Friday, September 30, 2011

O, how the mighty have fallen. (Or, the Red Sox get back to normal.)

Somehow, it all feels normal to me.

As I suppose it does to all longstanding (and, through much of our history, longsuffering) Red Sox fans.

What has no doubt come as a shock to the younger citoyens of Red Sox Nation – say, those under the age of 18 or so – has a true sense of inevitability about of, of familiarity. It’s like finding, bunched up in the untouched ironing basket in the back of your closet, an old favorite sweater you haven’t worn in years, or even thought about. For a sec, you wonder why you tossed a sweater in the ironing basket to begin with, but then you put it on and, sure enough, it still suits you. You’re your old self again. Back in business.

So it is with this year’s most epic of epic fails.

The best team in baseball between May and August fell into an unprecedented swoon in September and at the true 11th hour – the last out of the last game of the season – lost to the lowly Baltimore Orioles while, at nearly the exact moment, down in Florida, the Tampa Bay Rays, rather than gracefully losing to the Yankees to force a one-game playoff with the Red Sox, survived their 11th hour and won their game.

Well, good for them.

While right this moment, I am a Detroit Tigers fan, I will have a hard decision to make in choosing between the Tigers and the Rays if they both make it to the American League Championship Series.

Right now, I’m leaning Rays, for the sole reason that they have the second lowest payroll in major league baseball – a paltry $41M. Which is about one-quarter what the Red Sox doled out this year for a passel of decidedly unlovable, dispirited, soulless losers (with a few exceptions and they know who they are; so do you, if you follow the Sox: there can be no arguments about Little-D and Jacoby “Be Still My Heart” Ellsbury). It’s also about one-fifth of what the NY Yankees shelled out. Having won their division, they have a fighting chance to go on to the World Series, even if they are considered an underdog. $203M just doesn’t get you quite what it should. No wonder the rich feel so put upon, so beleaguered. 

While from a broadcast/advertising revenue point of view, it would probably be a disaster, the best possible World Series matchup would pit Tampa Bay (29th out of 30 teams in terms of payroll) against the Diamondbacks (25th, at $54M).

Good for baseball to see the scrappy little guys thumb their noses at the rich folks. Call it class warfare, if you will, but bring it on.

From a pay-for-play standpoint, a World Series with the Yankees (We’re Number 1 in payroll) against the Phillies (at number 2, We Try Harder) would be moneyball, indeed.

The Red Sox, both third in payroll and an ignominious third in their division, are this year’s Biggest Losers.

Anyway, 162 and done! (Wait until next year? Of course. And maybe the swoon will make it easier to buy those $28 bleacher seats when they come available in December.)

I was interested to read Nate Silver’s statistical take on the Sox nosedive.

On September 3rd, they had a 99.6% chance of making it to the playoffs. Ah, those were the days!

As for Wednesday’s season-ending debacle, when the O’s had two out and no one on in the bottom of the ninth, the probability that the Red Sox would win was 95.3%. (This was according to FanGraphs, which Nate Silver cited.)

Silver then did some shucking and jiving with the Red Sox numbers, and the probability that the Rays would win, given how far down they’d been, and he came up with:

…a combined probability of about one chance in 278 million of all these events coming together in quite this way.

Say it ain’t so!

Maybe there was something to the Curse of the Bambino, and maybe “we” haven’t fully shaken it.

So, welcome, young Red Sox fans – so trusting, so wounded, so (until Wednesday night) so naïve – to the real world of Red Sox fandom.

As for myself, when the O’s tied it up in the ninth, I took to my bed.

Forget the probabilities, forget the stats.

I have been a Red Sox fan for far too long not to know how this one was going to end up. Hoping for a different outcome than the one we got may not be out of my emotional repertoire. Come on, I still get that ‘hey, Romeo, she’s not really dead’ wish whenever I see Romeo and Juliet.  But hoping against hope for something good to happen, while knowing what was going to happen in my brain of brains, precluded me from watching the bitter end.

Still, baseball being baseball, and fandom being fandom, all will be forgiven come Truck Day.

Meanwhile, best wishes to seven of the eight teams that’ve made the playoffs, with especially warm wishes to the Rays and the Tigers.

Seven out of eight chances that “my” team – i.e., anyone other than Voldemort – will win the World Series.

Looks pretty good at this point.

But you know how it is with probabilities, especially when it comes to baseball: anything can happen.

Source for team payrolls: USA Today.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lolli Brothers: that’s one interesting business you’ve got there

Just when I despair of anything ever again being made in the USA – a despair that became more pronounced after last weekend’s visit to New York City, where nothing is made (except art and money), and everything is sold – I am reminded that we do produce food.

And some of that food is four-legged.

Thus the need for purveyors of livestock, such as the Lolli Brothers, who were written up in the current Atlantic. But the object of the Atlantic’s affection was not the Lolli Brothers, per se. While just about anything that happens in a flyover state is new and exotic fare for us big city and/or coastal elites, let’s face it, a plane vanilla cattle or horse auction is kind of – yawn! – boring.

But a couple of times a year, the Lolli’s mix up the boring old cattle and horse auctions with sales of exotics, complemented with “blow out” taxidermy sales.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. (Wanted: dead or alive.) Not to mention camels, zebras, and kangaroo.

It’s not, however, the complete Wild West when it comes to animals.


Well, I’m certainly happy that there are no great apes for sale there. Talk about animals who should not be on the auction block, given that some of them are nearly sentient enough to be auctioneers themselves. And, while it’s certainly good that they don’t sell big cats over 6 months of age, what about the folks who buy big cats – I saw Bengals on the list – that are 5 months old? Would Lolli Brothers sell to civilians, or only to zoo keepers or circus owners or those who run flea-bitten roadside attractions? I don’t know whether it’s legal to own a Bengal tiger, but I’m thinking that it should not be.

As for skunks, cute as they are, who would want to keep a skunk?

But these days, the big draw at Lolli Brothers exotic auctions (one of which was held last week; aw, shucks: we missed the durn thing) is, apparently, rhino horns.

China’s surging economy has created a class of consumer willing to spend top yuan for these lumps of keratin—the same stuff that makes up human hair and nails—purported to treat everything from fevers and gout to high blood pressure and rheumatism. The Vietnamese market has become similarly overheated, fanned by tales like the one about a senior politician whose rhino-horn treatments cured him of liver cancer.

But laws against killing rhinos in the wild are being more strictly enforced these days. And this crackdown on live-dead rhinos, alongside the overall decimation of most rhino populations over the last several decades – all at a time when demand is on the rise - has caused an upsurge in the market for dead-dead rhinos.

Unfortunately for those who believe that mortared and pestled rhino horn is going to cure gout and liver cancer, “selling any horn for human consumption is prohibited.”

S0 the Vietnamese and Chinese send middle-men shills over to the Lolli auction to do their bidding (literally and figuratively).

Crawford Allen, North American director of Traffic, which monitors wildlife-trade, says that “What you’re seeing is criminal gangs trying to go around and buy up these horns to smuggle them out of the US. and into China and Vietnam.”

But the Lolli Brothers turn something of a blind eye to the potential for abuse.

“It’s all foreign money. These peons that come here is nothing. They’re buying for somebody—I’m sure,” said Lolli, who demands an affidavit from sellers, but worries that the exorbitant prices are creating a black market. “The Orientals will buy them, but it’s illegal to export them, so you’ve really got to watch what you’re doing. I don’t know what they do with them.”

Hmmmm. With a pair of horns selling for a final bid of $125K, it’s not all that difficult to use a tiny bit of imagination to figure out that powdered horn just might end up in a medicine cabinet in Shanghai or Ho Chi Minh City. And with a final bid of $125K, it may be way too difficult to add rhino horn to the list of stuff that Lolli Brothers doesn’t sell.

But, in what looks like a notably successful and long-standing family run business, why not stick to the ratites, and cave bear skulls like the one on offer in the Lolli Brothers gift I know, I know: it takes an awful lot of $2,500 a pop cave bear skulls – maybe even a whole clan of the cave bear -  to make up for $125K rhino horns. But what does it profit a business if it gains the world… Especially when it looks like they’ve got a pretty good business going in livestock, “exotics”, taxidermed creatures, and general western-themed paraphernalia. Good enough to grab some ink in the Atlantic, anyway.

Okay, okay, the rhino horns on offer at Lolli’s are from rhinos that are long gone. No harm to a live rhino, no foul to a live rhino… Still…

I draw little comfort from knowing that it’s not just rapacious Americans who are willing to despoil the earth and all that dwells upon it. Haven’t the Chinese and Vietnamese gotten the word that they can get a gout-defeating prescription for allopurinol at Walgreen’s?

As for the Lolli Brothers. Wouldn’t you feel better if you took the darned rhino horns off of your list of wares?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Daphne Guinness. That’s one dedicated follower of fashion

I am proof positive that one can live a good long time without ever having heard the name Daphne Guinness. Then damned if she isn’t everywhere. Or at least in a recent New Yorker profile, and then getting a mention in the Vanity Fair I picked up in New York City when I finished the not-very-good novel I’d brought along with me for our mini-vakay.

