's cold. Myself, if I came across someone in the freezing cold wearing nothing other than his birthday suit, boots, hat, and gloves my first thought might be "is he crazy?" rather than "isn't he cold?"

Local governments have been stymied by the fact that Switzerland, in 1991, took a law off its books that banned public nudity. (1991? The year after the women of Appenzell got the right to vote? Is there, indeed, a connection here? Probably not. I'm guessing that more men than women would be in favor of nude hiking. Just a guess.)

Appenzellers will be voting to outlaw - or at least fine - nude hikers, at the annual Swiss version of the town meeting: the outdoor, public assembly of the people. This is scheduled for late April.

Personally, I'm not planning on any nude hiking, in Appenzell or anywhere else.

Last summer, I took a dusk hike in the P-town dunes with my brother-in-law and nieces.

It was warm, and the girls and I had on shorts. Prudently, my brother-in-law had on long pants. Imprudently, we hadn't taken any bug spray.

While the hike was magnificent - the area is completely unspoiled, and we were rewarded for our calf-stretching efforts when we spotted dozens of seals frolicking just off the beach - the mosquitoes were out in full force.

Bitten alive!

Bad enough when it happens on your legs and ankles. I shudder to imagine if we'd been hiking in the altogether.

Make that a gallon of calamine lotion to go, please.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I spy with my little eye: Rob Spence's eye-witness documentary approach

There's being handed lemons and making lemonade. And then there's being blind in one eye and turning that eye into a camera. Talk about 'I Am a Camera' - Christopher Isherwood had nothing on Rob Spence.

Spence is a Canadian documentary filmmaker who is working on a project on "the global spread of surveillance cameras." For the project, he'll be recording the people he's interviewing with a camera hidden in his prosthetic eye. (This story was reported in an AP article reprinted in The Boston Globe.) With his camera, Spence:

...plans to become a "human surveillance machine" to explore privacy issues and whether people are "sleepwalking into an Orwellian society."

Spence, who was blinded in a childhood firearms accident, came up with the idea for the camera when he came to the realization that he could fit something the size of a cell phone camera into his eye socket. People would quite naturally be freaked out to see a camera where someone's baby blue should be, so Spence's will be hidden in his prosthetic (which, for the record, is light hazel).

Spence does not plan on telling people about the camera before he interviews them, but will be letting them know after the fact, when he goes after their permission to use them in his film.

Spence is working  on his weird and wonderful camera with weird and wonderful engineers like Steve Mann, formerly of MIT's wearable computer research team, and now at the University of Toronto.

The camera itself comes from OmniVision, maker of the mini-cams used in cell phones, laptops, and.... colonoscopy equipment.

Spence has both hopes for and questions about his Eyeborg (Spence's word).

"As a documentary maker, you're trying to make a connection with a person," he says, "and the best way to make a connection is through eye contact."

But Spence also acknowledged privacy concerns.

"The closer I get to putting this camera eye in, the more freaked out people are about me," he said, adding people aren't sure they want to hang around someone who might be filming them at any time."

Spence is in an awkward position here. If he let the people he's interviewing know about his device prior to a conversation they would, quite naturally, be inclined to act a bit unnaturally. And you can see that people might be a bit ticked off and feeling a bit duped when they learned about the magic eye after the fact.

Still, Spence's use is largely for a good and reasonably benevolent purpose.  Not to mention extremely interesting, giving that his topic is Orwellian surveillance.

And, other than in a James Bond movie, no one is likely to deliberately gouge his eye out so that he - and, yes, it would most likely be a he - can put a camera in it. But cameras will be getting more and more (or is it less and less) miniaturized. And wearable computers will be getting a lot more wearable than the ones that Steve Mann sports. This can only mean that there will be all kinds of new and improved invasions on our privacy - ones that make the old cell-phone-under-the-toilet-stall look like nothing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

One moment, you're "Swiss of the Year," the next thing you know you're Swiss steak

Who doesn't love baby animals?

Apparently not the Swiss, who chose Farasi, a teensy-tiny baby hippo born on November 6, 2008 at the Basel Zoo, as "Swiss of the Year" for 2008. Farasi (the name means horse in Swahili) managed to beat out tennis ace Roger Federer.

But Federer likely has more staying power.

As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, poor Farasi is more likely to end up on somebody's plate this year - and the plate won't be of the souvenir variety. (Note: access to the WSJ article may require a subscription.)

It seems that, while Farsi's safe as long as he's - by hippo standards - a babe in arms, once he has grown to man's estate, he'll have to go. The Basel Zoo isn't big enough to support two adult male hippos.

And in Europe, a homeless hippo is a dead hippo.

Unlike American zoos, zoos in Europe apparently don't believe in birth control. Instead, they practice a "birds do it, bees [Farasi with his mom]do it" approach that nets them too many zoo babies. When zookeepers can't find a place for their bonus babies, they put them down, using the carcasses for research or food.

In the U.S., says Steve Feldman of the U.S. Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Farasi wouldn't have been born unless a home had been lined up for him. "We never put down a healthy animal." European zoos say sex, pregnancy and parenting are fundamental needs. "A chimpanzee spends 24 hours a day with its young for four years," says Robert Zingg, chief curator of Zurich Zoo, which works closely with Basel Zoo. "How do you replace that?" European zoos even sometimes euthanize surplus chimps, he says.

(Gosh! How'd you like to be a more or less sentient four year old chimp about to be euthanized? So long, Mom. It's been a swell four years!)

So little Farasi may well get "thrown to the lions."

Amid the joy of Farasi's birth, zoo spokeswoman Tanja Dietrich said he'd be put up for adoption. Or else? Zoo policy, she said, is to "put down excess animals and feed them to carnivores."

One does have to admire the matter-of-fact, no BS truth-telling here - can you imagine a US zoo giving the press this little morsel. No wonder we practice animal birth control here - it's far more palatable than euthanasia. Still, it's hard not to lament the possible fate of Farasi.

The Basel Zoo's policy has jolted the Swiss, captured the headlines of their tabloid newspapers, and prompted a soft-hearted Zurich resident, Andrea Dindo, to start up a "save Farasi club". Her Facebook group has 15,000 members.

