Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Who wants to be in Bobby McCreight’s shoes? Show of hands, please.

Anything’s possible, I suppose.

Congressional Medal of Honor winner, and ex-U.S. Marine, Dakota Meyer could conceivably be "mentally unstable" and have “a problem related to drinking in a social setting”. Which is what Meyer’s former supervisor, Bobby McCreight, is alleged to have said about him. 

There just doesn’t seem to a whole lot of evidence that would suggest that this is so.

But the allegation was, Meyer believes, enough to put the kibosh on a job with a defense contractor that he had been verbally assured was his.

So, Meyer is suing his former employer BAE Systems, and McCreight, his former supervisor.

In legal papers filed Monday, the Marine claims that BAE Systems, where he worked earlier this year, retaliated against him after he raised objections about BAE's alleged decision to sell high-tech sniper scopes to the Pakistani military. He says his supervisor at BAE effectively blocked his hiring by another defense contractor by making the claims about drinking and his mental condition. (Source: WSJ.)

Meyer was (understandably) angered about the arms sale, given that he’d been there/done that on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Which is where he earned his Congressional Medal of Honor by risking life and limb to rescue a bunch of his comrades – 36 of them, in fact - from Taliban fire. So, yeah, arms sales to our “friends” the Pakistanis is a personal thing.

"We are taking the best gear, the best technology on the market to date and giving it to guys known to stab us in the back," Sgt. Meyer wrote to Mr. McCreight, according to the lawsuit. "These are the same people killing our guys."

Because of this prospective sale, Meyer quit BAE. He thought he would be able to get his old job back at Ausgur Technologies, another defense contractor. That was until McCreight got out his weapon of choice, in this case, the e-mail which resulted in the DoD liaison passing the comments about the “mental instability” and “drinking” on to Ausgur.

McCreight had, according to Meyer, not taken too kindly to Meyer’s being up for the Congressional Medal of Honor:

In the suit, Sgt. Meyer said that after he voiced his criticism, Mr. McCreight began "berating and belittling" him. The supervisor criticized Sgt. Meyer for making a trip with their BAE division president and made sarcastic remarks about Sgt. Meyer's nomination for the Medal of Honor, allegedly ridiculing his "pending star status," the suit says.

McCreight is himself, I believe, a former Marine. So much for the deathless Marine Corps bond.  Maybe he thought Meyer was just grandstanding when he went back five times to rescue more of his bros.

So, how’d you like to be in McCreight’s old combat boots right about now?

Whatever his motivations were in fingering Meyer – petulance, retribution, jealousy, sarcasm, or – let’s give him the benefit of the pre-court-of-law doubt – patriotism and sincerity (maybe he really believed that Meyer was a crazy drinker; maybe he believed that any one who would drink a can of Bud is nuts), McCreight’s name at this point is Mudd.

I have no idea how old McCreight is, but he’s taken on a young man – Meyer is just 23 years old – who has achieved iconic and revered status, at a time and in a place where it is nigh unto impossible to criticize a member of the military. Let alone one who’s just been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Think Sgt. Alvin York, who hailed from the neighboring state of Tennessee. If Gary Cooper were still alive, he’d be playing Meyer, who’s from Kentucky.

McCreight’s in the suit, in the news, and in the blogs, where I’m sure he has his apologists and defenders. Just not that many of them.

His reputation’s obviously at stake (if not altogether shattered), and his job’s likely at stake. Who knows for how long old BAE Systems will be on his side.

And as much as the average American is willing to call BS on most of the “wrongful whatever” suits filed in this oh-so-litigious nation of ours, no one will be calling BS here unless and until someone proves that Meyer is a mentally unstable drinker, and/or until someone disproves that the McCreight e-mail was, indeed, the reason Meyer didn’t get the job he was looking for.

Gosh, what was Bobby McCreight thinking when he fired off this e-mail? The spoken word becomes he-say, he-say in court. The e-mailed word lives on forever.

I’ve had a couple of people under me whom I had personally (but obviously not professionally) diagnosed as “mentally unstable,” but damned if I ever would have told that to a prospective hirer, let alone put it in an e-mail. If someone I knew had asked me off the record about one of these folks, I would likely have been somewhat forthcoming and warned them off. Mostly, when providing a reference, I used to wait for someone to ask me the $64,000 question: would I hire this person again. And I would have answered truthfully, yea or nay. But no one ever asked. (When I was especially enthusiastic about someone, I would volunteer that I would hire them again in a minute.)

I’m not a big one for knee-jerk glorifying everyone who dons a military uniform as a hero. But sometimes men in war do extraordinarily brave, courageous, and bold things, seemingly without regard for their own (leather)necks. And Meyer is apparently one of them. You might get a Purple Heart for a nick, but I do not believe that you get the Congressional Medal of Honor for being a wuss.

Semper fi!


Could it possibly get any worse for Bobby McCreight? I just ran the spell-checker, and the correction suggested for McCreight is McVeigh. You CANNOT make this stuff up.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Steven J. Baum P.C.: What goes around do come around…

Karma, as they say, can be one big, ugly, hellacious bitch.

Or so the law firm of Steven J. Baum P.C. is learning the big, ugly, hellacious hard way.

Steven Baum is was a NY-based foreclosure law firm mill famously outed by The NY Times Joe Nocera in a recent aaa-sjbaum2op-ed piece in which he reported on the firm’s 2010 Halloween party. At that now-infamous event, a number of employees dressed as foreclosed upon homeowners, and the overall office was done up with a homeless-squatter theme. My first superficial thought was there’s no such thing as a par-tay without pictures anymore. No more the days when Ray-with-the-lampshade-on-his-head and Dora-peeing-in-her-manager’s-wastebasket were just office lore, oral tradition handed down from one company party to the next. These days, if you do something foolish-heartless-thoughtless-craven-embarrassing-etc., and you do it in front of another human being, IT’S ALIVE! And IT’S ALIVE FOREVER!

My first real thought is that this is certainly a show of inordinately bad taste, and a stunning lack of empathy. And that the individuals shown will –one might hope – have the decency to some day rue the day and feel just a tiny bit ashamed by such a ghastly lack of feeling. A billion years ago, a bunch of us came to a company Halloween party dressed as dead products. I believe I went as an XSIM manual. Did I hurt the dead product manager’s feelings? Or the feelings of the techies that wrote XSIM? If so, I’m sorry. It did seem funny at the time. And it really annoyed a couple of folks in senior management – a true plus! But it’s one thing to make fun of a dead product, quite another to make fun of the poor and downtrodden, especially when it’s their backs that you’re making your living off of.

Still, perhaps because of my sordid dead-product-scorning past, I do want to give at least some Baum employees the benefit of the doubt – even those in the pictures. Maybe they were just whistling past the grave. Nonetheless, it does sound as if the overall tenor of the place was disdain for the poor souls who got in over their head with under the water mortgages. As the ex-Baum employee who supplied Nocera with the incriminating snapshots told him:

… the snapshots are an accurate representation of the firm’s mind-set. “There is this really cavalier attitude,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that people are going to lose their homes.” Nor does the firm try to help people get mortgage modifications; the pressure, always, is to foreclose.

In the wake of Nocera’s column, both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae blacklisted the firm.

And now the firm is closing and laying off all its employees.

This is not necessarily a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc, where Nocera’s column is the hoc. (Notwithstanding that Steven Baum himself is apparently fingering Nocera as the cause of his firm’s demise.)

The authorities have been on to Baum for a while. They’re under investigation by the NY State A.G., and the firm:

…recently agreed to pay $2 million to resolve an investigation by the Department of Justice into whether the firm had “filed misleading pleadings, affidavits, and mortgage assignments in the state and federal courts in New York.” (In the press release announcing the settlement, Baum acknowledged only that “it occasionally made inadvertent errors.”)

And now they’re completely out of business. And that sounds like it’s about right. (Not that I wish that these newly unemployed will  lose their homes just because they lose their jobs. There’s plenty enough misery going around already without adding to it, even if there is that delicious possible connection between punishment and crime.)

Anyway, it’s pretty disgusting that those who profit from the necessary evil of foreclosure law aren’t capable of showing some compassion for those kicked to the curb.

Sure, a lot of those foreclosed upon were just plain dumb. Although maybe ignorant is a better term. If some bucket-shop mortgage company is telling you that your $40K salary can buy you a $400K house – and that $400K house is the American dream, baby -  it’s pretty easy to convince yourself that you’re good to go. “They” wouldn’t give you the mortgage if “they” didn’t think you could pay it back, would “they”?

In fact, a lot of those “theys” didn’t give a rat’s ass if you were ever going to be able to pay it back. “They” just wanted to pass go, collect their fee, and flip that flimsy piece of paper to someone else who didn’t give a rat’s ass if you were ever going to be to pay it back. And so on.

Over the years, I’ve met quite a few folks who are homeless. And  you know what? Most of them aren’t all that different from the rest of us. (If I weren’t an atheist, here’s where I’d say “there but for the grace of God go I.”)

Yes, many of the ones I’ve known have made some bad choices. No one made them rob a bank, sell dope, get drunk. But they’ve also had more than their ration of bad luck: dysfunctional families, mental health problems, extreme poverty. (I met one fellow – a man in his thirties – who was barely literate. He’d grown up in South Carolina and, as a child, had been kept out of school for months at a time – beginning at age seven – to pick cotton. This would have been in the 1980’s, not the 1920’s.)