For those who, like me, have been living under the cone of ignorance, Guinness is:

  • Heiress to a pint or two of the Guinness fortune.
  • Ex-wife of Spyros Niarchos, son and heir of shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos
  • Granddaughter of Diana Mitford, of the batty and fascist-leaning Mitfords
  • A dedicated follow – or perhaps leader is a better word – of fashion, who buys a ton o’ couture, and whips up her own designs as well.

In other words, Daphne Guinness is a style icon. Which is not all that easy a way to make a living, even if you don’t exactly have to make a living. Being a style icon, you can’t get caught heading into D’Agostinos for a bag of, say, Orange Milanos wearing a pair of mom jeans, a comfy fleece, and a pair of New Balance walkers. Not that Daphne Guinness would be caught doing any of that stuff. Tsk, tsk.

Not only doesn’t she wear, or even have sitting around idling in the back of her closet, comfy clothes. It’s not clear whether she actually eats. As one might infer from Guinness’ throw-away line in the New Yorker profile, which has been getting a fair amount of play in the w.t.f. universe:

“I’ll eat when I’m dead.”

Great line, that.

Personally, since I’m not quite sure I’ll be doing much eating when I’m dead, I’ll take mine now. And even if there is after-life dining, who’s to say that I’ll like manna. So I’ll stick to earthly delights, like the hot fudge sundae on coffee ice cream.

While “I’ll eat when I’m dead” seems to be the profile’s prime takeaway, there were a couple of other intriguing aspects of Daphne Guinness that were of greater interest to me.

One was that Diana Mitford connection.

Okay, Diana wasn’t the Mitford sister who went ga-ga over Hitler, and tried to kill herself when she lost out to Eva Braun. That would be Unity Mitford. Still, Diana had her own fascist cred. She dumped her first husband (that would be Daphne’s Guinness grand-pater) for Oswald Mosley, the head of the British fascist party. The happy couple were married at the home of Joseph Goebbels, with Unity’s would-be beau in attendance.

Ah, love!

When Daphne finally became aware that her step-grandfather had a bit more to on him than just being the “very, very clever man” she found him, she quizzed her Granny a bit, letting her know that she, Daphne, thought Hitler was “the most uncharming person I’ve ever seen.”

To which Granny responded that “He didn’t photograph well,” and that “he was very, very funny.”

Oh, yes, that well known Hitlerian sense of humor we’ve heard so much about.

Okay, Daphne’s not responsible for her grandmother being a complete and utter nutter.

But sometimes, in terms of sheer nuttiness, the acorn doesn’t fall all that far from the tree.

As evidenced by Daphne Guinness’ repeated taking overflow baths in her posh NY flat, damaging the ceiling of her downstairs neighbor to the extent that he’s suing her for a million bucks. He’s a hedge fund manager, and I didn’t think I’d ever take the side of a hedgie. In this case, however, I must take exception. One bath tub flood’s an accident. Maybe even two. But to repeatedly let your tub overfloweth…

But what really got me about Daphne Guinness is that she wears heelless shoes.

You know, the ones that are like hooves. The ones taaaa-heellesshat are incredibly uncomfortable. The ones that you could break your neck falling off of. Or, in the case of Daphne Guinness, the ones that she fell off of and injured herself while attempting to clomp around in them – if one who will only be eating after she’s dead has enough heft to clomp. The injury was slight, but did draw blood. And Guinness professed to be “delighted that the blood matched her shoes.” (I hate when blood clashes with your shoe color. Which is why it might be best to stick with black or navy. Or green, because green goes with everything, even blood. Oh, and can you imagine how ick blood would look with cordovan?)

Guinness isn’t the only fashionista wearing hooves. Lady Gaga sports them, too. But Lady G balances them off with talent, while Daphne G balances them off with – what? money? Fashion sense as a substitute for common sense?

I know that uncomfortable fashion is nothing new. Think bound feet, whalebone corsets, bustles, hoop skirts, etc. But there are really few things more uncomfortable in life than wearing an uncomfortable pair of shoes. I never thought I’d live to make the observation that wearing a pair of 5” stilettos presents a comfortable footwear alternative, but, thanks to Daphne Guinness, I now can.

And to think that just a few short days ago, I had no idea she even existed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Love for Sale: Maria-Helena Knoller’s Marriage Brokering Business

Maria-Helena Knoller has apparently had a pretty lucrative little business as a marriage broker going for a while.

Too bad a sharp-eyed Vermont Town Clerk, Annette Cappy, began noticing something a bit odd about the couples coming into her office for a marriage license.

“They showed no signs of affection,’’ Cappy recalled in a recent interview. “Often it was as if they didn’t know each other.’’ In some cases, she said, the couples did not speak the same language.

Well, no comment on whether those are telltale signs that would naturally arouse suspicion, although I do guess that not speaking the same language language might raise an eyebrow – as opposed to speaking the language of Venus vs. the language of Mars, which has been known to happen even in the most simpatico of couples.

But Cappy was on to something, or, rather, someone. And that someone was one Maria-Helena Knoller who, when the feds called on her in her Holyoky home, found:

$117,000 in cash and evidence far more suggestive: 61 gold rings at the ready for upcoming nuptials, and a ledger containing records of 70 couples already wed.

Good to have some cash on hand. And these days, gold is a compelling alternative. Still, 61 bands of gold does seem to beat the (wedding) band.

What Knoller was up to was helping illegal immigrants from Brazil – her home and native land – find Americans willing to tie the knot so that the illegals could live happily ever after, if not in marital bliss, then as permanent residents of the U.S.

As that $117K in walking-around money may suggest, Knoller wasn’t doing this out of the goodness of her heart, or for political reasons. She was charging fees of up to $12,000 for her matchmaking skills. And un-matchmaking skills. Knoller was full-service: she took care of follow-on divorces, as well.

The fee may seem high, but green cards are still pretty darned priceless. Plus she had expenses: the brides and grooms for hire commanded a hefty $6K pay-off for participating in the not so “wedding of their dreams.”

The Brazilians face deportation; the willing Americans are apparently not being prosecuted. What with the high unemployment rate these days, I suppose they’re looked upon as junior entrepreneurs.

Still, the late-great Elizabeth Taylor aside, you can only get married so many times. But as a yenta, well, Knoller lived pretty well. Her piece of the American dream is a home in Holyoke and a couple of rental properties in Chicopee.

Now working at a donut shop and awaiting her upcoming hearing, Knoller had logged some time working for an immigration lawyer in Springfield before putting out her own shingle in 2005.

Her practice incorporated elements of do-it-yourself lawyering, and the venerable house party. She would hold parties to which she invited eager-to-stay Brazilians and Americans (mostly from Puerto Rico, I guess figuring that Spanish and Portuguese are both close enough to the universal language of love such that each “I do” was understandable to the insignificant/significant other).

Knoller took care of it all: paperwork, translators, wedding photos, coaching on “what to wear, how to act” and how “to tell an [immigration] officer a story of love and marriage.”

Now, Knoller faces up to 10 years in prison as well as forfeiture of her Holyoke home and the two rental properties - and deportation to Brazil.

Wonder what her clients will do if they run into her, say, on the beach in Ipanema?

I wouldn’t want to be in her sandals, no matter how soft and tan and young and lovely she may well be.

Source: Boston Globe.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Just hop on the bus, Gus

Although the rickshaw, the Conestoga wagon, and the railway handcar are arguably less comfortable modus tranportandi, if I were to nominate my least favorite means to get from Point A to Point B, I would have to say it’s the bus.

Put me behind the wheel of a Beetle and aaahandcar[3]aim it toward the West Coast, and I could happily do a cross-country trek, stopping to smell the roses, smile at the prairie dogs, and eat lemon meringue pie, served by waitresses named Mabel, in “Eat Here” diners along the way.

Romance of the rails? I’m there. With the exception of a flea-bitten night spent in a Spanish sleeper car, I have never been on a train trip that I didn’t enjoy. To me, the major pitfall of long train travel is that you inevitably fall asleep during part of it, so you miss some of those woebegone towns that aren’t even whistle-stops. How can you not love clackety-clacketing along, wondering who lives in that remote outpost – the one in the way-far distance with the night-light burning?

When I was a kid, we would alternate train trips with car travel from Worcester to Chicago to pay our bi-annual calls on my mother’s family, and both methods have their distinct pleasures.

As for boats, while the idea of a long cruise doesn’t hold much appeal to me, I do like commuter boats. Most recently, I took one with my niece Caroline from Provincetown to Boston after a weekend at the Wellfleet home of my sister and her husband. I was a bit under the weather on that voyage, so I mostly dozed, but I was alert enough to realize that we must have been experiencing the tail-end of Bear Week in P-town, as Caroline and I were among a small non-male, non-burly, non-hirsute cohort on the trip.

As long as the seas are calm, boats rock!

I wish there were a fast boat from Boston to NYC. Now that would be something.

Plane travel I have always enjoyed.

From my first leavin’ for Europe on a jet plane in 1973, when I didn’t even know how to fasten the seat belt, to this past weekend’s shuttle to NY, flying is something I like to frequent – body cavity search and all.

But the bus?

Alas, while I have had any number of bus trips in my life, I can’t say that there were many that I looked much forward to, with the exception of the annual Junior Catholic Daughters trip from Worcester to Boston to watch the thrilling film at Cinerama (the 1960’s version of IMAX)  – whee! – and eat at the Eli Whitney Restaurant on Route 9 on the way back. (I’ll tell you, we knew how to live large when I was a kid.)

