Friday, October 29, 2010

Tobacco Road

One of my (blessedly few) business travel horror stories occurred when a puddle jumper from Lynchburg, VA to Charlotte, NC was diverted to the airport in Winston-Salem because of a severe thunder storm. Unfortunately, the diversion took place after security had gone home for the day, so we were restricted to a small waiting area with very poor air conditioning. Naturally, this was in the summer time and, well, North Carolina can get hot.

Things may have changed by now, but at at time, company towns being what they are, smoking was allowed in Winston-Salem airport. Forget take a puff, it’s springtime.  Us non-smokers were turning green, searching out wastebaskets, holding our heads between our knees, and praying for the storm to pass – or for some outside force to hurl a rock through the plate glass window overlooking the tarmac and let in some air.  There may be no atheists in fox holes, but I assure you that they are equally absent hot, smoky, stuffy airport waiting rooms that you can’t step toe out of.  Fortunately, there was a psychologist among those trapped, and he wandered around, calming people down and trying to get the smokers to ease up.

(Years ago, the company where my sister Trish worked had R.J. Reynolds as a client. In the reception area, where other companies might have a candy bowl, RJR had an outsized snifter full of cigarette packs.)

Not that I was never a smoker, but I was never much of one, or never much of one for anything other than brief stretches of time.

As a waitress I, of course, smoked, because in those days the only excuses you could use for taking a non-scheduled break was changing a tampon or “just grabbing a cigarette.” So I smoked.  For years after I stopped, I’d occasionally have a cigarette – generally when I had a drink in the other hand and, of course, was standing around with a bunch of smokers, one from whom I could bum a smoke.

But I’m not a big tobacco fan, let alone a Big Tobacco fan.

I do know a tiny bit about tobacco economies, as my husband had an aunt and uncle in Western Massachusetts’ Connecticut Valley tobacco country. (Shade tobacco, used for cigar wrappers.)  Well before I’d met Jim, they’d converted their farm to a golf course, of all things, but there were still (and still are) a number of operating tobacco farms in the area.

In converting their farm to a golf course, Bill and Carrie were apparently on to something: golf was growing in popularity, tobacco use was shrinking.

So I was quite interested in an article in this week’s Economist on efforts in North Carolina to capitalize on their being the home-base of the American tobacco industry.

For many years, tobacco reigned in North Carolina, with RJR as the biggest employer in Winston-Salem. (As in “Winston tastes good like a – da-da – cigarette should”, and “Take a puff, it’s springtime” Salem.) At mid-century, 60% of the city’s population worked either for RJR making cigarettes or Hanes making underwear.

But that was then, and this is smoke-free now.

Sure, thanks to selling in to new markets - hey, here’s an idea, let’s hook everyone in India and China! – tobacco’s not in its coffin quite yet. Still, in large part, fewer people smoke ‘em if they’ve got ‘em. Most of us don’t got ‘em. And we don’t want ‘em.

There’s still plenty of vestiges of RJR in Winston-Salem, but a major plant is now a science park which has 14 buildings that used to belong to RJR. But it’s not just the old buildings that matter:

Because it has been such an important cash crop for so long, it is among the most studied plants in the world—Richard Reich, the assistant commissioner for agricultural services in North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, calls it “the laboratory white rat” of the plant world. Much of that study, of course, was done by tobacco companies, and Targacept, one of the bioscience companies in the Piedmont Triad Research Park, is among the fruits of that labour. Spun out from RJR in 2000, and headed by J. Donald deBethizy, a former vice-president of R&D at RJR, Targacept is developing a range of drugs that target the body’s nicotinic receptors to treat a range of nervous-system disorders, including depression, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.

Here RJR spent all that time and money studying tobacco, trying to figure out how to addict people, and, later, not to kill them in the process, and now their spinout, Targacept, is using their knowledge of things-tobacco to do good?

Sow’s ear, meet silk purse.

Targacept isn’t the only one.

Down tobacco road a bit, in Durham (think: Bull Durham), Medicago’s using tobacco leaves to make flu vaccines. (Cough cough. Cough cough cough.)

… The company believes this method of making vaccines will be cheaper, faster and more effective than the egg-based method currently in use.

They may not exactly be beating swords into plowshares, but the fact that bio-tech’s able to take advantage of all that research on tobacco for uses that will actually benefit mankind…

I think I’ll put that in my pipe and smoke it.

Maybe there’s hope for us yet.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wanted: Dead or Alive. (And in the case of Steve McQueen, that’s wanted dead.)*

There’s been quite enough class-warfare bashing of the living wealthy to last us for a bit.  It’s high time we started paying more attention to the real problem haunting our economy, and that’s the vast discrepancy between the earnings of dead celebrities and those of the plain old dead.  Talk about an earnings gap.

Apparently, Forbes agrees with me that this needs to be exposed, because last week they published a listing of the top-earning dead celebrities.

Michael Jackson heads the list. His haul, between October 2009 and October 2010, was $275M, which Forbes points out is is more than the income of the next twelve dead celebrities on the list combined.  Life Death is so unfair!  Even among the ultra-long night of the living dead, there are hideous and profound inequalities. And then when you figure in the rest of us who won’t be earning one red cent after we’re gone, given the pushing up daisies pays squat…well, death stinks.

Of course, Jackson’s fortune likely got a shot in the arm by his untimely death in 2009. We’ll see how his death-to-date gross stacks up next to that of Elvis Presley in another 20 or so years.

Elvis is #2 on the hit parade of top earning dead celebs.  He took in $60M, which would pay for an awful lot of peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches and diamond encrusted TCB belts, if only El and the boys were here to enjoy them.  Elvis is up $5M from the prior year, an excellent performance in this bad economy. He may not be able to sustain the same level of growth moving forward, however.  Past performance is no guarantee of future results, and The King had a good outing last year thanks to the celebration of his 75th birthday, and to the launch of something called the Elvis Presley Cirque du Soleil spectacular. (Skinny Elvis, I presume.)

It’s not all singing and moonwalking in the after life earnings biz, however.

The #3 position is held by J.R.R. Tolkien, who grossed a cool $50M. Talk about Lord of the Rings!  Unfortunately, J.R.R. was not able to take any of the $50M with himself to Middle Earth.

Charles Schulz came in fourth, at $33M. Some of that comes from Met Life, I’m sure, but does he earn anything from Snoop Dogg, I wonder.  John Lennon placed 5th, at $17M. And poor Steig Larsson died before any of his lucrative works were published. If he’d lived, he would have brought in $15M this past year. (Note to self: add writing best-selling trilogy to bucket list; make sure this particular item is completed well before hitting said bucket.) Dr. Seuss earned $11M, and close at his heels was Albert Einstein, who made $10M, thanks in part to Baby Einstein, “Chrysler’s Ram brand truck ads and a collection of A.J. Morgan “geek chic” glasses.”

Einstein’s personality rights are handled by Corbis Greenlight, which also manages fellow top earning dead celeb Steve McQueen, tied for 11. Let’s go, alright.** (Further note to self: contact Corbis Greenlight; inform them that you have a ‘nice personality’ and are planning on writing best selling trilogy, topic t.b.d. Ask if they’d consider personality rights even without best-selling trilogy. I could do “geek chic” glasses.)

Along with Einstein and McQueen, Corbis also manages the Wright Brothers, Maria Callas, and Mae West. Albert Einstein and Mae West. Hmmmmm. Is that an equation in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

The list is rounded out by George Steinbrenner, Richard Rodgers, Jim Hendrix, Steve McQueen, and Aaron Spelling.

I’d say that Steinbrenner’s the dark horse, here. He’s only been dead for a few months, and already he’s cracked the top dead celebrity earner list.

And harrumph, harrumph.

Bad enough these folks earn a lot more in one year after death than most of us do beforehand in toto.

There’s another thing that’s bugging me here.

Just as there’s a gender gap in the here and now, it apparently lasts ad infinitum.  Guess we’ll have to wait for J.K. Rowling to die before some one on the distaff side cracks the afterlife’s glass ceiling.


*For those who don’t recall black and white TV, Steve McQueen starred as bounty hunter Josh Randall in the 1950’s series Wanted: Dead or Alive.

**Randall’s catch phrase was “Let’s go,” pronounced/mumbled as “Lezzzgo.”

And a doff of the Pink Slip chapeau to my husband, who pointed the Forbes article out to me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

See you in court? Not if you’ll give me my law school tuition back

The other day, the Boston Herald had an article on a BC Law student who had written an open letter (posted on BC Law’s online newspaper) to the acting dean asking for his money back.  This fellow, in his third year and facing a really dreadful job market, cast a cold, clear eye on his prospects and figured out he’d be better off cutting his losses.  Actually, he wasn’t looking to cut his losses. He was looking to get his losses restored.

In return, he pointed out that if he were off the books, it would (marginally) improve BC’s statistics about employment among its grads. 
The student offered to leave law school without a degree at the end of the semester in exchange for a full tuition refund — a move the erstwhile aspiring attorney says would help BC’s US News ranking because it wouldn’t have to report another graduate’s state of unemployment
While he wasn’t threatening to sue BC for his refund, the story roamed into that direction and the general legal-eagle consensus seems to be that the unfortunate 3L doesn’t have a claim. And, needless to say, BC Law hasn’t gotten out its checkbook.

