Monday, April 30, 2012

Garbage In, Garbage Out

In the land of long ago and far away, there wasn’t quite so much trash as there is now. This was the quaint land of my youth.

Even by the frugal standards of my childhood as the offspring of Depression-groomed parents - with the added bonus of having grown up fatherless (my father) or the child of immigrants (my mother) – were the waste not, want not type.

For starters, nothing got junked until it was deemed irreparable by a repairman, and, believe me, they weren’t in the business of declaring something irreparable until it was.

The concept of built in obsolescence just did not exist. The television set would pretty much have to explode before it was replaced.

Tossing something perfectly good out for the new model? Hah!

When I was in high school and got my license, I remember making any number of trips to the guy on Cambridge Street who fixed nothing but irons, and who also sold an iron caddy of his own invention.

While appliances were an obvious arena where things have changed, frugality did not stop there.

My mother recycled wrapping paper, a practice I, too, carried on until I gave a friend her birthday present wrapped in the paper she’d given me my present in a few months earlier. After that, I concluded that gift wrap was but a minor waste.

My mother also recycled Christmas cards into gift tags, and, needless to say, bows were reused until they were completely and utterly bedraggled.

And don’t get me going on hand-me-downs.

Forget kids being brand conscious. Plenty of my hand-me-downs came from a cousin who was 9 years older, so the styles were completely out of date.

Craftv was a good word to describe my mother. Crisco cans, cleaned out and painted up, made good button boxes – very cute when you glued buttons on them, by the way.  If you think there’s not much you can do with a tuna can, think again. Trim them with clothespins and paint the shebang up and you’ve got yourself a planter. Sort of. Obviously, you couldn’t put anything with deep roots in it, but you could certainly use it to hold plastic ivy.

In general, people in the olden days just didn’t produce as much trash. A) We didn’t have as much stuff to begin with; B) Things didn’t come over-packaged, boxed within all this Styrofoam and plastic. We didn’t have bottled water, and we didn’t take doggie bags home in throw away faux Tupperware. (If you went out to dinner, which you didn’t, left overs came home wrapped in tin foil.)  And although we didn’t call it recycling, we recycled.

Sure, we burned trash in our backyard – my favorite chore, by the way: in winter, I’d wrap myself in one of my father’s old Navy blankets and warm myself over the fire, pretending I was a World War II DP. But newspapers and magazines were saved up for Boy Scout paper drives.

There may have been rag drives, as well, but rags were mostly saved for cleaning. Handi-wipes? Paper towels? You must be kidding. (I will say that I was fortunate to have missed the era that gave the term ‘on the rag’ it’s literal meaning.)

As for newspapers, you did reserve some to bundle your garbage – egg shells, banana peels, coffee grounds – into. Once bundled, you tied the garbage up with a string and placed it in your garbage can. None of this bulging Hefty Bag nonsense. (My least favorite chore was garbage related. If flies got into your garbage, which they inevitably did come summer, you had to use the hose and bleach to get rid of the maggots.)

You could bring your bottles and cans to the dump, or you could pay the “can man” to take them away. Our “can man”, Archie L., also ran an antique shop of sorts, which was more or less a junk shop with a sign that said “antiques” on it. What Archie did with the cans and bottles, I haven’t a clue. But our family of seven probably disposed of fewer cans and bottles in the course of a month than a much smaller household of today does. (After all, those tuna and Crisco cans had other uses.)

If we produce nothing else, today’s Americans produce trash, about seven pounds a day, which annually, across the population, accumulates to:

  • 19 billion pounds of polystyrene peanuts
  • 40 billion plastic knives, forks and spoons
  • 28 billion pounds of food
  • Enough steel to level and restore Manhattan

Stunningly:

  • Trash has become America's leading export: mountains of waste paper, soiled cardboard, crushed beer cans and junked electronics. China's No. 1 export to the U.S. is computers, according the Journal of Commerce. The United States' No. 1 export to China, by number of cargo containers, is scrap.

More stunningly:

  • American communities on average spend more money on waste management than on fire protection, parks and recreation, libraries or schoolbooks, according to U.S. Census data on municipal budgets.

Michael Speiser operates a bulldozer at the Puente Hills Landfill in LA, which in 60 years has grown to 500 feet high.

"More people should see what I see here…Everything that's advertised on TV ends up [here] sooner or later, and a lot sooner that most people think."

The good news is that the methane given off by the decomposing garbage is being powering 70,000 homes. The bad news is that these are homes where the junk advertised on TV is presumably bought and discarded.

And so it goes.

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Data/excerpt source: Wall Street Journal.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hard to believe there’s no demand for a Chester Alan Arthur $1 coin

Maybe it’s just my abysmal lack of knowledge about – and hence appreciation for – who they were and what they accomplished, but it does strike me that (excepting Ulysses S. Grant) the presidents between Lincoln and McKinley were a stunning bunch of non-entities.

Andrew Johnson. Rutherford B. Hayes. (The B., apparently, to distinguish him from all the other Rutherford Hayes’s out there.) Chester Alan Arthur. Grover Cleveland. Benjamin Harrison. And, just in case you didn’t get enough of him the first time around, Grover Cleveland yet again.

In truth, I can go months, perhaps even years, without giving any thought to this parade o’ presidents, but an article in USA Today (which I picked up on a recent flight: don’t want anyone thinking I actually bought it) on the presidential $1 coins brought them to mind.

That’s because the Chester Alan Arthur dollar – hereafter referred to as The Chet -  has just been released, and, according to the plan, the Benjamin Harrison and Grover Clevelands (he gets two) will also come out this year.

None of them, alas, will be going into general circulation, denying us the pleasure of sifting through our change buckets and coming up with a presidential coin and trying to figure out the difference between John Tyler and Zachary Taylor. (Or is it John Taylor and Zachary Tyler?) Not to mention trying to figure out whether it’s a fake and/or a quarter. As happened the other day, when I came across a tarnished Susan B. Anthony that had somehow gotten tossed in with our Euro change.

No, the government has taken an austerity measure here, and:

…has suspended production of the [presidential] coins for mass circulation after the government racked up a $1.4 billion surplus of dollar coins.

"Nobody wants these things, and if they don't want them, we shouldn't keep making them," Vice President Biden said last December.

No more oversupply meeting under demand.

Apparently, banks had been ordering presidential coins in large volume because the Mint had been eating the shipping and handling costs during introductory periods. Banks figured, what the hell, placed their orders, and then shipped the ones they didn’t use back to the Federal Reserve.

Another thing that got excess president coins minted was the Mint’s backfired plan to bulk-ship presidential coins at face value, and with zero shipping costs, to individuals. But individual consumers, apparently, weren’t exactly interested in spending the little critters:

The Mint abandoned the program after discovering that some customers were ordering the coins on their credit cards to earn free airline miles, only to turn around and deposit them in bulk at a bank.

Whether if was frequent flyer addicts or the banks themselves, those $1 coins never ended up circulating:

Reports from the Federal Reserve to Congress show the central bank knew of the impending backlog as early as 2010. They estimated that 40% of dollar coins were returned by banks, prompting the Fed to propose building a $650,000 storage vault in Dallas and spend $3 million on armored cars to take the coins there.

Storage vault? Are they going to be worth something someday? Can’t we just melt them down, or do they have to stay in circulation? If they get melted down, does it throw the IS/LM curve out of kilter? Oh, if I only remembered anything about macro-economics.

Anyway, starting with The Chet, anyone who wants a presidential coin will have to pay $1.70 to get one.

I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who are collecting the whole set. In fact, if they were actually in wide circulation, collecting them might have been the kind of thing I could have gotten sucked into.

When my nieces were little, I got them going on the state quarters which, in truth, proved to be of greater interest to me than it was to them. And when I drove cross-country a billion years ago, I loved license plate spotting. (And, yes, I did get all 50 when I spotted a Hawaii, the tricky one, in a mall parking lot in California.)

But, as collecting goes, I much prefer the happenstance approach of being on the lookout for the ones missing than just order them up. That’s no fun! (To me, anyway.)

Meanwhile, the government keeps debating whether to get rid of dollar bills altogether and push us to use coins instead, a move that would save a lot of money, since coins don’t wear out like bills do.

While I will admit that the Susan B. Anthony (and maybe even the president coins; don’t know, as I haven’t see any) looks an awful lot like a quarter, it does seem that other places have managed to get rid of small denomination bills.

For one, there are no Euro dollar or two-dollar bills, you use coins, instead. And, yes, you do have to look if you’re not familiar with them, but the one does look different than the two, so there.

Before they went on the Euro, Ireland had a one punt coin that was distinguished by the fact that it weighed a ton.

But we can’t even seem to phase out the nigh unto worthless and useless penny, so I’m sure that getting rid of the dollar bill will prove to be extremely problematic.

Interests backing the dollar bill — including paper and ink manufacturers, armored car companies and George Washington aficionados — have recently escalated their lobbying campaigns to fend off the coin.

Well, I’m sure those George Washington aficionados could be swayed if the Mint promised to produce a preponderance of GW’s, say in 100:1 ratio to the collective amount coined for all those 19th century non-entities. Paper and ink manufacturers and armored car companies might present a bigger problem.

But mostly what’s in the way is the lack of acceptance of the dollar coins that have been tried, all those Franklin Pierces, James Buchanans, and Millard Fillmores. All those James K. Polks.

Maybe the Mint should forget about obscure, forgotten and forgettable presidents, and start using pop culture figures, instead. They’d have to tread carefully here, of course. The Kardashians may not stand the test of time. But Mickey Mouse and Elvis? Might be worth a try.

