Friday, June 29, 2012

If foie gras is outlawed, only outlaws will eat foie gras

In the eyes of the animal cruelty people, what’s good for the goose, and the Mucovy duck, is to not have to undergo the ordeal of gavage.

Gavage, you may well ask?


The force-feeding by tube technique that was used for (or was it against?) hunger-striking British suffragettes a hundred years ago is also what’s used to plump up the livers of those geese destined to become foie gras donors, rather than duvets.

The French, who took up foie during the Renaissance and are still the world’s leading producers and consumers, pioneered the automated feeding systems—tube down the throat, corn gushes in—that are the industry standard and the cause of the greatest controversy. The process, which they call gavage, takes two to three weeks and expands a bird’s liver to around ten times its natural size. (Source: The New Yorker.)

Animal rights activists have, understandably, been opposed to this practice. And they’ve succeeded in getting it banned in California. As of July 1, the state is gavage free. Let freedom ring - at least for geese.

For foie gras producers, something’s ringing, and it’s the death knell for their business. The producers profiled in The New Yorker article, who run Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, say that they’ve spent $1.6M on “lawyers, crisis P.R., and lobbying” to stop the ban from happening. Which is decidedly not chicken feed – or even chopped liver.

And for both gourmets et gourmands, well, they’ll no doubt be moseying around this weekend looking for their last foie gras fix.

There’s some debate over whether it’s possible to make foie gras without gavage:

Several years ago, a Spanish farmer named Eduardo Sousa became famous for producing “ethical foie gras” by allowing his flock to eat freely in a lush orchard. Geese, like other migratory waterfowl, instinctively gorge in the fall, storing fat in the liver, in preparation for their flight to wintering grounds. (In 2008, Dan Barber gave a TED talk on Sousa, and then tried, unsuccessfully, to replicate his results on the East Coast.)

Gavagistes maintain that Sousa’s approach is a commercial non-starter: “bogus”, “a hobby.”

Whether it is or not, how interesting that “ethical foie gras” was a topic at TED, the “ideas worth spreading” conference where I would suspect that the typical attendee is someone who both has the time and interest to worry about “ethical foie gras” and regularly dines at the kinds of restaurants that have foie gras (ethical or not) on the menu. No foie gras at Olive Garden. No foie gras at Red Lobster.  Fatty liver is what you might end up with if you took your three-squares a day at Denny’s, but there’s no fatty goose liver on the laminated bill of fare. (The better for the waitress to wipe it “clean” with her damp rag; I may not have ever worked at a Denny’s, but I am a Big Boy alumna.)

To its defenders and detractors, foie gras is an easy target—a luxury good with bad optics—and passing legislation against it is far easier than going after Big Poultry, though that may be the activists’ ultimate goal.

Big Poultry may well be their ultimate goal, but I think that one will be a harder sell.

How many people ever eat foie gras?

Vs. the number of folks who at least occasionally munch down a 6-pack of McNuggets. Or wheel their cart past the meat section of the local grocery store and toss one of those chicken McBreasts that are the size of turkeys of yore into their shopping cart.

I’m quite certain if that we really thought about where those Dolly Parton-esque chickens come from, we’d be doing without. Or buying only free-range chicken that were raised with all sorts of freedoms – including the right to decide for themselves whether they wanted to be big breasted or flat-chested. Farms where Farmer Brown left around a few Mark Eden Bust Developers, in case some of the girls wanted to pick them up. (“We  must, we must, we must develop the bus.”) Or asked the hen parties to peck once for yes, twice for no, to gauge whether they wanted silicon implants.

Personally, I find the idea of gavage, whether used on the Pankhurst sisters or on a Mucovy duck, somewhat abhorrent. But, then again, I could quite happily live the rest of my life sans foie gras.

On the other hand, if I really started thinking about where those skinless, frozen chicken breasts in my freezer came from.

Puk, puk, pooka…

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I swear: what are they thinking down there in Middleborough?

The town of Middleborough, Massachusetts, is in the news.

As is often the case when some obscure burg achieves national recognition, it’s seldom for something glowingly positive: perfect SAT scores prove unequivocally that Lake Woebegone’s children are all above average; suburb achieves 100% no-negative-environmental-impact score by line drying their laundry; town places all shelter animals in loving homes.

No, mostly it’s for something peculiar, maybe even a bit foolish. (C.f., towns that enact laws that state that every household must have a gun.)

To the peculiar, maybe even a bit foolish category, I nominate Middleborough’s recent vote to fine folks $20 when the use profanity in public.

Officials insist the proposal was not intended to censor casual or private conversations, but instead to crack down on loud, profanity-laden language used by teens and other young people in the downtown area and public parks. (Source: Huffington Post. I told you this made the national news!)

No word on what’s banned in Middleborough, but a good place to start might be George Carlin’s seven dirty words. (Don’t click through if you’re nervous about seeing the f-word, the s-word, the c-word in print. I do not want to piss, I mean urinate, off any delicate readers.)

Outlawing dirty words is not exactly new in Middleborough. In 1968, they made cursing a crime. The law was never enforced because it was just too much trouble. The thinking this time is that a civil penalty – a fine – will do the trick.

Ah, 1968, that would be when a crowd of foul-mouthed teenagers of an earlier era must have started hanging around beautiful downtown Middleborough swearing their asses off. Apparently, those teenagers are now all grown up and have aged into the kind of censorious prudes who would vote to fine those who practice the fine art of not deleting their expletives.

The town meeting vote was not a nail biter: 183-50.

One of the approving disapprovers is Mimi Duphily, who is “really happy about it…I don't care what you do in private. It's in public what bothers me."

Now, I would not normally name names in this sort of post, but I happened to hit spelling check, and the suggested alternatives for “Duphily” included Dopily and Dumpily. (Sorry, Ms. Duphily, I couldn’t resist.)

Now I don’t know how big a problem that foul language is in Middleborough. I doubt that there are hordes of profanity-hurling teens rampaging through the streets, but you never know. If the alternative is hanging out in cranberry bogs – the big game in town – this may, in fact, be what’s happening. And I can’t blame the Middleborough moms who don’t want to have their four year olds exposed to the rants of foul-mouthed layabouts every time they have to run into CVS for toothpaste.

Still, I expect that fining folks for using profanity will turn out to be a non-starter.

As an avid profanity user from way-back, there are few words, other than the grossest of ethnic/racial slurs and the c-word, that offend me. Personally, I was more offended last summer when, walking down the main drag in Astoria, Oregon with my sister and nieces, we spotted a yahoo with a swastika on the back of his jacket. That both offended and scared me. (Although as someone who has been expecting fascism to arrive in American since 1968, give or take a year, I was not surprised.)

Most everyone I hang with curses/swears/whatever you want to call it, too. This disproves my mother’s repeated pronouncement that only those with limited vocabularies resort to profanity. (Not so, Ma: labile, inchoate, transmogrified, irenic*, riparian – to name just a few of My Big Words.)

Now, I don’t know anyone who fuckin’ uses the fuckin’ f-word as a fuckin’ adjective to fuckin’ modify every fuckin’ word out of their fuckin’ mouth.

But I do use the word, among other not-so-nicey-nice words with some regularity. (See my earlier post Sugar-Honey-Ice-Tea.)

I just can’t imagine that such regularity would include hanging around the streets of Middleborough yelling “bad words” at the top of my lungs.

I do pass by Middleborough when I’m heading to the Cape, however. Maybe next time I’ll swing by and let a few choice words fly.

I missed the protest that was held there the other day. And in any case,

Enforcement of the ordinance is on hold until Attorney General Martha Coakley determines whether the measure is constitutional. (Source:

But thinking about a Middleborough drive-by reminds me that, when my nieces -  now teenagers – were younger, they were driving us, for a while, to distraction by occasional forays into button-pushing, moronic, and way, way, way too repetitive use of strong language when in my (non-parental) presence.

I would explain to them that, while I personally didn’t give a rat’s ass what they said, they were not using their choice words with any particular élan.  That they were, in fact, boring. And that there were certainly people out there who really, really, really don’t like to hear pretty little girls with trash mouths. Just because. (For some reason, their swearing especially drove me nuts when I was driving.)

What I would let them do, when I had the girls in the car, heading to my sister and brother-in-law’s in Wellfleet, they could say whatever they wanted while we were crossing the Sagamore Bridge on the way to The Cape.

Knock yourself out, I would tell them. No holds barred. Open the windows. Stick your heads out. Holler to the heavens.

But, once we got to the other side of the bridge, that was it. No more swearing.

Surprisingly, it worked.

The girls got it out of their system, and, although we no longer need to rely on it, we all fondly remember our times on The Swearing Bridge.

Perhaps Middleborough should reserve a certain place or time in town where the kids can have at it. Moms with toddlers in toe, gray haired grannies heading into Dunkie’s for a cuppa after Mass, folks who just don’t want to listen to a bunch of moronic teenagers with nothing better to do,would know where and when to avoid “it”.

Of course, this would remove the fun of being provocative and antagonistic.

Still, it might work better than a $20 fine.


*Yes, V, this ones for you!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Did you hear the one about the exploding toilet?

There are certain things that we take for granted.

When we flip a light switch, we expect light. And we expect that we will not get, say, electrocuted.

When we turn on the water tap, we expect water. And we expect that we won’t get, say, gasoline.

And when we flush the toilet, we expect whatever’s in the bowl to disappear. And we expect that we won’t get, say, hit by shards from an exploding toilet tank lid.

