Thursday, May 31, 2012

Everybody’s doin’ it, doin’ it, doin’ it. What hath Sir Edmund Hillary wrought?

The other evening, I had network news – probably NBC – on in background, and I half-caught a story about the glut of mountaineers schlepping up and down Mt. Everest.

Talk about climb every mountain. Who knew there were so many folks willing to brave such extreme elements to check this item off their bucket list? And it’s apparently becoming something of an annoyance to more serious and hearty alpinists (himalaya-ists?) who do things like climb Everest and other mega-mountains without niceties like supplementary oxygen and Sherpas.

One real climber is Simone Moro, who – if solo, Sherpa-less climbing isn’t quite macho enough for you – takes the never- followed routes to and from the summit, teaches mountaineering, and is a Himalayan mountain rescue helicopter pilot. He recently gave up an attempt to climb Everest and Lhotse, saying:

"Unbelievable, it really was like being in an amusement park..."

Well, there’s no doubt that someone who solos Everest without supplemental oxygen has a different idea of what constitutes an amusement park that I do. I doubt there was cotton candy for sale or a roller-coaster ride that plummets into water on Everest. Still, it’s pretty amazing that, on the day that so frustrated Moro, he found:

… himself caught up in an unimaginable crowd, more than 200 climbers who were slowly ascending up to the South Col.

With so many snaking their way up the “hill”:

…Everything was going too slowly. Too many were too unprepared. It would have been absurd to be “commanded” by and entangled in the rhythm of this enormous line of climbers. In short, too risky.

Ah, there’s risky and then there’s too risky. And although I’ve never heard of Simone Moro before, I trust his take on too risky.

Apparently, because of precarious conditions, a number of expeditions – which generally space themselves out – decided to all go on the same day. Making it just too much monkey business for someone who climbs without oxygen and needs to go at his own speed. (Not that having supplemental oxygen is any guarantee. Earlier this month there were some deaths because the climbers gobbled up all the oxygen they had because their jaunt was moving too slowly.)

I’m assuming that you have to be plenty serious – and seriously fit – before an excursion will let you sign up to join its climb. But maybe I’m assuming too much here:

…I'm [that’s Moro, not me] astonished every time I see people who don't know how use a jumar*, how to open and move it. I'm amazed when I see people who need help in putting on crampons, who are given a hand by Sherpa to walk along a ledge to have a crap.

Hmmmm.  I was thinking about climbing Mt. Everest, but then I find that you have to hang out over a ledge to have a crap. As opposed to just pulling off the trail and taking a dump that will be frozen and covered up before you know it. Let’s keep Everest clean, and all that. Pick up after your pooch – I’m a proponent. But hanging off a ledge  about a kabillion feet down to take care of business? I think I’ll wait for the movie to come out.

In criticizing the ill-prepared excursion climbers, Moro is between a rock and a hard place, as he recognizes that all these treks have become vital to the Nepalese economy. (Or not: maybe they were better off without DVD players and KFC.)

But he decries the consumerization of alpinism, and is somewhat unhappy that:

Everest for all these people is a jewel which they want to purchase and conquest. For them it's an emblem, a joining an exclusive club of the "brave".

Moro also believes that many who go on these ultimate checklist excursions do not fully understand and appreciate the risks. Each year, a handful of excursion-eers – who shell out about $75K for the privilege of making an escorted climb – die coming or going. Most aren’t experienced enough to do what Moro did: abandon his climb because the crowded conditions rendered it a more risky than usual endeavor.

Perhaps abandoning here today can teach me something, and also those here and at home. Dying for a dream isn't included in my way of interpreting life.

Now there’s an admirably wise and brave man.


*Okay, so I don’t know how to use a jumar. It just wasn’t required on the intrepid climbs of Mt. Katahdin and Mt. Monadnock that I’ve done. (I only got to Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mt. Washington.) But I’m afraid that I didn’t even know what one is. Now I know: it’s a device that helps you ascend a mountain. Thank you, wikipedia.

Source of quoted material: Planet Mountain.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Forget a good 5 cent cigar. What this country needs is Eurovision

Anyone who thinks that European television is anything like British exports - BBC announcers with plummy U accents, period pieces like Downton Abbey, the original version of The Office, Alastair Cooke, and Monte Python, hasn’t spent all that much time watching TV in Europe.

British imports aside, much of what I’ve seen over years of grabbing an occasional glance at the local fare when the Sky Network is unavailable makes The Dukes of Hazard look like the latest incarnation of Death of a Salesman, and America’s Got Talent sound like The Ring Cycle at The Met. Admittedly, there’s generally a language barrier, but schlock needs no translation, and much of what I’ve seen on “foreign” TV is schlock de la schlock.

And the schlock de la schlock de la schlock has got to be Eurovision, a souped up talent show in which every country gets to send one act.

The contest is held each year in the home-country of the prior year’s winner, which means that this years version – which had its grande finale last weekend – happened in Baku. For those who don’t recognize the name, Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan, a country presided over by a tin-pot strongman of the personality-cult variety. So it’s unfortunate that an annual feel-good (feel-silly) festival would be held in a place where oppression reigns. There’s always the hope that, having hosted such a grand event, and been placed on the public stage, a country will come around. We’ll see what happens in Baku and beyond.

Eurovision’s sponsors won’t have to worry about oppressive regimes next year, as Sweden was this year’s winner, with Loreen’s song, Euphoria, taking the first prize. I could live without the cheesy moves, but the girl has decent enough pipes. (If she doesn’t exactly look like your classic Ingmar Bergmann Swede, she’s or Moroccan-Berber heritage.)

Loreen at Eurovision

Most Eurovision winners don’t go on to do much of anything. The most notable winners of all time were Loreen’s fellow Swedes, ABBA. Other than that, the biggie to come out of Eurovision was the song Volare (Nel blu dipinto di blu), which was a major hit in the fifties.

Among the acts that Loreen had to beat out was one singular re-tread: Engelbert Humperdinck. Seriously, if the Brit’s want to win, they could at least have resurrected Tom Jones singing an updated version of What’s New, Pussycat? Humperdinck wasn’t Loreen’s real competition, however. The real heat came from the Russian runner ups:

This could have been the Rogers and Dineen girls…

As it happened, my mother was a baby-babushka emigrant, not from Russia, but from a German enclave in Romania. In the family passport photo, my grandmother is wearing headgear that looks pretty darned close to what the Buranovskiye Babushki are wearing.

Of course, if my grandparents hadn’t had the prescience to pack up my mother and get the hell out of Volksdeutsche, Romania, in the 1920’s, she wouldn’t have grown up in Chicago and met and married my Irish-American father. Nor would my Aunt Mary – who, lucky girl, got to be the first American born Wolf-child – have grown up in Chicago and met and married my Irish-American uncle. Thus, the Rogers and Dineen girls wouldn’t have been us.

Still, when I look at those Buranovskiye Babushki, all I can say to Kath, Ellen, Mary Pat, Laura, and Trish: Hey, girls, that could have been us. (Everybody dance.)

Anyway, I think the U.S. is missing a trick by not having an Amer0-vision contest. I’m not talking American Idol, here. I’m talking a representative from each of the 50 states – the clogging grandpappies of Kentucky, a resurrected Jan and Dean to represent California, the bow-tied a cappella snobs from Massachusetts.

Forget blue state/red state. This could be great fun.

Come on, what are we waiting for?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

As per our conversation

There’s a section on that has a regular column on business etiquette by Peter Post

Mr. Post is not some Peter-come-lately to the post of etiquette maven, by the way. He is the great-grandson of Emily Post and the director of the Emily Post Institute, which, if I read the employee list correctly, is pretty much the family business.

And why not? Emily Post was not just a society doyenne, she wrote the book on etiquette way back when people were actually polite – or so we are led to believe – and who famously said:

"Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."

Which was actually pretty darned generous on her part, given that she was certainly raised knowing the difference between the salad fork and the fish fork.

(As a side note, if you’re going to be involved in a family business, it might as well be one that’s all about being polite.)

By the way, the Emily Post Institute keeps up with the times, and questions about fish forks have been replaced by online dating etiquette and advice on whether it’s okay for your teenage son to wear boxer shorts to the dinner table. They also have a sub-specialty in business etiquette. Hence Peter Post’s business etiquette Dear Abby.

A recent question came from J. Lo, Farmington, CT, who is irritated by:

…outgoing work voice mail messages [that say], “I will call you back at my earliest convenience.” It rubs me the wrong way. I think the intention is to convey “as soon as I can.”

J.L. goes on to ask whether he/she’s being persnickety.

Mr. Post replied that, in his view, J.L. is being a tad bit persnickety in the sense that J.L. is focusing a tad bit too much on small details. (I was going to write “sweating the small stuff”, but I don’t believe the Posts sweat.) Further, Mr. Post acknowledges that:

“At my earliest convenience” probably isn’t the best word choice. I think you are right that it conveys a message of “when I’m ready regardless of your needs.”

He then goes on to caution that J.L. would be best served by ignoring this little bit of workplace idiocy (not that Mr. Post used the words “workplace idiocy”), and not start carping about petty annoyances that might gain one the reputation as “’the Complainer.’”

When it happens next, and it will, it’s okay to be frustrated. Just remember it’s also okay to let it go.

Mr. Post is, of course, correct to advise J.L. “to let it go.” That is the path to mental, if not office, health.

Still, I have complete and utter sympathy for J.L. on this one.