Meanwhile, if you want a Chet, it’ll cost you a cool $1.70.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

No second acts? Apparently Fitzgerald had not anticipated John Devaney.

I’ve never been sure whether F. Scott Fitzgerald was being serious when he wrote that “there are no second acts in American lives.” After all, it was just a note for the manuscript of the novel – The Last Tycoon - he was working on when he died. He didn’t really say it officially. Maybe he was in his cups when he wrote it.

Anyway, while acknowledging the sad truth that some of us don’t even get first acts, if there’s one place on the face of the earth where it’s possible to cram in a second act, third act, curtain call, and entirely new show, it’s the good old U.S. of A.

While the public instances of second acts are numerous – remember that the Richard Nixon that we weren’t going o have to kick around any more went on to become president – there are also plenty of lesser-knowns who stage a comeback.

One such character, hedge fundie John Devaney, was introduced to us in a recent WSJ article.

Actually, let’s make that re-introduced, as those who followed the path of the economy’s meltdown will recognized Devaney’s footprints:

Time magazine ranked Mr. Devaney in 2009 one of the "25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis." (In an online version of the list, he was No. 18, just ahead of Ponzi-scheme mastermind Bernard L. Madoff.)

While Devaney got a ration of the blame for the crisis – his $650M fund, which specialized in sub-prime mortgage instruments, went to zero: ill luck for his investors – he didn’t get out of it scot free. He personally lost $100M, and had to do a bit of downsizing, shucking:

… a $36 million jet, $10 million helicopter, $45 million art collection and $22 million yacht called "Positive Carry," named for an investment strategy that rakes in easy money.

He also, sniff, sniff, gave up a Renoir, but I have an idea for him here. You can piece together an arty puzzle from a museum and spray some gluey stuff over it to make a poster. If you hang it in a room with dim enough lighting, no one will know the difference. I did this once with a couple of puzzles that were Harper’s covers from the 1920’s or 1930’s, and they came out really cool. (You can find the instructions here.)

All, of course, was not lost. Devaney managed to hang on to a cool $125M; a 16,000 square-foot manse in the Bahamas; and the 125-foot (lesser) yacht that he uses to commute from his Key West offices to spend quality time with the fam in the Bahamas. (Turning that Renoir puzzle into wall art might be a neat family project.)

Devaney is only 41, so it’s actually a good thing that he got a second act. (Come to think of it, Bernie Madoff got a second act, too. Only his is behind bars.)

But it does sound like Devaney’s second act might be a Groundhog Day replica of the first.

His United Capital Markets business “is booming, especially for subprime mortgage bonds.”

In Devaney’s words:

"My niche is trading very complex and extremely illiquid stuff."

Hmmmmm.

Wouldn’t you think twice before investing with a guy who’s prior fund went to zero, and who’s still tinkering with the same instruments that brought the fund and, oh yeah, the economy to its knees. (What’s a little collateral damage among friends.) And that “extremely illiquid” would sure give me some pause. Just my luck as an investor that that extreme illiquidity would kick in just when I needed a drink.

Here’s Devaney, again, in the halcyon Act One days before his fund turned into one 100% illiquid puddle:

"The consumer has to be an idiot to take one of those loans, but it has been one of our best-performing investments," he said in a 2007 interview with Money magazine, referring to option adjustable-rate mortgages with tiny initial payments that soon skyrocketed.

Couldn’t agree more, but might it also hold that the investor has to be a bit of an idiot to throw in with Devaney once again?

Ah, well, no risk, no reward I guess, but what’s different this time around?

Well, one thing different is that in Act Two, Devaney’s no longer a workaholic. Sure, he’s in Florida during the week, but he gest to kick-back in the Bahamas on weekends. In the bad old days:

"Work was my life, and then this whole crisis happened," he says. "It was a blessing in disguise, because I know 10 billionaires, and every single one of them is divorced."

We’ll have to take Devaney’s word for it that work was his life.

The article mentions that he’s up in the wee hours to play in bond auctions.  If he’s still up working at 3 a.m. as “one of the biggest market makers in the world for certain types of debt,” what did he run before when work was his life? 24/7?

Maybe it’s just me, but Act Two still sounds like a re-run.

Caveat investor and, hey, I hope there are enough regulations in place this time around to keep the economy from re-toppling if Act Two comes a-cropper.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tacocopter? Star Simpson may be on to something.

A few months back, the Huffington Post had an article on Tacocopter, a Silicon Valley “start up” that will deliver tacos via drone.

Indeed, the concept behind Tacocopter is very simple, and very American: You order tacos on your smartphone and also beam in your GPS location information. Your order -- and your location -- are transmitted to an unmanned drone helicopter (grounded, near the kitchen where the tacos are made), and the tacocopter is then sent out with your food to find you and deliver your tacos to wherever you're standing.

You pay online, so the tacos are simply dropped off at your feet by the drone helicopter, which then flies back to the restaurant to pick up its next order.

Taco Bell and Old El Paso have, as yet, nothing to fear.

[Co-founder Star] Simpson told HuffPost that because of the FAA's regulations -- as well as other minor problems, like navigating the treacherous terrain of an urban environment, keeping the food warm, finding a city map precise enough to avoid crashes 100 percent of the time, avoiding birds, balconies and telephone wires, delivering food to people indoors, delivering food to the right person, dealing with greedy humans who would just steal the Tacocopter as soon as it got to them, etc. -- the Tacocopter website exists more as a conversation starter about the future of food delivery (and delivery in general), as well as about the commercial uses of unmanned vehicles, than an actual startup plan or business

Indeed, TacoCopter appears to be nothing more than a web page, with a nod to the East Coast with a reference to  LobsterCopter.

The name Star Simpson was familiar to me, and I realized that I had blogged about her when she pulled an undergraduate MIT prank by showing up at Logan Airport (and getting arrested) while wearing a sweatshirt that looked like a bomb. She wanted to stand out on MIT’s Career Day, which, indeed, she did.

Boring, prude-y, old-school scold that I am – or was: that post was a not-so-cool 4.5 years ago – I thought that there would be prospective employers who looked askance at this little bit of performance art. There may have been, but Star is not all that interested in taking the boring, corporate career route. She is apparently a brilliant, entrepreneurial Geek Girl who’s the electrical engineer at work creating:

Canidu, an "electronics learning play set" for young children interested in electrical engineering.

Which sounds like a great idea, and a far more beneficial and useful major than, say, basket weave.

…Star originally developed Canidu as a research project in the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.

Lifelong Kindergarten. Sigh! If only…

Anyway, I wish nothing but great success for Canidu, and I hope that Star becomes a super-star.

As for Tacocopter, I’m sure that Star and her co-founders are on to something. It will just be a matter of time before drones or some other form of robotic delivery service replaces the reckless drivers from Domino’s or the guy on the Upper Crust bicycle. Yet another low-skill, no barrier to entry job of the sort that everyone should have while they’re young. As low-skill jobs go, however, this has got to be one of the more dangerous ones, so it won’t be the end of the world if it winds up being completely automated. And anything that can be completely automated will be completely automated. Leaving us with one of the central questions of the 21st century: what are average (let alone below average) people going to do for work?

Tacocopter may have gotten the thumbs down from the FAA, but, as I learned from the WSJ the other day,

With little public attention, dozens of universities and law-enforcDRONE_SUBement agencies have been given approval by federal aviation regulators to use unmanned aircraft known as drones, according to documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests by an advocacy group.

I glanced through the list, and was relieved to note that New England is pretty much a drone-free zone. At least for now. But the police departments in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and Ogden, Utah, have been given the okay to do drone surveillance.

There is really next to nothing that can be done to stop, or even slow down, the march of technology.

Still, I’d just as soon not live in a world where drones have the potential to watch my every move. Yikes! This was a scary enough prospect when I believed that God could do it. But the Massachusetts State Police? Maybe I should start designing my tin-foil beanie now.

But before we know it, drones will no doubt everywhere, and the National Drone Association will be reminding us that “if drones are outlawed, only outlaws will have drones.”

Lord help us!

Personally, I’d rather that drones were used to deliver tacos or lobsters.

And speaking of lobsters, the incremental loss of privacy – hey, who cares if Google knows I searched for Star Simpson – reminds me of the story about the lobster in the pot of cold water. By the time it realizes it’s going to be boiled, it’s too late…

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Academi? What’s in a name…

Admittedly, Pink Slip has never been all that fond of Blackwater, the “private military” company, other than as blog fodder.

So I don’t know how I missed the story over the winter that the company formerly known as Blackwater, and more recently called Xe Services( a.k.a., the company formerly known as Blackwater), is now called Academi.

(What was I doing on December 12th that was so all-fired important that I missed the article in the WSJ that noted that the new CEO, Ted Wright, wanted to develop an image for the company that is “boring.”)

I guess that original rebranding as Xe, which comes from the chemical Xenon, and sounds kind of outer space-y and futuristic,  didn’t do enough to create a degree of separation from the Blackwater name, which had gotten to be synonymous with shooting up civilians in Iraq and such places.

So, in just a few years they’ve gone from Blackwater – think murky, scary, poisonous snakes – to Xe – think Superman’s uncle from Krypton – to Academi. Which conjures up images of Plato hanging around with Aristotle thinking great thoughts and asking the big questions, questions like what does the average Greco-Roman wear under his toga? And, in their lighter, non-philosophical moments, trading jokes. (Did you hear the one with the punchline “Euripedes, Eumenides.”?)

