Thursday, March 31, 2011

Let the 9/11 Anniversary Exploitation Begin

It’s hard to believe that we’re fast approaching the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. And it’s hard to believe that we won’t soon be overwhelmed with cheesy commemorative gear to remember the event by. (As if any American much over the age of 15 needs commemorative gear in order to do so.)

I’ve seen the signs already.

Like the first robin harbingering spring, I’ve been seeing ads for 9/11 commemorative $2 bill from the New England Mint.

I always hesitate to dump on any New England company. As long as they’re not doing anything illegal and/or immoral, as long as they’re creating employment, as long as they’re home town honeys, I want to give them a pass.

But the New England Mint?

Oooo, baby.  I’m afraid I must make an exception here.  It’s way, way, way too difficult to resist poking a bit of fun at this one.

Now, I can understand why someone might want to buy a replica of the 1933 Pontiac hood ornament. Or a bank shaped like a fireman’s boot, which, if nothing else, is useful for collecting for Jerry’s Kids. Or even Dodge City Marshall’s badge, for when you’re in “I carry a badge” mode (as opposed to your normal “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges” frame of mind).

But paying $14.95 (plus, no doubt S&L) for a couple of colorized $2 bills, gussied up to look, well, as phony as a $3 bill….

Who buys this stuff?


Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the historic events of September 11th, 2001, we are offering the very first Special Edition $2 bills for your collection.
As part of this special collector's edition, you will have the opportunity to commemorate history with a $2 bill signifying a day that will be remembered forever throughout our nation's history. This is a rare opportunity to collect a rare piece of currency that can be passed through generations to retain the motto "Never Forget". Order your 9-11 10th Anniversary $2 Bill today while supplies last.

Well, never forget that you do get those 2 FREE 4” x 7” 4-Panel Archival Folios, plus Certificates of Authenticity. (“We certify that this is a genuine colorized $2 bill.”) Certainly all that’s worth something.

So maybe the supplies won’t last…

If you’re feeling a bit more flush, or a bit more in commemoration mood, there’s the “Tribute in Light” Collection.


This beauty contains all ten of the anniversary bills, which means that the New England Mint has been offering these since 2002. (Way to go with coming up with an annuity stream there!)  Yours now, for the low-low price of $199.95 (plus S&L), marked down – lucky you! – from $299.95.

What a piece of work is man who would a) come up with this; b) fall for it.

Yet I’m sure that there are folks who are sincerely patriotic and/or who believe that anything that’s called a “collectible” will increase in value and/or think that that this bit of nonsense has anything to do with the U.S. Mint (which it doesn’t, other than their providing the raw materials, i.e., the oh-so-rare $2 bill that’s used here).

The New England Mint is located in Connecticut. I haven’t looked at the map, but I do believe Norwalk is located in the part of Connecticut that’s Yankees territory, rather than part of the sovereign Red Sox Nation. Which would be ‘nuf said, if not for the fact that Connecticut is both the birth and the death place of Phineas T. Barnum. And that authentic, certified bit of information is brought to you absolutely, bona fide, pinky-swear-on-the-tiny- graves-of –Tom-and-Lavinia-Thumb FREE.

If you’re not feeling 9/11 patriotic, you can get $2 bill sets for the National Parks, Babe Ruth, John Wayne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Muhammad Ali, and Marilyn Monroe.

A little something for everybody.

Well, not quite everybody.

If they were after everybody’s money, we’d be seeing Arthur Miller $2 bills, not just Marilyn Monroe’s.

Maybe this all makes sense?

After all, in the bleak days following the attacks, didn’t the president urge us all to go out and shop?

Perhaps this was what he had in mind.

Meanwhile, caveat emptor: it doesn’t take a whole lot of googling to find a bushel basket full of complaints about the New England Mint – most around credit card overcharges, shipments of unordered merch, etc.

Then there’s a wonderful deconstruction of the New England Mint’s TV ad (this was for the rendition which “honored” our National Parks) done by Michael Ott over on Suite 101.

Among other goodies, the bills aren’t colorized:

The New England Mint adheres a vinyl overlay to a genuine U.S. two-dollar bill. It is legal tender. The vinyl overlay can be easily removed.

That’s because adding a vinyl overlay doesn’t count towards defacing U.S. currency.

As Michael continues,

In other words — if a child were to refer to himself as a mint, wipe his bottom with a two-dollar bill, he could hawk it as a genuine U.S. two-dollar bill honoring toilet paper….

He also notes that, rather than being rare:

As of April 30, 2007 there were $1,549,052,714 worth of two-dollar bills in circulation worldwide, according the U.S. Treasury.

My favorite part of Michael’s textual exegesis of the New England Mint ad is when he pares down the use of the words “historic” and “privately enhanced.”

In the third line, the word "historic" is used to inebriate the consumer. Not until morning, when the consumer awakens with a feeling of nausea and regret, will he or she roll over and find "privately-enhanced" snoring wildly.

It is not often, Mr. Ott, that I LOL.

Anyway, as September 11, 2011 nears, I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of this stuff coming at us. Needless to say, avert your eyes, ears, and wallets.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Touched By Angels touched by the Mass. AG

Touched By Angels (TBA), a Cape Cod outfit that takes the profit out of the word non-profit, may have looked like an angel.But then the Massachusetts Attorney General, like Elvis, “got wise.” and figured out that Touched by Angles is “the devil in disguise.”

Last week, Gina Clark, founder and, apparently, prime beneficiary of TBA, was charged with multiple counts of fraud, embezzlement, running an illegal lottery, and a slew of labor violations.

TBA’s mission – or, better, public-facing raison d'être – was to provide financial help to middle-class families that had suffered the loss of a child or parent, or were facing  major medical bills, or something else generosity-inspiring. These families have too much money for public assistance,  but too little to get through a crisis by going out of pocket.

Every month or so, TBA would pick a lucky/unlucky family to sponsor, and do fund-raising on their behalf. The outfit put up collection tables outside of grocery stores, ran raffles, held auctions, and put on “nights.” Unfortunately, the pay-outs to those in need were mostly done under the generally unacceptable rules of “one for me, none for you” accounting. In what was typical of TBA’s MO:

…Clark's fundraising techniques also included operating and promoting an illegal lottery scheme, in which she and TBA staff solicited local businesses to donate items, such as merchandise, gift cards, and gift certificates. Clark and TBA staff informed these business owners that the items would be raffled off and the proceeds used to help the sponsored families.

However, none of the proceeds raised through these unauthorized raffles went to help any of the sponsored families.

TBA had been shut down last August, prompted by complaints from a number of the sponsored families, who were getting next to nothing out of fundraisers done in their names, and ex-employees whistleblowing (including allegations of rigging the raffle winners).

The indictments against Clark were reported last week on Cape Cod Today.

But before the long-arm of the law reached out to clip Clark’s wings, she was given the puff-piece treatment in The Barnstable Patriot,

“I’ve had a few tragedies in my life,” Gina Clark said. “Because of my income, I couldn’t get any help from the government.”

Remembering her own difficulties, Clark wished to help others in similar situations.

“I once owned two spas and was debating on opening another but decided against it,” she said. “I thought, ‘What could I do?’”

Chris suggested she start a non-profit.

Well, I can honestly say that, if I were to ask my husband what he thought I could do to occupy my time and make a living while doing so, the last thing on earth he would come up with would be “start a non-profit.”

And if I were to coming up with a business idea, non-profit would be even further out there than “last thing on earth”. It would be more like “last thing in the galaxy.” (Unless, of course, I win big bucks in the lottery and get to set up my own foundation…)

Anyway, even if you discount all the supposedly profit-making but fundamentally non-profit companies I worked for over the years, I’ve been up-close-and-personal with enough true non-profits to know that running one is hard work. Yes, the “doing good” part of a non-profit can be rewarding, but for most folks involved in the non-profit world, “doing good” had better be its own reward, ‘cause you’re not going to get rich working there. Sure, there are major non-profit CEO’s who make big bucks. But most of those folks are running what is tantamount to a large and complex corporation. The big difference is that corporations sell people something that those people think they’re going to derive some benefit from. In a non-profit, you’re essentially the intermediary between those who need something and those who can afford to pay for that something. So you’re selling an intangible good: feeling good. Maybe it sounds easy, but, as far as I can tell, it’s actually pretty damned hard to keep things going, especially these days.

But maybe it’s easier if you have a touch of larceny in your heart. What’s a better motivator than the “moi” charity?

And you may even get touched by someone who’s been touched by someone famous:

Recently Clark was in a South Shore store talking with folks about TBA when a relative of Ben Affleck provided her with his contact information, encouraging her to get him involved.

“I’m still shocked,” said Clark.

Wonder whether Clark ever did put the touch on Ben.

I’m sure the TBA logo would hold a lot of appeal for him. (Not to mention how thrilled he must be every time one of his relatives dimes him.)

Touched by Angels Gina Clark charity fraud

Pink is for breast cancer aware-ness and the wings are for guidance.

“My wings are guiding me through my mission,” said Clark. “I love helping people.”

Well, of course, the Lord does help those who help themselves.

Now, this is ‘merica, so Clark is innocent until proven guilty. And let us not presume guilt because Clark is a blowsy, working-class biker chick, living in a swank $700K home on the Cape (with pool), and driving an Escalade.