The purpose of any communication is (duh) to communicate something clearly and effectively, and this voice mail message – which I have ear-witnessed a few times myself – does nothing other than brand the person using it as someone who is not especially adept at communication. Who, in fact, may not have all that much of a grasp on the English language. Who, in fact, sounds none to bright.

Yet it is, of course, not the best thing in the world to point out to someone that their outgoing voice message is idiotic. Not to mention, I suspect, contagious. The first person to create this message was doing something not especially bright. The second person to adopt it was no doubt imitating what he/she thought was a pretty good, business-standard greeting. And so one, and so forth, until we’re all down the communications rabbit-hole. Wheeee!!!!.

If I were J.L., I would drop a suggestion in the HR suggestion box, proposing that they get a note out to employees about what constitutes a reasonable greeting. No matter how humorously it’s written, this note from HR will, no doubt, be widely scorned. But if it gets just one voice-mail miscreant to change his or her message from something stupid to something reasonable, well…

Then we can tackle another communications pet peeve of mine. I.e., beginning an e-mail, note or memo with:

As per our conversation…

I know, I know, it’s nothing to do with business etiquette.

But it does have to do with clear and effective communication, and, whenever I see it, I automatically think, o-oh, here comes a note that’s going to be painful to read. And most of the time it is.

By the way, I’ll be blogging about this at my earliest convenience. As per a note I just made to myself.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day, 2012: “It’s not about the barbecue”

There are a lot of reasons to like Memorial Day, mostly because it heralds the start of summer. It’s also, to some extent, a stress-free holiday (unless you’re caught in traffic to and from The Cape): no presents to wrap, no special apparel to don, no turkey to baste, no big, high-pressured build-up.

Personally, this year, Memorial Day isn’t exactly a holiday or stress-free.

Last Thursday, after a 10 day stay for an operation for esophageal cancer, my husband was discharged from Mass General Hospital. Although Jim is tired, and nowhere close to 100%, he is doing remarkably well – “miraculously well”, in the words of his surgeon, for someone his age. Jim came home from MGH with an IV pole, a pump, and enough cases of Jevity to get him through 16 hours a day worth of feeding for the next three weeks.

The tube-feeding apparatus is pretty straightforward and easy to use, and the visiting nurse who swung by a few hours after we got home to show me the ropes was very clear in her instructions.  Still, I can imagine that there are many patients’ families for which the entire process is overwhelming. However intuitive the pump’s interface, it may not be for someone older or less used to technology. However clear the written instructions, someone may be confused by the warning to “maintain the patency of the feeding tube.” (Patency? If I wasn’t familiar with the word, I’m guessing that 99% of the general, non-medical population wouldn’t be.) However simple it is to crush the pills, mix them with water, and syringe into the medicine port, it’s a bit daunting to play nurse if you’ve never been one.

It is, of course, worse for Jim, who’s stuck tethered to the pump and feedbag those 16 hours a day, while coping with post-surgery aches and pains. (Not to mention the general ghastliness of being treated for his second cancer…)

But we are fortunate: cancer caught (relatively) early, surgery that went well, walking distance from one of the best hospitals in the world, a medical team we admire and trust…

But it’s Memorial Day.

So, while I wanted to do a bit about where we are, medical-wise, it’s not about us.flags on common

It’s about remembering those who serve/have served in the military.

For the last few years, a group called the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund has put out flags on Boston Common to commemorate the 33,000 citizens of our state who have been killed in action since the Civil War.

In an article in The Boston Globe on the flag-planting, Mark McGuire, whose young song Daniel was killed in Fallujah in 2008, had this to say:

“They just need a big banner on the bridge [to The Cape], saying, ‘It’s not about the barbecue.’ Swing by the national cemetery in Bourne. ... You don’t need to know anyone there. Just ride through.”

I didn’t walk through Bourne, but I took a break from maintaining the patency of Jim’s J-tube and walked through The Common, where I snapped a picture of the flag display, which is quite beautiful and moving. I was not alone in clicking my smartphone to capture a shot of the hill of flags. There were plenty of others with me – it’s so much easier to take a picture, slap the yellow ribbon decal on the SUV, call everyone in the service a hero – than it is to a) think about the war; and b) think about who’s fighting the war; let alone c) actually joining up and fighting.

There are so many things that are bad for a country’s soul, and I’ve got to believe that having an all-volunteer military has got to be one of them – too much opportunity for sunshine patriots and chicken hawks to call the shots knowing they have no skin/no kin in the game.

Everyone isn’t cut out to be a soldier, but why would it be such a bad idea to require everyone to put in a couple of years doing something to serve our country? If I can figure out how to maintain the patency of a J-tube…

Just saying…

Happy Memorial Day to our servicemen and –women, and our veterans.


Here’s a link to last year’s Memorial Day post.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Click: Farewell to the father of the TV remote

One of the best things about reading the obituaries – especially those that make it to the pages of The New York Times -  is coming across the bio of someone who designed or invented something that’s quirky, iconic, commonplace.  Over the years, I’ve written about the brains behind the ant farm, and the guy who designed the ubiquitous “We Are Happy To Serve You” cardboard coffee cup used in NYC coffee shops.

Today’s entry is the inventor of the first version of something that is – unlike the ant farm and the Manhattan Obit_Remote_Control_I_Reyn_t607carry-out cup – an item that is used in, I’m guessing, 99.9999% of American homes on a daily basis. I give you the late Eugene Polley, creator of the Zenith Flash-Matic, the first wireless TV remote control.

“Just think!,” an advertisement breathlessly proclaimed that year. “Without budging from your easy chair you can turn your new Zenith Flash-Matic set on, off, or change channels. You can even shut off annoying commercials while the picture remains on the screen.” (Source: NY Times)

Mr. Polley budged from his easy chair, metaphorically speaking, for the last time in Downers Grove, Illinois. He has changed the ultimate channel, and shut off his final annoying commercial.

The gun shape, by the way, was chosen so that people could “shoot out” those annoying commercials – which in 1955 could have been for any number of items no longer in existence (“I’m hungry, I’m hungry for good things to eat/For Sugar Jets, Sugar Jets, candied and sweet”) or no longer advertised on TV (“Take a Puff, It’s Springtime,” then “Call for Philip Morris” and let him know that “Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should.”).

In fact,the president of Zenith, in encouraging the remote’s invention, did so because, while he believed that TV would be a popular medium, he was also:

…certain that viewers would revolt en masse against television commercials, by his lights a growing scourge.

Commercials certainly were and are a scourge, well worth shooting out. Mostly. I mean, who’d shoot out an ad for Snuggies?

And, after all, while the TV shows of 1955 could sure be annoying, too (c.f., Milton Berle), there weren’t all that many channels to sort through. Things were pretty much the local station for the three (then) major networks – ABC, CBS, NBC – and maybe, since it was just coming on the scene, NET (the precursor to PBS).

Never leading edge on anything, my family, naturally, did not have a remote control for our TV. So we had to get up off the couch (or the floor), walk the four feet to the TV, and turn the dial. The only people I knew who had a remote were my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Ralph, and theirs may have been tethered, not wireless.

Mr. Polley was quite proud of his invention, claiming:

“The flush toilet may have been the most civilized invention ever devised, but the remote control is the next most important. It’s almost as important as sex.”

O-kay, Mr. Polley.

While I may not entirely agree with his assessment of the continuum of civilization, the channel cruiser has made it possible to live in a world in which we can chose from hundreds of TV options. Can you imagine trying to operate a dial with over 900 numbers on it? (I suppose that, rather than have one mega-dial, a TV would instead have three: one for the 100’s, one for the 10’s, one for the single digits. Still, it would be really hard to surf if you had to touch those dials in order to do so.)

Anyway, for something that Mr. Polley believed to be almost as important as sex, he was not especially well-compensated, that’s for sure. He was awarded a $1,000 bonus for his invention.

Maybe Zenith figured it wouldn’t last.

Which it didn’t.

Polley’s shoot-out Flash-Matic was replaced by another Zenith model, and its inventor – Robert Adler – was often credited with being the father of the remote’s invention. Adler’s Space Command became the standard from 1956, when it was introduced, until the 1980’s, when infrared technology took over.

“Not only did I not get credit for doing anything,” [Polley] told The Chicago Tribune in 2006, “I got a kick in the rear end.”

Still, Polley outlived Adler by five years. And isn’t outliving well is the best revenge?

So click to you, Mr. Polley, click to you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Let there be LightSquared? Guess not.

Who among us is so generous, so pure of heart, that they do not experience a teensy-weensy frisson of delight when we read that some hedge fund made a rather poor choice and lost a boat load. The frisson only lasts long enough for us to remember that the hedge fund investors may, in fact, be innocent civilians who were just trying to stay whole in a volatile and unforgiving world.

And then you read about Philip Falcone and the frisson reasserts itself.

Falcone’s fund took a dive because of an unfortunate investment in LightSquared, which his fund – Harbinger Capital Partners – bought nearly lock-stock-and barrel.

LightSquared – a wireless broadband network –  was going to:

…unleash the boundless opportunity of wireless broadband connectivity for all. We believe that it is time to transform the broadband industry to one that truly fosters innovation, creativity, and freedom of choice—with limitless and unimaginable possibilities.

( There are times when I am embarrassed that I’m a marketer, and this is one on them.)

One of those no-doubt unimaginable possibilities was the possibility that LightSquared would go bankrupt, which it did a week or so ago. 

Harbinger wasn’t just an investor in LightSquared, it owned 96% of the company.