Academi?

Sorry, Ted Wright, it’s not boring. Xe (pronounced Zee) Services was boring. Academi is just plain weird and sounds just too think-tanky for a company that’s a lot more do-tanky. Even their logo is book-ish, or at least Kindle page-ish:

It seems like a more appropriate rebrand for Kaplan.

Yes, I know that they do training, but that’s only part of their, ahem, mission.

ACADEMI operates across the security spectrum: ASSESS, TRAIN and PROTECT.

Specifically, we specialize in:

  • Training and support for domestic and international clients
  • Personnel and facility security services
  • Mission support and staff augmentation
  • Risk management and security services consulting
  • Stability support, crisis response and forward base operations
  • Training for civilians, law enforcement and military personnel

A bit more “men of action” than the name Academi implies, no?

The tab for the page where they talk about their instructors reads “Faculty”, members of which are drawn from:

  • U.S. Navy SEALs
  • U.S. Army Special Forces
  • U.S. Army Rangers
  • U.S. Marine Corps
  • Canadian Special Forces
  • SWAT Teams

Take that, you effete posh-degree, ivory tower, ivy-covered walled-in  intellectuals worrying about what angle to pitch your velvet PhD cap for the upcoming academic procession. And take this, too:

Ninety-five percent of all ACADEMI employees are former military or law enforcement.

Publish or perish? Well, at least they’ve got part of it down. And who’s to say that academic regalia can’t come in camo. Why, just the other day in Rome, I saw a tee-shirt that said “Camo is the new black” on it.

Meanwhile, for those who are a bit nostalgia for the old Blackwater, some enterprising lads have opened up shop as Blackwater USA, from whence they peddle Blackwater gear:

Now Blackwater is a global brand that stands for everything Blackwater stood for: excellence, reliability and unfailing commitment to duty and service.

Over the next few months watch for a series of tactical hard, soft and electronic goods designed by the people who have been there and done that. Products, gear, events and ideas that honor your way of life.

Well, I don’t think they’re exactly talking about honoring my way of life here. I am so much more the boring old academy type. Or at least I was before Academi decided to adopt the brand.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A pineapple (without sleeves) walks into a classroom…

A few years ago, The Boston Globe published an excerpt from the MCAS, those Massachusetts standardized tests that are supposed to help guarantee that no child is left behind, etc. As far as I can tell, test results “reveal” what we already know: schools in well-to-do areas do well; schools in poor areas fare poorly.

There are, no doubt, plenty of things wrong with today’s public schools. There’s also no doubt – at least in mind – that imposing pressure on students to perform well on standardized tests, and spending way too much time ‘teaching to the test,’ doesn’t help fix much of what’s wrong.

When I think about what’s wrong, one thing I always go back to is the experience of a friend of mine who has volunteered for many years in the public schools in a large New England city. One of the things she’s done is assess whether incoming kindergartners from poor backgrounds will be ready to learn to read by first grade.

Forget recognizing letters and words.

M has tested kids who, when presented with a book, do not know how to handle it, do not know how it works.

Part of her assessment involves showing the kids flash cards and asking them to identify the pictures on them.

Here are some of the objects her kids have flunked identifying:

Apple. Umbrella. Lamb.

This all suggests a paucity of experience and attention that is almost unfathomable.

Not knowing that you can turn the page of a book? Not having the word for an umbrella?

This means you’re coming from a world where no one reads, no one tries to help their children understand what’s in the world around them, and no one even bothers to turn on Sesame Street.

This, I suspect, is a lot of what the problem is in poor, inner city schools today: a lot of the kids come from such terribly deprived and impoverished (not necessarily materially, but definitely experientially) backgrounds that they have little chance of catching up to kids who cut their teeth gumming board books like Runaway Bunny

How standardized tests help with this problem, I don’t know.

But I digress.

When I read through the sample MCAS questions, I was stymied on a few of them.

Given how well I had done on the standardized tests of my youth, I was somewhat surprised by this.

But I kept rereading some of the questions, and found that, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what was being asked without going through the answers one by one and trying to rationalize the question based on the list of possible answers.

No wonder so many kids don’t do well on these tests.

Anyway, as a result of my earlier graze through the MCAS, I wasn’t all that surprised by a recent article in The New York Times on a controversial reading selection in New York’s current standardized reading tests for eighth graders.

The passage is a whimsical, nonsense retelling of the tortoise and the hare. Only in this case, the tortoise is a pineapple.

The pineapple challenges that hare to run a marathon, and the hares fellow creatures figure that the pineapple must have something up his sleeve, so they root for the pineapple to win. Only the pineapple doesn’t even bother to run. So the hare wins, the pineapple gets eaten, and the moral of the story is revealed: Pineapples don’t have sleeves.

This story reminds me of a bet my husband often makes with kids:

Race you to the corner for a dollar.

After the kid takes off, Jim ambles on at his own pace.  When the winner comes looking for his dollar, Jim points out that he’s the one who’s owed a buck. After all, he didn’t say he was going to win. Just that he was willing to race to the corner for a dollar.

Anyway, after having the test-takers read this nonsense tale, the questions are all serious: why did the animals eat the pineapple, what does having a trick up your sleeve mean, etc. There was no question that asked whether the story was supposed to be silly or not, which would have cued the kids that it was nonsense, and no doubt alleviated some of their anxieties about how to answer.

Because what happens when the kids read the passage is that a lot of them are thrown off because the story was so nonsensical. And so they began psyching themselves out on the answers:

…Kate Scheuer, [a] student, said the jokiness of the story made her nervous. “I thought I was getting it wrong,” she said. “I was second-guessing myself because it’s so ridiculous.”

Deborah Maier, an educator who’s not a big fan of this sort of testing:

…said the pineapple passage was “an outrageous example of what’s true of most of the items on any test, it’s just blown up larger.”

…Even very intelligent children, she said, can sometimes overthink an answer and get it wrong.

A more legitimate question for a nonsense fable, she said, would have been something like, “Is this a spoof? Is it intended to make sense?”

I like to think that, even as an eighth grader, I would have been able to answer the questions “correctly” and figured out right away that the story in itself was a take off on an Aesop fable.

But when I was in eighth grade, the stakes weren’t all that high. We hadn’t been prepping all year to take standardized tests, beyond all that rote learning and mental arithmetic. Our school wasn’t going to be condemned if a lot of kids flunked it. (Which is not to say that our school shouldn’t have been condemned for plenty of other reasons.) And our academic futures weren’t going to depend on whether we “got” a moral that pointed out that pineapples don’t have sleeves.

There are plenty of other pressures that today’s kids face that we never had to, largely around the uncertainty about our country’s place in a world that technology is rendering far more fluid and borderless than the one we all grew up in.

Sure, today’s kids are skilled users of all sorts of nifty technology. But it’s not just about being able to txt and run iPhone apps that’ll hold you in good stead. To succeed in this world, they’ll need to know how to think more critically, process through (and evaluate) far more information, act more entrepreneurially, adapt to more rapid change, and develop superb technical, computational, and communications skills.

Pineapple sleeves or not, do standardized tests really help with any of that?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Arrivederci, Roma

Today we bid arrivederci to Roma.

Farewell, people who walk too darned slow on narrow sidewalks. It’s not just the gawking tourists. The Italians seem to walk at a pretty slow pace, as well. For aggressive American walkers, it’s annoying – especially given the width of the sidewalks in “our area”, and the danger of stepping off those sidewalks and into the chaotic streets if you want to pass a slowpoke. I told my nieces that they will definitely enjoy the walking rate in Ireland, where we have long referred to it as “the rush to nowhere.” Of course, in Italy, the weather is often quite nice; why not take your time. And, of course, in Ireland, the weather is often quite terrible; why not rush, even if it’s to nowhere.

Farewell, people who drive too darned fast on narrow streets. While the walking is slow, the cars seem to be driven at Montecarlo Grand Prix speeds, and the ubiquitous motor cycles gun around as if they’re in a motocross rally. Thus, if you step toe off the narrow sidewalk, you risk limb if not life. It may be that it just seems that the motor vehicles are going fast because the streets are narrow and the cars small. Still, given the languid pace employed by the average pedestrian, the average speed taken by the average motorist is really something.

Farewell, bad television. I know, I know, we’re supposed to be throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain, not hanging around watching TV. But after 6 hours on the narrow, too-slow sidewalks, and the narrow, too-fast streets, we’re tired and want to veg out a bit. TV is excellent for vegging out, but our apartment gets Italian channels, only. Which means we’ve seen endless talking head historians yacking about Count Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in-law.  Dubbed re-runs of The Jeffersons.  And home shopping shows, all of which seem to specialize in bras or face cream made out of snail mucus.

Farewell, primi piatti e secondi piatti. And having to explain that, if two of us are having primi piatti (i.e., pasta) while the other two are having secondi piatti (i.e., meat or fish), we’d like it all served together. Which we forgot to mention the other night, which really elongated the meal. I’m also getting just a tiny bit tired of a steady diet of Italian food. In general, the food has been pretty good. But in truth most of the menus that we’ve come across have been pretty much variations on a theme. Perhaps this is because we are in heavily touristed areas, where the restaurants know they have a sure-fire crowd-pleaser with caprese  anything. Right about now, I could go for something else. While we didn’t go out of our way to look for non-Italian food, we didn’t pass many non-Italian restaurants in our travels – maybe a couple of Chinese and one sushi place. It may have been our location, but  most major European cities I’ve spent time in seem to have more variety – Indian, Middle Eastern, etc. We have, however, seen a couple of Irish pubs (but did not go in).