I went over eagleionline to check out the full, agonized and agonizing letter, and, of course, to graze through the kabillion comments weighing in on the situation. (Since they’re not looking for work that doesn’t exist, law students apparently have a lot of time for commentary.)
The [name redacted], 3L, ‘I want my money back’ student reported that he and others in his class are:
… discouraged, scared, and in many cases, feeling rather hopeless about our chances of ever getting to practice law.
Discouraged, scared, and in many cases hopeless are, of course, not sentiments restricted to those who fear they will never get the opportunity to practice law. Add on the discourage, scared, and hopeless blue collar workers for whom jobs likely won’t be coming back any time soon, and who don’t have the construction boom to pick up the factory jobs slack.  Then there are the kids coming out of college with newly minted, and hopelessly impractical, degrees in whatever it was they were passionate about (that did not include engineering or accounting) – and who, like the law student, are saddled with debt that’s just incredible. (One commenter on the eagleionline site claimed that she and her husband – both law students – are carrying $600K in debt. Yowza!  There’s a lifetime of working down that one.)  Then there are the laid off fifty- and sixty-somethings who no one wants to hire, and whose 401K’s are in the crapper, and whose dreams of retiring on their house appreciation are in there with the 401K’s.

Yep. Discouraged, scared, and feeling rather hopeless is pretty much the national mood these days, as three decades of globalization, skating on thin ice, and generally crazy-cat behavior have caught up with us, big time.  (Ah, all those years of Roadrunner – beep-beep – running off the cliff and staying in mid-air until he looked down. Geronimo!)

The 3L, naturally, cites the debt he’s accumulated. I absolutely feel very badly for those coming out of school owing all that money that they can’t even shake-off with a bankruptcy. 

I was fortunate to go to school when it didn’t cost all that much, and you worked at any crummy job you could find to make up the difference between whatever you got for scholarships and/or from your parents, and what school cost. Nobody worried about whether the job was career-building.  We were lucky enough that no one expected a college kid to have done much career building (a concept we'd never heard of).  Those doing the hiring expected that kids out of college would have had summer and term jobs as: waitresses, camp counselors, typists, sales clerks, surveyors, construction workers, lifeguards, bus boys, factory hands, cafeteria workers, taxi drivers, etc.

Without sounding like Laura Ingalls Wilder here, I’m also of the generation that didn’t expect or even want much more out of the college experience than just being away from home. (Yahoo!)  The facilities were lousy – spartan, cement block dorms for many of us.  Food was starchy, filling, and lousy – and if you didn’t like the glop being served, you were free to pay for something else, elsewhere. (That’s one of the reasons we needed those marginal jobs.) No food courts for us, where we could buy stuff we liked with smartcards.  We had to truck to some crummy coffee shop or grocery store and pay cash. Many the evening’s my dinner was ice cream with jimmies from a place we called “Dirty Drug.”

No fancy gym facilities, either, so our costs didn’t include upkeep of 24/7 access to ellipticals. (Fitness had not yet been invented.) Everyone I hung around with was happy wearing clothing from Army-Navy surplus stores (how fondly I remember that pea coat from Mickey Finn’s).  Unless you were a commuter – and probably not even then – no one had a car. (Or almost no one: I had a friend who had an old Jaguar. Her father was rumored to be in The Mob.)

When I went to business school, I did have to borrow some money – but not as much as I might have. My grandmother died a few months before I started, and I inherited $4K. (Yes, I have been an heiress, and I can tell you and Paris Hilton that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.)

What debt I acquired in business school was closer to $6K than to $600K, and paid it back as quickly as I could once I started working.

Fortunate me:
Tuition and housing costs nearly $60,000 a year at BC Law School. The school’s Web site says 97.6 percent of the Class of 2009 got jobs in law firms, government, business or academia, with a median “private sector” salary of $160,000; $35,000 in the “public sector” and $57,000 in “government.” (Source: Boston Herald article)
$60K a year!

I guess the student who claimed $600K in debt either had undergrad loans and/or lived large.

Still, try paying back $600K or even $180K - on a salary of $160K, let alone on $35K from a “public sector” job – whatever that is; public defender maybe?

The pained and plaintive – or is he trying to make a “humorous” point that BC should be warning students that their legal education may well be a losing proposition - BC Law student’s name was redacted, but I’m sure the “everyone” knows who he is. There are way too many telling details: former teacher, pregnant wife, etc. 

I certainly hope that, having gotten this screed off of his chest, he feels better.

But the whole thing reminds me of a video I saw year’s ago of Jack Welch in some kind of feedback session with young GE professionals.

There was one guy – named Kelly, I believe – who started talking about how long and hard he worked.

I suppose he was hoping that Jack would thank or praise him for giving GE his all – atta, boy, Kelly -  but old Jack just jumped down the kid’s throat and reamed him. If you’re working that hard, you’re doing something wrong…

I’m sure that Kelly slunk back to his GE-land cube, understanding that his career was likely no longer hi-pot (high potential) and completely mortified that, not only had Jack made him look like a fool in front of his peers, but the entire shambles had been video’d, so that complete strangers all over the place were getting to see it. (This was pre YouTube, of course.  I saw it as part of some business off-site.)

Anyway, I hadn’t thought of poor Kelly in years, but the 3L’s letter brought it back to mind.

The lesson, I guess, is that there are some things that you’re best off keeping to yourself. And woe-is-me pissing and moaning is one of them.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The November Classic: my team in the 2010 World Series

Red Sox aside, there are any number of teams I wouldn’t have minded seeing play in this year’s World Series, which opens tomorrow night in San Francisco. Of the teams who made it to the playoffs, I could have happily gotten behind the Tampa Bay Rays, as I so happily did in 2008, or the Philadelphia Phillies, as I so happily did in 2009.  This year, would have been thrilled to see the Minnesota Twins make it to the Big Dance. They’re just so Midwest-nice.  The same goes for the Cincinnati Reds. (All is forgiven for your 1975 bad-call defeat of our beloved Olde Towne Team; if “we’d” won in 1975, 2004 wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic, exciting and gratifying.) I’m not wild about the Atlanta Braves, but who could begrudge Bobby Cox a World Series win during his last year as manager?

Sadly, of my 2010 World Series wishes to date, only one has been granted. Sure, it’s a big one: the Yankees lost! 

I so wish I had a dog in this hunt!

Alas, as grateful as I am to the Rangers for knocking out the Yankees – with Alex Rodriguez (who abandoned the Rangers for the bright lights and big bucks of the Apple) ending it all on a called third strike, no less – I can’t just throw in with them to win it all. (Even though I think they will.) There’s just something not to like. (True confession: it’s probably all political.)

In need of a process to determine which team to root for, I came up with a comparison chart. So here goes:



San Francisco Giants

The City Middle of nowhere; no downtown; too hot; grassy knoll. Admittedly, good barbecue. Spectacularly beautiful; urban-urbane; those little cable cars… ADVANTAGE Giants.
The State Terrain not generally to my liking; too much influence on textbooks. (On the other hand, “it is the only place on earth bluebonnets grow.”) Spectacularly beautiful; etc. ADVANTAGE Giants.
Song about the City Big D (Little A – Double L – A-S). You’ve probably never even heard of it. So I rest my case. I Left My Heart in San Francisco and or San Francisco (Open your golden gate)  ADVANTAGE Giants.
Song about the State Eyes of Texas, Deep in the Heart of Texas, Yellow Rose of Texas. ADVANTAGE Texas. California Here I Come, Hotel California
TV Show Dallas.Admittedly, watching this got me through grad school, but who really cares who shot JR? Streets of San Francisco.Karl Malden and Michael Douglas when he was still cute? What’s not to like, buddy boy? ADVANTAGE Giants.
The Manager Ron Washington – seems more excitable than your average MLB manger; house in New Orleans destroyed by Katrina.  ADVANTAGE Texas. Bruce Bochy – not bad looking, and bonus points for having been born in France
Team Name Texas Rangers: a bit law and order for my taste, but makes sense. ADVANTAGE Texas. San Francisco Giants. No meaning whatsoever. Carpet bagger name kept when team moved from NY to SF in the late 1950’s.
Team History Hapless Washington Senators, absconded to Texas in 1971. Once managed by Ted Williams. Christy Mathewson, Iron Man McGinnity, Merkle’s Boner, Mel Ott, Bobby Thomson’s home run, Willie Mays (Say hey!) ADVANTAGE Giants.
Color Scheme Red, white and blue. Yeah, you and just about every other team in major league sports… Black & orange.  Could conceivably win it all on Halloween.  ADVANTAGE Giants.
Stadium Rangers Ballpark – actually looks pretty nice AT&T Park. Bogus  name, but out of the park homers end up in the Pacific Ocean, where they’re chased down by fans in kayaks. ADVANTAGE Giants.
Player with a great baseball name Elvis Andrus – gotta love this one, even though Andrus was probably named after his mother Elvia, rather than after the King. Buster Posey – has to be one of the all time best; almost as good as Champ Summers.  ADVANTAGE Giants.
Yuck factor Formerly co-owned by George W Bush.
The steroidal Barry Bonds.
‘We deserve it’ factor “We’ve never won a World Series in our whole, entire lives.” Oh, boo hoo. You’ve only been around since 1961, and in Texas since 1971. BFD. Try being a Chicago Cubs fan. (Haven’t won the World Series since 1908.) “We haven’t won a World Series since 1954.” Oh, boo hoo. You’ve only been in San Francisco since 1957. BFD. Try being a Chicago Cubs fan. (Haven’t won the World Series since 1908.) Still, you’ve waited longer. ADVANTAGE Giants.
Hair Elvis Andrus – cool ‘fro, bro. ADVANTAGE Texas. Tim Lincecum – is it Breck-girl shiny or just plain greasy? (Brian Wilson’s dyed beard is a hoot, however.)
League American. I try to be loyal….
Payroll $55M. While the ‘you get what you pay for advantage goes to SF’, the moral highground’s held by the Rangers
Friends & family there Yes to both. ADVANTAGE Texas. No one

Final score: San Francisco Giants 9, Texas Rangers 7.

