Monday, August 31, 2009

Maureen Rogers, Career Coach

I learned the other day that Pink Slip has been named to a list of "100 Career Coach Blogs to Get You Through the Recession." The outfit that named me to this list fills a rather particular niche: it's dedicated to Construction Management Schools. (I was going to write "peculiar" niche, but it's not all that peculiar. My brother Tom, after a long and distinguished career in engineering - he was the lead construction engineer on Camden Yards ball park in Baltimore, among other things - became a professor of construction management at Northern Arizona University.)

The site, however, is peculiar. You can only search for schools via zip code, and my zip code yielded page after page of on-line degree programs.

Arguably, nothing can be much closer to your zip code than online, which is actually - at least virtually actually -  in your zip code. Nonetheless, I was surprised that after a few pages, the programs were more online than construction management. My favorite was the New England Culinary Institute, which was founded with the "vision" to:

...create a unique educational institution based on the medical school model of "learn-by-doing" training in real-life situations.

First off, I will acknowledge that there are some foods, both cooked and baked, that do seem to involve some level of construction management. And if there's any field where 'learn by doing' matters, it's in the kitchen.

But wouldn't "';earn-by-doing' training in real life situations" - at least when it comes to things-culinary - be more or less accomplished by following the recipes in the Joy of Cooking or watching how much butter Paula Deen adds, then going to the kitchen and doing it for yourself?

What surprised me in the list  of schools that came up was that the first-ups weren't Northeastern and Wentworth, both of which offer construction management and both of which I could take the T to, or even walk to in nice weather.

But, I should not be looking this gift horse blog recognition in the mouth - even though I am way down on what is actually a quite interesting list, and am lumped into a generic category of "News and Updates." And even though I clearly don't perfectly fit the career coaching bill. Never mind career coaching in construction management, other than 'go talk to my brother.'

Nonetheless, having been more or less designated as a career coach, and recognizing that in both blog life and real life, I do provide career coaching from time to time, I thought I'd provide some now. So here goes.

The other day, I was talking to an old friend who is clearly in an unhappy place professionally.

Because of the travel requirements of his previous job, he took a lesser-title, less-responsibility position in another firm.

Not being on the road has been great - my friend has two pre-school children, so the travel was very tough on his family - but his present job has left something to be desired. My friend feels - likely with some justification - that he could be doing his boss' job. Or the job of his boss' boss.

That he is title-less probably wouldn't bother him so much if his boss or his boss' boss at least acknowledged that my friend has expertise and experience in this area, and were willing to tap that expertise and experience.

Well, this ain't happening.

And - without knowing the entire situation, but having probed around a bit - here's what I think about the why.

His boss, and his boss' boss, are both about the same age as my friend. And both have significant, alpha-male-ish career ambitions. While they may see my friend as a resource, they're more likely to see him as a) not really having any expertise or experience that they lack; and/or b) as a threat. Why ask my friend's advice, let alone give him a seat at the grown-up's table with a lot of visibility with the higher ups? Where's that going to get them?

My friend, of course, could use a manager like me. I was generally happy to give those who reported to me the opportunity to "present up" and have exposure, where possible, to the higher reaches of the organization. This was because I always felt that this would make me look like a brilliant, accomplished manager. Maybe my friend's boss and boss' boss haven't figured this out yet. Maybe all they see is that, if they bring my friend to the party, someone might think 'what are we paying you for?'

This is all complicated, of course, by the fact that all three of these guys are the same age, etc.

I'm sure if my friend were my age, and clearly not looking for career advancement, his boss and his boss' boss might be more than happy to at least tap him for advice. They would not likely invite him to attend the "big meetings", because someone there might think, 'hey, the old geezer has all the answers; what are we paying you for?' But not being invited to the big meeting wouldn't bother him at all. If her were my age. Which he is not.

The situation is no doubt further complicated by the fact that my friend does not have a particularly good poker face. So, I'm quite sure that through tone of voice, body language, and all the rest, he has communicated his frustration and resentment to those around him.

So here's my career coaching for my friend:

  • As long as you're at this company, work very hard to un-malcontent your malcontent-ment. Without becoming a simpering fool, zen yourself into a 'butter wouldn't melt in my mouth' posture and attitude. No more public seething. (Especially since you've told me you believe you're getting a reputation as a prickly pear.)
  • While you're smiley-facing it with your boss, grab every crumb of an opportunity to add value and make sure that you completely shine. Even if the task is beneath you, don't do anything half-assed. (And, by the way, I'm not recommending that you suck up. I'm recommending that you suck it up.)
  • You've told me that your boss is a nice guy, even if his boss isn't. Thus, your boss might be okay if you were to open up about your frustrations and how you wanted more challenging and visible assignments. Do not do this in a pissy or aggressive way that will get your boss' back up by leading him to decide that you think that you're better than all this (and maybe, by extension, even better than he is). You even might want to you acknowledge that you understand that there may be no room for you to advance given the current structure, etc. By acknowledging that you appreciate that there are limitations to advancement, and giving implicit recognition that you won't be getting his job anytime soon, he may be happy to provide you with more challenging and visible assignments.  He might, however, be even happier to off-load something on to you.

    But you don't want what gets off-loaded to be crap, right? You have enough of that floating your way already. So, watch for the cues that he's getting overwhelmed, and volunteer to pitch in on something that you'd actually like to do (and/or that will actually get you to do something new). No, this is not likely to get your the advancement and visibility you crave, but it is likely to help ensure that when you need your boss to act as a reference, he'll be willing to do so. And, given that your boss is likely to get wind of organizational changes and reshuffles before you do, this could be an internal reference for a new position that's opening up.
  • If you can't suck it up, step it up. I.e., step up your search for another job. Yes, an opportunity may come up in your current company. But the longer it goes without something good happening - and, yes, I know, you've been passed over once by the boss' boss, who used to be your boss - the more you're going to let things eat at you. And the more you're going to look like the disgruntled worker who's smart and talented but not worth the aggravation. (Remember, once the incompetents get taken down, the next batch that lands on the lay-off list are the pissers and moaners.)

    Yes, the economy is crappy, but you are smart, capable, energetic, and have a good network. Get going.
  • Bad as things are, do not take a lateral move just to get out, unless it's to take a job reporting to an old gaffer like me (or someone who's leaving to purse their career in anthropology or to be a stay-at-home mom or dad) who is bringing you in explicitly as part of a succession planning. You really should be looking for a job with your old title and level of authority - just one that doesn't put you on a "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" schedule. You've made one downward move, but that shouldn't look all that terrible. Just be prepared to explain that you took your current position in order to get experience that, while it taps some abstract skills from your old job, really let you learn an all together new and different function. (Note: this doesn't have to be 100% true, just 99% plausible.)

The above was pretty long winded, so I'll be a good coach and break it down to a couple of X's and O's:

  • Suck it up
  • Work a bit longer and a bit harder than the next guy
  • Start working your network for your next job. Which, of course, you've already begun doing. I'm keeping an eye out for you.

Go, team!

Friday, August 28, 2009

'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

Well, we've long known that prospective employers go to the google when they want to learn about a prospective employee. This bit of info should give folks pause before they post pictures of themselves puking-drunk; trash talk an old manager on a blog far less circumspect and witty than this one; or allow themselves to appear in Borat spewing a bit of bigotry.

Now there's a new thing to worry about.

According to an article in the WSJ, tax agents from a number of states, have had some luck doing a bit of on-lining to nab tax evaders. The reven-ooers:

....have begun nabbing scofflaws by mining information posted on social-networking Web sites, from relocation announcements to professional profiles to financial boasts.

On guy in Minnesota was nabbed when he put the word out on MySpace that he was coming back to his home town - and gave his new employer's name.  That fellow is now short a few thousand dollars. No word on whether the employer - a real estate company - is happy to have a tax cheat on staff. You never know. With so many "tea baggers" out there complaining about taxes some folks might actually count tax evasion in someone's favor. (And isn't it great that there's direct deposit of Social Security checks, giving folks so much more time to get out there an rag about our nefarious government.)

In another Minnesota coup, the tax folks were trying to negotiate payments with a tanning parlor that cried poor mouth. Agents used info on their web site bragging about their success in providing tanning facilities for all the entrants in a body-building contest to negotiate a larger settlement on a back bill than they would otherwise have gotten. (Gosh, there's a healthy combo: let's all juice up, then go sit in a tanning bed for a couple of hours.)

California nailed someone through a thread on a discussion board, in which folks were chatting about someone's old business, and where it was relocated.

Nebraska nabbed a dee-jay boasting about the big par-tay he had coming up.  That golden Beatles oldie, The Taxman, goes out for the guy in the suit and the briefcase in the back of the crowd. Come on, bro, un-stiff, why don't you. You look like a Blues Brother, but you party like an IRS agent or something.

Some of the busts are pretty petty ante - a thousand here, a thousand there - but, especially with states scrounging around to find each and every penny that someone can ante up, it can add up. And some of the scores are pretty significant.  Nebraska got $30K in back taxes from someone who was listed as a senior marketing rep for a large, national company.

Things moved more slowly in the old days when snooping around meant digging through bank, employment, and RMV records.  

"These new supplements are often far more efficient than the older ones, such as reading the local newspaper or making inquiries at barbershops and church meetings," said Jim Eads, director of the Federation of Tax Administrators.