Farewell, senza glutine. Surprisingly, there are a lot of celiac sufferers in Italy, and the restaurants have been very accommodating of my husband’s need to have non-gluten foods – more so than some places in The States, that’s for sure. But, although we had printed out some gluten free information (from an Italian celiac site), there have been a few times when we haven’t been 100% certain that we’ve been able to get the issue across. Again, this is not unlike back home. Given our lack of Italian, however, it has made things just a bit more perilous, eating-wise. The good news is that it is possible to get gluten-free foods in grocery stores and pharmacies. All Italian children are tested for gluten intolerance, and if you have celiac, special food comes under medical care. Thus the availability of gluten-free food in drugstores. We were able to find some tasty crackers, but gluten must be the glue that holds crackers together, because these sure crumbled when Jim tried to spread a little Nutella (gluten free!) on them.

Great trip. Glad it’s over.

Arrivederci, Roma.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lost in Translation

As is the case with the majority of restaurants in the tourist areas of large European cities, the menus in Rome come in English, as well as the languages of other countries that supply tourists in large numbers. On this trip, we’ve seen our first menus in Russian. (Oligarchs gotta eat, too.)

Sometimes we don’t quite get the menu translations – the other night we ate in a restaurant that offered spaghetti on a guitar, which was how they translated spaghetti made with a chitarra pasta cutter – but mostly you can parse out what’s what. (This menu translation is a nicety not generally found in the US, that’s for sure, where it’s pretty much sink or swim with respect to getting around in English.)

Anyway, the other evening, on the recommendation of a friend, we had looked in at Nino’s, which is a couple of blocks from where we’re staying. We didn’t have reservations, so couldn’t get in, but put it on our “possible” list.

I went online to see if we could book a reservation, and clicked on Bing translation:

Nino at via Borgognona, always full, a little noisy, boil the beans in the entrance fiasco, the wood-panelled, ultra efficient waiters race, some prominent character, a table of the incredulous and excited, Japanese steak, red wines.

Well, talk about everything I love in the dining out experience, starting with “always full, a little noisy.”

I have been hungering for a place where they “boil the beans in the entrance fiasco”, if only for the little frisson when the boiling beans turn into a fiasco, as boiling beans have been known to do.

The boiling bean fiasco is, perhaps, why the waiters are “wood-panelled”. Boiling beans could cut right through polyester black pants, but, with wood paneling, it takes a while to soak in. I would think, however, that might be difficult for the “ultra efficient” waiters to “race” while encased in wood panels. So it’s no wonder that those tables full of Japanese steaks are “incredulous and excited.” I would be, too, if I got to watch wood-paneled waiters racing – likely to escape that fiasco of boiling beans.

The restaurant is said alone, was opened in the 1930s by Nino and Mario Guarnacci, patron, which brought together with local dishes all the sympathy of Tuscany.

This is a relief. If there’s going to be a boiling bean fiasco, I’ll take mine with Tuscan sympathy.

Among the specialities impossible not to try the ribollita, bistecca alla fiorentina, beans to the fiasco, the spinach pie with chicken livers and marriage.

I had figured that “beans to the fiasco” would be one of the specialties”, but, oh, that “spinach pie with chicken livers and marriage.”

I’m not a huge fan of liver, but I do like spinach pie, and I’m intrigued by the notion of it coming with marriage. That would, indeed, be impossible not to try. (The Google translation gets this one as “flan with spinach and liver chestnut,” which, while equally incomprehensible, is not nearly as intriguing as “spinach pie with chicken livers and marriage.”)

Discover the Menu!

Gladly!

Bookings are recommended.

I’ll say!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Vaticano

Well, I took the “advice” and booked our tickets for the Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel online, leaving us only with the burden of figuring out where and how to use the pre-booked tickets vs. the drag of waiting in a two hour line.

I had hoped that this would be a quiet week in Rome, after the recent Easter Week crowds, but the city is aswarm with tourists: Mob scene at the Pantheon (Beware of Pickpockets!). Mob scene at the Spanish Steps (no warning signs, but: Beware of Pickpockets!). Mob scene at Giolitti, where, frankly, the gelato didn’t quite meet the expectations set by the hype and the long lines. We decided that Giolitti is the Mike’s Pastry of Rome. (I would estimate that about 2/3’s of the tourists you see on the streets of the Italian North End of Boston are carrying string-tied blue and white Mike’s boxes full of cannoli. Personally, I prefer Paradiso or Caffe Vittoria.)

As it turned out, while the Sistine Chapel was pretty crowded, there were no lines, and we would have been able to breeze in, even without an online ticket.

The big excitement at the Capella Sistina was the guy who was busted for taking a picture, with a flash yet. The guards – who’d been hanging around in languid pose – jumped into action the nano-second the flash went off. And that tourist was gone…

They did not, fortunately, detect my niece sneaking a non-flash picture from her within her pocketbook.

I will also note that The Church strikes me as third only to major league sports and Disney in their ability to move the merchandise. Everywhere you turned in the Vatican Museum, you could buy something souvenir-ish and generally in decent taste – no bobble-head JP II, here.

The long lines, as it turned out, were waiting to get into St. Peter’s Basilica.

Only two security bays were open, and we had to wait about 45 minutes to get in.

My line triumph was thwarting a trio of younger-than-I (late 40’s, my estimate) Italian priests who were somewhat aggressively and obnoxiously trying to end -run the line.

I let the first guy push ahead of us as we turned a corner, but I tied with the second one. He magnanimously gestured that I should move ahead of him, and I magnanimously gestured that he should go first. Which he did. I then put a body block on number three, however, so that he would really have had to push me out of his way to get through.

Truly, it saved us about 15 seconds, but I was pretty steamed that these guys were so blithely certain that they had the divine right to push their way in, shoving people out of their way who’d been waiting longer.

Now, if the Vatican wants to run a special line for nuns and priests, I’m all for it. They work for the company, perk of the job, etc.

But if they’re just part of the great unwashed like the rest of of us…And if you’re younger than I am…. (I would not have body blocked a geezer priest.) Tough ya!

St. Peter’s was, of course, well worth the wait.

What a tribute to man’s ability to build. Amazing that, in the fifteen-hundreds, the Church was able to erect such a magnificent structure.

As cathedrals go, I lean more towards the gothic, and prefer gray stone and a rose window to the haute Renaissance gold and marble. Still…

I was disappointed that there did not appear to bee any place to light a candle. (Sorry, Ma!) At least they didn’t have the awful electric “candles”. I accept no substitutes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Flea Market

We arrived in Rome on Sunday morning, and immediately headed to the apartment we’d rented.

Alas, it was still in the process of being cleaned for us, so we were out on the streets – fortunately, without our bags – for a couple of hours.

And fortunately, after a bit of a meander around and about the Spanish Steps, we founded a perfectly nice restaurant and had a perfectly nice lunch. In truth, I think we settled on this restaurant because it was one of the few places in this heavily touristic area – especially crowded on a spring Sunday – where there was not a maitre d’ or waiter out front barking. What a turnoff? Truly, does this ever work as a means to lure someone in? To me, a complete and utter turn-off.

Back at the apartment, we all took brief but reviving naps before heading out once again.

On this walk, which took us to the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, we passed through an outdoor market specializing in tourist-ready kitsch.

If you’re looking for your 2013 Pope Benedict calendar, the Pope John Paul II bobble-head, or an apron designed to look like a Roman centurion with a bare chest (quite ripped), I know where you can get them.

As we browsed the stands, I noticed something that I will say shocked me: a number of them were selling kitchen magnets and/or posters of Benito Mussolini.

Huh?

What would be the U.S. equivalent here?

KKK paraphernalia, perhaps?

There are no doubt some venues in our country where that kind of stuff would be for sale, but it sure wouldn’t be in the public market, in a major tourist area.

Mussolini.

Okay, as totalitarian dictators go, he was nowhere near in the same league as Hitler, Stalin, or Kim Jong-Il. More of the tin-pot dictator variety. But he kept some pretty bad company (c.f., Hitler, Tojo), and ran a pretty repressive regime for a pretty impressive length of time.

Anyway, I wouldn’t imagine hope that there are many takers for trinkets like Mussolini fridge magnets (with a choice of several poses, including one where he’s giving the fascist salute). Unless there’s some sort of sentimental feeling about fascism emerging, which probably wouldn’t be all that surprising given the economy. Not that we’re seeing black shirts in the street, but you never know what might be brewing. After all, Benito put food on the table and got the trains to run on time. (Or not.)

Still and all, odd to see Mussolini souvenirs for sale.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ciao!

Well, assuming that all went well on the flight over, by the time you’re reading this I’ll be in sunny showery Italy.

If the wi-fi in the apartment we rented comes through, I will be posting this week about our Roman holiday.

If not, Pink Slip will return next Monday.

First off, this is a great week to be out of Boston, when the “small h” hoopla that attends every running of the August Boston Marathon will be compounded by the relentless capital H-O-O-P-L-A HOOPLA surrounding the 100th anniversary of what we are relentlessly told is America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.

While I’m sure that the folks of Wrigley-ville, and maybe even the Bronx, might give us an argument here, Fenway Park is generally beloved by The True Baseball Fans of Boston. So what if I just paid nearly $400 for six seats in the right-field grandstands without reading the fine print, only to discover that all six seats have obstructed views that will prevent us from seeing the pitcher and/or catcher?

No pitcher? No catcher? No break on the price?

What of it?