And let’s acknowledge that maybe Clark didn’t start out to make TBA her personal errand of mercy. Maybe she actually did have good intentions.

Then again.

This is the same Gina Clark whose name was all over a 2006 complaint filed by an elderly Cape couple against Clark and one of the couple’s daughters. The couple contended that they were defrauded out of nearly $500K. (Source: Cape Cod Today.)

Some of the money allegedly went to Clark acting as the conduit to a mysterious private detective supposedly helping one of the couple’s daughters with her divorce. The last couple-to-Clark-to-detective payment was for $70,600.

Within a short period of that payment, Clark and her husband gave up their modest rental home, trading up from:

91 Ansel Howland Road


31 Acadia Drive Marstons Mill

Which comes with a hefty mortgage, and which was “purchased” with a down payment of $71,000.

$70,600.  $71,000. Hmmmmm.

Sure, there’s a $400 difference, but is this what’s known as circumstantial evidence? Or just a cowinkidink.

The complaint was later withdrawn for unexplained reasons, but likely either family pressure, or the couple being resigned to not being able to recover their money. Still, there’s an awful lot of smoke curling around Clark’s angel wings…

I guess because I’m the suspicious type, I’m thinking “grifter,” and that Gina Clark’s days living large, and at large, may be coming to an end.

Perhaps those wings will be coming in handy soon. As in: If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly.

Or maybe there’ll be charity willing to help her out. Even at this very moment, there may be a husband somewhere, suggesting that his wife set up a non-profit.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Law Suit’s Getting Started (at Mohegan Sun)*

Last week’s news on the judicial front included a nice bit about a fellow who is poaching on a $1.2M gambling debt to Connecticut casino Mohegan Sun.

Jerome Powers may not have known when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, or know when to walk away. But Powers, who’s the millionaire CEO of Plum TV, a “lifestyle” cable network for the well to do, knew when to run. And that’s when the gambling debts get a bit steep.

Powers, who is one of those high-roller gamblers that the casinos like to woo, lost a cool $1.2M on blackjack. Then,

Powers wrote six checks to the casino to pay his debt, but they were not honored by his bank, court documents say. Payment was stopped on a $465,000 check, and the others were returned because the accounts were closed, according to copies of the returned checks.

Now Powers is asking that a lower court ruling that he has to pay up be tossed aside. He argues that the agreement he had with Mohegan Sun to advance him a wee bit of a credit line for the blackjack table was an illegal gambling contract. (“Shocked, I’m shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”) The case, Powers contends, should have no standing in the Connecticut judicial system because the casino is run by a sovereign Indian nation, the Mohegan Tribe.

It will be interesting to see how this one ends up. If I were a betting man, I’d lay odds that, if nothing else, there won’t be any casinos around willing to front Powers a big pile of chips for the blackjack table any time soon.

So if the party won’t be getting started at Mohegan Sun again, Powers will have to content himself with watching World Series of Poker re-runs. Or keeping up with the goings and comings of the rich and “famous” by channel cruising Plum TV.

For those of us too low-end to realize that “The Best Things in Life Are Plum”:

Plum is a multi-platform lifestyle network that targets the most active, influential, and educated audience in the world. With hundreds of hours of original content from the favorite destinations of this hard-to-reach demographic— Aspen, Nantucket, The Hamptons, Miami Beach and more—Plum combines the power of hyper-local with high-quality national programming. The result is a unique television, internet and digital device destination that has become the channel of choice for millions of viewers.

By the way, “and more”, if you’re curious, is Telluride, Sun Valley, Vail, and Martha’s Vineyard. (Personally, I’m pretty darned proud to live in a state with two of the favorite destinations of such a hard-to-reach demographic.)

And here’s what you’ve been missing if you haven’t yet made Plum TV your hyper-local digital device destination:

Sand Collectors:

George Lynch and Carol Gilbert of Southampton have been adding to a sand collection that began over forty years ago. To see sand from so many beaches right next to each other really gives you a chance to appreciate how different beaches really are.

I am dusting off my sea-shells when I get home. And I will never tell anyone to go pound sand again without considering what type of sand they should go pound.

And then there’s Must See TV digital device content on My Vail:

In this full episode of My Vail, host Mark Bricklin (Vail Daily) introduces us to local celebrities & iconic Vail personalities, including Kelly Liken, Chris Anthony, Ryan & Trista Sutter, Helmut Fricker and more, who share their favorite experiences of the Vail lifestyle.

Helmut Fricker! Not THE Helmut Fricker – entertainer and master bookbinder. (Yodel-ay-hee-hoo.)

In truth, perhaps because I don’t watch Plum TV (yet), I had actually not heard of iconic personalities like Kelly Liken, Chris Anthony, and Helmut Fricker. I mean, it’s not like they’re Kardashians or anything. Sheesh!

But I am colossally embarrassed to admit that I am moderately familiar with Ryan and Trista Sutter. They met, I believe, on The Bachelor. Or The Bachelorette. He the hunky Vail firefighter, she the cute blonde lookin’ for love. Sigh! They found each other and I do believe that their nuptials, like the upcoming “do” joining William and Kate, were televised. For a fee. So that they could live happily ever after as reality stars. Sniff, sniff. No wonder people cry at weddings. I missed that show, but now that I know that I can keep up with the Sutters on Plum TV, I will be subscribing.

It’s the least I can do to help out Jerome Powers.

After all, if the Mohegan Tribe prevails, he’s going to have to cough up the $1.2M

The wonder of it all!*


*For non-New England readers: The Party’s Getting Started, at Mohegan Sun, is the jingle used by this casino in their ubiquitous TV ads. The wonder of it all is a jingle catchphrase for Mohegan’s sun rival casino, Foxwoods.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Widow’s Mite (James Konaxis learns the hard hard way that churn can burn.)

A Massachusetts broker has been kicked out of the securities biz for managing to rack up over half a million in commissions. James Konaxis merrily traded a 9/11 widow’s accounts down from $3.7M to $1.6M, over a two-year period from 2008-2010. Now he’s been fired by his brokerage firm, which is providing restitution to the widow. The Massachusetts Secretary of State has banned him from working as a broker. And the SEC’s looking to claw back some of his “ill-gotten gains,” as well.

While Konaxis was churning away, making butter for himself out the widow’s milk, he was also BS-ing her, assuring her that, while her wealth was being impacted by The Great Recession, her losses were less than that of the other guy.

Konaxis has been tripped up by his excessive account churning, i.e., how often he made trades (which yield a commission whatever the direction of the sale). An average trading frequency of 6 is considered out of range, and Konaxis had a veritable trading mill going. His frequency on the poor widow’s account was allegedly 16.

About 75 percent of the commissions earned by Konaxis came from the widow's accounts, according to the complaint. Those commissions accounted for a large share of the decline in the value of the widow's holdings, the SEC charged.

Way to go, Jimmy!

That’s showing us how the Konaxis of evil, greed, and stupidity works.

Gosh, you’d think if you were going to screw your clients, you might want to even it out some, and not do most of the skimming off one account where it might be noticed. Perhaps he thought she wouldn’t catch on, what with being a widow with three kids and all, including a disabled child, in whose name one of the squandered accounts was held. (That’s an especially nice touch, isn’t it?)

Maybe he thought that, because the money in the accounts wasn’t earned the old-fashioned, sweat of the brow or luck-of-the-inheritance-draw way – its source was the Congress-funded September 11 Victim Compensation Fund – that it was okay to tap into it. After all, that was some of his tax money in there (assuming he paid taxes).

But if the widow – referred to in the Boston Globe article I saw on this as S.T., but named elsewhere online – didn’t earn the money the old-fashioned way, she sure did earn it the hard way. Her husband was a military officer killed in the attack on the Pentagon.

Konaxis is apparently no stranger to churning. I saw elsewhere that he’d churned up a storm at some prior brokerage firms, which had ended up settling with the victims on several occasions.  Apparently, being a churn-artist doesn’t prevent you from finding another brokerage firm willing to hire you.

Bad enough to be nabbed for churning, but widow and orphans…Even in this anything goes era, that still sounds bad. And a 9/11 widow yet. (Something’s are sacred, Jimmy boy, especially as we approach the tenth anniversary of the attacks.)

And now that he’s in the news, with both the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the SEC after him – and his name splashed all over the news and the blogosphere – Konaxis’ illustrious brokerage career is likely a thing of the past. There’s knowing and then there’s knowing. And, at this point, there’s no excuse for any brokerage firm or prospective client not to.

It’s been a good many years since F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “there are no second acts in American lives.”

Fitzgerald was wrong: just think of Richard M. Nixon and Suzanne Somers. And what would he make of Charlie Sheen?

But maybe he was on to something.

In this day of instant info on everyone, if you screw up big time in Act One, you get the hook and curtain is wrung down on whatever play you happen to be performing in.

Which is not to say that James Konaxis won’t surface elsewhere. Let’s face it, until you drop dead in the footlights, your own personal show has to go on. And for most of us, that involves earning a living. But Konaxis won’t work as a broker again – that particular career is in shambles.

By now he’s probably learned the old-fashioned way that, in the end, churn doesn’t pay. And the new-fashioned way that, once your name’s in lights, thanks to The Google, it tends to stay there.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory: one hundred years on

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

The victims were, for the most part, young women – Italian and Jewish immigrants  - who worked six days a week, for what we can be assured was a pittance, cutting, stitching, and finishing shirtwaist blouses.  The death count was 146, and they died for a lot of different reasons: because the fire engine ladders didn’t reach beyond six floor, and Triangle was on floors eight through ten; because an exit door was locked (to prevent theft); because a flimsy fire escape collapsed.