But that’s apparently what’s been happening if you have a toilet that isn’t one of those old fashioned types with the float arm, float ball, and ballcock. But does have one of those fancy-dan, new-fangled unit that’s used in the fancy-dan, new-fangled pressure units that have gained in popularity since the water-saver toilets came into play.

So Flushmate, after the Consumer Product Safety Commission recorded 304 incidents, has recalled the Series 504 Flushmate III Pressure-Assist Flushing System. – over 2.3 million of them.

Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about this. (Phew.) First, we have the old-timey ones. Second, the recalled items were manufactured between 1997 and 2008, and our toilets pre-date that. By many moons.

But I do know what it’s like to have an exploding toilet.

Many years ago, I had a top floor apartment with a rather strange toilet.

Rather than having a tank, the toilet was “hard wired” (hard piped?) directly into the wall.  Once, when I came back from a week or so away, I flushed the toilet, only to have the pipe that connected the toilet to the wall come flying off.

What a shockeroo.

It took me a moment or two to realize what had happened.

Whatever the set up was behind the wall, I only ended up with the equivalent of one tank-full of water on the floor.

And, I must say, a good laugh, once I got things mopped up and the plumber in to get things plumbed.

When I am next in the market for a toilet, I will be looking at one of those bi-modal jobs, with the light and heavy flush options, depending on whether you want to flush something light or heavy. I would also consider one with a Flushmate, as it seems to be a pretty good little product from a pretty good little company. It’s in the heartland. It produces something that – exploding tank lids aside – is good for the environment. And I believe it manufacturers its products in the good old U.S. of A.

So I’m sorry that they’ve had to do this recall.

Although it’s really not so much a recall as it is a do-over.

If you have one of the recalled Flushmate III units, turn off the water supply to your toilet and request a free repair kit. You can get more information and a kit, by contacting Flushmate at (800) 303-5123 weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time or by visiting their recall site..(Source:

Well, I can see that this would be a major drag if you were in a one toilet situation. But I suppose if you were in a one toilet situation, you might want to keep that water supply on and take your chances while you wait for that free repair kit to arrive.

I mean, if there’ve only been 304 explosions, 14 injuries, and no deaths out of 2.3 million toilets, then the likelihood that your number (one or two) is up is pretty low, probabilistically speaking.

Anyway, many years decades ago, the first time I heard about a product recall, it was one of those early car recalls – probably the Pinto, a far more dangerous exploding tank problema than the Flushmate toilet.

When the news about the recall came out, what popped into my mind was that all the cars were being sent back to Michigan to get repaired. I envisioned millions of cars being hauled on trailers, or flat-bed train cars, or even being driven by owners, heading back to Detroit.

I was somewhat disappointed, not to mention feeling a tad foolish, when I realized that recalled cars go back to the dealer, not to the assembly line.  While there was something right and just about those who made the bad stuff having to repair it, flawed products don’t tend to be the fault of the factory hands. Sure, there are no doubt times when the worker slack off, or even throw a metaphorical – or even actual – spanner in the works. But mostly if something’s really gang agley the problem’s higher up in the food chain: design, engineering, a bean-counter decision to swap in a lower cost, substandard part. And sometimes, well, shit happens.

Good luck to those getting their free repair kits in the mail. I’m reasonably good with fixing the parts of the ancient floating ball apparatus, but I wouldn’t want to mess with a Flushmate. Even though it’s all encased, it looks a bit too high tech to me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

No man is an island? Does that include Larry Ellison?

A week or so ago, I saw in the news that Oracle’s CEO, Larry Ellison, is buying the island of Lana‘i.

Well, I suppose that folks buy islands all the time. But probably most of those don’t cover141 square miles and have actual people living on them. So it struck me as somewhat peculiar, even though, in order for someone to buy an island of this size, someone else would have to own it already.So this is not all that original a transaction. Anyway, that someone is a something: Castle & Cooke, which has “diversified business divisions [that] include:

  • The Island of Lana‘i, including resorts, world-class championship golf courses and private residences.”

Among its other attributes,

Serene Lana‘i is also the perfect place to unplug, unwind and let the day unfold gently. Buyers who choose one of our Lana‘i Luxury Homes tell us that it just feels right to be there, every single time. With luxury condominiums, homes and home sites to choose from, and the special access and privileges of Island Club membership available, there is a Lana‘i Luxury Home that’s just right for you.

Serene. Unplug. Unwind. Unfold gently.

This sure sounds like the Larry Ellison I’ve been reading about, lo these many years.

Lawyers for the seller redacted a copy of the sale agreement signed May 2, saying it includes confidential information that would competitively hurt Ellison and the seller if disclosed. The Maui News previously reported the asking price was between $500 million and $600 million. (Source: HuffPo.)

Redaction, be damned!

Actually, Lar’s not buying the entire island, just 98 percent of it.

Does the other 2% belong to the owners of those luxury condominiums? I mean, if Beacon Hill were for sale, and Larry Ellison got over that serene, unplug, unwind thing, and wanted to own something a bit more urban, would our condo still belong to us?

I’m probably feeling a tiny bit territorial about Lana‘i (which, thanks to that Castle and Cooke website, I now know ho’w to punctu’ate) because it’s the only place in Hawaii I’ve ever been.

Lana’i is not lushly beautiful. Most of it used to be a Dole pineapple plantation. But it was pretty darned nice. Of course, what’s not to like when you’re on an all expenses paid week at a luxury resort and, because all those expenses are paid by your company, you don’t have to count the days off as vacation days. And you’re staying at a luxury resort with a bathroom that’s bigger (not to mention more luxurious) than your bedroom at home. And where there are bougainvillea blooming everywhere, where the water’s warm enough to swim in, and where cabana boys trail you down to the beach with towels and water bottles. Or rum umbrella drinks, if you like.

One thing it wasn’t – luxe resort aside – was all that built up.

On the one free night – when the meal wasn’t communal, but when the tab was still being picked up – I don’t recall there being more than a couple of non-resort restaurant options.

In 2001, when I was there, there were no places to shop, either. So they boat-shuttled us over to Maui, where there were plenty of places to buy ugly Aloha shirts and plastic ukuleles. And where I was able to buy hokey outfits for my nieces, plus a ukulele Christmas ornament with Mele Kalikimaka written on it. (And here you thought Bing Crosby was just White Christmas, Adeste Fideles, and Christmas in Killarney.)

The houses where the locals lived were modest affairs. I suppose most of them worked in the resorts and luxury condos. (The pineapple plantation is gone.)

The scariest thing about Lana’i was the driving. (Or, in my case, the passengering.)

We signed up for a Jeep – fortunately chauffered by my friend Joan’s husband – to take an off-roading tour of the island. Trust me when I say that there are no atheists on the island’s center-cut ridge, which probably would have had spectacular views if I hadn’t been too terrified to turn my head in either direction.

Perhaps Larry will put in a better road system.

Ellison plans to pay cash, and the deal should result in new jobs, economic stimulus and a reinvigorated local tourism industry, the application said.

"The buyer anticipates making substantial investments in Lanai and is looking forward to partnering with the people of Lanai to chart the island's future," Castle & Cooke lawyers said in the application.

Enterprise applications for everyone!

Not only will Larry be getting all that land, all those building, but he’ll also be the owner of:

– a water company, a bus and shuttle service, and the island's wastewater utility.

Kind of like playing Monopoly, only with real money and real utilities.

As I said, it does seem very peculiar to be owning such an extensive property, where people other than you and yours make their lives. It seems well beyond plantation ownership, and on into the realm of imperialism.

Anyway, in preparation for the Springsteen Fenway concert in August, I’ve been listening to The Boss, and some lines from Badlands would seem to apply here:

Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king,
And a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything.

Even the water utility.

I guess that Larry Ellison’s thinking right now that it’s petty darned good to be king.

Monday, June 25, 2012

‘Tis pity she’s a school bus monitor. (At least Karen Klein can call it quits now.)

The ‘net has been agog the last few days with news about Karen Klein, the 68 year old upstate NY school bus monitor who was so ferociously and mercilessly bullied by a pack of middle schoolers. If you haven’t watched the video, I can assure you that it is profoundly disturbing.

The kids pull out all the stops, haranguing Klein for her weight, her hearing aid, her clothing, her presumed poverty. They threaten her life. They even get in a jab or two about her son who committed suicide. All delivered with a profanity icing on the bullying cake. And all, of course, recorded by one of the gang, later to be posted online so the  whole world can share in the good, clean fun.

Then there’s the demeanor of Klein herself.

She is clearly humiliated and upset, crying; just trying to wait it out, make it through the remainder of the ride and the school year. Her pushback is mild – ‘if you can’t say anything nice’ – but it’s clear throughout the video that the bad guys are winning.

I suspect that Klein reacted the way many bullying victims do: just take the ‘this, too, will pass’ attitude. (Maybe if I close my eyes they’ll go away.)

What is peculiar about watching this episode of Bullies Gone Viral, of course, is that the victim is an adult, not a kid. And it’s an adult who was in a position that holds – or should hold – at least a modicum of authority. Presumably, the role of school bus monitor requires the monitor to try to maintain order, make sure the kids refrain from bullying each other, and make sure the school bus driver can do his or her job without being driven to distraction by a pack of howling kids.

If this was part of her job description, Klein’s job performance comes up woefully short.