I’ve had obstructed views before, and the roars of the crowd will tell us everything we need to know.

Perhaps by August it will be more groans and boos than roars and Sweet Caroline, if our boyos of summer continue the the disappointing play that rendered last season a disaster of Titanic proportions.  And even if by game time the Red Sox are 50 games out of first, we’ll be in America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, resisting the urge to buy a 100th Anniversary of Fenway commemorative tee-shirt from one of the many souvenir stands available, not one of which are obstructed from view.

In any case, the Red Sox dismal start to this season may take some of the zest out of this week’s HOOPLA.

Still, I won’t be sorry to have missed it.

Plus, we’ll be in Rome, which we last visited 14 years ago. So it’s time.

This time, we have our nieces in tow, and – showery weather and all – it’s always interesting to revisit a place you’ve been a few times and see it at least partially through the eyes of those who are beholding it for the first time.

We have rented an apartment near the Spanish Steps, so we’ll be in the heart of things, and the girls will have a lot of opportunities for window shopping. I hope there’s a break in the weather, so we can sit out in a cafĂ©  - girls at a separate table pretending that they’re on their own.

Other than tickets to the Sistine Chapel, we have no concrete plans.

Of course, the best thing to do in Rome is just wander around and stumble across things. Like a Bernini Fountain. Or the Pantheon. Or the ghastly monument to Victor Emmanuel. (Okay, even in Rome it’s all not good.)

As long as we don’t get winged by a Vespa while we’re gawping at all the cool stuff…

We found our apartment on line, from the same place we arranged for places in Galway (2011) and Paris (2010). There’s an interesting and telling bit surrounding this rental. We had paid the initial deposit through Pay Pal, but were asked to pay the remainder in cash so that the apartment owner could avoid paying taxes.

Now if this had been a request made in the US, I would have insisted on paying through Pay Pal, rather than aid and abet a weaseling scofflaw. Ah, when in Roma… We just shrugged.

But is it any wonder that their economy is falling apart? Italy is in by no means the worst shape of the PIIGS, but if it tumbles and takes down the rest of the world with it, I guess we’ll be partially to blame.

Ciao for now.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The men in the Harland & Wolff Guarantee Group. Sometimes the lucky ones come in second.

This coming weekend, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is being observed.

Amazing the grip that this saga continues to hold on us, isn’t it?

A few years after the Titanic, the Lusitania sank, and an awful lot of folks were lost there. But in 1915, there was a war on.

Plus the Titanic got the Hollywood treatment, so we all know about the Jacks and the Roses, Nearer My God to Thee, the Unsinkable Molly Brown. And, of course, it was a maiden voyage. The grandest ocean liner ever. And, of course, with the Titanic, there was no U2 torpedoing it. Just a big old iceberg lying in wait.

Then there are those expeditions to plumb the depths and take an eerie look at the Titanic’s remains. Is there anything comparable for the Lusitania?

A little google comparison says it all: 3.7 million results for the Lusitania; 184 million for the Titanic.

In any case, the Titanic remains endlessly fascinating, and I’m as endlessly fascinated as the next guy.

One thing that I hadn’t known about it was that Harland & Wolff, the Belfast shipyard that built the Titanic, awarded a select group of employees who’d worked on it a berth on the maiden voyage. They did this for every new ship they launched, so that each shake down cruise would have on board a group of troubleshooters who knew the ship intimately. Getting selected for the Guarantee Group was a complete honor, a career-maker.

The prospect of a place on the Guarantee Group was a powerful incentive to work hard and make a good impression with the bosses. Being selected to the Guarantee Group represented Harland & Wolff’s confidence in you as an employee and was a reward for doing a good job. Only the best employees would make the grade and make the voyage. (Source: ITV)

I’m quite sure that Harland & Wolff was no easy-peasy place to work. The powers that be were no doubt class bound, paternalistic, anti anything that smacked of workers organizing. Maybe you had to be a politico, a suck up, to get tapped for the Guarantee Group. Still, I’m sure it was quite a coup.

The Titanic Guarantee Group was headed up by Thomas Andrews, a managing director of Harland & Wolff and the architect of the Titanic. Andrews, of course, got to travel first class, as did two of the others in the group. Robert Chisholm, the first draughtsman, and Henry Parr, the first electrician, got to go first, as well.

In first, they had a relatively good chance of survival. One-third of the men in first class survived, vs. an overall male passenger survival rate of 18%. It’s not clear how Chisholm and Parr met their end, but Andrews is reported to have helped move a lot of passengers into lifeboats, and tossed a lot of deck chairs to those bobbing in the waters, after which he retired to the first class smoking room and waited things out.

Most of the Guarantee Group went second class. They were fitters, plumbers, electricians, mostly young men, including a 15 years old apprentice electrician, Ennis Hastings Watson.

Forget the tacky plaque, the boring trophy. Can you imagine how exciting it must have been for a 15 year old apprentice electrician to be chosen to make this voyage?

Talk about the world as your oyster.

Sure, it was a busman’s holiday, but still…

And the bonus at the other end: New York City, baby.

In second class, however, the odds of survival as a male (even if you weren’t trying to right the ship while it went down) were pretty grim: 8%. Even the fellows in steerage fared better: 13% of them survived – a testimony to their toughness maybe? (Whatever class you traveled, you had a boatload better chance of survival if you were female or a child. They really did mean women and children first, bless them. Although it was pretty much first class women and children first; second class women and children second; and steerage class women and children a far third.)

The ship having been built in Belfast, there is, not surprisingly, a Taig (Catholic) – Prod (Protestant) story.

Harland & Wolff had a reputation for not hiring Catholics. In that, they weren’t alone among industries in the north of Ireland, before and after the country’s partition in the 1920’s.

Anyway, from the names of the Guarantee Group members, they “sound” Protestant. Now, having a Protestant sounding name sounds pretty dumb, but when you think about it... Take a name like Rogers, which doesn’t sound all that Irish. If you lived in Belfast, and your name were Sean or Patrick Rogers, folks would assume you were a Catholic. If you were named Kenneth or Reginald Rogers, well… Whether they were, indeed, all Protestants, for the Titanic Guarantee Group:

Originally a group of nine was planned but in the end just eight of the 14,000 shipworkers were onboard. Liam Flaherty, a Catholic shipwright and joiner, had a place on the Guarantee Group but in the end he didn’t go because his father, a fellow shipworker, was beaten up by some of the Protestant workers at Harland & Wolff and told not to return to his job. The attack saved Liam’s life.

Just as winning a place among the chosen unsaved the lives of the other members of the Guarantee Group.

So here’s a toast to the Guarantee Group.

Other than Thomas Andrews, it’s not known whether they died trying to save lives, or guarantee the Titanic. But I like the idea that they died with their work boots on: keeping the joints joined, manning the boilers, and, in the case of young Ennis Hastings Watson, trying to keep the lights on.

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It’s not a great article, but the first reference I saw to the Guarantee Group was on Business Week. Info on the members of the Group came from one of the many Titanic sites out there. This one was Titanic-Titanic.  Survivor demographics came from an Ithaca College site.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Life imitating “art”

Over the long Easter weekend, I did a long dog-sitting stint for my dog-nephew Jack, and ended up with a lot of TV watching time on my hands. Which I spent catching up on “reality TV” shows, mostly the ridiculous Say Yes to the Dress, and the always interesting and often informative whatever’s on HGTV, with all its house hunting, home reno, decoration, an house inspection dramas. I tend to watch a fair amount of HGTV, anyway. But, what can I tell you, for a black Lab, Jack has an incredibly keen interest in Say Yes to the Dress.

Say Yes to the Dress is on the TLC network. TLC used to stand for “The Learning Channel,” but that was in the way back. Nowadays, the “T” stands firmly for “Trash” – trash like Toddlers and Tiaras, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Jon & Kate Plus 8, and The Duggars (19 kids and counting). Sometimes I do so enjoy me a complete and other trash-fest.

Like Law and Order, Say Yes to the Dress is a franchise. The original one takes place in New York, and there are spin-offs for Atlanta, for plus-sized brides, and for bridesmaids.

The ones I saw last weekend were Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta.

In the handful of episodes I watched, there was a parade of mostly nice middle class black and white (almost all blonde) sorority girls dithering over selecting the perfect dress. They dithered in the company of their posses, crews that included mothers, mothers-in-laws to be, sisters, cousins, aunts, nieces, BFF’s, bridal party members, gay-boy friends with good taste, brothers, fathers, and a passel of other significant and insignificant others. Sometimes the bridegroom-to-be was on hand.

Some of the brides admitted to having tried on 150-200 different wedding dresses, in search of the “perfect” one.

How could this be, I thought?

Surely, it’s not normal, or a sign of reasonable mental health, to run through 200 dresses before finding Dress Right.

I’m quite sure that none of these lovelies ran through 150-200 boyfriends before getting those little Mr. Right butterflies. So, if you can find your prince without having to kiss 200 frog, surely it stands to reason that you could find a beautiful dress that looks good on you, and is in your price range, without having to try on 200. And drag your running-short-on-patience posse with you.

And no wonder the posse members run short on patience. Matters not whether they give thumbs up on a dress.

If the bride-to-be doesn’t get that “special feeling”, the dress – no matter how gorgeous – is a no-go.

Where did this need to have a dress-gasm come from?

I suspect it stems from watching the first season of Say Yes to the Dress, and saw the first episode in which a young woman saw herself in the mirror and announced to the camera that the earth had moved.