In what was an eerie pre-cursor to the final hours of the World Trade Center towers, just a few blocks and 90 years away, many of those who died jumped to avoid being burned to death.

The owners were acquitted of criminal charges, but in a civil action against them, the families of the victims were each given $75.

Even in 1911 terms, that wasn’t a whole lot of value placed on a human life.  MeasuringWorth has a calculator that computes relative values, and the range they offer for the worth of $75 in 1911 in 2009 terms (the last year they have available) extends from a low of $1,320 (calculated based on the GDP deflator) to a high of $30,800 (based on relative share of GDP). Frankly, relative share of GDP sounds way too high, since those on the lower end of the economic food change don’t exactly capture a relative share of GDP. So I’ll go with the eye-ball of the mean/median values, which is in the $8K – $9K range.

Not much for the life of a 17-23 year old girl, however miserable her life, limited her prospects and broken her English.

Let’s hope that at least some of the money went to bring over a few more greenhorns, or help put someone’s brother through City College, or buy medicine for a sick baby.

Although a couple of years later, one of Triangle’s owners was still locking the factory doors – at $75 per capita, it must have still been worth the risk - Triangle Shirtwaist led to safety laws, and to a surge in the union movement (which did, lest we forget, lead to an awful lot of good things).

Fast forward those hundred years, and we don’t have Triangle Shirtwaist factories anymore. There are still garment-district sweatshops that exploit poor immigrant labor, but most of the stitching jobs are now overseas. They’re in countries that, for the most part, don’t have any laws against Triangle Shirtwaist-style operations. And, thousands of miles away frobodiesonsidewalk2m wherever our blouses are made, we don’t have to worry about having to watch most of the workers who produce our stuff jumping out of 10th story windows (metaphorically speaking). Unless we happen to live in American communities that still house hazardous jobs like those in meat packing plants and coal mines.

For most of us, when it comes to the unpleasant matters of production, it’s blessedly out of sight…

It’s interesting to note that 1911 was by no means the last of the Great American Fires.

Just ticking off the ones I know of:

The Coconut Grove nightclub fire in Boston in 1942 killed nearly 500 people (including some neighbors of my aunt and uncle). Well over a hundred perished a couple of years later in the Hartford circus fire, when the “big top” – treated with paraffin and gasoline to waterproof it – went up in flames. (Should waterproofing really be the opposite of fireproofing?) Far more recently, the Station House fire in Providence killed 100 concert goers.

What all of these tragic events had in common was that they occurred because there were poor regulations, or no regulations, or ignored regulations.

If there’s any widespread evidence that a completely unfettered market able to dedicate itself to unimpeded pursuit of profit will look out for much of anyone and anything other than Number One, I’ve yet to see it.

Business will weigh risk and reward, and if that old devil reward outweighs risk – especially when the physical risk is to you, not them – well, we know which way that cookie is going to crumble. If all it’s going to cost them is a measly $75/per (metaphorically speaking) to take care of it, what they hey? Life in Bhopal’s supposed to be nasty, brutish, and short, no?

So today, let’s remember Lizzie Adler and Ignazia Bellotta, Rosie Cerrito and Rose Feibush, Esther Goldfield and Esther Goldstein, Kate Leone and Rosalie Maltese – who were both just 14. And everyone else who’s died because greed trumped (someone else’s) life.


Most info on Triangle shirtwaist came from Wikipedia, as did info on the Hartford circus fire. I trusted my memory on Coconut Grove and Station House.

List of victims and the photo came from the University of Missouri – Kansas City – law school site.

P.S. Don’t mourn, organize!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride–and then some

God knows I’ve tried, but it’s been pretty darned hard to find any vaguely amusing or mildly quirky news coming out of Japan these days. Japan – which has been such a wonderful source of blog fodder over the years: robots teaching classes, young men dating stuffed dolls, firms that rent out wedding guests…

But it’s hard to find the bright side – other than admiration for the stoic and plucky populace – out of the recent catastrophes. Like everyone else with a flat screen TV and a channel cruiser, I’ve logged plenty of time in a slack-jawed shock and awe, gasping as the scenes of the tsunami played over and over. Hoping that the little old lady would find her husband, the nice young man would find his aunt.

The news from Japan has been absolutely riveting.

Sure, we’d seen the black, debris-filled waters roiling through the streets of Banda Aceh, but those towns and villages were pretty poor to begin with. The swath of destruction in Japan cuts closer to home. The victims may be Japanese, but they have flat screen TV’s and smartphones, they play video games (and them some), they gave the world Hello, Kitty. In other words, thousands of miles of ocean and thousands of years of culture and history aside, the Japanese lifestyle is a lot closer to ours than that of the average Indonesian subsistence fisherman. And for a lot of Japanese, that lifestyle – and many times the life itself – was swept away.

Then there was the nuclear plant problem that turned bad to worse to worser.

Still, there was some good news (sorta).

We were heartened to read about plucky survivors, the brave kamikaze nuclear plant technicians who chose what they well knew might be a slow and painful death to save the day. Even the Kirin Beer plant six-pack looters gave us a bit of cold comfort: They really are just like us. They even loot (a bit, and only when they’re thirsty).

In truth, most of my after-shock thought about the trifecta tragedies in Japan has been an internal debate over whether it’s compassionate or sucker-ish to donate to a relief fund for the third largest economy on earth (even if that economy has been miserably stunted and flailing of late, as it slip-slid from number two to number three).

Then there was the news that, as a by-product of the quake, Tokyo Disneyland’s parking lot had been the victim of ground liquefaction, and had turned into a quicksand like slurry that had swallowed up 30 cars.

Certainly terrible for the owners of those 30 cars, but at least something that could put a smile on a blogger’s face (as long as no one was in those cars).

Mr. Toad’s flivver, you’ll be pleased to know, was spared: the park itself was built on “deep reinforced foundations”, its designers presumably having heeded the warnings from Disney’s classic Depression-era cartoon, The Three Little Pigs. Huff and puff as you will, it takes a lot to blow down amusement rides built on 49 foot deep, highly reinforced foundation.

In fact, Japan’s buildings and infrastructure – nuclear plants aside (an admittedly big aside) – have certainly come off as remarkable. Watching skyscrapers sway like palm trees in a tropical breeze was absolutely amazing. These guys – nuclear plants apparently aside – do know how to build.

Even when it comes to something that really is not all that important for national survival, such as Tokyo Disneyland.

Tokyo Disneyland. Paris Disneyland. Dubai Disneyland.

There may be damned little else that we’re Number One at, but our low-brow cultural exports still seem to do the trick. Not that I don’t love Disneyland. One of the high points of my young adult life was getting to ride the Flying Dumbo and swirl in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party Teacups. So what if I was twenty-two. At long last, I had realized The Dream and was at Disneyland.

And that first trip to Disneyland was able to provide me with one of the signal, recurring metaphors of my business career.

In Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, you have your hands on the wheel of the flivver. You are nominally in control, steering your course. But you’re really not. You’re careening out of control, screeching bats are zooming in at your head, and you never know what’s behind the next (thankfully swinging) door. Then  - wheeee – no matter what happens, you do come out safe on the other side. Which is what pretty much happened every where I worked, even as the companies I worked for exploded or imploded.

Which is what will no doubt happen with the Japanese, as well. They are, after all, remarkably plucky, stoic, and hardworking. Difficult to imagine their populace sitting around, knocking back sake after sake in a national pity party. Resilience, I suspect, ‘R Us (or them).

Note to self: get on the Red Cross site for Japan and donate something.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gender Manager Wanted. (Who said that no one’s hiring?)

I love to look through the Executive Focus (want ads) in the front of The Economist. Mostly they make me wistful that my career wasn’t international, wasn’t do-goody, wasn’t NGO. That I never worked as a teller at the World Bank, shook a coin-carton for UNICEF, or “made a difference to millions”, which is what the Economic Adviser – Trade to “The Commonwealth” is being offered £56,552 to do.

What was I thinking? Man…..

A few years ago, the job I most wanted to apply for was assistant private secretary to HRM The Queen. (Yes that queen: accept no substitutes.) Alas, my only qualifications were 73 w.p.m. and looking good in hats.

The most recent ad to catch my want-adding eye was for a position at the European Bank.

They’re looking for a Gender Manager.

Just what, I wondered, does a Gender Manger do?

And would I be qualified.

After all, I have been managing my own personal gender for quite a few years now, having become aware of it for the first time when my mother plunked my brother Tom down in the tub between my sister Kathleen and myself.

Ah, there, in the claw foot bath tub that yielded such little hot water that my mother had to supplement it by heating up a kettle full and pouring it into the tepid inches we bathed in, was something far different than the plumbing Kath and I possessed. Weird, peculiar, and – I must confess – a tiny bit icky. At three, I was just as happy not to have to manage that particular piece of gender apparatus, however fascinating.