Ms. Dindo is doing more than just friending. Her group has written to a number of zoos looking for a new home for Farasi. So far, they've had no luck.

One reason that the Dindo and so many other Swiss are so up in virtual arms over this is that they are a genuinely animal-loving nation.

Last September, Switzerland passed an animal bill of rights that says that pet guinea pigs, for instance, should be kept in pairs to avoid loneliness. Swiss have to mercifully knock out their goldfish before flushing them down the toilet.

(I wonder who polices those regulations? "Ma'am, we're here to make sure that you still have both the guinea pigs you bought last month. You say that you know have 12 guinea pigs? That's interesting, the report from the pet shop says that they sold you two males.")

Back to the Save Farasi campaign:

Zoo professionals cock an eyebrow at the activists. "Animals die in nature," says Gerald Dick, director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums in Bern. If they die in captivity, "it would be crazy to throw away the meat."

Farasi has the rest of the year to enjoy himself, but his time is ticking away. By the age of one, he will be seen as a threat to his father. And with good reason.

In nature, the young sexually mount their mothers if they can.

But finding a home for a hippo is hard, especially for a male, since you can only have one per zoo. And they live pretty long, too - into their 50's - so there's not a lot of turnover. If you're the lucky male, you're more or less a pig in clover. If you're not the lucky one, you're more or less bacon.

The Swiss national circus has offered to take Farasi, but the zoo wants him in a real (zoo) home, not wearing a tutu and dancing on his hind legs, or whatever circus hippos do. (I may be thinking of the hippos in Fantasia here.)

The Basel Zoo will keep looking for a home for Farasi, but alas,

..says Ms. Dietrich: "Euthanasia is the final option after all else has failed."

As the woman with the rabbit hutch in Michael Moore's Roger & Me had it, it all comes down to "Pets or Meat."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Saya: No more pencils, no more books. No more robot's dirty looks.

Well, I had quite a range of teachers over the years, but I can't honestly say I ever had one who was robotic.

Japanese schoolchildren may not be able to make this claim.

Japan, it seems, is deploying the robot Saya on a trial basis at a primary school in Tokyo. (Source: UK Telegraph.)

Robot teacher: Robot teacher that can take the register and get angry

In this picture, Saya looks pretty impassive and dummy-like as she monitors her charges, but don't be fooled. She is multi-lingual, can conduct roll call and assign tasks, and make facial expressions.

The humanoid was originally developed to replace a variety of workers, including secretaries, in a bid to allow firms to cut costs while still retaining some kind of human interaction.

Okay, I just flat out don't get Japan.

Much as I can see that robots can be used for certain types of work, I don't see why they should be in human form. Why not C3PO or R2D2 - you know, robot-robots. I do see how a robot could cut costs, but I just don't see how putting a pliable latex face on a robot lets you "retain" any "kind of human interaction." (The one place I can maybe see where this might work is in dealing with the autistic, the severely depressed, et al. who may respond better to communications in non-human but vaguely human like format. In fact, a humanoid is being designed as a companion for those with Alzheimer's.)

Other uses already deployed for the humanoid - which was created by University of Tokyo professor Hiroshi Kobayashi - are traffic directing, acting as a receptionist, and "luring university graduates to sign up to courses."

Other than signing up for a course in robotics, I can't imagine what kinds of courses that an object that's just a layer of latex and a wink-and-a-nod removed from a crash test dummy could lure a grad student into.

Again, I so don't get Japan.

According to the article, the Japanese government wants a robot in every home by 2015. To what end, the article doesn't say. Perhaps to tend to Japan's elderly - and getting older - population. Robots that can open a soup can, take out the trash, and figure out how to work multiple remote controls would be useful to me now, let alone in a year or two when I become elderly.  But I really don't want a humanoid robot - although, come to think of it, having a robot that looked like George Clooney would be kind of fun. Mostly, if I do get a robot, I want it to look like a retro-1950's robot. I prefer my humans to be human, thank you.

Professor Kobayashi, by the way, "believes that within a few years robots with the physical and mental skills of a two-year old child will be available. "

Yikes! Just what the elderly need racing around: grown-up sized robots with the physical and mental skills of a two-year old.

The Boston Globe picked up on Saya last week, and there I learned that Saya "can express six basic emotions -- surprise, fear, disgust, anger, happiness, sadness."

Call me a literalist, or call me old-fashioned, but Saya is really not expressing human emotions. She - I mean it - is demonstrating the robotic equivalent of showing emotion.

Professor Kobayashi says that young children and old folks respond best to humanoid robots.

"Children even start crying when they are scolded."

But Kobayashi doesn't see Saya replacing human teachers anytime soon. Pretty much all she can do is call the roll and holler orders, like "Be quiet." It is, he admits, "Just a tool."

The kids in the test-drive classroom - fifth and sixth graders - did get a kick out of their temporary teacher, however.

Still, I'm relieved to see that some scientists have reservations about surrendering care of the young and the old to robots. Georgia Tech's Ronald Arkin is one.

"Simply turning our grandparents over to teams of robots abrogates our society's responsibility to each other, and encourages a loss of touch with reality for this already mentally and physically challenged population," he said.

And as for robot teachers, if I'd had them, I'd have missed out on an awful lot.

Could a robot have grabbed Michael Mahoney's soda can and swung it back and forth as she ranted about "a seventh grader who doesn't know how to use a can opener" - only to have the can explode on Sister Florence as she demonstrated her can-opening prowess? (This was just prior to the introduction of flip-top cans.)

Would a robot have ever had the knowledge and outright generosity of spirit to explain to a bunch of nine year olds that a school fire in Chicago that killed a hundred kids was actually intended for Our Lady of the Angels in Worcester, and not Our Lady of Angeles in Chicago, with the result of God's one mistake being that good and innocent children died while bad and guilty children lived?

Could a robot have had the presence of mind to rearrange the class seating arrangement on a moment's notice so that we could win the contest highlighted in the December St. Dominic Savio Club Newsletter, a contest offering a prize to a classroom if someone with the initials "MC" (for Merry Christmas) was seated in the second row, fifth seat? What a coincidence that Sister Saint Whilhelmina put Michael Curran in that seat! Unfortunately, plenty of other non-robot nuns must have come up with the same amazing coincidence, because we won nothing. (It was probably just a bunch of Dominic Savio holy cards, anyway, and I already had one.)