Since then,the bride-to-be – at least if she’s willing to expose her dress hunt on one of these shows – feels like she’s being shortchanged, or not making the bestest dress decision ever in the whole wide world, if she doesn’t get that certain feeling.

This is similar to the Mafia speak phenomenon.

My understanding is that it was only after The Godfather that American Mafiosi started talking like goombahs. Now there’s not a film or show about organized crime, Italian style, in which fluent Mafia New York-ese isn’t spoken. In fact, the argot and speech patterns seem to have been adopted by some non-Mafia Italian Americans, as well. Witness the crowd on Jersey Shore. And, presumably, in the new TLC offering – can’t wait for this one – Mama’s Boys of the Bronx.

I haven’t seen any of it, but I suspect that the way folks behave on those Housewives of… shows owes as much to Desperate Housewives as it does to anything grounded in reality.

Even the reasonably real reality shows – like the ones on HGTV, in which, for the most part, truly normal people look for truly normal places to live and try to make truly normal changes to them – seems to have created a cadre of house hunters who do not seem to believe that it’s okay to live in a place without walk-in closets, stainless appliances, and double sinks in the master bathroom.

Now, as someone with the world’s squinchiest closets, I can understand wanting a walk-in closet. And I like the look of stainless as much as the next guy. But in many of these house hunters, what’s on their wish-list seems like a manufactured desire – manufactured by their having watched all these HGTV shows and coming to the realization that, if they don’t have these items on their list, they’ll look unsophisticated, ignorant, inexperienced.

I saw one show in which a couple with a baby, living in one room in her mother’s basement, and with only $150K to spend on a condo (in California, no less), were turning up their noses at a place with a perfectly working 30 year old stove.

Forget life imitating art. We’ve got life imitating reality shows, which aren’t imitative of reality or life.

Oy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Not so epic fails

A few weeks back, “Schumpeter”, a columnist for The Economist, had a piece on business flops.

I was, of course, disappointed that none of the flops I was involved with made the list.

But how can the petty-ante failures I was associated with dare to compare with Disney’s Ashtar-esque fiasco, John Carter? Or McDonald’s attempt to enter the luxury burger market, or Colgate’s foray into TV dinners – neither of which I had even heard of. (Colgate? TV dinner? Gasp. Gag. Gasp.)

Of course, as Schumpeter pointed out:

Flops are part of business life.

He then ticks off the three no-fail ways to have a business failure:

First: slaughter a sacred cow.

Example here: Coke’s introducing New Coke – and having to back off almost immediately.

Second: mix oil and water.

Witness McDonald and Arch Deluxe. And those Colgate frozen dinners. (Wonder if they came with a disposable toothbrush cum toothpaste. In its own little slot between the green beans almandine and the apple crisp.)

Third: produce a genuinely awful product.

Think exploding Pintos. The Yugo. And – I believe somewhat unfairly – Microsoft’s Vista, which I actually didn’t think was half bad.

Schumpeter goes on to note that:

…the surest way to guarantee failure in the long term is to be so paralysed [sic: this is a Brit publication] by the fear of it that you don’t try anything new.

But I think that he missed at least one sure-fire failure guarantee.

The one that seemed to recur throughout my career was pricing your product in a way that’s completely out of whack with the value that the product provides. The decision to take this approach is understandable. Business 101 will tell you that your company won’t last if, at some point in its life, it can’t start covering its costs. Now, it may take a good long time for a company with a poor price/value ratio to end, but I can guarantee that it will happen. There are only so many sugar daddy investors who are going to keep your coffers filled with walking around money without eventually smartening up and inquiring when you’re actually going to start, umm, turning a profit. And if you have terribly priced products, you won’t.

I worked for one small software company that lived off sugar daddies for a good long while. When our investors at long last made their polite, cough-cough, inquiry about when were were going to start paying him back, our CEO told a friend of mine that they “were trying to screw us.” I suppose that that’s one way to look at it… No surprise here that this company specialized in over-priced products and services. We had one market-priced product which did quite well. Naturally, we decided to ignore it – except for grabbing the cash it did throw off to subsidize development of the high-priced offerings that were going to make us rich.

These weren’t colossally awful products. They just cost too much.

And the problem with having products that have a skewed price/value ratio is not that you won’t sell any of them.

The problem is that you will sell just enough to convince yourself that there’s a market. And, having convinced a handful of customers to spend big on your whatever, you’ll go broke (and out of business) trying to find enough of them to keep you going. Putting more pressure on you to raise your prices to cover your costs. A very neat way to enter the death cycle, I can tell you.

Been there, done that. Been there, done that. Been there, done that.

Now I understand – having seen it with my very own eyes – that a higher price can confer value on a product. And I put that value at 10-15%, maybe 20% if you’re lucky. But if your “pricing premium” is anything beyond that, eventually buyers will realize that they can get what they want and need for a lot less.

A variation on this theme, of course, is the product that does too much, which, in my day, was a frequent situation in the tech world. Let the engineers put in whatever bells and whistles they could think of, without anyone figuring out whether customers were really interested. And, of course, because you’ve got so many more bells and whistles, you’re going to charge more…

Been there, done that. Been there, done that. Been there, done that.

Anyway, the failures that I was associated with were never quite as epic as the Yugo, the Pinto, the Edsel.

But they were epic enough for us, and are the reason that I’m so sure that your business ain’t never going to succeed with products that are priced to cover your costs, without making sure that those prices also cover the product’s value.

Oh, well.

Live and (sometimes) learn.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bayer Aspirin for a backache? Who knew?

It’s either one of the dumbest ads on TV, or one of the smartest.

But I have to say that the ad in which the guy on the airplane asks the flight attendant  whether she has something he can take for a backache, “like Excedrin”, is as grabbing as any pain reliever ad I’ve seen in a while. Probably since the “Mother, please, I’d rather it do it myself” Anacin ad from, oh, 50 years back.

In the ad that’s caught my eye, the Asian-appearing stew hands the guy a Bayer Aspirin, and he explains in an exaggerated speaking to a foreigner voice, accompanied by pantomime, that he’s not having a heart attack, he has a backache.

It seems that, thanks to the no-fun folks at Bayer, who apparently don’t want bloggers making fun of them, the ad has been copyright-struck from YouTube. I also take it from other commentary around and about that this ad has been running for at least a year now, but I’ve only seen it over the last couple of weeks, so it’s new to me.

To summarize the plot:

A whiney American businessman on a long haul flight buzzes for help. The Asian flight attendant appears and (oddly) addresses the patient  passenger in a language other than English. (The actress is Korean, so let’s say she’s speaking to him in Korean.) He asks for something for a backache, and she hands him Bayer, which freaks him out. After all, he’s got a backache, not heart failure. Switching to perfect, unaccented English, the stew explains that Bayer will do just fine.

First off, to get the commentary on the general-purpose goofiness of the ad out of the way:

Is it at all believable that a flight attendant on an international flight would address an obviously non-Asian passenger in an Asian tongue? 

I will say that, on Lufthansa, I have been addressed in German, but I figure that this is because I look German. (I’ve also been addressed in German in Prague, where I have also been addressed in Czech. No one makes any such assumption about my pretty darned Irish-looking husband. English only, with Jim!)

But, while I haven’t ever flown to Asia, I’m a guessing that on such a flight, the attendants would also speak the language of the originating/destination country. Of course, I may be way wrong here, but, having flown Air France, Lufthansa, KLM, and Alitalia, I do know that the attendants who fly to-from the US do speak English. Don’t know whether folks flying on a US carrier from overseas would be able to make the assumption that an American flight attendant would be bi-lingual.

Of course, the notion that an airline flying to the US would accommodate us ugly, English-only Americans might be a twentieth century assumption. Maybe these days, the Asian airlines want to give us a bit of a dig about the American Century being so yesterday. Or yestercentury.

Given that the stew spoke to him in a “foreign language”, I guess you can’t blame the whiney American that he would launch into his pantomime. Especially given the stress he’s under. After all, he might be dying of a heart attack. No, wait a minute. He’s not having a heart attack. He’s having back pain.

Language difficulties aside, what is most perplexing about this ad is that there’d be someone the age of the whiney American who wouldn’t realize that aspirin is a pain reliever.

Has Excedrin done such a good job convincing us that Excedrin = pain reliever? And/or has Bayer done such a good job in getting everyone over a certain age to take a baby-aspiring equivalent daily to ward off heart problems that they know longer know that Bayer = pain reliever?

I suspect that Bayer did some surveying/focus-grouping and found that a lot of folks didn’t know that aspirin is a general purpose pain reliever. But where did they find the folks to survey/focus group that didn’t know this? Who aren’t aware that aspirin is the Swiss Army Knife of OTC drugs? Even though if you chomp down too many, you may end up with a bleeding stomach.

Apparently, one of the folks who didn’t know about the miracle drug that is aspirin was the whiney American on the Asian-airline flight to wherever.

Anyway, this ad, as ridiculous as it is, is obviously quite effective at reminding people that, when they have a backache – or some other ache and pain that’s not a heart attack – they can take an aspirin. A Bayer aspirin.

I will say I did learn one thing as a result of this ad. I checked out whether you should, in fact, take an aspirin if you were having a heart attack. In fact, you should.

I did not know that.

Now, indirectly thanks to the whiney American and the Asian stewardess, I do.

Consider this a Pink Slip Public Service Announcement.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Metric-Shmetric

A month or so ago, The Numbers Guy at The Wall Street Journal had a post about the U.S.’s so far pretty darned victorious  ‘don’t tread on me’ battle to resist the metrication of American measurement.