Fortunately,  most of my bus trips were relatively short, the longest two being a school-bus trip to Washington to protest the Viet Nam War, and an attempt to Escape from New York via bus one Thanksgiving Evening. Fall asleep at Port Authority. Wake up three hours later passing Yankee Stadium. Can this be right???? The horror.

But mostly I no like the bus, and, given a choice between bus and a mode of transportation to be named later, I will opt for the great unknown.

I understand that there is actually a nice bus to NYC from Boston, but I haven’t been on it as yet, When I think bus to NYC, my thoughts stray to the Fung Wah and Lucky Star $10/trip wrecks that I see occasionally on the Mass Pike, engines smoking and/or pulled off to the side awaiting rescue.

Despite my antipathy towards buses as a way to go, I read with interest a recent study from the American Bus Association which found that, if we stopped subsidizing plane service in 38 smaller, off the beaten path cities, we could save close to $89 million in taxpayer money each year. Which seems like an amount worth saving, especially when you keep in mind that it could nicely pay my upcoming (in the not so distant future) Social Security and Medicare tab, and then some.

The average cost of providing service would be reduced by as much as $291 per passenger, according to the Washington-based trade group’s study. Rather than considering only air service for these cities, the U.S. should “look at what makes the most sense,” Peter Pantuso, the association’s president and chief executive officer, said on a call with reporters today.

The cities analyzed were those within 150 miles of a decent sized airport that have service from pokey town airport a to decent sized city AIRPORT B underwritten.

I well understand that backwater second-tier cities want to have airport service.

As anyone who lives in a city like, say, Worcester, Massachusetts, is well aware, it’s almost embarrassing not to have a humming, viable airport. But Worcester-ites are served by several airports within 50 miles of The Heart of the Commonwealth: Logan, Manchester, Bradley (Hartford), and Green (Rhode Island). Because these airports are relatively close at hand – an easy drive – Worcester may not be one of the tax sucking cities with subsidized to-and-fro flights.

But White River Junction in Vermont is.

As are Jamestown, NY; Mason City, IA; Greenville, MS; Laramie, WY; Altoona, PA; Muscle Shoals, AL; Kingman, AZ.

All worthy places, no doubt.

But are they worthy of an average $291 per passenger air travel subsidy just so that travelers can save face by flying, an altogether more upscale means of travel, rather than arrive via the lowly bus?

The study examined the viability of bus service as an alterative in about one-fourth of the 153 communities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico that receive air subsidies.

Savings could be greatest in Jonesboro, Arkansas, located 79 miles from Memphis, and Kingman, Arizona, 103 miles from Las Vegas, the study said.

Taxpayers provide $801 in subsidies per passenger for airline service to Jonesboro and $651 per passenger for Kingman service, according to the study.

Using buses instead of planes would also save 5.7 million gallons of petroleum a year and cut carbon-dioxide emissions as much as 63,500 tons, the report said.

Saving money, plus cutting emissions?

What’s not to like?

Much as I sympathize with the desire of someone to get out of Kingman, Arizona as rapidly as possible – I have driven through Kingman, and, thus, know whereof I speak – is it really worth spending $651 to underwrite every pilgrim who wants to visit the birthplace of Andy Devine?

I think not.

“Transportation policy needs to focus on moving people and goods efficiently, and not necessarily being sexy,” said Shirley Ybarra, senior transportation policy analyst with the Reason Foundation [one of the co-sponsors of the study].

Nope, bus travel is decidedly non-sexy, but that’s no reason why the folks in Kingman et al. can’t just hop on the bu.


Link to the study.

Friday, September 23, 2011

I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps

And that’s precisely what I’ll be doing tomorrow morning.

Yes, for the first time since the ‘attack of the b** bugs’, my husband and I are off to New York City for a long, and long overdue, weekend.

We will be well-protected from the bug that dares not speak its name, or should not, anyway – at least in our house. We’re wearing full-body condoms, and will be dipping our suitcases in wax for the duration. On our return home, we will burn those suitcases, everything in them, and the very clothes off of our backs, in a pyre that we’ve set up in the backyard of our building. Since we’ll be naked at this point, we may walk through the flames for some sort of ritual purification. Haven’t fully thought that one through quite yet. Maybe we’ll freeze dry ourselves, instead.

It will be an interesting weekend to be in The City, given that the Red Sox will be in town. We’ll no doubt catch one game at one of the many Red Sox-friendly bars, but I’ll go easy on showing my colors. Who needs the agita? (Who needs the ridicule? )

Plus I don’t want to lose a cap in the post-trip bonfire.

With all this trip preparation, there’s time only for this brief post.

Other than to note that I read recently that brown marmorated stink bugs – yet another unintended consequence of all those cheap imports from China – are now found in 30 states, including New York. And they’re not just stinking things up, they’re consuming fruits and veggies on their skunkish way.

Man, these lousy insects can be nasty, brutish, and way too in the face...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

If I have one life, let me live it as a luxury marketer

A few weeks ago, my sister Trish gave me a copy of her alumni rag for the NYU Stern business school. On the cover was a picture of a white-gloved hand about to ping a front desk bell resting on diamonds.

In real life, those diamonds were no doubt cubic zirconium posing as diamonds, but the point was made: Trish’s alma mater has a new specialization.

Forget hedge funds, the new road to MBA riches is through luxury marketing.

There was no ‘let them eat cake’ quote, but the article does include a side bar with a bit from 19th century American historian and diplomat, John Lothrop Motley:

Give us the luxuries of life, and we will dispense with its necessaries.

Which may well be where our country’s magical mystery tour ends up: with the luxuries of life granted to the few, who will proceed to dispense to the many whatever necessaries they deign to grant us, which, as it looks, is unlikely to include health care or postal service – the provision of which, apparently, are socialist plots.

With an incredibly shrinking middle to market to, it’s no surprise that canny consumer marketers would follow the money to the luxury sectors. But the drivers here are no longer just the hedgies at the wheels of their Maseratis, but, increasingly, the rising upper-crusts in the BRIC countries. Let’s hope that some of their wealth trickles over in the same way that domestic wealth, as we are repeatedly assured, trickles down. (Hmmmmm. Now that I think about the word choice here, we should have been more focused on that word “trickle”, rather than on the word “down.”)

Anyway, now that Stern-os can sign up for a degree in luxury marketing, I decided to go straight to the horse’s thoroughbred’s mouth: The NYU-Stern School website, where I learned that:

The specialization in Luxury Marketing allows students to develop the perspective and skills necessary to pursue careers in the luxury sector… Luxury industry companies who have hired Stern graduates recently include Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdale's, Chanel, Coach, Hermès, and Tiffany & Co.

Within this concentration,  students can learn about Prestige Brands in a Digital Age, Doing Business in Italy, and – for a bit of domestic bliss – Operations in Entertainment: Las Vegas.

Wonder if you could combine some of what you learn in Operations in Entertainment: Las Vegas with Doing Business in Italy and figure out how to market directly to the needs and wants of mega-lux buyer, Silvio Berlusconi – kind of a double major.

Personally, I find it somewhat disheartening that some very bright young MBA things will be so focused on getting Richie Rich to step up from a near-Timex Breguet pocket watch going for a mere $734,000, to Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon priced at $1.3M. (Source: Menpulse – whatever that is.) This is perhaps because,  mired in the bourgeois, middle-class, middle-brow demographic that nobody wants to market to anymore, I somehow persist in believing that there is a point of diminishing returns on the value and utility of an object.

I understand that new Camry is more comfortable and runs better than an old beater bought at a buy-here-pay-here used car lot, and that a new Audi is probably more comfortable and runs better than that Camry.  That $15 shoes from Pay-Less will fall apart quicker than the $100/pair shoes ordered from Zappo’s; and that a pair of handcrafted shoes built to (your own personal) last beat Zappo’s.

And I do believe that someone with a lot of money has every right in the world to spend that lot of money on whatever they want.

But does a $1.3M watch really tell the time much more accurately than a $734K one?

And does jacking someone up so that they start believing that nothing is good enough for them really add all that much value to the world?

Unfortunately, there’s probably no point in figuring out to market to going-going-gone middle class these days. It’s either you-get-what-you-get at the Dollar Store, or jewel-encrusted toilet paper holders for cashmere t.p.

The Luxury Marketing MBA may well be a step in an inevitable direction, but, as an indicator of where the world is going, it ain’t necessarily a step in the right one.

A tip of the platinum trimmed mortarboard to my sister Trish, a Stern School grad of a kinder, gentler era.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

For some Maine lobsters, the pressure’s on

I know that in life you have to take the bad with the good. And that, the older you get, the badder the new bad gets. And the gooder the old good looks.

Still, with all the shucking and jiving change that we have to contend with, there are some things you assume will be constant, at least as long as you’re around.

Among the things I have assumed would remain that same are certain food stuffs.

I just do not want to live in a world where, come summer, there is no corn on the cob, summer tomatoes, ice cream, or lobster.

And I want these food stuffs to be available in the same way, shape, and form that they were in when I first learned the pleasures of consuming them.

Thus, I have assumed that there will always be farm stands, where, come August and September, New Englanders can buy corn that they will shuck and boil or grill. That the tomatoes from said farm stands will taste like tomatoes. That on the way home from the farm stand, we will be able to stop by an some ice cream place and get a hand-packed pint of Cranberry Bog, Maple Walnut, or Maine Black Bear. And that the centerpiece of at least one summer repast will be lobster.