LightSquared went wobbly because, in February, the FCC moved to rescind permission they had granted LightSquared to operate their wholesale wireless broadband network. Unfortunately, that wireless network supposedly interfered with GPS systems – oops – and the FCC wasn’t sure that the problem was one that could be solved with dispatch. And now that we’re all so dependent on GPS, so utterly incapable of finding either arse or elbow without it, we absolutely can’t risk going without it.

This incident brings to mind a datacenter construction oopsie that happened when I was with Genuity, back when The Internet Age was in its youth. This datacenter was going to be a super-duper one, so perfecto that customers would gladly fork over our premium asking price, deliriously happy to house their business there. Shortly before super-duper was scheduled to open, someone realized that some of the Internet connectivity was not buried underground, where it was safe from everything but a guy with a backhoe, but was coming in over above ground lines strung between good old-fashioned telephone poles. Which, in NJ, where the datacenter was located, were subject to failures due to things like ice storms, blizzards, and hurricanes – things that were actually known to occur on occasion in NJ. Darned the luck. Here we were going to open a super-duper datacenter, with super-duper Internet connectivity that was going to be super-duper “always on”, which would let us charge super-duper premium prices. Alas and alack.

To return to poor Harbinger, poor Philip Falcone, holding 96% of the LightSquared bag.

One thing I know about building out a network is that it’s expensive. It’s not just a matter of setting up a server or two, cobbling together some behind the scenes code, and slapping an interface on it. That scenario may end up being “worth” billions, but it doesn’t cost billions to build. Unlike a network.

So the LightSquared bag was a costly one.

But here’s what I want to know. If the purpose of a hedge fund is to hedge your bets, why would you take a colossal, near-100% ownership stake in anything? Isn’t that, kinda-sorta, like taking a pretty big, unhedged risk? Unless, in this case, they had a counter position in GPS systems…

Anyway, a fund that had peaked in the peak-piqued year of 2008 at $26B has dwindled to around $3B. Which, interestingly, is roughly the amount ($2.9B) that Harbinger/Falcone sunk in LightSquared.

Most agree he was reckless to plunge into such a long-term, illiquid investment. Mr Falcone has admitted his “asset-liability mismatch” and wants to raise more “permanent capital” instead. (Info source: The Economist.)

Inquiring minds always ask where that “permanent capital” might come from, given how diminished Harbinger is, what with the losses and the withdrawals. Especially given that, since December, you can’t even make a withdrawal. Maybe that’s what they mean by “permanent capital.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Paper plane throwing is some serious business

Well, The Wall Street Journal was a tad bit late to the story – perhaps the news was flown in, scrawled on the fuselage of a paper airplane – but, nevertheless, they did get to it last week.

If you missed it, there is something of a brouhaha in the world of competitive paper plane throwing.

In March, Stephen Kreiger, the long-time holder of the Guinness record for unmanned 8 1/2 by 11 Hammermill flight, was trounced by one Joe Ayoob, a former quarterback for Cal.

At 226 feet 10 inches, Ayoob’s toss blew past Kreiger’s record of 207 feet.

Since records are meant to be broken, one might be inclined to suggest that the aggrieved Kreiger suck it up. Perhaps he could work on his release. Perhaps he could consider lofting a pigskin to put a bit more oomph into his arm. Perhaps he should re-evaluate the mechanics of his throw. Head back to the drawing board and tighten the crease in the paper.

Alas for Kreiger, he’s up against what may well be an unbeatable combination: a designer who takes the paper plane craft very seriously, and a hired gun to throw it for him. In contrast, Kreiger is chief cook and bottle washer: he’s both maker and thrower. And Kreiger’s not liking the way he lost his record.

"Competitive paper airplane flying had always been, in my mind, what can one person do with one piece of paper," says Mr. Kreiger, a 23-year-old engineer. Using a ringer, he says, is problematic: "I don't really think that's the spirit of the competition."

Guinness, however, has no problem with awarding the dual crown to the team of John Collins and Joe Ayoob, as the rules are silent on who has to do the folding of the paper plane and who has to facilitate its slipping the surly bonds of earth.

Although I had never heard of competitive airplane throwing, I am naturally sympathetic to Kreiger’s feeling put out. And I was fully prepared to dislike Collins. Bringing in someone to fly your paper plane just seems so Rollo the Rich Boy, so ‘I won the Pine Box Derby because my father hired an engineer to design and build my racer while your father just handed you a dull kitchen knife and told you to give him a holler if you sawed your thumb off while trying to hack the shape of a race car out of a pine block.’

Doesn’t it?

And then I learned that Collins is not some parvenu trying to worm himself the easy way into the Guinness Book of Records.

He is, in fact, someone who has devoted a great deal of time to the art and science of paper airplane. He is, in fact, the Paper Airplane Guy, who has written two books and an iPhone app on the subject. (If I didn’t already have my Yankee swap gift lined up for this coming Christmas…)

While he was able to devote himself to perfecting the paper airplane, at 51, he was only able to throw it 120 feet. As Collins has said:

"Your arm is mostly rubber and cartilage at that point."

Collins tried out several candidates before choosing Ayoob to represent him. Ayoob, who logged quite a few practice hours over the year-and-a-half during which he prepped, did it for purest of motives: love of paper airplanes and the competitive fire within. (Collin did give him a $1K bonus for record setting.)

So they did deserve to win. But, hey, so did Kreiger.

The fair solution, of course, seems for Guinness to include two separate paper plane throwing categories: one for the compleat deal (one person who both designs and throws), and another for the combo package (a la Collins and Ayoob).

Competitive paper plane throwing…who knew?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

1912 - That Was The Year That Was

1912 was quite the momentous year, was it not?

On the obvious downside, as we were mightily reminded in the months leading up to the anniversary of her April sinking, it was in 1912 that The Titanic weighed anchor and headed out on its night to remember.

On the upside, the first Cherry Blossom Festival was held that year in Washington, DC.

For those who relish good eating, 1912 also saw the invention of the Life Saver (first flavor: Pep-o-Mint) and the Oreo which, with the possible exception of the Girl Scout Thin Mint, has got to be the best mass-produced cookie ever. (I say this, although I really did love those Nabisco coconut chocolate chip cookies that seem to have fallen out of the market at some point when I wasn’t looking.)

Closer to home, Leon Leonwood Bean started selling his hunting boots, which are still for sale, I believe, along with all sorts of other never-in-style-never-out-of-style gear. (As I sit here writing, I’m wearing an L.L. Bean tee-shirt and a pair of khaki cropped pants. I’m also asking myself where I put the $10 L.L. Bean thank-you coupon that I came across last week. The one that expires today. The kind that’s not like the ones that get recorded to your personal L.L. Bean account…) Ay-ah.

Even closer to home, the Red Line opened, spiriting commuters between Boston and Cambridge. I commuted on the Red Line for years, a most excellent way to to-and-fro work. Even with crowded cars and not- infrequent train delays, commuting on the Red Line was easy on the mind and the body.

Of course, as we have been amply reminded since last year, 1912 is also the year of the opening of Fenway Park, a.k.a. “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.” We were in Rome for the actual 100th anniversary celebration at which, I believe, the Olde Towne Team was unceremoniously drubbed by the Yankees. But, in the run up to the opening of baseball season, it was difficult to avoid mentions of (and merchandise pushing around) Fenway’s 100th. Fortunately, the hoopla has died down quite a bit. Unfortunately, some of the hoopla die-down is no doubt tied to the incredibly poor performance of this year’s cellar-dwelling edition of the Red Sox. At the rate they’re going, they will go down as “The Least Beloved Team to Play in America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.” Which, as any long-time Red Sox fan can tell you, is really saying something.

Speaking of Red Sox fandom, the closest to home momentous event of 1912 was the birth of long-time, long-suffering Red Sox fan Albert Thomas Rogers.

Today, in fact, we would have celebrated his 100th birthday. Although, if he’d lived, my father would most likely be dead already, there were a couple of folks in his family who made it to great old age. My grandmother died a few week short of her 97th birthday, and two of Nanny’s siblings, Roseanne and Pat, both lived well into their nineties.

But longevity was not in the hand my father drew, and he was dead of kidney disease at 58.

There was much that I could say about my father, but once I get going there’ll be no stopping the stories.  So I’ll end it by saying that he was very smart, very funny, a great story-teller, temperamental, hard-working, irreverent, very Irish, very Catholic, nobody’s ass-kisser, nobody’s fool, proud, competitive, kind-hearted, generous, athletic, lover of a velvet-green-front-lawn, sweet-toother, clothes-horse, and a wonderfully devoted [insert Al’s relationship to you here: son, husband, father, brother, uncle, cousin, in-law, friend, colleague…]

Over forty years after his death, I still miss him, and can still and always draw comfort from knowing that he loved me.

In pictures, my father is almost always looking at the person he’s with. He is glancing sideways at my mother as if he was the luckiest guy on earth because she just said ‘yes;’ he is smiling down on his kids as they talk to the neighbor who’s playing the world’s most fake Santa Claus. (You really can’t be an unpadded beanpole and carry it off.) The look on his face is a mixture of love, pride, and absolute delight in knowing that, once those kids are in bed, he’ll be laughing about Jack McGinn’s Santa cameo.

I hope I’m not simplifying my father – he was certainly a complex man - in any way by saying that what he most wanted out of life was to be a good [insert Al’s relationship to you here: son, husband, father, brother, uncle, cousin, in-law, friend, colleague…]

Hey, Dad, you did it.

On the 100th anniversary of your birth, here’s to you.

Monday, May 21, 2012

38 Bitches*

Anyone who was a member of the 2004 Red Sox – which won the team’s first World Series in, oh, 86 years – pretty much has the status of god (or at least demi-god) in these parts.

