Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spies are everywhere. Look no further than the Olympic mascots.

Olympic mascots tend to have a few things in common.

They tend to be cuddly little buggers that look good stuffed. They tend to be cutesy. And they tend to be completely and utterly forgettable. (Quick: try to remember what any Olympic mascot looks like. Hmmmm.  I think that at one point the Russians had some kind of cutesy, cuddly bear – the only cutesy, cuddly anything to come out of Russia since the Faberge egg.)

Well, other than a certain weird resemblance to the Teletubbies – if the Teletubbies were shiny, steely, and angular, as opposed to round and squishy. – there’s nothing cute or cuddly about the London Olympic mascots.  If you haven’t seen them already, I give you Wenlock and Mandeville.

mascotshome_0

I don’t know about you, but I won’t be curling up with one of these little critters. No thumb-suckers need apply.

The thing I find most disturbing about this dynamic duo is not their not-so-heavy metal. It’s that creepy, Cyclops spy-cam that appears to be the only facial feature they sport.

I have read virtually nothing about these mascots, but are they supposed to be a takeoff on the surveillance/security cameras that, as I understand it, are fairly ubiquitous throughout Britain?

As if we need yet another reminder that privacy is becoming a very foreign object, virtually unknown as we all become more and more virtually known.

As a blogger who doesn’t post anonymously, and who writes on occasion (and within limits) about personal matters, I’m obviously not someone who insanely guards my personal privacy.

But it took me forever to breakdown and get a CVS card because I didn’t really want them knowing my toothpaste brand, my fondness for red licorice, and the exact date when menopause set in and I know longer had to buy tampons.

Ditto the grocery store. Sure, if Blue Cross/Blue Shield wants to nose in on what I buy at Whole Foods they’ll find plenty of healthier-than-thou fruits, veggies, and yogurt. But I really don’t want them to know that. Or to cross check with CVS and tally up how often I breakdown and spring for a bag of Twizzlers.

And I really despise how every other google search seems to end up haunting me for weeks after I make it.

I went to a Red Sox game a couple of weeks ago, and the guy in front of me had a cap with a vintage 1950’s BoSox logo, that looked more or less like this:

Okay, so as mascots go, this is every bit as creepy and sucky as the London Olympics mascots. Still, I’m rather fond of it and was curious about where I could find a cap sporting it.

Since my simple hunt for the weird red logo, I cannot go on any news site without being bombarded with images of Red Sox caps. (Trust me: when I find a cap I like, I’ll buy it. I just don’t want to have to think about it morning, noon and night.)

A few weeks ago, when I was trying to figure out whether I had carpal tunnel syndrome or MS – carpal tunnel, by the way -  I searched a bit on neuropathy.

When I’m not being bombarded by cap vendor, I’m besieged by links to something-or-other about neuropathy. I have chosen not to click on any of those links.

I know that some folks may appreciate the “convenience” of having objects of erstwhile interest appear on their screens unbidden. After all, just because I didn’t find it necessary to purchase yet another Red Sox cap in hopes that it would cure carpal tunnel, doesn’t mean that the next guy wouldn’t be pleased that vendors were trying to meet their needs.

But it does want to make me save up my searches and take care of them at the library, where I’d no doubt have to line up with creeps checking out peep show sites. (But where hopefully I wouldn’t have to swipe my library card before I launched my search for carpal tunnel.)

Then there’s the seeing-eye on my computer. Once in a while, as long as I’m wearing something other than my bathrobe, I’ll activate it for an online meeting. But for a long while, fearing that someone could figure out how to remotely activate it and start spying on me, I plastered a band-aid over it.

Of course, we also have all those security cameras.

Sure, I’m always interested when the good guys catch the bad guys because the security cam at the 7/11 or gas station caught everything in herky-jerky black and white. But the idea of having a security camera on every corner watching for red light runners and jay-walkers (I’m in trouble), nose pickers and grimacers, cheating spouses and distracted parents…. Have we become so paranoid about safety that we want to have spy cams everywhere?

Maybe the London Games mascots are on to something.

We’ve all got smartphone cameras. We’re just a hop, skip and a long-jump from embedding cameras in our foreheads so we can record everything we come across 24/7, including videos of ourselves uploading our cam output onto YouTube. Maybe eventually we’ll all evolve to look like Wenlock and Mandeville.

I guess I’ve seen the future and it’s neither cuddly nor cute. It’s the human as spy-cam.

Wheeeee!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Cuties (O my darling clementines…)

When it comes to citrus fruits, I’m a navel orange kind of guy, followed by the juice orange cut into quarters. Actually, for guaranteed taste, the juice orange gets my vote. Navels can be problematic – sometimes they’re just plain dry. But they sure are easier to eat. So, the navel orange is my citrus go to, placing just behind my ultimate winter fruit of choice, the McIntosh Apple. (Note to self: should be seeing Early Macs at the farmer’s market in Government Center in a few weeks.)

If clementines (mandarins?) or tangerines are on offer, I’ll gladly eat one, but I’m not one of the folks eagerly shouldering a crate of clementines at the grocery store.  In other words, I like ‘em enough to eat ‘em, but not enough to buy ‘em.

And calling them Cuties will not do anything to alter that.

Then again, I’m not six years old.

If I were, I’m sure I’d be clamoring for Cuties, which is the first real branded fresh produce item to hit the market.

I mean, who asks for Andy Boy when they want a head of iceberg? Who even knows what brand of celery they eat? We might look for Florida grapefruit, but that’s a location descriptor, not a brand. The only branded fruit or veggie that I regularly consume is Happy Apples from Brookfield Orchard. But other than putting the name and logo on a few trinkets, and their bags, nobody really calls Happy Apples Happy Apples to their face. It’s just that anyone who’s been getting her Macs from Brooklfield Orchard since Kukla Fran and Ollie ruled the TV roost knows that apples from Brookfield are Happy Apples. 

But that’s, of course, a local thing. (A Worcester thing.)

Cuties, they’re a national phenomenon and well on their way to becoming a synonym for clementine in much the same way as Kleenex is used generically for “facial tissue.” (When was the last time – if ever – you heard anyone ask for a “facial tissue.”)  Band-aid’s pretty much another one. (“Do you have any plastic, adhesive bandage strips?”)

Although it seems to me that Cuties, those darling clementines, are more of a winter than a summer fruit – honestly, why eat oranges when there are cherries, plums, nectarines, and peaches to be had? – The Wall Street Journal ran a recent article on the rise of Cutie-dom, which is challenging the navel orange for citrus supremacy.

The rise of Cuties heralds the arrival of big-money marketing in a tradition-steeped corner of American industry. Techniques once reserved for promoting consumer products have now made their way into the produce section. Just as people have long asked for a "Kleenex" instead of a tissue, they are starting to ask for "Cuties" when they mean mandarins.

The big appeal with Cuties is that it’s easy for kids to peel them. And as anyone can tell you who has ever watched a child bite into a large piece of fruit – and leave it with one set of baby teeth marks and one bite out of it – there’s something to be said for a tiny, kid-sized fruit. More substantial than a grape. Less dangerous than a cherry with that annoying pit. Perfect for little kid hands and appetites. And oh, so easy to peel…

While Cutie-mania grows, we should watch out for the downside:

Across California's citrus belt, farmers are ripping out orange, lemon and grapefruit trees to switch to mandarins.

A new Gold Rush is on, and it’s orange, little, peelable and cute.

The folks behind the brand are Berne Evans III, the grower (grover?) who presides over the empire he built with the help of:

…Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the Beverly Hills billionaire marketers of Fiji Water and Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice. Eight years ago they launched the Cuties brand.

This has begat a brand war of sorts, as rivals have tried to name their own easy to peel little cuties. (My pick of the crop: Darling Clementines, which I love – other than the fact that, from a marketing point of view it’s a dud. Way too much of a mouthful. No one, but no one, is ever going to clamor for a Darling Clementine. Still, I bet they have a pretty darned good theme song. They’d just have to change a few words. No one wants to eat anything that’s going to make them think of being “lost and gone forever.” That’s one dreadful sorrow you don’t want to munch on.)