I really don't need to supply any more reasons to make my case.

No robot could ever have replaced the teachers I had.


I will say that I did have plenty of rational and excellent teachers. It's just that the loonies are much more interesting to think about.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish eyes: not so smiling, these days

My husband and I had been talking about a trip to Northern Ireland next September.

Although we've been to Ireland a dozen or so times, most recently in 2006, we've never been to the North - largely because I've been reluctant to travel to any "I" country - Ireland, Israel, India, Iran, Iraq - where we could get our heads blown off.

But the peace initiative seemed to have been working, and The Troubles seemed to have been a thing o' the past. And we'd been reading good things about Belfast and Derry - enough to make a trip there seem worthwhile.

Then two British soldiers were killed by members of a renegade, splinter group of the IRA, a group which styles itself as the Real IRA. The soldiers were at the gates of their army base, meeting a pizza delivery man.

A few days later a police officer - a Catholic, by the way - was gunned down, with the glory claimed by another IRA splinter organization.

(The actual IRA is now a respectable political party.)

In February, a bomb was found near a primary school - reportedly destined not for the primary school, but for a British army base.

Over the weekend, there were riots in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, after police arrest several men in the murder of the soldiers

The good news is that the violence seems to have united many (though clearly not all) the citizens of Northern Ireland, with Protestants and Catholics, unionists and "one Ireland" uniters alike, joining together in large protests against the Ireland.

Still, we are putting off any plans to visit Northern Ireland until we're sure that things have calmed down.

Meanwhile, to the south, the economy of the Republic of Ireland - which has been roaring over the past decade or so - seems to have fallen off the Cliffs of Moher: unemployment is nearing 10%, the construction boom has completely fizzledimage, and the Irish banks are in complete disarray. The big joke is "What's the difference between Iceland and Ireland? One letter." But nobody's laughing.

And Ireland, which had become home to a raft of Eastern Europeans - last time we were there, most of the waiters and bartenders we spoke with were Polish or Czech - is experiencing out-migration of its EU workers. I don't know about the other migrant groups: last trip, we went through a town outside Galway with a population that was one-quarter Brazilian. And in Galway itself there were many Africans.

Nothing new about out-migration from Ireland, of course. For generations, Ireland's greatest export was its young. But the fact that Ireland had become a destination for immigrants was a matter of no small pride. (It was also a matter of some concern with respect to the decline of their culture, to a non-trivial suspicion of "outsiders" taking jobs and soaking up welfare, and all the old familiar notions associated with immigrants. Nothing new for us, but something out of the ordinary for the Irish.)

The Irish can be a pessimistic lot, so the implosion of their economy will come as no small surprise to many, as they'd never trusted it at all, at all to begin with. And for the Irish of a certain age - probably anyone over thirty-five or so - well, they were used to having a lot less. In fact, they were used to having to leave their own country if they wanted a lot  - or even a little - more than what they could find for themselves at home.

One of the most depressing scenes I ever witnessed took place on the boat from Dun Laoghaire, outside Dublin, over to Holyhead in Wales. This was the pre-Ryanair way that the Irish got over to England. The time was the early seventies, and I was on my first trip to Ireland, which was an early stop on an extended European adventure with my college roommate.

While we were waiting for the boat to leave the dock, we watched as a middle aged woman, wearing an armband identifying her has a social worker, went around interviewing all of the young people on the boat to determine if they were leaving Ireland, and why. The "why", of course, was that the economic opportunities in Manchester, Birmingham, and London were a lot better than they were in Dublin, Cork, and Galway.

The social worker didn't bother with us: we were obviously American, with our nice new backpacks and parkas. She did speak to a fellow we'd been hanging out with. He wasn't Irish - he was from New Foundland - but his parents had immigrated to Canada from Ireland, and he had more or less gone native during his time in Ireland. Rick was the one who told us what the woman doing the interviewing was after.

Fast forward a dozen years, and I remember being saddened by the job boards at Trinity College and University College Galway - all bursting with jobs somewhere else.

And then, miraculously, the Irish economy turned around: high tech, call centers, EU money, whatever. Suddenly there were Benetton shops around every corner, SUV's clogging the newly constructed highways, and suburban malls replacing the town-center shops.

Who was an American to complain about Ireland on the Move?

I remember a cab driving proudly pointing out a new mall going up outside town, and me thinking 'be careful what you wish for.'

As I said, Irish folks of a certain age are used to economic struggle, to doing without, to making do, in a way that few Americans are. Nonetheless, I'm sure that their current troubles are no more welcome as the flowers in May than our economic turmoil is to us.

Still, it's St. Patrick's Day, and we should all be doing a bit of  the old celebrating.

So Happy St. Paddy's Day to all. (As we used to say - and actually believed - growing up in Worcester: there are only two kinds of people on God's green earth: those who are Irish, and those who wish they were.)

Here's to a great day for the Irish, even if it isn't much of a year.


St. Patrick's Day - 2008

St. Patrick's Day - 2007

Monday, March 16, 2009

Would you buy a used car from the Scottsbluff Three? Answer: not anymore.

What with Bernie Madoff and Sir Allen Stanford to buzz about, it's good to keep in mind that the little guys are still at it, chiseling away.

Last month, it was Michigan's embezzling hockey mom, and just last week there was the delighted story of a trio from a Scottsbluff, Nebraska car dealership who allegedly tried to make off with 81 cars that they were trying to resell.

Actually, with all the Ponzi scheme, dollar based shucking-and-jiving scandals, it's kind of refreshing to read about someone trying to make off with something tangible.

Of course, given that the tangible assets were cars, it does leave me kind of scratching my head. What I know about the auto dealership industry could fit quite nicely in a MiniCooper's glove compartment, but there are things like titles and VIN numbers that, if seems to me, would make it somewhat difficult to move merchandise that was heading somewhere other than the chop-shop.

But what do I know?