And now to the ranks of the chronic homeless are added millions of people who’d been living at the edge but who are now living out of their cars. And for them, the bad luck they’ve had far outweighs the bad choices.

Sure, a lot of the folks who’ve lost their home to foreclosure likely made some bad choices along the way – they didn’t think ahead, they didn’t ask the right questions, they didn’t plan for a rainy day, they grabbed for a brass ring thinking it was gold and finding out it was plastic, they figured that the housing prices just move in one direction – so why not take a second mortgage to buy that boat.

But with the collapse of the economy, with its disproportionate impact on blue collar families for whom jobs have just disappeared – gone, poof! – bad luck becomes more of a determinant of who ends up living out of their car and eating overcooked pasta in church basements.

And for someone to glory in (after rapaciously profiting from) that bad luck is just plain shameful.

So good luck to the Baum alumni who find themselves so newly unemployed.

There may be a few scum-bucket foreclosure mills that would be happy to scoop up folks with Baum experience on their c.v.’s. Other employees will no doubt plead the good German defense. But the days when the ability to churn out hundreds of robo-signed foreclosure notices a week is not really going to look like a good thing on anyone’s résumé, is it?

What goes around does tend to come around.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Monday after the Friday before

By now, everyone not fortunate enough to be out of the country on Black Friday – and you know who you are! – will have read about, heard about, or watched a video about the craziness, the over-the-top-iness, the consumer run amuck-iness, that prevailed in many parts of this great land o’ ours last Friday.

Oh, there was the “competitive shopper” at a California Walmart who pepper sprayed her rivals to keep them away from the X-Box and Wii games stash. (Technically, this incident occurred on Black Friday Eve, the holiday that once upon a time, in olden days, we called “Thanksgiving”.) She surrendered on Friday, and likely faces charges of assault. (Not assault to kill. Assault to shop, maybe? Assault with intent to purchase?)

The burning questions, of course: Did she get the discounted X-Box she was after?  And does she get to keep her loot?

As for the particular games she that were on her list. Dance-Dance? Grand Theft Auto? Call of Duty?

My humble prediction: within the next year we’ll see one called Competitive Shopper. (If there isn’t one already….)

And forget about “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”. This years novelty Christmas tune will likely be “Grandpa Got a Leg Sweep from the Po-po.”

Once again, it was video games what really done it. As with the pepper spraying “competitive shopper”, video games were at the root of the case of the roughed-up Phoenix-area grandpa. He claimed he was just trying to save his grandson from being trampled by the mob, and tucked the video game under his shirt so he would be hands free. The cops claim shoplifting and resisting arrest. Unfortunately, the locals that an oh-so-alert Walmart employee whistled in tried to take grandpa down with a “leg sweep”. Alas, he landed on his head and wound up with a few stitches. Gosh, when I worked retail, shoplifters were just grabbed by the elbow and marched out. The world sure is going to hell in a Walmart shopping basket, ain’t it?

And, while we’re playing out the Walmart theme here, who didn’t love that YouTube of the Arkansas Walmart melee over the $2 waffle irons? Some people no doubt watched the film and thought, oh, how awful. (Oh-how-waffle! Get it?)  But I thought it was a riot. Come on, what better way to cap of a holiday celebration than a bit of a revel in my Northeast, urban, latte-sucking, NPR-supporting, superiority-oozing, look-down-the-nose at, elitist snobbism? Admittedly, it would have looked like just any other garden-variety, $2 waffle iron, Walmart riot if it hadn’t been for the zaftig blonde sporting the twelve-inch plumber’s smile.

Of course, the Walmart Consumer Riots have become as much a kick-off of the holiday season as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the Salvation Army bell-ringers.

What put a little twist into this year’s Black Friday meshugas was the stampede at a California Urban Outfitters.

We know it’s bad out there when cool urban hipsters (and their wannabes) start going nuts.

I mean flat-screen TV, X-Box, Wii. Bad behavior over the electronic goods of the hour are to be somewhat expected.

But what is it that would inspire mob behavior at an Urban Outfitters?

I saw those sock-monkey slippers first, d-bag? aaa-urbanoutfit1

You’re not getting away with the last Angry Birds key caps, you rat bastard!

My BFF won’t make it through the winter without this über cool hat. Don’t make me video you and post it to YouTube! Just stand back and let me get through to the register!

Ah, the madness of crowds!

Friday, November 25, 2011

I’ll have a Black Friday, without you

Today I’m planting tulip bulbs.

Today I’m addressing my Christmas cards. (I know, I’m a rate-busting bitch.)

Today I’m taking a walk.

Today I’m reading a book.

Or maybe today I’m just chil-laxing.

But today I’m not joining the mad hordes, streaming pell-mell into Target and Walmart and Best Buy at midnight to grab up bargain flat-screen TVs, iPads, and whatever this year’s Tickle Me Elmo is.

Which is not to say that I won’t be root, root, rooting for the mad hordes to spend up a storm so that the we don’t have to spend the next month or so listening to the 24/7 pundits tell us that, because of lax consumer spending, we’re heading into a double-dip recession.

I’ll be having my personal Black Friday without you. But shop on, oh citizen consumers!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Broken Record

Come Thanksgiving, my thoughts – and I know I’m being wholly and stunningly original here – tend to drift towards that things that are worth being thankful for.

And unlike the more pedestrian thinkers out there, I am wholly and stunningly original when it comes to the things I am thankful for.

Family, friends, health, home, work, and the fact that, last time I looked, books were still being printed on paper.

While I recognize that, when it comes to Thanksgiving, I am a wholly and stunningly original thinker, I also recognize that I’ve done this wholly and stunningly original thinking at other points in time. Like last Thanksgiving.

Still, at the risk of sounding like a broken record – a concept that I suspect is wholly and stunningly lost on those who don’t know what a broken record sounds like, sounds like, sounds like – I am wholly and stunningly thankful for family, friends, health, home, work, and the fact that, last time I looked, books were still being printed on paper.

Meanwhile, broken record-wise, it’s important to remember that not everyone has family, friends, health, home, and work to be thankful for.

In Boston, hundreds of those folks will, nonetheless, be able to gather at St. Francis House, which has been helping Boston’s poor and homeless rebuild their lives for over 25 years.aaasfh

In the past year, St. Francis House has:

  • Served more than 295,440 meals

  • Provided 6,996 showers

  • Distributed 6,891 changes of clothes

  • Provided more than 15,000 counseling sessions on mental health issues, substance abuse, housing, employment, legal matters, and other issues

  • Partnered with Boston Health Care for the Homeless to provide 9,416 medical appointments

  • Trained 156 people in our First Step Employment Program
  • Graduated the 107th class from the Moving Ahead Program (MAP), our vocational rehabilitation program, whose alumni now number more than 1,100

  • Housed 56 men and women in our Next Step Housing Program

If you’ve got something to be thankful for, please consider a donation to St. Francis House.

Now I must away to the groaning board that awaits at my cousin Barbara’s, for what I calculate to be the 66th time that our combined families have celebrated this holiday together.

Forty years ago, the Thanksgiving after my father died, Barbara and Dick, two small kids in tow, made it from Lexington to Worcester during a freak November blizzard so that my mother wouldn’t be disappointed. And, thus, our gathering record remained unbroken.

Thank you, Barbara, for that.

And to all, a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A pox on your party

I came of age when children still got childhood diseases.

Hand in hand with my sister Kath – we shared a bed until we were 6 and 8 years old – I had measles and German measles.

Measles really sucked, because we had it in the summer, when it was still light out in the evening, and we had to stay in our darkened bedroom with the blinds closed. Something about measles-related light exposure that could make you go blind. We could hear the loud-mouth Brennan boys marauding around next door, in their grandmother’s yard. No fairsy!

German measles wasn’t a trip to the beach, either.

Then we all – there were four of us at the time – got chicken pox. Our house was quarantined, and Kath had one of the worst cases the doctor had ever seen, with blisters on the insides of her mouth. Kath, I think, was 10 at the time. This was relatively old to have chicken pox, which may have accounted for the severity of her case.

None of us had official mumps, but those bouts of swollen glands may well have been mild mumps.

When I was in second grade, pretty much every one in my class came down with severe tonsillitis. This was a couple of weeks before our First Holy Communion was scheduled, and there was some fear that we would have to pick a new date. During the tonsillitis outbreak, there were some days when only 5 or 6 kids (out of 40+) were in class. Because of tonsillitis, I missed my grandmother’s 75th birthday party, but could hear it going on. (You can’t miss much in a small house with a lot of people in it.) My father’s cousin Matt stuck his head in the room to say hello to me; someone brought me a piece of cake, which was fruity and whipped creamy, and which came from a bakery. And which, despite the exotica of it being store-bought, I didn’t like very much. How can a birthday cake be anything other than chocolate?