Anyway, it figure that the marketing genii who were capable of getting consumers to fork over large sums of money for Fiji Water – pause to take a sip of my Boston tap from my Sigg bottle – can get folks to pay a bit extra for a box of clementines to support a $20 million national ad campaign. Which, of course, won’t just raise demand for Cuties. It will raise demand for cuties by any other name, too. So those Darling Clementines get to enjoy the halo effect.  Are there that may people who are going to pay a premium to get an actual Cutie cutie?

The rising costs are a wedge issue. "We're having an argument," Mr. Evans says. "Are Cuties well-known just because of advertising? My personal view is it's a damn good piece of fruit."

Another wedge issues between Evans and the Resnicks is that he’s trademarked a mini version of the Cutie, dubbed the Baby Cutie. The Resnicks are not amused. In fact they’ve sued, withdrawn their suit, entered into arbitration, etc.

Evans’ decision to work with the Resnicks to begin with was something of a defensive put. The Resnicks were neighboring growers when Evans started to build out the West Coast clementine business in the late 1990’s.

"I thought, 'If Stew [Resnick] hears I'm growing clementines, he's going to compete. He's a big-money guy who can overdo everything,'" says Mr. Evans… In 1997, Mr. Evans approached the Resnicks about cooperating. The Resnicks' Paramount Citrus and Mr. Evans' Sun Pacific agreed to grow and commercialize equal quantities of the fruit under one brand.

Evans and the Resnicks jointly own the Cutie trademark. The Resnicks focus on marketing; Evans runs the sort-pack-and-distribute operation.

The shift to clementines has not been seamless. In fact, it’s been fraught with more than trademark difficulties.

There were those damned bees…

The proliferation of mandarin trees…brought more than money. It brought a bee problem. Being seedless is a main selling point for Cuties. But if Cuties groves get cross-pollinated with pollen from seeded citrus varieties, Cuties start having seeds, too.

The Resnicks threatened to go after the beekeepers for “trespass”, which led to the formation of the "Seedless Mandarin and Honeybee Coexistence Working Group." When this task force failed to find a solution, the growers started covering their trees. And, of course, started looking for a seedless variety that was bee-resistance. That resulted in the Tango tangerine, which is a variation on the clementine/mandarin theme, and which is sometimes sold as a Cutie. (Got that?)

Meanwhile, the Cutie marketing campaign rolled east,, with TV ads featuring the slogan:

"Kids love Cuties. Because Cuties are made for kids."

Anyway, a lot more Cuties/cuties are being sold these days, but Evans isn’t buying the marketing strategy, and has:

…hired a high-powered consulting firm to help evaluate the group's advertising costs. The consultants concluded that the group was actually losing money on the campaign.

So mega trouble in Cutie paradise.

The agreement between Sun Pacific [Evans] and Paramount [The Resnicks]  to pack and sell the mandarins expires in two years.

Raise you Cutie-peeling hand if you think they’ll re-up the deal.

Meanwhile, Evans is thinking seedless cherry.

May need to start that taskforce up again.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Unlimited vacation? My company offers it…

This afternoon, I’m taking off at noon for a couple of days getaway to The Cape, my first such bolt since my husband had major cancer surgery in mid-May.

When Jim was in the hospital, I pretty much took two-weeks off, spending maybe an hour a day doing a bit of here and there. My clients knew I’d be out of commission for a while. They were actually more sensible than I was about this. My fantasy was that, since Mass General has wi-fi, I’d just plunk down with my laptop and do work while Jim dozed in the Surgical ICU or, later, his bed on the floor. Well, hardee-har-har to that. I did bring my laptop in a couple of days, but I think I managed to get a total of 45 minutes worth of work done.

A few weeks before Jim’s operation, we took a week long trip to Rome with our nieces.

So I guess between take-care-of-the-sick days and vacation, at mid-year, I’m running at about 3 weeks.

I’m not sure how I would have handled those bedside weeks – or the fact that I would have had to work from home for a couple of weeks after Jim was sprung – if I had a full-time job. (When my mother died in 2001, I was working, and spent a good slug of the weeks before her death at the hospital, and that time off didn’t count against anything. Since I never took any sick time on my own, I guess it was just chalked up to sick leave. But who knows what a less loosey-goosey employer would have done.)

Fortunately, the point is moot, as I now work for myself. While some of the benefits suck – no 401 matching, no medical insurance, no dental – the vacation policy is excellent. Whether it’s taking a day off to plant tulips on my parents’ grave, or a week wherever, my time’s pretty much my own. I just need to make sure that I get everything I promised delivered, and I’m free to go. Of course, I don’t get paid for my vacation days, but that’s okay.

I will generally check my e-mails while on vacation, and maybe take a look at something or other, but I don’t do work-work. In fact, I did more work-work on vacations when I worked full time. (The only time in recent memory when I violated my rule on doing work while on vakay was when I was doing projects for a crazy client whom I ended up firing. Interestingly, as my husband had predicted, this client-from-hell approached me a few months back to do more work for her. No, the answer is no, a thousand times no.)

Through most of my career, I got three weeks off a year, which was okay. Three weeks lets you take at least a week off at once, maybe bracketing it with an extra day on either end, plus allows for a few long weekends and just-because days. When I worked at Wang, I got a draconian two weeks vacation, which was dreadful. I never felt like I could take a just-because day off. (Not surprisingly, Wang was the only place I worked where I ever took a mental health day. One day I woke up and just said no-can-do. I stayed in bed reading all day.)

Personally, I feel that with the way professionals work these days – working long hours half the time, checking and responding to e-mails and other requests on nights and weekends, and when they’re on vacation – everyone should get at least four weeks off (three weeks plus five personal days to run errands, see the doctor, or just chill).

I was talking about this the other day with a client, and she believes that, if folks work crazy-hours when there’s some big project underway, they should be able to just stay home and stay lightly connected with work when there’s not all that much going on.

She’s apparently on to something.

According to a recent article in Business Week, the new trend in the tech world is unlimited vacation.

One such company is Evernote, a start up that operates on a “trust-based system.” Of course, the Evernote employee that was quoted was Ben Zotto, “the creator of a popular handwriting app that was acquired by Evernote earlier this year,” who says that Evernote “treats people as if they can run their own schedule.” So Zotto’s not exactly the receptionist at the front desk. But at Evernote, unlimited time off is for everybody. (And forget what I said about a receptionist. I doubt they have one. Everyone works in one big room, and there are no phones (other than cell phones and a phone in the conference room). Source: NY Times interview with Evernote CEO Phil Libin.).

Evernote’s not alone.

And it’s not just little start-ups. NetFlix and Zynga both have this policy place. Beyond the Silicon Valley tech world:

Pioneers including electronics retailer Best Buy and financial services firm The Motley Fool have learned that giving staffers free rein over their schedules helps improve their productivity.

I don’t suppose this works for Best Buy store clerks, but still…

Anyway, unlimited vacation is a central element of the Results-Only-Work Environment, which 3 percent of American companies have put in place formally.

Obviously, there are some environments where Results-Only-Work won’t.

I’m thinking it might be hard for, say, Mass General, to put this in place.

But even hospitals could – and, for all I know, do – have teams of, say, nurses get together and figure out coverage. Other operations where people really do need to be at work at certain times – like branch banks and call centers – could do it, as well. Which is not the same as offering unlimited time off. I just don’t  think that unlimited vacation would work every place. But for a lot of work – tech is the obvious candidate, but pretty much any type of work where you have more or less control over your own output, and/or that’s non-hierarchical and/or do a lot of collaborating  – it sure makes sense.