The lobster will be bought live, tossed in a heavy paper bag with however many of his luckless brethren you’ll be serving and taken home to await its fate. And will meet its maker – if there is, indeed, an afterlife for crustaceans – in a big pot full of water at a rolling boil, learning the hard way that life can, indeed, be nasty, brutish, and short.

While life as it knew it has now ended for the lobster, within a few minutes, you will have the pleasure of cracking open its claws, twisting off the tail and poking the meat through, dipping everything in drawn butter, and sucking what there is to be had out of the legs. (Which is never much.) After this messy pleasure, you will squeeze a lemon on your hands to cut the butter grease, and then cast around for a “moist towel-ette.”

Of course, having been a waitress in restaurants that served lobsters to tourists, I understand that there are some people who:

a) do not know how to tackle a lobster; and

b) bizarrely, and, I will add, disgracefully, have no desire to learn the simple lobster-eating techniques that give both pleasure and meaning to life.

Worse, some of them are vegan-squeamish about consuming something that they “knew” when it was still an animate, if not quite sentient, being. No problema with a thick and juicy steak that came from a cattle that likely had a few IQ points on a lobster, let alone with bacon that came from a relatively Einstein-ish pig. But, ewwwww, that little lobster is alive.

Still, I was completely unprepared for the news out of Richmond, Maine, that there is a new way of bridging the distance between lobster trap and tourist maw.

It has been introduced to our region by one John Hathaway, a restaurateur who discovered that most tourists wanted something called the Lazy Man Lobster, in which someone else has spared you the exercise of cracking and twisting. Tourists, he found, just want the eats.

Then Hathaway got wind of a high pressure method that Louisianans were using to process oysters, which, along with killing off bacteria and parasites, also yielded the benefit of shucking the oyster itself.

I understand why someone would want to obviate the need shuck an oyster, which is, by degree of difficulty, a 10 when compared to maybe a 2 or 3 for opening up a lobster. Shucking is hard. And if you don’t wear a glove, you can really hurt your hand doing it. Unless you’re a complete klutz, and manage to crack your knuckles with the lobster cracker or stab yourself with the pick, eating a lobster is not particularly dangerous.

So Hathaway took some live lobsters down to bayou country.

When Hathaway placed his live lobsters inside the oysterman’s machine, several things happened. The lobster came out looking exactly as it had before it went in, only it was no longer alive. But inside the lobster, the change was dramatic: the pressure had forced the meat to detach from the exoskeleton, which meant that when the shell was cracked, the meat slid out whole, undamaged, but still raw.

“It was amazing,’’ Hathaway said of that moment when he first held raw lobster meat. Previously, it was nearly impossible to get usable lobster meat out of the shell without cooking it, or at least blanching it.

This was a few years back, and since then he’s been selling raw lobster meat out of his company, Shucks Maine Lobster, which is located in what was once a golf shoe factory – which no doubt moved to South Caroline in the 1960’s and Vietnam in the 2000’s.

Although I have never seen this sort of pressure uncooked lobster on a menu, apparently it’s out there. Steve Corry is one Maine chef who finds the new way of lobster death a “game changer.”

“Steaming and boiling are aggressive ways to cook meat,’’ he said. “But when you can cook a lobster slowly, at 145 degrees, the difference is unbelievable. It’s tender instead of chewy, especially with the tough tail. You get something that you could easily slice through with a butter knife.’’

But, Steve, it’s supposed to be a little chewy, so you can work off some of the drawn butter calories.

Anyway, not only does Corry find the end-product better, but he was never that comfortable with the boiling method.

“You can argue whether they feel pain or not, but I’ll tell you this much, they know something is happening when you pop them into the water,’’ he said. “They’re hissing and kicking at you. I feel bad.’’

Maybe the lobsters I’ve tossed in the pot had their senses dulled by time served in that paper bag, but I have never had one hiss at me. Sure, they flail around a bit, but it has never struck me as panicked – perhaps because it was the lobster, not me, that was being dangled over a pot of boiling water by someone who weighed more than 100 times what they do. But hiss?

Despite some success selling to locals, Hathaway doesn’t believe that the future for raw lobster lies in Maine restaurants which, after all, do have pretty darned good access to live lobster, not to mention a long tradition of encouraging tourists to experience the real New England by eating a lobster the way that real New Englanders do.

No, since lobsters cost a lot to ship – at least if you want them to arrive alive – Hathaway believes that raw lobster meat will prove an attractive alternative to both live-shipped, and cooked and frozen lobster. Especially in Asia, where:

“They only trust raw.’’

Like Corry, Hathaway argues that his method is more humane than boiling. But I don’t know whether we can trust him completely on this, as it was revealed in the article that Shucks’ COO is a Harvard Business School grad.

All this just-say-no-to-boiling-a-lobster sentiment I find interesting. So much for the locavore, nose-to-tail, get to know your own chicken movement.

I do have to confess that, if I really thought about it, I would probably be a vegetarian. But, hey, I don’t think about it.

I do think about life without the simple summer pleasures of a lobster and corn-on-the-cob dinner.

What if they find out that the corn feels pain, too?

Source: Boston Globe.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Doll house, yes! Star Wars action figures, no! (This year’s nominations for the Toy Hall of Fame are out.)

Well the long awaited nominations for coveted inclusion in The National Toy Hall of Fame are out, and the list is an interesting one.

The Doll House is on it, and that’s my personal fave, even if I have never actually had a doll house. I did get to share the use of my sister Kathleen’s, which was painted tin and altogether pretty cheesy, and nobody’s idea of a dream doll house. To this day, I am always drawn to doll houses, and, whenever I see them on sale, like to poke around and look at the miniature furniture and finishings. I guess this is not surprising, given that I have it all planned out how I could live in a 99 square foot home. Small is beautiful! So, go, Doll House!

Star Wars action figures have also been nominated. Basically, what I know about Star Wars is what registered in my brain during the first twenty minutes of the first movie, at which time I exited the auditorium and never picked up where I left off. Of course, it’s impossible not to know that Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, R2D2, 3CPO, and Princess Leia actually do, errrrr, exist. It’s just that none of this has ever captured my interest. While action figures are dolls – and, thus, good and imagination-spurring toys – I would have to give this one a voting pass, if anyone from The National Toy Hall of Fame should care to ask.

Dungeons & Dragons? I’m a Star Wars scholar compared to what I know about D&D, although I did use to work with a guy who was into it. And how, pray tell, does fantasy role play qualify as a toy?

Hot Wheels, on the other hand, are a toy. And given that cars do for one category of small children what dolls do for another  - I’m not making any secondary sex characteristic pronouncement here; if you want to interpret this one your way, feel free to do so – I would give a vote to Hot Wheels, as well. That is, unless there’s something better on the list.

Jenga? Although I once used Jengas as a dimensional mailer to capture the interest of analysts in some god-awful product I was marketing – it kind of worked: at least they knew who I was when I called – I don’t think that Jenga ever reached the level of popularity that would qualify it for TNTHofF. Just saying.

The Pogo Stick was an iconic toy of my childhood. That is, it would have been if any one I knew had ever had one. Which they didn’t. Still, we would see them all the time in books portraying kids at play. Of course, those books always showed the little girls playing in smocked cotton dresses, so they were already a little dated and bogus. But I did always want a Pogo Stick back in the day. Today, I would fear that, even if they came in my size, I would fall off it and break a hip.

The puppet. The PUPPET? Sure, there are some wonderful puppets out there – cute little furry animals – but puppets, perhaps because they are first cousins to the marionette and the ventriloquist dummy – are way, way, way too close to the clown to not conjure up a tad bit of creep factor.

Remote Control Vehicles. Fun, for sure, but I would not swap them out as vehicle of choice in a head to head against Hot Wheels, which actually have to be human-powered, both for the motion and for the accompanying vroom-vroom noises.

Someone with no spatial reasoning is never going to vote for Rubik’s Cube. Honestly, I’m really good at logic puzzles, but I draw the line here. I think the most I was ever able to do was line up two squares of the same color next to each other. Come on, toys aren’t supposed to make some kids feel dumb while it makes other kids feel smart, are they? I mean, there are enough things in life that do that.

Simon was the one item on the list that, while I was aware of its existence, I had absolutely no idea whatsoever what it was. Alas, all these many years too late, I learn that it is a memory game. While I suppose I would have to categorize it using my Rubik’s Rubric of toys not making some kids look smart and other kids look dumb, I will say that this sounds like the sort of thing that I would have excelled at. Tis pity.

Transformers? Another no vote, I’m afraid. Too much the spawn of Star Wars action figures and Rubik’s Cube for my taste.

Last on the list, Twister.  Been there, played that. A tad bit too much potential for your head to end up in someone else’s crotch – or worse. Surely, it must have been a mortal sin for Catholics to play Twister?

Bottom line: my votes go to the Doll House and Hot Wheels.

We’ll see what happens come November 10th when this year’s two inductees are named.

List source: Rochester Business Journal. Rochester is home of the Strong National Museum of Play, which houses the Hall of Fame.


I missed last year’s new inductee announcement by a couple of months, but did redeem myself with a belated post, and The National Toy Hall of Fame is absolutely on my bucket list. Or would be if I had one.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kweku Adoboli: Ah, yet another rogue trader.