In fifth grade, I came down with scarlet fever, which was kind of a scary thing, as it could damage your heart. No one else in the family got it, but I had to get a special note from the doctor before they’d let me back in school. The note came through in the middle of the morning, and I made my way in the cold and wind to school, thinking how odd it was to be out and about at 10:30 a.m. I felt pretty brave cutting through Bennett Field by myself – there were always rumors about creepy men in the wooded part of the cut-through at the back of the Field. (One time in Hixon’s Hollow, which bordered Bennett Field, and sounds like something out of Appalachia, not Worcester Mass, a creepy old man did throw burrs at me and my friend Bernadette. We just ran away and didn’t tell anyone.) I did make it safely to Our Lady of the Angels, where, for the remainder of the day, everyone looked at me like I was a cootie-carrying freak.

And then there was the scourge of polio, which hovered over my early childhood.

The vaccine became available in the mid-fifties, and when I was in first grade everyone got their polio shots at school. You had to bring in a signed permission card to give to Mrs. Haggerty, the school nurse, but I don’t remember anyone’s parents refusing to get their kids inoculated.

Polio was just too terrible.

It was not uncommon to see kids limping around wearing leg braces, sometimes with arm-brace canes, as well. One girl in my class, Patty G, wore a leg brace, I believe up until junior high. We all heard about cases where kids lived in iron lungs.

The man across the street – a young father of two small boys – survived Korea but died from polio.

Who would refuse having their kid immunized?

Fast forward a lightning quick half-century or so, and kids don’t so much get childhood diseases anymore, thanks to immunizations against a lot more than polio.

But getting vaccinated is not without controversy.

Some people believe that the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (German Measles) – MMR vaccination is linked to autism. 

Others believe that having the MMR or the more recent chickenpox vaccination will produce weaker children/adults, and want their kids to be exposed to these diseases so that they become hardier.

Indeed, I remember people (pre-vaccine) deliberately exposing their kids to chickenpox so they’d get it over with at a younger/safer age.

And now, as I read in Anahad O’Connor’s blog on The New York Times, some parents are moving beyond Pox Parties, and are selling poxy lollipops and:

…a variety of chickenpox-infected items – towels, children’s clothes, rags. By getting their children to touch the contaminated items or suck on tainted candy, they believe their children will get the stronger immunity that surviving a full-blown natural infection of chickenpox affords, without the hazards they say come with vaccines.


If this doesn’t sound like blue-eyed devils giving Native Americans small-pox infected blankets, I don’t know what does.

In my mind, letting your three year old hang out with a chickenpoxy buddy is one thing. FedEx-ing germy kids clothing is quite another. Sounds positively medieval – the infected rags, not the FedEx-ing.

Needless to say, public health officials aren’t enamored of this idea:

“I think it’s an incredibly bad idea, whether you’re getting it from a lollipop or somewhere else,” said Dr. Rafael Harpaz, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Chickenpox can cause severe disease and death. Before the vaccine was available, we were approaching 100 children who died every year in the United States. You’re basically playing a game of Russian roulette.”

This month, law enforcement officials began clamping down. Jerry E. Martin, the United States attorney in Nashville, where the tainted lollipops were advertised at $50 for overnight delivery, issued a warning last week that sending infected items “through the flow of commerce” was a federal crime, punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

I wouldn’t want to be the mail carrier, UPS guy, or FedEx driver delivering the goods if the box ripped open.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from their appointed rounds, but who wants to end up with shingles because some Concerned Mom ordered a chicken pox lollipop that they got stuck delivering.

And if public health officials, and delivery folks,  aren’t enamored of interstate commerce in infected lollipops, neither are those (majority of) parents who want to get their kids immunized, and resent the fact that the non-immunized kids may spread disease to their little ones before their kids reach the recommended immunization age.  Not everyone is going to appreciate it if you send your little Typhoid Mary off to day care

Information on infection-related goods (pox-pops) and services (par-tay!) spread, quite naturally, through social media. And, like any infection worth its salt, there’s no way to stop it.

Meanwhile, the controversy rages on.

Not everyone out there thinks pox pop is the same as vox dei.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When Bad Toys Happen to Good Children. The 2011 W.A.T.C.H. List

That darned Santa. He apparently doesn’t know his Donner from his Blitzen when it comes to toy safety. You’d think he would have learned something from all the casualties that must have been incurred on the playing fields of Baby Boomer-ville, where we all grew up with toys that were absolutely designed to maim (you), kill (your brother or sister), and otherwise poke your eye out.

Truly, there were so many dangerous toys in the 1950’s and 1960’s – and these are just the ones that I remember – it’s amazing that so many of us are walking around whole.

But, no, Santa must be taking advice from bad elves. Or taking a bit of payola from unscrupulous sales people to make sure that their wares come down the chimney.

Seriously, folks, I do find it shocking that in this era of consumer awareness, and intense caution – perhaps, in some instances, too much – about everything that kids do, see, touch, ingest, read, or play with, it never fails to amaze me that so many out-and-out dangerous toys still seem to make it into the market.

Where they are purchased by harried and distracted toy-givers who may, in fact, have read what is often times an insufficient or misleading warning label.

So it’s good to have an outfit like W.A.T.C.H. (World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc.) which each year chooses their “10 Worst Toys” in Toyland. Evenif some of the picks don’t seem all that horrible and dangerous. And, in fact, seem a tad bit namby-pamby. Anyway, This years “winners” are:

TWIST ‘N SORT Forget the choking hazard aaa-twistnsortpotential of those small wood pegs. I call BS on this toy’s providing “years of development fun” with “problem solving challenges”. Months maybe, but “years of development fun:? Unless you count learning to apply the Heimlich Maneuver. I say bring on the wooden blocks! Or dust off that Fisher Price rainbow ring toy: nothing detaches. Which I guess you’ll have to, given that this one has been recalled.

Then there’s the POWER RANGERS SAMURAI MEGA BLADE, which contains these instructions:

CAUTION: PLEASE READ BEFORE PLAYING WITH TOY.  Do not: (1) aim toy at anyone, (2) hit anyone with toy, (3) poke anyone with toy, (4) swing toy at anyone….”

Let me hazard a guess here. The average 4 year old who finds this under the tree is not, I repeat not, going to follow these instructions. First off, he probably can’t read; and two, he probably wouldn’t follow them even if he could.

And this isn’t just some boring, standard plastic sword. It’s part of an elaborate weapon that has a 2 foot switch blade, which does seem to compound the potential for mayhem.

Buying for that special four year old someone? I’d recommend taking the $27 and buying a drum set.

Then there’s the $99.99 FOLD & GO TRAMPOLINE which comes with the warning:

“Misuse and abuse of this trampoline is dangerous and can cause injuries.” 

Which, frankly, seems like the sort of CYA warning that could apply to any object – animal, vegetable, mineral, or plastic – that you can put in the hands of a kid. “Misuse and abuse of this Raggedy Annie doll is dangerous and can cause injuries.”

Then trampolines does have additional warning language about using this only for “controlled bounce” and not for any of the sorts of fun stunts that kids would naturally think of when you put kid and trampoline in the same room. Because, let’s face it, “controlled bounce” sounds pretty darned boring.

I don’t’ know. Once you get past the ‘who wants to spend a hundred bucks on this when a kid can just jump on his bed’ it’s hard for me to see why this toy is so awful. The W.A.T.C.H. folks maintain that no manufacturer shouldn’t make it. Maybe it should be that no parent (grandparent, aunt, uncle, doting friend) should buy it.

Thirty bucks seems like a (duck) boat load to pay for a pull toy, even one aaaaducks cute as this one. And it sure does look plenty innocuous, no? The problem is that the pull string is about 2 feet longer than it should be, which poses a strangulation hazard. Seems like the designer maybe should have thought of this. And it seems like anyone whose bought one may just want to get the scissors out. Problem is, the instructions say not to knot the string, which I guess would mean that cut string could fray, potentially causing a kid to ingest fine string strands. Sounds like this toy is far better suited to adults. (Wonder how my dog nephew Jack would like chasing around after this.)

There’s also the nifty Z-CURVE BOW

This “high-performance” bow and arrow set is sold with three “long-range” foam arrows, which are marketed as being able to fly “over 125 FEET!” Remarkably, among the many “warnings” for children is an instruction that arrows not be pulled back “more than half strength”, and that people nearby “should be alerted” prior to firing.

This “toy” is just asking for trouble. If your kid is interested in archery, that’s a sport, and the weapons implements used in conjunction with this sport are sporting goods, not toys. And a sport like this – one with projectiles that can zip 125 feet plus – should come with instructors, not just instructions. (Sure hope no kid in my neighborhood gets one of these. “What say, Trip, let’s see if we can wing that old lady in the green parka.”)

On the other hand, going after the STEPPER “LOW RISE” STILTS seems a bit nanny-statish. The “stilts” appear to be maybe 9” high, and you hang on to them with ropes. Looks like fun and a good balancing act for kids. W.A.T.C.H.’s problem with this toy is that it doesn’t come with any warnings that your kid could fall off them. Well, duh! 

Sorry, if you’re not bright enough to figure this out for yourself, maybe you shouldn’t be having kids to begin with?

W.A.T.C.H. doesn’t like the SWORD FIGHTING JACK SPARROW because the sword can be activated by pressing a button. Which, in truth, doesn’t seem like a particularly grand idea for something that a 4-year old is playing with. Then there’s the TOY SCHOOL BUS with the peel-off choking hazard label. (Why not just print the warning on the toy?) Plus the “GIGAN” GODZILLA FIGURE with those pointy wings that could cause a puncture wound.