One company cited in the article, Xobni, has 35 employees, and 15 of them are on the limited vacation policy.  Xobni’s CEO didn’t have any particularly noble and philosophical reason for going to unlimited:

Those reporting directly to Xobni CEO Jeff Bonforte were the first to be switched over. The boss is already enjoying one benefit: “It’s my job to administer the vacation schedule of my own employees,” Bonforte says. “And I’m too lazy to do it.”

Whatever works for ya!

Meanwhile, I’m off in a few hours for some limited unlimited time off of my own.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Judicial Correction Services. (Hey, kids, let’s see if we can think of some more ways to screw poor people.)

There was an interesting article in The New York Times a few weeks back on how some counties (mostly in the South, surprise/surprise) farm out their probation services to third party for-profit companies.

Now outsourcing criminal justice is nothing news. Private prisons and jails may be of relatively recent vintage, but didn’t Steve McQueen get his big break playing Josh Randall, wild west bounty hunter, in Wanted Dead or Alive? (And don’t get me started on Dog and his posse….)

Here’s how the private probation system worked out for one poor woman in Alabama:

Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked.

When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.

For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company. Her story, in hardscrabble, rural Alabama, where Krispy Kreme “two can dine for $5.99,” is not about innocence.

It is, rather, about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system. The result is that growing numbers of poor people, like Ms. Ray, are ending up jailed and in debt for minor infractions. (Source: NY Times.)

Ms. Ray is not, of course, alone. There’s another hapless man who’s spent 24 months in jail and been fined $10K for some minor traffic and license violations. Why clamp a boot on someone’s car when you can clamp the handcuffs on them, haul them off to jail, and ruin their lives?

And in Georgia, a man subsisting on meager veterans benefits – less than $250/month – was fined $270 for public drunkenness, then put on probation. Unfortunately for Hills McGee, the probation was through a private company:

The company added a $15 enrollment fee and $39 in monthly fees. That put his total for a year above $700, which Mr. McGee, 53, struggled to meet before being jailed for failing to pay it all.

As you can see, to make this outsourcing really beneficial for the courts, they want to be able to really wriggle out of the costs of running probation systems. So the private probation-ers charge their “clients” for being on probation.

Anyway, a number of lawyers have taken this putrid system on, with some success. A judge in Alabama ordered at least a temporary shutdown to one system:

Judge Hub Harrington of Shelby County issued the order this week, saying that he was “appalled” by what he characterized as a “debtors’ prison.”

Charles Dickens, come on down!

“From a fair reading of the defendants’ testimony, one might ascertain that a more apt description of the Harpersville Municipal Court practices is that of a judicially sanctioned extortion racket,” he added. “Most distressing is that these abuses have been perpetrated by what is supposed to be a court of law. Disgraceful.” (Source: NY Times.)

The outfit that was on the receiving end of Judge Harrington’s injunction was Judicial Correction Services, which has a mighty enticing value proposition:

Supervision is completely offender-funded. This means your tax dollars are not going to support the probation office. Our practices have been shown to reduce jail populations, further saving local government correction and court budgets. In addition, court collections have increased in every community that has made the transition to JCS. This helps the court to fund itself.

It also touts its ability to create “jobs in your community.”

And on their handy list of do’s and don’ts for probies, there’s a reminder to be sure to pay by cash or money order.

Who said crime – even pokey little misdemeanors – doesn’t pay? It all depends on which side of the bench you’re standing.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The New Age Chop Shop

I’m all in favor of recycling.

Take those advertising flyers, pizza boxes, Progresso cans, and shredded credit card statements, please.

And, when I think about, my recycling largesse extends to my body parts. (Posthumously, that is.) If, when I succumb in my great old age, and if there are any spare parts worth salvaging, let the salvagers have at it. Eventually, I’d like what’s left to be cremated but if anything’s usable, hey, all of me, why not take all of me. (Just make sure I’m truly a goner before you start hacking away. Embalming is a good thing. As long as I’m truly a goner before you start. Hmmmm.)

Unfortunately, the body parts biz is not particularly on the up and up, as I saw recently on Huff Po.

Last February, Ukrainian officials, who were probably looking for young women being invited to “model” in the U.S. and/or stolen RPG’s and other such materiel that’s still ratcheting around the outposts of the former USSR, came across something else:

…bones and other human tissues crammed into coolers in a grimy white minibus.

Investigators grew even more intrigued when they found, amid the body parts, envelopes stuffed with cash and autopsy results written in English.

No, the body parts weren’t destined for the fridge of a Jeffrey Dahmer wannabe.  They were headed instead for companies that make medical/dental products based on the human element. In this case, the van was headed for Germany, to a factory that’s a subsidiary of RTI Biologics:

…a leading provider of sterile biological implants for surgeries around the world, with a commitment to advancing science, safety and innovation. RTI prepares donated human tissue and bovine tissue for transplantation through extensive testing and screening, precision shaping and proprietary, validated sterilization processes. These allograft [that would be coming from a human] and xenograft [that would be coming from something other than a human; in this case I guess that would be a cow] implants are used in spine, sports medicine, orthopedic, dental and other surgical specialties.

RTI is just one of many who turn remains before they become cremains “into everything from dental implants to bladder slings to wrinkle cures” and new eyes (through corneal transplants) and new knees (recycled tendons and ligaments. (Back to HuffPo as the source here.)

The problem is not that these outfits are using human tissue, much of which is donated by folks who’ve lost a loved one. (Albeit most of them are probably not aware that someone’s turning around the making a profit off of their donation). The problem is that some of this material is spirited away without the families ever knowing about it. Which is suspected in the Ukrainian case, which may have been part of a rip-out rip off.

…leaving behind what investigators described as potentially dozens of "human sock puppets" -- corpses stripped of their reusable parts.

Well, “human sock puppet” sure has a different ring to it than allograft and xenograft, doesn’t it?

RTI’s not talking, but:

In public statements the company says it "honors the gift of tissue donation by treating the tissue with respect, by finding new ways to use the tissue to help patients and by helping as many patients as possible from each donation."

But maybe, just maybe, they’re turning a blind, pre-corneal transplant to where some of their overseas “goods” are coming from.

Apparently the tracking and safeguards that thankfully keep those of us in the U.S. from “benefiting” from a lung or kidney ripped out of a poor schmuck living somewhere “over there” aren’t in place when it comes to the tissue and skin trade.

And sometimes, unbeknownst to the family, parts get recycled. As was the case with the family of a young Ukrainian man. At his funeral, his parents noticed that his wrists were slit.

They later learned that his body parts had been recycled and shipped off as "anatomical material."

Once the parts make their way into the system – legitimately or not – the tracking’s not much better. When tissue is found to have some type of infection, it’s not always possible to figure out who’s new knee, say, may have a touch of HIV in it.

Dr. Matthew Kuehnert, the CDC's director of blood and biologics, had this to say:

"We have barcodes for our [breakfast] cereals, but we don't have barcodes for our human tissues," Kuehnert said. "Every patient who has tissue implanted should know. It's so obvious. It should be a basic patient right. It is not. That's ridiculous."

It may be ridiculous, but if some of that tissue is being body-snatched in the Ukraine and makes it’s way to the U.S. through a German intermediary, well, your papers aren’t always going to be in order.

This is, as you can imagine, a pretty profitable business:

A single, disease-free body can spin off cash flows of $80,000 to $200,000 for the various non-profit and for-profit players involved in recovering tissues and using them to manufacture medical and dental products, according to documents and experts in the field.

Proving once again that a lot of people are worth more dead than alive. Except that you can’t – not in this country, anyway – “buy or sell human tissue.” But there are those mysterious “processing” fees. (When you order baseball or concert tickets, it’s the so-called “convenience fee.”)

Ground-level body wranglers in the U.S. can get as much as $10,000 for each corpse they secure through their contacts at hospitals, mortuaries and morgues. Funeral homes can act as middlemen to identify potential donors. Public hospitals can get paid for the use of tissue-recovery rooms.