The most mythic member of that storied team may well have been Curt Schilling, who in a display of teeth-gritting heroism, strode into one battle with a barely stitched up foot wound that seeped out into The Bloody Sock that became emblematic of the belief-turned-to-fact that, this time around, Our Boys (= Our Region) would not be denied.

Unlike so many sports figures who, when they hang up their jocks, become motivational speakers, pitchmen, or sports commentators, Schilling started a video game company. Originally named after Fenway Park’s outfield wall, the Green Monster, the company was rebranded as 38 Studios, a salute to its “founder, chairman, and executive visionary.” (Schilling wore the number 38.)

He had massive ambitions. The company promised each of its original 37 employees a bonus of $1 million if 38 Studios reached $1 billion in value, a huge stretch for a start-up.

This $1 billion gave me a bit of a chuckle. Many years ago, I joined an early stage software company with the ambition to become “the next billion-dollar software company,” Microsoft being the first, I do believe. When we were acquired, a decade later, we were, after many ups and downs, roughly a $7 million software company. Needless to say, I did not make a million from that acquisition.

Put, hey, if Pinterest is supposedly worth $1.5 billion for letting people virtually pin pictures on a wall, why wouldn’t yet another fantasy game with sword-swinging avatars be worth that and a bag of chips?

Schilling, however, struck out with the venture capital community, which felt he was:

a) looking for too much money;
b) not willing to relinquish a big enough stake;
c) “would require quite a bit of ‘babysitting’”

So Schilling then looked to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to underwrite his operation, promising to create a whole bunch of interesting, high-paid, high-tech jobs and provide a wonderful boost to our fair economy.

Despite out near-universal love for all things Red Sox, Massachusetts balked at the offer. Some folks felt that this was because Schilling is a rather outspoken Republican in a state where Republicans are somewhat scarce. But it may well have been the Commonwealth keeping in mind their earlier ventures into venture capitalism with companies promising “good jobs” and which had not paid off. (The infamous Evergreen Solar went bankrupt, but not before it had off-shored most/all of those “good jobs” to China.)

But poor little Rhode Island, with an economy nowhere near as robust as that of its neighbor to the north but equally enamored of the Red Sox, decided to spot 38 Studios a $75 million loan if they’d re-locate from Maynard (once home of Digital Equipment – remember them?), Massachusetts, to their state.

And away they went…

It’s not as if they’ve done nothing:

Schilling’s company released its first effort earlier this year, a role-playing video game called Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It was well-reviewed and has sold about 1 million copies at about $60 each, according to market research company VGChartz.

Still, it costs plenty to get a new game off the ground, and on the first of May, 38 Studios missed a $1.1 million payment to the state of Rhode Island and, last week, asked for more help so that they could make their payroll.

I’ve been-there-done-that on the not making payroll. Not surprisingly, this was when I was with the next billion dollar software company. While we never did end up missing payroll, we did have a couple of months where everyone took a 10% haircut, and we did have contingency plans on who would get paid what if we ran out of money. Fortunately, that never happened. In our early days, our wily CEO flew off somewhere and gulled another investor into dropping another million into our coffers; in the later days, when we were clean and sober, and running on our own, we always managed to sign a contract that would let us tap our credit line. What a way to live!

And now the buzzards, having spied The Bloody Sock, are circling 38 Studios. And the state of Rhode Island’s looking foolish, while the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is looking smart. (A note: this deal was done by RI’s prior governor. Lincoln Chaffee, the current guv, opposed, but is now stuck with, it.)

These days, we hear an awful lot about the merits of having someone with business experience in the West Wing.

Personally, I think this is total and utter hogwash. Not that government shouldn’t be run more efficiently, but running a government is not like running a business. Profit making is not/should not be the motive. You can’t fire the sick, elderly, disabled, and poor. The purpose of government is not to invent stupid, unnecessary “stuff” and con people into buying it. You can’t close down under-performing cities and towns. Etc.

By the same token, governments are ill-equipped to make decisions about vetting companies, and figuring out which ones will succeed and which ones won’t. That’s what investors are for. Not that they’re all that good at it either: most VC-backed companies don’t return a dime. So if the guys that are good a sniffing out the profits, who are good at getting rich, fail a lot of the time, how can we expect the government to pick the winners? And shouldn’t the VC having taken a pass on a company have told the solons of Rhode Island something?

There’s a lot that government can do to help companies succeed. It can fund schools and training programs that will produce employees with the requisite skills. It can invest in good infrastructure. It can set up incubator space, sand-boxes, where those with the big ideas can play around. In my world, it can even provide a bit of seed money here and there, or sponsor forums where startups can pitch to VC’s. But it really shouldn’t be investing $75M in a gaming company.

Rhode Island must be feeling like they got drilled in the head with a pitch.

I’m just thankful that Massachusetts decided not to play ball.


Source of information/quotes in this post:

*38Pitches is Curt Schilling’s no-longer-active blog.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Party-time in Palo Alto

May 18, 2012…a day that will live in famy, that’s for sure.

I’ve gotta say that the Facebook IPO is making me sentimental for the days when we got to see folks become insta-paper millionaires. Pfftttt. So yesterday. Billionaire is the new black, thank you.

As with most of my fellow Americans, my favorite member of the Billionaire Boys’ Club is Eduardo Saverin, who has hot-potato’d his US citizenship, allegedly so he can avoid a hefty tax hit of tens of millions of dollars. Not surprisingly, Saverin claims otherwise. He has, in fact, lived for the last several years in Singapore.

What is, of course, galling about Saverin’s casual renunciation of his citizenship is both that so many covet that citizenship, and that Saverin came to the US to begin with as a refugee. When he was a teenager, Saverin’s wealthy Brazilian family found his name on a list of potential kidnapping for ransom targets. So they high-tailed it to the safety of Miami, where they became naturalized citizens.

I suspect that we’ll be seeing a lot more of this as the world gets smaller, and the global elite begins viewing themselves as citizens of the world not citizens of the country what brung them.  Their fellow citizens will be the other global elites, not us huddled masses-types. Perhaps Davos will become a country of its own – kind of like the Vatican – and start granting citizenship to those who have allegiance to each other, but not to those who just happen to be born in the same nation.

Perhaps multi-national corporations will replace the nation states, and start issuing their own passports. Which may get confusing if you ever get laid off and become stateless, a man or a woman without a country. And if parents worked for different companies, would their children have dual citizenship? This could get confusing, but I’m sure that the global elites will figure it all out. Might be easier to just let Davos make citizens.

My other thought on this day of days runs to the Winklevoss Twins.

You may recall – especially if you’ve seen the movie The Social Networks – that the Winklevoss Twins were the ones who came up with the Facebook idea that Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, et al. commercialized right from under them.

Facebook settled with them – for plenty – but the Winklevi wanted more. Which, last time I looked, they didn’t get.

So I wonder what Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are thinking today?

I wonder where they are?

Maybe someplace where there’s no Internet connectivity, no Twitter, no FB updating.

Maybe they’re in Yap or Chuuk, of some other place in Micronesia. Maybe they’re climbing Machu Pichu. Maybe they’re in Siberia.

Wherever they are, they’re no doubt in a psychological gulag of their own making (with an assist from Mark and Eduardo).

Anyway, congratulations to Mark and Eduardo and the other FB billionaires and (multi-)millionaires.

Just remember, money can’t buy you happiness. On the other hand, lack of money doesn’t buy you happiness, either.

Earlier Pink Slip post of the Winklevoss twins.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What’s in a reputation: The Reputation Institute’s 2012 ratings

A month or so ago, I saw an article in Forbes (actually on Forbes) that ranked the 150 largest companies in the US, based on their reputations. The rankings were drawn from a survey run by something called the Reputation Institute, the world’s leading – we’ll take their word for it – reputation management consultancy.

From Forbes:

Reputation Institute conducted an online study among 10,198 consumers. It measured consumers’ perceptions of those companies among the 150 largest in the U.S. that they were “somewhat” or “very” familiar with. Each company earned a “RepTrak Pulse” score of 0 to 100, representing an average measure of people’s feelings–or reputation–for a company. The scores were statistically derived from four emotional indicators: trust, esteem, admiration, and good feeling.

Now I’m as much a sucker as the next guy for Top Whatever lists, no matter how nonsensical, no matter how arbitrary, no matter how apples-and-oranges-y they are. Still, I find this list even more puzzling than most.

I get how the bottom dwellers got there. The 150th and 149th spots were held by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, respectively. Goldman at 148th is no surprise. And it’s not exactly a shocker to find Halliburton, BofA, Citigroup, AIG, News Corp, Exxon Mobil, and Altria (remember them – they were perhaps better known, cough-cough, as Philip Morris; but when you’ve got a reputation at stake, it’s sometimes best to bury the past) among the trailers.

And I guess it’s not surprising to find feel-good consumer companies on top: General Mills, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s and Amazon. Four of these are old-time comfy-cozy brands, and Amazon may be an up-and-comer but they do make it so easy for us to buy so much fun stuff online, golly-gee, we like ‘em.

After collecting the online ratings:

Reputation Institute then analyzed what it calls the seven dimensions of corporate reputation. That’s where it found that perceptions of the enterprise (workplace, governance, citizenship, financial performance and leadership) trumped product perceptions (products and services plus innovation) in driving behaviors.

Silly me, but what does the average consumer actually know about workplace, governance, citizenship, financial performance and leadership at places like General Mills and Kraft that’s not tied to our product perceptions about Cheerios and Mac ‘n Cheese.