The owner of Legacy Auto Sales, Allen Patch, has been in the business a long time, and he seemed to think he could get away with it.

Here's the story.

Path and two colleagues, Rachel Fait and Rick Covello - hilariously (given that the name is so closely and currently associated with The Big Three) called "auto execs" in the headline of the Scottsbluff Star Herald article I saw - were no-shows at work one day last week. Their desks were cleaned out, their computers were gone - and so were 81 cars - worth $2.5M. And once the police started poking around, the trio's homes had been emptied out, as well.

By the time the cops caught up with the crew, a bunch of the cars - all owned by Toyota Financing, and not by the dealership itself - had already been sold at auction in Utah. Although Patch et al. didn't actually own the cars, they did have temporary title to them, which enabled them to sell them to the auction house for cash. How they got title will be part of the mystery to be cleared up - at least for me. Folks who know all about things like VIN numbers and the Manheim Auction probably know all this stuff already.

Anyway, most of the auctioned cars have been recovered, as well as a few others, including one found in a WalMart parking lot in Wyoming and an unknown quantity located in Las Vegas. (In this case, what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas.) One car was being driven by Covello when he turned himself in to Scottsbluff police. Fait and Patch were arrested in Tooele, Utah.

Motivation for the theft is thought  to be the financial problems that Patch's Legacy dealerships had gotten themselves into. A local bank has been overseeing operations for the past several months - apparently not so closely that they knew about the ill-gotten titles, or the cars that had been hauled off in the dead of night.

Dealership employees have also told the police that Fait, who was the dealership's controller:

...had been embezzling money from the company. One said Fait had taken over $46,000 from the business and kept a large backpack with cash inside of it.

This, of course, makes it sound like fellow employees might have known that something was amiss - but how does this become common knowledge without getting acted on? I guess the d'uh answer is: if you report something to the boss and he's in cahoots with the embezzler....

Anyway, it's fun to imagine the water cooler gossip about the light-fingered controller.

"Oh, that Rachel, she's always got her hand in the till."

"And you know that big old backpack she lugs around? She opened it up the other day. I thought she was going to take out her running shoes or something, but she just grabbed a big wad of cash."

One of the Utah dealers that Patch was dealing with is sticking by Patch and Fait, who are well known in the Tooele area, where Patch once owned a number of dealerships, and where Fait grew up. Doug Bergener manages Bargain Buggy's.

“I don’t think anyone can prove anything’s illegal at this point,’’ he said. “We’ve known Allen for 15 years and never knew him to do anything underhanded. There’s been no reason not to trust him. He’s always been honest. It’ll all come out in the wash.’’

Those Tooele Bargain Buggy folks are a loyal lot.

In an article, again from the Scottsbluff paper, on the possibility of federal charges against the Scottsbluff Three, Bargain Buggy's President Mike Garrard, who used to work for Patch:

...believes the charges are a result of a giant misunderstanding.

“From everybody I know in this part of the country, there are not too many bad things ever said about Allen Patch,” Garrard said Thursday evening. “He’s a lot smarter than to pawn 81 vehicles and just try to run,” Garrard said. “I just hope people don’t hang him yet. Remember, presumed innocent until found guilty.”

Yessiree, Bob. One of the great things about this country is that your are innocent until found guilty.

But it's also not exactly news that "smart" and "honest" people can go plenty wrong when $$$$$ is concerned.

As Doug Bergener said, "It'll all come out in the wash."

I can hardly wait.

This is really far easier to wrap your head around than the missing billions of Madoff and Stanford.

Grand theft auto, on a really grand scale.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Putting off the Ritz: Goldman Sachs is finding room at a downmarket inn

There's not all that much to laugh about these days, but yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a cheery little article on Goldman Sachs' new corporate travel policy. Out with the Plaza Athenee, the Frette linens, and "$11 Irish oatmeal brûlée with berries compote". In with the Battery Park Embassy Suites, which Goldman owns and which its out of town employees - from the highest muckety-mucks to the lowliest grunt - are now directed to lodge when they're visiting HQ or clients in The City. Which means cotton-poly sheets with a thread count so low it might as well be burlap, views of Jersey City, and a pretzel-and-Bud happy hour instead of $14 signature martinis.

Goldman, which last fall posted its first quarterly loss since going public a decade ago, is watching its expenses, and one of the victims is luxury hotel nights. For Goldman, the going rack rate is now $250 - not the $795 that their folks were racking up at the Plaza Athenee back in the day, or the more modest $495 at he Ritz.

Some of the bankers aren't happy with the switch. "No one's supposed to complain out loud, but, let's face it, we're spoiled," says one Goldman employee. "They turned us into hotel snobs."

Well, I'm sure that the bankers could pay out of pocket for an upgrade if they wanted, but maybe those Frette sheets just aren't worth it if you actually have to pay for them yourself.

If you're wondering why Goldman owns this property to begin with, they're building a new HQ in Battery Park City and purchased the hotel with the intention of turning it into a "dorm" for visiting Goldman execs. (Hmmmm. I'm guessing that a "dorm' for Goldman execs will not feature cement block walls, 2 inch thick mattresses with Indian print bedspreads, and shared showers. Just guessing.)

Ever mindful of shareholder value - and shareholder perception - Goldman has put other cost cutting measures into effect:

Goldman people working late can only put in for $20 in dinner costs; the old limit was $25. If Goldman employees want to take a hired car home, they have to wait until 10 p.m., an hour later than before. The firm recently slashed the number of computer printers at its New York headquarters, frustrating employees who now have farther to walk in order to retrieve pitchbooks.

Having worked at Wang when they were in expense slash and burn mode, I have a couple of other expense cutting tips for Goldman:

  • Unscrew 2/3's of the hall lightbulbs, and 1/3 of the work area lights.
  • Only pick up the trash in the cubicles and public areas a couple of times a week.
  • Enforce a "cheapest flight" policy that may send Chicago employees to New York via Houston and Seattle, but will, indeed, save money. (And with smart phones, laptops, and wifi, all that time doesn't have to be wasted, either. Win-win!)