A year later, my grandmother sent me a pair of PJ’s – all the way from Chicago – that violated gender norms. Whether all of her grandchildren (at that moment in time, I believe there were only six of us, four girls and two boys) got the same style I cannot say. She was big on dressing her grandchildren alike, but generally differentiated girl clothing from boy clothing. Thus, we (the girls that is) are all at my Uncle Jack’s wedding in look-alike, slightly color-varied dresses – mine was turquoise striped – while Tim and Tom were sported out in blue shorts and matching Hawaiian shirts.

Anyway, if the pajamas had been on sale, six for ten bucks at Wieboldt's – pronounced Vee-bolt’s in Grandma-speak – my grandmother wouldn’t have given a hoot whether they were boy PJ’s or girl PJ’s. You’re inside your house. You’re inside your bed. No one’s there to see you. What difference does it make? What would have mattered was that we all would have gotten something that cost the exact same amount of money.

Anyway, I was laser-focused on the fact that these purple, green, and white striped cotton PJ’s were boy pajamas. With a fly. Which, if I’d had one of those things, the thing would have peeped out of. Talk about weirded out. Icked out. And fascinated.

But fascination aside, I hated those pajamas. I know that I wanted my mother to sew the fly up, but don’t know whether I ever asked. Or whether she complied. It’s one of those things that could have gone either way. The request would have met with either “Don’t be ridiculous” or “Get me a needle and thread.” I probably didn’t ask. Perhaps I was waiting to see whether wearing those boy PJ’s would make me grow a thing. Which would have changed my entire perspective on gender management, that’s for sure.

Fast forward a few, post boy-PJ years.

When my period started, gender management really began in earnest. (Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until your sanitary napkin falls out while playing co-ed kickball in eighth grade.)

Then there were the usual gender management issues that we all have to deal with, which I won’t go into. (It’s not that kind of blog.)

So, yeah, gender manager. Been there, done that.

Still, I did have to wonder just what the European Bank was looking for.

Disappointingly, it turns out that they’re “keen to boost the participation of women, particularly in business and decision-making roles.” That they’ve “created a comprehensive Gender Action Plan” – which no doubt sounds more interesting than it is – and want the Gender Manager to “bring it to life.”

They’re looking for an advanced degree (check!) and the types of “gender equality experience” that can help “introduce a gender equality dimension to the Bank’s investments.”

Well, everything I know about the gender equality dimension I learned by working in high-tech for a kabillion years. Most of what I learned was this: That a woman’s voice is like a dog whistle – only certain ears are attuned to hear it. That admitting to mistakes and failures is perceived as a sign of weakness, not of honesty. And that no woman would ever take the Wall Street Journal into the restroom at work to read while on the pot.

Based on a quick assessment, I suspect I don’t qualify for the job of Gender Manager.

But don’t you think they could have come up with a better title for this position? Something a bit less weird, peculiar, and fascinating?

Maybe it’s the Brits.

I googled “gender manager” and the first relevant thing that came up was a “Gender Mainstreaming Manger” for Amnesty International in the U.K.

Yep. As I suspected, it’s the Brits.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Adieu, Dalton. Brearley, bye-bye. Tough to think you’re life is ruined at the age of four.

Ciao, Chapin. So long, Spence.

A Manhattan mother is suing her daughter’s former pre-school because, in her view, the school turned out to be “one big playroom”, rather than the grind factory she had hoped for when she initially wrote the check for $19K/a year.

Lucia Imprescia’s first year at York Avenue Preschool was promising enough to have her mother sign on for year two. But a month into the “school year”, Nicole Imprescia felt that the curriculum was being dumbed down. Her daughter was spending her work days with a bunch of clueless two-year olds whose curriculum focused on shapes and colors – BOR-ING – rather than on the meatier, more challenging tutelage Lucia would need to ace something called the ERB test.

ERB (founded in 1923 as the Educational Records Bureau, and now going by its more stream-lined acronym) serves the nation’s elite (or at least the branch located in NYC) in two ways. It provides the Independent  School Entrance Exam, which I take it is the SAT for prep schools, and the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment, or ECAA:

ECAA One-to-One (Early Childhood Admissions Assessment–One-to-One): A uniform testing program that eliminates testing at each school to which a child may be applying. Parents select participating schools to receive and use the results as part of their broader admission process for Pre-K - Grade 4.

(ERB also offers this:

ECAA Online (Early Childhood Admissions Assessment–Online): Coming Fall 2010. A child-centered, computer-adaptive admissions assessment for candidates to Pre-K – Grade 1.

They can’t possibly have kids take this in the “privacy” of their own homes, can they? It must be in-person. How else – other than with expensivo Cisco telepresence gear – could they get around the cheating parents? Not that any parent would cheat to get their kid into a prestigious Manhattan pre-school. Hmmmmm. Wonder if they go so far as to have ringers take the tests for their little ones? Elite School Teacher A to Elite School Teacher B: I seem to remember that little Florian had dark hair and a far richer vocabulary.)

But, in one version or another, the ECAA is, presumably, the test that the York Avenue Preschool failed to prepare Lucia Imprescia for, dooming the poor child to a life of abject, squalid mediocrity – middle management at an insurance company, marriage to a high-school phys-ed teacher, a 1960-era raised ranch in some cheek to jowl Long Island suburb.

Anyway, the NY papers were a-buzz last week with squawk about the suit. Here’s a bit from The NY Times:

The suit charges that preschool education is critical to a child’s success in life, quoting from various news articles. “It is no secret that getting a child into the Ivy League starts in nursery school,” says one. “Studies have shown entry into a good nursery school guarantees more income than entry into an average school,” says another.

Ms. Imprescia (the elder) is seeking on behalf of Ms. Imprescia (the younger) “exemplary damages, costs and attorney’s fees”.

The suit said the school refused Ms. Imprescia’s demand to return that year’s tuition. It did not say whether Lucia had taken the test.

But that’s the staid old Gray Lady, whose readership likely includes the sorts of folks who fret about their kids’ performance on the ECAA and ISEE.

The grittier, blue-collar, more overtly class-conscious Archie Bunker Daily News had far more interesting and florid scoop:

In court papers, Nicole Imprescia suggests York Avenue Preschool jeopardized little Lucia's chances of getting into an elite private school or, one day, the Ivy League.

She's demanding a refund of the $19,000 tuition and class-action status for other toddlers who weren't properly prepped for the standardized test that can mean the difference between Dalton and - gasp! - public school…

Fortunately, Imprescia's lawyer said, the tot's prospects aren't doomed.

"Lucia Imprescia, for the record, will get into an Ivy League school - York Avenue Preschool notwithstanding," said [Matthew] Paulose, of the firm Koehler & Isaacs.

God knows there’s plenty to make fun of/be alarmed at here:

  • The image of the pushy, status-obsessed NY parent.
  • Kids being pressured to make the grade at age 4, when they mostly want to make jokes about whose butt stinks.
  • Worrying about Princeton for a toddler. (Let the scratching and clawing, the legacy donations, the child differentiating – Come on, Tristan, you’ll stand a much better chance if you’ve written an operetta or taught yourself Braille and ASL or raised $100K for a girls’ school in Afghanistan, than if you insist on being a second-string Little Leaguer because you “like” baseball. Listen, pal, what you like has precious little to do with it. Daddy’s not busting his ass as a hedgie so you can do as you please.
  • The lawyer who’s arguing against a leg of the law suit he’s bringing. If Lucia’s smart enough to get into an Ivy without the help of the York Avenue Preschool, this doesn’t exactly bolster the claim that they’ve damaged her chances.
  • The fear about the dumbed-down color-shape curriculum. (I think back to my sister’s reaction when she realized from her three year old daughter’s description of the dog with a target around his eye that the kids in her pre-school had logged some time watching the Little Rascals. Maybe the lesson that day was about The Great Depression, or the history of black and white entertainment?)

But Ms. Imprescia the Elder is probably on to something.

The world is increasingly the oyster of the few, the proud, the global elite. And these folks do tend to go to Ivy (or thereabouts) universities.  While these institutions may not be fully meritocratic in their approach,  they do offer opportunities for the little guy to improve his lot. But in “real life” an awful lot of the opportunities go to the children of the few, the proud, the global elite who have the grades, the SATs, and the c.v.’s to make them attractive applicants. All in a very meritocratic sense, if you discount the leg up that being the type of kid who goes to a fancy private school (or an excellent public school) has over some poor schnook from Palooka-ville whose parents don’t know there’s a difference between a degree from Yale and one from Just Around the Corner Community College.

Personally, I’m not sure that being part of the few, the proud, the global elite is necessarily what you’d want for yourself or your kid. (I will confess to an occasional miffy fit because I didn’t go to an upper echelon college that might have gained me entry into this swirl…If only I had a completely different personality!)

But are we not watching the economy being hollowed out and the country shift ever-closer to oligarchy-control (or worse)? Don’t we all sometimes get the pit-in-the-stomach feeling that someday soon there’ll be the tiny number of glittering them, an ever-larger lumpen other, and – for the rest of us - a scrounge around the midden pile that’s left for the incredibly shrinking number of middle class jobs out there?

Forget about the competition to get into the global elite. What about the fight to stay in the middle of the middle?

Nicole Imprescia’s may look silly, but I can guarantee that she’s not the only one worried about making sure her child has a shot at “it.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Places to stay the hell out of. Just added Sweetwater TX to the list

If you’ve ever wondered where the snakes went when St. Patrick drove them out of Ireland, your wonder years are over.