And W.A.T.C.H. no like THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKY DINKS MAKER. As kids, we had a precursor to this one – a Creeple-Peeple maker which, I suspect, came with nary a warning.  But unless I had a couple of siblings that I’ve forgotten about, I don’t recall any of us, say, taking this electric, “shock hazard” toy into the bathtub with us. (“Please, Mommy, just this once. I’ll be super careful.”) But, according to W.A.T.C.H.:

A product with so many inherent hazards does not lend itself to use in a home environment with children.

So just what environment might an Incredible Shrinky Dinks Maker lend itself to?

Maybe it’s just me throwing caution to the wind in my old age – next thing you know, I’ll be going over Niagara Falls in a barrel – but this year’s crop of “10 Worst Toys” doesn’t seem all that awful to me. Sure, toys with spikey-pointy-puncturing parts should be called out; and you’d think that toy manufacturers would have figured out chocking hazard by now. But a lot of the toys on the list just seem like toys that should be governed by common (adult) sense. The W.A.T.C.H. list, then, should stand as a reminder that bad toys can happen to good kids if those kids aren’t supervised, or if older-kid toys are put in the hands (and mouths) of younger kids.

My bottom line guess is that W.A.T.C.H. is doing a reasonably good job, and manufacturers are being more careful about the sorts of toys they’re bringing to market.

Which is a good thing. (As long as they never get rid of the Easy Bake Oven.)

Here’s a link to last year’s W.A.T.C.H. list: Misfit Toys? No Just Plain Dangerous.

And it you can’t get enough of bad toy stories, here’s 2009 and 2008 for you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Don’aska Donatella about real women

Real women, in appears, do not wear Versace.

Or at least they don’t model Versace.

Or so the The New York Daily News found out when they lined up a trio of hip young New Yorkers to model the new Versace line that’s being introduced for H&M, the high-fashion/low-cost chain that specializes in the democratization of design fashion. Haute couture for the 1% becomes bas couture for the 99. 

But while Donatella Versace, who replaced her slain brother as head designer for the house that Gianni built, may want the ka-ching associated with peddling her wares through H&M – why else head down-market? -  she didn’t quite go for the the idea of real women – even if they wore size 0 through size 6 (the reputed range of the three non-pro models; that size 6 is probably a real porker) modeling her clothing. Even if – or perhaps because – the fashion spread was appearing in the low-brow Daily News.

When The News sent over pics of two of the three women they’d lined up, one was rejected because she “doesn’t fit [Versace’s] branding.”

If Donatella herself is the epitome of Versace branding, then I’m guessing there aren’t too many real women who would fit the brand. I suspect that those twenty aaa-donatellasomethings hadn’t yet invested in the botox, cheek implants, and boob jobs that seemed to have turned Donatella into something of a living, breathing (but perhaps not eating) 56-year-old Bratz doll.

Actually, I take that back. The Bratz doll actually looks more human. But perhaps that’s because she’s (it’s?) a lot younger than aaabratzDonatella. Plus she’s made of real plastic.

And I don’t want to be a looks-ist here, but doesn’t Donatella lbear some resemblance to rocker Steven Tyler, yet another one of those celebs – male and female alike – who think they can defy nature with the aid of a plastic surgeon and a couple of rounds of limp plumping.  Call me crazy, but I think that Meryl Streep looks a whole hell of a lot better than Joan Rivers, and that Paul McCartney might be better off if he let himself go Paul Newman gray.

The fatwa issued on use of real live girls, as opposed to Versace approved models, The Daily News observed,

…might make sense if the clothes involved were from Versace’s full-priced designer collections, where a metallic brushed-leather biker jacket goes for $5,825 and a wool crepe cut-out dress fetches $2,425.

But one reason designers work with H&M is to make their designs accessible — and affordable — to a less-exclusive crowd...

“The H&M customer is anyone interested in fashion,” the company’s U.S. public relations manager, Jennifer Ward, told the retail-shopping website this fall. “There is something for every age and personality.”

Just not on the Verscae runway.

When Donatella debuted her H&M line earlier this month, the models used didn’t quite look like the shoppers who flock into H&M (which in Boston is located in the building that once housed Woolworth’s – say no more). Instead, the parade-o’-models was the usual bevvy of fat-free, vacant-eyed anorexics we’ve come to associate with the world of fashion.

As far as Donatella Versace is concerned, it’s apparently a case of having an eye on the plump wallet of the average H&M consumer, but not wanting to let them eat cake. At least not if they want to model her wares in the pages of The New York Daily News.

Friday, November 18, 2011

And sometimes the good guys win

Several months ago, an old and very close friend – let’s just say her name is Annie -  had some bad news on the business front. After twenty years with her company, during which she had forged a very successful career for herself, Annie was being let go.

The issue wasn’t performance. It was bean counting.

There was a relatively new CEO in her division – let’s call him Mr. Big -  who came from a numbers background (nothing to do with the division he was brought in to run) decided that the only way to make his numbers in the coming year was to roll a few heads.

Fair enough: nothing that hasn’t been done before.

Mr. Big decided to roll most of  those heads from the ranks of those with management titles, figuring that he could both save on those big, fat management salaries while also flattening the organization and thus, I suppose that he supposed, winning him the admiration and affection of the masses who’d been held down, oppressed even, by having to report to managements with big, fat management salaries.

Fair enough: nothing that hasn’t been done before.

What Mr. Big didn’t do was a) ask for advice from folks who’d been around a lot longer than he’d been, and who actually knew something about the business; or b) take into account the actual role played/value brought to the organization by the rolling heads that he apparently assumed were “just” managers. And what, after all, do managers do? (Other than men of action, like Mr. Big.)

My friend Annie, as I’ve said, has had a very successful career. While she has never quite made it to the EVP level, she has been an SVP, and was someone who’s always had the ear of the upper-upper echelons in her company.

I’m of the belief that Annie never got to be an EVP because she’s perceived as a bit too much of a straight-shooter, and has never been one who holds back from speaking truth to power. She’s plenty tough, and I’ve always guessed that, while they value her candid advice – she is, after all, one smart cookie - Annie scares the bejesus out of a lot of the men in charge. Especially, I’m guessing, Mr. Big.

Am I making Annie sound like a barracuda, a bull in the china shop?

Hope not.

She’s an extremely nice, warm, kind, generous, thoughtful person who is on the short “go-to” list for a long roster of friends and family when they need help of some kind, a sympathetic ear, a shoulder to cry on, someone to unload on. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want Annie around in their time of need. A friend indeed.

And if you’re not in need, she’s someone you want to have around then, too, as she’s a lot of fun.

Annie’s also someone who’s more than just a manager pulling down a big, fat management salary.

She’s always been hands-on, and very closely involved in the inner-workings of whatever it is she’s working on.

And over the many years that Annie’s worked at her company, she’s been exposed to – make that performed – just about every business function there is: business development, product design, sales, service delivery, contract negotiations, pricing, personnel development, client relations, management of a business unit (P&L). You name it, if it’s really important, Annie’s probably done it. And done it well.

So what had happened over the years was that, even when she had moved on to a new function, people continued to ask Annie’s advice.

Annie developed a particular gift as a fixer, with an uncanny ability to un-f-up client engagements and customer relationships that had gotten f’ed up. She had a reputation internally as the Red Adair of the company, able to parachute into the forest fire, put the fire out, and save all the fire fighters in the process.

As I mentioned, Mr. Big didn’t ask anyone’s advice or permission when he decided how he wanted to count his beans, and laying off Annie turned out not to be his wisest move.

He realized this in near real-time when – so Annie was told – he got a cheerful earful about what a bad decision it was to get rid of Annie. Shortly after he told her she was out, Mr. Big ran into her in the hall and said, “Oh, by the way, you’re the only one we’re letting go who’s on the approved consulting list.”

Gee, thanks.

A few weeks later – she was still around, as she had been given a few weeks to clean up some loose ends and take care of her“transition” – Mr. Big asked her if she could stay on for a few more weeks.

Perhaps he expected eternal gratitude, but Annie (after speeding her way through the initial Kübler-Ross stages of lay-off grieving) was already lining up consulting and permanent opportunities in the outside world. The news traveled fast in her network, and she was hearing from both clients and competitors about doing work for them. Actually, as he phrased it, “If you need more time.”

In fact, Annie wasn’t the one who needed more time; Mr. Big was the one who needed more of her time.

Meanwhile, a couple of key employees interpreted the recent lay-offs as a signal that the company was on the downward slide. Or just not the kind of place where they wanted to be. A couple of folks called Annie and told her that, given all the help she’d been to them, they just couldn’t imagine doing their jobs without her. So they left.

One of the folks leaving decided to let Mr. Big’s boss – Mr. Bigger – know what she thought of the decision to get rid of Annie. So she shot him off an e-mail.

Mr. Bigger followed up asking that woman if she’d mind doing her exit interview with him.

Which, of course, she didn’t.

The next thing we knew, Mr. Bigger – who’d apparently made a few more inquiries – called Mr. Big on the carpet. And fired him.

Mr. Bigger then called Annie and asked her to stay on on a part- time consulting basis for the next couple of months, and that they’d figure it out from there.

And the best part?

Annie’s severance pay was paid out in a lump sum. And, what with her earning a big, fat management salary, and what with those twenty years at the company, and what with what was probably a bit of concern about laying off une femme d’un certain age. Well, let’s just say that the lump sum was not exactly an early lump of coal in her stocking.