Say, hey. It looks like I’m rooting for the Giants.

Go team!


Monday, October 25, 2010

Fly me to the telephone booth

If we learned little else from 9-11, it’s that if you use a cell phone to make a phone call from a plane, nothing happens.

The point that it’s really okay to use a cell phone in flight was brought home in a piece by Justus Bender in yesterday’s Boston Globe. There’s apparently no science whatsoever behind the notion that some oaf calling the office to berate an underling can cause a plane crash. In fact, in other parts of the world, you can use your cellphone – including on Ryanair. (Betcha they’ve got a way to charge for it.)

So I guess it’s just a matter of time before it’s not just the cramped seats, seat-kicking toddlers, dirty toilets, and smelly sandwiches that people bring on board since they’re not being fed, that will be annoying us during the miracle of flight. Even now, if someone’s on a flight with Internet access, and they want to use Skype, what’s to stop them?

Personally, I do not look forward to the day when everyone whips out their smartphone the minute they’re buckled in and starts an endless of round of sotto voce (hah!) conversations. Bad enough you have to deal with these amadáns* - I was going to write ‘a-holes’ but there’s enough incivility in the world these days, written and aural – in the boarding area.  The last two times I’ve flown there were incredible loud mouths, completely oblivious to anyone around them, yacking away.  (My favorite is when they notice you listening and give you an indignant ‘this is private’ look.) Maybe at some point we’ll get beyond the need to yell into a mobile phone the same way your Great Uncle Henry felt he had to shout into the speaker if his voice was going to be heard clear across the county. And why is it that an overheard half- conversation is never, ever, ever interesting?

Anyway, once people can talk on planes, it’s going to be Hello, Central, and Goodbye, Shuteye.

I hope the airlines find a way to meter the calls, and charge as much as they did for those clunky satellite phones in the back of the seat that used to be on planes. (Are those in-flight AirPhones still around? I actually haven’t thought of them in years.)  Interesting, and perhaps because they cost a lot, those phones weren’t used all that often. 

Even in my business travel prime, I only used one a couple of times. (One was on a flight home from Minneapolis right after I’d learned that my Aunt Margaret had died. I really needed to weepily talk with someone….) The other times I did any mid-air dialing were to rearrange a meeting after a flight delay or something along those lines. Brief, purposeful.  I recall the charges being horrendous. Could it have been $12 a minute?

Anyway, I have absolutely no recall of ever being disturbed by someone on one of these phones. (Which is not to say it never happened.)

But with cell phones, it’s all paid for, part of the plan. Why wait to land to call everyone in your contact list and relay the same non-information? “Hey. It’s me. We just left Orlando, and I’ll be landing about 7:30.”  Or to have a spirited and highly personal discussion about your dating life.  (Case in point: the obnoxious young guy in the boarding area for a NY shuttle at Logan a few months ago.  What an amadán! Since the hotel we stayed at denies it was them – and even sent me a certification that they were bug free – that guy might also have been a bed-bug carrier.  Thanks, pal.)

According to Bender, our friendly skies may stay quiet. For a while, at least.

…even if the FCC were to revoke the ban, the FAA’s current regulations for the certification of electronic equipment would apply. This would mean air carriers would have to show that every particular cellphone model is compatible with every particular airplane type. With hundreds of cellphone models released every year, this would mean a continuing source of cost for airlines, while the only benefit would be the convenience of passengers.

Make that the convenience of some passengers, to the extreme detriment and inconvenience of others.

All I can say is, thank god for the young folks who don’t make phone calls anymore. I’d a lot rather listen to someone thumb away with their texting, rather than be subjected to their invariably loud and generally boring  chatter.

I am so not looking forward to the airplane becoming a virtual, non-private phone booth. Maybe they’ll have a quiet section, like the quiet car on Amtrak.  Or like the smoking section of yore. Of course, you could always get stuck in the row in front of or in back of smoking. Gag! (Once I was on a flight and a women lit up next to me. I politely pointed out that she was seated in non-smoking. She replied that there were no seats available in smoking. Oy.)

I’m sure any general requests that people not yell into their phones will be for naught. (Sort of like those “as a courtesy to the next passenger, please wipe down the sink” signs in the toilets.) After all, I’m important, my call’s important, I’m me, and the roar of those jet engines is mighty loud.

With apologies to Frank Sinatra**

Fly me to the virtual telephone booth,
And let me yack up in the skies
Let my seat-mate here my voice,
My aimless chat, my lies.
In other words, I must call.
In other words: me, me, me.

Lame, I know. But I couldn’t get anything to rhyme with cloud or fuselage.


*Irish for eejit fool.

**Yes, I know that Old Blue Eyes didn’t write Fly Me To The Moon, but he’s sure the reason most of us know it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Better late than ever: recalling a home improvement guide from 1955

1955 was a pretty good year, as I recall.

I started first grade, and, while Sister Marie Leo had clearly received her pedagogic training from Torquemada – quite a shock to the tender system after having spent my kindergarten year with the kind and gentle Mrs. Julia B. Hackett – I enjoyed grammar school.

In November, my brother Rick was born, and came home from the hospital on my birthday – to this day, the best birthday present I’ve even received. It had already been a good cousin year: Mary Lou came on the scene in March, and Michael in June (snagging the name Michael, which my parents had planned on for Rick).

I still believed in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and also believed Sister Marie Leo when she told us that stepping on the “holy grass” of the church lawn was a mortal sin, worthy of perpetual damnation.

It was the height of the baby boom, and pipe-smoking, Pendleton shirt wearing, Ozzie Nelson type suburban dads were doing all sorts of home improvements.

My personal father, while he was Pendleton shirt wearing, and, even though he no longer smoked a pipe, did have a pipe rack (wood – with carved dogs’ heads on it) on his bed stand, was not all that into home improvement.

With my mother, he papered and painted. He absolutely did lawn. But he was not exactly Mr. Fixit. 

Plumbing. Wiring. Carpentry.

That’s what professionals were for.

Nor was he Mr. Craftsman.

There was no basement hideaway, full of skill saws or whatever, where he whipped up bookcases and TV stands, and taught my brothers the difference between a phillips head screw and a flat screw.

He did have tools, but pretty much the only time I remember my father using them was for something to do with the lawn. The saw cut down an unwanted sapling; the screwdriver was used to prise out a dandelion.

The only major home improvement project I recall him working on was yard related: he put in a corral fence around the yard, and to mark off the little wooded area in the ravine next to the house.

And, while he was a reader, he wasn’t reading home improvement books.

Not that I recall.

So he wasn’t in possession of Sunset Kitchens Planning and Remodeling from Oxmoor House, 1955 edition, which has been recalled.

Oxmoor House, Inc. is recalling about 540,000 home improvement books because the books contain errors in the technical diagrams and wiring instructions that could lead to incorrectly installations, posing an electrical shock or fire hazard…The books were sold at home improvement stores and bookstores from 1955 through December 2005 for between $5 and $20. Consumers are advised to contact the publisher for a full refund. (Source:

Just think: all those modernized kitchens, all those additions to make room for the growing baby-boom family, all those home improvements that the Mr. Fixit, Mr. Craftsman dads took on in 1955, and 1956, and 1957… (“Happy Mother’s Day, honey. I got you that garbage disposal you always wanted.  And thanks to the swell Sunset Kitchens Planning and Remodeling book you got me for Father’s Day, I know how to install it.”)


We sure were lucky as kids that my father wasn’t so hell bent on DIY that he’d expose his kids to electrical fires and shocks.

But if you’re about to start a wiring project, and are using that old Sunset book you found at a flea market (or in the family basement when you closed your parents’ house down), forget about it.

Toss the book. Go the google and get the correct instructions.  Better yet, call in a professional.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cogito ergo sumo? I think not.

While I’ll always end up watching (and getting hooked on) a few events, I wouldn’t characterize myself as a huge fan of the Olympics. And I started to like the Olympics a bit less when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – The Games’ governing body – tossed out baseball as a sport, partially in favor of (get this) golf.

Not clear why the IOC called baseball out – perhaps it was all in the general Olympic spirit, which tends to tilt peevishly anti-American at times. But to have some of the baseball slots taken up by golfers? Something there is about golf that just doesn’t get me thinking Chariots of Fire or Miracle on Ice.  (And that was before Tiger Woods.)

But, hey, the IOC’s free to declare whatever sports they want Olympian.

And one of the sports that’s hoping the IOC declares for them is sumo wrestling.

Until I read an article on their Olympic bid in the WSJournal, I had thought that sumo was only “played” by men, and only “played” in Japan.

Hard for me to see that this sport will break in, as it does seem a bit outré and oddball.

Not to mention the obvious: do the same folks who like to watch swimmers swim, gymnasts gym, and milers mile also want to watch 400 pound men in some sort of combo loin cloth – thong thang belly-butt each other?

But that may just be my western sensibility clicking in here.

Strange things have happened, Olympic-wise. (Curling?)

So we shall see.

In order the legitimize their bid, the International Sumo Federation  had to make sure that there were women sumo wrestlers, since the Olympics doesn’t allow for sports that aren’t played by both men and women. And apparently, there are women sumo wrestlers – not just in Japan, but beyond (especially in Eastern Europe).

(Not sure about that International Sumo Federation link, by the way.  I think they’re the real deal, but they don’t appear to have the most hip, happenin’ up to date website going for them (this just in: 2005 IFS anti-doping code posted). If they’re serious about that Olympic bid, they might want to slick things up a bit.)