Maybe there are 10,198 consumers out there who follow Kelloggs closely enough that they understand its governance model. Unlike me, who just knows them for Special K and Frosted Mini-Wheats. Or who follow General Mills closely enough to understand that General Mills is more than just Lucky Charms:

The Minneapolis-based company, which thrives on great citizenship, leadership, governance and products, is perceived as being a good corporate citizen by improving the health of their cereals, [Reputation Institute’s Anthony] Johndrow said. “General Mills has focused heavily on citizenship and governance aspects of its business with recent acquisitions and expanding community support globally. They acquired Food Should Taste Good, a natural snack foods company, [and have an] initiative with Outnumber Hunger and Eat Better America.”

As Johnny Carson used to say, I did not know that.

But perhaps the 10,198 canny consumers who took part in the study did and were, thus, not just having an immediate reaction to their knowledge that General Mills means cereal, and cereal means Saturday mornings in PJ’s, watching cartoons and eating Cheerios with bananas and milk out of melmac bowls while sprawled on the den floor.

Or who like Johnson & Johnson a lot because it makes Band-aids and Baby Powder. Things that make us happy, even though we know that when you’re wearing a Band-aid you’ve gotten yourself a boo-boo. Why, one of my favorite Little Golden Books as a kid was “Dr. Dan, the Bandage Man,” which even came with a free Band-aid.

So you tell me why it takes 10,198 consumers and the Reputation Institute to tell me that J&J has a better reputation than Halliburton (think snarling Dick Cheney) and Exxon Mobil (think oil-soaked ducks).

Oh, the Reputation Institute knows this:

“We sometimes refer to reputation as the immediate feeling–that knee-jerk reaction–that people have about a company when they hear the company’s name,” said … Johndrow. “That feeling is based on both rational and emotional underlying causes, and influences how you act in support of that company as well as your purchasing decisions.”

I guess I’m just too darned intellectually lazy to delve in and see how this list really gets beyond the knee-jerk (cereal-good, banks-bad) and into the deep and meaningful stuff like corporate governance and citizenship (Halliburton-bad).

And then there are the numerical ratings themselves.

What does it really mean that General Mills is an 83 and Kellogg’s is a 79 (other than the obvious that Lucky Charms is more popular than Rice Krispies)?

That Coke (78.1) beats out Pepsi (77.6) in the reputation taste-test?

That Google (76.2) is more reputable than John Deere (76), which is more reputable than Berkshire Hathaway (75.8)?  The green tractor is more reputable than Uncle Warren? I’ll have to google to see if that’s really true!

That Walt Disney (75.7) trumps TI (75.5) which trumps IBM (74.6)?

But, hey, the fact that Wal-Mart comes in 103rd place with a score of 63, doesn’t seem to stop people from shopping there. And their score does beat Halliburton 37.6 by a lot.

Not that I’m shopping at either.

Meanwhile, I’ll go back to scratching my head and wondering what the average consumer actually knows about Abbott Labs (41st place) and the Union Pacific Railroad (102nd) that I don’t.

Maybe that’s why the Reputation Institute didn’t ask me along…

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

That’s one small step for chickenkind

I am entirely in favor of anything that will get today’s kids interested in science. And that includes mascots.

After all, I know how powerfully mascots can work. For didn’t Reddy Kilowatt inspire in me a lifelong interest in things electrical? Why, not only do I know how to change a fuse, and – better yet – flip a circuit breaker, I also have rewired many a lamp. I know that you see the lightning before your hear the thunder. And one of my favorite clients ever is an electronics engineering company. I owe it all to Reddy Kilowatt, just as I owe my lifelong commitment to preventing forest fires to Smokey the Bear. And surely it’s the Litterbug who’s prevented me, lo these many years, from hurling Styrofoam cups and beer cans out the car window.

So I’m totally down with Camilla, the rubber chicken who fronts for NASA. As a long-time Muppet fan, I am impressed that she shares a name with Muppet chicken Camilla, and equally impressed that the dudette has her own blog. (Not to menion an interest in Pinterest.)

As an inspiration, she’s working: in April, some California high school students launched a Camilla of their own into space to monitor a solar radiation storm. Broiled (rubber) chicken, anyone? Not really. Camilla was wearing protective gear, and was probably a lot less frightened than her predecessors in space, Laika the Space Dog and Ham the Astrochimp.

The real Camilla is getting some new duds and, for the first time, the job of outfitting this chick has been outsourced.

Personally, I would have preferred to have this task kept local. Way too much has been off-shored of late. If I’d known about Camilla and her sartorial needs, I would have nominated my sister Kathleen* as one who is more than equipped to whip up a suit for a rubber chicken. (Or will be, once she fully recovers from her recent hand surgery and can once again get to her knitting and purling.)

That said, England’s Sue Drage does appear to be amply up for the task she was asked to perform by Camilla’s main squeeze, NASA’s Romeo Durscher, who learned about Sue when he (and Camilla) guested on a local UK radio station that had recently sponsored a knit-athon. (I was going to write “appeared”, but you don’t actually appear on radio, do you?)

Taking shape: Housewife Sue Drage with the space suit she is making for Nasa's latest astronaut Camilla

That’s Sue there, with rubber chicken avec stylin’ suit that she cooked up from plastic bags. Her hobby, in fact, is knitting with plastic, newspapers, and cardboard. Not only is she a recycler, she’s now an adjunct part of our space program:

'I feel like a rocket scientist or something.’

Probably more ‘something’ than ‘rocket scientist.’ Still…

Source of picture and quote, while I’m at it: The Daily Mail.

One reason I have welcomed the news about Camilla’s new space suit is that a bit of space news I saw in a recent Economist was somewhat more dire.

It seems that NASA, along with the rest of the world, has been slacking off on the amount of monitoring they do of Planet Earth’s health. This type of monitoring, The Economist warns is something we really need to be doing:

With the state of the atmosphere and oceans upset in ways whose consequences are not easily foreseen, and may well prove catastrophic, it becomes an imperative.

And yet, we’re not acting as if it’s particularly imperative at all, at all.

The US is not the only country falling down here, yet it’s disheartening to read:

In the late 1990s NASA used to spend $2 billion a year on Earth observations, but by 2007 that had fallen to $1.3 billion (the costs of a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope rose from around $2 billion to $9 billion over roughly the same period).

Finding nice ladies in the UK to knit space suits for rubber chickens is all well and good. Still, I hope that NASA can redirect more of its attention to things like monitoring the state of the planet. Or we may all end up having to learn how to knit our own protective gear out of whatever waste materials we find washing up once the icecaps melt.

*Based on her talent and creativity, I would nominate Kath even though she was the one who sent me the article on Sue Drage and Camilla with a terse note: WTF. When I know that what she would have written if she’d had more time is:  What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals. (Am I right here?)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Is there any job worse than being a “funny” birthday clown? The answer is ‘Yes.’

As an admitted clownist, I must confess that I do not approach any variation on someone making a living as a clown with an open mind. I see “clown” and I don’t expect that I’ll come away from the story nodding my head and telling myself, ‘nope, I hadn’t thought of that use of clowning, and it’s a good one.’ I dunno. Maybe there are actually clowns out there who make kids in hospitals happy. (Or maybe those poor little ones are too sick and frightened to say ‘back the f off, buster.’)

Anyway, I did not welcome the news that there’s a joker out there who’s trying to make a living as an “evil birthday clown.”

Dominic Deville rents himself out as an "evil birthday clown" who leaves scary notes for your children, Dominic Deville’s Evil Clown strikes when boys or girls least expect itwarning them that they're being watched and that they'll soon be attacked.

At the end of a terrifying week, your child will indeed be attacked. Deville, wearing a freaky clown mask, will smash a cake into your child's face, Metro reported. (Source: Huffington Post.)

Fortunately, Cruello Deville plies his trade in Lucerne, Switzerland, and I suspect he doesn’t make house calls. But who knows? It may well be ‘have cake will travel.’  (You can ask him yourself. His web site just has a link to an e-mail address.)

Throughout the week leading up to the child's birthday, "The child feels more and more that it is being pursued," Deville told Metro. "The clown's one and only aim is to smash a cake into the face of his victim, when they least expect it, during the course of seven days."

Deville harasses his targets with texts, phone calls and letters to let them know that their time is coming, according to the Herald Sun. ..

Of course, since the creepy stunt is "all in fun," Deville promises to back off if he's asked to by parents.

Having once had the distinct honor and pleasure of being a child, I am well aware that kids enjoy being scared. But in a controlled way: watching Bambi while holding Mommy’s hand, witches and goblins on Halloween, scary stories around the campfire.

Sometimes kids made up their own things to be scared about. When I was growing up, we had a neighborhood boogey-man we called Elmer. (His real name was Bob.) Now I’m not sure if Elmer was mildly retarded or, as the rumor had it, a shell-shocked WWII vet, but there was something “off” about him. He was an every day sight, peaceably strolling around, smoking a pipe, but the little girl scare-mill had him as “looking” at little girls “down there” (that unmentionable part of our anatomy) in the wooded area at the back of Bennett Field. Because of this, you would never use the Bennett Field cut-through on your own. Not doing so added about 5 minutes to the walk to school, but no one in her right mind would take the short cut unaccompanied. (The one and only time I did so was in the dead of winter, when Elmer was not likely to be lurking.)