While some of them surely held their breath and body-surfed across the Irish Sea to Fair Albion, a good number of them – the rattlers, anyway – apparently managed to slither their way onto St. Brendan’s curragh. (This was the one he used to discover
“America” somewhere in the 6th century, well before Leif Ericson, Christopher Columbus, and Amerigo Vespucci were twinkles in anyone’s eyes.)  On landfall, the immigrant snakes – first members of the Irish emigrant diaspora - decided to shake, rattle, and roll on over to Sweetwater, Texas.

Ah, Sweetwater, Texas. Sounds almost as sweet as Sugarland, Texas, doesn’t it?

We just don’t seem to get place names like this in Massachusetts. They get Sugarland; we get Ashland. Which, given that Puritan and Irish are two of our mega-strains here in the Commonwealth, shouldn’t surprise all that much. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is what we gets written here; they gets Don’t Fence Me In.

As for Sweetwater, the closest we come in terms of town names is the more prosaic Watertown, which is located on the banks of the River Charles, a.k.a. the “Dirty Water” of the old Standells’ hit. Nothing sweet about it and us.

But, as is my Pink Slippery habit, I digress.

This is perhaps to get me off the topic du jour, which is snakes, one of the handful of members of the animal kingdom that I actually despise. And before you go all Freud on me, I don’t like rats either – even though St. Patrick didn’t bother to drive them out of the Old Sod.

Anyway, for those in the know on all things snake, Sweetwater is something of the epicenter of the rattler world.

It is there that the Rattlesnake Roundup is held each March.

"This event is a way for us to help control the population of the western diamondback rattlesnake in our area," says Donnie Willman, a volunteer with the Sweetwater Jaycees who run the event.

The roundup began more than 50 years ago as a way to combat the rattlesnake population that was killing livestock and threatening pets and even people.

"The rattlesnakes were literally coming into Sweetwater, down the streets looking for water," says Willman.

"They bite livestock, they bite the animals, your pets. They'll bite kids, people. They're a very serious problem around here." (Source: CNN.)

People can complain all they want about Massachusetts – and, believe me, plenty of them do – but to my knowledge we have never had snakes literally coming down our streets looking for water. (And that goes not just for Boston, but Worcester, and Watertown, and Ashland, too.)

Personally, I find garter snakes icky enough, without worrying about a snake that could actually kill me.

As if rounding up rattlesnakes weren’t quite enough, the festival also features a beauty pageant, Miss Snake Charmer.

The winner is picked along the usual talent and beauty lines, but the upshot of the pageant is that the winner has to decapitate and skin a snake.

"Tomorrow I get to skin snakes and chop their heads off, and I am super-excited about it," said Laney Wallace, Miss Snake Charmer 2011. "I would of never imagined in a million years that I would be Miss Snake Charmer. I'm so lucky."

Well, at least it’s not the bland “tomorrow I get to cut the ribbon at the opening of the new Walmart” duty of the more traditional pageant winner.

Everyone, by the way, gets to skin a snake while they’re at the Roundup.

For $10, visitors can take a turn at snake skinning. To record their feat they rub their hands in snake blood and leave handprints on the wall.

Whatever becomes of the bloody handprints, the snakes themselves get used. Their venom is milked – gee, that sounds like fun – and used to make snake-bite antidotes (which they probably wouldn’t need so much of if they weren’t so gung ho on hunting, milking and decapitating snakes to begin with). The meat is fried – I do believe it tastes like chicken. And the skin goes into snakeskin shoes and accessories. (Ever wonder where that snakeskin belt came from? Now you know.)

I do have to say that Laney Wallace does not look at all like your average prissy, fakey beauty queen.

She’s plenty cute – this picture doesn’t seem to do her much justice. There’s a better one on the JayCee’s site, but they disabled right click, and I’m not canny enough to grab it otherwise.

laney wallace

Laney is a junior at Sweetwater High and was co-winner of the talent competition, in which she sang and yodeled, “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” (Source for this bit: The Sweetwater Reporter.)

Given that she’s game for rattler decapitation and skinning – plus she can yodel – I bet Laney’ll have a better shot at becoming a cowboy’s sweetheart than I did when I thought Adam Cartwright was going to be my boyfriend. Of course, Adam would have had to give up his Ponderosa cowboy ways for the true, brooding, East Coast intellectual that lurked within – and have moved back East. Even at 12, I knew better than to dream about living on the ranch, given that every woman who stepped even one romantic-involvement toe on the Ponderosa ended up dead.

There is, of course, plenty more to Sweetwater, Texas, than the Rattlesnake Roundup. It was the site of WASP (women flyers) training during WWII, and it’s the leading wind power generating center in the Western Hemisphere. (Source: Wikipedia.)

As a member of the Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors put it:

"If you're bored here, it's your own fault."

Actually, I wasn’t thinking bored. I was more thinking weirded out. And more than quite possibly a bit scared at the prospect of rattle snakes teeming down Main Street. Perhaps it’s the Irish in me. We just don’t do snake.

But chacun à son goût, and all that. And, as they say, East is East and West is West….

Me, I’m just as happy to be in the namby pamby world where we don’t have to worry about rattlesnakes.

Now if only St. Patrick would come back from the dead and drive the rats out of Boston.


By the way, what do Fred Astaire, Lawrence Welk, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley have in common?

They all entertained at the Sweetwater Municipal Auditorium, where Miss Snake Charmer was crowned.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Got a light? Zippo Lighters expands its mission

Like most of the men of his (debatable greatest) generation, my father was a smoker. He smoked unfiltered Luckies, lightened up with Marlboros (which were at least filtered), then quit entirely when I was in my early teens. This was just about the time he became ill with the non-smoking related kidney disease that would kill him a few years later.

While he was still a smoker, we – his children – often gave him smoking-related gifts for Christmas and Father’sbeanbag Day. Sometimes it was a beanbag ashtray from Woolworth’s, which I’m happy in a non-smoker kind of way to see is still available for purchase. Sometimes a couple of us chipped in and got him a carton of cigarettes. (Not exactly a swell gift to give Dad, but this was pre-Surgeon General’s “revelation” – long after cigarettes were known as ‘cancer sticks’ -  that smoking caused cancer.)

Surprisingly, we never thought to get him a cigarette lighter, and I don’t actually recall if he ever used one.

It does seem unlikely, however, that he made it through four Lucky Strike-smoking years in Uncle Sam’s Navy during Big WWII without having gotten himself a Zippo lighter. (He did, after all, have a pair of ultra-cool RayBan sunglasses – Navy-issue, perhaps – that he used when summer driving for the rest of his life.)

If he’d used a lighter, it definitely would have been a Zippo, the official cigarette lighter of WWII era dads. And one that was definitely marketed as a swell father’s day (The smokin’ dads in ads in the 1950’s were always depicted with the more wholesome, upscale, I-went-to-college-and-wore-bucks pipe, rather than the more raffish, working stiff butt.

Anyway, Zippo, after nearly 80 years in the lighter biz – still family owned, and still making lighters in their Pennsylvania factory – is taking a look at the decline in the numbers of American smokers, which, of course, their product has indirectly help hasten, and is diversifying. They’re branching out into men’s fragrance, clothing, watches, camping gear and other “lifestyle” goods.

In diversifying, Zippo is hoping to trade in on their small-i iconic brand in a way similar to a capital-I Iconic  brand like Harley Davidson, as well as other smoking-related brands like Camel. (While Marlboro has some branded merchandise – or did for a while; I remember seeing windbreakers – apparently my father’s cigarette of origin, Lucky Strikes, was never deemed sufficiently iconic brand-worthy.

Naturally, with the Zippo fragrance, one asks whether is smells like second hand smoke or cigar fumes or something else smoker-ish. (Actually, some pipe tobacco smells pretty good, at least when you’re walking past the smoke shop in Harvard Square.) But Zippo has taken a different olfactory path:

…the new cologne doesn't smell anything like lighter fluid, says David Warfel, Zippo's global marketing director. Instead, Zippo says, it's "woody" and "spicy." (Source: Wall Street Journal.)

Much as I’d like to see Zippo succeed here, I think they’re up against it when it comes to the cologne name-thang.

I do believe most cologne-using men have something in mind when the slap on the old after-shave, and that something is not associated with the word “zippo.” Now “zippo” may, in fact, be what most cologne-using men get most of the time. (Think “unlucky strike out”.)

Thus, men’s colognes are more likely to have names that are more evocative of getting some and/or that at least give good macho. I actually couldn’t think of any men’s fragrance other than Paco Rabanne and Aramis, which was sold on the counter kitty-corner to the one I sold stationery and pens on at Filene’s one Christmas, oh, about 40 years ago.

Aramis fits: it sounds romantic. And Paco sounds rakish enough, proving my point (at least to my satisfaction).

Anyway, I went to check out what men’s colognes are called by going to a fragrance web site.

Most are named for a designer or brand – Calvin Klein, Polo - but a number of them (also) have tags like “Sport” and “Extreme.”  I note that Swiss Army has a men’s cologne, and there’s also something out there (on the discount table) called Randy Moss Grabman. (Just don’t tell the ladies you’re wearing it.) The most peculiar I came across is Eau d’Issey, which sounds way too much like “Oh sissy”. So maybe there’s a chance for a cologne named Zippo, after all.