Ground-level body wrangler? Now there’s an interesting job title…

And it’s not just anonymous Ukrainians who can get caught up in this.  Alistair Cooke – remember him? – was invaded by the body snatchers after his death and dismembered on behalf of a company that slipped funeral parlors up to $1k for access to body parts. (The owner of that company is now serving hard time for “conspiracy, theft and abuse of a corpse.”)

I guess before you bury grandmaw, and you haven’t told someone to take what they want, you might want to check to make sure that no-one’s stuffed your “human sock puppet” with wood and cloth to make it look like she’s still all there.

Hey, once I’m gone, I don’t want it, you can have it, it’s no good to me. But I still don’t want to be hacked apart by a new age chop shop. Ewwww to that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sometimes war is hell, and sometimes it’s a couple of guys in lawn chairs kept aloft by party balloons

An article that included the following elements is pretty hard to resist, that’s for sure:

  • Iraqi orphans
  • Care Bears
  • Red Ryder BB guns
  • Facebook data center
  • Adventurers
  • Gas station ownership
  • Convenience store ownership
  • The Rifleman
  • Lawn chairs
  • Party balloons

One person who found it especially hard to resist was my brother-in-law Rick, who sent along a link to an article he saw that touched on all of the above. I, in turn, found the story irresistible as well.

And here’s how the elements combine:

Fareed Lafta is an Iraqi adventurer, pilot and sky diver. Inspired since his 1980s childhood by the Care Bears “bears with special powers who lived in the clouds”, Lafta wanted to pay it forward and inspire Iraqi children who had been orphaned by terrorist attacks by showing them something or other emanating from the clouds.

Oregonian Kent Couch – he of the gas station and convenience store ownership (which, of course, comprise two great pillars of the American experience: the love affair with the automobile and 24/7 access to fatty, salty, sugary snack foods and Power Ball tickets) – was not without inspiration, either.

He’d been inspired by Larry Walters to take up lawn chair ballooning. For those for whom Larry Walters is no more a household name than Fareed Lafta or Kent Couch, Walters was a California truck driver who, in the early 1980’s, invented lawn chair ballooning, manned flight accomplished by tethering an aluminum lawn chair to helium-filled party balloons.

Lawn chair balloon flight, I’ll have you know, is far more than just a matter of up, up and away. Once you’re aloft, getting back to earth requires the judicious jettisoning of ballast and the judicious puncturing of balloons. Thus the Red Ryder BB gun.

Anyway, Lafta – the man with the plan – and Couch – the man with the know-how connected through the world.wide.web.

This October, the duo intends to not just inspire Iraqi orphans Care Bear-style, but to set an altitude record for aluminum chair ballooning. But before heading off to the war zone, where war is both hell and something that can be leavened by the Care Bears, they decided to send up a trial balloon, as it were.

They were attempting to fly from Couch’s gas station in Bend, Oregon, to Montana – a journey of 400 miles - when all hell broke loose.

…they were floating along peacefully at 14,000 feet when thunderstorms grabbed control of their homemade craft like a giant hand.

"It was so nice, so beautiful, so peaceful," for thee first three hours of the flight, said Iraqi adventurer Fareed Lafta, who joined lawn chair ballooning veteran Kent Couch in an attempt to fly from Couch's gas station in Bend, Ore., to Montana as a warm-up for a future flight over Iraq. "I remember I can hear the cow when they are moo, the dogs. Everything was so peaceful and so nice.

"Then we were in this thunderstorm."

At which point, Lafta and Couch forgot the peaceful pastoral, the cow when they are moo, and started focusing on survival.

Lafta suggested that they abandon ship and parachute to earth. Couch rejected the suggestion, which he came to regret as they went through an hour and a half of buffeting by the elements. Or stalling in mid-air, as they did for 20 minutes over the Facebook server farm in Prineville, Oregon.

Once they got buffeting again, and began looking for a place to land, those Red Ryder BB guns came in handy.

"We felt just like 'The Rifleman,'" a 1950s TV Western [Couch said]. "We were cocking and shooting, cocking and shooting, pretty darn fast."

It’s not clear whether Lafta got the allusion to The Rifleman, but, hey,  if they had the Care Bears in Iraq in the 1980’s, they may well have had 1950’s reruns. So Lafta may have grown up knowing all about Lucas and Mark McCain, Sherriff Micah Torrance, and that nice lady Millie who ran the general store. (So why didn’t Lucas ever marry her? Maybe if he had, Millie could have used one of her bolts of gingham or calico and whipped up a couple of replacement shirts for the McCains, who surely must have gotten sick of wearing that same old homespun shirt season after season.)

At last, Lafta and Couch managed to land in a hay field roughly 40 miles from Couch’s gas station.

Despite this abortive mission, the two are planning on keeping their Iraq rendezvous with destiny come October. Lafta is pretty enthusiastic about the upcoming mission.

“Why not?" said Lafta. "We have a lot of fun. And more experience that makes us safer in future."

Couch is less so:

"I made a commitment to Fareed and the orphans of Iraq," to fly again, Couch said. "Otherwise I'm on the ground for good. I think it's out of my system.

Perhaps he’s concerned for what might happen on the ground if things get messed up. Laftah at least knows the language and can go native. But what if they get separated? Does Couch know enough Arabic or Kurdish to explain the Care Bear inspiration, or why he’s armed with a Red Ryder BB gun? What if they run into actual terrorists, rather than a bunch of kids who’ve been orphaned by terrorists.

War, as Couch may find out, can be hell, even when it’s almost over.

And as for Couch’s original inspiration, Larry Walters? The father of lawn chair balloonery, ended up killing himself while still in his forties. Sometimes a great notion is just not enough. (Source: Wikipedia.)

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Thanks to Ricky T for sending this article along.

Monday, July 23, 2012

I love a man in uniform. Just not this uniform.

As that Quadrennial Summer Spectacle, the Olympiad, is near upon us, there has been quite a bit of grumbling coming out of Washington about the fact that our athletes will be wearing uniforms made, not in the good old U. S. of A., but in China.

This is, of course, something of an improvement over the uniforms for the 2002 Olympics, which were stitched up in Burma/Myanmar. That’s a country which, while making some progress of late, was then a completely repressive dictatorship that we the people should have been having no commercial truck with.

But to piss and moan about China, when I suspect that at any given moment about 99.99% of us are wearing at least one article of clothing made there (or in Vietnam, or Bangladesh, or someplace other than the Lower East Side), seems a bit over the top. Even though, of course, most of us harbor the sentiment that it would be better form to have the Olympic costumes made, like the Olympians themselves, here rather than there. Made with pride by members of the ILGWU, rather than someone in a Chinese sweatshop who may never have heard of the USA.

Still, my problem with the new unis is not so much where they’re made as what they look like. Even after I get by the fact that the goofy beret thing is somewhat reminiscent of the followers of Benito Mussolini , there’s something decidedly off-putting about seeing that gigantic Polo logo where I might have expected an American flag or the letters USA or the Statue of Liberty in goggles and a Speedo. But this? The outsized version of the old, discreet, tiny little polo guy that used to grace the front of Ralph Lauren’s ubiquitous polo shirts, back in the day when I used to occasionally wear a Ralph Lauren ubiquitous polo shirt.

This poke-in-the-eye-with-a-flag-pole polo logo?

Sheesh.

It’s not as if polo’s an Olympic sport (although water polo is).

And it’s not as if polo’s even much of an American sport.

Yes, I know it’s played at the Myopia Polo Club, and other places where swells and toffs gather. But, I really don’t give a chukka about that. And, I say, old man, isn’t polo rather a British sport?  Like cricket and fox hunting? Could this possibly be our tip of the helmet to England, which is hosting the current version of the Olympics?

Anyway, whatever motivated it, I find this excrescence pretty offensive.

Okay, I get that Ralph Lauren wants to make sure that his grand old logo, the emblem of the enterprise he loves, gets to fly high. But couldn’t he have been just a tad more subtle?

What’s next?

Next time around, will Olympic athletes be swaddled in ads, like NASCAR drivers?