Agents typically start with Google, then move on to MySpace and Facebook. MySpace is preferable, since profiles are more apt to be public. But Facebook's good, too. As are, I'm assuming Linked In and any of the professional networking or info sites.

By the way, agents can look, but they can't touch. They can't make up a profile and try to 'friend' someone.

And, in some states, agents can't get their search work done at work, since social sites are sometimes blocked to keep state workers from moseying around all day socializing when they should be working (or when they could be moseying around all day socializing offline).

Given the success that some states are having, I'm guessing that many more states will create 'free zones' in which their tax agents, and those going after dead-beat dads (and moms) can get their search on.

The IRS was mum on whether they use these techniques. What's your bet?

Me, I hope they are. And I hope that Massachusetts gets into the act, too.

I'm all for the taxman getting his hand in the pocket of those trying to weasel their way out of paying their fair share.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

The Cash for Clunkers program has now wound down. Even if I'd had a clunker, it would not likely have gotten over the screening hurdle. The three-and-only cars I've ever owned in my life - a used, rusted out, early-1980's Honda Civic; a Mercury Tracer (with the nifty Mazda engine); and my quasi-beloved New Beetle - all got excellent MPG.

But although I am car-less, it is not as if my life is devoid of clunkers, and I wouldn't mind seeing a couple of program extensions that might get me into buying mode. Here are a few things I wouldn't mind trading up on:

  • Palm Pilot (vintage 1999): Sure, we talk all the time about built-in obsolescence, and I suppose that my old, do-nothing Palm is in many respects obsolete. But I have to give this little appliance props for solid construction. This has been recharged (and dropped) so many times, you'd think it would be all tuckered out by now. But it still keeps a schedule, and an address book, perfectly. And in 10 years, all I've had to do to keep this going is buy an occasional stylus to replace one I've lost. Nothing wrong with it - but nothing right with it, either. Proposed C for C trade: I'm not looking for much in return, but how about $25 bucks towards a Blackberry Tour.
  • Boombox (c. 1990): Sure, the antenna's bent out of shape, and the radio reception is terrible. And to get it to start playing a CD, I have to jigger the CD around a few times - and then lean on the lid pretty hard. But this little Aiwa still works reasonably well. Getting the CD's to start playing is, however, moderately annoying. While I do have an iPod, there are times when I actually want to play a CD without having to go into the living room and deal with the one there that has too many teeny-weeny, hard to read buttons, not to mention the confusion of figuring out which CD is where in the five or six available slots. Proposed C for C trade: $10 toward a new CD player - purchased in person at a Best Buy or Radio Shack to help keep retail clerks in business. (Remember when we used to think that working retail was a terrible job?)
  • Winter boots (early 1990's -  maybe late 1980's): Years ago, I had a really bee-yoo-tee-ful, dressy pair of black leather Ferragamo boots. While they were bee-yoo-tee-ful, they were not all that practical. The leather was so fine that the boots quickly became nicked and scarred. In fact, they would only have been useful if I had been carried around in a sedan chair while out of doors, and walked only on plush carpeting while in doors. The soles were also cold-conductingly thin - not so practical in a New England winter. And, like many convertible sports cars, these boots were not actually usable in sleet, snow, or ice - the usual conditions of a New England winter. Since I seldom get dressed up enough to justify fancy boots - not to mention that ain't no one carrying me around in a sedan chair - I replaced these with a pair a wine-red Etienne Aigner boots that, while they didn't fit or look as nice as the Ferragamo, were a lot more practical - especially since, as I paid about 1/3 as much for them, I was okay wearing them out in lousy weather. (They weren't all that warm or practical in absolute terms, just in comparison to the Ferragmo's.)  Eventually, the Aigners gave way to Canadian-made storm boots that look like hell, but grip the side walk, keep my feet warm, and are somewhat water proof. But I still have the Aigners, and am willing to give them up. Proposed C for C trade: Straight up trade for a pair of Uggs.
  • Kitchen (c. 1980): To my sisters, my kitchen screams "I don't cook," but to me it screams "Smithsonian", where those oak-trimmed, almond cabinets; that formica counter top; that Jenn-Aire range would make a great set-piece for an exhibit on urban galley kitchens of the early-yuppie era. Since I don't cook very often, the kitchen is entirely serviceable. The refrigerator keeps food cold. The micro-wave makes things hot. The cabinets hold their contents - Progresso soup, Teddie peanut butter, boxes of pasta - quite well. The ancient dishwasher still runs. Still, I recognize that the kitchen would be a drag on the resale value of our condo. Proposed C for C trade: It would be completely impractical to turn the kitchen into a den, which would actually be more useful to us, but less useful to a buyer. But if someone would come in and take everything away and gut the place within a 24 hour period, I would be willing to put in something more granite-stainless-whatever.
  • Bathtub (c.1980). Well, I supposed that both bathrooms should go the way of the kitchen, but the real eyesore is the bathtub in the downstairs bathroom. Whoever thought that a goldish-brown (with swirls) tub with a Jacuzzi in it was 'cool' was dead wrong. Yes, I do use the Jacuzzi once every couple of years, and it is relaxing. But mostly the tub is hideous and dated. Proposed C for C trade: I'd rather have a nice, walk-in shower, but this is the only tub we have, and two walk-in showers would probably be one too many. So, I'd take $100 toward a plain old Jacuzzi-less bathtub. White.

Of course, once I got going on everything I own, there'd be no end to the Cash for Clunkers ideas I could come up with. But these few would do me for now.

I will be writing to my Congressman tomorrow. Michael Capuano, of course, will be so distracted by trying to decide whether to run for Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat that he will no doubt ignore my letter.


My brother Tom is the only one I know who actually did a Cash for Clunker trade in, and he's posted on it here, in his new blog, in a funny take on the program, including a riff on death panels. Please take the 'financially challenged' with a grain o' salt. Puh-leeze. He's been blogging a few weeks and he's already got Google ads in there. I'm sure he's making money hand over fist - or cash over clunkers - over there.

And speaking of Teddy Kennedy, flaws and all, I loved the guy. RIP, Ted.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rosemary's Bloggy

Someone was calling Vogue model Liskula Cohen "'a psychotic lying, whoring...skank.'"

Now, twenty years ago, that sort of sentiment could conceivably have made its way onto the inside door of a toilet stall in the ladies room of a bar frequented by twenty-somethings who drink too much.

Twenty years before that, well, I don't believe we even had the word 'skank', but if we were going to call someone "'a psychotic, lying, whoring....skank'", we might have told a couple of girlfriends while hanging around the dorm room when we wanted to take a break from debating whether you could still read Brides Magazine and wear makeup  and oppose the Vietnam War.

And twenty years before that, a nice girl may have confided a more toned-down version of this to her Dear Diary, perhaps using a bit of code so that her nasty little brother or her nosy old mother wouldn't be able to interpret it. "LC can be so mean."

Toilet stall? Gabfest? Diary?

How yesterday.

Now, if you want to dish, you do it online.

Which is what Rosemary Port did in a blog called "Skanks of NYC" that she posted - anonymously, of course - on Google's Blogger.

I write "anonymously, of course" because, like so many others who are given to nasty trash talk that goes well beyond opinion and gets right into the realm of invective, and maybe even libel," Ms. Port's blog was unsigned.

Ms. Cohen, not surprisingly, didn't particularly like being called "'a psychotic, lying, whoring...skank'", perhaps because, while "skank" may be an opinion that someone is entitled to hold, once you get into "psychotic, lying, whoring", them's fighting words.

So she sued Google to find out just who was defaming her, and out popped Rosemary Port, a fashion design student who had apparently crossed paths (and claws) with Ms. Cohen, at least in Ms. Port's own mind. (Cherchez le beau, by the way. Ms. Port has suggested that Ms. Cohen had whispered sweet something or others into the ear of an erstwhile boyfriend. Mee-oww.)

Anyway, Ms. Cohen's inquiring mind wanted to know just who was writing such terrible things about her, and, as part of a defamation suit she mounted, the judge required that Google reveal Ms. Port's name.

Ms. Cohen, demonstrating restraint and general non-skankiness, dropped her suit once Googled dimed Ms. Port.

And now, Ms. Port - so rankled that Google has outed her - is going after Google for $15M, with a promise  - from her attorney - to take the case to the Supreme Court, if needs be. (I never thought I'd say it, but I do look forward to Justice Scalia on this one.)

Salvatore Strazzullo, her lawyer, said the organisation [that would be Google, and the source for this is obviously the Telegram] had breached a fiduciary duty to protect her expectation of anonymity. He said: "I'm ready to take this all the way to the Supreme Court."

Knowing absolutely nothing beyond what's written on my ACLU membership card about First Amendment rights, I'm absolutely rooting for Ms. Port's law suit to get jettisoned by courts at all levels.

I'm fine with those who need the safe harbor of anonymity so that they can express viewpoints that could put them in danger (think Iran election protest Tweeters). And I don't mind anonymous commenters who either can't think of a "handle" they like, or who just really don't want their names appearing in blog comments on the 'net.

But, personally, I am sick and tired of those who use "Anonymity" as cover for their skanky attacks, and then justify whatever they put out there are "free speech."

If it's free speech, have at it. Just have the decency to put your name on it, and be willing to defend away when someone calls you on it. ("Hey, I'm not a psychotic, lying, whore, and I defy you to prove that I am.")