Man, I don’t know why anyone in his or her right mind would think for a New York, Singapore, or London minute that financial institutions needed to be regulated.

After all, if, say, some thirty-something trader wants to go rogue, he’s a criminal, right? And you can’t regulate criminals. Just like the poor, as long as there’s testosterone and money to be made, rogue traders – make that criminal rogue traders -  will always be with us.

The latest is Kweku Adoboli of UBS (formerly, I imagine)  – who the commenting wags on the WSJ are already saying looks like President Obama since, after all, with a continent of over 1 billion people, not to mention the millions in the diaspora, one might expect that they all look alike. (The Deal Journal apparently took down Adaaeugenieoboli’s picture but, trust me, he looked about as much like Barack Obama as he does like Princess Eugenie, whose picture remains – and was there to begin with – because Adoboli, according to his Facebook page, was a member of “a group devoted to the infamous hat Princess Beatrice wore to the April royal wedding of England’s Prince William and Kate Middleton.” Social media really is the gift that keeps on giving, no?)

Anyway, as The NY Times had it, Adoboli was arrested last week in London “on suspicion of fraud by abuse of position”, which I guess translates into unauthorized trading – to the tune of $2B in losses – mucking around with what might have been equities, or what might have been (oh, heinous of heinous) derivatives, at the UBS Investment Bank. The day after the “oops” discovery of this slight problem, UBS shares dropped 8 percent. The rest of the European banking sector experienced a lift. (Reverse coattails?)

The incident raises questions about the bank’s management and risk policies at time when it is trying to rebuild its operations and bolster its flagging client base.

Ya think? Even though the $2B loss is a piffling piddle, a piddling piffle, when compared to the $7B goner that Jérôme Kerviel of Société Générale, the last of the big time rogue traders, racked up a few years back.

The case could also bolster the efforts of regulators who have pushing in some countries to separate trading from private banking and other less risky businesses.

Ya think? Could it be that Messrs. Steagall and Glass will be vindicated yet?

One has to wonder what was going on in Adoboli’s mind while he was UBS-needs-a-new-pair-of-shoes-ing his way into what will likely be prison time.

Did he set out to make a little walking around money for himself by somehow pocketing the proceeds? Was he trying to pump his bonus? Surprise his boss with a bit of ‘hey, look what I made for us while everyone else was wasting company time – I friended it on a Saturday at 3 p.m. -  signing up for the Princess Eugenie’s hat FB page’?

I really don’t know how these things start, but it’s pretty clear how they end up, isn’t it?

Even if the initial motive is “good” (if greed is really good), when things start to turn bad, the options become fess up (ugh!) or keep trying to dig yourself out of a hole. This is how gamblers end up taking a bullet, is it not?  Good money just keeps chasing bad.

UBS sent out a memo to employees:

We urge you to stay focused on your clients, who are counting on you to guide them through these uncertain times.

Because, let’s face it, they better not be counting on the “us” that let this incident happen on our watch. And, of course, we know that you will stay 100% focused, and that there will be no gossip – let alone joke tweets racing around the trading floor – in response to this situation.

We want to reassure you that we, together with the rest of the management, are working closely with the Investment Bank’s management and risk and controlling to get to the bottom of the matter as quickly as possible, and will spare no effort to establish exactly what has happened.

Ah, the old close-the-barn-door strategy. Except that we always want to leave that door just a wee bit ajar, just in case we want to sneak a peek at a horse, or feed it a sugar lump with a carrot chaser…

We will keep you updated on the progress of our investigation.

The Group Executive Board

Well, that “Group Executive Board” signature sure does make it all seem personal, like there’s someone up there who’s got accountability and responsibility on his mind.

All I know is that young Mr. Adoboli would have been better off if he’d spent more time admiring Princess Eugenie’s millinery, and less time playing with the house money.

Here’s couple of earlier post on Jérôme Kerviel;

For Jérôme Kerviel, payback’s going to be one frothing bee-yotch on wheels…

I suspect I’ll be doing a similar one for Kweku Adoboli in a couple of years.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What will Arizona think of next?

Remind me – if I ever go to prison – not to end up in the pokey in Arizona.

Not only don’t I like the heat, let alone bunking in an un-air conditioned pup-tent  - or wherever it is that the S&M sheriff of Maricopa County puts up scofflaws - but it would also cost friends, family, and readers of Pink Slip a bit of walking around money to come and visit me.

Anyway, refuting the age old notion that crime doesn’t pay – which, given Bernie Madoff’s 40 year crime cum luxury living spree, we didn’t quite believe to begin with; if nothing else, it can pay for a good long while  - the Arizona Department of Corrections is now planning to levy a one-time fee (covering a background check) on those who want to visit inmates. (Source: NY Times.)

It’s only $25. And it’s just a one-time deal. And they did strike down the background fee check for infants and children. Now only those over 18 are subject to it. (It isn’t clear whether those infants and children will still get background checked – you never know what Junior might have hidden in his diaper -  it’s just that they won’t have to pay for the privilege.

Still, there is something unsettling about charging folks for this sort of service. Kinda mean. Kinda punitive. Kinda snarky.

Despite what you might think, it’s not as if most prisoners are bespokely suited slicksters  in the country club stir for some financial finagling. In fact, I do believe that it’s more likely that the majority of prisoners are from poor enough backgrounds that a $25 charge might actually hurt a bit.

But lest you think for a New York, Rikers Island minute that this was the smugly passive-aggressive intent behind this initiative, or if you might be inclined to suspect that -  heaven forefend – it’s a tiny little class warfare skirmish, the state is doing it to keep its prisons, if not safe for democracy (heck, felons can’t vote, anyway), then safe for staff, inmates and visitors:

“Maintenance funds for our buildings are scarce in this difficult economic time,” [Corrections Department spokesman Barrett Marson] said. “A $25 visitation fee helps to ensure our prisons remain safe environments for staff, inmates and visitors.”

What will Arizona think of next?

Well, they already have thought about charging a 1% surcharge on funds deposited in a prisoner’s account. Who do they think they are, anyway, BofA? Sheeesh.

So what else could they do to try to eke out a bit more in revenues to help cover their deficit.

Sticking with prisons for a mo’, forget the prison laundries we’ve seen in movies – you know, the ones in which prisoners work for 14 cents a day, and always seem to end up using a mangle on some fellow-prisoners head – how about coin-op laundromats?

And why not automats, rather than chow lines?

Personally, I’ve always wanted to eat in an automat – put in my dime and get some piping hot chicken noodle soup, drop in a nickel for a piece of cherry pie – but it probably wouldn’t be worth it to wend my way into an Arizona prison for that particular privilege, if they do follow up on my idea. Which they should.

How about paying for cell upgrades? Cell with a view? A single? A room with bathroom en suite – just not out in the open with the toilet next to your bunk? In the outside world, people pay for upgrades all the time. Just watch a few episodes of House Hunters on HGTV, and you’ll see what I mean. Maybe some of the bunks could have Tempur-Pedic mattresses, 700 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, matching duvet covers.

They could charge for use of the prison library, fitness equipment, time in the yard: you’d have to pay extra to get your stroll in during temperate hours. Prisoners who can’t come up with the scratch have to do their aimless meandering and blunt trade, sweltering at high noon.

Back to those prison visitors, who have pockets just waiting to be picked by the state.

Why not charge for parking in the visitors’ parking lot? Offer premium visiting hours? Wanna visit sonny boy at noon on Christmas? Ka-ching! And why aren’t those phones, the ones that loved ones use to communicate through the smudged and scratched up plexiglass, coin-operated. “Your three minutes are up. Please deposit an additional 25 cents.”

The one and only time I stepped toe in a prison was when the Notre Dame Academy Glee Club presented our Christmas Chorale to the inmates of the Worcester County Jail.

Perhaps this was a formative experience which has, lo these many years later, has turned me into some kind of genius when it comes to monetizing the prison experience.

Arizona Department of Corrections: you’ll be hearing from me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Vinyl: Long play the LP.

A few weeks ago, I saw (yet another) article on the resurgence of vinyl record albums. I can’t recall where I saw this particular article. My mental note just said “blog about LP’s”. And, hey, I always do what those mental notes tell me to do. That is, when I remember the mental notes.

Before I owned a record album, I had a few singles – 45 rpm records.  The first one I ever bought: Jerry Lee Lewis “Great Balls of Fire.”

I had seen Jerry Lee perform this number of American Bandstand and thought it was just HI-larious. So I knifed fifty cents worth of dimes and nickels out of my amber glass piggy bank, and awayed to Woolworth’s. I was seven years old and, goodness gracious, I felt like a teenager.


Goodness gracious.

My next 45 purchase came a couple of years later: Johnny Horton’s “Sink the Bismarck.” (I always was a World War II buff, and this irresistible number started “In May of 1941, the war had just begun. The Germans had the biggest ship, which had the biggest guns.”) Johnny was a rockabilly singer who specialized in “historically” themed songs. His other two big hits were “The Battle of New Orleans” and “North to Alaska (a-go north, the rush is on)”.

Those may have been the only 45’s I ever owned. 45’s were a relic of an earlier era, one with bobby-soxed, pony-tailed teenagers at soda fountains. 45’s were so 1950’s.