Of course, there is another way of thinking here, and that’s that there could be no better way to represent our country than with an over-the-top, vulgar display of commercialism. After all, we’re a nation of brand-conscious strivers. And so what if the Ralph Lauren brand connotes the summer-in-Amagansett life-style of old-money, haute-WASPily perfect blue-eyed-blonds that all us Polo-wearers wish we could live. Where Mummy and Daddy dress for dinner at The Club. Where Trip has spent the day sailing while Mimsy perfected her backhand. Where Gram and Pops can still do a grand Lindy to String of Pearls before retiring for cucumber sandwiches (crustless on white bread) and G&T’s. (Just don’t let the Golden Retreivers start slurping those G&T’s.)

East Egg! Even West Egg!  Don’t we all want to go to those hounds?

And how much more perfect the story gets when you consider that All-American billionaire Ralph Lauren was a kid from the Bronx named Ralph Lipschitz, born to immigrant parents from Pinsk.

Now that’s an American story worth telling.

But the outsized Polo/polo logo? I’m not buying it, let alone buying it.

I like a man in uniform as much as the next gal. Just not this uniform.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce…

As an experienced restaurant worker, I am well aware that things sometimes happen behind the scenes that might put the diner off his feed.

Most of the places where I worked were pretty darned clean, but even in those restaurants, the wait staff were known to pick off plates waiting under the heat lamps. As for the restaurants that were not next to godliness, well…

Since these experiences were more than 40 years ago, I’ll assume that acts have been cleaned up.  So I won’t name names here. But I did spend a college summer in a rat-ridden Boston tourist trap where the cooks sometimes included deep-fried cockroaches in the Fisherman’s Platter. Where the dish boys occasionally found dead rats clogging the drains, and then used the same paw that dragged the dead rat out went into the 5 gallon tub of ice cream to grab a mitt full of rum raisin. Where the salad maker worked with a lit cigar – with a dangling ash – hanging out of his mouth as he put together the shrimp cocktails.

At another place where I waitressed, the scrod was baked in the morning, then sat on steam tables all day. (One time I warned an evening diner against ordering the scrod. Rather than thanking me, he reported me to management.) This was, of course, not a case of employees subverting food, but, rather, it was a case of management subverting food.

But in the old days, those who were subverting the food weren’t taking pictures or making films of themselves doing so. And there was, of course, no Internet to post on, anyway.

So now we have fast-food knuckleheads spitting in coffee and farting on the pizza. And showing off online. Since, of course, nothing really exists until it’s on the ‘net for everyone to see.

The latest lunk-head to go this route posted a picture of himself stomping on a couple of containers of lettuce at Burger King.  He did so on something called 4chan, which I wasn’t familiar with but which apparently started out as an anime/manga oriented site. It has expanded over the years to include stuff like, well, lettuce stomping. (Source: Huffington Post.)

Because the lettuce stomper posted anonymously, and because 4chan is considered “a lawless, unruly place”, he considered it a safe place to depict his little act-out, which is labeled:

"This is the lettuce you eat at Burger King."

Now, as food abuse goes, stepping on lettuce doesn’t quite rise to the level of spitting in coffee or farting on the pizza. Still…we really don’t know where those shoes have been.

And some 4chan users:

…were appalled by the image and decided to take action. They grabbed the GPS data included in the picture in an effort to pinpoint where the photograph had been taken.

They then alerted the Mayfield Heights, Ohio, Burger King.

The upshot is that this dude – described as a long-time employee – is on his way to becoming an ex-long-time employee.

Now, if you’re in high school and heading off to college, and putting fast food work behind you, getting fired from Burger King may be kind of a fun thing to have happen to you. Or if you’re about to leave for, say, a long sojourn hitch-hiking around Europe. My roommate and I tandem-quit Durgin-Park – not, by the way, the filthy place described above; sure, the waitresses did tend to nibble off the plates on occasion, but the restaurant itself was clean – just as we were about to be fired. A few weeks later, we landed in England. Durgin was in the rear-view mirror. And we had a great story.

But if  you actually need the job, it seems to me that putting yourself online undermining your employer in this way – however anonymous you think you are – is also undermining your employment.

Was it worth it?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Poor old Dragon Systems. (As if you need another reason to dislike Goldman.)

The Boston tech world is small town enough that there’s at most two degrees of separation between you and everybody else who’s worked in any local technology company. Thus, I was certainly aware of Dragon Systems – pioneers in speech recognition – and knew that at least a couple of former colleagues had worked there at one point or another.

So, while I hadn’t followed the company’s travails, I was very interested in an article in The New York Times on Dragon’s lawsuit against Goldman Sachs.

James and Janet Baker spent nearly two decades building Dragon, a voice technology company, into a successful, multimillion-dollar enterprise. It was, they say, their “third child.” So in late 1999, when offers to buy Dragon began rolling in, the couple made what seemed a smart decision: they turned to Goldman Sachs for advice. And why not? Goldman, after all, was the leading dealmaker on Wall Street. The Bakers wanted the best.

And they were, of course, delighted when Goldman advised them on their $580 million sale to Lernout & Hauspie (L&H), a Belgian competitor.

For Goldman, this was apparently a chump-change deal. They were paid a flat fee of $5 million, which didn’t buy them all that much. One can even argue – as the Bakers are doing now in court – that what they got was royally screwed.

The full article is definitely worth the read, but here are some of the highlights:

…in December 1999, the Bakers, in over their heads when it came to M.& A., signed a five-page engagement letter drafted by Goldman. In it, Goldman pledged to provide “financial advice and assistance in connection with this potential transaction, which may include performing valuation analyses, searching for a purchaser acceptable to you, coordinating visits of potential purchasers, and assisting you in negotiating the financial aspects of the transaction.”

Goldman also sent a letter indicating that they would be doing due diligence.

The team providing these services was not exactly the A Team. Maybe not even the B or C team. It was four guys, three of whom were in their twenties and thirties, who were pretty much operating unsupervised, and seemingly making things up as they went along. Which is, as we (now) know how plenty of smarter-than-thou, BSD* wannabes operate. And at a mere pittance payment of $5 million from Dragon, the deal just wasn’t worth the BSD-ness of the alpha boys, the real BSDs. (The guy who’s been fingered as the supervisor has DK’d any personal involvement in this deal.)

Fast forward and the due diligence wasn’t all that done or all that diligent. In fact, at one point, Dragon received an unsigned letter from Goldman suggesting that they have Dragon’s accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, do the due. (Goldman, L&H, and Arthur Andersen. For ultra-smart folks, the Bakers sure could pick ‘em.)

Meanwhile, the D-team was kinda-sorta conducting due diligence. They also set up a call with a Goldman analyst who, ahem, followed L&H so that he could talk to the Bakers – at Dragon’s request – about why L&H shares were “gyrating wildly.”  The analyst:

…assured Ms. Baker that investors were worried about the market in general, rather than L.& H. in particular. He also said he expected the stock price of the combined companies to rise substantially once a merger was struck.

As it turned out, the analyst had not really been following L&H. The guy who had been doing so had left Goldman, and Goldman stopped its L&H coverage. But the analyst who agreed to talk with the Bakers – shamefully – was willing to fake it.

He wasn’t the only one. No one warned the Bakers that the all-stock deal on the table was risky. (There had been an earlier half cash-half stock offer out there, although whether L&H would have had the cash to cough up is questionable.)

At the Dragon board meeting where they voted on the deal:

No one from Goldman gave a presentation, but minutes from the meeting, taken by Dragon’s outside lawyers, indicate that the Goldman bankers expressed confidence that the combination of Dragon and L.& H. would produce a market leader.

Dragon agreed to a $580 million all-stock deal and, within a couple of months after the deal closed, L & H was toast, its stock price at zero. And Dragon got, as Tony Soprano might have had it, stugots.