Now, maybe Elmer was a pedophile, but, to my knowledge, he never did anyone any harm. And, if he had been as harmless as I remember, I hope that we didn’t cause him any pain. (He never seemed upset or rattled when, on sighting him, little girls would squeal and run away.) I remember once, in second grade, walking down Main Street by myself.  Across the street, I saw first grader Judy Tynan walking alone, as well, with Elmer maybe 10 or 15 yards behind her.

“Run, Judy, run” I hollered. “Elmer’s right behind you.”

Judy, quite sensibly, took off, and I proudly believed that I had saved her from depredations “down there” at the icky hands of Elmer.

So I do believe that kids are quite capable of taking care of scaring themselves on their own, without their parents paying an evil clown to get in on the act.

The only way I can see this working is if a kid – by which I’m thinking a boy between the ages of 8 and 11 – asks his parents to hire the evil clown as a birthday treat. Or the parents, knowing their child as they do, asks him if he’d like to do this.

The kid then gets the thrill of the harassing texts and phone calls – knowing it’s from a cake-bearing clown, not from some perv who’s going to chop him into pieces and keep the body parts in his freezer.  He gets to pull his posse into the game, and get them all on the lookout for the evil clown. And he gets to strategize on ways to thwart the evil clown’s cake toss. Which sounds like the sort of controlled scary fun that many kids enjoy.

But the idea of some parent just springing this on their unsuspecting kid? Talk about sadism…

Meanwhile, in trying to determine what proportion of the population loathe clowns, I came across I Hate Clowns. It hasn’t been updated in a while, but if the store is still active, I’d be delighted to purchase something from it for my clown-hating sister Trish, who has a birthday coming up. (And who sent me this article, meriting a squeeze of the Pink Slip clown-nose.)

Speaking of birthdays, today is my brother Tom’s 60th, so Happy Birthday, Gus. My first memory – age 2 – is of Tom’s homecoming. My parents placed him, in his yellow sweater and bonnet, in the middle of their bed for my sister Kath and I to examine. We decided to keep him. To my knowledge, he has never been stalked by an evil clown.

Monday, May 14, 2012

When the Dimon turns out to be cubic zirconium

Of all the bankers who “starred” in the recent ongoing financial system crises, Jamie Dimon had the best reputation.

JP Morgan Chase, which he leads, was perceived as (and perhaps actually was) the banking system’s shining city on the hill.  Dimon was a perennial Institutional Investor All-Star Executive, and even was named the industry’s MVP (CEO of the Year) in 2011 – a year in which he was paid a cool $23M. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Jamie Dimon was the industry’s face-saver, its savior, its saving grace, proving that a bank could actually be run well and profitably, without the need for TARP infusion or – heaven and Wall Street forbid – any heavy-handed regulation.  He was living proof that someone, or some institution, actually had a handle on derivatives, was in control of risk, actually knew what they were doing.

And in the movie Too Big to Fail, Dimon even got to be played by the sweet and charming Bill Pullman (picture audience blowing kisses, clasping hands over their hearts), while one of his opposite numbers, Richard Fuld, was played by James Woods (if ever a villain: hiss boo).

Bill Pullman aside, it certainly wasn’t a total Jamie Dimon love-fest. He is, after all, a fat-cat banker, a 1 percent-er. Still, at times it appeared that JP Morgan Chase would be last bank standing.

His zeal for cost-cutting and perceived mastery of risk did more than keep JPMorgan strong enough to bail out two failing competitors, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual. It gave him a kind of street cred during the post-crisis years, when he lashed out at regulators who sought to rein in banks, and Occupy Wall Street protesters who raged against them. (Source: Washington Post.)

But Dimons aren’t forever, and last week Jamie Dimon had to admit to analysts that JPM’s:

…“flawed, complex, poorly reviewed, poorly executed and poorly monitored” trading strategy … lost a surprise $2 billion.

Surprise, all-righty.

And there may be more where that came from, as there is a strong possibility – which Dimon has hinted at – that, once the bank starts following the bread – or is it let-them-eat-cake – crumbs and unwinding its position, they’ll find more losses. Oppenheimer is doubling down, and predicting a $4B loss by the end of second quarter.

Part of the problem of unwinding appears to be that JPM had $100B in credit default swaps in play, out of a total market of $150B, putting them in something of an “I’m my own grandpa” position when they go to unwind.

"The mystery," TABB Group said, is "how J.P. Morgan planned on finding counterparties and the liquidity to unwind its alleged position."

Research firm CreditSights seconded that, saying: "This position could be difficult to exit in an orderly fashion given its potentially large size in relation to the overall specific market and the potential need to reverse it for some reason in quick fashion." (Source: Wall Street Journal.)

So if they want out, they could tumble down this entire part of the market. Dimon has countered that:

…the bank would not engage in a fire sale that would flood the market and drive down the value of its holdings. "We're not going to do something stupid," he said. "We're willing to hold as long as necessary inventory, and we're willing to bear volatility."

And we need to keep in mind that, throughout all this, JP Morgan remains profitable. (What’s a $2B loss among friends?)

Still, given the potential for events of this sort to wreak systemic havoc, it’s hard not to believe that we could use a teensy-weensy bit more regulation than Wall Street would like.

I don’t pretend to understand any of this. After all, I took finance with Robert Merton who, I seem to recall, was a principal in Long Term Capital Management, a canary-in-the-coal-mine hedge fund that lost a kabillion dollars before it went bust a decade or so ago. But I have a hunch that even those, like Dimon, who are supposed to understand it; who are, in fact, paid a ton of money to understand it, don’t have a 100% grasp on all the intricacies, either. Which is how you get into $2B losses, I guess.

While offering little detail, Dimon said the trade was intended to hedge but that "it morphed over time and the new strategy which was meant to reduce the hedge overall made it more complex, more risky and it was unbelievably ineffective."

“Morphed over time.” Don’t we all. Including Jamie Dimon’s reputation.

Now who’s going to break the news to that nice Bill Pullman?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sometimes you feel like a Nutella, sometimes you don’t

Although I am a complete and utter chocaholic, I’m not much of a Nutella fan. Maybe it’s that it’s too hazel-nutty, and not chocolate-y enough for my liking. Maybe, like James Bond’s shaken-not-stirred martini preference, I prefer my chocolate liquid (e.g., Hershey’s syrup) or solid (almost any chocolate candy), not in the netherworld of a “spread” that Nutella represents.

Yet I am fully aware that there are many Nutella aficionados, and have been since I was in grad school at Columbia in the 1970’s and I was introduced to this treat by an Italian-American classmate. I found Nutella sort of weird then, and I find it sort of weird now, when in Rome a few weeks ago it was snapped up in the grocery store by my Nutella-fan nieces.

So on Nutella I’m ‘meh’. To me, it’s just not peanut butter, and I will accept no substitutes…

But I do recognize that it has made enough of an inroad into the U.S. market that there are TV ads for it.

One of which prompted a choosey mother to choose to mount a class-action suit against Nutella, which was launched last year.

In her complaint, the mother says she was as "shocked to learn" from her friends "that Nutella was in fact not a 'healthy,' 'nutritious' food," as advertised, "but was instead the next best thing to a candy bar." (Source: The Consumerist.)

Well shocked, I’m shocked that there’s bad nutrition going on here…

In ads that for the spread that the suit calls "misleading," Nutella is said to be part of a "tasty yet balanced breakfast." The mother claims Nutella "contains dangerous levels of saturated fat," and "over 55% processed sugar." These ingredients, "significantly contribute to America's alarming increase in childhood obesity" and can cause type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and other "serious health problems," the suit claims.

Guess there are no Lucky Charms getting served up, breakfast-wise, in her house.

But I don’t exactly see that Nutella has actually claimed to be nutritious. Okay, they may not be exactly forthright, but so what if they’re positioning their product as the “tasty” part of a “yet balanced” breakfast? Couldn’t choosey mom have figured this out for herself by sticking her finger in a jar of Nutella and tasting it for herself? Or, better yet, taken a look at the nutrition info on the jar and seen that, when it comes to nutrition, Nutella is no peanut butter.

My, oh my, we are a litigious society, aren’t we? This doesn’t quite rise to the level of the guy who sued his dry cleaner for millions when they damaged his clothing. Or the guy who sued for millions over a botched BMW paint job. Still, this one does seem just a tad frivolous.

Somewhat surprisingly:

…the class-action lawsuit has been settled for about $3 million, $2.5 million of which is going to consumers willing to admit that they can't read a nutrition label. (Source: also The Consumerist.)

The premise of the suit is that the ads play too fast and loose with ‘nutrition by association’. From one of the offending ads:

That's why I love Nutella, a delicious hazelnut spread that's perfect on multigrain toast and even whole wheat waffles. It's a quick and easy way to give my family a breakfast they'll want to eat. And Nutella is made with simple, quality ingredients like hazelnuts, skim milk, and a hint of cocoa.

Caveat emptor! It’s up to you to figure out that, as The Consumerist let us know, a plop of Nutella on that multigrain toast or whole wheat waffle is “comparable to a Three Musketeers candy bar.”

I am pretty sure that there’s at least one Pink Slip reader who has bought Nutella over the last few years. Thus, she may be entitled to participate in the Nutella Consumer Class Action Settlements.

I’m sure the pay-out for an individual will be small. But it might be enough to defray the cost of the next purchase of Nutella.

If it’s ‘meh’ for me, I appreciate that it’s yum for some.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Greener Pasteurs

One of the “gotcha” questions that seems to be popular with presidential candidates is the price of some pedestrian everyday household item like a quart of milk, a loaf of bread, a gallon of gasoline.