For those of us who came of teen-age in the 1960’s, the 33 rpm LP, a.k.a., “an album”, was the thing.

The first album I remember owning was Richard Chamberlain Sings. Richard Chamberlain!!!! A complete and utter dreamboat! Calling Dr. Kildare….Richard Chamberlain Sings (TV's Dr. Kildare) As with just about any other LP I ever owned, I could probably queue up one note and karaoke my way through the entire oeuvre. After all, what’s a first big love interest for if not to moon over his baby blues, and the smooth way he had with the lyrics to “Three Stars Will Shine Tonight.” Be still my twelve-year-old heart.

I remember asking my mother whether she found Richard Chamberlain handsome, and she told me that she found him callow. I had to look the word up. Hiss, boo! Someone who had had a teenage crush on Nelson Eddy had the nerve to call Richard Chamberlain callow?

My next crush album was that of Pernell Roberts, who played Adam Cartwright on Bonanza. I got this opernellne for Christmas in 1963, and my older cousin Robert made some sarcastic comment about my wanting this album because I liked Adam. I huffily told him that I wanted this record because Adam, I mean Pernell, had a wonderful voice and I loved his songs. So there! (Okay, okay. I had a crush on Adam – the brainy one - when every right-thinking, sane girl in America went for Little Joe – the cute one. Fast forward a year or two and my favorite Beatle was John, not Paul.)

By the next Christmas, however, my musical tastes had gotten a bit more sophisticated, and Judy Collins was my album of choice. From there on out, it was mostly folk music – from the echt-authentic Tom Rush to the faux-entertaining Chad Mitchell Trio. And, of course, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. My pop faves ran to Simon and Garfunkel, and the Mamas and Papas.

Of course, I also owned some Beatles’ albums although, as a snob, I came a bit late to Beatles delirium – admitting to it maybe six months after everyone else my age had gone gaga. But by the time Hard Days Night (the movie) came around, I came around.

I played my albums on the family’s Webcor stereo and, later, on the plastic (RCA?) portable stereo that my sister Kath had.

And I played not just my albums, but Kath’s, as well. Kath is a bit older and her tastes were more refined. My guess is that the Bob Dylan albums I remember as mine were really hers. While the Chad Mitchell LP’s were all mine.

When I wanted to go down-market, I played my brother Tom’s Beach Boy records. (Tom later became a fan of Moondog – if you don’t know, DO NOT ASK – and Jethro Tull. Moondog and Jethro were among the hundreds of LP’s we hauled off to the St. Vincent DePaul thrift shop when my mother sold the house we grew up in.)

Living in a small house with a lot of people, there was also no escaping my brother Rick’s repeated playing of “The Impossible Dream” album, commemorating the Red Sox 1967 pennant year. (“Carl Yastrzemski! Carl Yastrzemski! The man they call Yaz, We Love ‘im!…”). Nor my sister Trish’s round-the-clock Jolly Holiday with Mary Poppins.

We also had a lot of Broadway musical albums, which I played incessantly. The comedy albums of Bob Newhart (he of the button-downed mind), Vaughn Meador (JFK imitator), and Allen Sherman (Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah!)

There was some classical music, too, but that was a tad too high-brow for me. South Pacific and West Side Story, any old day.

Ah, the pleasures of those vinyl records: dropping the needle into the just the right groove so you could play your favorite songs over and over again. The tragic discovery of a scratch. Nudging the needle along to move over the skips. Putting a penny or nickel on the needle arm to prevent skipping to begin with. And, oh, all that cool info on the back cover and – bonus – liner notes.

And now, as it is periodically announced, LP’s are back, replacing the CD’s favored by us old fogeys. A nice complement to the download of the favorite tune only, which come with no written word, no cover art, no thought given to the how and why “they” came up with order of the dozen or so songs on an album. What made it to the A side, what was relegated to the B.

I no longer have a turntable, so I couldn’t play an LP even if I had one.

But I used to have plenty of them.

Even as CD’s started to gain in popularity, I spent a fortune at the Harvard Coop on albums that I loved but didn’t own. The guy working in the record department told me I was wasting my money, and I should buy CD’s instead.

Which, of course, I ended up doing a year or so later – replacing the entire schmeer of LP’s I’d just invested in.

The albums mostly ended up at my mother’s, from whence they made their way to the St. Vinnie D’s store.

A few months later I saw a lot of the same albums on sale at a flea market for a lot more than the average price of $3 that they originally went for.


And if we’d only held on to them even longer, we’d have experienced the LP resurgence.

Long play the LP!

(So when will we witness the return of the 78?)



Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bread and Circus: Outrageous Kid Parties

I was born in a little house in the big woods. When I was still quite small, we moved, in a Conestoga wagon, to a little house on the prairie, where we collected buffalo chips for fuel and my sister Mary went blind. We went to a one-room schoolhouse, and this girl Nelly, a town kid and a snotty snob, was mean to us. For Christmas, all I ever got was a walnut and a doll made out of a corn husk. For my sixth birthday, I got a ladle-full of water from the well. When I graduated from pre-school. Meh! There was no such thing. No pre-school, let alone graduation.

Oh, wait a second. What was I thinking.

It’s just that sometimes I conflate my own childhood with that of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Because mine – when you take away the television (from mine) and the picking up buffalo chips (from Laura’s) – was a lot closer to that of Laura I. W. than it was to that of the kids who “star” in the “reality” series Outrageous Kid Parties, a relatively recent excrescence popping out of the excrescence-packed TLC network. (Formerly known as The Learning Channel. I would say Ha. Ha. Except that, if you do watch this network, you really can learn quite a bit about narcissism, idiotic behavior, and such over-the-top consumption that it makes garden variety wretched excess look like Mother Teresa’s closet.)

I was introduced to this particular show by my nieces, and we watched a couple of episodes a few weeks back, howling all the way.

The two shows we watched both featured parties that cost over $30K. One was for a little girl’s sixth birthday; the other for a five year old who had accomplished the tremendous feat of graduating from pre-school.

Where. To. Begin.

The party for six  year old Sadie had a country hoe-down theme, and I’m dead certain I’m not the first – and dead certain I won’t be the last – who thought ho-down. Especially once the party girl, with her grotesque make-up and plucked and shaped eyebrows, bratted her way onto the screen.

My favorite aspect of this was the scene in which Sadie’s fellow dance-class members – all little girls her own age – auditioned for the privilege of joining Sadie in a professionally choreographed line dance at the par-tay. Only three girls would be chosen, and they all had to strut their stuff while Sadie and her mother played Simon Cowell and took notes rating the girls. At one point, Sadie – in what was no doubt one of many scripted moments – announced to the assembled children, “You-all aren’t cutting it.”

While the lips of all the girls quivered, and the eyes of all the girls welled up, Sadie announced her picks.

I’ll say this for old Sadie. She didn’t necessarily go with the cutest girls, so I’m guessing that she picked her besties.

The dancing teacher then announced the wonderful news: all the girls were invited to the hoe-down. Yippee!

Where. To. Begin.

Who sets their kid up to sit in judgment like this on other little kids? Who allows their kids to take part in such a sadistic travesty?

Why not just have Sadie make her picks off-screen and then show the kids rehearsing?

But, of course, where would the dramatic arc be in that?

In another scene, which took place in the beauty parlor, Sadie pitched a fit in order to get her way and goad her mother into hring a Ferris wheel for the party. But I’ve seen fits pitched, and this one didn’t seem all that authentic. The script-ola, no doubt, called for the kid to throw a hissy to get her way. And so Sadie, apparently not much of an actor, half-heartedly threw a half-hearted fit.

The sub-theme on the show – which I guess is consistent throughout the “series” – is that Dad okays a $10K expenditure, while Mom sneaks around behind his back revving the toll up.

Another wonderful thing to “teach” on the channel formerly known as The Learning Channel. Not only are children supposed to whine and scream their way to whatever they want; not only are parents supposed to shrug and give in; but Dad is nothing more than a hapless Dagwood Bumstead, there only to write checks to cover the cost of manipulating bee-yotch Blondie’s ditsy spendathons.

On party day, Sadie, her friends and Mom were delivered to the party-site (a farm), in a jacked-up, high-rider stretch Hum-Vee (or something thereabouts). Sadie then made her grand entrance on a pony, stumbled through the professionally choreographed line-dance, dunked her sister in a dunking chair, and kissed good old Dad in the kissing booth.

Unfortunately, the Ferris wheel, having been struck by lightning, was a no show.

Sadie, to her credit, took the news well, leading me once again to believe that the “I must have a Ferris wheel” fit was a set-up.

Maybe everything was okey-dokey because her gift was a wooden play structure that cost nearly $6K.

It goes without saying that these parents have not just rocks in their heads, but boulders. Not only do they end up portrayed as imbeciles with poor taste and worse judgment, but they put their kids in the position of being targets of derision and harsh judgment. Like this one.

For all I know, Sadie is a bright and sweet little girl who was just thrown into this mess by her shallow, overbearing, attention-craving mother. But as portrayed in her pouty glory, Sadie comes across as a trifecta: dull, mean, and not particularly attractive.

Who does this to their kids?

Well, Donna on Long Island, for one.

Her poor little fellow, Derek, has a peanut allergy, and, thus, can’t let loose at other kids’ birthday parties, and has to eat at a special non-peanut table at pre-school.