As it turned out, Goldman had – on Dragon’s behalf – accepted at face value L&H’s claims about customers when L&H was pulling “sales figures out of thin air.” Goldman, however, had done a bit better on the due diligence they’d done for themselves when they’d been considering an investment in L&H. Which they decided to take a pass on, for obvious reasons.

The coup de grace was that the technology that the Bakers had considered their third child ended up in the hands of another competitive of theirs whose IPO was being handled by none other than Goldman at the same time they were “advising” on Dragon’s sale to L&H. (Did I mention that Boston technology is a small world? A few months before this all started going on, I had actually interviewed and gotten a job offer, which I didn’t take, from that rival company that IPO’d.)

Meanwhile, remnants of the Dragon technology may have made its way into Apple’s Siri. (Maybe John Malkovich or Zoey Deschanel can ask Siri a question about whether Goldman screwed Dragon.)

Yes, the Bakers may have been na├»ve, but you can’t blame them for thinking they were in the hands of the ne plus ultra of investment banks, getting the best advice that money can buy. Except that, come to find out, $5 million doesn’t buy you very much.

Anyway, did we really need another reason to dislike Goldman Sachs?

Forget dragon slayers: this is one where you want the Dragon to win.

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*For those who haven’t read Liar’s Poker, that would be Big Swinging Dicks.

.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What’s to become of my artifacts?

Assuming that any museum and/or auction consignment house would be delighted to have them, I am about to start cataloging my artifacts.

And now I find that I have to have the full provenance of each item, going back to before 1970.

Sheesh.

I mean, I know in my own brain and heart that my artifacts pretty much pre-date 1970, but how can I prove it?

Crap and a half. I’m thinking of calling Alan Dershowitz to commiserate, because:

Alan M. Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, is in a similar bind. An antiquities collector, he is eager to sell an Egyptian sarcophagus he bought from Sotheby’s in the early 1990s. But he is stymied, he said, because auction houses are applying tighter policies to the items they accept for consignment.

“I can’t get proof of when it came out of Egypt,” Mr. Dershowitz said. (Source: NY Times.)

Fortunately, I don’t think I have to worry about any of my artifacts walking like an Egyptian. On the other hand, when I decide to unload I’ll have a lot more than one crummy sarcophagus to put on the market or donate.  Putting them on the market may be the easier move:

Museums typically no longer want artifacts that do not have a documented history stretching back past 1970, a date set by the Association of Art Museum Directors, whose guidelines most institutions have adopted. Drawn up in 2008, the rules have been applauded by countries seeking to recover their artifacts and by archaeologists looking to study objects in their natural settings.

And good luck to an archaeologist studying these beauties “in their natural settings:”

Those steer horns originally hung in Rogers Brothers’ Saloon, which closed with Prohibition. My grandfather dieSteer hornsd before the fatwa on brew was called off in the 1930’s, so it was never re-opened. And, since the children of the Rogers Brothers are themselves long gone – my aunt Margaret, who died in 1996, was the last of those who would remember this establishment and its theme song, Back Home Again in Rogers Barroom (That’s the place I long to be). No one’s quite certain where it was – somewhere in Webster Square in Main South Worcester – and whether the building it was in was razed. Or whether the dream continued as Mulcahy’s or McGuire’s or The Village Pub, all quite elegant local watering holes.

And that cider jug. Alas, Parson’s Cider Mill has been closed for quite a while, and it went to plastic jugs well before it closed. So I’m guessing this was from the 1960’s. Oddly, given that I grew up in the city. we had things in the ‘hood like a quasi-working farm (it had cows, anyway) and a cider mill. On Thanksgiving morning, we would walk up to Parson’s with my father, who would be pulling the Radio Flyer red wagon, to buy our cider for the day.  I actually think we brought the same jug back every year for a refill. (Pardon me for a bit while I tear up at the memory of my father, in his orange and brown plaid jacket and Stetson fedora, walking home from Parson’s with us, talking about how wonderful that cider was going to taste. And it did.)

And you can’t really see what makes that grey and blue pitcher such a tremendous artifact. On the reverse side, there are massive cracks all gunked up with heavy glue where my Grandmother Rogers repaired it back in the whenever. It was never going to be used to actually drink out of anyway, so what the hell. With its back turned, a man on a galloping horse wouldn’t notice that the fix – which was echt Nanny - was in. So there.

Artifacts, artifacts, artifacts. I have got them coming out the ying-yang.

Who wouldn’t want to get their mitts on these gems:

Sure, you’re probably asking yourself just what they are. Trinidad dollsWell, it’s a couple of Indian dolls my father sent home from Trinidad when he was stationed there during The War. (Readers of V.S. Naipaul will recall that there are beaucoup d’Indians in Trinidad.) Sure, other kids had fathers who were at D-Day, or Guadalcanal, or the Battle of the Bulge, but someone had to be in Trinidad. And if my father had been in some dangerous place, and hadn’t survived, he never would have been stationed in Chicago and met my mother. And there would have been no trips to Parson’s with the Radio Flyer.

“Collectors know that without provenance it is impossible to know whether an object was first acquired by illegal or destructive means,” said Neil J. Brodie, an archaeologist and former director of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.

Knowing my father, I’m not worried about his having acquired these dolls by “illegal or destructive means.” He paid. It might have been with a can of Spam, but he paid.

My mother, of course, made her own I contributions to my artifact collection. This shot does not do this crewel embroidery of Japanese lanterns in a modern vase justice. And while I don’t have any official IMG-20120715-00051paperwork, I did watch her make the darned thing. It hung for years in our family room before I spirited it away and paid a ton of money to have framed. If (probably when, what with the polar ice caps melting) the Flat of the Hill ever floods, this is probably the first object I’d save.

Which means I’d probably have to leave these behind, two lovely New England scene watercolors done by one of my mIMG-20120715-00053other’s Chicago girlfriend’s as an engagement present. Best engagement present ever (especially after, fifty years or so later, your daughter goes to the same pricey frame-shop where the crewel work was framed and gets them all duded up). In keeping with the modesty of the era – this was 1945 – these watercolors aren’t signed, except for a tiny H. (Which stood for Helen Curtin, the sister of my mother’s best friend, Margaret. Helen died in 2010, which I know thanks to the power and glory of the Internet. One of her daughters was also named Maureen.)

Well, I could go on, but I really do have to get going on the provenances of all of my treasures.

“Objects are guilty until proven innocent,” said James J. Lally, a Manhattan dealer in Chinese art and antiquities.

I’m assuming that this sweeping statement also encompasses non-Chinese art and antiquities, like this example of volksdeutsche kunst, a sampler done by my Grandmother Wolf in 19IMG-20120715-0005412, when she was  11 or 12. When I was a kid, I thought the German alphabet was different, because the letters are in an odd order – with the capitals, things seem to break down a bit after “G”. Magdalena made up for it, more or less, and put most of the missing letters in a bonus row. For some reason capital “X” never made it in to the mix. (The lower case alphabet does contain an x.)

Meanwhile, as if I have nothing better to do with my time, I have to start establishing the provenance for all my artifacts.

Life doesn’t get any simpler, does it?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hey, Yuri Milner, for YOU our condo’s for sale

It’s well known that even the most successful venture capitalists occasional suffer from boo-boos.

Like the rest of us, they sometimes lose money on bets that don’t play out. Like the rest of us, they sometimes lose face when they do something that seems smart but turns out to be studip.

Last year, Yuri Milner, who had Facebook and Groupon among other ventures he helped capitalize, decided to take some of his walking around money and buy a house. Not just any old house, of course, but the sort of mansion that befits someone who was smart enough to get the hell out of the cement-block world of the Soviet apparatchik and into Wharton for an MBA.