While European women, especially those familiar with combat sports, felt no qualms about giving sumo a go, Japanese women had more to contend with than just the bigger Europeans. Their biggest hurdle came from a stigma that can be traced to the 18th century, when, as entertainment for men, topless women sumo-wrestled blind men. Though this lewd variety eventually faded away in the mid-20th century after being banned repeatedly, a ceremonial form has continued in regional festivals so far out on the fringe of society that it remains virtually unknown.

Thankfully, we don’t be seeing the topless-blind variety in the Olympics. At least during my lifetime. (Be thankful for small blessings.)

For the real purists, women and sumo just don’t mix. For true believers, women:

…cannot touch or enter the sacred wrestling ring, the dohyo, lest they contaminate it with their “impurity.”

But that’s professional sumo, which, in Japan, has a religious ritual aspect to it, which is absent from the amateur ring.

While women’s sumo hasn’t exactly taken off like many other sports, the WSJ article mentions that there are now some college scholarships for female sumo wrestlers. (It didn’t name names. Somehow I don’t believe it’s the Southeast Conference or the Big Ten.)

I wasn’t exactly familiar with the plot of sumo, but the WSJ is ever helpful:

It is a trial of strength in which 48 techniques may be used to throw an opponent off balance so that he steps out of the ring or falls to the ground. A match begins with a head-on collision, followed by a wild fit of shoving, lifting, throwing, tripping, slapping, yanking or any combination thereof. It is often over in less than 10 seconds but can last a minute or more.

I guess for those who consider baseball excessively drawn out, and even (I just don’t get it) boring, that over and done in 10 seconds holds a certain appeal.

But I don’t even want to think about where the sumotori are going to sport their country’s logos.

Nah…I really don’t see sumo in the Olympics.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Now, how is it that the scammers thought they’d get away with this? Especially the thing about using the Google name?

Gosh, I was almost thinking of changing the name of my blog to “Google Pink Slip”.

I mean, when you google “google pink slip”, my blog comes up. (Ditto for “pink slip google.”) I am so on to something.

And Pink Slip lives on blogspot, which Google owns. So we’re almost related already. Just saying.

Not to mention that, since the Google name is golden, if I called my blog Google Pink Slip, maybe some of Google $$$ magic would rub off on me. Sure, Pink Slip’s a hobby, so I really shouldn’t be thinking about trying to make a buck off it. I mean, if I wanted to make a buck off it, I’d have figured out the key would be to mono-focus on something, so that everyone in the world who shares that mono-focus would find their way here. Then I could a write a book, with pretty much of a guarantee that everyone who shared that mono-focus would buy it.

So Pink Slip maybe should have  been a little more niche-oriented.  Something that would have yielded a made-for-the-niche book like “Crocheted Dog Boots for Folks Who Hate the Yankees.”  Or “The Survival Guide for Those Who Labor in a 7 x 7 Steelcase Cubicle, Next to a Guy Who Belches All Day.” Or “Accepting Your Inner-Non-Cook: Why Not Convert Your Kitchen to a Sunroom?”

Whatever I decide to do here, my embroidering my blog’s name with the name Google wouldn’t be sleazy, exploitative, or misleading. No way! I’d be completely above board. My use of Google would be homage, not damage.

Not like those rotters who tried to sell work-from-home products using the good and golden Google name.

“Google Pro,” “Google Money Tree,” and “Google Treasure Chest.”

How could they!

Well, as it turns out, they couldn’t.

The scam-bos who tried to exploit the good and golden Google name have been taken down.  For suckering folks into thinking they could make $100k in just six months, and then clipping them for monthly charges (that hadn’t been fully disclosed), for which the eager work-from-home hopefuls got next to nada in return, a few crapoid, bogus operaters have been taken down:

The settlement includes a $29.5 million judgment against defendants Jonathan Eborn; Michael McLain Miller; Tony Norton; Infusion Media Inc.; West Coast Internet Media Inc.; Two Warnings LLC; Two Part Investments LLC; and Platinum Teleservices Inc. (Source: WSJ Online.)

I really like that “Two Warnings LLC” name. Way. To. Go. with the truth in advertising. But I must admit that I don’t understand how anyone with access to the Internet, and who, presumably, recognizes the name “Google”, doesn’t get that, before you sign up for “Google Treasure Chest”, it might be wise to google “Google Treasure Chest.”  I guess that hope springs, etc., and for someone with no other prospects, the prospect of earning $100K in 6 months – which is no doubt a significant multiple of any amount that person had ever earned in six months in real life – must seem very tempting. Especially when you could earn it from home, without having to have any experience or particular skills. (Didn’t their mothers ever warn them – or even give them two warnings – that if someone sounds too good to be true, it probably is?)

A fourth defendant, Stephanie Burnside, is subject to a judgment of $741,900, the FTC said. The defendants will give up cash and other assets that include two cars, interests in a Harley-Davidson Inc. motorcycle and a boat, and a gun collection—which total about $3.5 million. The unpaid portions of these judgments are suspended based on the defendants' inability to pay.

Oh, no! Not the gun collection.

The crew has also been

…banned from selling products through "negative option" transactions—in which the seller interprets consumers' silence or inaction as permission to charge them.

Shouldn’t everyone be banned from this practice? Or is this kind of like signing up for the monthly charge for the WSJ Online subscription – which they woo you into by making it a lot cheaper than if you paid a lump sum for the year – and having it auto- renew into perpetuity?  Hmmmm…

The defendants also are barred from making misleading or unsupported claims while marketing or selling any product or service.

Uh-oh.  Good thing there’s no law against this one, or a lot of marketers I know would be on shaky grounds. (Not me, of course: I stick strictly to b&w, just the facts marketing.) Not to mention a lot of sales folks. (They might even have to sell their gun collections.)  But I guess it depends on what the definition of “misleading” or “unsupported” is.

Forgot to mention that those bums also used the Google logo.

I’d never do that.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dead on Arrival (or at least they’d better be)

I’ve never really given too much thought to autopsies. Pretty much everyone I’ve been close to who has died was either very sick or very old or very both. No need to cut and paste that cadaver. No, ah, sweet mystery of death, at last I’ve found you moments to be had. No sue the bastards urges.

When I ship out – and, goofily, I was going to write “if and when I ship out….” (hah! such hubris; I really do know that it’s definitely a “when” not an “if”) – if there’s some suspicion that someone laced my tea with arsenic, or if some Greater Scientific Cause will be furthered by evaluating my no longer useful blood and guts, well, have at it.

Other than that, dead is gone, as far as I’m concerned.

Not that I don’t find autopsies interesting. I’m a cop show watcher, and I like nothing better than one of my cops paying a call on the morgue.

I actually got to see an autopsy once – just not a human one.

My husband and I, at the time, were frequent visitors (and donors) to the San Diego Zoo, and made friends with a few of the folks there. We were visiting the lab of a researcher when she mentioned that they were going to be doing an autopsy on a baby elephant who’d been accidentally gored.

Well, as it happened, my husband had always wanted to see a baby elephant, and I’d always wanted to see an autopsy, so we managed to wangle an invitation.

We only stayed through part of it.

Frankly, it wasn’t the formaldehyde that got to me. After all, we were in San Diego, and the autopsy was conducted in some sort of shelter that was completely open on one side, so the air was definitely breathable.

No, it was the sight of the baby elephant’s trunk, hanging over the side of the lab table, that got to us.

Still, if someone invited me to an animal or human autopsy, I’d be interested. (Not if I knew the animal or human, however.)

What I wasn’t aware of is that there are private companies that provide autopsy services. And if you’d like your love one to get a posthumous poke and prod, you can get one of them to take care of it for you.

I know this thanks to the Wall Street Journal, which always manages to come through with a topic that interests me, when I am in that desperate hour, trying to figure out what the next day’s post is going to be about.

Who knew you could just call 1-800-Autopsy? (They’re in LA, and I’m wondering whether they have a jingle as memorable as 1-800-54-GIANT, which everyone in Massachusetts knows to call when they have a broken windshield.  Or as nifty as the jingle of my childhood that impressed upon me – and every other child growing up within ear-shot of Boston television stations – all they needed to know about dirty rugs. How many cookies did Andrew eat? Andrew ate 8,000?  How do you keep your carpets clean? Call AN-drew 8-8000. Which is still, after all these years, the phone number for Adams and Swett Rug Cleaning. Pretty good marketing on the part of both Giant Glass and Adams and Swett. Talk about staying power!)

Anyway, 1-800-Autopsy does about 600 postmortems per year – not just for civilians, but for locales that can’t afford their own medical examiners.  (Is there anything these days that can’t be outsourced? At least autopsies aren’t being off-shored… Yet.)

An autopsy will run you in the $3K range.

"We give voice to the deceased," says Vidal Herrera, who founded 1-800-Autopsy with his wife, Vicki, in 1988. "We allow them to tell their stories…because it's all there on the table in the tissue and blood."

They’re consistent with their messaging around giving a voice to the deceased. Their tag line is The Deceased Must Be Protected and Given a Voice.

Decomposing that tagline, we certainly don’t want dead bodies dragged through the streets, getting pecked by vultures, or otherwise violated, but, realistically speaking, there’s not much you can do to actually protect the dead in any meaningful way. They actually, ahh, don’t really need it anymore.

And I don’t know about that giving a voice to the deceased.

I thought that was what Ouija Boards, séances, dreams, and hallucinations are for. (Remind me to tell you at some point about the dream I had about my Grandfather Rogers’ coffin being opened.  I never laid eyes on him, dead or alive – he died 25 years before I was born – and I didn’t see him in the dream coffin, either. The coffin did contain a very elaborate flagon, that contained a nectarish wine. Which makes some sense, given that he ran a saloon.  The dream was a lulu, by the way.)