And, thus, his attention-craving mother cooked up the idea of a peanut-free Willie Wonka party, where hundreds of Derek’s closest friends could gorge on candy, purple-dyed hot dogs and purple-dyed mac-and-cheese; watch hired Oompa-Loompas dance with Derek (in his own Willie Wonka outfit) to a specially choreographed, professionally written and orchestrated celebration song; and climb the $8.7K rock-wall that was Derek’s graduation gift, given in recognition of the sterling accomplishment of graduating from pre-school.

I know, I know, Laura Ingalls Wilder and I grew up in other centuries.

When I was growing up, kids got one or two birthdays per childhood. And I’m guessing that not one of the birthday parties I had or attended cost much more than $10 to throw. The birthday cakes were home-made. The party favors were blowers and/or tiny pink plastic baskets with loose M&M’s or sticks of gum in them. There were a couple of dime-store prizes for the winners of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, musical chairs, and the game where you were blindfolded and felt around a shirt-box containing familiar objects and then wrote down your guesses about what you had your hand on. Which wasn’t too hard to figure out, since pretty much every mother put in the same things: a spool of thread, a thimble, a tea-spoon, a marble, a jack (from a set of jacks, not a car), a pencil, a rubber band…

The only “swank” parties I attended were those for Maggie and Susie Shephard.  But just how “swank” is a party thrown in the first floor flat of a three-decker going to be? I guess in my min, those were “swank” because their parties were color-themed, with their mother dyed the ginger-ale with food coloring to match the blue or pink cake. Blue cake! Now that’s what I call living!

If it wasn’t your turn to have a birthday party, birthday was cake with the family, and some small gift from your parents, augmented by a buck-in-a-card from a bunch of aunts and uncles, and a fiver from your grandmothers. One year, my family gift was a boring book about polar bears; another year, a guck-gold wool sweater – the last color on the face of the earth that you would put on a blue-eyed, pink-skinned, blonde child. (Needless to say, I wasn’t getting my eyebrows plucked and wearing lipstick at age six. Although my mother did give us those lousy perms….)

Non-birthday celebrations – graduation, Holy Communion, Confirmation – were similarly low-key.

In fact, other than my eighth grade graduation – for which a class party was held in our back yard because we had one of the biggest ones, and because my mother was president of the OLA Mothers’ Club – I don’t remember any party for any of the above events for any of my siblings, beyond a family dinner to which my grandmother and the local aunt and uncles might have come.

But I do remember the actual events, which were not overshadowed by any post-party, wahoo celebration. That is, other than eighth grade graduation, which I can’t remember because there wasn’t one. On the last day of school, Sister Mary Flora distributed a little paperback on not giving into the devil and his tempting ways (a gift from Msgr. Lynch, our pastor) and then gave out a few prizes.  I got a pair of light purple glass rosary beads for having won a scholarship to high school. I had not been Sister Mary Flora’s candidate, and she was a bit peeved that I had had the audacity to win. So rather than utter my name, she turned her head, held out the beads, and called me to the front of the room by piss-ily announcing, “The girl who won the scholarship.” The awards ceremony over, she huffily addressed the class, “I suppose you all want to leave now.”

Which we did.

We trooped out into the schoolyard where, in front of the priests’ garage, we threw our ties (girls wore bow ties) into a heap, and one of the boys set the heap on fire.

We watched our ties flame up, then smolder for a few minutes, then we went our separate ways – none of which featured a $30K party. Just the hot-dog and hamburg party in the Rogers’ back-yard, where we all did the twist and my friend Rosemary and I took turns jumping in front of Billy Murphy to get him to dance with us. (He was pretty cute…)

Interestingly, the two families whose parties I “watched” on TLC didn’t strike me as all that supremely well to do. Both family houses were middle-class, but nothing special. We’re not talking hedge-fund estates here. But who knows. Maybe they’re in businesses that generate a lot of cash. Maybe they’re good little savers. Maybe they don’t mind going into a bit of debt to throw a once-in-a-lifetime party for their little darlin’. Maybe $30K is chump change, and not a new car or half a year at Harvard. (Hmmmm. Probably these folks are not quite thinking about a half year at Harvard.)

But neither family looked like the type who wouldn’t have better things to blow $30K on than an insanely elaborate party.

Such is the state of American “culture", however, that there is an apparently endless supply of people who so crave their fifteen minutes – I guess it’s a solid half an hour now – of fame that they’re willing to go on “reality” TV. Where they – and their families – will be portrayed in an extreme, and extremely unflattering, light. After which their half hour of fame will live on endlessly through on demand, YouTube and online commentary – 99% of which will be critical.

Meanwhile, we – the body politic – gets diverted from real reality by this sort of fake, bread and circus, “reality” show.

O tempora, o mores alright.

In case you’re interested, which – if you’re reading this blog – you probably aren’t, TLC is casting for Outrageous Kid Parties:

Are you planning on throwing an over the top party for your son or daughter? Would you like America to experience this event with you? If so, TLC's Outrageous Kid Parties wants to hear from you now! Please e-mail the following info [name, family bio, etcl]  to

Please don’t tell them I sent you.

A tip of the party hat to my nieces Molly and Caroline, with whom I watched Outrageous Kid Parties.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

‘I just like to sit around at home and read books all day.’

Although I really do hope and (metaphorically speaking) pray that I never, ever, ever, ever, ever have to apply for a job, and wend my way through the interview process, again in my life, I’m a sucker for any and all articles on “Magic Words for Interviews,” “Attack of the Killer Résumé Mistakes,” “Seven Habits of Successful Job Hoppers.”

Most of the time the advice is just fine, if completely banal and obvious – best not to wear that “Yankees Suck” tee-shirt on the first interview; never know who might be sitting on the other side of the desk. 

Thus a recent roundup of things not to put in your cover letter, on, caught my eye. (Actually, it didn’t catch my eye on, but, rather, in a e-mail blast from the WSJ. Just don’t want anyone to think I have nothing better to do with my time than hang out on trying to figure out how to get a job in the financial services industry. Not!)

I blitzed my way through the article, registering that, once again, the advice was for the most part of the fine but banal and obvious category. Then a somewhat discordant note was struck, redoubling my gratitude that I’m not looking for work. 

The one that completely jabbed me was the item about not focusing on your hobbies in your cover letter. This conversation, the article suggests, is best left to the interview, itself. Fine, fine, fine. Then there was this:

If you are asked in an interview about your hobbies and adventures, be prepared with a strong answer, says [Lindsay] Olson [who specializes in recruiting communications and marketing professionals]. "What a [job candidate] likes to do outside of work might show how they are in their job," she says. "As a hiring manager, what you don't like to hear is, 'I just like to sit around at home and read books all day.

Well, Lindsay, I was/am a pretty darned good communications and marketing professional and, as it so happens, there are not all that many things I’d rather do than “sit around at home and read books all day.”

Which is not to say that this is all I do. It’s just that, given my druthers, and a Myers-Briggs multiple choice list that also included “run with the bulls in Pamplona,” “win the Poker World Series”, or “enter a best-recipes for waxed beans contest,” I’d have to opt with that “sit around at home and read books all day.”

And as a hiring manager, if someone had told me that they liked to read, that would mostly be for the good.

Okay, not if I found out that the only things they liked to read were Sidney Sheldon novels or porn.

But mostly if someone told me that they liked to read, they’re also telling me that they are likely thinkers. That they are curious about how the world (and the human heart) works. That they understand and appreciate that everyone else in the world is not exactly like them. That they are open to new ideas, and to fresh viewpoints.

Since communication and marketing professionals should know how to write coherently, I’d also find it a big plus that a potential hire was a reader, since reading helps you learn what clear communication looks like, how written language is structured, what works and what doesn’t work on the page.

I can understand that, for a candidate, revealing yourself to be a serious reader, or having any sort of intellectual life, may be off putting to the interviewer. (It’s interesting, isn’t it, that someone could tell you that they were an Olympic pairs skater, and you’d probably think, ‘great’ rather than ‘man, this makes me feel so inadequate about my double-runner skating abilities.” But if someone lets on that the latest thing they read was Middlemarch in Japanese, or that they’re something of a savant when it comes to Ming vases, it makes you feel completely inadequate, and hoping that the person doesn’t see Janet Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum page-turner sticking out of your briefcase. Or just write the person off as an oddball.)

But to put down sitting around reading books all day….

It’s not exactly like revealing that what you really like to do all day is experiment with eye makeup and look at yourself in the mirror. Or sit around watching reruns of Bad Girls Club while eating double-stuffed Oreos. Or OCD-ing your kitchen floor clean.

Remind me never to look for work through Lindsay Olson.

Speaking of sitting around reading books all day, I highly recommend Emily Alone by Stuart O’Nan. Boy, can that guy write.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I’m not really a patient, I just play one at med school…

Many long years ago, I was in a restaurant in Carmel with my sister Trish. We were hoping to spot Clint Eastwood, but, instead, we sat next to two women. From their conversation, which we couldn’t but help eavesdrop on, we learned that they were actresses.

They were talking about their craft, preparing for roles, Method Acting, the intensity of their work, etc. We kept glancing over to see if they were anybody we knew. Or even recognized as extras on Hill Street Blues or St. Elsewhere or some other show of the era.