Meanwhile, Ms. Port is turning the blame on to Ms. Cohen.

"This has become a public spectacle and a circus that is not my doing," said Miss Port. "By going to the press, she defamed herself."

And, of course, boo-hooing that her "right to privacy has been violated."

"[My] right fell through the cracks. Without any warning, I was put on a silver platter for the press to attack me. I would think that a multi-billion dollar conglomerate would protect the rights of all its users."

Well, Ms. Port, I wouldn't exactly say you've been put on a silver platter. The cliché I might go with is hoist on your own petard.

Maybe you were just venting a bit of NYC fashionista spleen. Maybe you were just acting like a nasty, mean-spirited, petulant little brat who should have been acting - as we used to say in the Dear Diary era - your age (which is 29), not your IQ. Maybe you really did think, as you claimed, that only two people would read it - you and Ms. Cohen.

But did it not occur to you that, just as Ms. Cohen may Google her name on occasion, so may plenty of others: friends, family, old flames, her aged grandmother who just got a PC, her kids (if she has any), prospective employees. And they may have seen that "psychotic, lying, whoring" stuff out there, not to mention the "hag" and the "ho" and whatever other clever bits you had going. And that this may well have damaged her professional and personal reputation. (Not to mention shocked her grandmother.)

So, Ms. Bolt, this is yet another case of acting in haste, and - if it's still done these days - repenting in leisure.

Now, when prospective employees, not to mention prospective boyfriends and in-laws, and new friends, Google "Rosemary Port" - and I assure you that they will - you will be seen, at least in the eyes of some, as a reckless, nasty, and thoughtless little piece of work. (Not to mention a bit of an age-ist. Old hag? Ms. Cohen is in her mid-30's. Good luck when the 40 year old hiring manager sees that one.)

Maybe this won't be held against you in the fashion world, but there are plenty of other worlds in which it will be.

What is it going to take for the "young folk" to realize that, if you put "it" out there, someone will surely come. And if you don't want to put your professional and personal reputations at stake, you will watch what you say.)


Sources: Telegraph (UK), and - speaking of skanks of NYC - the NY Post.

I've blogged about anonymity a few times.

Here's one I did about JuicyCampus, an organization that cloaks its nakedly nasty, meretricious, and anything-for-a-buck heart beneath the banner of free speech. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Outplacement outrage

Well, nothing's as good as it used to be, I guess. And that includes outplacement services - at least according to a Wall Street Journal article I saw that had a lot of people carping about how lousy outplacement firms are.

One outplacee complained about some criticism she received after she ordered cranberry juice at a practice lunch interview.

Cranberry juice is a no-no, apparently. After all, it might signal to a prospective hirer that you've got a urinary tract infection.  This kind of reminds me of the old parochial school advice about not wearing a white dress because it reminds men of bed sheets. (Never mind that it reminded most men of nurses in those long-ago, pre-blue and "jazzy print" scrubs days.)

Not that avoiding cranberry juice is necessarily bad advice.

It's obviously not something you'd want to spill on your white blouse or the table cloth.

While on the subject of bev, don't think of ordering a diet soda on a job interview, either. This will make you look immature.

So say-eth another outplacement counselor.

People get paid for offering this kind of advice? It sure seems like they should be able to come up with something a bit more helpful.

I guess when I was "lucky" enough to have outplacement services, I lucked out.

The first time I used outplacement was after my knife-through-the-heart lay-off/firing from Softbridge.

I can't remember the name of the firm, but they were located in that building on 128 with the clock tower. You know the one - grayish-white, in Waltham of thereabouts. I worked with someone named Nancy, who was very nice and generally helpful.

Once I got through the stages of my death-and-dying cycle - which lasted about a week or so - I found it enormously useful to work with her. That was how I figured out that I really didn't want to do marketing-marketing. I really wanted to do product marketing. (Hint to high-tech marketing job seekers. Envision yourself on a desert island. Would you rather be with the sales team, or the developers? If sipping piña coladas withe the sales reps sounds like fun, you want to do marketing-marketing. If hanging around with the engineers talking about feature creep is more appealing to you, you're a product marketer.)

Having access to outplacement, also gave me a place to go and hang around, which I did most days - especially after Nancy wangled permission for me to use their downtown offices. I'd get dressed up in "business casual", take my laptop in, head on in, read the newspaper, and print out a couple of letters.

They always say that finding a job is a full-time job, but I pretty much exhausted my capacity to job hunt after a couple of hours a day. So I'd sign up for whatever workshops they were holding, and became such an ace participant that, even after the outplacement service ran out for me after 3 months, they still let me hang around for the month or so it took me to find a job in - ta-da - product marketing.

Yes, I know that, even in the halcyon era of outplacement services that I so warmly recall, there was still plenty of goofball advice.

One woman I knew was laid off when she was five months pregnant. Her outplacement counselor told her to 'wear loose clothing and pretend she was fat' in order to get a job.

Say, I'll take two pieces of advice from that counselor!

My second outplacement stint came after my voluntary separation from Genuity.

Their outplacement deal was with Executive Destinations, where I worked mostly with a wonderful counselor named Geralyn.

Since I wasn't really looking for a job at that point, I just hung out there with a couple of fellow Genu alums with whom I started a product marketing business.

Other than coming up with a very cool logo based on the Zakim bridge, a bank account, and a road-show explaining what our services were, we actually didn't get the business off the ground.

Not surprisingly, our would-be business failed because not one of the three principals focused on it.

Instead, we all ended up doing our own individual consulting, and never put much energy into our joint business.

This, of course, proved to me up close and personal what I'd known all along about the close association between business failure and lack of focus. Nice to see that the eternal business verities are truly eternal and verity.

As with my first round, having access to outplacement - above all - gave me a place to go, which was key, since I was used to being at work all day, every day. (And my husband was used to me being there, too.)

I know that a lot of people who get outplacement services don't get the silver or gold level services that I, as a VP (Softbridge) and Director (Genuity), got.

For many folks, outplacement is a one-day 'get your résumé together', 'let's write a sample cover letter', 'look to your left, look to your right; ecce network' kind of deal.

Whatever it is or isn't, no one should entertain the notion for one nano-second that your outplacement service is going to find a job for you. Yes, they should have helpful hints. Yes, if you impress someone, they will offer you networking contacts. But, basically, even if looking for a job isn't a full time job equivalent, it is your job, not theirs.

I do not want to seem insensitive here, as I am very sympathetic to those who get pink slipped, especially in this economy - and especially to those who don't have the luxury of taking a somewhat casual approach to unemployment for whatever reason - money in the bank, generous severance, low-spend lifestyle, spouse with a wallet made of gold... Not to mention the special sympathy for those who were in jobs in industries that may not be coming back any time soon, if ever.

Let's face it, this time around I don't think anyone really has a clue what's going to replace all the manufacturing and financial services jobs that went 'poof'.

This recession is a lulu, and it's easy to imagine that folks showing up on the doorstep of an outplacement service are hoping that 'miracle occurs here' can truly happen.

Too bad it won't.

Job seekers should take outplacement for what they can, and for what it's worth. Let them help you with figuring out a job-hunt approach. Let them help you get your résumé in order (double check for typos). Let them give you advice on 'what to wear' on an interview. (Which you should feel free to ignore. A friend of mine - a lovely, fit, and fashionable woman in her fifties - was advised to wear a short swingy skirt and no stockings if she wants to find a job in marketing. That pant suit just screams 1990's, let alone wearing nylons. Ewww! Leading me to wonder what these stockingless young things do in winter. I realize that a thin layer of pantyhose doesn't offer that much protection, but at least it keeps the goose pimples in check, and tones down the white-chicken-legs-turning-blue look.)

And, by the way, is is worth considering their advice on what to drink if you're asked out. For the record, you're safe if you ask for water, iced tea, or coffee. No word on what to order for food, but I've got to go with a salad, particularly if you think you can get one down without glooping dressing onto your silk blouse.

Wait a minute. Forget I said silk blouse. Talk about retro - that screams 1980's. Might as well wear a floppy bow tie while you're at it. No, this is 2009. If you're looking for a job in marketing - especially in marketing-marketing - you'll need to top off that swingy little skirt with a spaghetti-strap camisole and a cute little sweater.

Bleccch.....Sure glad I'm not looking for a job.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Survival of the whatever

Somewhere along the line in my 'net meanderings, I came across an article from Slate by journalist Sara Behunek, who recently took an "Urban Escape and Evade" course offered by onPoint Tactical.

In the course of the course Behunek learned to use a bobby-pin to pick her way out of handcuffs, "how to smash a car window without making a sound...and how to puncture the tires of a pursuit vehicle with homemade caltrops."

Living, as I do, in a city, this article piqued my interest.

Given that my life might one day depend on it, the first thing I had to do was look up the meaning of "caltrops", which - thanks to wikipedia - I now know is "an antipersonnel weapon made up of two or more sharp nails or spines arranged in such a manner that one of them always points upward from a stable base." (Girls of my era: a caltrops looks an awful lot like a jack - no, not a car jack, a jack-jack, the kind you use with the rubber ball to play jacks. I haven't taken the escape and evade course, but it looks to me that if you still have your little felt bag full of jacks, you can sharpen their round ends, and you'll have yourself a perfectly good set of caltrops. Could it be that I'm a natural survivalist or something?)