Not to blame the victim. Apparently, she had reported kids in the past, but gotten nowhere. Apparently, since school was almost out for the summer, she figured ‘why bother.’ Maybe she figured that if she made a more forceful pushback, she’d lose her job. (‘That nasty, mean old-lady bus monitor pushed me and swore at me. Mommy, make her stop.’ Sniff, sniff.)

And it’s hard to imagine that any 68 year old is working as a school bus monitor as a fun and enjoyable way to capstone a career that’s winding down. In all likelihood, Klein needs to stretch her Social Security and/or whatever miniscule pension she earned as a school bus driver for 20 years.

I hate to be looks-ist, but Karen Klein sure doesn’t look like someone who’s sitting on a lushly endowed 401K, working as a school bus monitor to kill time when she’s not doing more glamorous things.

Things are now looking up for Karen Klein.

As the video chronicling the verbal assault on her went viral, Klein found herself being interviewed all over the place: CNN, Fox, TMZ, People….

She’s going to Disneyland, courtesy of Southwest Airlines.

And someone who felt badly for her set up an online fund raiser, and, as of the weekend, over $600K (tax free) had been raised for Karen.

So maybe now she can quit her job as a school bus monitor, which clearly didn’t play to her forte to begin with.

Meanwhile, a couple of the bully boys have tendered apologies, which Klein has not (yet) accepted. (“They can do better…”) I agree with her. How about an in-person sit down, rather than a note? But I hope this doesn’t turn out to be some prolonged birther-style thing, during which no apology will ever be sufficient.

As for the kids themselves.

Yes, yes, yes. This is a tough age. Kids act in packs. They don’t think about consequences. They’re playing to each other. The strong intimidate the week. Everyone’s safe as long as the bullies are after someone else. It has always been thus. Lord of the Flies. They’re not bad kids.

Maybe not. Actually, probably not. What they probably are is spoiled, show-offy, self-centered, weak. They don’t cringe when Simon Cowell puts someone down; they think it’s funny. (If he’s putting someone else down, he’s not attacking them…) They probably watch all kinds of reality shows that glorify nitwits who are singularly devoid of any positive attributes, and who will say or do anything to maintain their status as a celebrity. They [we’re back to the kids, now] probably think everything in life should be videoed and uploaded, as long as they’re the ones being featured. (Look at me, I’m famous. 1.4 million hits on YouTube. Awesome!)

I do hope these kids learn something about compassion, empathy, otherness, and common decency from this episode. And I hope this doesn’t end up haunting them for life. Their names are out there, so anyone googling them for college admissions, a possible job, or even a date, will be able to find them. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there really should be a statute of limitations on the reckless, wanton, and asinine things you do when you’re very young. There is a reason why they seal juvenile records. Too bad nothing gets sealed on the Internet.

All this said, my reaction on seeing the video was a keen desire to slap those kids up and down the side of their heads. To slap the not-so-smartphone out of the video-ing kid’s hand and crush it under my foot. To get right in their grills, matching f-bomb for f-bomb – hey, I can’t get fired – and grabbing the phones I hadn’t crushed under foot and speed dialing mommy and daddy to ask ‘do you know what you’re precious son has been doing for the last 10 minutes?’

I wanted to turn to the “good kids” who were passively sitting by while all this happened and tell them that the bad guys only win when the good guys do nothing. That, if this ever happens again, I can guarantee them that they’ll feel better afterwards if they do something, anything. Even though it will be scary, and the bullies can easily turn on them. I’d explain that there’s safety in numbers. I’d Todd Beamer them: Let’s roll.

I also wanted to take the seat next to Karen Klein, shielding her from these nasty, crappy-acting kids. To  put my arm around her, and tell her ‘you don’t deserve this shit.’ And ‘don’t let those pathetic dweebs get to you.’

And now she doesn’t have to.

$600K is a lot of yearly earnings for a school bus monitor, so I’m guessing that Karen Klein can pack it in.

Hopefully, the money won’t run right through her fingers, that her kids and grandkids don’t manage to gouge it all, leaving her in continued need of some additional income, however meager it is.

If, for whatever reason, Karen Klein does decide to keep working, I sincerely hope that she finds something that will play to her strengths better than school bus monitor.

In Greece, NY, that job apparently requires someone who trained at Parris Island. Going Gandhi clearly does not work.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Shackled: Adidas unchains a not so good idea.

On one hand, I am always a bit taken aback when a major brand puts out a product that’s in colossally questionable taste. On the other hand, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. (For Mencken, the operative word was intelligence.)

The latest is Adidas, which had recently announced a new sneaker that features an ankle shackle, reminiscent of the shackleiron chains worn by slaves, not to mention the cuffs that we see prisoners wearing during perp walks, jail transfers, and court appearances.

The community – largely the outraged African-American community – has spoken, and Adidas has withdrawn this item, but not before initially defending it as a bit of whimsy from an edgy designer.

The Adidas statement reads, in part: "The design of the JS Roundhouse Mid is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott's outrageous and unique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery. Since the shoe debuted on our Facebook page ahead of its market release in August, Adidas has received both favorable and critical feedback. We apologize if people are offended by the design and we are withdrawing our plans to make them available in the marketplace." (Source: LA Times)

Jeremy Scott may well have an “outrageous and unique take on fashion”, but to claim that the shackles have “nothing to do with slavery….” Hmmmmm. Maybe not in Scott’s mind, but I put this more of less in the same category as someone using a swastika because they like the way it looks. That may well be the case, but there are certain images that it’s just best to avoid. And the use of shackles on a sneaker marketed largely to young African-American males is one of them.

Which is not to say that, if this were presented as art and not as commerce, the imagery wouldn’t be appropriate, and appropriately provocative. How about a conversation about:

The shackles that hoop dreams place on urban kids who want to be LeBron, but don’t get there  - or anywhere else.

The glorification of violence and criminality by rappers who hold enormous influence in poor communities.

The rate of incarceration among African-American males, and whether it’s the way it should be or something else.

So, as agitprop art, I love Scott’s sneaker. As a product, I don’t.

By the way, as a product, these kicks would have retailed for $350, and would not doubt have been just the sort of things that kids would have killed and died for. Unfortunately, that’s meant literally.

What on earth does a $350 pair of sneakers mean?


Maybe the world really was a better place when P.F. Flyers cost $8 and came in red, white, and blue, and big boys wore what are now called Chucks: Converse high tops or low cuts, in white or black. Which probably cost $8.50.

Surely, no one ever killed or died for a pair of Keds…

Adidas is a sophisticated company, and I doubt that they put this particular sneaker on the market without checking it out with focused groups made up of their target demographic, which is not, of course, composed of fussy middle aged female bloggers who might pay $350 for a pair of wonderful last-a-lifetime leather boots that could be reheeled and resoled over and over again, but couldn’t imagine paying that for a sneaker, let alone one with a goofy “ankle bracelet” on it.

Adidas is in the business of making money, and if one of the ways to make money is to exploit poor folks and psyche kids into believing that they won’t be cool unless they’re sporting these particular over-priced kicks  then, while I may not like it, so be it. I don’t have to buy Adidas products.

And, in truth, I have no problem with Adidas actually bringing this product out. Have at it. My hope would be that, once they’d introduced it, no one would buy it. That people would let them know that they thought the product was in poor taste, and let Adidas be stuck unshackling the plastic chains and turning these into just another pair of sneakers, or shipping the unopened boxes to the Third World where folks could do their own unshackling and likely find a whole bunch of uses for that bit of plastic frippery.

Still, you have to wonder about these companies that don’t seem to have a conscience on staff, someone who might actually say, ‘sure we could do it, but it would be wrong.’


Earlier in the year, I blogged about Nike’s Black and Tans. Not a great idea, but nowhere near as dreadful as the Adidas shackles.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Yet another miserable growth industry. (Why some functions should just NOT be privatized.)

One of the points that Mitt Romney is making on the campaign trail is that it might be a good idea to make business experience a requisite for the presidency. (Not that he’s being self-serving there or anything. No, self-serving would be that running the Olympics should be a requirement. Or having great hair.) I don’t think you have to look any further back than George W. Bush or Jimmy Carter to figure out that, when it comes to running the government, business experience doesn’t necessarily translate into all that much good.

As an aside, if we do decide that there are requisites beyond being a natural born US citizen whose at least 35 years of age, I think that there are few that might be more relevant than business. Like having served in the military. Or supporting yourself for a while, à la Barbara Ehrenreich for her great book Nickeled and Dimed, at a minimum wage job. Or done a Black Like Me and walked a mile or two in the shoes of someone not of your own race.  And how about a requirement that someone’s lived abroad?

Any of these, I suspect, would make for a better president than business experience.

But I digress.

The business experience thang came to mind when I was reading an article in The Economist (in turned based on a series that appeared in the New Orleans Time-Picayune) on what an important role the (totally abysmal) prison industry plays in the (generally abysmal) Louisiana economy.

Even by U.S. standards, Louisiana’s incarceration rate stands out:

The state imprisons 26% more people, on a per-capita basis, than the next-strictest state, Mississippi. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is almost six times Maine’s and seven times China’s.

Louisiana’s high incarceration rate reflects a confluence of factors: the state is poor; it has a high crime rate (duh!); it’s sentencing is more draconian that one might find in a more tree-hugging state, like Maine; and the state has outsourced imprisonment to local sheriffs and private “corrections” companies, both of which have an incentive to keep the prison population high, and the amount spent per capita on each prisoner, low.