Thinking about the poor Goldies put me in absolute mind of some of the more wonderful hotels I've stayed in while on business -most of which came at the hands of Wang, which had the ugliest travel policies in the world. We used to joke about being issued packing boxes and a list of the heating grates in a city.

On one Wang jaunt, I stayed at a hotel with mouse droppings and broken glass in the closet. I know, I know, mouse droppings can drop anywhere. And if you're not stomping around the closet barefoot, what harm's a little broken glass? Since there were no hangers in the closet, anyway, there was very little reason to use the closet to begin with. So Wang was right to put us up there.

Another Wang stop was a "theme motel" in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where I participated in some Wang user conference or another. I got there too late for one of the theme rooms, but one of my colleagues got the jungle room and another one got medieval manor. While my room lacked a theme, it did have a floor show. When, on return from a conference session, I opened the door, I found that the hall and the bathroom were entirely filled with pink bubbly foam that had backed up from the nearby laundry, through my toilet. Alas, there was no other room at the inn, but they did come in and hoover up the foam for me.

In Chicago one time, I stayed at a hotel that had two cement block buildings, only one of which had a front desk that was manned. The other just had a locked outside door. Naturally, I was placed in Building Two, which you reached by crossing through a quasi-lit parking lot. The parking lot was probably safe enough. In any case, it was surrounded by a chain link fence topped by coils of razor wire - sort of like a medium security lock-up.

So the Goldman folks really have nothing to complain about, do they now? They have jobs. Goldman's doing better than most. And the Embassy Suites has no theme rooms - other than the apparent general theme of complain, complain, complain.

By the way, Goldman did take some of the federal lifetime - not much, just $10B  - and we the people don't want to see that money going to muddled cucumber martinis and 400 thread-count sheets. (Speaking of which, I can't remember which of our darling financial services firms it was, but on the news the other night, some exec was complaining that the money being used for some corporate junket or bonus pay out wasn't coming from TARP dollars. Quick: name something that's more fungible than money...)

The best part of the article on Goldman's Embassy Suites slumming was the comment from a Jasper, Alabama school teacher who was in town or a conference.

Holly Jaye, who "had never heard of Goldman Sachs", had this to say:

"Where I come from, this would be considered a luxury hotel."

And you wonder why people are growing tired of Wall Street attitude.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

He's got the way to move tickets, ch-er-ry

Just last May I was blog-moaning the fact that I was unable to get tickets to see Neil Diamond's August show at Fenway Park.

Try as I could, I couldn't get cheap seats - although jacked up versions of the cheap seats were instantly available on Ticket Master's legal scalping site. Now, thanks to The Wall Street Journal, I know why. (Note: access to source story may require a subscription.)

It seems that Neil Diamond - and plenty of other singers - withhold bunches of seats from initial public distribution, and make them available at a hefty multiple of face value on Ticket Master's "premium" site, TicketExchange.

Selling premium-priced tickets on TicketExchange, priced and presented as resales by fans, is a practice used by many other top performers, according to people in the industry. Joseph Freeman, Ticketmaster's senior vice president for legal affairs, says that the company's "Marketplace" pages only rarely list tickets offered by fans.

The thinking behind this is to take the profit out of the hands of scalpers - or fans trying to make a buck - and making sure it stays in the pocket of the artiste.

Fair enough: it must be really galling for concert performers and athletic teams to see someone else extract revenue that they consider theirs. But, wait, aren't most secondary market ticket sellers - like StubHub and Ace - already in cahoots with concert performers and athletic teams?  How would they get their money grubbing hands on so many tickets to begin with? Obviously, it's in the interest of the performers and teams to let someone else assume the risk of not selling out. Fair enough.

So what must be really galling is seeing Joe Blow who lucked into a couple of tickets, out there on Craig's List trying to score.

However ticked off I can get about scalping, legal or otherwise, I'm enough of a free marketer to be okay with it. (Old lefty that I am, however, I'd rather see individual scalpers profiting than I would corporate scalp jobs, with the caveat that I'm talking about "honest" scalpers, not those selling counterfeits.)

But the artistes aren't the only ones galled by scalping.

I'm pretty galled myself about Neil Diamond et al. (where al. includes Billy Joel and Elton John, by the way) "pretending" that these tickets are fan re-sells, sold on the soi-disant "fan to fan" TicketExchange. Of course, I'm sure that Neil Diamond is his own biggest fan, so there may be some Clintonian truth to his selling bulked-up tickets to his own concerts as fan to fan.

Virtually every major concert tour today involves some official tickets that are priced and sold as if they were offered for resale by fans or brokers, but that are set aside by the artists and promoters, according to a number of people involved in the sales.

Impossibly, even Britney Spears is involved in this. (Say it isn't so!)  Some of the $125 seats for her upcoming concert in Pittsburgh are available in the "TicketExchange Marketplace" for nearly an order of magnitude more than face value. (Note to Britney fans: an order of magnitude more means ten times more. In other words, a lot.)

Apparently, now that the WSJ's been poking around, TicketExchange has expunged the "tickets posted by fans" note from their site.

So, is it too much to ask for a bit of transparency here?

Naturally, the artistes don't want to appear to be sticking it to their most devoted fans. But think of how ticked off those devotees are when they find out they've been played? Why not just list the tickets as at "market price", kind of like the lobster at Legal Seafood. State outright that you set aside a certain percentage of tickets so that the most loyal, extravagant, besotted fans can pay through the nose for them, pointing out that the money goes to the object of their affection, not some rotten scalper.

Not all performers do this sort of ticket finagling, by the way.

Bruce Springsteen's policy is not to play in the secondary ticket market.

Way to go, Boss. (And I'm sure that your August concert at Gillette Stadium, which I saw, was an order of magnitude better than Neil Diamond's outing at Fenway Park, anyway. In fact, if you'd just sung Sweet Caroline, it would have been perfect.)


In tribute to this revelation about Diamond's ticket mastery, I've played around a bit with his classic Play Me, written from a fan's perspective.

You are the star
I am the fan
You have the tickets
I am your lamb
Play me

Or, alternatively:

I am the star
You are the fan
I have the tickets
You are my lamb
Pay me

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vaxed Beans: The Victory Garden Makes a Comeback

Chalk it up to city girl-ism, but I've never been much of a gardener.