Then one of the women started talking about the great role she’d just had.

Needless to say, our eavesdropping ears perked right up. Only to droop down once we learned that she’d just played a stewardess in a Delta Airline training film.

I know enough writers to truly get that writing’s not the world’s easiest way to make a living, especially if you want to do the type of writing that you want to do (Great American Novel), and not the type of writing that, say, someone might want to pay you for (technology white paper). Still, it’s possible to make a decent living, especially if you’re willing to do the work that pays. At least IMHO, which is based on my humble experience.

But for actors it’s another matter.

If you can’t find arty-art acting work, you can do ads where you play the woman with the headache, and behind the scenes voiceovers (if Michael Douglas and Martin Sheen didn’t hog all the work), and I guess you can read books on tape (or whatever they call them these post-tape days). There are some corporate gigs. At a trade show, my company hired an actor to run through our spiel (while perched on a cherry picker over our booth), and I recognized him from an Advil ad.

Still, as with arty-art writing, there are a lot more people who want to do arty-arty acting than there are arty-art acting jobs. And seemingly fewer non-arty-art acting alternatives.

But there seems to be one interesting one, and that’s playing what is called a “standardized patient” so that medical students can study up on how to interact with people, not just textbooks and beakers.

Win May, who oversees the standardized patient program at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine says she has recruited actors who have appeared on TV shows such as "Mad Men" and "The Closer" or starred in commercials.  (Source: Wall Street Journal.)

The thought of working opposite John Slattery or John Hamm playing an ad exec suffering from smoker’s hack or enlarged liver or VD almost makes me want to go to med school. Is it too late to figure out Organic Chemistry?

In New York  City, what with plain vanilla Law and Order shutting down, and taking with it all those wonderful bit parts as the squabbling the finds the dead body on their front steps, or the crime scene cop, there are fewer jobs out there. But quite a few opportunities to get into med school.

Weill Cornell Medical College, the Manhattan school connected to Cornell University and New York Presbyterian Hospital, pays actors $25 an hour typically for an eight-hour day. The medical college invested $13 million in a standardized patients center opened in 2007. Along with a dozen exam rooms stocked with medical equipment, there are hidden cameras that record every interaction between students and actors; two-way mirrors allow faculty to observe.

Quinn Lemley, who does a one-woman Rita Hayworth show, is one such actor-as-patient. When interviewed for the article, she was playing a “newspaper editor with severe chest pains and a drug habit.”

I’m glad they give the patients a bit of a back story, but I guess that Quinn doesn’t get to sing “Put the Blame on Mame.”

Working with pretend patients is a required part of the med school curriculum, by the way, and has been since 2004. There’s even an organization dedicated to this practice: Association of Standardized Patient Educators.

There is a downside to using real actors, as opposed to the amateurs that med schools in the hustings have to use, given that their precincts aren’t crawling with would-bes.

"Sometimes, actors are a little bit dangerous because they want to take the character somewhere and we don't want that," [Karen Reynolds] says.

She runs the program at Southern Illinois, which is in Springfield, where most of the bad actors are working the State House, not the play house.

Dr. Yoon Kang is in NY, where there’s no dearth of actors, makes the same point.

"We want stars but we need to temper their star quality," says Dr. Kang, who worries about divas who could frighten young students. "We don't want the Laurence Oliviers to take too much dramatic license."

“All right Mr. De Mille Dr. Kildare, I'm ready for my close –up."

And, all you actors playing “standardized patients” out there, just remember, you are big. It’s the pictures that got small.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Tenth anniversary

I will be away this weekend, and, so, will not be exposed to/glued to all the ten-years-on remembrances of the terrible events of 9/11.

I no longer recall how many weeks it took me before I could lay me down to sleep without replaying the images of the planes flying into the twin towers; the hand-in-hand colleagues jumping to their deaths – and my stupid hopes that some of them would have landed on a soft, bouncy surface and survived; the pancaking buildings; the dust-covered crowds fleeing lower Manhattan; the firefighters going in and, later, the firefighters working Ground Zero, no longer looking for survivors but looking for the bodies of friends, brothers, fathers, sons.

What did we take from all this?

We already knew, didn’t we, that evil exists, and that there are people who can be called to insanity when driven by warped, burning zealotry? We already knew, didn’t we, that bravery and goodness exist, too? That firefighters and cops and EMT’s and pilots and flight attendants and passengers and people at work and strangers on the street can step up and act with more concern for shared humanity than for personal safety.

I’m naïve enough to have hoped that we’d have become better as a nation since then, and realistic enough to know that we’ve gotten worse. Unraveling, unraveled, divided, falling.

I’d don’t think that there’s a direct post hoc ergo propter hoc going on there. But 9/11 sure didn’t help.

I’m glad I’ll be missing the barrage of 9/11 news, documentaries, commentaries that will no doubt be broadcast this weekend.

Before I leave for the weekend, I’ll drop by the memorial to the local 9/11 victims – mostly folks on the airplanes – that’s located in the Public Garden, just across the street.

I will think about those fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, friends, who spent their last moments in the company of twisted zealots like Mohammed Atta, rather than with their loved ones.

Life can be so very fragile…


Pink Slip is not averse to recycling older posts when they're still relevant and still work. Two years ago, I wrote a post entitled “Just Another Day at the Office,” that is still worth a read.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Compliance Services: A fraud is a fraud is a fraud

The other day, I brought in the mail and handed my husband an envelope that was addressed to his company, a small – and I do mean small – incorporated consulting firm.

I didn’t pay much attention to what it was, but noted that the envelope said ‘IMPORTANT: Annual Minutes Requirement Statement. Business Mail – Time Sensitive.’

Since Jim has to fill in a number of state forms for his (nearly dormant) business, I figured this was one of them.

He looked at the envelope and saw what I hadn’t noticed. The words: THIS IS NOT A GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT.

This is not a government document?” I said. “Then this is probably a scam.”

Which, indeed, it is.

“Compliance Services” lists a UPS-store mail box as its Boston address. 

The form inside looks enough like it’s government issued that someone half-glancing at it might just start filling it in. After all, whose to doubt that the state is interested in the “Annual Minutes Requirement Statement – Directors and Shareholders (Business Corporations)”?

The form pulls from what I assume are real-deal Massachusetts statutes on business filing requirements, then uses a number of ‘we’re being legal’ weasel statements.

“You can engage an attorney to prepare them [meetings of shareholders and board of directors], prepare them yourself, use some other service company or use our services. THIS PRODUCT HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED OR ENDORSED BY ANY GOVERNMENT AGENCY AND THIS OFFER IS NOT BEING MADE BY AN AGENCY OF THE GOVERNMENT.”

Which might leave some business owner – harried, beleaguered, lacking in administrative support, feeling over regulated and stymied by the state – to believe that this was honest, full disclosure.  And that having “Compliance Services” do the filing for a mere $125.00 is worth every penny.

And, after all, these honest-johns claim that “all information will be treated as private and confidential and will not be available to others.”

They may not make this top secret information available to others, but you can best believe they save your name, address, and e-mail to keep on their sucker list. Why make this kind of golden revenue stream “available to others” when Compliance Services probably has other sucker-ama scams up their sleeves?

Check out their web-site, by the way.

In all seriousness, does this look like an honest-to-goodness business to you? Or a fly by night scam? Just saying…

It doesn’t take much to tear the lid of this scam by going to the trusty google.

The website Compliance Building is all over “Compliance Services”, and even has a 2009 caveat from our Secretary of State:

Bill Galvin, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued his warning:

Recently, an entity calling itself “Compliance Services” mailed solicitations entitled “Annual Minutes Requirement Statement Directors and Shareholders” to numerous Massachusetts corporations. This solicitation offers to complete corporate meeting minutes on behalf of the corporation for a fee. Despite the implications contained in the solicitation, Massachusetts corporations are not required by law to file corporate minutes with the Secretary of State.

The Better Business Bureau’s also onto these bums.

Compliance Services currently has an F rating from BBB. This rating means BBB strongly questions the company’s reliability for reasons such as that they have failed to respond to complaints, their advertising is grossly misleading, they are not in compliance with the law’s licensing or registration requirements, their complaints contain especially serious allegations or the company’s industry is known for its fraudulent business practices.

The BBB also notes that there are restraining orders in a couple of states against this outfit.

Obviously, it’s easy enough for a small business to get sucked into this. What’s $125 if it saves you time and hassle and gets “the man” off your back? And enough of them must do so to make it worthwhile for the scammers to keep scamming.

Easy enough to see this scenario at Joe’s Plumbing, Inc.:

Joe’s Wife/Admin Ass’t: Honey, we got this thing in the mail. There’s some form we have to file with the state about our shareholders.

Joe: Shareholders? We don’t got no stinkin’ shareholders.

Joe’s Wife: I think that’s you and me. Anyway, we have to get this form in. They say we can have our lawyer do it for us.

Joe: Lawyers? We don’t need no stinkin’ lawyers.

Joe’s Wife: These guys will do it for us for just $125. What do you think?

Joe: Done!

We’re asked to reply by September 14, 2011.

You betcha!

But the person we’ll be replying to will be Bill Galvin.

Now get out of our state!


Just in case someone got this scam-notice and is googling, their address is:

Commercial Services
71 Commercial St.
Postal Mail Box 241
Boston, MA 02109