In Louisiana, outsourcing the state prison function to local sheriffs and privateers came about after the Feds declared the state system woefully (and illegally) overcrowded. Rather than let any prisoners loose – apparently, even the relatively harmless, non-violent ones – they set off a growth spurt in parish (Louisiana-speak for county) and private cell construction. (I’m just as happy to live in a state that’s more focused on bio-cells than on jail cells, that’s for sure.) And, of course, once you get those cells built, they need to be occupied.

For the state, this outsourcing turned out to be a bargain. They pay local and private jailers, a mere $24.39 per diem for the care, feeding, and rehabilitation of prisoners. 

That is less than half what Louisiana spends on inmates in state-run prisons, and it is barely a third of what even relatively poor states like West Virginia spend.

And even that paltry amount of money is not all spent on prisoner care. The only way Louisiana’s local sheriffs and private-prison operators can make a profit on the per-diem payment is to skimp on costs. This means bad food, limited supervision and no vocational programmes. For a sheriff, that money is more usefully spent on more deputies, higher salaries and better equipment. Tiny Richland Parish, in the north of the state, had 60 sheriff’s deputies before the prison gold rush. Today there are 160, not to mention new shotguns, cars and bulletproof gear.

If you’re imagining Boss Hogg, Cool Hand Luke, and The Heat of the Night, well, I am, too.

And, okay, okay. Outsourcing your prisoners to other governmental jurisdictions is not the same as privatizing.

But it does provide the same perverse incentive: keeping the prison population up to keep those per diems – however ‘paltry’ – rolling in.

It’s just good for bidness…

And prison businesses, of course, lobby through organizations like ALEC for harsher laws and more privatization. The scrim that rationalizes this is that a business approach to a social problem is going to be more likely to solve that problem (or at least do as good a job as the state). And, of course, will save money. (Which, by the way, doesn’t always happen.)

But when you need to make a profit, saving money is not necessarily gotten through “efficiencies” only. Something’s always got to give.

Yes, I’m quite sure that there are efficiencies that government can and should borrow from the private sector. Not that I’ve necessarily worked in businesses that had any particular approaches to efficiency that were worth borrowing. Let’s keep in mind that, even though businesses are nominally focused on profit making, an awful lot of them don’t make a profit and aren’t run particularly well.

But in the end, the purpose of business is not the same as the purpose of government. A failing business will go out of business. This may be a loss to those who work there, and to the community in which it’s located. But everyone can pretty much get over it. Find a new job, a new place to buy shoes…

A failing government still needs to provide at least a minimal amount of service in order for society to keep functioning safely and securely. And you can’t fire or lay-off sick people, old people, school kids, poor folks… Although you can ignore them and hope they die out or self-deport or whatever it is we’d like to see happen to those who are seen as too comfortably supping at the public trough.

It’s interesting, however, that when it comes to prisons, the privatizing solution is not to get better at providing big-house services that reduce recidivism. It’s aimed at increasing the prison population.

As I said, a rather perverse incentive.

Anyway, from where I stand, the belief that running government as if it were a business will miraculously improve government is based on one big fact myth.

When it comes to prisons, here’s what it will get you:

In 2012, CCA [Correctional Corporation of America] sent a letter to prison officials in 48 states, offering to buy prisons from these states in exchange for a 20-year management contract and a guaranteed occupancy rate of 90%. Community organizations have criticized the proposals, arguing that the contractual obligations of states to fill the prisons to 90% occupancy are poor public policy that could force communities into creating criminals, and that these contractual clauses end up costing taxpayers more than state-run prisons would. (Source: Wikipedia.) 

Nope, there are just some parts of society that you don’t want to see turned into a growth industry.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Paint the town red? As Denis Abrams found, not on Warren Buffett’s dime, you don’t.

In this day and age, what was Benjamin Moore CEO Denis Abrams doing taking his staff on a junket to Bermuda to celebrate their first quarterly sales increase in a dog’s age. Especially when you work for the Sage – which I’m sure is on the Benjamin Moore color palette  - of Omaha, who really doesn’t go into for this sort of frou frou. (Benjamin Moore is part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.)

Okay, taking the gang from New Jersey to Bermuda is pretty small potatoes as far as corporate excess goes. When I was at Genuity, when we were losing about, oh, $1B a year or thereabouts, the sales “winners circle” went on a week-long posh to Hawaii. I never knew whether it was because there weren’t enough sales winners that year, or because they didn’t want to hear a lot of belly aching from the non-sales employees, but that year they brought 50 “normal” employees along for the ride. Hey, I was delighted to go – as was my sister Trish (who doesn’t want a free vacation at a luxe resort on Lanai?) – but it did seem like a crazy extravagance for a company on the eve of destruction.

Hard to figure out where to start with what’s wrong with this Benjamin Moore picture, but let’s start with that big celebration for achieving a quarterly goal.

As anyone who has been even tangentially involved with “the numbers” can tell you, unless you’re completely circling the drain, it’s not all that difficult to pull out enough stops and do enough shucking and jiving with customers to hit the numbers for one, brief shining quarterly moment. Rev up a discount. Move a deal from Point A to Point B. Ask a big customer for a small favor.

All this has been known to happen.

It’s getting the next quarter that’s harder, and the one after that, and the one after that. Stringing those quarters into a year. Stringing a couple of years into a trend.

One point in time shouldn’t make for such a big celebration.

How about something a bit more modest and more inclusive?

Champagne toast.  Shut down at 1 on the Friday before a long weekend. Give everyone a free gallon on paint.

Yes, it’s a big accomplishment to make your numbers for the first time in 5 years. But let’s not go overboard.

This all leads to the second 'what’s wrong with this picture’ point:;

In a company that has been running in the red, that’s had layoffs, where there’ve been no raises, it’s really incredibly bad taste, bad judgment, bad juju to take the chosen few off on some posh getaway that “allegedly included a dinner cruise aboard a yacht that some vacation attendees believed was owned by singer Jimmy Buffett.” (No relation to Uncle Warren.)

While the execs were no doubt wasting away in Margaritaville – although, of course, Bermuda is a tad bit more buttoned up than Key West – the rank and file employees were no doubt  feeling that they were, metaphorically speaking, stepping on pop-tops back at corporate HQ in New Jersey.

So after 17 years at the helm of Benjamin Moore – ain’t LinkedIn grand? – Abrams is jobless, apparently frog-marched out of the office with dispatch, asking what went wrong.

Seriously? You work for Warren Buffett for over 10 years – BH acquired BM in 2001 – and you weren’t able to figure out that he might not approve of a bring-the-wives-along-on-the-company-tab resort excursion? As much as you might have tried to convince yourself that the trip was merited, maybe even required. As much as you might have been keeping you eyes out for some new paint colors – lots of nice blues and pinks there, as I recall -  there’s no way to paint this jaunt as anything other than foolish.

Anyway, Abrams has now fallen into the Bermuda triangle of unemployment. I’m sure he’s not going to starve, but it’s not the way anyone wants to end his career.

What a maroon. (Or, in Benjamin Moore terms, what a pomegranate AF-295.)


Source: Huffington Post.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Much as I love Jon Hamm

We certainly hear plenty about race to the bottom wages – why pay someone a living wage, when you can find someone  else a million miles away, or a local who’s just plain desperate, who’ll work for 13 cents an hour?

So it was interesting to come across a recent article in The Washington Post on a distinctly different phenomenon: actors who are scoring million dollar pay days (pay hours?) to do advertising voice-over work that a plain vanilla voice-over actor– the guy next door, only with a great voice – would get paid a few thousand bucks to do.

What prompted me to think about voice-over-ing was hearing a familiar voice on a TD Ameritrade commercial I heard the other day.

Matt Damon?

Sure enough.

Our Matt didn’t displace a poor boy voice-over achiever, however. He’s taking the mic from Sam Waterston. (Apparently it’s not about the benjamins. At least for themselves. Both Matt and Sam are said to donate their advertising fees to charity.)

Needless to say, those who have labored as field hands in the voice-over vineyard are not jumping for joy when they see their (relatively) meager wages going Hollywood.

They are not happy campers,” said Marice Tobias, a well-known voice coach known in the industry as the “voice whisperer.” “A lot of them will say, ‘Why don’t they just leave our business alone?’ ”

With millions of dollars in play – even if it gets Lord and Lady Bountinful’d off to a charity – that ain’t going to happen.

The “civilian” voice-over folks are doing plenty of voicing over the celebrity trend:

“Some are fabulous, and some are pretty mediocre,” said Keri Tombazian, a veteran voice actress. “The unfortunate thing for us is that career voice-over actors are not afforded the luxury of mediocrity.”

One does have to ask the question of whether having Matt Damon or any other A-list actor whispering the sweet nothings into our ears actually moves more product. But:

“Rarely is it strictly for sales,” said David Schwab of Octagon, a sponsorship consulting firm. “Brands are always looking to create product differentiation,” he said. Using a celebrity voice “increases awareness.”

Hmmm. How does Matt Damon’s voice differentiate TD Ameritrade from, say, eTrade. I actually think the snarky eTrade baby creates more differentiation. (That is eTrade with the little wise guy, isn’t it?)

The displaced persons apparently agree with me:

“That’s a complete load of hogwash,” [voice-over actor Tom] Kane said. “The reason agency people and clients will shell out millions is called star you-know-what.”

Well, whether he’s hawking Aleve or Mercedes-Benz, I can certainly see that Jon Hamm would hold appeal to someone interested in being a start you-know-what.