Still, I was interested to see  an article in The Economist about how Victory Gardens are back in vogue, both as a way of coping with the recession and as a way of being a bit greener about the food we eat. If the food's coming from your Victory Garden, it's being transported from garden to table in a trug, not a fuel guzzling, pollution spewing, blow-out creating truck. And what with the poison peanut, death-by-spinach, and other food recalls of recent years, safety's another factor promoting the return to growing your own.

According to the article I read, there is a grassroots movement to have the Obamas follow in Eleanor Roosevelt's footsteps and plant a garden on the White House lawn. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is doing a reverse Joni Mitchell, unpaving the parking lot next to the Ag Department HQ, and putting up the paradise of "The People's Garden." Sounds a tad USSR, but the idea is interesting.

Arkansas is something of an epicenter for Victory Gardening, which:

...are springing up in backyards, school grounds and even on front lawns in posh neighbourhoods. Many gardeners are focusing on “heirloom” plants—rare varieties from earlier times that do not appeal to agribusiness.

Classes are being offered on canning vegetables and raising chickens.

Somehow, I don't see chickens taking off around here. It makes sense in Arkansas, where it's probably pretty easy to find chickens who've flown the Tyson's coop scratching around looking for a home where they don't have to wear blinders and sit in tiny cage all day sucking down growth hormones.

There are programs in Little Rock for gardening next to schools, so that "inner-city students [get] to taste fresh-grown fruit and vegetables, sometimes for the first time in their lives," which seems like a good idea. There's also a project focusing on getting inner-city families to start gardens.

As with chickens, this probably makes more sense in Little Rock, which has a somewhat longer growing season than Boston does.

But certainly people with backyard space in these parts can and do grow their own veggies.

As I said, I don't see myself as much of a gardener, victory or otherwise.

My mother - raised on Chicago, but born on the farm - had a green thumb, but she turned it to house plants and flowers, not veggies. One spring, the Big Three (i.e., the three oldest kids) each planted something or other. My choice was Scarlet Runner Beans, which no doubt chose because I had had scarlet fever over the winter. They had kind of a pretty flower, and the beans looked cool. As far as I was concerned, they weren't edible.

I can't remember what my sister Kath planted, but I know that my brother Tom did carrots.

Farmer Tom did a fine job cultivating them. Once the green sprouts appeared above ground, he took to digging them up every day to see how they'd grown.

As I said, city kids.

There are Victory Gardens in the Fens section of Boston, leftovers from WWII, and I've always enjoyed walking through them, but have never had the urge to actually apply for a plot of my own - which I probably wouldn't qualify for anyway, since I don't live in that neighborhood/neighbourhood.

I do plant tulips and crocuses out front of our condo building each year, but the area's very shady once the dogwood tree in there pops, so the only thing that grows there once June rolls around are impatiens. Besides, I don't imagine the neighbors would like to see tomato plants out front of our house. The back "yard" is sunny enough, but it's all concrete. I suppose I could grow tomatoes in buckets, but I suspect that the rats would get them.


I will never be a victory gardener.

My Chicago grandmother, however, did grow vegetables at The Lake, our name for her summer house on the aptly named Sand Lake, which was out in The Country, up near the Wisconsin border. When we were kids, this truly was The Country; now it's a suburb.

I don't really recall everything that Grandma grew, but what sticks in my mind (as well as in the craw of my memory) was her waxed beans. Or, as she pronounced it, vaxed beans.

As far as I could tell, they really were made of vax.

If the strategy of hiding them under potato skin failed, there was only one way to eat them, or, rather gag them down.

You had to take a big mouthful of milk, pop in a vaxed bean or two, and let the milk with floating bean pass down your gullet in one big swallow. No need to chew, no need to taste. The trick was not having the bean actually touch any part of your mouth or throat. And not to see if any of your siblings or cousins were having a hard time getting them down. One gagging kid was all it would take to start a chain reaction of yelling mothers and milk streaming down all those nostrils.

Although I retain my aversion to vaxed beans - my gut is churning a bit as I type - I'm generally a fresh veggie type of gal these days. I suppose if someone actually put a vaxed bean in front of me, I would enjoy them

Still, if I had a victory garden, the vaxed bean would be one of the last things I'd plant in it. But tomatoes, scallions, lettuce, green beans, peas....even Scarlet Runner Beans. Yum!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Igor Panarin's Doomsky and Gloomevitch

I will admit that, every once in a while, I do take a moment to imagine what it would be like if these United States became not so united. My separation anxiety usually has the Red States going in one direction, and the Blue States going in the other. While I would miss my friends and family in Red States, I reconcile myself to the fact that the Blue States get the better of it - the majority of the ocean front  and intellectual property; cultural and financial institutions; technological, scientific, and artistic communities; and MLB teams. Then I remember that those financial institutions haven't exactly been proving their mettle these days. And that, what with climate change, that ocean front property will be starting on the shores of Worcester, or Syracuse, even. And that the Red States have the majority of the military installations - not to mention spring training cites. (Gulp!)

And then I take a deep breath and remember that, even in the Bluest of Blue states, there are plenty of Red voters. And the same goes for the Reddest of the Red.

But things do happen, and it is conceivable, even likely that, at some point, our country will look plenty different than it does now.

Sometimes, if I listen just the right way to Rush Limbaugh, I think that this will be sooner, and that the ditto-heads will rise up, grab their rifles, hop in their NASCARs, and rev up to Boston to personally shoot me in my big mouth, or my fast-as-lightning typing hands.

Most of the time, I think that the dissolution of the United States will be later, as the world makes whatever adjustments it's going to make to population growth, climate change, use of resources, technology, and everything else there is to worry about.

But Igor Panarin, dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry diplomatic academy, thinks different.

He's predicting martial law this year, and the dissolution of the US into six "rump states" before 2011. (Source: Huffington Post - an AP article, I think.)

And who will rise to the top of the new world order?

Why those twin demons of the Cold War: Russia and China.

Panarin, who is also a TV pundit in Russia - well known for its free and open fourth estate - recently gave a lecture in which he said:

"There is a high probability that the collapse of the United States will occur by 2010."