I have had a big, fat old grin on my face since I heard Annie’s news.

Needless to say, she has, as well.

Annie hasn’t quite decided what she’s going to do with all this, but she’s sitting these days in one mighty comfy catbird seat.

Turns out that “no one is indispensible” may be a bunch of malarkey.

Nice to know that sometimes the good guy does win.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Black Umbrella: be prepared for a disaster worse than the Madoff Ponzi scheme

I couldn’t resist watching the recent interview with Ruth Madoff and her son. In fact, I may have actually watched two: one on 60 Minutes and one somewhere else. There were some unintentionally hilarious parts. My favorite was when Madoff mère et fils noted that they would not be profiting from sales of the book, "Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family,” which is based on interviews with them. Catherine Hooper, however, does stand to profit.

She’s not the author, by the way. She’s the idea gal behind the book. And she’s Andrew Madoff’s fiancé. (As long as no ill-gotten gains are gotten by the Madoffs….)

Hooper’s also the founder and CEO of Black Umbrella, which sells emergency prepared-ness services and goods. Having an Emergency/Safety Plan – your own personal ESP – is “an umbrella for a different kind of bad day.” Different, I guess, from it raining cats and dogs. Or for the day you wake up and realize that you got swindled out of all of your retirement money by a Ponzi schemer.

Now, I’m not putting down the idea of being prepared. (I was, after all, a Girl Scout at one point in time.) I keep batteries around. When we’re having a hurricane, I fill the bath tub and the soup pot with water so we can, in worst case, keep flushing the toilets. I have candles. And matches. Peanut butter and crackers.

I back up my files on Carbonite. I have thumb drives.

I should probably have a printed list of the phone numbers that are on my BlackBerry.

I have a list of “25 documents everyone needs to have”, which I really should act on one of these days.

I do recognize the need.

When, a couple of years ago, there was some panic in Boston over what some folks thought were bombs under bridges – they were just an attention getting device for some hipster cartoon show – I spent a few minutes trying to figure out how I was going to get to my niece’s grammar school in Charlestown to rescue her if someone blew up the bridge between Charlestown and Boston.

At that point, I began thinking that it might not be a bad idea if everyone in the family had a plan if SOMETHING REALLY BAD happened in Boston. But I never got around to putting anything together, other than to go through the brief mental exercise of deciding that the best thing to do – assuming that there were phones anywhere – would be to call my brother Tom, the only sib who’s not in this area. If Flagstaff, Arizona is destroyed, too, well, I guess the problems of a few of us in Boston won’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Still, pulling together an emergency preparedness plan does seem like something that most of us could handle on our own, without the help of professional services like Black Umbrella.

How many people are there out there who are going to pay$750 for a “Level One Plan” that includes a waterproof hard copy of phone numbers, and a plan (with maps) to meet up if you can’t go home again?

Or $1,450 for Level Two, which includes document organization and storage, a preparedness drill, and a Go Pack.

Wait! I just looked at the small print. Those Go Pack’s are priced separately.

So, for $250 you can get a Seed Pack containing:

  • 11" x 20" 600 Denier Nylon Round Duffel
  • Etón FR160 Radio
  • Gerber Suspension Multitool
  • Inova X5 Flashlight
  • Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide tablets, 20-pack
  • Reliance Fold-A-Jug 1 gal.
  • Uvex Fury Goggles
  • AMK First Aid 2.0
  • Paracord - Black 100 yd.
  • Write-in-the-Rain Notebook
  • CLC Rain Poncho
  • Heatsheets Survival Blanket 2-person
  • 2 x Surefire CR123A Lithium Batteries
  • Bic Lighter
  • Candle
  • 3M N95 Face Mask
  • Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castille Soap
  • Latex Dipped String Work Gloves
  • AMK Foam Hand Sanitizer
  • Sharpie Magnum
  • 2 x AMK Mini Duct Tape Rolls
  • Pen
  • Pencil

Interestingly, there are no seeds in the Seed Pack.

How about a change of undies? A change of socks?

But I guess we’re not talking long term survival here. There’s just one candle, and one bar of Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castille Soap. If things get really bad, that and the hand sanitizer won’t keep you clean for all that long. It’ll be back to nature for all of us. And one candle? We’d all be cursing the dark soon enough.

At any rate, you can easily add-on to the Seed Pack. You’d no doubt want to upgrade from the cheapo-depot comes-with radio to the Etón Raptor for an extra $119 (well worth getting it from Black Umbrella, despite the twenty bucks you’d save if you bought it for yourself on Amazon). And while the Seed Pack does include a duffle bag, you’d probably want to trade up to the 50-liter Simms Guide Backpack (apparently not marked-up at $189).

There are a number of other reasons to go with Guide Backpack, since you’d probably want to carry a lot more than the 11” x 20” duffle bag holds.

For starters, the larger bag can easily hold a couple of real knives. Crocodile Dundee sorts of knives - not just the poor-man’s multi-tool that comes with the Seed Pack. (Am I the only one imagining Master of the Universe Wall Streets hunting squirrel in Central Park, and trying to bag pigeons in Columbus Circle?)

Plus your thumb drive, radiation ward-off tablets, and Rad(iation)Stickers, for those too cheap to spring for the NukAlert:

More than just a radiation detector, the NukAlert™ is a patented personal radiation meter, monitor and alarm. Small enough to attach to a key chain, the device operates non-stop, 24/7 and will promptly warn you of the presence of unseen, but acutely dangerous levels of radiation….It will be very reassuring to know, with confidence, when you and your family are out of the worst danger.

But in order for you to get your bang for the buck here, don’t you have to been exposed to an “acutely dangerous level of radiation”? (We’re in the clear, now, kids. What? You say you’re melting?)

In truth, there are all kinds of bad things that could happen.

As the weather patterns change, we’re more likely to be hit with “100 Year Storms.” (And I live on reclaimed ocean.)

Some cyber terrorist could figure out a way to shut the whole shebang down – not just our iTunes and YouTube, but the financial system and everything else that uses computers. (Think lights out.)

An asteroid could hit the Atlantic and set off a colossal tsunami.

Someone could set off a dirty bomb – or light up an LNG tanker - in a big city. In a big city with a port. (Gulp.)

The nihilist crazies in Iran may decide to wage nuclear war on the Western world.

So it’s good to do a bit of “what if” thinking.

Bad storms I do believe I could weather. After all, I do have Blizzard of ‘78 experience under my belt.

Cyber terrorism that shut down the net? If I survived the follow-on panic and riots in the streets – admittedly a whopping big if – I’m a pre-digital native, and actually remember how things were done in the olden days (e.g., reading a paper-based book).

But if what’s going to happen is so terrible that the only ones who stand a chance of making it are survivalists, cops, criminals and hedge fund managers who get the upgraded real knife in their Go Packs this Christmas. If marauders are abroad in the land, and –once the super markets are all pillaged – we’re living off the land… Well, I’d just as soon be gone in the first puff.

Bad as it is, I rather like civilization as we know it.

For those who feel otherwise, plan on!

P.S,  My read on the Madoffs:

Personally, I don’t believe that Ruthie knew for a New York minute what Bernie was up to. She certainly comes across as a not-bad person who’s life, she now realizes, was a big, fat sham, and is now a big, fat shambles. And I wouldn’t wish the death of a child on the worst person in the world, which this woman is clearly not.

I don’t think the sons knew-knew, either. But it’s hard to get by the probabililty (somewhere north of zero) that they had an inkling that something was a bit off about their father’s business. Come on, they were in the biz. Didn’t they ever look at those returns and speculate just a teeny-tiny bit about how good old dad did it? But there’s knowing, and then there’s KNOWING (c.f., Joe Paterno). And I bet these guys didn’t really know the full truth about what Bernie was up to.  We’re all capable of denial, some more capable than others.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Girl Scout badge? What Girl Scout badge?

When I was in fifth grade, I was a member of what may well have been the crappiest Girl Scout troop since 1912, when founder Juliette Gordon Low decided that boys weren’t the only ones who could have a swell time rubbing two sticks together and starting a fire.

For starters, we didn’t have a regular leader, since two of our parish’s GS leaders were at the moment dying of lung cancer. I’m sure my mother would have jumped in to lead our troop, but she’d just had a baby. Plus, while she would have been excellent at the craft and domestic arts end of Girl Scouting, and pretty good at the game-playing, she would have been a miserable and abject failure at anything to do with the outdoors. Not that there was going to be anything out-doorsy about a Girl Scout troop in Main South Worcester, but my mother (a Chicago girl) may well have been scared off by the nature aspects of the job. And then there was the just-had-a-baby excuse to fall back on. Come to think of it, the two Scout leaders who were dying of lung cancer were also having babies about the same time as my sister Trish appeared on our scene. No wonder we didn’t have a real leader. Instead, we had to make do with a revolving- door series of high school girls dragooned into running our troop on a one-and-done basis.

We met once a week after school and, basically, did nothing. (We didn’t even wear the uniform. We already had green jumpers on. Who needed official Girl Scout garb?)