While I certainly haven’t forgiven Don Draper for throwing money in Peggy’s face, now that Mad Men has closed shop for the season, I would certainly miss that Don Draper (never Dick Whitman) voice fix if I couldn’t rely on Aleve or Mercedes-Benz ads.

Not that it’s motivating any buying behavior on my part. I buy the generics at the corner drugstore when I need pain relief. And when I need transportation relief, well, I just get the cheapest Zipcar on offer. Which so far hasn’t been a Mercedes. (Once over the initial weirdness, I’m kind of liking that Prius.)

When I’m thinking about the well known actors who do voice-overs, no actors of the female persuasion come to mind. I’m sure there are some, but the only voice-overs I can think of are men: Damon, Hamm, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm…

Maybe there are comfort products – mac ‘n cheese – that use actresses?

Most of the actresses I see doing ads are not doing voice overs, they’re doing both video and audio, supposedly for products they actually use: Jamie Lee Curtis, whose worried about our bowels, and Blythe Danner and Sally Fields, who want to help out those with osteoporosis. (Interesting that these gals are past their peaks, and are pushing products for gals who are pat their peaks as well.)

Meanwhile, much as I love Jon Hamm, I’d be just as happy if a poor working stiff with a nice voice got the voice-over job.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ray Dolin: it’s just not enough these days to rely on the kindness of strangers

Ray Dolin, a writer/photographer from West Virginia was supposedly working on some something of a hitchhiker’s guide to kindness in America, to be called, well, Kindness in America. As writers do, Dolin had an epiphany* – and decided that, in the cutthroat environment that is today’s literary world, he needed to give his book’s prospects a boost.

So, at the great American intersection of self-promotion, ingenuity, and guns, he shot himself, which on the scale of dramatic gestures goes well beyond, say, my firing myself to get publicity for Pink Slip.

After the shooting, Dolin gave the Montana po-po a description of his supposed assailant that wasn’t a self-portrait. Based on Dolin’s photographic eye for the details – real or fake – the authorities found the hapless, luckless Lloyd Christopher Danielson III tootling along in a maroon pickup and arrested him for plugging Dolin. And as Danielson III’s luckless would have it, even when the charge was dropped:

…Danielson remained in custody, accused of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he was arrested. (Source: Huff Po.)

Sheriff Glen Meier had him an inkling that Danielson wasn’t the culprit in the Dolin shooting. There may be plenty of gunplay in Montana, but apparently most of it isn’t drive by:

"I had the worst feeling he was telling me the absolute truth," Meier said. "I kept telling him that we are seekers of the truth and we are going to work very hard to find out the truth of this incident. ... It was a great moment when I sent someone up to the jail to tell him he had nothing to do with it."

That must indeed have been a great moment although, however under the influence he had been, Danielson pretty much knew that he “had nothing to do with it” even before the cool, clear, eyes of the seekers of wisdom and truth in the Valley County, Montana, Sheriff’s Department appeared at his jail cell to give him the good word.

Meantime, in keeping with the Kindness in America theme, Sherry Alveson of Malta, Montana, stopped to help Dolin after her daughter saw him bleeding by the side of the road, trying to flag someone down.

"He had blood down his arms, all over his clothes, and he was bleeding and shivering and shaky," Alveson said of her initial encounter with Dolin. "I wasn't going to leave him sitting there."

Well, I must say that there is a big difference between the kindness of someone from Malta, Montana, and the kindness of someone from Boston, Massachusetts, reacting to the sight of a bleeding man in a remote place. Me, I would have made sure my doors were locked, driven on a quarter or a mile or so, pulled over, and called 911. (On the other hand, if I were walking down a city street and saw someone bleeding, I would more than likely stop immediately to help. Can’t really tell: the closest I’ve come is the wrong-way lunatic on the bicycle I saw hit by a car last fall in front of our house. I called 911 and stayed with the guy until the ambulance came.)

Alveson said that even as she waited with the wounded Dolin for emergency personnel to arrive, he began talking about his memoir. She said he brought it up again when she visited him in a Glasgow hospital the next day.

Ah, yes, the book must go on!

And the wounded warrior story was getting some traction. AP picked up the story. I even saw an editorial, written before the truth came out, in the UK Guardian, “In Praise of Ray Dolin.”

Alveson is sticking to her guns about her decision to stop for Dolin:

"Whether it was self-inflicted or somebody else did it, he needed help," Alveson said.

I think it’s time for the Guardian to do an editorial in praise of Sherry Alveson. If I’m ever shot, I sure hope she’s driving by.

It’s not clear whether there will be any charges lodged against Dolin. It would truly be kindness in Montana if he were let off. (As for Lloyd Danielson III: Lloyd, Lloyd, Lloyd, it is really not a good idea to drink or dope and drive, even in Big Sky country where you’re more likely to mow down a prairie dog than anything else.)

Dolin, as it turns out, is someone who’s already shown himself to be enamored of the gun metaphor. His photography business is called One Shot Impressions, and sports a gun site as its logo, right next to these words:

We believe in creating dynamic, comfortable sessions that allow the client to relax and reveal his or her true personality

Personally, I don’t think having my picture taken by someone whose logo is a gun site would allow me to relax and reveal my true personality. (Maybe it would; maybe I’m just a chicken shit.) But, then again, I’m from Moobat, Massachusetts, not Wingnut, West Virginia. Perhaps Dolin specialized in photography for shotgun weddings.

OneShot offers wedding, head shots, model portfolios, children, senior portraits, maternity pictures, new born, baby, engagement, bridal, event coverage and much more...

Head shots’ taking on new meaning, isn’t it? And I hope Dolin remembered not to shoot himself in his camera arm.

Here’s from Dolin’s About page.

My name is Ray Dolin and two of my greatest passions in life are travel and photography. I believe that travel broadens one's view of the world. Experiencing other cultures, meeting people from other communities, other countries, and seeing the beauty of the world has helped me understand that all of our lives are both  interconnected and individual.

Curiously, the web site has no contact information. If Dolin’s lucky, it won’t be some jail cell in Montana, hoping for the kindness of his jail keepers.

And good luck with the book, Ray, and with the photography business. I have a hunch you’re going to need it. On second thought, maybe not. We’re pretty kind, here in America, and we do tend to love (and forgive) the most egregious screw ups. And, on a scale of 1 to 10, unless you’re Lloyd Danielson III, this is certainly not a biggie.

*I’m writing this post on Bloomsday, when James Joyce is celebrated. And he is, is he not, the patron saint of the epiphany?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Vermont Made…

You gotta watch where your pure Vermont maple syrup is coming from.

If you bought yours on eBay from Bernard Coleman, it may have been made in Rhode Island.

And, oh, yeah, it was probably not sugared off in a way that grandma-moses-sugaring-off-1955would have been recognizable to, say, Grandma Moses. No, Bernard Coleman didn’t have to tap a tree, wait for the sap to rise, and haul his buckets to the sugaring off shed. He brewed his maple syrup up at home from water, sugar, and maple flavoring. (Reminding me of the scam uncovered a few years ago, in which some locals were bottling up water as Vermont Crystal Pure, filling jugs via hose from their bathtub in Dorchester.)

Too bad for him that an echt Vermonter paid $220.50 for a batch for his wife. Like true Vermonters, they new their terroir:

The buyer’s wife, who makes specialty items out of the syrup, determined it was not real, based on the look, smell, and taste of the product. (Source:

They took the bathtub syrup to the Vermont Department of Ag and Consumer Protection, which confirmed their suspicion. It then became a Federal case:

An investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture found that a seller, identified as Coleman, was buying large quantities of maple flavoring from a supply store in Rhode Island.

Ah, in other places, terrorists buy up supplies of fertilizer to make bombs; in New England, faux terroirists buy up supplies of maple flavoring to doctor up sugar water and palm it off as bona fide maple syrup.

Coleman confessed, and has just been:

….sentenced to two years of probation for “introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead,” the US attorney’s office in Vermont said today in a statement.

There is, of course, a big difference between maple syrup and breakfast or table syrup, which I appreciated in one direction growing up, and the other direction once I reached the age of tasteful reason.

I did not grow up in a real maple syrup house-hVermont Maidold. Even in my day, Vermont Maid was Vermont Maid Syrup with “the real maple sugar flavor you’ve longed for!” As we see from this ad, like me, vintage 1949. (Forget Mrs. Butterworth. Forget Log Cabin. I’m quite sure we weren’t a Vermont Maid family because it was a New England-y thing. More than likely, it was because if was the only breakfast syrup sold at Morris Market and/or the cheapest.)

We probably had pancakes or French toast once a week, so I poured plenty Vermont Maid on.

I remember the first time I tasted real maple syrup.

Our family had made a summer-time day trip to Vermont – we went through Bennington and Chester and, I believe, stopped at some site that had something to do with Ethan Allen. The Revolutionary War hero, not the furniture store. And, somewhere along the line, bought a tin of authentic, Vermont maple syrup.

Ptui! I didn’t like it.

It was insufficiently sweet. Insufficiently thick.

Hand me the Vermont Maid Syrup, please. That was all the  maple flavor I longed for.

My tastes are more sophisticated these days. And not that I have pancakes or anything that requires maple syrup all that often, but when I do, I’ll go with the real deal. I have some in the fridge now, and just did a taste test. That stuff is good. Makes me want to pop an Eggo in the toaster oven.