We somehow managed to thwart the initiative to convert to metric back in the 1970’s – hell, no, we won’t go! – and, as a result:

The U.S. is in a hybrid state, with science and much of industry and government working in metric units while most consumers and consumer goods aren't.

The Numbers Guy’s post focused on nutrition labeling, which is given in grams. Labels get around the fact that most Americans don’t have a clear notion of what a gram is by also showing what percent of the recommended dietary* allowance (RDA) of fat, sugar, vitamins, etc. are contained in a serving. But, for most of us, what’s in a gram?

We might have been better off if we’d bitten the .22 caliber – make that 5.5 mm – bullet way back then and have been done with it.

Instead, we continue to operate out personal lives in the English units we grew up with, even though the English have largely and officially gone metric. (I do bet you can still order a pint in a pub. I know you can in Ireland.)

There are certain metricky things that I do just fine with.  If I see a speed limit of 100 kmh posted on a European highway, I don’t get flipped out, as my mind can immediately compute this to roughly 60 mph. I get that a liter is roughly a quart. And that a kilogram is 2.2 pounds. Or thereabouts.

On that other hand, while it’s not exactly like I’m poring through cook books, I prefer to bake in cups of flour and teaspoons of baking powder.

And the one thing that always gives me pause is seeing temperature in degrees Celsius rather than degrees Fahrenheit.

I’ve certainly spent enough time in Europe to understand that 17 and sunny is sweater weather (low 60’s). And I’m good enough at mental arithmetic,  thanks to the nuns at Our Lady of the Angels Grammar School, to be able to convert from one to the other, using the formula °F =(9/5)°C+32. Still, I have no natural feel for Celsius.

There’s a (snotty) thermometer in downtown Boston that displays temperature in Celsius, and although I’ve trained myself not to look at it when I walk by, I occasionally do give it a glance. Just seeing that 10° makes me feel colder, even if it’s January and it represents a balmy, parka-open 50° in bona fide American temperature terms.

As Americans,  we’re naturallyskeptical about much of anything not-invented-here – having just read Baseball in the Garden of Eden, John Thorn’s fascinating book on the creation myth of “America’s pastime”, I know whereof I write. And then there’s the fact that it’s just too darned hard to unlarn sumpin’ and relarn sumpin’ else. But my sense is that one of the things underlying our resistance to metrication is that the metric system is singularly lacking in romance and poetry.

Metaphorically speaking, would you rather walk a mile in someone else’s shoes (or even for a Camel), or 1.6 kilometers?

On New Year’s Eve, do we want to “raise 240 milliliters of kindness for auld lang syne”? I think not.

It’s just not as pithy to tell someone that they don’t have 28 grams of sense as it is to tell them they don’t have an ounce of sense.

And what would become of the Great American Songbook?

“I’d walk a million miles, for one of your smiles, my Mammy.”

“If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone. You can hear the whistle blow, a hundred miles.”

“Five-foot two, eyes of blue, but owe what those five foot can do, has anybody seen my gal?”

I shudder to think what would happen in the translation. Let’s face it, metric just ain’t got the swing. No wonder we stuck with the measurement system that brung us.

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*Forget not knowing what a gram is. Until I just googled it, I thought RDA stood for recommended daily allowance, not dietary.

Friday, April 06, 2012

We the Peeple

It’s that time of year again.

Easter is nigh, and and the attention of we the peeple everywhere is riveted on Peeps.

Not that Peeps are just for Easter anymore.

They’re pretty much a multi-holiday fun food, with Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day versions. I’m not sure if they were purpose-made for the holiday, but I bought some bright green Peeps for St. Patrick’s Day.  I’m sure that at some point there’ll be Uncle Sam Fourth of July Peeps, back to school Peeps, and Thanksgiving Peeps (an obvious move, given that the original Peep bears more than a passing resemblance to a turkey).

I did say “fun food,” but are Peeps really a  food? I know they’re iconic. A cultural phenomenon. The product of a marketing empire that rivals that of major league sports, but with a sense of humor and perspective on their role in society. A huge money maker. And fun. But are they actually classified as food?  Certainly, a kabillion are sold each year, but how many are actually eaten? Other than by me. Nothing like channeling your inner Ozzy Osbourne and biting off the head of a fresh Peep of the chick variety. It does NOT work with bunny rabbits, jack-o-lanterns, or snowmen, and I’m sure I could prove it in a blind taste test.

Whether they’re food or not, what’s not to like about a product that makes this claim:

image

This is also the time of year when The Washington Post runs its Peep Show Diorama contest, now in it’s sixth year.

The winner this year, beating out a number of excellent entries, including some delightful Royal Wedding tableaus, was Occupeep DC, brilliantly rendered, right down to the rats nosing around the trash cans.

peeps036_1331304121

Since I’m heading to Rome on vacation next week, I was, of course, quite taken by Peepius Maximus.

I didn’t go through all the dioramas on The Post site, but I did go to the google and heard nary a peep about one topic I would have thought would have been irresistlbe. Is it possible that no one came up with a “corporations are peeple, too” diorama? Mitt Romney would be a natural for a Peep diorama.

Maybe next year, I’ll enter. That is, “we’ll” enter – I wouldn’t consider an effort of this magnitude without involving my sisters and nieces.

Meanwhile, Happy Easter, Happy Passover, and Happy Baseball Season.

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I so love the little fellows that, as long as there’s been a Pink Slip, there have been Peep Posts.

The photo of the “Occupeep DC” diorama came from the Washington Post.

“Peepius Maximus” is thanks to Allison, who blogs on CancerAndCandy.  When I first saw that combo I thought maybe it was a killjoy blog associating  cancer and candy. Fortunately, it’s not. Allison is a survivor of childhood cancer who now works at Sloan Kettering, and writes about what she knows. Hence, candy and cancer.

“On the Inside” came from Just Born, just one of many sites where you can satisfying your craving for information on Peeps, if not your desire to immediately bite off a head. Or two.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

“Sleeping with Your Smartphone”

In the film Play It Again, Sam, which I believe was released shortly after the introduction of talkies, there is an amusing sub-theme around the need to stay constantly in touch with work. Whenever he goes, the Tony Roberts character, a businessman who is a close friend of the Woody Allen character, feels compelled to call into his office and let them know where he can be reached. In 1972, such behavior branded someone as a self-important, work-obsessed jerk. What an a-hole, we all thought, rolling our eyes every time we saw Tony Roberts pick up the phone at hand to let his secretary know where he was. What’s so all-fired urgent, we all asked, that he can’t get away from work long enough to enjoy an evening out with friends?

Normal people didn’t behave like this. Doing so was just unimaginable. Work was work; free time was free time. Sure, you might occasionally stay late at the office, or go in on weekends. But the thought of your manager calling you at home? Unless it was a colossal emergency – of the office just burnt down magnitude – the idea was unfathomable.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and all of a sudden an awful lot of people in business were carrying cell phones – more like lugging: those early ones were the size of bricks – and all of a sudden everyone carrying a cell phone was reachable whenever, wherever. Unless the wherever you found yourself in was one of the blessedly many dead zones.

Not everyone got sucked in to the anytime/anywhere, always on work culture. At least not right away. For plenty of people, a cell phone was for use only when running late, stuck in traffic, in an authentic emergency situation.

But the expectation was growing that, if you were important enough Ior wanted to be seen as), if it was important enough (or hungered to be positioned as), you would be available.

When I worked at Genuity, I was the “launch captain” for a big service launch, and a month before launch day, I had a long-planned vacation scheduled, one that involved a lot of moving pieces and people. The launch team was meeting every day, but things were running pretty smoothly, and I had a backup who could run the daily meetings as well as I could. Plus this was marketing, not life and death.

At one point, the CMO announced that he expected all the “critical players” to cancel their vacation plans. Our mission was just too important to the company’s survival. (Har, har, hardy, har, har.)

I told him that I was sorry, but I did not intend to do any such thing.

Before I could get the words out of my mouth, a prime toady in the group jumped in to say that the CMO was right, and that he would be foregoing his vacation, even if it meant disappointing his poor little vacation-less kiddies. I have no idea whether this toad actually had any vacation to cancel, or was just exercising his constitutional right to suck up – this is in our Constitution, isn’t it? 

The CMO gave me a withering look and said that Mr. Toad was a true example of dedication and leadership.

I went on that vacation, but I did cave a tiny bit, and called into one of the five meetings I was missing. A total waste of my time, by the way. Nothing that important got said or decided in my absence that required my presence, thank you.

Life went on.

Personally, I’m more than content that the bulk of my career took place before the advent of the smartphone, which keeps so many folks 4G-tethered to work.

Not that I don’t check my e-mails nights and weekends, and I do tend to answer them, but my clients do not expect me to be at their beck and call. (Again, the beauty of marketing.)  After a completely ridiculous ranting e-mail that arrived one New Year’s Day, I  dropped the one client I had who expected real-time everything. (In that case, real-time everything was not the fundamental problem I had with her, just the poisonous icing on an exceedingly foul-tasting cake.)

In any case, I read a recent article on the topic of hyperconnectivity  in The EconomistSlaves to the Smartphone – with interest.

Sure, the article said, there are advantages to having a smart phone or tablet: greater flexibility, more effective use of spare time, etc.

But, oh, what a downside, in that your time is no longer your own. And whatever’s happening on that smartphone so addictively becomes more compelling than whatever’s happening in the here and now – and whoever we happen to be in the here and now with. Which can’t be good for what we used to call “interpersonal relationships.”

It’s not, fortunately, too late to regain your sanity.