We had put away the childish things we did in Brownies, so we couldn’t very well sing “Way Down Yonder in the Paw-Paw Patch” while pretending to be pickin’ up paw-paws – whatever they were – and put them in our pockets. (Paw-paws? Paw-paws! We would have gotten a lot more mileage out of the urban version, which would have featured picking up empty cigarette packets.) And a craft project that entailed Elmer’s Glue-ing cotton batting hair onto construction paper angels – a task that had enthralled us as Brownies – seemed just a tad too little kid.

Our meeting place was the Our Lady of the Angels “portable school”, a wooden building containing two classrooms that had been in use while they were building the real school. Once the permanent structure was finished, the portable became a meeting hall.

The most exciting part of our Girl Scout meetings occurred while we were just gathering. That’s when we would swoop into the boys’ room – something we never would have dared in our real school – to look at the urinals.  Eek! Yuck! Ugh! Thinking about it was bad enough, but actually looking at them. Eek! Yuck! Ugh!

The other thing we did regularly was sit around and talk about boys – Eek! Yuck! Ugh! – and our sadistic and miserable teacher, Sister Saint Wilhelmina.

One other thing I recall from my year as a Girl Scout was personal, not communal. It was while sitting on a folding chair in the portable school that I realized I had body odor. I spent most of the meeting furtively dropping my head in the direction of my armpit so I could get a good whiff of whatever strange thing it was. Eke! Yuck! Ugh! After that, I started using my mother’s Mum, a cream deodorant that you slathered on with your fingertips.

At the end of the school year, our troop aaa-gs vintage pinsvoted to disband and get our dues – which must have been all of a dime a month- refunded to us. The price of disbanding was being forced to buy a World Pin, which is the blue-and-gold enamel number shown to the right. At the time, I thought that this was some exit rule  gotcha handed down by Girl Scout HQ, but now I think that someone must have already ordered and paid for those pins.

Anyway, it should come as no surprise that no one in my Girl Scout troop ever earned a badge. What would we have gotten a badge for?  Urinal Inspection? Gripe and Gossip? BO Discovery?

In contrast to my lame-o,dysfunctional, and faux troop, my sister Kathleen was part of a real Girl Scout troop, wearing real uniforms, going to real Girl Scout camp, and earning real badges like the ones shaaa-badge sashown on this authentic badge sash of our era. Even though I was the last one to lay eyes and hands on Kath’s Girl Scout badge sash, I don’t remember all the badges she earned. Reading, Housekeeping, Art, Cooking, Sewing, and something to do with plants – come to mind. Her badge sash, alas, disappeared during The Great Emmanuel College Strike of 1970, of which I was a leader and enough of a guerrilla theater-ista that I actually wore Kath’s badge sash during rallies. (To the Emma who swiped the sash: I’d still like it back.)

Despite my grim experience as a Girl Scout, I harbor no hard feelings toward them, and hold the organization in far higher esteem than I do the Boy Scouts. Unlike the Boy Scouts, it doesn’t seem to have that aura of creepy, rigid, authoritarian, militaristic, homophobia about it. And I don’t imagine that there have been many/any G.S. leaders associated with pedophilia, either. Plus there’s those wonderful cookies….

So, Girl Scouts Forever (that is our song).

Perhaps because of my still-rued badge-less state, I read a recent article about the updated, more relevant, 21st century Girl Scout badges with interest. (Source:

…some of the 136 badges sound more like topics trending on Twitter than something a fresh-faced girl would pin on her sash.

There’s a Good Credit badge and a Money Manager badge, Locavore, Website Designer, and Netiquette badges, a Science of Happiness badge, and, as a component of a cookie-badge program that has been expanded, a Customer Loyalty badge.

Locavore. Got to love that one.

Even the old badges have been updated. The evergreen First Aid badge now entails learning “about sports-related head injuries and drug and alcohol abuse.”

Anyway, the article piqued my interest – is there a Curiosity badge? – so I went to the Girl Scout mother ship site to see what other skills they’re promoting these days.

Well, you can still be an Artist and a Cook, and learn First Aid. but you can also earn Financial Literacy Badges as a Philanthropist (????), a Savvy Shopper, a Comparison Shopper, and a Business Owner. You can take up Digital Photography and Digital Movie Making, Entertainment Technology, Product Design. Write a Business Plan, earn a Marketing badge. (If only I’d known, I might have been able to save a bundle on B-School.)

There’s a Social Butterfly badge – whatever that means – and one for Geocaching, which I had to look up. (GPS treasure hunt.) A badge for Night Owls, and one for Eating for Beauty.

No Blogging badge, and none (yet) for Facebook and Tweeting.

But there are badges for Truth Seeker, for Novelist, for the Science of Happiness, for Traveler. Damn! I wanna be a Girl Scout!

This post is dedicated to my sister Kath. Sorry about that badge sash.

And by the way, while I never earned a badge, the year after the collapse of our Girl Scout troop, I helped cheat my brother Tom through his Cub Scout Webelo requirements by doing his leaf-identification project for him. So I did manage to get some of the nature stuff in.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thank you, Robert Mueller for putting Mark Sam Ojo in touch with us. (We sure could use that $2.5 million.)

You know, sometimes I’m just out and out humiliated that my husband and I are on the lagging edge of some mighty vital e-mails.

Sure, we get as many ED and super Louis Vuitton replica missives as the next guys, but the big pay-off ones, well, harrumph, I guess we’re just not early adopters. On the contrary, by the time they get to us, the senders seem to have crossed the chasm and are pawing around with the sendees of last resort.

So let’s just say that I’m getting more than a little miffed when I go to The Google and find that some marvelous deal that we’re just hearing about now has been dangling out there for a couple of years.

Damn! I remember when our demographic was much vaunted, the apple of the eye of everything with something to sell – even if it does turn out to be the Brooklyn Bridge.

But I’m not going to cut off my nose to spite my face here. No sir-ee Bob Mueller. Not when a mere pittance of an investment of $155 is going to yield a guaranteed return of $2,500,000.00. Why, I haven’t seen that type of return since Bernie Madoff was a lad. Try matching this riskless reward, you CDO-pushers!

To some extent, I can understand why so many folks have taken a pass on this offer.

The language and tone is curt and, frankly, pretty darned pissy and nasty. But it does garner your attention. Perhaps not to the extent it would have if the note had come hand-delivered by Clyde Tolson from J. Edgar Hoover. Still, it’s not every day that one gets a threatening email from the office of Robert Mueller, at the Anti-Terrorist and Monetary Crimes Division of the FBI.

The nature of the threat is manifold:

Today if you fail to respond back to us with the payment, then, we would first send a letter to the mayor of the city where you reside and direct them to close your bank account until you have been jailed and all your properties will be confiscated by the FBI. We would also send a letter to the company/agency that you are working for so that they could get you fired until we are through with our investigations because a suspect is not supposed to be working for the government or any private organization…

…right now the warrant of arrest has been signed against you and it will be carried out in the next 48 hours as strictly signed by the FBI director…it will be a shame to you and your entire family because after then it will be announce in all the local channels that you are wanted by the FBI.

Gosh, this would be terrible – but at least it was sent to my husband, and not me. Phew!

There was one part I didn’t really get, however:

Your id which we have in our database been sent to all the crimes agencies in America for them to insert you in their website as an internet fraudster and to warn people from having any deals with you.

Oh, I get the “crimes agencies”, and “internet fraudster” stuff – better him than me – but it’s that id in the database thing that I don’t quite understand. Come on, I know that technology makes new strides everyday, but you can’t put id in a database any more than you can put ego and super-ego. Am I right or am I right?

Or has the FBI got some new crazy techno, mind-zapping thing going here?

Gosh, it’s a big old scary world out there, isn’t it?

Scary enough, at any rate, that it will be really good to have an extra $2.5M on hand, that’s for sure.

What’s with the $2.5M, you may well be asking yourself.

Here’s the deal:

Because the person writing from the office of Robert Mueller is “a good Christian and a honest man” he would “not be happy to see [us] end up in jail and all [our] properties confiscated  because [our] information was used to carry out a fraudulent transaction.” 

Well, I wouldn’t want to see our properties confiscated, either – other than those high-water black exercise pants my husband wears around the house with the stupid tee-shirt with Cher on it. (Don’t ask.)

And all because he, unbeknownst to me, “forwarded [his] identity to one imposter/fraudsters in Nigeria when he had a deal with [him] to about the transfer of some illegal funds into [his] bank account.”

Some Harvard PhD in economics he – my husband, not the imposter/fraudsters in Nigeria – turned out to be, huh?

Anyway, given the evident and ardent Christianity and honesty involved here, we can get Jim (and our properties) off the hook by sending a $155 to Mark Sam Ojo in Nigeria.

The best thing about this, though, it that once we’ve gotten that check off, $2,500,000.00 in “compensation funds” will be transferred to us.

I’m sure the cynics are calling BS, but just think: if everyone in the United States could get $2.5M in exchange for a measly $155, we’d be out of the financial doldrums in no time.  Forget 9-9-9 and/or tax the rich. Truly, I don’t know why none of the presidential candidates have thought of this one. (Can’t wait to run this idea passed my own personal Harvard PhD economist for his blessing.)

Of course, if we “disregard this instructions”, the FBI “shall trace and arrest” us. Which should be a bit easier than finding Whitey Bulger, given that we use our real names and have lived in the same place for 20+ years.