What I found interesting in the WSJ article was the fast-fact that, in 1965, 42% of hospital deaths were autopsied. Nowadays, the figure’s down to 2%. (Don’t know what that’s all about, but I’m guessing that there are a lot more deaths in the hospital these days.)

…autopsies are generally only conducted if there's evidence of a crime or threat to public health

Family members can ask for an autopsy, but if they get turned down – which it sounds like’s gonna happen if there’s nothing crime- or public-health related – they can turn to a private autopsy outfit.

"People that are hurting need to find closure, pursue litigation or even get a second opinion," says Mr. Herrera, a former autopsy technician and crime-scene investigator for the Los Angeles County coroner's office.

Hmmm. Which do you think is to top reason? Find closure, pursue litigation, or just get a second opinion?  (Does the second opinion ever come back that Great Uncle Arthur is not dead?) 

Me, I’d bet on “pursue litigation.”

If you’re looking for a new career, by the way, 1-800-Autopsy sells franchises. But don’t get any ideas about a correspondence course from Famous Autopsies School: you have to be a licensed MD to conduct one.

When Mr. Herrera  isn’t kept busy with his autopsies and franchisees, he:

…builds couches out of coffins in his spare time as a way to make light of his morbid line of work. "It's something you have to do because it's business."

Oh, why not.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dear Elster: as if you need yet another reason to despise the NY Yankees.

Last summer, right after Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner died, a 77 year old Ohio woman dredged up some ancient correspondence she’d had with George, from a time when they’d dated in the late 1940’s – early 1950’s.  Mary Jane Elster (now Schriner) was 16 at the time their friendship started, George was 18.  The Norman Rockwell-sweet, completely and utterly innocuous letters were mentioned (and quoted from) in a NY Times article last July, in a reminiscence pulled together by Schriner’s son.

The reminiscence revealed a kinder, gentler Steinbrenner than those of us who have followed the Evil Empire over the years might recognize.  And a kinder, gentler time – an aw-shucks, sippin’ soda through a straw,  time straight out of the sorts of bland teen romances I gobbled up at age 11. (Sixteenth Summer, Seventeen, Double Date, Donna Parker on Her Own.) 

Here’s an excerpt from a letter George wrote:

“Well, Elster, I bought a pair of white bucks today, and I thought you would be pleased to know that I plan to wear them all around the Hicksville town we live in. You can laugh till the cows come home, and it won’t bother me.”

Now Mrs. Schriner (nee Elster) wants to use the letters in a little book she’s putting together about her relationship with George – which, by the way, ended up going nowhere, perhaps – as Mrs. Scrhiner surmised -  because Mary Jane was Catholic, and George was Protestant. (Ah, those were the days.)

I can’t imagine that there’d be a colossal audience for this type of book, but it’s the sort of thing that might get some local play in her town, or be purchased by die-hard Yankees fans. (Or die-hard fans of good old days, bobby-soxer, sweetness and light.)

Mrs. Schriner, however, has been denied use of the letters by the Yankees. (The Steinbrenners, apparently, are within their rights, as the copyright owner of the content to refuse permission to publish, although they have no claim on the physical letters themselves.)

Lonn Trost, the Yankees’ chief operating officer, told Schriner’s son Michael in an e-mail last month that “regardless of anyone’s intent,” publication of the letters “will cause untold embarrassment and damages to the Steinbrenner family and the Steinbrenner’s business interests.” Trost declined to say what offended the family. (Source: NY Times.)

Untold embarrassment? Damages to business interests?

We’re not talking anything sordid here: this is not the untold story of a cad knocking a sweet young thing up. Nary a whiff of sex, drugs, or rock ‘n roll. We’re talking about a tiff the two had after Mary Jane refused to do the Mexican hat dance. About going to see Twelve O’Clock High, then heading to the ice cream parlor.  (Gee, George, do you really think that any flyers really went crazy during the war?) About George announcing he was going to kiss Mary Jane, and Mary Jane flying out of the car:

“Please get back in the car. [George said.] If my parents find out about this, I’m in big trouble.”

Yes, indeed, I can see how this would cause untold embarrassment.

Perhaps the Yankees are concerned that the letters will damage Steinbrenner’s well-honed reputation as a vindictive, manipulative, nasty jerk.

Mrs. Schriner is a forgiving soul:

“I tried to put myself in George’s wife’s position,” she said, referring to Joan Steinbrenner. “Maybe it’s hurtful to hear that someone else had a relationship with him. But I was 16. There’s nothing in those letters to upset her. They’re sort of boring.”

This was not An Affair to Remember or Madame Bovary. Or even Romeo and Juliet

This was big nothing.

No date rape. No back room abortion. No nastiness. No bad behavior. No uttered slurs.

This is pure Andy Hardy meets Polly Benedict.

It is unimaginable that anyone in Steinbrenner’s family – even his grieving widow -  would be offended by anything contained in Mrs. Schriner’s little memoir. Are the Steinbrenners so rapacious that the idea of someone making a buck off of these letters drives them nuts? (And, in truth, a buck is probably all Mrs. Schriner was ever going to make off of her book.)

The Yankees have also asked the Baseball Hall of Fame not to accept/display the letters.

But they couldn’t stop the Schriners from trying to sell them on eBay, where they were originally looking for a minimum bid of $100k, later relisted at $50K – and bidding closed with nary a nibble. Those price tags seem to suggest that the Schriners themselves may be suffering a bit of absurdity-itis. Maybe they caught it from the Yankees. (Perhaps if one of the letters had a water stain that looked like Mother Teresa, or even like George Steinbrenner, they could command that high a price.)

So, if you’re looking for another reason to root against the Yankees (currently playing in the American League Championship Series), have at it. Personally, I didn’t need one.

Hiss, boo, Lonn Trott.  Hiss, boo, Yankees.

Let’s go, Rangers!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Some like it hot: U.S. cedes Golden Spurtle cup back to the Scots

I wouldn’t have necessarily placed the United States as prime porridge territory but, in fact, Bob’s Red Mill was last year’s Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Champion. Alas, if we need any further proof that we’re no longer enjoying The American Century, the coveted prize has reverted back to the Old World, won by “Scotsman Neal Robertson, who owns the Tannochbrae Tearoom in Auchtermuchty.” Which he should have, based solely on the name of his tearoom, and the name of the town it’s located in. Hoot, mon! (Source: WSJ.) At least we didn’t lose to India or China.

Although they didn’t repeat a win of what the Bob Red Mill VP of Sales, Robert Agnew, terms “the Academy Awards of oatmeal”, just being invited to contend is no small deal:

“The cook-off has been gaining popularity among spectators and contestants, but only 15 lucky teams make the cut each year. On game day, they produce two dishes: the traditional porridge, made only with oats, salt and water, and a specialty dish, made with other ingredients. (The winner of the traditional porridge takes the spurtle trophy.)

I didn’t know what a spurtle was – it’s what you use to stir the pot – but I have yet to meet the starch-based dish I wasn’t delighted to dip my spoon into.  Insipid Beechnut baby food oatmeal, to real rolled oats, I have always loved porridge – even though in real life I call it just plain old oatmeal.

We ate plenty of oatmeal for breakfast as kids – and it had to be with raisins. How well I remember when my mother was in the hospital having my brother Rick, and my father attempted to feed three little mouths with raisin-less oatmeal. Poor man, here he was worried about his newborn premie, not to mention the impending arrival of my grandmother from Chicago, and he had a kid mutiny on his hands. Somehow, he just didn’t get that eating oatmeal without raisins was, to a child’s palate, akin to eating a bucket of wallpaper paste. 

And forget I said “child’s palate.” Much as I like oatmeal, it really does need to be doctored up somehow: raisins, nuts, cinnamon, dried fruit. Something. Or it is, to this adult’s palate, akin to eating a bucket of wallpaper paste.

Bob’s Red Mill Oatmeal probably tasted – or at least looked better -  than that:

"We worked really hard for about three months, preparing about three times a week and working with a food stylist," says Dennis Gilliam, a partner in charge of sales and marketing, who attended the event. "We'll be back, no doubt."

A food stylist, no less.

How does one style oatmeal so that it doesn’t look like a glop o’ starch? All the almonds and dried apricots in the world can’t really disguise what oatmeal looks like. Nor should they. There’s something comfy, homey, and honest about oatmeal that just defies food styling.

Since I just saw this article, I missed year’s World Porridge Day, which is associated with the Golden Spurtle, and provides meals to children in some of the world’s most destitute countries. But I will throw a modest check in the mail to the Boston Food Bank. And I’ll pay further tribute to porridge in my own small way.

Today promises to be rainy-dreary-fally. Porridge weather. I will get out my spurtle (a.k.a., wooden spoon), and my tin of McCann’s Irish Oatmeal (true to my heritage, no Scots oats for me, thank you), and make myself a nice sup of porridge. I’m thinking walnuts, almonds, raisins, dried cranberries, and maybe even some fresh blueberries. I can’t wait to stick it to my ribs. Yum.

And, yes, next time I’m at the store, I’ll see if I can find some Bob’s Red Mill. Much as I like McCann’s, now’s the time to be a Made in America American, no?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Think you’re worth more? GetRaised

When my sister Kath – one of my posse of blog fodder suggesters – came across GetRaised and pointed it out to me, my kneejerk thought was yet another useless online “service.” Which would have made this week a two-fer with respect to posts about yet another useless online “service.” (See Tuesday’s edition: So few ads, so little time.)

Then I unjerked my knee and headed over to GetRaised and found that it’s actually pretty darned intelligent and thoughtful, and that plenty of folks will find it useful.

Here’s what they offer:

You provide them information on your work and how much you make, and they let you know if, based on their research, they think you’re worth more. Then they help you make the case for asking for a raise, guiding you away from the death-to-raises words like “I need” (so what?) and “I deserve” (who says?), towards a more rational and logical approach. 