The object of his affection was quite the manse:

Nestled among 17 hilltop acres in Los Altos Hills, Calif., the mansion encompasses 25,545 square feet of living space including 14 bathrooms, two dining rooms, a ballroom, a library and staff quarters. Outrageous amenities include a home theater, a wine cellar, a gym, an indoor pool, and a sauna. There’s also a 4,600-square foot guest house and two three-car garages, even a private car wash. (Source: Boston.com)

I’m a bit surprised that someone would term pedestrian features like “a home theater, a wine cellar, a gym, an indoor pool, and a sauna” as outrageous amenities. Yawny-yawn-yawn to those, I say. Even I know people with wine cellars and gyms.

But private car wash?

Now you’re talking.

I wonder if the guys who do the final chamois wipe downs are among those who live in the staff quarters.

Anyway, Milner broke Silicon Valley records when he paid $100 million for the Palo Alto Loire Chateau, which is a French chateau-knock-off knocked up with amenities like the private car wash that I suspect is not all that common in the Loire Valley.

Interestingly, when the Santa Clara County assessor went to put a price tag on it, they found that it was worth about half of what Milner paid for it.

“For whatever reason, and we don’t know, Mr. Milner purchased the property at more than it’s fair market value,” explains Larry Stone, Santa Clara County Assessor. “It doesn’t happen very often and we knew it was unusual…since the highest assessed residential property in Silicon Valley prior to that time was $28.5 million.”

Now it’s nothing unusual for a place to be assessed for tax purposes for an amount that is less than what you could actually get for it on the open market – I just looked at our latest property tax bill, and the assessed value is probably off market by about 15%.  And there’s also the difference between fair market value, and what you get taxed on. But what’s stunning is that this looks like Milner overpaid by 50% (which is probably a familiar feeling for those who bought Groupon shares on IPO day).

The assessors did not pull the value out of thin air, of course. They had three separate appraisers make assessments, plus they looked at 11 comparables – similarly tricked out manses in similar ‘hoods.

The good news for Milner  - who, after all, didn’t get to be a billionaire by not being something of a shrewdy – is that he will only be paying $600K a year in taxes. While this figure is double the tax bill for the same property the year prior to Milner’s purchase – when it was obviously undervalued – it’s still roughly just half of what he would have to shell out if the assessed value equaled the sales price. At this rate it will only take him 8-9 years to recoup the overpay, after which it’s clear sailing. (I told you he was a shrewdy.)

This is, of course, disappointing news for Los Altos, which had been hoping for bigger bucks.

Oh, well, I’m sure they’ll make it up somewhere.

Value, like beauty, is, of course in the eye and the checkbook of the beholder. So if Milner was willing to pay $100 million for a house then the house is obviously worth that much. To him at least. Perhaps it was the private car wash.

Meanwhile, while our condo is not for sale, if Yuri Milner is interested in a pied a terre in Boston, let’s talk.

Let’s clear a few things out first. We have 2 bathrooms, not 14. No wine cellar.  No staff quarters. No indoor pool. No gym. No private car wash.

But we are a hop, skip, and jump from package stores, hotels, the pool at the Holiday Inn, plenty of gyms, the Boston Common garage – which is a lot bigger than two three-car garages (or was it three two-car garages) -  and, over in Park Square, I believe there’s still a car wash.

We have a very cool living room and, while you can’t exactly treat a condo in a building that went up 150 years ago, in a neighborhood that watches over its history like a hawk, as a tear down, you’d certainly be welcome to gut the period 1980’s bathrooms and kitchens. Have at it.

Asking price?

For you, $2 million.

I’m telling you, it’s a bargain.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fore! Making your living playing online golf

Ah, just think of the jobs (and the workers) that made America great, from stoop-bend-labor, through Rosie the Riveter, to the oh-so-vaunted (at least a while back) “knowledge work” that was going to replace all that stoop-bend-labor and riveting Rosies.

Digging the Erie Canal. Pounding stakes into railroad ties. Working the blast furnaces in Pittsburgh. Assembly-lining in Detroit. Making movies. Discovering the cure for polio. Figuring out how to freeze food. Manufacturing TV sets. Inventing the Internet. Coming up with word processing and the relational database.

Well, I could go on, but there was a day when we used to make stuff, invent stuff, do stuff that was pretty darned tangible.

Now, alas, there is a lack of tangible, and even intangible jobs, except at the extremes.

You’re either a hedge fund manager or a hedge trimmer. A brain surgeon or a home health aide. A private equity investor making millions off correctional outsourcing, or a prison guard.

Unfortunately, there are a lot more of those barbelllow-end jobs than there are middling let alone high end jobs, and the loss of those middling jobs is particularly disastrous. Forget the Bell-curve. What we have now is the Barbell curve, with the preponderance of weight on that one, not so great side.

So what are we to do?

Because we are Americans, with a not yet dead spirit of determination and can-do, the belief that nothing can stop up, there’s no holding us back. Because we’re Americans, out-of-the-box thinkers, entrepreneurs at heart, we create all new categories of ways to make a living. Hang Thomas Alva Edison and damn perspiration. What we’re really good at is inspiration.

I give you those who make a living playing video golf. (Source: WSJ Online.)

Sure, there are only a couple of dozen people who today manage to scratch out a living making virtual eagles and holes in one. But when Henry Ford started, he wasn’t employing thousands of folks, either.

You have to start somewhere, and this could be big.

And, unlike the world of professional golf, it appears that you can do the job even if you aren’t the most bland, clean cut, buttoned down, buttoned up looking guy this side of the Cedar Rapids Jay-cees.

Why, here’s a bunch of the bros from last year’s Golden Tee tour. Look at them! Not a tour guys$90 Greg Norman golf shirt in the bunch. No corporate sponsorships. Plus, unlike the folks on the PGA Tour, they actually appear to be having fun, and not taking themselves so god-awful seriously that they forget that golf – on links or online - is not really all that important in the grand slam of things. (Which may come as a surprise to those who get all misty-eyed when the winner of the Masters’ Tournament dons the green jacket to the tunes of “My Old Kentucky Home.” Oh, wait, I’m conflating the Masters’ with the Kentucky Derby. Same vague neck of the woods.)

And you can make at least a modest living doing this. Graig Kinzler, who is featured in the WSJ video linked above, earned $50K last year. No, it’s not Phil Mickelson level, but it’s more than your average home health aide makes. You can drink beer on the job. And you don’t have to put up with crotchety old folks, either.

Plus while the Power Events Golden Tee Tour (PEGTour) isn’t yet the PGA – or even the LPGA – professional anything has to start somewhere.

This year’s somewhere start was in Florida in February. The tour ends in Dallas in December, where the winner of the year will be crowned, an honor that will (golf) bag him a bit over $2K. (If I’m reading this correctly. Seems like you’d have to win quite a few $2K pots to make up $50K.)

I guess I’m just a bit vague on all the details here. I mean, I can’t even figure out whether this is an arcade game or if you play online from a computer or both. Need to know basis, I suppose, and the pros who need to know obviously know.

I’m sure that the Golden Tee Tour, and professional video/online golf, will pick up momentum over time. Soon, no doubt, there’ll be large, hushed gallery crowds with those cardboard periscopes to see what’s going on. Green jackets for the winner-of-the-year. Caddies, even, to whisper advice and hand you your next quarter.

What can I say?

All my worries about the long-term indirection of our economy have dissipated.

Fore!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cheater pants (cheater suspenders, cheater yellow bow ties)

Dewey Cheatham and Howe is apparently no longer a law firm.

It’s now an investment bank.

Or so one might conclude from the survey results released earlier this week by Labaton Sucharow, a law firm that focuses on governance and whistleblowing. They surveyed 500 fin-serv professionals from the U.S. and the U.K. and published their findings in a report entitled: Wall Street, Fleet Street and Main Street: Corporate Integrity at the Crossroads.

Forget all those “streets”. I’d have tagged this one as “Bankers on Easy Street; Boulevard of Broken Dreams for Everyone Else.” (Although I guess if we’re in 401Ks that benefit from the cheating, all is good. Too bad that so much of the malfeasance seems to wrap itself around playing with house money and/or just plain cheating at the expense of  schnook clients (“the muppets” that a disgruntled ex-Goldman employee mentioned in his very public parting shot, which Pink Slip covered a few months ago).)