Anyway, the onPoint Tactical site is info- and action-packed.

The founder, Kevin Reeve, was at one point a trainer and coach at Apple. But forget about geek-dom. Technology ain't going save us. In fact, as the world-as-we-know-it disappears, the survivors will be those who can do a field amputation, operate a crossbow, and identify edible plants. (I can spot a dandelion. Does that count?)

OnPoint has an online store - which, I guess, will be in operation as long as there's still an Internet. Some of the stuff they're selling will be particularly useful once there's no longer an Internet - like some rugged survivor-type knives of the type you'll need in the post- Ginsu world. Forget "slicing that ham so thin, your in-laws will never come back". You'll be better off with an Alwood skinner, which I'm guessing offers more way to skin a cat (or a rat) than you'll need in this lifetime - even if this lifetime should somehow, fortuitously, last much longer. Which, for most of us city softies, is probably not going to the case.

The "Urban Gear" for sale on OnPoint strikes me as a bit sketchy, in terms of who might be looking to use it. The "Auto Jiggler set" promises the ability to "open many foreign and domestic autos and trucks." Sure, there may come the day when I'll want to Escape from Boston, and need to get into that Honda that's been abandoned around the corner. But, until then, other than a car thief or, I guess, a re-po man, who would need an "Auto Jiggler"?

Similarly, the "Escape from Custody" kit seems as if it would be most attractive to someone who's in police custody. Now, as we have learned just recently from the Professor Henry Gates situation, innocent folks can and do get taken into police custody. But, gee, if you're innocent and taken into custody, I'd say that the last thing you want to do is further antagonize the cop who put you there by trying to escape.

But, of course, I'm living in the naive world of the soon to be past. Come the coming era, who knows who'll be taking whom into custody. And if I do end up winning the lottery - as I plan on doing soon - I could find myself as a suddenly quite attractive kidnapping target.

Aside from selling stuff, and providing detail on their courses, onPoint has a nifty, no BS blog, too.

Unfortunately, the post on the "Heavy-Gauge Tactical Blowgun" is now password-protected. Need to know basis, only. Damn. I guess for now I'll just have to use my plastic straws.

There's also a forum, with topics like "post-apocayiptic  [sic] nomadicism", where folks debate whether it's time to invest in a pack donkey or not.

As for that apocayiptic typo. Get with it.  Bloggers and forum-posters live in a fast-paced world without time for niceties like spelling.

Besides, in the post-apocayiptic world, no one will give a rat's ass about whether there's an "a" in separate. (Note to onPoint: there are two.) Nor whether you "rappel" down a cliff, rather than "repel" down one.

Who cares? You'll want to be skinning that rat's ass, bub, and firing up the barbie for a little rat ass grill. (The pelt can be used for earmuffs.)

We'll need people who can bend caltrops in their bare hands, not snotty, effete, urban-ites who know how to spell.

Let's face it, if you're faced with having to make an urban escape, what would you rather have along? A back-pack stuffed with knives, Ginsu or other? Or a rolling Tumi suitcase with an abridged copy of the OED in it?

Here's hoping that I never find myself in this particular situation.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Citizen's Arrest

It hasn't been a particularly good month for men of action in the business world.

First, there was the Key Bank teller out in Seattle who got fired for chasing down - and apprehending -  a thief who attempted to rob the bank by coming up to the counter and shoving a back pack at Jim Nicholson, while saying:

"This is a ransom, fill the bag with money," Nicholson said.

Hearing the word "ransom," Nicholson stopped for a second and asked to see the man's gun.

The man said, "It's a verbal ransom." Nicholson then lunged over the counter at him.

Apparently, the would-be bank robber doesn't know the difference between "ransom" and "stick up". Nor was he aware that the term 'verbal ransom' makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. This scene is, of course, reminiscent of the one in Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run, in which Woody hands a note to a teller that says "I have a gun," but the teller insists that it says "I have a gub."

Well, Nicholson was correct in assessing that his stick up guy wasn't packing either a gun or a gub. So he leapt over the counter and gave chase, eventually tackling the robber, who was arrested.

But, of course, the guy could have been armed and dangerous, and Nicholson's giving chase could have quite literally triggered something that resulted in mayhem. Not only could Nicholson have been killed or injured, so could the poor soul who was actually going into the bank for the first time since the advent of the ATM machine. So, while nobody got killed, Nicholson did get fired for violating bank policy.

Bank tellers are trained to get robbers out the door as quickly as possible and are advised against being a hero over money that's federally insured.

Federal taxpayers may salute Nicholson, but Key Bank wasn't amused.

Hot pursuit, by the way, was nothing new for Nicholson, who:

....said he has run after shoplifters while working at retail jobs in New York and California. On Tuesday, as well as in past cases, Nicholson said he felt confident he could catch the person.

This might have helped land him another job, if he'd just shut up right then and there. But, he also told the reporter:

"It's something I almost look forward to. It's a thrill and I'm an adrenaline-junkie person. It's the pursuit," he said.

This might limit the number of offers he gets, as I can think of any number of hiring managers who might see that "adrenaline-junkie person" thing and just take a pass.  On the other hand, adrenaline-junkie-hood might be a valuable skill for certain professions. One of the Seattle cops did suggest that Nicholson might want to think about becoming a cop.

(Source for above story: Seattle Times.)

Then there were the two Best Buy clerks outside of Denver, who may have lost their jobs, but who have made the big-time. They got an article in yesterday's WSJ.

Unlike Jim Nicholson at Key Bank, Jared Bergstreser and Colin Trapp didn't get their man.

They did manage to grab hold of a guy who'd swept out of the store without bothering to hit the checkout lane with his stash of electronics. But the guy pulled a decidedly old-fashioned weapon on the duo - a pocket knife - and managed to make a getaway to his getaway car. He's still at large.

And Bergstreser and Trapp have joined the ranks of the unemployed.

Like most large retailers, Best Buy has a policy against this sort of action.

They claim that it's "first and foremost for the safety of our employees," but one has to believe that it's at least second and second-most to protect themselves from 'wrongful tackling in the parking lot' suits against the store in case someone gets hurt.

The "Best Buy Two" are getting the hero treatment by Denverites. And Best Buy's looking like the mega-retail version of a big old jerk.

Sure, the duo violated store policy, but maybe BB could have used this as a, sigh, teaching moment and kept them on the job.

Having been both a waitress and a clerk, I've had a tiny bit of experience with the role of person as anti-theft device.

At Durgin-Park, we occasionally gave chase to someone who 'walked' on a check. Alas, they had usually disappeared by the time we realized they weren't in the bathroom.

One time, a guy we recognized as a prior 'walker' had the nerve to show up during a quiet time. So, while he sat there eating his lunch, all of us waitresses hunkered down on the tables on either side of him and watched while he swallowed every bite. He paid, and that was the last of him. I can't remember if he left a tip - he wasn't one of mine - but at Durgin, we were also in the occasional habit of chasing after people who stiffed us. My friend Joyce once grabbed the doggie-bag out of a customer's hand - it contained a prime rib bone, I believe - and told him he could only get it back if he gave her a tip. Somewhat surprised, he gave her a buck.

Ah, the little triumphs that make up a waitress' day. (Anyone shocked by this is not familiar with the historic reputation of Durgin and its waitresses.)

When I worked retail, I had a couple of occasions on which I reported someone to security.

In one case, a couple of women tried to pull a change scam on me - one of those "I gave you a $10, now you give me back a $20" sort of deals that are easy to get tricked by if you're not paying attention. I held my ground, and they wandered over to another counter. I signaled the clerk there, and reported the scam artists to security, probably in the person of the woman who walked around dressed like a shopper, but was actually on the look out for shoplifters. I actually don't think she fooled many people, since, with her beehive, babushka, and ultra-clunky shoes, she didn't really look like the average Filene's patron.

Not that I really cared all that much if someone screwed Filene's out of $20. I was just pissed they'd tried to run their scam on me.

Similarly, at the stationery counter at Jordan's, a "customer" asked to look at some expensive pens -  in the $100 range, which was a pretty pricey by early 1970's standards. Anyway, while I turned to get another pen out of the behind the counter display case, the bastard took off with the pen he'd been looking at.


I was completely furious, and speedily dialed security.

When the "house dick" showed up, he told me that he admired my loyalty to the company, but that I shouldn't be that upset.

Once again, however much I liked their blueberry muffins, loyalty to Jordan Marsh hadn't really factored in. I was just steamed that the guy had conned me.

And I absolutely know that I would not have gone after anyone for taking a five-fingered discount if there were even the most miniscule hint of danger.

The (stolen) pen is not mightier than the sword (or even the pocket knife).  Let alone a gub.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Methland, agribusiness, illegal aliens, and the right to earn a living wage

I recently read Nicholas Reding's Methland, an account of the toll that methamphetamine abuse has taken on Oelwein, Iowa - with Oelwein pretty much serving as a proxy for the hundreds of other rural towns where meth has become a way of life, or, for that matter, a way of death.

Even though the book was pretty sloppily edited, I did enjoy - if that's the right word for a topic that is profoundly depressing -  reading it. (Are copy editing and fact checking lost arts? I know that a lot is thrown back on writers these days, but, let's face it, after the author's finished the darned book, it's pretty hard for him or her to fine tooth comb it. Still, I wish that someone had. And so did the Iowans who went nuts on Reding's having confused Cedar Rapids with Cedar Falls. I hate when that happens. Or would have, if I'd noticed. I did notice some date and name inconsistencies. Grrrrr.) But I won't let the little mistakes take away from the book itself, which tells quite a tale.