Asking for a raise – especially in this climate, I imagine – can be tricky.

While I may have done it at some other point, I only remember doing so (formally, at least) one time.  I was working for a small company, and had just been promoted to VP of Marketing. Without a raise. Which completely and utterly ticked me off.

My boss felt that I should be grateful for the title, which made me the titular equivalent of everyone else sitting around the table playing “executive” (all guys, by the way).

So I went out and built my case.

I called a couple of head hunters and asked what I could get at a company of similar (puny) size, with the same responsibilities.

The answer came back: a lot more than the (puny) salary I was making.

Of course, I had started working for this company in a hole.

So eager to get out of the hell-on-earth that was Wang, I took a 20% pay cut to go there. In doing so, I wasn’t a complete and utter cretin. I did have the glittering lure of a reasonably decent bonus flashing before my wall-eyes and gaping mouth.  Needless to say, it took many moons for that bonus to materialize. In fact, within six months of joining the company, there was a short term 10% pay cut declared.

But by the time I’d made VP, that was all in the way-back.

I was worth more; and I was going to get it.

Having gotten the numbers I needed, I pulled together a list of everything that I did, which included everything on my immediate job description – where I pointed out where I saved the company money and made the company money - as well as the freebies: my informal roles as sounding board (and credibility provider) for the president, and as morale officer. (It also helped me out that, just as I was negotiating, I came across How Men Think, by Adrienne Mendell, which proved invaluable.)

Anyhow: Woo-hoo!

I got the raise I was looking for. Not a staggering amount, to be sure, but 20%, which brought me to the magic number I wanted.  When I take into account the play-it-forward aspects of that raise – especially when the bonuses which did materialize were factored in – it meant a lot o’ money over the course of the several years I was still there.

As a manager, I was on the other side of the desk a number of times.

One particularly weak case was made by someone who was – during a particularly (oh, for those days of yesteryear) hot time in the market – offered a colossally reckless salary increase by another company. In order for her to stay, she wanted it matched.

I have no idea what was on her resume that would have enticed this company to pay her as much as she claimed they were offering. However inflated the market was, she wasn’t worth it. “L” had just made the transition from glorified admin to product marketing, where she had the opportunity to learn an awful lot from the cadre of mentors in our group who were willing to work with her. “L” required considerable guidance and handholding, and we were going to be able to provide it for her.

I pointed out that, if she stayed with us, it would take her an awfully long time (maybe never) to get to the salary she wanted matched. But – if and when she got there – she’d be worth it.  I also pointed out that, at the glimmering new salary, at her new company, they were going to expect her to be able to deliver the goods – no mentoring, no handholding, no ‘it’s a learning opportunity.’

The full story here is novel-esque in fact – before “L” could quit, we had to fire her for a colossally bone-headed stunt she pulled. But she did have that offer for the big bucks. Which she took. Only to depart their company a few months later, under a cloud.

Anyway, asking for a raise is not the easiest thing in the world to do, and if you can get some outside help from an outfit like GetRaised, I say go for it.

I didn’t go through the process they have on their site – who’m I going to ask for a raise, myself? – but it sounds reasonably straightforward. And it’s cheap: $20.  Actually, it’s better than cheap: if you don’t get a raise in six-months, they refund your twenty bucks.

I have a couple of observations here:

Getting a raise is lot easier if you’re the only one in your role (or if you’re paid less than everyone else doing the same job).  I once worked for a very wise man who said that, when you decided what to pay people, you should work under the assumption that everyone has perfect knowledge of everyone else’s salary. Now, of course, in real life, you probably don’t. (Unless, as happened to me once, you find a printout with everyone’s salary on it in a very public place. Naturally, I looked. Naturally, I memorized as much as I could, focusing on the what was most important: who cared what the AR/AP clerks made? I was interested in my peers, my boss, his boss, and the useless a-holes in senior management. Just so I wouldn’t be tempted to copy the list, I slipped it under the (locked) door of the guy who’d left it out.) 

This is a long-winded way of saying that, if there are a lot of folks who do what you do, and you can’t differentiate yourself, then it’s a lot easier for your manager not to rock anyone’s boat by giving you a raise – especially if they operate under the wise man assumption that what everyone knows what everyone else makes.

Further, getting a raise at an off-cycle time may not be all that possible in a large organizations. First off, a big company may just flat out no-nay-never do an off-cycle adjustment. And, while I don’t have tons of big company experience, I have enough to know that they typically have salary bands for different levels, and there may not be a lot of wiggle room to accommodate your raise request. Generally, a big company will have done research into what the industry standard is for varied positions, and may have decided whether they want to pay at, above, or below the industry standard. And once you’re in a position, the percentage raise you can be offered may be fixed. When Big Company T acquired Small Company S – where I had so brilliantly negotiated My Big Raise – we fell into the rabbit-hole of formulaic salary increases.

Company T’s philosophy was to pay at the industry average. Within the industry average range, if you were at the top, it didn’t matter if you were a superstar: you might never get a performance increase. If you were at the top of the range for your position, that was it for you unless the industry average went up. They paid by “the job”, not by “the person.” No unique, intangible, wonderful you: employees were viewed as fungible. If you wanted to make more money, you had to take on a new role with more responsibility.

It was actually a reasonable enough approach – but something of a wet-blankety drag.

My final observation is a general lament for the average American worker whose salary has, in real terms, stagnated for years. At the atomic level, yeah, it’s every man (and woman) for himself (or herself), so go forth and lobby for that pay raise! (Hey, maybe the best way to solve an “us” problem is to break it down to the atomic level and make it a “me” problem.)

All this aside, if you’re looking to make more, you should check GetRaised out.



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

You light up my life: Everything Everywhere’s color coded lay-off

Over the years, I’ve been on all sides of the lay-off situation: decider, notifier, buddy, decidee, and sniffling commiserater.  One thing that I’ve taken from all this is that there is only one way in which the lay-off experience can be at all pleasant. And that’s when the person being pink-slipped has volunteered. This is a win-win-win: the volunteer gets to leave what is likely a rotten and deteriorating situation (generally with a better place to go and/or bit of severance); the manager has one less painful discussion ahead of them; and one person – even though they don’t know it – has dodged a bullet and had their job saved.

When I worked at Genuity, I was fortunate enough to have been one such volunteer. This made lay-off day a bit surreal. My boss didn’t have to bother with me, so I had to root around looking for my exit papers and find someone to surrender my laptop and PDA to.

Even though I felt I’d just gotten a Get Out of Jail Free card (along with 6 months severance when I passed GO), it was not my favorite day in the world, as many of my colleagues were being involuntarily separated.

No, lay-offs aren’t fun.

But there are ways to let people know they’re losing their job, and then there are ways.

In fact, my second Pink Slip post – September 2006 – was devoted to a boneheaded move by Radio Shack, in which they notified employees via e-mail they they were being riffed.

I thought that was wrong then, and my view hasn’t changed.

I’m sure that there are circumstances in which it’s inevitable and acceptable to inform folks en masse that they’ll be moving on: companies going out of business, store closings, plant shutdowns, divisions moving overseas...

But when a job action isn’t a mass one – i.e., when everyone isn’t impacted – common decency calls for someone being informed personally – by their manager, the HR person, or, as in the George Clooney movie Up in the Air, by a hired gun. Ideally, someone’s given the news in person, but sometimes it’s via phone call. Which, in this day and age of the distributed workforce, does happen. I was laid off by phone once, and it was fine. I knew it was coming, and was, in fact, rather looking forward to it. (This lay-off was the result of a pitched and vicious political battle which “our guys” lost.) While I was in the process of being informed that my services were no longer required, I was able to IM two friends who I suspected were also on the domino effect hit list, so they were well-prepared when the call came.  (Phone lay-offs, however, are not appropriate if a) you’re standing outside the NICU waiting for a doctor to tell you whether your newborn is going to live – as happened to a colleague of mine; or b) you’ve just driven cross-country in the days following 9/11, you’re a couple of hundred miles from home, and your manager just can’t wait until the next day to give you the word – as happened to a colleague’s husband.

I will admit that there’s something ‘rip the bandaid off fast’ humane about letting everyone who’s being let go know at once. When I worked at Wang, everyone had to stay seated on lay-off day until the Angel of Death had passed by their department. During one particularly severe cut-back, they didn’t get through everyone on the appointed day – which was a Friday.  So, all kinds of folks left work not knowing whether or not their number was going to be up come Monday. Far better to have gathered everyone being laid off together and told them that they were out, and give them the information on when and how they could get their paper work done.  Yes, being told privately is better – who wants to lose it in front of others – but there is a misery loves company element to the mass-inform that works. So, I’m okay with doing it all at once, as long as it’s not in front of the survivors.

In my book, telling those being laid off that they’re getting the axe, while they’re sitting there with colleagues whose jobs are safe, is just WRONG. Nobody wants their emotions exposed in that sort of forum, and losing your job is a plenty emotional experience.

Despite how crappy it is, “all at once in front of everybody” was reportedly the method chosen by Everything Everywhere – the absolutely ridiculous name that’s sprung from the merger or Orange and T-Mobile in the UK.

As reported in The Telegraph, Everything Everywhere held mass meetings around the country, and threw up PowerPoint slides explaining what was going on.

If your name was highlighted in red, you were considered “at risk”.  If you name was in yellow lights, you would have to re-apply for your existing job, where the ranks were being thinned to the tune of 30 percent. The blue light specials would get to keep their jobs, while those in green were getting new ones in the company.

Is this story too bad to be true?