(Panarin's negative views are apparently shared by Vlad the Putin, as well.)

Panarin has been predicting this for a decade or so - what's a schtick unless you stick with it? - but he's now seeing signs that The End is Near. Signs include the prison population and the number of gay men.

Things are certainly bad here. While, personally, I don't feel we have enough gay men, we do have a tremendous prison population. But I do find it a bit hard to believe that the United States will completely collapse while Russia rises to the fore. Not that we're perfect, but doesn't Russia have a shrinking population? Doesn't Russia have a more or less third world life expectancy? (Even lower for opposition journalists.) Doesn't Russia have some pretty thuggish folks in high places in their oligarchy? And a pretty darned rotten economy of their own? Sure, they have natural resources, but what else have they got?

Last time I looked, we're still a country that people want to live in, and, although many immigrants (illegal and otherwise) are returning home to wait out the recession, we've still got a waiting list for citizenship.

Last time I looked, other than for Lee Harvey Oswald, the last time that there was migration from the US to Russia was when some idealistic crack-pots went over to live under the glorious Stalin regime. How'd they like what they found? Can't complain!


In case you're wondering how the break up of the United States breaks out, there was an article on Panarin in The Wall Street Journal a while back that included a handy map.)

Looks like New England more or less lucks out. Sure, we get stuck with South Carolina, but we get to be part of the EU.  The Midwest gets lucky, too - they get to be part of Canada.

I feel the worst for the South, which Panarin has under Mexico, which, I understand, is in present danger of becoming a failed narco-state. So, that won't be fun for anyone.

And don't tell Governor Palin, but Seward's Folly reverts back to Russia.

[Igor Panarin]




Monday, March 09, 2009

Novelty Cuisine at the Modern Toilet

Well, how often do you get to see the words "cuisine" and "toilet" used in the same sentence?

Not that often, I'm guessing.

But I couldn't pass up commenting on a Time Magazine article that was making the rounds online last week that "reviewed" (sort of) a Taiwanese restaurant chain called the Modern Toilet. Modern Toilet features desserts with such savory names as "diarrhea with dried droppings," "bloody poop," and "green dysentery," served under on "toilet-shaped plates" under "poop-shaped lights."

For the life of me, I can't see how this gets carried off "tastefully," which is how one person eating at the Modern characterized the restaurant:

As Jennifer Finch, an American who was dining there, described it, "They do it tastefully. It's all very clean."

Clean, perhaps. But tasteful. (Green dysentery for dessert. Yum!)

A local diner called the place "progressive and irreverent."

If this be progress....

Anyway, my first question on learning about the Modern Toilet was, where did a bunch of 9 year old boys get the capital to open a restaurant chain.

But, no, there are actual grown-ups behind Modern Tmodern toiletoilet, who describe themselves as "a group of 'muckrakers' following our dreams."

Who am I to criticize folks for following their dreams, but dreaming about "poop-shaped lights" and a dessert called "green dysentery"? These are the types of dreams I try to shake off first thing in the morning, not follow.

Not that I would be completely grossed out by it. Sure, drinking from a hospital urine bottle might give me some pause - I would inevitably and involuntarily wonder whether it had been used - but sitting on a seat shaped like a toilet and eating from a plate shaped like a toilet wouldn't bother me in the least. (As long as I wasn't eating any of that green dysentery.)

I have a strong stomach, and did spend my college years in a place where the dining service featured items called Hoof, Puck, Scum, and Abortion. (These were, of course, the unofficial names.)

The Modern Toilet, however, just isn't an experience I'd go out of my way for - or, frankly, want to have even if I didn't have to go out of the way for it.

I'm just not that big on theme restaurants to begin with. I can't imagine why anyone would eat at a Rain Forest Cafe twice. And,thus, I can't imagine that the Modern Toilet gets much repeat business. I would think that the novelty of sitting on a "stylish acrylic toilet" would wear off pretty fast.

But others may disagree, and this is not, as the MT's web site tells us, "a 'me-too' brand".

In an age where creative marketing is king, product differentiation = competitiveness.

Yeah, but, as I've learned through a long and dogged career in marketing: meaningless and stupid product differentiation does not equal competitiveness in the long run. It just equals meaningless and stupid product differentiation.

For those who disagree, there are franchising opportunities. The MT folks believe that the moment has passed for boring, pedestrian pizza and donut franchises, so:

If you are still looking for an opportunity to start your business, talk to us! We can help make your dream come true!

Unlike some franchises, there seems to be fairly wide latitude on restaurant decor.  Apparently, as long as you stick to the tagline Go To Toilet/Deliver UR Shit, you're within bounds. (Hmmm. I wonder what that "UR" is supposed to mean. Is it "your" or "you are"? Either way, just what I want to be told when I pick up a restaurant menu.)

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Ponzi Widow's Mite

Honestly, I'm not following the Bernie Madoff scandal all that obsessively. Still, just when I think there'll be nothing to say until we get the final accounting on where the $50B actually went, another golden nugget emerges.

This week it's Ruth Madoff's claim that her assets are her very own - "unrelated" to the Ponzi scheme - and are thus off-limits to those trying to freeze the Madoff assets.

Only Ruth, we are told, holds "beneficial ownership" of a Manhattan apartment. I have no idea what "beneficial ownership" means, and I'm too darned lazy to look it up. But if the Manhattan apartment is the one that Bernie's under house arrest in, I'd maintain that he's getting something beneficial out of day to day living that would be largely absent at Riker's Island.

Mrs. Madoff - a Ponzi widow, as it were, in the sense that one can be a golf or tennis or video game widow - contends that $45 million in munis, and $17M in cash have no relation to the Ponzi scheme.

Now Ruthie hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing at this point, but what's a suspicious mind to make of the fact that:

Cohmad Securities, where Ruth Madoff says her account holds municipal bonds, had an office in Madoff’s headquarters in midtown Manhattan. The firm was part-owned by Bernard Madoff and has been alleged by the Massachusetts Securities Division to be a “feeder fund” to his investment firm.