A New England Tradition: The full flavored taste of Vermont Maid Syrup has been a New England Tradition for over 50 years, and tastes more like real Maple Syrup than any other table syrup. (Source: BG Foods.)

It may taste more like the real deal than “any other table syrup,” but – price be damned – I say accept no substitute!

All this, of course, if making me crave maple walnut ice cream, another New England fave, and maple sugar candy, which I have once a year, picking up a package at Brookfield Orchards on my fall apple run. Talk about sweet melt-in-your-mouth goodness. One little piece feels like you’re inducing diabetes and or have just invited teeny-tiny little men into your mouth to swing at your teeth with teeny-tiny little pick axes.

Maybe not maple walnut ice cream. But maple syrup. Maple sugar candy.

Made in Vermont,

Then again, with a husband born in Bellows Falls, I’m awfully partial to all things Vermont made.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Skout’s Honor

Well, yesterday’s ‘who wants it/who needs it app’ was about death. Today’s is about sex. Namely, Skout, “a flirting app” that’s run into some trouble that Andreessen Horowitz may not have anticipated when they plunked $22M into the venture a few months back.

To date, “three men have been accused of raping children they met using a mobile app designed for flirting between adults.” (Source for this post: NY Times)

Skout had “tried” to do the right thing, blah de blah de blah.

Had set up a special teen site, blah de blah de blah.

Had all kinds of security in place, blah de blah de blah.

Has now shut down that special teen site, blah de blah de blah.

And the company is, of course, officially “disgusted” that their innocent ol’ flirtation service would be used for something other than innocent ol’ flirtation. (Shocked, I’m shocked…)

In truth, if it hadn’t been on Skout, these predators – who “posed as teenagers” and then went on and variously raped a 15 year old Ohio girl, a 12 year old California girl, and a 13 year old Wisconsin boy – would have figured out some other place to meet their prey. Which might have spared these victims and created others. Still…

These times around, it happened on Skout, which:

…startled managers…because they thought they had adequate safeguards in place.

Founder Christian Wiklund has now suspended the teen service while they try to improve their safeguards.

Personally, I don’t really see how you can improve safeguards to the degree that no bad things ever happen through social networking sites. Until there are advanced biometrics, facial and voice recognition, spy drones everywhere, kids – lonely kids, screwed up kids, unhappy kids, (naively) adventurous kids, (naively) curious kids – will way, way, way overestimate their own maturity and judgment, and will get snared by evil-doers – lonely evil-doers, screwed up evil-doers, unhappy evil-doers, (nastily) adventurous evil-doers, (nastily) curious evil-doers – who will have no problem assuming the persona of a teenager to get what they crave.  All the security controls, all the parental warnings, in the world won’t stop bad things from happening.

…even when sites monitor for sexual predators and evict them, the predators often simply move to other social networks. In 2009, after Myspace said it had successfully removed 90,000 sex offenders from its site, more than 8,000 of them immediately popped up on Facebook.

Skout did have a number of security practices in place already: parental controls, an opt-in GPS feature that is only accurate to the half mile, and monitoring for “illicit behavior.”

It also uses machine-learning technology — which it calls “the creepinator” — to monitor photos for nudity and check chats for inappropriate sexual messages, profanity, spamming, copyright infringement and violent behavior. Mr. Wiklund said Skout removed “tens of thousands of devices a month” from the service.

Copyright infringement? To flirt with?

“Hey, good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’”*?

Although they’re not jumping app at this point, Andreessen Horowitz is keeping a gimlet eye on Skout.

“I thought we were doing a lot, but obviously we have to do better,” Mr. [Scott] Weiss [partner] said by phone on Tuesday. “This is a five-alarm fire. The entire company is re-evaluating everything it’s doing.”

Yes, and five-alarm fires do have a way of screwing up big pay-offs in $22M investments.

Meanwhile, I did feel compelled to check Skout out for my non-flirtatious self.

Skout connects you to other users nearby or continents away, in more than 100 countries, whether you're looking for new friends or activity partners.

Activity partners? Are we talking pals who can sleuth out possible copyright infringements together, or – let the squeamish avert their eyes: incoming f-bomb – are we talking about  fuck buddies here?

Life is short, you are busy and people are having fun without you right now. So start Skouting and find your party, anytime, anywhere.

Trust me, at my age, I well know that life is too short. And, yes, I’m quite sure that people are having fun without me right now. Some of them are no doubt people I’d actually like to be having fun with.

But I don’t know…

Aren’t there enough ways – both actual and virtual -  to find activity partners and/or your party already, without adding another?  How many more social networks do we need out there? And, gee, what’s so different about this one?

Guess I’m just an unimaginative old cranky crank. (Oh, my aching demographic.)

And Skout is probably one of the “better ones.” At least they state, flat out in boldface:

Sex with an underage person is rape.

It does not matter if that person lied about their age. It's rape and you will go to prison.

And they did close down their teen site, which is likely giving Facebook pause in their quest to get more youngsters FB’d up.

Skout also asks the Big Question:

Is Skout going to save the planet?

And they answer it for themselves:

Probably not.

What I wonder about all this energy and capital that’s going into products and services that not only don’t save the planet but, arguably, will end up making it worse.

I know, I know, there’s no stopping any of this – at least not until we get more biometrics and drones in place.

Still, I’d feel better about the planet if a few more of the best and brightest, the most entrepreneurial and creative, the most young and energetic, were more interested in saving the planet than making money and getting laid. (But I guess some things never change.)


*Copyright Hank Williams, 1951.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Death Wish (See Pittsburgh and Die)

Now that we know what they are, who among us doesn’t have a bucket list?

Mine is write a novel, see Venice, and see Pittsburgh.

See Pittsburgh, you might ask?

For some reason, Pittsburgh has factored in a recurring dream in which I’m on a bridge at the confluence of the Ohio, Monongahela, and Alleghany Rivers. So I’ve always kind of felt I should get there and check things out, all of which has been reinforced by my cousin Ellen’s mentioning that she and her husband were headed to Pittsburgh for a few days, and seeing a Property Virgins episode that took place there. (If I decide to stay there, I know you can get plenty of house for short money.)

So novel, Venice, and Pittsburgh are high on the list.

But, in truth, if I don’t write that novel, see Venice, or see Pittsburgh, I’ll probably live. Or die.

Yes, that’s it. I’ll do both.

Bucket lists are interesting, of course, as they get us thinking about the things that we might want to get to before we cross the final chasm. Personally, the things that I regret not doing are not ones that I can do much about at this point. No do-overs on the big ones, I’m afraid.

I like to think that if  I only had a few months to live, I’d forget the novel, forget Venice, and even forget Pittsburgh.

First, I’d get a second opinion.

Then, assuming I was well enough, I’d go to the google and try to learn just what to expect along the ghastly way.

Assuming that the second opinion were the same as the first, and that I could quickly assimilate what I learned on the google, I’d spend my remaining time with the people I love. When we weren’t together live and in person, and if I weren’t lying around morphed up on my death bed, I hope I’d be trying to figure out ways I could smooth out my untimely departure for them, lining up ways to take a bit of care of them after I’ve slipped away, and writing long, meaningful, humorous letters to them that they could read in the whenever. Maybe I’d sneak a trip to Ireland in; maybe I’d clean out my junk drawers.

I think it’s safe to say that one of the last things I’d do is join yet another social network:

…to make friendship with those unknown people from corners of the world with different ethnicity, culture, traditions, value systems, life style and much more but having only one thing in common and that is the ‘Last Wish’.

This is the premise behind My Last Wish, an app to unite those with the same last wish to “unite”:

…on the “Wish Wall” to share their last wish with the world and find out those people with similar wish as yours before you die, get connected to them and be friends forever.

Where ‘forever’ might not be all that long.

Naturally, the media is picking up on this as ‘death wish’, ‘wish for the dying,’ etc.

Well, never underestimate what might end up appealing to the Baby Boomers, but I don’t see the audience for this.

I would suspect that most of those who are staring death down are going to be thinking more along the same lines I believe I will be, rather than heading to the App Store to nab this app and see who else out there always wanted to see Machu Pichu, tell the Pope off, or jump out of a cake.

As the owner of a lame-o Blackberry, I couldn’t do it anyway. iOS only at this point, but if the app takes off, it’ll be on to Android.

(Something tells me that, while iPhone and iPad cross generations, Android users skew younger.)

And if this app isn’t going to take off with those who lay dying, I don’t see it having much appeal to the younger folks either.

Although you never know.

I suppose young people who have seen someone close to them die young might start thinking that they might actually be mortal, too. Still, I don’t see people in their twenties, thirties, or forties spending a lot of time thinking about what their ‘last wish’ might be. That time should be spent thinking about all the things you want to do over the course of a presumed long life, not that last thing on your list.

Come to think about it, isn’t that how we should all play it, no matter what our age is?

When my mother died at age 81, she had been volunteering three days a week, and had three trips planned.

She was going to Chicago for a family wedding; on a church bus trip to Cape May, NJ; and on a tour of Vienna and Prague.

She did have a last wish, of sorts, from her hospital bed. Since she wouldn’t be going to the wedding, she wanted to make sure that one of us sent $50 to my cousin Ellen’s daughter Kate as a wedding present.

Beyond that, I suspect my mother more or less got her last wish. She died surrounded by her children (well, 4 out of 5, anyway), and died with the belief that she would be reunited with my father.