Zippo has tried to expand its product line before:

In the 1960s and 1970s, Zippo tried to spread its bets by making tape measures, key holders and belt buckles, but all were later discontinued. Zippo even considered making golf-ball warmers to increase driving distances, only to conclude that the legal liability would be too great if the heated projectiles bounced off people's heads. Over the past two decades it has added pocket knives and leather purses.

Although the golf-ball warmers won’t be on offer – and who needs a golf-ball warmer when you can whack your Titlist with a Callaway Big Bertha and if you want to get a bit more travel out of it? -  Zippo will have plenty of goods. They plan on selling them in airport boutiques, kiosks, and stores like Urban Outfitters – which fits with their rock-band business. Fans buy lighters with a band’s logo on them, then wave them around at concerts. (After the Station House fire in Rhode Island, I’m guessing these are outdoor venues.)

I wish Zippo all the luck in the world with its new product lines. Small ($200M), family-owned, made-in-the-USA kind of business. Went with us to the last “good” war. Guarantees their product for life – and that’s life of the product, not life of the user, which is likely abbreviated if he/she uses that Zippo with much frequency.

And I do hope they’ not planning on calling their cologne  Zippo logo.

That flame would definitely be dead.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick’s Day 2011

I’m dreaming of a green St. Patrick’s Day, just like the ones I used to know.

We wish you a Merry St. Patrick’s Day, we wish you a Merry St. Patrick’s Day, we wish you a Merry St. Patrick’s Day, and the day after, too!

Good St. Patrick-slaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen.

It’s beginning to look a lot like St. Patrick’s Day, everywhere you go.

He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. St. Patrick is coming to town.

In this most Irish of American cities, there is an awful lot (emphasis on the awful) of hoopla around St. Patrick’s Day, most of it associated with a wee drop-een, a jar or two, the juice of the barley, as every “Irish” pub in the city, and there are an awful lot (emphasis mostly on the awful) of them, rolls out the green, soon to be puked on, carpet.

It may not be as big a deal as Christmas, but it’s right up there – far surpassing Halloween and The Glorious 4th - as the holiday for which Boston goes all out in the most crass and loutish sense possible.

Me? I will dig out my shamrock earrings. And wear a green sweater. If I get ambitious, I’ll bake soda bread.

But that’s about the extent of it.

I’m saving thoughts-Irish for my upcoming (May) trip to Galway.  This will be our first trip to Ireland since 2006, well before the Celtic Tiger had been bagged, its head stuffed and mounted for all the world to see. Last time we were there, real estate madness reigned supreme. Construction – much of it shoddy appearing slap-up jobs – was going on everywhere. Even the cab drivers were gabbing about housing costs – mean row houses in Limerick, a dump of a town if ever, were supposedly going for hundreds of thousands of pounds. The country was packed with EU immigrants, largely from Eastern Europe. And the Irish were enjoying the fact that, for the first time since the Danes and the Normans long-boated to Ireland, people were shipping into Ireland, not out.

All this has been spectacularly reversed, of course.

And as used as the Irish are to misery, poverty, and doing with out, a lot of them had gotten pretty used to being able to have their children stay in their country of birth, rather than to have them go off and seek their fortunes in the US, in England, in Australia, and throughout the EU.

Now changed utterly.

A nation once again of out-migration.


Still, our trip is something I am much looking forward to.

The countryside will be beautiful. The weather in May should be grand. There will no doubt be plenty of places to get brown bread and salmon. We’ll catch up with friends. And I will hoist a pint (or two) of Guinness – pretty much the only time I drink anything beer-ish, but Guinness in Ireland is unbelievably good.

Anyway, Happy St. Patrick’s Day. (Or Happy St. Paddy’s Day. But puhl-eeze, never in céad mille years, Happy St. Patty’s Day.)

Slán for now.


Here are my earlier St. Patrick Day posts – all pretty good, if I do say so meself – but I’ll let yez be the judge.

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

2009: Irish Eyes Not So Smiling These Days.

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

2007:  Kiss Me, I’m Irish.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ponzo Scheme: Ah, the lure of the West.

There’s really not that much of a mob scene in Boston anymore. At least not that I’m aware of.

Some Boston hoods were swept up in the big January FBI round-up of East Coast members of La Cosa Nostra, the quaintly old-fashioned name for the Mafia. But for the most part, the only noise comes from the occasional supposed Whitey Bulger sighting. Whitey, the notorious, stone-killer head of Boston’s Irish mob, went on the lam in the mid-1990’s, having been tipped off by a pal the FBI that the long arm of the law was about to catch up with him. It still hasn’t caught up with Whitey, but John Connolly, the rogue FBI agent, is still doing time.

What with The Sopranos off the air, and a relative drought with respect to Boston mob-related news, I read with interest an article in The NY Times last week on Enrico Ponzo.

Ponzo was a local underling,

…part of a violent faction intent on ousting the bosses of the powerful Patriarca crime family in Boston in the early 1990s.

When a wide-ranging indictment came down against him and 14 others in 1997, Mr. Ponzo was charged with crimes that included attempted murder and extortion. But he was also listed as the target of a contract killing planned by one of the other defendants.

The attempted hit was on “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, now in the Witness Protection Program, but once a kingpin who had forged a strong working relationship with the aforementioned Whitey Bulger. (All those interlocking directorates…).  Ponzo allegedly tried to gun Salemme down outside of an IHOP. (Guess Cadillac Frank wasn’t living particularly large that day.)

Fast forward a bit, and the son of another mob guy was killed after Ponzo “and another man left him to change a flat tire alone.” The bereaved father is the one the had the contract out on Ponzo.

Anyway, Ponzo was apparently not all that interested in a) getting arrested, b) getting whacked by a fellow hood. In fact, he’d disappeared a couple of years before the indictment was handed down.

He had heeded Horace Greeley’s still relevant call to “Go West, young man,” and high-tailed it to Marsing, Idaho – approximate population 900, if you don’t count the cattle and the prairie dogs. And apparently the kind of place you can skedaddle to and lay low, at least for a decade or so.

There, as Jeffrey John Shaw, he stood out for his Boston accent, his tender foot ways, and the fact that he wore “bib overalls and straw hats.” Which hadn’t been de rigueur in Marsing, Idaho since the Great Depression. Perhaps Ponzo, who’s now 42, was just reliving the time when he was a lad and painters’ overalls were de rigueur in Boston.

Anyway, I always assume the people in small towns are incredibly nosey privacy invaders of the first rank, but I guess, at least in some places out West, it’s kind of don’t ask, don’t tell. (Remember the TV show The Virginian, where – quite preposterously, to my way of thinking – no one ever asked The Virginian what his real name was.  Hmmmmm. Guess I’m the nosey, privacy invader type, after all.)

Although Enrico Ponzo never did get to be a made man in Boston, in Marsing, Idaho, as The Times put it:

He became a remade man.

He kept a few cows, moved furniture, fixed computers, and managed the area’s irrigation system. He and his partner (pardner?), who came to Marsing with him, had two kids.

Not clear how the Feds found him after all these years, but it may have had something to do with those kids.

Ponzo and his ex-girlfriend are in a custody battle:

In court papers, Ms. [Cara Lyn] Pace complained about his drinking and “aggression,” saying she was “fearful for my life.”

“Jeff has little respect for the rules of law,” Ms. Pace wrote.

Pace claims that she never dimed Shaw/Ponzo, but we’ll see. When it comes to bitter custody battles…

In Marsing, meanwhile:

…investigators say they found 38 guns, $15,000 in cash and a 100-ounce bar of silver in Mr. Ponzo’s modest house. They also found dozens of books about changing identities.

Which is quite an interesting agglomeration. Wonder where money like that was coming from? $15K is a lot of moola in a hard-scrabble town like Marsing, one would imagine.

Now [Ponzo] is being extradited to Massachusetts. “I don’t know whether he really was a fugitive,” said Norman S. Zalkind, a Boston lawyer who represented Mr. Ponzo two decades ago. “If you look at the indictment, he was also one of the victims.”

But if you look at the indictment, he also tried to take out Cadillac Frank Salemme at the IHOP. And not that Cadillac Frank was/is any prize. Still…

Ponzo is apparently less sanguine about his prospects than Zalkind:

“I asked him, ‘It must be a weight off your chest that you don’t have to hide this anymore,’ ” said Kelly Verceles, a friend from Idaho who recently visited Mr. Ponzo while he was behind bars there. “He said, ‘Dude, I might be going to jail forever.’ ”

If jail doesn’t end up being forever, Ponzo’s friends in Idaho are eager to have him back.

After a stretch in Walpole State Prison, Marsing, Idaho, will probably look pretty darned good, even if I’m having a hard time figuring out how someone makes the transition from the mean streets of Boston to a pokey ranching town in Idaho.

Oh give me land, lots of land, and the starry skies above…don’t fence me in.

Personally, country living would scare the crap out of me. But maybe if you’ve been involved in a shoot ‘em up, and have had a contract put out on you, your nerves are a bit less jumpy than mine.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tyler Coyner’s coin-op grade swap

I was salutatorian of my high school class, tying for number two with Cynthia B, right behind Rosemary D.

But Cynthia B and I didn’t get to do any salutatorying. Nor did Rosemary D get to do any valedicting. There were no student speakers at our high school graduation. Instead, we got to listen to the president of Assumption College, just up the street from my high school, talk about whatever. I probably wasn’t listening all that intently. No doubt I was focusing on the upcoming post-graduation weeklong hangout at the Cape at a lovely motel – no longer in existence – that was owned by the family of one of my classmates. Jayne H invited about twenty of us down, and we had a great time.