While it would certainly behoove anyone hoping to be president to have some sense of what us “average Americans” grapple with, day in/day out, I actually don’t hold it against someone running for the highest office in the whole wide world if they don’t spend a lot of time pushing a grocery cart or filling ‘er up. If you do spend a lot of time pushing a grocery cart or filling ‘er up, you are not likely the type who’s going to have the inclination to seek the highest office in the whole wide world to begin with.

Personally, I prefer that would-be presidents spend their time trying to figure out what’s going on in Vladimir Putin’s steely little mind, what a decent balance might be between mad-dash stimulus spending and Dickensian austerity, and how to explain to his/her fellow Americans that our exceptionalism isn’t going to keep the waters from rising if the polar ice caps melt.

I, however, am low enough down on the food chain that I generally have a vague idea of what a gallon of milk costs – $4-ish? - even though I only ever buy it by the pint (or, on occasion by the quart). There’s only so much milk that two adults are going to use up in the course of a week slopping a bit on cereal or scrambling up with their eggs.

And even though I only buy in small amounts, I always check the expiration date, and paw my way to the back of the dairy cabinet to grab the latest and greatest.

Lately, when I buy my milk-for-tea to leave at The Writers’ Room, I’ve been getting the ultra-pasteurized stuff that lasts a couple of months. I actually have no idea what this stuff tastes like as milk, but it does just fine as tea-lightener.

One question that presidential candidates are not likely to be asked, I’m guessing, is how much a gallon of raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk will run you.

Talk about a gotcha.

John Kerry was dinged because he spoke French – mighty suspicious!  Can you imagine if it were revealed that a candidate were a raw foodie?

Talk about out of touch.

The answer, by the way, is that a gallon of raw milk in Massachusetts – where it’s for sale legally – will, as far as I can figure, run you about $8 a gallon. But in California, where it’s illegal, you’ll have to shell out about $16 a gallon.

What the raw milk folks believe they’re getting is more access to all the good stuff in milk that’s heated out of it through the pasteurization process, let alone the ultrapasteurization process. And that drinking raw milk thus gives you stronger bones, better teeth, and less asthma than those who drink processed milk. One might counter that families that can afford to pay $16/gallon for raw milk are likely to be the type who are already going to have stronger bones, better teeth, and less asthma than your average poor folk shopping at the local bodega or living in a rusted out trailer with car parts and skunkweed in the yard. Just saying.

But what raw milk consumers also get exposed to is the pathogens that pasteurization wipes out. So, while those who consume raw milk may get healthier, they also get sicker. Dairy-related outbreaks of illness tend to be associated with raw milk ingestion.

Anyway, there was a fascinating article on a crackdown on a California raw food club in a recent New Yorker (April 30th), which included quotes from those extolling raw milk, using terms that one would be more likely to associate with folks attending a wine-appreciation class:

“…layers of complexity, layers of aromatics…haunting…sensitive indicator of terroir…originality.”

Hey, I know up close and personal that all milks are not created equal.

When we were kids at my grandmother’s lake house in the country north of Chicago, we were sometimes sent to Elmer Wolfe’s to pick up some emergency milk. Elmer had a beach front picnic grove on Sand Lake, and among the amenities were a seedy bar where you could buy a few necessary groceries. Emergency milk from Elmer’s was yucky – thin and blue – nothing like the real milk we had at home, delivered to our door by the milkmen of the Blanchard Dairy in Worcester.

But worrying about a milk’s terroir?

And as for those aromatics? That’s what those in the know refer to as “cow butt.”

That’s because one of the items that pasteurization destroys is bovine fecal matter.

I don’t know about you, but I would prefer my milk to not smell (and presumably taste) like “cow butt”. But maybe that’s just me. I suppose if you squirt enough Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup into it, you can disguise that “cow butt”. Not that raw milk aficionados are likely to have a squeeze bottle of Hershey’s on-hand. But they could probably hand melt some 100% cacao chocolate over a candle made by clean-living nuns from organic beeswax, then stir it into their raw milk, if they wanted to disguise that fecal bouquet.

Rawsome is the name of the outlaw foodie club profiled in the New Yorker piece, and it’s not just “cow butt” we’re talking here.

In the meat cooler, there were raw bison kidneys, spleen, hearts, and testicles, which customers often sliced open and ate on the spot.

Nothing like a raw bison testicle washed down with some cow-butt-ery milk.

Not for me, thank-you.

But I’m not in favor of a crackdown on it, either.

If you want to pay $16 a gallon and risk a pathogenic illness for the privilege and pleasure of drinking milk that smells like shit, I’m enough of a libertarian to say ‘have at it.’

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

I Scream, You Scream…

Last week’s news on the art-biz front was, of course, Sotheby’s sale of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which changed hands from Petter Olsen, a Norwegian businessman, to an anonymous bidder –current speculation centers on the royal petro family of Qatar – for just a few dollars shy of $120M.  (Source: Business Week.)

This is the largest amount ever paid for a work of art and is especially interesting to me in that there are four different versions of The Scream out there, which you’d think might have depressed the price a bit. (Not to lump Munch in with the late Thomas Kinkade and his multiple versions of the light struck, flower bedecked romanticized cottages – certainly the conceptual and aesthetic opposites of Munch’s work – but it is on interest that the pricey Scream was not completely a one-off.)

In any case, the proceeds of the sale will fund a museum in the town of Hvitsten, Norway, where Munch had lived and worked. No reports yet on what will be exhibited there, but, like all good self-respecting museums, this one will no doubt sell Scream paraphernalia – key chains, mugs, tee-shirts, Mylar balloons, and maybe even a poster of the Homeric version. 

And speaking of posters…

The Scream’s big sale not only made possible a museum in Hvitsten and a comely commission for Sotheby’s, it’s also goosed sales of posters.

“Before this week, The Scream was a steady seller,” says Geoffroy Martin, the chief executive officer of, the world’s largest retailer of prints, movie posters, framed art, and other mass-produced wall decor. “I’d say it’s [usually] in the top 50. On Wednesday its sales increased three to four times. Sales increased 10 times yesterday. From a unit point of view, it was the top seller yesterday.”

Ah, the lowly poster, which over the years has managed to grace the walls of many a home.

At present, we  have three up, and none is an art reproduction.

We have a pastiche of Worcester postcards, which looks very nice hanging on the staircase wall. As I have long maintained, spend a couple of hundreds of bucks framing an $8 poster, and you’ve got art.

We also have a poster advertising an exhibit of Gertrude De Genhardt etchings at Kenny’s Gallery in Galway. Our poster depicts a group of Irish boyos, waiting for the pub to open. (An alternative interpretation of “Hurry up, please, it’s time.”)

Our third poster, which somehow my husband just can’t manage to part with, is from the San Diego Zoo, and is a photo of mother-daughter bonobos (pygmy chimps), with whom we were, as it happens, personally acquainted.

But I have had plenty of art posters over the years, my favorite of which were The Goldfish Bowl (Matisse), which now hangs in our building’s communal laundry room, and a Georgia O’Keeffe Jack in the Pulpit – current location unknown. (Jack in the pulpits grew in the woods next to the house where I grew up, and finding the first one of the season – which would have been just about now – was a thrill. Even more thrilling was to come across a lady slipper, but they were only to be found in the woods near the Little Res, an abandoned reservoir where my father often took us for walks and where one late spring day we spied a bunch of teen-age boys swimming in the nude. My father hustled us deeper into the woods on that jaunt. Excitement!)

But I would never have gone for The Scream – just a tad bit too outré and depressing. (Which reminds me of a rather sardonic colleague who suffered from severe depression telling me that at one point when she was hospitalized for her illness, her sister sent her a get well card of Hopper’s Nighthawks – not exactly the cheeriest of scenes.)

While the spike in Scream sales is significant, it probably won’t last all that long, and the sales level will revert to the usual number that is regularly sought by deep-thinking college students, frat-house wits,  and general-purpose gloomsters who want to look at The Scream on a daily basis.

The best-seller position will revert to prints of Van Gogh, Monet, and Andy Warhol. (What, no Matisse?) But for a week, anyway, it’s been a day in the sun(flower), a starry, starry night for The Scream.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Richard Branson Ice Cube: it is good to be Richard Branson

The other evening on the news, I heard that Virgin Atlantic has introduced (first class passengers only) ice cubes etched with the likeness of owner Richard Branson.

Now for all I know, Richard Branson is a totally unmitigated imperious and mean-spirited jerk, but for some reason I get the impression that he is an interesting, entertaining, and pleasantly good-humored type. Of course, you don’t get to be a world-famous business celebrity and billionaire by being laid-back and without being at least somewhat egotistical but, hell, most of the non-world famous, non-celebrity, non-billionaires I know are touched by a tad of egotism. And aren’t all that laid back, either.

Since I know next to nothing about Branson, I am no doubt basing my positive impression of him on my having seen him, twice, walking unaccompanied, on the streets of Boston during a visit he paid here a few years ago.

The first time I passed him, Branson was walking down Beacon Street while I was walking up.

When I saw him, my first thought was ‘that guy looks just like Richard Branson.’

We caught each other’s eyes, as passers-by often do, and smiled and nodded at each other.

Later that day, I read that he was in Boston – something to do with Virgin Atlantic opening up shop here – which led me to believe that  the guy who looked just like Richard Branson did so for the spectacularly good reason that he was Richard Branson.

The next day I saw him walking along Charles Street.

And this time I thought, it is good to be Richard Branson.