Some of those who commented on a post on this topic on Bitter Wallet said that they had been at one of the meetings at which the announcements were made.

One said that he was at a meeting of 300 employees, and the print was so small that no one could read their name, and had to sleuth out afterwards whether they had a job or not.  This, of course, doesn’t contradict the possibility that those attending smaller meetings might, indeed, have seen – and been able to read – their name in lights.

Another commenter claimed the whole thing was “complete twaddle”. “Herbert Fountain” wrote:

The people I’ve come across who seem most upset are those wanting to go who think they’re unlikely to be picked for a pay off, the redundancy terms aren’t bad and both organisations have plenty of long servers, volunteers are not going to be in short supply. I have very little faith in the humanity of my employer but this is balls and should be recognised as such…

Here’s my guess:  Everything Everywhere did, clumsily and somewhat callously, put up slides that had peoples names on them, color-coded to indicate their employment status. But this was not anyone’s official lay-off notice. It was just a “communication.”

A better way to handle this would have been to show however many color-coded org charts as they wanted, but to keep people’s names off of them. And it would have been even better if those whose departments were being eliminated, and for whom there was no hope of landing a a new position in the not so eponymous Everything Everywhere, if they had been told this prior to going into a meeting with those whose jobs were secure. If the “redundants” wanted to come to the larger group meeting, fine. If they wanted to stay in their cubicles and weep, curse, or update their resume, fine, too. (Everything Everywhere? What a name! Everything other than a job for you, bub.)

Anyway, to take the sting out of learning you’re being dismissed via son et lumière show, The Telegraph reported that the average payout – Fountain’s “redundancy terms” -  would be about £10,000. Not great, but oodles upon oodles more than what a lot of laid off workers in the US would receive, unless unemployment insurance is factored in.

Still and all, lay off notification by PowerPoint preso seems like a not so humane approach to a difficult task. That said, I’m sure we’ll see worse. Any guesses on when the first pink slips issued via Tweet – or the first lay off notice scrawled on someone’s Facebook wall – are going to occur?


Thanks to my friend, colleague, and blog-mentor, John Whiteside, for pointing this story out to me – as he had, in September 2006, with my first post on the Radio Shack lay-offs. (And we thought we’d seen it all….)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

So many ads, so little time

Remember the simpler times, when what this country needed was a good five-cent cigar?

Me neither.

Still lack of necessity has long been the mother of a lot of the invention that goes on around here. The latest manifestation is AdKeeper, which will let us ad-loving online consumers save ads rather than stop in our content pursuing tracks and read them in the here and now.

I am, of course, not the target for this particular set of wares. When was the last time I did anything with an online ad other than click the “x” in the upper right hand corner of a pop-up. The thought of actually saving an ad to look at it later… Talk about a foreign concept.

Never say never, of course.

I suppose if I saw an ad for 50% off on LL Bean comfort fleeces, I might save that to go back to after I’d finished reading up on the Congressional candidate from Ohio who’d taken part in WWII re-enactments as a Waffen SS officer. (“Hey, let’s play Malmedy massacre. You be the Americans, I’ll be the Germans.”) 

And a banner ad for AirFrance that said “$200, no strings, anytime to Paris” would be worth saving  for a return visit. that is, once I’d finished browsing the comments on an article about a recent Duke grad who has put some sort of a serious dent in her career and/or man search by sending out a PowerPoint critiquing her sexual partners to a few friends, only to see if go viral. (On second thought, maybe someone will hire her. Sure, she’s demonstrated a callous disregard for the feelings and reputations of the men she’s bedded, but her PowerPoint skills are reasonably impressive.)

But mostly I don’t care about what AdKeeper has to offer:

  • We give users a new way to control their online experience.
    A Keep Button™ on every ad allows them to continue doing what they’re doing and simply save ads for later.

I watched a video by AdKeeper’s founder, and he says he wanted to make it possible for us to save ads, in much the same way that we might tear one out of magazine or newspaper.

Other than a store coupon – and even those I don’t bother with, as the Macy’s clerks generally keep a supply by the register; and I don’t read the paper-papers anymore, anyway – or a big frequent flyer bonus for signing up for yet another credit card, I can’t remember ever tearing and ad out of a magazine. Unless I planned to blog about it for some reason. (Seldom positive, I’m afraid.)

  • Users then interact with their Kept ads whenever they’d like, in their very own Keeper™. The Keeper is a dynamic and private web page that enables sorting, sifting, sharing, ranking, reviewing, clicking, printing and buying.

Ah, yes, “sorting, sifting, sharing, ranking, reviewing, clicking, printing and buying.” As if I didn’t already  have enough online time wasters, I need to ad sifting banner ads?

  • AdKeeper is ‘on my time’ advertising that creates a unique channel for ongoing engagement between advertisers and consumers.

I know, I know, recession aside, we’re well down the path of consumerism becoming the highest and best level of citizenship. (Forget voting, go buy something.) Still, am I alone in not really wanting any ongoing engagement with an advertiser?

If I need want it, I’ll by it. If I need to find out about it, I’ll google it.

I have enough friends already, thanks. I don’t really need want to have much by way of engagement with a whole bunch of corporations that want to create needs wants, and then toss me by the wayside, once they figure out I’m not all that profitable to them. (Which, they probably already have.)

AdKeeper has a list of brands that are already using them, including Kmart, Kraft, Sara Lee, and Pepsi. Somehow, I just can’t see saving an ad for the blue light special, or for mac ‘n cheese. (Okay, I cherry-picked ones from companies I don’t buy from. They also have Best Buy and JetBlue on their list. I can’ see clicking on their ads either, unless it was for a 50% off coupon.)

I learned about AdKeeper from the Wall Street Journal (access may require a subscription; I’m sure an ad will pop up and let you know.). 

According to the WSJ, AdKeeper:

…bills its technology as "bookmarks for banner ads" or "TiVo for advertisements."

AdKeeper’s  founder, Scott Kurnit  – who has some Internet chops: he founded in 1996 -

…says people need to be able to enjoy online ads more on their own time: "We have to figure out how to get people to want to engage."

Not that I don’t enjoy myself an occasional ad, but mostly I don’t acknowledge any of the ones I see (or don’t see) online. (As for TV ads, I’m scratching my head trying to come up with an ad  - other than the eTrade baby Wall Streeter ones – that I “enjoy.” More often than not, I dislike them. (C.f., the annoying young woman in the Progressive Insurance ads, and anything with the gecko.))

I am apparently not alone, and AdKeeper is supposed to cure all that:

The service is marketers' latest quest for a cure for "banner blindness," the fact that many consumers simply ignore graphical ads they see online.

But if we’re ignoring the ads now, what makes anyone think that – unless the content of the ad changes to make it more enticing (c.f., 50% off) – we’re going to save them. For what? To ignore them later?

I suppose there are plenty of consumers that so identify with a brand that they want to be part of a group of like brand idolaters. My quaintly old-fashioned affiliations tend to be with people and organizations I actually have a real relationship with.

I guess this longing to be part of a greater “other”, even if it is based on consumer tastes, is nothing new. Years ago, I was tootling up Route 84 in Connecticut, in a rental car, when someone in the passing lane started beeping and waving furiously. It took me a moment to realize that he was pointing out that we were both driving white something-or-others with dark red interiors. Oh, indeed, I do want to be in the club with everyone who has a mid-sized white Buick! (Confession: when the New Beetles came out, and I was an early adopter, we Beetlers used to give each other the high sign when we passed.)

AdKeeper’s fighting an uphill battle:

Only 16% of U.S. Internet users click on display ads, according to a 2009 study from research firm comScore. In 2007, 32% of users did.

Here’s another bit from the WSJ article:

…some advertisers say that articles and videos on a webpage distract from their messages, leaving an opening for AdKeeper.

Maybe this is an opening for AdKeeper, but isn’t the thing about distraction the other way around? I don’t want to see a distracting ad in the middle of an article – oh, that pesky content – even if the article’s only about some numbskull who thinks it’s cool to play let’s pretend as a Waffen SS officer.

It will be interesting to see if this idea succeeds.

I have been oh, so mistaken in the past about just what constitutes a good five cent cigar.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Darling, you are growing old

I was going to write about Columbus Day, and how – despite all the terrible connotations about this holiday (someone the other day actually said to me, ‘yea, Columbus, thanks for giving the native Americans all those smallpox blankets’, which, I pointed out actually happened a few centuries later) – it’s one that I actually rather enjoy.

The weather can be glorious – October’s bright blue, etc. etc. – as it has been this past weekend. Despite the sales, it’s not a spending-spree holiday. And a three day weekend is always a good thing – even when you don’t work full time.

And then I read that, on October 9th, John Lennon would have turned 70.

Gear, fab. Fab,gear. (Actually, oy! Not to mention oi!)

When the Beatles first became popular in the U.S. – late 1963/early 1964 – I was way too much of a snob to admit to liking them. I was so non-rock ‘n roll.

No, folk music were us. Didn’t much matter how schlocky (Kingston Trio, The Limelighters, The Chad Mitchell Trio) or how pure (Bob Dylan, Tom Rush, Joan Baez, Judy Collins). We had a Weavers songbook propped on the music rack in the piano in the living room, and so what if the only tune I could play was Raghupati.  While most of the other kids my age were watching American Bandstand to catch Jan and Dean , I was glued to Hootenanny! hoping to hear Odetta.

If everyone was for The Beatles, I had to be be pecksniffingly against them.

But I still remember the thrill when I saw the first album cover, which someone brought on the school bus.  And, of course, I wasFile:Meet the Beatles.jpg sitting there on that famous Sunday evening when The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. And the next thing I knew, it was Love, Love Me Do. Suddenly I was as much a Beatles fan as the next 14 year old girl. Suddenly, I was almost (but not quite; no, never that) normal.