I have no recall whatsoever of how we transported ourselves from Point A to Point B, but somehow we made it from Bourne to P-town, where we rented bicycles and pedaled out to Race Point. We also somehow got to Woods Hole to catch the ferry to Nantucket, where we entertained the other passengers by performing a capella. Pretty much all of us were in Glee Club, and we did our signature pieces. (My high school had an excellent Glee Club, by the way.) The one “crazy” thing I remember about this giant slumber party was taking my first puff of a cigarette. (Not a joint, mind you: a cigarette.) Even in those kinder, gentler times, we were complete, utter and absolute nerds.

And we were also nerds who didn’t cheat.

Cynthia B and Maureen R got to rank second in our class, and Rosemary D got to rank first, the old fashioned way. We were smart and, as complete, utter and absolute nerds, we studied. A lot. (And, because we were at an all girls school, we got to run everything, too. There’s absolutely no way I’d have been the president of student council at a co-ed school. Not in a billion, zillion years.)

Anyway, while he may have been “smart” in one sense, Tyler Coyner apparently wasn’t all that interested in studying his way into ranking second.

Instead, he hacked into Pahrump Valley (Nevada) High School's grade system and tidied up his grades a bit. He also attempted to prove that crime can, in fact, pay by altering, for a fee, the grades of thirteen of his now unlucky classmates. Thirteen classmates. Sheeesh. These kids live in Nevada and they don’t know that this is an unlucky number. What are they teaching these kids out at PVHS, anyway?

Coyner must have been a decent enough student – mustn’t he? Surely, if he had adjusted his grades from class goat to runner-up some teacher or another would have put two and two together and smelled a rat. (Coyner? Didn’t I give him a D in pre-calc? How’d he end up with that  kind of GPA?)

Coyner, now a student at the University of Nevada in Reno, had a 4.54 grade point average, according to a profile of him in the Pahrump Valley Times, written around the time of his graduation last year.(Source: PC World.)

The profile is entitled PVHS salutatorian dreams of Ivy League, and it includes some doozy quotes:

"I was a weirdo then," said Tyler Coyner, who said he was a shy student focused on academics. That focus earned him a 4.54 grade point average.

Oh, earned, that’s just such a misunderstood word.

One day, Coyner realized that he didn't want to be that shy kid anymore. "Nothing will change for you; you have to make an effort to make a better future," he said.

Yes, indeed, grades, in and of themselves, would not just change for you. Sometimes you have to make an effort to bring about change. And hacking’s an effort. If it were so damned easy, everyone’d be doing it.

The now outgoing Coyner made interacting with others a key part of his high school experience. He was involved in the Renaissance Club and Future Business Leaders of America. FBLA created and participated in a community service project this year, and that project is leading them to a national competition in July.

Gulp! Future Business Leaders of America. As in Jeff Skilling, Angelo Mozilo, and Bernie Madoff, I presume. So many role models, so little time!

Unlike other students, Coyner wouldn't change any part of his high school experience. "Even the mistakes I've done were worth it," said Coyner. He also notes that underclassmen should know that "being responsible is one of the key things to being successful; branch out with sports or clubs. You will be better off in the future."

Perhaps Coyner will end up reconsidering whether all the mistakes he made were all that worth it. And whether the type of branching out he did was all that responsible. (While I’m heaping on, I’ll assume the role of diction cop here, too. “Mistakes I’ve done? Hand me my red pencil, please.)

After he graduates, Coyner will go into the University of Nevada, Reno finance program. After two years he plans to transfer to Chicago. Once he obtains his degree, Coyner plans on going to an Ivy League school. He has his sights set on either Harvard or Stanford, the Ivy League school of the West. He wants to eventually become the manager of a hedge fund.

It was in Coyner’s dorm room at the University of Nevada, Reno – which may or may not be the Harvard or Chicago or Stanford of Nevada -  that the policefound a flat-screen television, allegedly stolen from a local Wal-Mart, and equipment for making fake driver's licenses.”

Taking his own advice, Coyner is branching out to robbery and fake driver’s licenses, which is probably a pretty good campus business, given the drinking age is 21. And it’s probably more lucrative than slinging food in the caf, or shelving books in the library.

No comment on his ultimate ambition: managing a hedge fund. (Shocked, I’m shocked, at this one.)

Coyner is extremely excited for graduation and for what lies ahead in his future. "I just want to wish all of my fellow graduates good luck in their future," he said.

And good luck in your not quite so brilliant future, Mr. Coyner.

Don’t know what kind of time you’ll end up doing, but I think you can kiss Chicago, Harvard, and Stanford good-bye. Probably University of Nevada – Reno, as well. 

Don’t know if there actually are any standards for hedge fund manager, so you may still have a shot on goal there.

Ave atque vale, as they used to say. Commencement is both a beginning and an ending.

Meanwhile, readers of a certain age may notice an uncanny resemblance between Tyler Coyner and Leave It To Beaver’s Eddie Haskell. In real life, Ken Osmond, the guy you played Eddie Haskell, went on to become an LAPD cop (not a hedge fund manager – a trade that I don’t believe existed when Osmond was deciding what to do with his life.)

Eddie too

Changing your grades so you could graduate number two in your class? Frankly, even Eddie Haskell wouldn’t have stooped so low.

Monday, March 14, 2011

J’accuse? Not any longer: Renault shifts into reverse on alleged espionage

Spies may be everywhere, but it now appears that, if there are any at Renault, they’re not among “Les Renault Trois”.

As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, Renault is trying to figure out how to back out of the accusations made against the three senior managers in their electric car division who were ousted in January. The claim was that they’d taken money in exchange for company development plans.

The firings followed a four-month investigation prompted by a letter from an “anonymous tipster”, claiming that:

… he had seen Michel Balthazard, head of the car firm's development projects and one of the company's most respected executives, negotiating a bribe.

The fired managers proclaimed their innocence – and they are now suing the company - but Renault’s CEO countered (on nationwide television, of course) that the company had solid evidence against the three.

Now, it seems that Renault is making noise – what’s the French equivalent of the nervous laugh heh-heh? – that they may be exonerating the men.

… Last week, Mr. [Patrick] Pélata [COO] said Renault was no longer certain that it had been the target of corporate espionage. He said it could have been "tricked" into bringing allegations against three senior managers.

The entire affaire may be a hoax perpetuated to “destabilize management.” (What’s the French equivalent of nervous laugh heh-heh?)  And Pélata may be asked to fall on his stick shift, or take the metaphorical exhaust pipe, as a result of the bungled investigation. So, sounds like, as hoaxes go, this one may have done its management-destabilizing best.

Renault was hoping to find the smoking engine gun by uncovering secret Swiss and Liechtensteiner bank accounts, where the bribe money was allegedly stashed. Authorities in those countries, however, have supposedly indicated (unofficially, so far) that there are no such secret bank accounts.

Meanwhile, Renault’s internal security is trying to figure out what happened to the $348K they gave to an Algeria-based private investigator in exchange for information on those alleged bank accounts. (Maybe they’ll find that he put some of it a Swiss or Liechtensteiner bank account.)

Renault doesn’t want to rush into exoneration too quickly, of course. As a company lawyer said

"We were heavily criticized for pulling the trigger too fast [on the three fired managers]…We don't want to do it again."

And Renault PR flack Caroline De Gezelle said that:

…she was not personally aware of any steps to exonerate the trio, but added: "It's quite normal that we prepare certain things according to different scenarios.”

Maybe something got lost in translation here, but is that excellent flack-speak or what?  The spin wheels must be madly spinning in the communications department at Renault as they prepare for those different scenarios.

Now that it seems as if Les Renault Trois will be freed – and wonder if they’ll actually take their jobs back, or just see what kind of settlement they can extract – the focus of the investigation is on who might the tipster/fraudster be.

…an official in Renault's security department who handled the in-house probe has so far refused to tell the company's top management, as well as police, from whom he received the information about the alleged bank accounts.

Doesn’t sound like much of a career move, but, hey, he’s protecting a source.

French prosecutors had hoped to get the DNA goods on the tipstser/fraudster from the saliva on the postage stamp that the anonymous letter came in. But, wouldn’t you know it, the perp used a self-stick stamp. C’est dommage.

This is more than just a fender-bender of an incident.

Renault is one of the best known companies in France, and the French government had gotten involved. They had hinted at France being the victim of an “economic war”. One trail they followed made a Chinese connection, which ruffled some diplomatic feathers.

If the three accused Renault managers do end up being exonerated – which seems increasingly likely – nothing can undo the personal and professional damage that has rained down on their windshields. Getting accused of, and fired for, selling your company’s secret must be like getting clubbed with a tire iron.

Still, if and when these men are cleared, and if and when the wheels come of the career of the Renault executive who gets to play test crash dummy and take the fall, I’d sure like to see the look on the faces of these guys. (What’s the French equivalent of HEH-HEH-HEH?)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Five dollar foot-long beats out the golden arches

I first ate at McDonald’s during the summer of 1967.  A friend and I had jobs in a shoe factory, where we did  “heel podding” (which must actually have been “heel padding”, since it meant gluing a beneath-the-heel pad in the sole of a shoe) and trim-finishing for work boots and combat boots – including somewhat mini-versions of paratroop jump boots for the Vietnamese Air Force.