Last month, Massachusetts regulators said Ruth Madoff withdrew $15.5 million from Cohmad Securities in November and December, including $10 million on the eve of her husband’s arrest for securities fraud.

And if the money isn't related to the Ponzi shcme, then what, pray tell, is it related to?

Was Ruthie a good little saver? Did she clip coupons from the Sunday inserts and zero out her weekly grocery tab at Key Foods? Was this the sugar bowl accumulation of a long marriage?

Or did she have some fab career of her own that we don't know about? Did she manage to make a tidy little bundle during it? Maybe "her" money is not anything in the $50B magnitude, but there'd sure be a smile on my face if I had even one of the following -  $8M Manhattan apartment; $45M in munis; and $17M in cash - to show for my long career in largely failed high tech companies. Hell, there'd be a smile on my face if I had a dollar for every option I was granted over the years.  (At least I was smart enough not to exercise any of those little underwater babies.)

But from what I gather, most of Ruth Madoff's career was in support of her husband's company.

That is, when she wasn't "authoring" a cookbook - sales of which I'm pretty sure didn't clear her a fortune.

The 1996 cookbook was “The Great Chefs of America Cook Kosher". A NY Times article on the work noted:

In the cookbook’s biographical section, Mrs. Madoff referred to herself as “director of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities.” She used the same title two years later in a 1998 roster of trustees at the Queens College Foundation.

So, before Ruth Madoff is allowed to keep "her" mite, I'm sure that the powers that be will want to know  exactly what the Ponzi widow knew and when she knew it.

Hey, if it turns out that Mrs. Madoff was completely conned by her husband, and had no involvement whatsoever in the scheme, I will have some sympathy for her.  Here she is, in her late 60's, and her life is in shambles. And those shambles include most if not all of her friends, family, social acquaintances, and fellow philanthropists having been screwed over by her husband. I don't imagine there are a lot of her old crowd taking her phone call or meeting her eye these days.

And I'm guessing there'll be even fewer now.

Even the most sympathetic screwee might be a tad resentful that Ruth Madoff will have $70M when they are, if not exactly beggared, have perhaps lost more than that at Bernie's hands.

There's forgiveness and then there's forgiveness.

Someone might forgive her claiming a lesser amount in pin money, but this widow's mite is a pretty big widow's bite to be taking.

But I guess you don't get to accrue $70M without having at least a little bit of brass in you.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Brand-Yourself (before someone else does it for you)

A year or so ago, I was having lunch with a former colleague, and the topic turned to having NetGen-ers working for you. She's the VP of Marketing for a company aimed at this slice of the demographic, and most of the folks working for her fall into it. She mentioned that she was in hiring-mode for two positions, but had not made offers to two promising candidates based of what she'd seen about them online.

By most standards, the "problems" this hiring manager found weren't all that major: no felony conviction; no membership in the American Nazi Party; no shoving-the-hyper-kitty-cat-in-the-bong video. Just a couple of personal blog posts that made making an offer slightly problematic for her.

In one, a young woman who was applying for a job that involved budgeting wrote about her inability to keep her personal financial life in order - credit card balances, bounced checks, Mommy-Daddy bailouts. No doubt typical blogosphere histrionics and humor. Yet enough to push my friend to make the offer to an equally qualified candidate who wasn't caught laughing about her lack of financial acumen in public.

The other rejected candidates had a couple of posts about getting hammered and missing work. Again, the posts may well have been complete exaggerations. But do you want to take a chance on hiring someone who might not show up for work on Fridays and Mondays? My friend didn't.

I don't know whether she ever let these two know why they didn't get the job. It certainly would have been a useful service if she had. At least the two would have known to delete troubling posts - or maybe to start blogging anonymously.

Whether my friend provided useful service or not, there is an outfit that provides what I think is providing an absolutely essential service in this arena.

Brand-Yourself, the brainchild of three Syracuse University students - Pete Kistler, RJ Sherman, and Trace Cohen - is a resource for helping people create and maintain an online identity that's positive. Brand-Yourself does this by helping you figure out what's the value/merit of what's out there to begin with; making recommendations for improving your web presence; keeping tabs on it (think: Michael Phelps); and creating a site of your own that let's you control your image.

In the process of establishing a web presence - or re-establishing your web presence - you'll be making sure that the recruiters and hiring managers who (guaranteed!) are googling you will find the good stuff - and not your true confessions, which with any luck will now be relegated to the nether pages pulled up by a search engine. (You'd have to one hell of an obsessive-compulsive to look beyond page one.  And speaking of page one, while I come up first when I google Maureen Rogers, the equine consultant and herbalist Maureen Rogerses aren't far behind. And there, on the bottom of page one, I also see that Maureen Rogers died in Waterford, Ireland, last January 25th which - eerily - was the 38th anniversary of my father's death. Queue celestial choir music.)

Personally, this Maureen Rogers is not a huge fan of the notion of "Brand You". When I hear the term, by unbranded little brain starts thinking of hundreds of millions of self-absorbed narcissists trying to position themselves against hundreds of millions of other self-absorbed narcissists. And then my unbranded little brain goes numb. (Perhaps this because I came of age when Tide and Kellogg's were brands, and what people knew and thought about you was called "reputation," a concept that now seems quaint and passé. Who wants a boring old reputation when they can have a brand!)

This is, however, a mere quibble.

Brand is the term du jour, so brand it is.

And the web - as we used to say in the dot.com era - changes everything. So managing an online identity is essential. In this light, Brand-Yourself is an excellent idea. Especially for Net-Geners. (On second thought, it's not a bad idea for Gen-X or Boomers, either.)

Especially in this market, the first impression someone gets from you had best not be a MySpace clip of your throwing up, or the libelous comments some anonymous moron's making about you on the execrable JuicyCampus. And, of course, making sure you have a strong and positive web presence will certainly help you gain credibility in certain professions (e.g., marketing).

Speaking of marketing, while I'm giving props to Brand-Yourself's concept, how about a little marketing shout-out about their concise and pithy tag line:

We make it easy to establish a web presence that makes you more hirable.

Fourteen words! Way to go, guys.



Here's an earlier post on JuicyCampus, and another about the career-limiting cameos some South Carolina students made in the movie Borat.