Reding traces the ascendancy of meth in Oelwein, and similar towns, to the rise of Big Ag.

As he tells it, in the early 1990's, Iowa Ham, the small, unionized meat processor in town, was swallowed up whole by Gillette*. Gillette promptly shaved pay from a modest but living wage of $18 to the bare minimum ($6.20). Benefits were pretty much eliminated.

In Oelwein, Iowa - a small town in the middle of nowhere with not a whole heck of a lot going for it except its work ethic and Midwest nice - this was, unfortunately,  "the best a man could get".

But it didn't take long for workers to do the math and figure out that doing boring, smelly, dangerous, nauseating, exhausting work for a modest but living wage was one thing. Doing it for next to nothing was another. Doing the math quickly became doing the meth.

Of course, there was a ready supply of workers who would take these jobs for next to nothing, and they were largely illegal Mexican workers who were fleeing such impoverished conditions that living eight to a van was a better alternative than whatever was available at home.  Sure, $6.20 an hour might not support an Oelwein man's family, but it could support a Mexican man's family if he scraped by on a few bucks a week and sent the rest home.

And so, some of the folks in Oelwein - those who were not particularly well educated, those who pretty much lacked ambition and were content to stay put, as long as they could find okay work for okay pay (no longer available at Iowa Ham) - turned to meth - some cooked up in their own homes, some ported in by Mexican drug gangs taking advantage of the illegal alien pipeline.

Repeat this scenario all over small town, rural America, and you have an awful lot of unemployed druggies cooking up batches of recipes that called for sudafed in their kitchen meth labs. (Interesting, I was interviewing a customer for a client of mine the other day, and he mentioned that it was so quiet in his town in the middle-of-nowhere Missouri, the only noise he ever heard was from an exploding meth lab.)

You can get the recipe for meth online, I suppose, but the real recipe that interests me here is the one that combines Big Ag with illegal aliens to provide American consumers with cheaper bacon, yielding a drug-addled permanent underclass.  Cool before frosting. Serves 4.

Okay, it's not as cause and effect simplistic as this. Still...

So the next time I hear someone complaining about illegal aliens taking American jobs, I will no longer automatically tell myself, 'That's ridiculous: no Americans would take those jobs.'  Because the truth is that, while it may be correct that Americans won't take those jobs, it's that Americans won't take those jobs at those wages.

All so that we can pay a few cents less for a pound of baloney at Walmart.



*Yes, Gillette - Nicholas Reding may not have checked his facts, but I checked the book and Gillette it was.  Sure I'm just a blogger, but I'm also a bit of a fact checker, and when I googled Gillette and Iowa Ham, I came up empty. But I'll take Nick's word for it. Who knew they did ham?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dirty Money

There are some things that I don't mind an occasional "active worry" over.

"Active worry" items include:

  • Dwindling glaciers
  • Ebbing respect for the written word
  • Age-ism (especially now that I'm aging)
  • Right-wing talk show hosts taking over the world
  • Having to be intubated at some point in my life

And, most important, the overall health and happiness of my family and friends.

I have an even longer list of things - ranging from the cosmic to the personal/pedestrian -  that I refuse to worry about (even though they occasionally make best efforts to creep into my waking thoughts). A sampling:

  • The Large Hadron Collider sucking Planet Earth into a black hole
  • Finding shoes that fit (a bigger deal than you might imagine)
  • Getting mowed down by some a-hole driver who's texting
  • A giant asteroid striking Cape Cod Bay
  • Having to return to my long-ago career in waitressing
  • Whether Sister Marie Leo was actually right about anything
  • Getting Psycho-stabbed in the shower
  • Tom Cruise attaining public office
  • Catching something from a public toilet seat

Since there are only so many hours in the day in which to actively worry and/or push niggling little fear-factor thoughts out of my brain, I actually don't want to have to add to either list.

So I was decidedly non-thrilled to see a CNN headline stating that 90% of the paper money currently in circulating contains traces of cocaine.


All I need to add to either list is the possibility of someone grabbing my Vera Bradley wallet so they can cadge a bit of blow from the few miserable dollar bills in there.

Since I could not, of course, avoid reading the full article, it served me right to find out that, in Boston, it's not 90% of paper money. It's 100%. (Orlando is also on the list of 100-percenters. A bit more magic in the Magic Kingdom?)

This doesn't mean that every dollar out there is involved in the drug trade. It just means that enough of them are to contaminate ATM and cash-counting machines which, Typhoid Mary style, infect innocent by-stander dollars. (While you won't get a contact high from the coke-and-a-smile greenbacks, if you handled a lot of money, you could end up failing a drug test.  I guess we can add throwing a buck in the Salvation Army bucket to the list of things - like eating a poppy-seed bagel - not to do when applying for a new job.)

Not content to scare us with the heady news about cocaine-infused money, CNN had to include a bit of warning on the general unsanitary nature of money:

For years, health agencies have advised people to wash their hands after touching cash for sanitary reasons. Disease-causing organisms such as staphylococcus aureus and pneumonia-causing bacteria have been detected in paper bills. According to a 2002 study published in the Southern Medical Journal, 94 percent of the tested bills had potentially disease-causing organisms.

I actually have no recall of any health agency advising some Lady Macbeth-ing every time we opened our pocketbooks.

And, in truth, I believe that I have been able to maintain my robust, nary a cold, good health in part because I get out and about, exposing myself to all sorts of germ vectors, and because I am not crazy-obsessive about hand washing. (Not that I don't wash my hands....)

Anyway, I guess we can forget the ubiquitous water bottle. We're all going to end up humping gallon-jugs of Purell around on our backs. Not to mention the Gumbometers* that, at the rate we're going, we'll no doubt be issued before too long.

Also in the CNN headline list contained the one on the cocaine-tinged money was one that said Tom DeLay was going to be on Dancing with the Stars.

That one I didn't click through on.

Tom DeLay on Dancing with the Stars...

Whaddaya think? I've got nothing to do all day but fret, fret, fret.


*A Gumbometer was what Gumby had to wear when he went out so that he wouldn't melt.  Mother Gumby was always reminding him "don't forget your Gumbometer."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fight fiercely, Harvard, for all your trademarks.

Harvard University has been building its brand since the year 1636, so it's certainly understandable that they would want to protect that big old crimson "H".

All those tourists poking around "The Square" in Harvard sweatshirts, and Harvard's royalty fees really add up. Especially when you consider that a good bit of that Harvard paraphernalia is sold to those who do not now, never have, and never will have any affiliation with the University.

This puts Harvard in a position that very few academic institutions are in.  I'm guessing that most people sporting gear from Slippery Rock, Liberty U, or Saint Rose College either go there, went there, hope to go there, or have a kid or sib there.

Fair Harvard's brand is a lot more potent, and it gives them a chance to extract a few pennies here and there from those who'll never fork any money over for tuition or for an alumni shakedown. This all adds up. Harvard didn't get to amass their kabillion dollar endowment by being penny foolish.

So why not go after (and win a suit against):

...a Filipino jeans manufacturer for printing “Harvard Jeans USA, Cambridge, MA, Established 1936’’ on jeans and T-shirts without a license.

No word in the Boston Globe article on Harvard trademarks on whether they actually collected anything here, or even whether they got a cease and desist. My guess is that there are still Filipino kids running around in those jeans and tee-shirts. (And in case you're wondering how nifty the Internet is, I found an English to Tagalog translation site that renders jeans as "pantalong maong " and tee-shirts as "katangan-shirts". Those fluent in Tagalog are free to comment on the accuracy of these translations.)

And I somewhat sympathize with their wanting to nip the efforts of a Costa Rican university that was hawking faux Harvard MBA classes for cheap. (My sympathy is somewhat tempered by a guess that few would mistake an echt holder of the esteemed Harvard MBA with someone who'd taken Case Study 101 online in Costa Rica. But, of course, Harvard doesn't want any hiring manager to go around muttering, 'for all his Harvard MBA courses, that putz doesn't know from nothing.' Which words have never been uttered/muttered - dare I say never will be uttered/muttered -  about anyone with an authentic Harvard MBA.)

But Harvard goes well beyond trying to protect its lofty name, and the crimson (note, if you didn't the first time, the color is crimson, not red, not maroon, not burgundy) H that has come to symbolize the university.

Among the taglines they've trademarked are:

Ask what you can do

Which is used by the Kennedy School of Government.

Perhaps because JFK, or someone acting in his post mortem stead, has lent his name to the school, they believe they have some options on snippets from his speeches.

If it works for them, maybe I'll change the name of my blog to "FDR Slip", and trademark "The only thing you have to fear".

And speaking of slip, while they're at it, why doesn't Harvard grab "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" and trademark that? After all, wasn't Marilyn Monroe wearing a slip when she warbled her birthday greetings to the prez? (Or was the big deal the fact that she wasn't wearing a slip?)

The B-School also has some tagline grabs going:

Lessons learned

The power of ideas at work

Managing yourself

Memo to the CEO


Pocket Mentor

Maybe I should pony up the trademark-ing cash and go for a few of my own business-y taglines before the good ones are all gone.