I’d say “come and get me, G-Men” but, then again, the email was sent to my husband, not me. And, of course, I don’t want to do any sort of unseemly, unsportsmanlike taunting that “will attract maximum arrest” and end up with Jim in court “for act of terrorism, money laundering and drug trafficking charges.”

Talk about trumped up charges!

Honestly, what with focusing on frequent flyer miles, watching re-runs of  Bill Russell era Celtics basketball games, and scouring the ‘net for Boston restaurants that serve gluten-free, my husband just does NOT have time for any of this sort of tawdry, criminal behavior.

Do you think maybe Robert Mueller has the wrong guy?

Do you think maybe we should just take a risk and not send off that $155 to Mark Sam Ojo?

But what about that $2.5M…….

Lordy, lordy life is just one pain in the butt tough decision after another.


Seriously folks, based on comments I’ve received when I’ve posted about other email scams, please note that this post is intended to be humorous. AND THE E-MAIL IT IS BASED ON IS A HOAX.

Either that, or it’s a brilliant parody of a Nigerian scam letter.

I know they must occasionally hit pay dirt. Why else would they keep doing it? But is there actually anyone out there who actually has $155 to his/her name  who’s so gullible and naïve that they’d fall for it.

NEBO, on the outskirts of Boston’s North End, serves excellent gluten-free food, by the way. I understand Oleana in Cambridge does as well, but we haven’t eaten there since my husband got the celiac disease diagnosis.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Perks at Work

I saw a little throw-away article in The Boston Globe the other day on perks available in some local companies: beer in the fridge, ping pong table, cool employee lounge.

I guess you could say that my present work-life is chocked full of perks: snacks in the kitchen, flexible schedule, comfy bed where I can take a nap, flat-screen TV, casual dress everyday, shower and Jacuzzi, get to keep my laptop and smartphone.

But wait just a dern minute here.

Sure, I have a lot of perks, but they’re all bought and paid for by me, myself, and I.

No, pretty much the only true perky stuff I get is the occasional polo, tee-shirt, logo pen, or coffee mug I can scrounge off of client. And most of those polo and tee-shirts, in truth, go to replenish my husband’s rag-bag wardrobe which has just not been the same since I stopped working full time “in corporate.” But I guess not having to see him in a washed-out, threadbare polo shirt with the collar unmooring itself from the body of the shirt is perk enough.

Anyway, that little Globe article did get me thinking about the perks I have witnessed, and, to far lesser degree, experienced during my full-time work life.

I’ve been with the free-soda, video-game, and comfy employee lounge kind of companies. Somewhat standard fare for smaller high tech outfits.

But the all-time champeen work-perk place I logged time was Wang Labs. (Perks for the 1%; definitely not the 99.)

I joined Wang in 1986, after it had crested on its giddy ride on the roller coaster. When I walked in the doors, it had already started on its terrifying plummet, which gained a scary amount of momentum during the 2.5 years I spent there.

At Wang – if you don’t count having a Burger King on premise – there were no perks for those at my lowly, senior product manager level.

But for the big shot VPs there were perks a plenty.

For one thing, they had indoor parking, which was a pretty big deal given that peon parking was in poorly lit, massive acreage lots that could leave you with a quarter of a mile hike to your building. The real downside of the parking lot occurred during the winter months – and it wasn’t just the long, cold, windy walk. No, if you got to work early in the morning when there’d been a light snowfall, you couldn’t see where the parking lines were. So people would just start lining up, creating their own order. Fair enough. But if, a bit later, once the snow had melted, the latecomers had a nasty habit of parking where the true lines were – even if it meant that they blocked someone else in. Now, I can’t really hang this one on Wang. It wasn’t directly their fault that they had a lot of a-holes working there. But it sure does speak to the Wang mentality that employees would deliberately wedge someone’s car in in this way. Perhaps they were just ticked off that they weren’t VPs who got to park in sheltered, underground parking.

Wang VPs, it was rumored, also had a clothing allowance, granted to them when they were elevated to VP level. What for, I’ll never know. It’s not as if they were required to wear formal attire to work. Everyone in the professional workforce there pretty much wore suit and tie every day – and that, I’m afraid, included the women. So why would a new VP suddenly need mo’ better clothing? It’s not as if I ever noticed that senior management dressed especially sharp.

Then there was business travel, which for Wang was done on the cheap if you weren’t a high status executive. I stayed in one hotel that had mouse droppings on the floor. I know, I know, bad things can happen to good hotels. Many years ago, when the Pierre Hotel was the ne plus ultra of New York swank, I stayed there a couple of times. The first time, I pulled the drapes aside to catch the view and found a two inch cigar ash on the floor. Ewww! No Pierre for us Wang-oids, however. Way, way, way too rich for their blood. Even though the execs stayed at better joints than the commoners, I don’t suspect that anyone was putting them up at the Pierre.

On another Wang trip, I stayed at a Chicago hotel that consisted of two eight-story cement block buildings in a parking lot surrounded by a cyclone fence topped with coils of barbed wire. Which wouldn’t have been half bad if both of the buildings had someone on duty in them. But only the one with the reception desk did and I, alas, was in the building in the further, darker recess of the parking lot. All I can say is that, once you get to your room, a scary hotel is made less so by propping the desk chair up against the door.

The real us-vs.-them distinction at Wang came to the fore when Wang started cutting back on lighting and office cleaning.

Executives got light bulbs. Unlike the rest of us, once they took out every third ceiling light in the office area. Fortunately, they still let us keep our individual desk lighting. Who needs overhead lighting, anyway? (Other than VPs, that is.)

The removal of two out of three overhead fluorescent lights in the halls near the elevator banks did impact peon and VP alike. Solidarność! (That the walls were painted a deep chocolate brown didn’t help any.)

Then there was the cleaning thang…

Now, you may not think that having your cubicle waste basket – the one that might contain an apple core or a banana peel, if you’d had your lunch while working – emptied every evening is a perk. I can assure you that it is.

Once Wang stopped emptying our waste baskets, we had to carry our personal slop buckets to an enormous (and open) garbage can in the corner of the floor near the coffee machine.  While performing the evening ritual of waste-basket emptying, we would walk by our VP’s office and see the cleaning folks madly trash-emptying and vacuuming – another nicety that had gone by the boards for the rank and file.

After a while, the common garbage pails weren’t emptied every night, either.

Some days, they were overflowing with coffee grounds, apple cores, and banana peels.

Just as the broken window theory has been proven elsewhere, so it was at Wang.

Once those mega-garbage pails started spilling over, folks really stopped giving a damn.

One day, I found a shriveled up tea bag in an aisle. Another time, I came across a massive hawked loogie on the staircase.

And don’t get me going on the condition of the bathrooms, which I believe were shared by overling and underling alike, unless you were with the real big wigs on Mahogany Row where, I presume, that had big wig toilets as part of their perk package.

One of my colleagues found a row of dried boogers on the stall wall in a men’s room. A couple of weeks later, they were still there.

And the water pressure was so poor that the toilets didn’t flush particularly well. Could it be that they decreased the water flow to save money?

By the time I left Wang, I feared that I would contract typhus. Forget beer in the fridge and a foosball machine as perks. Clean bathrooms would have been nice. And it’s definitely a perk you have if you’re working from home!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

When I think of a potently bad combination, I think of me being in the military. Way, way, way too much authoritarianism, hierarchy, and chicken-shit. Not that I didn’t encounter plenty of that in the business world, but at least I didn’t have to salute and no one was going to throw me in the brig if I went AWOL.

About all I can say for my being a good fit for the armed service is that, after all those years in parochial school, I wouldn’t have been bothered by wearing a uniform. I also like to think that, if there had been a national crisis, some national purpose (think World War II), when I was young enough to serve, I might have considered signing up and doing my bit. But it didn’t happen, so I didn’t have to make any decision one way or the other. The “national crisis” during my potentially military years was the Viet Nam War, which was not exactly something that was going to get this girl volunteering to work in the steno pool poppyat Lackland AFB.

But I’m the daughter of a veteran, from whom I learned that, in the service, there is way, way, way too much authoritarianism, hierarchy, and chicken-shit. And from whom I also learned that it was a matter of duty, pride, and honor to serve when there was a national crisis, a national purpose, in which everyone had a bit to do. Which is why my father, although he was 29 at the time and quite a ways from any draft catching up with him, volunteered soon after Pearl Harbor. The Army rejected him: flat feet, he couldn’t march. But the Navy took him, and he spent four years there, “going where Uncle Sam sent you.” Which, for my father, was Newport Virginia, Trinidad, and downtown Chicago.

While stationed in Chicago, he met my mother. And the rest is (family) history.

So while I’m not myself a vet, I do want to wish a happy (and peaceful) Veterans’ Day to those who are (both those who served in time or war, and those who idled around in time of No Time for Sergeants, Sgt. Bilko, and Beetle Bailey). With a special shout-out to the veterans I do know, a roster which – off the top of my head – includes Dick, Bob, Joe D, Phil, Steve, Eddie, Paul and John. And with a special posthumous nod to Joe W, dead years too soon from Agent Orange and the terrible and dreadful war that Viet Nam was.

In the U.S., poppies are associated with Memorial Day, but in England, they’re the flower for Remembrance Day, which is what the Brits call November 11th. Wars are all hell, but World War I, which ended 90 years ago at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, was perhaps more hellish than most. More senseless. More insane.