No iOS app for that!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Making ‘an elegant exit’

For those who don’t follow Mad Men, it will not matter one way or another that, despite the fact that Don Draper had advised him to do so, Lane Pryce did not make a particularly ‘elegant exit’ from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Not unless you call hanging yourself in your office an ‘elegant exit.’ More ‘no exit,’ I’d say.

I, for one, will miss Lane, a not altogether likeable but a completely and utterly human, and fundamentally decent, character. (Okay, he shouldn’t have forged Don’s signature on the check, and taken that money, but I really do believe he meant to pay it back…)

Of course, I won’t miss Lane as much as I’ll miss barrier-breaking career gal Peggy, if her taking a job for big bucks – a cool $19K – at another firm means that she’s out of the picture. Say that isn’t so. Come to think of it, Peggy wasn’t able to make a particularly ‘elegant exit’, either. She gave her two week notice, but Don made her leave right away.

Most of the exits we make from jobs are nowhere near as dramatic as that of Lane. They tend to be much lower-key.When it’s a voluntary quit, most of us get a couple of weeks to hang around wrapping things up, trying not to gloat about the next best thing, and wondering who’ll give the toast at your farewell lunch. And most of us, like Peggy, leave quietly with the carton full of junk we’ve accumulated over the years.

The  most dramatic work departure I was ever involved in was the night my roommate and I quit our waitress jobs at Durgin-Park in the wake of Joyce having thrown a half-eaten strawberry shortcake at the owner. (I assure you he deserved it.) This incident involved a Keystone Kops scene in which the obese, insane, and half-in-the-bag owner chased Joyce around the restaurant, followed by me and a posse of other waitresses there to protect Joyce if The Boss caught her. It  also involved my having the presence of mind to go our tables and collect our tips on the way out the door. When we came in the next week to pick up our meager pay checks – I think we were making $1.15 an hour, the going wage for those who made tips – The Boss had his wife take down the names of everyone who spoke to us.

During my professional career, departures – whether voluntary or not - tended to be more muted, if not exactly serene.

One time, a techie who had worked for my company for no more than two days, decided to up and leave. On his way out the door, he sent out an e-mail blast attacking his new boss, the company, and our products. I have to say that, for someone who’d been on the job for such a short time, he had a pretty darned clear grasp on the realities. Still, we were shocked that he was so willing to dynamite this particular bridge.

A couple of times I was involved – once directly, once peripherally – in firings that I feared could turn into something not just unpleasant but perhaps dangerous.

In the direct one, a nitwit who reported to me had done something colossally nitwitted: during the go-go era – when warm bodies were in such demand – she was apprehended by someone in HR faxing a contact list of company employees to a recruiter. By the time that word got to my manager and me the next day, Ms. Nitwit had decided to call in sick. So I had to call her at home and fire her. We had her come in the next day – a Saturday – to pick up her stuff, and I had to be there with a security guard to watch her. She actually went more calmly than I had anticipated. Perhaps because she had already accepted the we’ll-hire-any-warm-body but far higher paying  job that I had advised her against taking. (She didn’t last there 6 months. Crazily, for a couple of years, whenever she got into some work trouble, which she did regularly, she would call me for guidance.)

The peripheral case involved a young woman with extreme mental health issues. I actually feared that she would do something violent (think fire-arms violent) to her manager. I relayed my fears to HR, our company president, and the woman’s manager, who all seemed to share them. (The woman had had some verbally violent outbursts; not to mention that, one time when her manager asked her how things were going, she grit her teeth and said fine, while clawing her fingernails the length of his office door, from lintel to threshold.) Fortunately, she went quietly. I don’t think her manager got much sleep that first night, however. She knew where he lived…

When I worked at Wang, one fellow – I knew him on sight – had a heart attack and died the day he was being laid off. Not as dramatic as hanging yourself, but right up there.

So here’s to the ‘elegant exit.’ May we all have one in us when we need it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kidnap preparedness and response–yet another charming growth business

One excellent thing about not being rich, not being prominent, not being a soldier in the Mideast, and not being someone who would ever act on the decidedly bad idea of setting sail in a skiff off the coast of Somalia, is that I am unlikely to ever find myself a kidnap victim.

Fortunately, for those who might find themselves in dire Straits of Hormuz, there are firms that specialize in the counter- and post-kidnap biz, and The Economist recently gave them a brief nod.

Their services are not for the feint of pocketbook. Fees start at a $3k per diem, which doesn’t sound all that steep until you consider that negotiations can drag on for quite a while.  Then there’s the ransom to bag up and deliver. (By the way, if you work for an NGO that’s active in kidnap-prone places, you’re probably SOL when it comes to a ransom: they believe that paying up just spreads the epidemic.)

I can certainly imagine more dreadful jobs – like recovering dead bodies that have been left a tad too long in the heat and humidity, but not long enough to go skeleton (on my mind because I just finished a Mary McGarry Morris novel where one such body factored in) – but working on kidnappings is right up there. Perhaps because I’m lazy and superficial, and because I don’t have a soldier of fortune bone in my body, I like my work to involve at least a wee small modicum of fun and yucks, and a lot less stress. (One thing to worry about the details of a product launch; quite another to make sure the suitcase full of unmarked currency was dropped in the right place.)

The job of kidnap responder would, of course, not be without its satisfactions. Recovering a victim has to be satisfying. But recovery a victim’s body, less so. And if you think you have some miserable colleagues, just think of the denizens of this murky and violent world. We’re not exactly talking The Ransom of Red Chief here. (Do kids even read this corn-pone O. Henry story anymore? You know, the one about the hapless kidnappers who nab a spoiled brat and end up paying his father to take him back. Kidnapping sure was more better fun a hundred years ago.)

Naturally, The Economist article piqued my interest in the companies that provide kidnap management services. One such firm is Terra Firma Risk Management, which in plummy British understatement positions its services thus:

However well prepared and risk-aware a client might be, a kidnap will always come as a very unwelcome surprise.

“Unwelcome surprise.” As we say in the good old U S of A: no shit, Sherlock.

Those responsible for managing the kidnap will find themselves faced with a number of daunting and time-consuming challenges.

I get that it would be daunting, but would those having to deal with the kidnapping actually think of it as a time-consuming, with the implicit notion of time-consuming drag? I suppose if it were your CEO and he was a colossal pain in the butt, and you had to deal with his kidnapping on top of all your other regular, every day tasks, I guess that you might consider it a time-consuming drag. It might get in the way of your work-life balance to have to add fretting about your boss (even if you liked him or her) sitting around some squalid room with a bag over his head. And where would managing the kidnapping crisis fall in your list of objectives? Would it impact your bonus? Me, if I were writing the web copy for Terra Firma I think I’d swap out time-consuming and swap in lengthy.

Whether lengthy or time consuming, I really don’t think that this would be much of a factor in deciding to seek outside help. How many people – other than those working for risk management firms, or with 30 years experience with the kidnapping detail at the FBI - actually have the knowledge and skills to do this sort of work to being with?

These include dealing with the kidnappers themselves, as well as third parties such as home and foreign government agencies and the media.

I don’t imagine that those faced with responding to a kidnap have to do much of a job convincing someone that outsourcing is the way to go.

The victim’s family or victims’ families must also be protected and cared for, and normal commercial and family life carried on as much as possible.

Well, I can see “normal commercial life” carrying on, but, other than for babes in arms, I can’t see that, except on the scrimmiest of surfaces, that much “normal family life” is going to be happening when a spouse, parent, son, daughter, et al. has been kidnapped. (I had a Latin American classmate in grad school whose father, a wealthy businessman, had been kidnapped, and not much “normal family life” – other than going through the motions – occurred while his father was held.) Over time, I suppose, you can get used to anything, and the all consuming “what’s happening to him now” worries must eventually turn into partially consuming “what’s happening to him now” worries.

Anyway, I’m sold on outsourcing. As long as an enterprise or a family has the wherewithal to pay.

And speaking of paying. The Economist mentioned (without naming names) that some kidnap response firms charge their clients a percentage of the ransom. Of course, no firm would want to get the reputation for having overpaid for the return of dear old Mr. Big, but this practice does seem a tad morally hazardous to me.

Not that I plan on becoming a kidnapping victim any time soon. Not a status I ever expect to achieve or have thrust upon me.

Still, an interesting business to think about, along with all the others – like for profit-correctional facilities – are put in the position of rooting for bad things to happen.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Scene Tap: Remind me again where I can get a V mask.

Forget ‘if you build it, they will come,’ the real current mantra has to be ‘if it can be built, it will be built, no matter how unnecessary, no matter how detrimental to the long run good of society.’

This strikes me as the case with Scene Tap, yet another one of the invasion of the privacy snatchers that we really don’t need and we really shouldn’t want. Scene Tap is:

...a new smartphone application designed to let users know the gender makeup and average age of patrons at participating bars. (Source: SF Examiner.)

Why bother to stop in at a bar, when you can check out ahead of time what the M-F ratio is, and how old the crowd is skewing? I guess going on a voyage of discovery, sticking your head in and deciding whether a place is too noisy, too crowded, too young, too whatever is so yesterday. People have so much more important things to do with their time, like graze the app store for more nonsense to fuel their addiction to ‘always on’. (Tell me again why they call them smartphones?)

Scene Tap “wants the app to act as a simple scene barometer for bar hoppers, and as a marketing tool for the establishments to track demographics.” But it seems like just a matter of time before the ante gets upped. If won’t be enough to let you know the M-F ratio is trending in your direction, next thing you’ll want the ratio of hotties to no-so-hotties. Then it will be wanting to know the education and income data. And so on.