Fast food wasn’t such a big deal then – or nearly as ubiquitous –  but there was a McDonald’s a couple of blocks away from the factory. When the whistle blew at noon, and we punched out for lunch, we often drifted over to McD’s. Not liking the hamburgers in particular – mostly because for some reason I did not eat mustard or ketchup at that point in my life – I usually ordered fries and a chocolate shake. (In retrospect, that does sound pretty unhealthy as regular lunch fare, but I suppose if I’d been a health nut, I wouldn’t have taken a minimum wage job where I got to breathe glue, shoe-polish, and acetone fumes all day.)

For a long while, that was about all I had to do with fast food as we’ve come to know it.

When my friends and I hung out, we went to Friendly’s, mostly.

Fast forward/foodward) a few years.

On my first trip to Europe, in 1973, I was thrilled that there was a McDonald’s on the Champs-Élysées. Actually, it was a bit off of it. It was in some sort of arcade, and the sign advertising it was quite small. No major honking golden arches outside, that’s for bien sûr. I do believe that this McDonald’s is still in operation. And I do believe I have eaten there more recently than 1973, since pretty much every time I’m in a European city, I’ll pop in and indulge myself in a small fries, just for the ugly American heck of it.

Needless to say, if there’s a European city that lacks a McDonald’s, I’ve yet to step toe in it.

It’s also pretty easy to find other American fast food outlets. Most memorable (to my memory, anyway) was coming across a Dunkin’ Donuts in Budapest.

But I don’t recall ever seeing a Subway anywhere other than in the good old US of A.

That may well be because I wouldn’t have been looking for one, since it’s not on my list of must-eat fast food joints when I get my semi-annual craving for a quarter-pounder (or equivalent). Now I don’t quite put Subway in the same category as Roy Rogers and Arby’s, “restaurants” I would only eat it if, say, I had just crawled 600 miles across the Sahara desert with a single liter-bottle of Poland Springs, and the only place to eat in the oasis was a Roy Rogers franchise. And I will say that, during my business travelin’ days, when one airline – was in American – fed the steerage crowd with a Subway sandwich, rather than a plastic cooked meal, I was just as happy. (I do believe that what was typically on offer was a smallish, smallish-taste sandwich containing something called “turkey ham”, accompanied by a bag of Sun Chips.)

Still, if I’m looking for a sub, there are plenty of onesie-twosie independent sub shops around where I can satisfy my occasional jones for an Italian with onions, pickles, and hots. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting in The Writers’ Room of Boston, looking out at Big Al’s, where I get my occasional Italian, or a “Lady Café” (mozzarella, tomato, and basil).

So why stop at a Subway?

The world, however, doesn’t exactly share my sentiments. (What else is new?)

Worldwide there are, in fact, more Subway outlets than there are McDonald’s stores. According to the Wall Street Journal:

At the end of last year, Subway had 33,749 restaurants worldwide, compared to McDonald's 32,737. The burger giant disclosed its year-end store count in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing late last month.

Of course, in terms of sales, McDonald is still the (burger) king, with revenues of $24.1B last year vs. $15.2B for Subway.  Still, 33,749 shops (and $15.2B in revenues) is an awful lot of five dollar foot-longs. And certainly the five dollar foot-long jingle has long supplanted “you deserve a break today” in my jingle-jangling brain.

Most of the race – as it is for all things economy-related – is on globally, not in the U.S., where the number of fast food outlets is already super-sized. No, the action’s overseas. And, since there are only so many Mickey D’s you can locate in the basement of a 14th or 15th century building in Krakow, or on the Champs Élysées, where they have to contend for retail space with the likes of Louis Vuitton. And since the Old World is so, well, in its death throes, the cry is, “Go East, young man(ager of an American fast food company).”  After all, “over there” is where the growth is, and Subway:

…which opened its first international restaurant in 1984, in Bahrain, expects its number of international restaurants to exceed its domestic ones by 2020, says Don Fertman, Subway's Chief Development Officer….Subway just opened its 1,000th location in Asia, including its first in Vietnam.

China, of course, is the apple of Subway’s (and every other fast food retailer’s) eye.

 Starbucks Corp. recently said it plans to triple its number of outlets in China, for example. Dunkin' Brands Inc., parent of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, plans to open thousands of new outlets in China in coming years.

Mostly because they’re local and I like their ice coffee, I’m pretty much a Dunkin’ Donut fan. (There is, in fact, one in the first floor of the building I’m in at the mo.)  But Baskin-Robbins? I suppose they’re fine if you like ice cream with the consistency of glue.

Like it or not, here they come, and Dunkin’ – Baskin is, like Subway, planning on expansion in Vietnam.

I’ve got to wonder whether this is such a welcome development for the Vietnamese.

Somewhere in Hanoi there’s a grandfather muttering, “for this I wore black pajamas, sweltered in tunnels, and shot at stoned GI’s who were even more scared than I was. Oy!”


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Georgia on my mind…

Every once in a while, I see a business development ad in The Economist for Georgia.

No, not our Georgia – the one that’s the Peach State, home of the Vidalia onion, site of Sherman’s March to the Sea.

The other Georgia – the one on the Black Sea. The one that, quite frankly, was far easier to keep track of when it was back in the USSR.

Their pitch?

The World’s number 1 in fighting corruption.

Thus the transposition of the “I” in Georgia to a Big Red 1.


Marketing pro that I am, I’m always interested in how someone, something, or somewhere is positioning itself, so I thought I’d read the full text, not just the header.

According to the 2010 Global Corruption Barometer by Transparency International, 78% of Georgians think that corruption has decreased over the last 3 years – the best result across the 86 countries surveyed…Only 3% of Georgians who had contact with various public services reported paying a bribe in the past 12 months. This is a better figure than the EU average and places Georgia in the pool of countries whose citizens report the fewest bribes in the world…as noted by TI ‘one out of four worldwide has paid a bribe in the past year.’  Another recent survey…points out that only 0.4% of the population of Georgia has paid a bribe to get a service or a decision.

Well, I don’t know about you, but if I were thinking about plant relocation or setting up a Black Sea branch, I don’t believe this particular message would get me to think about ‘how to become part of Georgia’s big success story.”

But this appears to be a big part of the current message over on which touts the country as “The world’s number one reformer 2005-2010”.

And while the certainly should get some props for whatever improvements they’ve made over the years, with a score of 3.8, they rank 68th overall, out of the 178 countries that comprise the Transparency International index.

Yes, this score places them well ahead of the country’s former BFF, Russia, which scored a tawdry 2.1. And they’re ahead of Ukraine. And Greece. And Cuba. And just a smidge behind Italy.

Still, 68 out of 178…

I suppose that as a tagline ‘We’re less corrupt than some others we could name” beats “Birthplace of Stalin,” or “Home to pebbly beaches where paunchy, fish-white-bellied men in Speedos with white hankies tied over their bald pates bask in the sun.”

But it seems that, from a pure positioning angle, there might be more compelling points to make that answer the question “Why Georgia?”

Of course, lest we get too smug about our fragile yet still (for now, at least) mighty Number One-ness, the U.S. fell from the grace of the Top 20 this year. We now rank Number 22, tied with Belgium and wedged between Chile (as in, used to be run by Pinochet Chile), and Uruguay (about which I know blessed little, other than that they’re not Paraguay, which ranked a dismal 146). Bottom rung, by the way, is held by – surprise, surprise – Somalia, with Myanmar, Afghanistan and Iraq nearby. Top rankings are held by Denmark, New Zealand, and Singapore (where rumor once had it that you could get caned for chewing gum, so imagine what the treatment is for bribery…).

Anyway, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is, well, based on perceptions. The rankings are derived from composite scores of surveys of the ‘have you paid a bribe in the last 12 months’ variety. So the results are not really based on any big objective measures.

The US supposedly dropped a few places in the rankings because of the financial meltdown, Bernie Madoff, and the way we fund elections. We don’t “suffer” so much from legal, bribe-style corruption as from a systemic “integrity deficit.” (The Supremes decision on corporate spending on campaigns should really help improve our rankings, ya think?)

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of Georgia’s ad campaign, on Monday a former software sales exec pled guilty to charges that he bribed a Massachusetts state official to get a big, fat software contract for his company. (And a big, fat wad o’ compensation for himself.) The state official – our former speaker of the house – goes on trial next month. The fact that the sales guy pled out ain’t going to help his case any.

That said, I’m still guessing that Massachusetts is not as corrupt as Georgia. Or Georgia, for that matter. (As it turns out, I may be at least marginally correct here. In the only ranking of corruption by states I could find – from 2004 – Georgia was the 23rd most corrupt state, while Massachusetts placed 26th. But then I saw that the corruption rates were based on the number of convictions for corruption, as measured against the population. While I can absolutely believe that Mississippi is the most corrupt state, and that Louisiana ranks as third most corrupt, I do have a hard time wrapping my head around North Dakota as number two. It sure seems that if this is the way you measure corruption, a particularly zealous state could end up with a pretty high ranking as corrupt….)

As for Georgia the country, my advice is to get a new ad campaign going. This one kind of reminds me of something a CMO I once worked for used to say: “Our tagline should be ‘we suck less’. True, perhaps, but it just doesn’t give the shopper much of a reason to buy.