I swear I've already worked on at least one product called Infoadvantage somewhere during my career. And Harvard can have Pocket Mentor. Too close to pocket pool for my taste. But I call "lessons learned the hard way," "manage it yourself," and "memo to the CXO".

I also think I'll try to grab "the power of ideas that don't work," since I have undeniable, extensive, and demonstrable proof that I've been there, done that. (How do you think I got to "lessons learned the hard way"?)

Harvard doesn't necessarily intend to enforce their trademarked phrases, mind you. Registering them is somewhat of a pre-emptive strike. If they're going to use them, they don't want someone else who got to the trademark office first saying they can't.  Harvard really shouldn't have to contend with a Filipino pantalong maong manufacturer who latched on to "ask what you can do." Nor with the Costa Rican school if they'd had the foresight to register "managing yourself" (as in 'why not try managing yourself to a few bogus Harvard B-School classes?')

Ask not how endless the possibilities could be.

Harvard also has goo-goo eyes on the phrase "the world's thinking."

...and has filed a trademark application even as it remains uncertain how the phrase will be used.

“You need to reserve something in case you intend to use it,’’ Calixto said. “We’re strategically protecting it for use at some point down the line.’’

Me, I'm going after the somewhat less pompous phrases "the world's shrinking", "the world's sinking," and "the world's drinking." And maybe, in honor of this blog, "the world's pinking."

By the way, Harvard wasn't able to claim "veritas", their motto, because there's a software company with that name.

Years ago, The Lampoon played around with "vanitas".

That one might still be available to them.


Harvard's trademark notice site is here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bernie Madoff: the gift that just keeps giving

August has been a good month for Tales from Madoff.

First, there was the bit-een of news that the near-widow Madoff can't spend $100 on any one item without informing a trustee watching over her breathtakingly scant - compared to what once was - funds.

It has likely been many years since Ruthie spent less than that on an article of clothing or personal adornment. For someone used to bespoke, the thought of off-the-sale-rack at Macy's must be unspeakable. Too bad Ruthie lives in NYC, where being chic is almost an obligation. If she were to move to Boston, she could outfit herself top to toe from the L.L. Bean catalog without dropping $100 on any one item, as long as she stayed away from the down parkas (which I'm sure she could get trustee permission for). No one would notice the sartorial difference - as long as she hung on to her good little black dress. Plus, L.L. Bean awards frequent buyer coupons, so Ruthie could accrue them and have an occasional splurge on a $100+ something that came in under once the coupons were applied, and the trustees would be none the wiser.

Of course, Ruthie is in NYC, which means she does have access to street vendors hawking knock off Vuitton bags and Rolex watches, so she can keep up appearances that way. (Just don't take that Vuitton bag out in the rain, honey.)

But Ruthie has more on her mind these days, I'm sure.

To the long, unbroken string of indignities that she has suffered since last December comes the news that the love of her life canoodled for twenty years with one Sheryl Weinstein, former CFO for Hadassah. Things worked out for Hadassah: the $40M they invested with Madoff turned into $130M. (They've worked out so far, anyway. The $90M profit could be subject to a clawback.)

Things went less well for Weinstein on the personal front.  She and her husband invested their personal fortune with Madoff, and it is, alas, gone.

Weinstein’s husband, Ronald, told a Bloomberg reporter after the meeting he lost a “ton of money.”

Ronald Weinstein said he knew Madoff and once thought he was “unassuming, a very nice guy.” Weinstein said he felt he was “a very poor judge of character.”

Amen to that, Ron. (Wonder what the Sheryl-Ronald behind closed doors confabs sound like these days.)

Sheryl W was one of those who spoke at Bernie sentencing hearing, where she:

...urged the judge to keep Madoff “in a cage behind bars” for his crimes.

“He is a beast that has stolen for his own needs the livelihoods, savings, lives, hopes and dreams and futures of others,” she said. “He has fed upon us to satisfy his own needs. No matter how much he takes and from whom he takes, he is never satisfied. He is an equal opportunity destroyer.”

Near penury,

Weinstein and her husband have recently published Laundry Today, a commercial and industrial laundry trade paper.

Laundry Today? Does the excitement ever end? But I suppose the employment prospects aren't all that great for a CPA/CFO who carried on with the manager of the money that she directs.

Of course, there's more. Sheryl has a tell-all coming out next week: “Madoff’s Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie, and Me.”

A representative for the book's publisher, St. Martin's Press, says that the book, which is ghostwritten - not enough time to pen your own, I guess, what with churning out Laundry Today - and promises to be a "'fast read.'"

Yes, and I'm guessing a fast trip to the remainder bin. Too bad they didn't get this out earlier in the summer. Sounds like a fabulous beach read.

(Source for material quoted above: Bloomberg.)

If Sheryl Weinstein rues the day she met Bernie, Frank DiPascali no doubt does as well.

DiPascali was, more or less, Bernie's wing-man, and recently admitted in court that he helped carry out the Ponzi scheme.

In return for providing detail on the scam, and naming names, DiPascali hopes to reduce a potential 125 years in an orange jumpsuit sentence down to something that he can live with, like 90 or a 100 years.

DiPascali is giving the court the dish on how they were able to carry things out by:

....using historical stock data from the Internet to create fake trade blotters, sending out fraudulent account statements to clients and arranging wire transfers between Mr. Madoff’s London and New York offices to create the impression that the firm was earning commissions from stock trades...

And, from his account, keeping the scheme afloat and investors and regulators duped was a full-time job. To give the appearance that Mr. Madoff’s firm had mastered the markets, Mr. Madoff and his employees would track stock prices and then simply pretend to buy stocks whose trajectories matched the firm’s investment goals, Mr. DiPascali said. (Source: NY Times.)

Wouldn't it have been easy, like, just to make some, you know, real trades  and let the blue chips fall where they may?

So now we wait for DiPascali to dime the managers, go-fers, sales people, programmers, and admins who were cogs in the grand Ponzi scheme. It will be interesting to learn how many knew out right that what they were doing was criminal vs. those that had a glimmer vs. those that had nary a clue.

It's easy enough to think that they all "had to know."

But it's also easy enough to think that those at the lower end of the work hierarchy, especially those who are by nature incurious, could have just shrugged and 'whatevered' their way into unwitting participation in the crime.

'Hey, the boss told me we needed to come up with a program to do fake trades. It's for some simulation or something. Something that's got to do if seeing if a model really works. Whatever. I'm on it. Seems like an interesting enough project."

Or, "Damn, the computer broke so I had to work until 10 last night to get these statements out for Mr. DiPascali. You should see how much some of these people are worth. If I had a nickel for every million these a-holes make, I'd be rich. Sometimes I just want to say, Frankie, baby, how about tossing a little my way."

Easy enough to see how easy it'd be.

Maybe not for me and thee, with our natural curiosity, trove or analytical skills, and deep-seated suspicion of authority. But for some "little guy" or BBQ girl, hey, it's a job. They don't pay me to think

It will be very interesting to see how this works out.

All that's related to the Madoff Affair is not, fortunately, the tawdry histrionics of Bernie's romance of the century with Hadassah's CFO, or the smoking guns that DiPascali promises.

I was remiss in not earlier noting July's bright and shining piece of Madoff-related news, which I will lift in its entirety from

A North Shore-based philanthropist is using $5 million of his own money to restore the retirement savings of his employees who lost their nest eggs to admitted swindler Bernard L. Madoff.

Robert I. Lappin today began restoring the funds to 60 employees of his company, Salem [Massachusetts]-based Shetland Properties, Inc., and to his private charity, The Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation. The employees' 401(k) plans, as well as the foundation's money and some of Lappin's personal wealth was managed by Madoff, who used the funds in what investigators believe is the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

"I wanted to do the right thing," he said. "And, I feel, I've done the right thing and that to me is my reward."

Lappin has also revived his foundation, which closed briefly in December after losing $8 million to Madoff. The nonprofit supports Jewish education and culture on the North Shore, and has restored 17 programs in education, interfaith outreach and family development. On Sunday the foundation helped send 82 Jewish teens to Israel after raising $450,000 in private donations for the Youth To Israel travel program.

Lappin has owned Shetland Properties, Inc., for 51 years. He said his net worth is now less than $10 million, a tenth of what it was before the scandal.

So here's to you, Robert Lappin, my candidate for Mensch of the Year. In a world that seems to be increasingly populated by anti-mensches the likes of  Sheryl Weinsteins and Frank DiPascali, it's nice to know that he's around, isn't it?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Going down to Yasgur's Farm? Not me, baby.

Well, this weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock.

Although I am the bull's-eye demographic, and although Worcester Massachusetts was not all that far from Yasgur's farm, where "it" was held, I did not attend.

It's not that I didn't like the performers. I found the list here, and I've got to say that I was, at the time, at least a quasi-fan of most of them. Hell, I still like Joan Baez and Richie Havens. I still occasionally sing The Band's  "Cripple Creek" in the shower. And, as ridiculous and absurdly sexist as some of the lyrics to as "If I Were a Carpenter" by the late Tim Hardin are, I am still rather fond of this number. ("If a tinker were my trade, would you still find me, carrying the pots I made, following behind me.")

Speaking of "I I Were a Carpenter," how about a shout-out to a folk-ie who correctly used the conditional future.