Harvard Business School Professor Leslie Perlow has studied the smartphone addiction problem and is coming out with a book, Sleeping with Your Smartphone, that prescribes what organizations can do to hyper-down the hyperconnectivity. (And, by the way, that sleeping with your smartphone is not just a figure of speech. The survey that prompted Perlow’s research found that 26% of the professionals and managers polled about smartphone use admitted to sleeping with theirs. (Was it good for you, baby?))

Perlow didn’t just do her fieldwork with any old pedestrian, lackadaisical, run-of-the-mill company. She studied Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a hyper, highly-charged Type A organization if any. She found that:

…for most people the only way to break the 24/7 habit is to act collectively rather than individually.

In other words, it doesn’t do you much good to turn off your smartphone if a) it will drive your boss nuts and he’ll keep leaving messages of escalating urgency for you (even if the urgency is largely faux), or b) your colleague in the next cubicle down is more than happy to jump out of bed and answer the call when the iPhone under the pillow starts vibrating.

Perlow got BCG to implement “predictable time off”(PTO), one night a week when employees knew they could give their kids a bath, play handball, take their spouse to an undivided attention dinner, or sleep with something or someone other than their smartphone, without worrying about being summoned by an e-mailed or texted call of duty.

The experiment apparently worked. Those who did the PTO thing reported improved productivity and morale.

But what a testimony to the world of work that something we used to pretty much take for granted has to be deliberately scheduled in.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Goodness: it’s just not its own award

Having grown up well prior to the self esteem era, and in an era when the organized sports options for girls were limited, I didn’t collect any trophies. I did win awards for things-academic, but they tended to be books and religious paraphernalia. Not stuff with laurels, athletic equipment, and engraving on them.

My father, a superb athlete, passed his superb athlete days well, well prior to the self esteem era. So he had no trophies to show for his gridiron and diamond feats.

He did, however, have a trophy that he won in a golf tournament, which had a golfer in mid-swing on it. A nifty feature of the trophy was that the golf club was removable, and as kids, we naturally liked to remove it. The club, I believe, disappeared. The trophy may have, as well. In any event, it’s not in my possession.

My brothers, who both played sports, collected some trophies, but they were for being on winning teams, and not just for showing up. Tom won a “Gung Ho!” award from his high school for his efforts on the soccer field.

But I, alas, was trophy less.

In the work world, I did manage to win my share of awards.

They didn’t tend to be trophies, however.

At Wang, I was chosen to participate in the financial services strategy group, one of a handful of vertical strategy teams that were going to save Wang from itself. It’s pretty clear how that effort worked out. Nonetheless, we did have a banquet to thank us for our dedication and hard work. Fred Wang – Dr. Wang’s son – sat at the fin-serv table, as I recall. Team captains received nice fountain pens; team members got framed prints that were stylized slices of Monopoly boards. Which would not have been half-bad it they hadn’t been defaced with the autographs of the Wang executives. Is John Chambers’ autograph is worth something? Perhaps I should have hung on to the print?

I didn’t.

When I left Wang, I left it in my cubicle. (In retrospect, I should have salvaged the frame.)

I won a few other corporate “things” over the years, the most memorable being the cut glass objet from Tiffany’s that Genuity gave its iLeaders one year. I will say my interest was piqued when I saw the pale blue boxes, but the trophies were duds. I would much rather have had a Revere bowl to throw loose change into, rather than a cut glass objet with my name engraved on it, useful only as a paperweight or murder weapon. When I left Genu, I left it in my office, along with my Blackberry and laptop. (Actually, I didn’t get to leave the Blackberry. Someone swiped it while I was walking around saying my farewells. I had technically been laid off, but as I was a voluntary separation, there was no one to actually fire me, give me my papers, and escort me out. So I just hung around for a while trying to get my paperwork in order.)

But there are, of course, many people and many organizations that really do go in for awards. And to support their needs, there are a lot of companies out there that “engrave the plaques and build the trophies” for all those award-winning folks in all those award-giving enterprises. Amazingly, it’s a $20 billion a year industry. Yowza!

Not surprisingly,the awards folks have their very own trade group – the Awards and Recognition Association – with its very own awards ceremony, recently held in Las Vegas. (Source: WSJ.)

From a ballroom stage on a post-Oscar evening, association president Guy Barone looked out at a few hundred gowned and tuxedoed recognition technicians and told them that the names of 2011's winners would be announced as soon as they finished dessert.

Recognition technicians. Love it!

Not surprisingly, the ARA gives out a ton of awards, including best plaque, best trophy, best engraving, and best sandblasting, which went to a fellow who sandblasted a spumante bottle for a Mardi Gras crew.  (The winner beat out a sandblasted glass bingo hopper. But the bingo hopper contestant didn’t go home empty handed. She won for  best engraving, with:

…a plaque made for a priest who was leaving his Minnesota parish. It was a silver-and-red plastic cutout of a locomotive, with Jesus in the cab window. )

Maybe you had to be there. (At the parish, when the priest left, not at the awards gala in Las Vegas.)

There was also an award for best sublimation. Now I’ve known plenty of people I could nominate for best sublimation, myself included, if you don’t mind a bit of a brag. But I don’t think they mean that type of sublimation. I think they mean the chemical process.

There has been a shift in recent years to giving out useful gifts – think the Wang pen – rather than trophies and plaques, but the ARA pooh-poohs this:

The awards association's executive director, Louise Ristau, addressed the issue this way: "A knife set doesn't say, 'You got this because you've been with the company for 20 years.' What says that is a plaque that you keep and look at your whole life."

Unless you’re me, who will leave the plaque behind when I part company with the company.

"We haven't found a saturation level for awards," says David Sturt of O.C. Tanner, a Salt Lake City "appreciatology" company. It ships 3.2 million corporate awards a year and advises managers on handing them out, as in: "Be genuine and adopt a celebratory tone."

"People feel underappreciated," Mr. Sturt says. "They hang onto their trophies, those little units of success in their lives."

God knows there’ve been times in my career when I felt – sniff, sniff – underappreciated. But is there something fundamentally wrong with me that I never had any desire to “hang onto” any of the “little units of success” that came my way?

Yet again, I must accept the reality that I’m just not like everybody else.

(Not that I’d turn down a best blog award…)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Eat More Kale (or at least use more ornamental kale in your garden)

I’m always intrigued when The Big Guy takes on The Little Guy – especially when it appears that The Little Guy isn’t really doing all that much that’s terrible, or harmful to The Big Guy, or otherwise trampling on The Big Guy’s rights. And when The Big Guy’s an Atlanta-based fast-food chain, and The Little Guy’s an artist from Vermont, well, I don’t really have to think, even for a nano-second, about whose side I’m likely to land on.

As I saw in a recent Economist, Chick-fil-A, an outfit that doesn’t seem to have a very big presence in these parts but a Big Guy nonetheless, had done a cease and desist on tee-shirt artist Bo Muller-Moore a few years ago. They got on his case for selling tee-shirts imprinted with a phrase Eat More Kale, which Chick-Fil-A’s legal-eagles deemed a tad too close to their Eat More Chikin slogan.

Understandably, Bo – who had been already been selling the shirts for a few years, in tribute to a couple of friends who own a kale farm – chose not to cease and desist.

After all, how could someone confuse the phrase “Eat More Kale”, imprinted on a tee-shirt sold online and at Vermont farmers’ markets, with Chick-Fil-A’s “Eat Mor Chikin.” It’s not as if the print style is similar. It’s not as if there were, say, a broccoli stalk or a cauliflower holding a sign saying “Eat Mor Kayl”. And it’s not very likely that anyone frequenting a Vermont farmers market to buy kale, honey, Indian corn, and twelve-pound loaves of bread would have even heard of Chick-fil-A – which has no outlets in Vermont – let alone eaten a sandwich from one.

So Bo Muller-Moore took the Chick-fil-A cease and desist with a grain of sea salt.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Bo tried to copyright the phrase “Eat More Kale.” Which aroused the giant within the Chick-fil-A empire.

They warned Mr Muller-Moore that they had successfully pressured other miscreants into dropping some 30 slogans, from “Eat More Dog” to “Eat More Music”. Their letter also alleged that Mr Muller-Moore’s “misappropriation of Chick-fil-A’s EAT MOR CHIKIN intellectual property…is likely to cause confusion.”

Only in America would a banal slogan – rendered somewhat less cretinous by its quaint, presumably bovine misspelling -  pass for “intellectual property.”

And what, pray tell, is the “confusion” that the “misappropriation” of this “intellectual property” going to cause.

Now, I can see where “Eat More Dog” might cause some confusion with a fast food restaurant. But “Eat More Kale”?

Come now.

One would hope that common sense will prevail here, and that the no-fun bully boys – $4B in sales, vs. Muller-Moore’s $40K – back off (or lose in court).

But the Chick-fil-A-holes have a lot more money to spend on their crusade to defend their, ahem, “intellectual property,” so I wouldn’t bet against them.

Still, I suspect the polls – if there were any – would be running about 10:1 in favor of Bo Muller-Moore, and that this entire affair makes Chick-fil-A appear petty, silly, and mean spirited. As The Economist has it:

Chick-fil-A may end up eating more crow.

As for me, I have an “Eat More Kale” tee-shirt on order, and hope to be sporting it soon.

Not that I will actually be eating any more kale.

Come fall, however, when I buy the mums that I plunk in the garden every year, I will pick up a couple of heads of ornamental kale.

Like New Englanders, it’s hearty and should hold its own, at least until Christmas.