Which is not to say that the men (and women) who fight them aren’t brave in a way I’ve never needed to be.

Happy Veterans’ Day to all.


Here’s a link to an earlier Veterans’ Day post.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Graf Zeppelin and Charles Lindbergh ephemera. (My interest proves ephemeral.)

A couple of weeks ago, I was gazing The New Yorker, when an auction house ad caught my eye.

Graf Zeppelin and Charles Lindbergh ephemera. Now there’s a nice market, I thought.

And then, of course, I started wondering about just what that ephemera might be.

First, were they talking about Graf Zeppelin, the German count who invented the eponymous dirigible, or Graf Zeppelin the dirigible. What with Charles Lindbergh being an actual human being, it could have meant ephemera associated with the Graf himself. What with Charles Lindbergh being associated with aviation, it could have meant the dirigible.

When I first looked, the Clars auction house site provided scant information, since they didn’t yet have the Graf Zeppelin and Charles Lindbergh ephemera online. The closest ephemera I could find was some “crash-damaged aviator goggles” that had belonged to Amelia Earhart, worn during her very first crash, while learning to fly under the guidance of one Neta Snook. (They don’t make names like they used to.) The goggles sold for $17,775, which sort of goggles the mind, doesn’t it.

Amelia’s goggles (and Neta’s name) aside, my appetite for ephemera – especially Graf Zeppelin ephemera – was whetted, so I began hunting around for more.

Harmerschau had a bit from the collection of “Clara Adams Famous First Flight Passenger.” And here we were thinking that the Kardashians were the first folks to be famous for being famous. Why, here was Clara Adams, famous for being a first flight passenger. Which, admittedly, is more fame-worthy than getting married for 72 days so you’d have a recurring topic for your “reality” show.

Anyway, among her “wonderful pieces of aviation history,” there was available for the bidding a “piece of Graf Zeppelin skin.” Given that other items in the collection included the Graf Zeppelin South America flight passenger handbook, I’m going with that “skin” being Graf Zeppelin the dirigible skin, not Graf Zeppelin the human skin. But, hey, you never know.

Then I found a Hermann Goering’s Zeppelin cigarette box, going for $6,500, “with enameled swastika tail fins” listed as an “attractive display item.”

Am I the only one who questions whether memorabilia associated with a Nazi leader can never really make an “attractive display item”?

By this point, I wasn’t even sure what auction house I was looking at, but there  does seem to be quite a bit of Nazi-related junk out there for the asking/bidding. Including a double wine bottle holder from Goering’s private railway car with “plum darkened patina around the eagle/swastika/DR”, and a silverware place setting that belonged to von Ribbentrop.

Let me tell you, you can spend as much crazy-time wandering around auction sites as you can roaming around eBay trying to figure out what you could get for your vintage Tiny Tears doll if, alas, Tiny were still among the living.

But I hung tight, knowing that, eventually – since the auction is this coming weekend – Clars would have to open up about just what Graf Zeppelin and Charles Lindbergh ephemera they would have on offer.

For Lucky Lindy, it was mostly – yawn – some photoaa-lindy member medalgraphic plates. And a medal worn by someone in the Cleveland Committee that honored Lindbergh. (Wider yawn.) For the Graf Zeppelin, it was just a postcard of aaaa-hindenbergthe Hindenburg and an original photo of the Hindenburg going up in flames. Oh, the humanity! Which, for crying out loud, you can get on Wikipedia for free. The picture, not the humanity. And, by the way, the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg were two separate dirigibles, not one and the same. (Put that in your Hermann Goering cigarette case and smoke it.)

With so little Graf Zeppelin and Charles Lindbergh ephemera available, I decided to cancel my plan  to spend Sunday bidding on the Clars auction. Not that there wasn’t plenty of other interesting stuff available. Would that I had the habitat or the aa-marshmallow sofapocketbook for this extraordinarily cool modern couch.

But honestly, drawn in as I was by that ad for Zepp and Lindy ephemera, I was hoping for more than a postcard of a blimp and a medal worn by someone who went to a dinner at which Lindbergh was honored. Maybe Lindy’s goggles. Or a medal awarded to him, perhaps by the Nazis, to mesh a couple of themes together.

Sometimes ephemera just ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning. (This one just keeps getting better and better.)

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the  last few years have seen quite a spate of elected officials heading to the stir for corruption.

Let’s see, there’s the Boston City Council member who’s in the pokey for taking a chump-change bribe – $1K – to do a bit of light lifting to get someone a liquor license.

Then there’s the state senator convicted in the “Bra-gate” trial. She was caught on video tape shoving bribe money under her shirt. That she did so at a pricey restaurant in spitting distance of the State House just added to the furor.

Most recently, the illustrious Speaker of the Massachusetts House was sentenced to eight large in a Federal lockup for steering a software contract with the state towards a vendor willing to offer him some walking around money.

Apparently things haven’t changed all that much since Boston’s late 19th- early 20th century ward boss, Martin Lomasney coined this apparently timeless saying:

"Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink."

To which a coda should be added: never stuff an envelope full of cash into your bra while the camera’s rolling.

Of course, there’s no end to the codas that pols will keep writing.

Although this one does not (yet) have any criminal element associated with it, the latest local nest-feathering story involves quite a bit more moola than the paltry amounts that landed all of the above in jail. (The last guy is appealing, so he hasn’t actually landed behind bars quite yet.)

Our latest prince of the city is one Michael McLaughlin, a former state rep, who a decade ago got the post of head of the Chelsea Housing Authority. Chelsea is small, poor/working class city just outside of Boston. The Housing Authority manages 1,415 units of housing. When McLaughlin got the job in the year 2000, he was paid $77,500. By the time he resigned the other night, his compensation was $360K. (Source:

While it’s comforting to know that at least there’s someone out there – other than hedge fund managers and CEOs – who hasn’t seen the value of their earnings eroded over the past decade, this does seem a bit extreme. Especially when you consider that it’s more than the combined salaries of the managers of the Boston and New York City housing authorities, who have a lot more than 1,415 units under their management. And especially when you consider that it’s roughly 18 times what the average family living in Chelsea public housing lives on.

It must be noted that McLaughlin didn’t embezzle the money. The knuckleheads on the Chelsea Housing Authority board approved it. But he may yet get nailed on something, given that he lied about the amount to the state.

The Globe reported Sunday that McLaughlin had told state housing officials he made only $160,000, less than half his true salary, something he chalked up to “the rebel in me.’’

I guess the Crystals were on to something when they sang, “He’s a rebel, and he’ll never be any good…”

McLaughlin maintains that he “’more than earned [his] salary:’”

… saying he is well paid because he turned around the troubled housing agency. He compared his performance running the housing agency to the achievements of his idol, Joe Montana, on the football field.

Ah, the old Joe Montana comparison.

That should work magic on public opinion.

Now that McLaughlin has resigned, he’ll be putting in for his pension.

Based on his total compensation and years of service, McLaughlin could qualify for a pension of $278,842 for life.

Which, as it happens, is nearly twelve times the pension of the average Massachusetts state worker – you know, the folks we’re currently accusing of ruining our way of life. 

The story, of course, just gets better.

Rather than let the door hit him on his arse on his way out, McLaughlin had the Chelsea Housing Authority’s accountant write him a few checks to tide him over until that pension comes through. Checks to the tune of $200K. Written by a friend and fellow Providence College grad of McLaughlin’s sons. Who, before McLaughlin got him the job running the Chelsea Housing Authority’s finances, spent nine years as a night club bouncer. (Source: (Okay: maybe he was a business major.)

[James McNichols] cut three checks - one for $114,237 for more than 1,000 hours of unused sick leave, a second for $81,578.79 for 793 hours of unused vacation and a third for $5,133.82 for 47 hours of accrued personal time.

McLaughlin instructed McNichols to withhold roughly $22,000 - 135 hours of unused sick leave - “for any expenses that arise.’’

Let the claw back begin! McLaughlin managed to cash the $80K check, but the others have been canceled. And I suspect that his nibs won’t be getting the fully plush pension he thinks he’s earned. But talk about tone deaf. If you were being forced out of your quasi-public job because everyone in the world with half a brain believes you are egregiously overpaid and completely non-deserving, would you have your friendly accountant write you $200K worth of checks? Especially when there have been so many cutbacks in funding for things like public housing because the poor, don’t you know, are so shiftless, so undeserving.

Or might you not pause for a second and think, hmmmmm, I haven’t done anything all that bad – other than (the rebel in me!) tell a little white lie about my salary. So maybe I should just lay low until this blows over and see what I can salvage here.

Didn’t it occur to McLaughlin that a stunt like this will bring more scrutiny down on him, not to mention completely inflame everyone who reads about it? I wouldn’t expect him to think for a minute about how his behavior will bring out the pitchfork in those zealots who believe that everyone who works in the public sector is  lazy, coddled, overpaid, and deserving of nothing other than our scorn (and the fork end of the pitchfork).

Nope, I wouldn’t expect that he’d think for a Chelsea minute about the other guys.

But you’d think that he might think for that Chelsea minute about how his behavior might reflect on himself?

Apparently not. (Guess it’s not just Wall Street financiers and CEOs who are tone deaf…)

"Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink."

And never palm the cash box while the whole world’s watching.