Okay, there are other Woodstock performers that I still kind of like. I'll admit I don't switch stations when Joe Cocker comes on.  Or Jefferson Airplane. Or Creedence  Clearwater.* (Happy now?)

(By the way, the site with the performer list also has the full play list, and reading through was a nice little stroll through the wayback machine.)

Jimi Hendrix I could always live without.  Ditto The Dead. And Canned Heat? Oy - just seeing that band's name in print, and I've got "Going Up Country" piercing my brain like an ice-pick through the eye. I didn't mind The Who, but I don't think I could have sat through 24 songs full of them, at 4 a.m., in the rain and the mud. I was never much of a Blood, Sweat, and Tears fan, although a couple of summers later I waited on them a Durgin-Park and they gave me a couple of passes to their show at Paul's Mall. I can't remember if they also left a tip.

I saw Sha-Na-Na's name on the Woodstock roster. They were an oldies band, so I guess that as early as 1969, the first wave Boomers were already nostalgic for the Top 40 songs of their childhood. They played "Teen Angel," "Duke of Earl," and "Book of Love." (And just who did write the book of love?)

A couple of the performers, in fact, I'd never even heard of.  Quill?  Certainly, I may be having a senior mo here, but - nah - Quill I am not familiar with. And this YouTube of one Bert Sommer, another Woodstockian non-entity as far as I'm concerned, reminds me of why I would have loathed and despised pretty much every nano-second spent there. (Confession: I never did like long hair on men.)

(Apologies if this doesn't work. If this peek doesn't quite do it for you, just google "bert sommers woodstock" and go for the long form. It should come up first. Oh, wow.)

Ah, Woodstock.

Instead of going, I worked a "lucrative" weekend shift at Ted's Big Boy. (Nothing was very lucrative at Big Boy's, as they didn't serve alcohol and the most expensive entree couldn't have been more than $5. It was a decent enough summer job for the two summers I worked there.)

I was a working girl, so no Woodstock for me. While half a million strong of my age peers were running around stoned, half-naked, and soaking wet, I was serving tuna-wheats, Brawny Lads, and strawberry pie to the after Mass crowd.

Some of the Big Boy waitresses did go, and, from the stories they brought back, I didn't envy them at all.

What a mess!

Not that I was opposed to mass gatherings. It's just that the ones I participated in ran more to marching and chanting.  Come to think of it, there were some entertainers on the agenda a few months later when a different half a million strong descended on Washington for the November 1969 anti-war moratorium. I'm pretty sure Peter, Paul, and Mary were on the stage.  And was John Lennon there? I don't really know, but we did sing "Give Peace a Chance."

There may even have been a tune or two that overlapped with Woodstock.

Hard to believe that, at least on the bus on the way down, we didn't sing Country Joe and the Fish' anthem:

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for ?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die

Ah, Woodstock. Sure, I was not enamored of the idea of having to defecate in the pouring rain in front of zonked out strangers. But I could always tolerate some lack of creature comfort. That November in DC was pretty darned cold. (So cold that I sprung for a three-dollar blanket at a Walgreen's. The blanket shed yellow fuzz all over my surplus-store pea-jacket.) And we rode down and back from Washington on an ancient, unheated near-school bus with unpadded seats.

But to get me to put up with a mega-crowd and complete lack of the comforts of home, it always had to be for more of a purpose than listening to Canned Heat.

Like every other Boomer rapidly advancing on geezerhood - for which there does not appear to be any Moratorium, Centrum and Viagra ads aside - I find it stunningly hard to believe that Woodstock was forty years ago.

Forty years? Forty years! All I can say is so much for 'don't trust anyone over 30.'


*Other than "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Human Firecracker: Kids - don't try this at home, or on the stage of a nightclub

I'm always on the lookout for interesting and odd jobs and, while this one isn't exactly a job, it certainly qualifies as interesting and odd.

Last week, there was an article in The Wall Street Journal on one John Fletcher, who performs at country fairs as "Ghengis [sic] John the Human Firecracker."

Fletcher is a 47 year old former drug user and alcoholic who leads one of those strung-together lives that more and more people in the heartland seem to be resorting to. He works at a gas station, in a paint ball field, and as a bass-player in a band.

And to raise money for charity, he dons a protective suit, swaths himself in as many as 13,000 firecrackers, stands in the bucket of a raised hydraulic crane, and flicks his Bic to set himself off.

For performing this feat, he doesn't charge. Instead, he solicits donations for food banks. Fletcher has done this dozens of times over the last decade, and estimates that he's detonated about 300,000 firecrackers. Protective suit and all, he doesn't walk away from any detonation unscathed - he'll be covered with powder burns and bruises from the sheer force of so many firecrackers igniting.

This year, he's guessing that, between cash and food donation, he's responsible for about 1,000 meals provided by a local Food Bank.

There is, of course, something quite touching about this. Would that more folks had this level of concern about he plight of others. Mr. Fletcher is not exactly a capital H "have" himself, but here he is caring for the have nots.

But this does raise a few questions.

The first  - about what, beyond the milkiest of human kindness, motivates him -  is answered by Mr. Fletcher himself. While clean now for 17 years,

Mr. Fletcher says his affinity for pyrotechnics could be a new form of addiction. "I guess my firecracker suit is my drug, and it's a drug I can do that's going to help people," he says.

The second thought that came to mind is about the Rhode Island night club fire. So few years after 100 concert goers burnt, choked, or were trampled to death when a fifth-rate rock band set off fireworks that turned the place into a one-story inferno, doesn't just the notion of combining a not-so-great-rock-band with incendiary devices give people pause?

The real big question, of course, is why people would watch him to begin with. Here's what they see once he lights up:

A series of explosions rippled up his torso, and sparks ricocheted off his armor. Smoke obscured his face. After about 30 seconds, Mr. Fletcher had to relight one of the fuses to keep the explosions coming. Onlookers whistled and yelled as the pops shot down one leg, then the other and finally on his back. With the final pop, the crowd grew quiet. Mr. Fletcher leaned over the bucket's railing, pulling off the shredded remains of his suit as he descended and tossed them to the ground.

One person in the audience keeps coming back each year for the performance at the Fowlerville Family Fair:

"I've never seen anything like it. It makes me very tense and nervous," says Stacey Lundgren, 60, who was in the crowd. "He gets hurt every time, and he just keeps on doing it."

Much as I like fireworks, who'd want to watch someone set off thousands of firecrackers wrapped around his body, with the possible outcome that he'd immolate himself? And does anyone want their kids to see this spectacle?  (Of course, I've never been a circus aficionado or the freak show type. Side shows of all sorts depress me, although I will confess to enjoying piglets who race for Oreos at the Topsfield Fair.)

There may not be much to do in Fowlerville, Michigan - maybe the racing pigs don't go there - but this? I hope all those watchers and waiters at least have the decency to throw a couple of bucks or a package of Hamburger Helper into the collection bin.

I just can't shake the idea that the location of this story is not incidental, that this saga will be added to the growing volume of depressing, disheartening lore coming out of the [once] Great State of Michigan at a faster rate than Pontiacs used to roll off the GM assembly line.

Sky-high unemployment. Detroit a near ghost-town returning to nature. All those death knells for the blue-collar middle class.

Mr. Fletcher's past aside, it's hard not to think about him as a poster boy for men who once might have forged the sort of solid work life that auto workers once did. (His father, in fact, was an electrician at GM.) Now his livelihood is a no-future combo of pumping gas and handing out paintballs.

And I'm afraid there's a lot more of that where this came from.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Stolen Pleasures: The Property Room

I watched a bit of Nightline last week, and there was a feature on an outfit called the Property Room, which sells - eBay-style - goods that had been sitting around police department property rooms gathering dust.

A lot of it is stuff that was stolen and recovered, but never claimed - which I really don't get, although maybe it's recovered so many years later, after the insurance has paid out.  Much of it was impounded from drug dealers. Property Room, which was founded by an ex-cop, saves local police departments the hassle of holding their own auctions, and - as the marketers say - "frees them up to focus on their core mission", which is catching bad guys - like the ones who stole the colonoscopy machine that the Property Room once had for sale.

[On a marketing note: I want to commend these folks on their clear and succinct value proposition:

Before, law enforcement agencies were responsible for tracking and storing auction inventory as well as coordinating, promoting and conducting live auctions. acts as a service business for agencies by taking over the process, freeing-up space in crowded law enforcement property rooms. As importantly, we eliminate the time and effort wasted in the old-fashioned auction process while vastly increasing revenues, reducing costs and increasing public access to these public goods.]

And lest you think that only small-town PD's that don't have auctioneers on their squads are into this, the Property Room has some Fortune 50-type names on their client list: NYPD and LAPD.

Not being an habitué of eBay, which I'm quite sure offers a far more varied and replete garden of earthly delights, I have to say I had some fun roaming around in the Property Room. It's completely fascinating.

Just speculating on where some of this stuff comes from is fun.

700 decks of Bicycle Playing Cards?

Diamond encrusted Breitling watch that no one claimed?

And who is Todd Goldman whose art work seems to be a thief magnet?

What an odd-ball collection of stuff.

If you're looking for a 1986 police department bus from Toms River, NJ, I know where you can get one cheap. When you're driving it, you may want to sport a Commission of Law Enforcement class ring.

And, Carol Brinkman, if you're wondering what your beat up, black and orange Dynastar skis are up to, they're going for a buck (plus shipping and handling).