I had the albums (or listened to the ones my sister Kath had). I went to Hard Days Night right after it opened.  Ditto for Help! I haven’t tried it in years, but guessing I could put on any Beatles album and sing it all the way through.

Personal favorite: probably In My Life. Or If I Fell.  Or Norwegian Wood.

Needless to say, John was my Beatle. In much the same way that my Cartwright brother on Bonanza was Adam, I always picked brains over cutie. (Some things never change. I was, in fact, well into adulthood before I actually “got” handsome and pretty. For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why someone could be attracted to anyone else if that anyone else wasn’t really, really smart.)

So, John it was.

The brainy Beatle, the one who wrote books. And, yes, I did buy copies of both A Spaniard in the Works and In His Own Write, although both, alas, are long a-moldering in the grave. Just like John Lennon.

Wonder what he would have done with the extra 30 years he was deprived of?

For one thing, I doubt he would have dyed and botoxed himself up a la Paul McCartney, that’s for sure.

No, he would have grown gray. Written some more stuff. Been weird with Yoko. Teamed up with his sons somehow. Appeared on stage with Roy Orbison and Bruce Springsteen.

John Lennon: 70!

Darling, we are getting old. There are definitely silver threads among the gold, and nothing like an icon of your youth hitting 70.  Let’s face it, no matter how you slice and dice it, if this isn’t old age, then it’s sure the gateway to such.

Happy Birthday, John!

You will always be my favorite Beatle!

You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too, yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.

Not your most inspired lyrics, but what the hell:

I’m glad it’s your birthday.
Happy birthday to you.

Happy Columbus Day, too.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Willing to go IMBY for wind-turbines

There was an interesting article in The NY Times the other day on some folks up in Vinalhaven, Maine, who are disturbed by the noise emanating from the three wind turbines that were installed there last year.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to Vinalhaven, but I have taken the boat cruise around Penobscot Bay (outside of Portland), so I’ve probably seen it.

If it’s like the other islands off the coast of Maine – and I’ve visited a few – it’s a little bit o’ heaven.

So I do feel a bit bad for the folks who settled up there because it’s this side of paradise, and because you could hear the peepers peep, the crickets crick, and yourself think.

Now there’s the hum of environmental consciousness and, to some ears at least, it ain’t all that pleasant.

While initially on board with the idea of wind turbines – it’s green, it’s clean, and it produces lower cost energy: what’s not to like?  - some residents have decided that there’s plenty not to like:

“In the first 10 minutes, our jaws dropped to the ground,” Mr. [Art] Lindgren said. “Nobody in the area could believe it. They were so loud.”

Lindgren is joined in his complaint about the unbearable noisiness of being green by a number of others who live within a mile of the facility. Most Vinalhaven-ers are happy with it. (Our of earshot, out of mind.)

Apparently pockets of anti-turbine insurgencies are cropping up around the country, with residents claiming that they’ve seen their property values decline, their health (mental and physical) impacted, and their general peace and tranquility violated, by wind farms.

There’s little evidence to back up the allegations

Numerous studies also suggest that not everyone will be bothered by turbine noise, and that much depends on the context into which the noise is introduced. A previously quiet setting like Vinalhaven is more likely to produce irritated neighbors than, say, a mixed-use suburban setting where ambient noise is already the norm.

As with porn, those bothered know when something fits the definition when they see, or, rather, hear it.

So forget a mixed-use suburban setting, or even the country. How about right in the middle of the city?

Why not throw a couple of these suckers up on Boston Common, and a few more out along the Charles River.  I’d exempt the Public Garden – way too pretty – but how about City Hall Plaza. A total wasteland, with plenty of wind in the vicinity.

Our neighborhood’s not screechingly noisy – at least not to me it’s not, but, then again, I am a city girl who’s more creeped out by the eerie quiet of the country than I am by city surround-sound – so what’s the difference if we add a bit of turbine hum onto the commuters, the cabs, the sirens, the delivery vans, the garbage trucks, and the flyovers? Oh, yes, and the neighbor kids who walk on our grates running a stick over them.

Is the turbine hum going to be any louder than the concerts from the Hatch Shell? The occasional parades that have floats with boom boxes and chanting marchers? The First Night drummers? The Advent Church bell-ringers?

Sure, none of those are going 24/7, but what’s a little more ambient noise if you’re already dealing with plenty?

Richard R. James, an acoustic expert hired by residents of Vinalhaven to help them quantify the noise problem, said there was a simpler solution: do not put the turbines so close to where people live.

Mr. James is no doubt correct. But you could also just put them where there’s plenty of noise already.

So to hell with NIMBY: put a couple of these suckers In My Back Yard.

IMBY! Yay!

Honk if you love alternative energy!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

How would you like to be matador for the day?

There’s a lot of talk these days about retraining workers whose jobs have disappeared into the vast manufacturing maw of China, or the much-maligned call centers of Bangalore. 

Certainly, there won’t be a lot of opportunities for gainful employment on the other end, but the Wall Street Journal the other day had a piece on a bullfighting school in California where one can, well, learn about bullfighting.

Unlike so many of the schools that offer worker retraining, there’s nothing virtual about the Dennis Borba Bullfighting School. No self-paced, online learning. No appeal to busy folks who can only find time to pursue an associates degree in whatever between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m.  No big promises of riches and employment to follow, either.

Like much of the best in education, bullfighting school provides hands on learning opportunities. No arid case method here. No Socratic method with Professor Kingsfield.

For the first days of the three day semester, would-be matadors learn the postures and moves – sans toro.

But on Day Three, you hit the ring.

I must say, between the pictures in the Journal article and Borba’s web site, it doesn’t appear all that dangerous, at least when compared to my mental image of a two-ton, snorting, pawing, angry beast with a nose-ring hell bent on impaling you.  For one thing, the article refers to “cows”, not “bulls.” 

Animal husbandry isn’t my strong suit, but I do believe that a “cow” is a female of the species and, thus, a somewhat more temperate, mild, and altogether more cud-ly creature than your average testosterone-fueled raging bull. We’re talking Elsie here, not Elmer.

I went over to Borba’s site, where he talks about strutting your matadorean stuff with “vacas limpias.” My junior high Spanish held me in good enough stead to recognize that vacas = cows, but for some reason, when I saw “limpias” a word association to laundromat crept into my bee-bee brain. Sure enough, limpias = clean.

So we’re talking clean cows, and we’re going after them with hot-pink capes.  But hey, wait just a darn minute – those pink capes are being waved at steer horns that look quite a biimaget like the ones that hung over the bar of Rogers Brothers Saloon in Worcester, Massachusetts. Which, alas, went out with Prohibition – the saloon, not Worcester, Massachusetts.  The horns now grace my home office.

Bullfighting school is not all waving a hot pink cape in front of a guy holding steer horns, however. Sometimes you get to wave a red cape in front of a little critter that doesn’t even look like a cow. It looks more like a calf.  So maybe we’re not even talking Elsie here. Maybe we’re talking Beatrice and Beauregard.

 imageNot that I’d want to be trying to rile up a calf. When it comes to up close and personal with most animals that aren’t on a leash or capable of coughing up a hairball, I come down decidedly on the side of git along little dogey.


Dennis Borba is, himself, a full-bloodied matador:

He has suffered more than 100 throwings as well as a handful of gorings.

His family, however, were early proponents of the bloodless bullfight, in which Velcro substitutes for blades of steel. Still, just because the bull, or cow, or calf, isn’t bloodied, doesn’t mean that you won’t be. Still, it doesn’t look as if all that much really bad harm will come your way.

But there is the age-old question of what to wear for the first day of school. (Pretty easily settled when I was a Catholic school kid: say, I think I’ll wear a green jumper and a white blouse. My high school uniform differed from the grammar school rendition in minor details only: vee-neck vs. round neck; short-sleeved vs. long-sleeved blouse.)

Anyway, the older I get, the more I’m all for it, but I’m not one of those who necessarily agrees with Thoreau that it’s best to beware all enterprises that require new clothes. So if you really are wondering what to wear when you go back to bull fighting school – green jumper won’t cut it, I’m afraid - The Journal is happy to oblige:

At your next bullfight, be more than a spectator; be the spectacle.

[WTWTbull] F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas

FOR HIM: (1) Traje de luces, price upon request, (2) scarf, $675,

FOR HER: (3) Hat, price upon request, (4) blouse, $1,090, (5) sandals, $650,

I actually think I’d forego those sandals in favor of something a bit closer to the ground. You could break your ankle wearaing those puppies! Plus I’d want something I could run in and/or something that would protect my toes if a calf, or a vaca limpia, decided it was toe-stomping time.

Anyway, if you’re reading this blog, it’s probably too late for you to line up a career in bullfighting.

Professional matadors are generally born into this closely knit world and begin their apprenticeship as teenagers.

Plus blood sports (other than professional football) are increasingly marginalized, so there are fewer opportunities even for the pros.

Still, if you’re into career change, there’s plenty of time to sign up for the next session, which is being held October 29 – 31.  According to the WSJ, it’s only $300 per session. (I’ve blown more on less.) And what’s the worse that can happen? You kit yourself up with a cool hat and a $675 scarf – which, because the vacas are limpias, won’t end up covered in bull crap – and you have the makings of a Halloween costume. Trick or treat!


Pink Slip is not now, and never has been, obsessed with bull fights (BS fights, maybe), I do find that in the past year I have posted two other times on matters relating to this singular and interesting profession:  Self-Awareness: Toreador, Olé! and Olé! (Would you mind letting those toreador pants out just a smidge.)  Could it be that I am just enamored of the word olé?