All part of a general, noxious, obnoxious trend.

Why shouldn’t the insurance company grocery cart tap your purchases to decide whether to write (fresh veggies and fruits) or not write (Cheez Doodles and Ben & Jerry’s) you a policy.

Why shoudn’t a potential employer tap your book list on Amazon or the library to figure out whether you’ve got what it takes to become one of theirs? Depending on the company, it could mean points off for your taste. (Most likely, the rejects would be those outsiders who’d stacked up pointy-headed non-fiction and literary fiction, rather than the “normal” download of a couple of beach reads and some self-help books.)

It makes you want to put on a V mask and pay cash for anything.

Of course, paying cash will end up being a subversive act. You’ll have to pay extra for the privilege and/or show some ID so that they can track what you bought even if you aren’t willing to debit or credit the purchase.

I don’t want to be picking on Scene Tap here. They’re just trying to turn a buck off their goal, which:

… to give you an entertaining and informative tool that helps you answer a common question, "What's it like at my favorite venues right now?"

I can honestly say that I have never uttered that common question, although there are plenty of Sunday evenings when either my husband or I have asked ‘wonder whether we can get into 75 [Chestnut] without a reservation?’ After which we do one or two extremely old-fashioned, old-fogey things: we call and ask how crowded it is, or we walk over and look in the window. Both work.

Then again, we’re not concerned with the age or gender mix. (One thing we very much like about our neighborhood go-to “venue” is that it’s a good mix of locals and not-locals, families with kids, young couples, girls-night-out-ers, middle aged folks, and really old geezers (i.e., a lot older than us). And we’re not going there to get lucky, either. Our idea of lucky is getting our favorite table, having the hostess comp us on dessert, and coming home with a doggy bag. (In many ways, life gets simpler as you get older.)

In truth, the end of privacy (and the end of pick-up bar kismet) is only part of it.

Who’s going to stop some mad scientist from ginning up a mermaid or a centaur in his lab?

I do not want to be around when we start finding Man-o-manatees crawling onto shore, looking for a hopping venue, and needing to know the humanoid vs. mixed species mix before they scoot on over.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Penguin for your birthday party, sire? Quintessentially.

If I had a do-over for my career, I’d want to be a writer for The Economist, and come up with headers and subheads like:

Jeeves and Woosterovich

Posh Britons have built a growing industry around the foreign nouveaux riches, smoothing their way to high society and shaping their tastes

That Woosterovich was a nod, of course, to the Russian petro-garchs that populate swaths of money-bag London these days. (Dim old Bertie Wooster would probably be somewhat amused; Jeeves would be decidedly aghast.)

Most of the outfits serving the newly-arrived rich are small and discreet, with one big exception. Quintessentially was founded in 2000 by Ben Elliot, the Duchess of Cornwall’s [Aside: that would be Camilla Parker-Bowles, by the way; I was hoping for Fergie] nephew. Its core business is a concierge service, which sorts out a wide range of problems from getting tickets to sold-out events to sourcing penguins for the birthday parties of hard-to-please children. There are now 32 sister businesses finding art, wine, staff and other necessities. For new members, Elite Level membership, a global service, starts at £12,000. Its headquarters are in a mansion in Portland Place. It has more than 1,500 employees and 60 offices worldwide.

I guess we can be thankful for any growth industry but I was, needless to say, a bit dumbstruck by that mention of sourcing penguins for birthday parties.

Having seen The March of the Penguins, I am completely aware that the lives of penguins in the wild are grim. We march, we march, we march, we march some more. We find food. Some of us become food. We march, we march, we march some more back to our baby penguins so they can slurp a krill or two out of our beaks. And those are the lucky baby penguins. The unlucky ones lost their mothers to the maws of a sea lion. Oh, and this isn’t a nice, clement weather hike either. It’s 40 below zero.

So maybe the penguins who get to put in guest appearances at the birthday parties of spoiled rich kids - who are no doubt every bit as nasty, brutish, and short as the lives of penguins in the wild – are better off than those who spend their childhoods standing around in the cold hoping that their old lady has a gob full of krill for them. Maybe the party penguins get fed canned tuna. Or caviar, even. Maybe they get to use the pool.

But something’s wrong here.

If penguins are going to be sourced out of the arctic, I would think that, on penguintarian grounds, they’d be better off in zoos or aquariums, where a keeper comes by with a regular bucket o’ lunch and they get to dip into a nice icy cold pool without having to worry about some kid cannonballing on their skull. And where they don’t have to worry about being hugged, squeezed, bowled over, pinched, or slapped around by a bunch of brats. It’s just a matter of time before some birthday penguin gets run over by Rollo the Rich Kid who’s “big” present is a $10,000 mini-Lamborghini. Vrooom.

But penguin sourcing is by no means all that Quintessentially has on offer:

…covering every facet of the luxury lifestyle market…

…capable of sourcing a wait-listed Birkin bag, securing a last minute table for two at Nobu, or even finding a set of lost keys 1200ft up a snow-capped mountain, each individual has been handpicked according to their expert knowledge and their belief in Quintessentially.

Those Birkin bags can run you up to $150K, by the way, and that’s before factoring in the Quintessential fee. But the large ones are, I believe, capable of holding an adelie penguin, if not an emperor, if one were asked to source both a Birkin bag and a penguin. When money is not object, you never know what might come up. As I said, Jeeves would absolutely be aghast.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Sorry, but your job just got unsourced. (I’m doing it for free…)

Many years ago, when I was working for a small software company, the president decided that it would be a good idea for everyone to take their turn manning the customer support line. This initiative – code name: variously, Operation Employee Torture – Operation Customer Torture – didn’t last very long. But we each got to take a few turns in the barrel before we gave up that particular ghost. The product was too brutally difficult to use – beware of any software billed as “industrial strength” – and our customers too needy. Fortunately, we didn’t have that many of them, so we went back to our old way of doing support: have the IT guy take the support calls, and drag in a techie or a sales engineer when he needed help. It worked, mostly because most customers were pretty much unable to use the product unless a techie or a sales engineer was sitting next to them, guiding there hands around the keyboard. Shelf-ware doesn’t actually require all that much support…

But my brief stint as a technical support rep reminded me why it was that I didn’t really like support. And that was that the people on the other end of the line weren’t calling because things were going swimmingly. They were calling because they were drowning, and they wanted someone who could jump in, right then and there, and save them. Not someone who would make hopeful suggestions like ‘try the dog paddle,’ or dispense useless advice like ‘don’t swallow water’ and ‘hang on.’

Nowadays, I am a technical support consumer, not a technical support (ahem) provider. And, like the people who called in to Softbridge for help using the Automated Test Facility, when I call in for help I’m typically at wits’ end and want to solve my problem NOW.  No matter how annoying they are – or how difficult to understand – I try not to take it out on the support rep. But I do take it out on the phone when I’m on hold. Many support centers actually record what you’re saying when you’re on hold to analyze the length of time and other conditions it takes for a customer to reach the boiling point. I know a few techies who work in speech recognition. Just hope no one recognizes my voice howling curses at an inanimate object - vox clamantis in deserto that is familiar to anyone who’s been lost in hold-hell.

In recent years, the first course, of course, has been to look to the Internet for an answer before picking up the phone. This can be done through the vendors’ online self-help systems but, in truth, it’s often faster and easier to just google your problem and find your answer on one of the many free helpful-Hannah tech answer sites there are out there.

This generally beats combing through FAQ’s or doing a back and forth with a robotic IM system. (Can’t remember where I most recently encountered one of those, but it was pretty bad.)

Anyway, software vendors, consumer electronics, and telecoms have been catching on to all this big time, and are increasingly relying on their customers to provide support for free. A few years ago it was “Citizen Marketers”, now, I guess it’s “Citizen Technical Support Reps.”  There’s even a new name for it:  unsourcing.

"Unsourcing", as the new trend has been dubbed, involves companies setting up online communities to enable peer-to-peer support among users. Instead of speaking with a faceless person thousands of miles away, customers' problems are answered by individuals in the same country who have bought and used the same products. This happens either on the company's own website or on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and the helpers are generally not paid anything for their efforts.

No more clipped Indian voice telling you his name is Brian and asking how he can help you. There’s now someone out there who can undercut whatever price they’re charging in India or the Philippines.

Zero cost really does trump low cost, and:

Gartner, the research company, estimates that using communities to solve support issues can reduce costs by up to 50%. When TomTom, a maker of satellite-navigation systems, switched on social support, members handled 20,000 cases in its first two weeks and saved it around $150,000. Best Buy, an American gadget retailer, values its 600,000 users at $5m annually.

Response time can go down dramatically, too. GiffGaff, a British mobile outfit which actually pays its cadre of citizen support reps with reductions in their monthly phone bills:

…says the average response time for questions is just three minutes, day or night, with 95% of queries being answered within an hour.

This will only work in so many industries -  sure, I’ll look at what people have to say, but I really don’t want to take my health care advice from Citizen Doctor Wannabes. And if you’re having a real problem with anything to do with billing, or your financial and personal data being compromised, you may find information about your problem, but there’s probably nothing that any amateur can do that’s actually going to solve the problem for you.

Anyway, interesting to think that if Danny Boyle makes Slum Dog Millionaires #2, he may have to come up with a different back drop than a Mumbai call center…

Source: The Economist.