If I'm willing to spring for an untested Blackberry, or a stripped down - no OS/no apps - laptop, there's plenty there for the bidding.

I liked the look of the Swiss Army Knife rolling suitcase, but on closer review, I learned that it was missing a wheel and had stains on it. What kind, it didn't say, but the mind wanders to questions about whether it was large enough to store a body in...

There's a bit of apparel. Most have tags still on (fortunately: who'd buy a worn bra?), but there is a like new mink jacket appraised at $3K that's only been bid up to $206.

I didn't see anything that looked too familiar to me but, then again, I have been very fortunate when it comes to being the victim of theft.

Many years ago, while I was out, my apartment was broken into and the thief took off with a few pieces of costume jewelry. The amethyst brooch and earrings were actually worth a few bucks - they were from the 1940's and were "nice". But the value was mostly sentimental, as my father had given the set to my mother. Other than that, the thief was moving pretty fast, or I don't imagine he'd have bothered with my old Girl Scout pin. (It was glittery.)

The thief - dubbed by the cops as "The Flying Puerto Rican" for his trapeze artist ability to leap from roofs and fire escapes - was apprehended when he fell through the sky light, and into the bathtub, of my 80+ year old neighbor. And that's how I met General Georges Doriot, the founder of venture capitalism, who lived in a very nice single-family home down the street from my meager little single-girl studio apartment. The General called the cops and apparently got into a bit of a tussle with the thief trying to restrain him as he attempted to flee.

The General was bloody, but unbowed. When "The Flying Puerto Rican" (whose name I am withholding, in hopes that in the nearly 30 years since this crime, he's made good) was a no show for his court date, which is where I met the General.

Once we realized there'd be no trial, the General was handed a paper sack from the Boston PD property room that contained his blood-stained PJ's.

I was handed a smaller sack containing my precious jewels, minus the stone from one of the amethyst earrings.

It also contained a real gold chain, complete with a couple a hairs and a bit of bloodied flesh, that had been yanked off the neck of the thief. The police officer encouraged me to take the necklace as compensation for my trouble, but I was not interested in it at all.

Just the sort of thing, I imagine, that could end for sale in the Property Room.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

They really don't make factory options like they used to

I'm always interested in zany product design, so I was delighted to see an article by Sam Foley on MSN Autos on some rather outré factory-installed options that emerged from the fertile minds in Detroit over the years. Here's Sam's excellent list:

Highway Hi-Fi. This was a Chrysler accessory in 1956. Alas, we were a Ford family, but this wasn't the sort of thing my father would have gone for, anyway. Who needs a hi-fi when you can listen to the Red Sox, sing "When It's Too Hot for Comfort, and You Can't Get No Ice Cream Cones," or holler "Bab-a-loo-ey" out the windows when you drove through Worcester's Lincoln tunnel.

A hi-fi in the car.  On one hand, having a built-in, slide-out record player isn't all that different than having a CD player, other than that, with a CD player, your choice is only as finite as your CD collection, while Highway Hi-Fi selections were a bit limited. And, since Highway Hi-Fi only supported special purpose seven-inch disks, you couldn't play your 78's, 45's or 33's on it.

What choices did you get?

Let's see, egg-heads could have served up Tchaikovsky's Sixth. For Broadway fans, there was the score for Pajama Game. (How many times could you listen to "Steam Heat"?) And Gene Autry singing "Davy Crockett"? I was not aware that old Gene, the Singin' Cowboy, had covered that one. I believe that the version that my brother Tom played incessantly - and I do mean incessantly - on our little kiddy record player was sung by none other than Fess Parker, who played Davy. (And, great, now I'll have 'killed him a bar, when he was only three' running pell-mell through my skull for the next forty days and forty nights.)

Lack of selection wasn't the only problem with this feature. Although the in-car record player was designed not to skip, it did.

Personally, I would have preferred listening to the Albanian Hour on WNEB, or to an endless loop of Kate Smith belting out "God Bless America."

Oldsmobile Car Watch  This honey of an option took the old clock on the dashboard and attached it to the steering wheel, where it would wind itself every time you turned the wheel. Unfortunately, these clock/watches were costly and didn't keep time as accurately as those embedded clocks that ran off the car battery - plus they were hard to read, unless you were on the straightaway. Despite all this, it was adopted by several brands, including VW. But that was in 1951, and by the time the first Beetle's starting showing up on our shores a few years later, the self-winders were history.

Auto Tents I guess I was out of the country when GM brought this out in 1973. First available for a Chevy Vega, a tent that opens out of your hatchback or from the back of your truck has been adopted by a number of  makes and models over the years. I can't do any better than Sam Foley's commentary on this one:

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that a company on the long road to bankruptcy would try to develop the perfect way to live out of your car.

Electric Shaver In 1957, Ford slapped a part number on a Remington electric razor with a cigarette lighter adapter on it. What self-respecting man in a gray flannel suit wouldn't have wanted to shave off that 2 o'clock shadow before calling on Acme Industries?  And it seems only fair to let a guy freshen up in his auto, when, way back in 1939, Chevrolet offered a Mary Pickford Makeup Tray.

No need to pull over to powder your nose, you could do it right there in the car. Note that our Mary is applying her maquillage from the passenger seat, whMary Pickford Makeup Tray (© General Motors)ich is where American women sat when girls were girls and men were men. That is, unless Mr. and Mrs. were going out to dinner with another couple. In which case, the men sat in front, and the women sat in the back seat. Without having access to the mirror - let alone the full makeup kit available to them -when the couples got to the restaurant, the ladies would immediately decamp to the ladies room to reapply their lipstick - the better to leave a greasy red lip imprint on a highball glass.

The Swing-Away Steering Wheel is something that I actually do seem to remember. Could we actually have had this option in one of our Fords? Not if it were extra, but I do have some recall of seeing people swing their steering wheel the hell out of their way so that they could get out of the car more easily.

I'm still getting buy with my 1980's formica kitchen counters, but if I decided to go for a 2009 Maybach Landaulet, I will definitely opt for the Granite Trim.

After all, I roll in New England, where it gets icy and wet, and I'll bet that bit of extra weight really helps the Maybach hold the road. And so what if, when it comes to collisions, it's even more capable of crushing the other guy than a normal road-hog. It's MY safety first, isn't it?  Out of my way, Smartcar.

And, let's face it, if you're driving a Maybach, you've got a little 'got it, flaunt it' in you, and what better way to underline that than with a granite trimmed car that probably gets 1.2 MPH. (Maybe Maybach will borrow "Like a Rock" for the advertising that I just know they'll be doing on the shows I watch, now that the economy's bottoming out.)

The Airscarf. When I was a kid, it was definitely worth fighting for a window. But the only window worth fighting for was the one on the passenger side of the back seat. If you were stuck on the driver's side, behind my father, you couldn't open the window, even a crack, even if it was 92 degrees and humid, and we were stuck behind a road-tarring crew on our way to Nantasket Beach. That's because - cue my sibs - "Daddy will get a stiff neck."

Thus, I would have loved to be able to offer my father the option of the Airscarf, which "pumps warm air through the seat's headrest." Ah, bliss. Alas, it's only been available since 2004 - 33 years too late for my father. And, alas, it's only available on Mercedes convertibles. My father was a Ford man, all the way. Plus a convertible? What an insanely impractical car to have in New England. The only one we knew who drove a convertible was my cousin Barbara.

One of the highpoints of my childhood was the day of my sister Kathleen's confirmation, when Babs took Kath and me for a ride - top down -in her pale turquoise convertible. We drove down past Our Lady of the Angels to "buzz" (Barbara's word) our cousin Ann Kelly. (It was a double stand-out day for Kath. Because our parish was so large, kids didn't get individual confirmation sponsors. Instead, an esteemed couple from the parish was selected. Kath's year, it was my parents, so she got the distinction of having her own, personal sponsors - Aunt Margaret and Uncle Ralph, parents of the insanely impractical Babs who, in real life, is neither insane nor impractical, convertible aside.)

Starlight Headliner  I had to read this one through twice, and I still don't really get it, so I'll let Sam do the honors here:

Luxury is Rolls Royce's reason for being, leaving one to question what could the factory offer to its clientele that it doesn't already include? The cars come standard with motorized, retractable Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornaments and pop-out Teflon-coated umbrellas hidden in secret door compartments, for goodness sake. How about a recreation of the night sky using hand-strung fiber-optic waveguide lights in the headliner? It's true. This $8,400 option can be customized to any layout the customer desires. If a $380,000 car isn't enough of a statement of one's power and influence, then you can rearrange the heavens for your amusement.

Apparently, I just don't spend enough time in and around Rolls Royces.

Aroma Diffuser There are few things I hate more than getting into a cab and spotting the tree-shaped air freshener dangling from the rear-view mirror. Or, even worse, an open scent bottle of something that smells like vanilla mixed with patchouli oil. Gag-or-ama. So, even if I lived in Japan, I don't think I'd want a "scent diffuser" diffusing chemical cinnamon stick, piney woods, and strawberry delight aromas. As if we're not taking in enough pollutants already.

With that, I'll thank Sam Foley for his delightful round up of options that truly underscore the meaning of the word.


Nothing as flamboyant as these options, but I did post a while back on in-car computing.

And I want to send a little virtual waft from the Mercedes airscarf to my sister Trish who sent me a link to the MSN article.