Rich enough to go anywhere and do anywhere you please, but apparently not enough of a celeb that you can’t walk the streets without being hassled by a-holes – yo, Dickie, what up? – and without being accompanied by a posse of bodyguards. (Perhaps they were trailing him at a discreet distance.)

Because of my no-particular-reason-just-a-hunch good feelings about Richard Branson, I do not find the Richard Branson ice cubes at all objectionable or ridiculous or offensive or narcissistic. Which I would if they were being offered by, say, Donald Trump, at one of his spots.

I think they’re rather amusing.

Steve Ridgway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic said: 'While Richard would love to be able to sit and enjoybranson mug a drink with all of our passengers, his schedule means that it simply isn’t possible.

'Now he is able to join our guests "in spirit" on one of the upper class cabin’s first flights as they raise a toast to their trip and the exciting times ahead.” (Source: Daily Mail.)

The Mail, which views the presence of Branson’s likeness in a drink as a “nightmare”, somewhat peckishly sniffed that the existence of the Branson ice cubes may be rendering coach class a better option, but I disagree. My only problem with them is that they’re not available to steerage flyers.

And for those who argue that the mega-wealthy are never job creators:

It took a team of four skilled designers six weeks to create the moulds for Dickie's cubes.

So there!

Meanwhile, I’ll have to get my resident frequent flyer expert get cracking and see whether any of our miles are good on Virgin Atlantic.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Yahoo: as résumé inflation goes, this seems pretty innocuous. Still…

While there are many wonderful things about the Internet – like instant access to pressing information on where the actress who played June Cleaver is buried* – there are many things that are downright foul and treacherous, like cyber-bullying and histrionic, inflammatory anonymous commenting.

Somewhere in the middle swatch of the Internet good-bad spectrum there’s the reality that, if you’re in a position where anyone, anytime, anywhere wants to take a potshot at you, and that someone gets a hold of something you did wrong, well… That little old something, no matter how trivial, no matter how picayune, is going to take on a dandy little life of its own. As Yahoo’s CEO Scott Thompson has learned.

The problem for Thompson is that – in some, but not all, places – his résumé states that he has a degree from Stonehill College in accounting and computer science, when, in fact his degree is in accounting.

While I’m not advocating the wisdom of résumé inflation, and, surely, someone who’s the CEO of a search engine company is completely exposed as a putz here… In the grand scheme of things, tacking on a double major doesn’t seem quite like claiming you’d gone to a more prestigious school than they did – like awarding themselves a B.A. from Stanford, rather than an A.A. from Earwax Community College. Or claiming you went to Harvard when you took night courses at Harvard Extension. Or gin up some fellowship for yourself. Or do what former MIT Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones did, and make up a bunch of fictitious degrees, which I blogged about in 2007 and updated in 2009.

Now a little white lie out there – about something that did or didn’t happen over 30 years ago, and which should have no bearing on his capabilities or position – has turned into a big mistake. Something that’s decidedly venial may end up dealing a mortal blow to Thompson’s tenure at CEO.

The hue and outcry is, of course, not being raised by some great moralist faction trying to rout out all instances of deceit in corporate America – good luck with that!

No, indeed.

The howls are coming from a 6% shareholder, hedge fund Third Point, which “is waging a proxy fight against Yahoo in order to obtain seats on its board.”

So they’ve seized on Thompson’s stupid little lie with a zeal worthy of birther Orly Taitz, and they’ve demanded that Yahoo fire Thompson by today at high noon. (“Do not forsake me, oh my darling…”**)

I’m sure if they hadn’t had the “Aha! Gotcha!” moment with the degree fib, Third Point would have kept their opposition research going until they came up with something.

In any case, they’ve ignited a firestorm, with purists weighing in that Thompson must go, as he has clearly demonstrated that Moral and Turpitude are his middle and confirmation names, and forecasting that no one will ever trust a word that pops out of his mouth ever again: company outlook, earnings reports, attaboys/attagirls to employees. The more morally lax among us demonstrate our clear and utter disrespect for the truth by noting that this is a stupid lie, but not a particularly egregious one.

On the other hand, Yahoo’s explanation that this was an “inadvertent error” does sound a tad bit lame. Kind of like when politicians claim that they “misspoke” when they said something colossally awful and/or colossally dumb.

My guess is that Thompson might have taken whatever computer science courses that Stonehill, his alma mater, offered when he was there in the late 70’s. Probably courses like Introduction to COBOL, Programming in PL1, and lab instruction on how to use the punch card machine. He then decided that, since he’d taken those courses, and Stonehill didn’t give a CS degree, there was no harm in tacking Computer Science on to Accounting to demonstrate that he was a techie before there were techies.

Which really doesn’t do all that much harm to anyone other than (now) himself. Clearly, he’s been pretty good at whatever he’s been doing for the last 30+ years – at least good enough to get to be CEO of a public company, even a dog like Yahoo.

But now he’s been branded as a liar, totally humiliated, and by noon today, California time, possibly unemployed.

Just goes to show you that scrupulous honesty really is the best policy, especially in the Age of the Unforgiving Internet Witchhunt.


Source for info used in this post: WSJ Online.

*If you must know, Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, CA. Ward Cleaver was cremated.

**What? You don’t know the theme from High Noon?

Friday, May 04, 2012

I gave at the office. (Just what is a kidney worth?)

Not that it ever led to fame or fortune – just plenty of worthless options – but I always prided myself on being someone who gave my all at work, went above and beyond, etc.

Over the years, I lost plenty of sleep; risked my health by cleaning out completely toxic office fridges; developed heart palpitations after slurping down too many Diet Cokes while trying to get a project completed under tight deadline; and once, after a failed meeting with a prospective company funder, got hit in the head with a gourd (don’t ask; it drew blood but did no permanent damage).

But I never actually put myself in physical peril for the sake of my job.

In this, I am unlike Deborah Stevens, who gave one of her kidneys to Jacqueline Brucia, her boss  at Long Island’s Atlantic Automotive Group.

Brucia didn’t get Stevens’ kidney directly. Rather, this was a give one-take one deal in which Stevens threw hers into a communal bucket (metaphorically speaking), and Brucia pulled one out that was a perfect match.

According to Stevens, the only thanks she ever got from her boss came in the form of an email reading, "Thanks more than I can ever say." (Source: CBS News.)

Now we all know that goodness is its own reward. (Good thing.)

But one would think that, in this case, the boss-lady could have done a bit more than “Thanks more than I can ever say.”

Maybe a nice flower arrangement sent to the hospital during Stevens’ stay. Maybe meals delivered for Stevens first month home. Maybe a big fat gift certificate to Bloomingdale’s.

I don’t think it’s reasonable for Stevens to have expected anything work-ish like a raise or a bonus, or permanent employment – even though I’m sure she at least fleetingly thought, ‘boy, this is going mean job security – but an e-mail thanks?

Come on. They weren’t friends or family. They worked together, with Stevens in a subordinate position. (Begging the question why, given that this was not a direct kidney exchange, that there was no one closer to Brucia who was willing to giver her a kidney.)

And this wasn’t like saving someone’s life by pushing them out of the way of the renegade bus. It was at non-trivial cost to Stevens in terms of time and pain, and non-trivial risk.

But wait, there’s more.

Although Stevens returned to work a month after she donated her kidney, she still wasn’t feeling all that hot. So she went home.

Okay, maybe Stevens was milking her noble deed, but it seems as if Brucia could have gone one better than haranguing her:

'Well you can't just can't come and go as you please. People are going to think you're getting special treatment.'

Which is probably why Brucia should have refused to let Stevens donate a kidney in her name to begin with.

I realize that, when your life is at stake, you might not be thinking all that clearly, but one would think that Brucia and Stevens would have at least talked through the implications of Stevens’ generous, but perhaps misguided, offer.

Things escalated, and Stevens hired a lawyer.

In retaliation, she found herself transferred to a location 50 miles away, which, given Long Island traffic, is probably the elsewhere equivalent of 100 miles away.

Then Stevens was fired.

Brucia told WCBS Monday that she "will always be very grateful that she gave me a kidney. I have nothing bad to say about her. She did a wonderful thing for me. And I wish her the best."

Which certainly comes off as just a tad callous.

So Stevens is suing.

In a statement, the Atlantic Auto Group said, "It is unfortunate that one employee has used her own generous act to make up a groundless claim. Atlantic Auto treated her appropriately and acted honorably and fairly, at every turn."

Maybe Stevens was (deliberately or not)  trying to work Brucia’s guilt, and it just got to be too much for Brucia. Maybe Stevens fellow employees were fed up with the ‘I gave my kidney’ act. Maybe Stevens is an out and out weasel. Or maybe Brucia’s a stone cold bee-yotch.

But whatever Stevens is or is not, whatever Brucia is or is not, you’d think that Brucia and Atlantic Automotive would have figured out some way to keep Stevens around, or get rid of her and keep her quiet – and from making them look like callous, heartless, selfish a-holes and giving their company a bad name. Maybe a years salary and benefits. Health care coverage for a couple of years. A nice new car.

Bet there are plenty of regrets on both sides, here.

Meanwhile, it reminds me of a story about an old friend of ours.

Years ago, our friend, his wife, his brother and sister-in-law, and our friend’s boss and his wife, were all out to dinner together.

The boss’ wife – I can’t remember the exact details – either had a heart attack or was choking to death. Our friend’s sister in law, who happens to be an MD, jumped in and saved Mrs. Boss.

Within a couple of days, our friend was laid off.

Guess Mr. Boss wasn’t that fond of Mrs. Boss…

Thanks, but no thanks, more than I can ever say.