What Labaton Sucharow found:

  • 24 percent of respondents reported a belief that financial services professionals may need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct in order to be successful
  • 26 percent of respondents indicated that they had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.
  • Particularly troubling, 16 percent of respondents reported that they would commit a crime—insider trading—if they could get away with it.
  • 39 percent of respondents reported that their competitors are likely to have engaged in illegal or unethical activity in order to be successful
  • 30 percent of respondents reported their compensation or bonus plan created pressure to compromise ethical standards or violate the law, while 23 percent of respondents reported other pressures that may lead to unethical or illegal conduct
  • [only] 30 percent of respondents feel that the SEC/SFO effectively deters, investigates and prosecutes misconduct—despite the new leadership, record enforcement actions and new reforms; 29 percent of respondents feel the same way about FINRA/FSA [British equivalent of the SEC/SFO].  Source: Labaton Sucharow press release.)

It’s tempting to do an Inspector Louis Raynaud here and be “shocked, simply shocked” that cheating’s going on – as in, what else is new?

One-quarter of those surveyed believe you have to do something illegal or unethical to be “successful”, i.e., make a lot of money.

Forget this rather limited definition of success – which is, for better or worse, how most of us really do define success when it comes right down to it – I know more than a few folks who are pretty successful (maybe not Warren Buffett successful, but one-per-center successful) who managed to get their legally and ethically (at least as far as an outsider can discern).

And 26 percent have actually observed or had first hand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace?

But, hey, that’s the other guy. That’s the competition. That’s them, not me.

And then there are those mean old nasty compensation and bonus plans that put so much pressure on good guys to do something illegal and unethical…

Isn’t that just another way of saying that I actually can’t figure out how to make the loot that I want, I deserve, I need without doing something wrong? It’s not the compensation/bonus pressure. It’s greed. Why work for a paltry $250K when with a bit of shucking and jiving I can up that by an order of magnitude?

And it’s the win at all cost mentality, the thrill of victory, the high five; the thrill of the other guy’s defeat, the dagger in some loser’s heart.

Even in light of the latest follies – LIBOR manipulation, Peregrine’s bankruptcy, Peter Madoff’s guilty plea’s bringing big bro Bernie back into our consciousness – these results of the L-S survey are pretty stunning. Not to mention disheartening.

Well, we did used to know that the primary function of capital markets is to raise funds that keep corporations (and governments) afloat and keep markets liquid.  What we didn’t know was that the pre-primary function is apparently to make traders and investment bankers richly liquid (or is it liquidly rich?).

Silly us.

It’s especially interesting – or, as Labaton Sucharow has it, “particularly troubling”  - that 16% would engage in insider trading if they didn’t think they’d get caught.

Thank goodness for fear of the orange jumpsuit and the 8 x 6 cell with the metal bed and the lidless toilet.

But, nah, we don’t need no stinkin’ regulations…

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hello, Central, get me Somalia. (Just what were those geniuses at AT&T thinking?)

Q. What telecom giant makes Verizon look good?

A. AT&T

So one must conclude after reading about a local company that AT&T was suing for $1.15 million over a rash of phone calls fraudulently placed through their phone system to Somalia.

Here’s a quick synopsis of what happened to Michael Smith, the beleaguered owner of Todd Tool, a small company in Ipswich, Massachusetts, that supplies tools and abrasives and all sorts of shop floor type stuff. And is just the sort of company you’d be rooting for, even if AT&T hadn’t been doing some crazy breathing down their neck.

Anyway, three years ago some malefactors – presumably Somalian malefactors – hacked into Todd Tool’s phone system and started placing a lot of calls to Somalia. As in $260K worth of Hi Mom’s and What’s happenin’ dude’s.

Verizon, Todd Tool’s service provider, had the systems in place that could cannily notice something aberrant happening up in Ipswich. At least once the aberrant behavior hit a quarter of a million-plus.

Verizon shut down Todd Tool’s international calling service and cancelled the bill, but the criminals were able to use the company’s phones to reach AT&T’s international calling service through a domestic phone number. Over a six-day period, the criminals placed $892,000 worth of phone calls through AT&T to the east African nation of Somalia. Todd Tool’s typical monthly phone bill is $700, Smith said. (Source: Boston.com)

Rather than admitting that they should have had the safeguards in place to keep this from happening (at least after it had reached the $260K threshold that had set off an alert at Verizon) and/or recognizing that a 14-person outfit in Ipswich, Massachusetts, that sells collets and helical inserts – whatever they are – is really unlikely to have spent six days making nearly a million dollars worth of call to Somalia – AT&T decided to sue to get “their” money.

Todd Tool counter-sued.

After a spate of publicity on this, AT&T has blinked

“We’re sympathetic to the situation and under these circumstances we’ve decided to not pursue the claims,” the company said in a statement.

Now, wouldn’t you think that there was somebody, anybody, at AT&T who could have figured out a long while ago that, even if “legally” Todd Tools were responsible for having a hackable phone system (which I doubt):

  1. Todd Tools had clearly not made the calls. (What? Someone in Somalia needed a lot of helical inserts and collets? Do pirates use them?)
  2. AT&T is far better able to withstand a “loss” of $892,000 (plus interest) than a 14-person company in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
  3. Not to mention that the “loss” was no doubt the bogus retail cost of those calls, rather than the actual cost to AT&T, which was probably closer to $89.20. So going after a small company for that full amount – even if Todd Tool were responsible – seems downright ludicrous.
  4. If AT&T comes after the little guy on this they are going to look like a bunch of ridiculous, rapacious a-holes.

Seriously, is there no one at AT&T who’s looking at these types of situation and figuring out how to turn a lose-lose into a win-win, which is what Verizon did by forgiving the bill. Okay, maybe they took a little loss, but that is balanced out by the win aspect of not revealing themselves to be ridiculous, rapacious a-holes. Unlike Ma Bell, there. (Go, little RBOC.)

Makes me wish I had my career to do over again.

Forget being Maureen Dowd. Give me a job as the person who gets asked whether something is going to make the company look really, really, really stupid.

In this case, the answer would have been clear.

”The only reason they blinked is their brand is more important than this money,” said Smith.

Yep, and they should have thought of that before they tarnished the old brand.

Meanwhile, I think that AT&T could take a page out of Todd Tool’s playbook.

MISSION STATEMENT

Our mission is to improve our customers' productivity and reduce their costs through timely, error-free service and innovative quality products. Our continuous effort to achieve this mission will result in very successful customers and will allow us to perpetuate a profitable business.

Okay, maybe AT&T was miffed because Todd Tool is a Verizon customer and not an AT&T customer. But shouldn’t they have been thinking customer here? Rather than throwing a roadblock on Todd Tool’s path to perpetuating a profitable business.

PARTNERING WITH TODD TOOL

As a financially stable, computer literate supplier, Todd Tool has been partnered with many customers who have embarked on a proactive relationship with us. The success of the partnership is centered our willingness and ability to service the specific needs of our customers. Our advantage: we conform to your needs!

Might not AT&T have considered conforming to Todd Tool’s needs here? (Which, incidentally, since it would have kept them from looking like ridiculous, rapacious a-holes, would have actually coincided nicely with their own needs here?)

IMPROVING OUR CUSTOMER'S PROFITABILITY

Part of our goal is to improve our customers' profitability.

Which would have been a nice thought on AT&T’s part. Rather than to try to screw Todd Tool over for over a million bucks – that’s a lot of simoleons -  when even the ridiculous, rapacious a-holes at credit card companies don’t hold you responsible for someone using your number to ship a couple of 56” Sony flat screen TV’s to, say, Somalia.

Maybe, rather than going after Todd Tool for the money, AT&T should have gone after Verizon. After all, it was their phone system that got jacked.

Yes, suing Verizon.

That would have been much more like it.

A nice little mother and child reunion…

Anyway, I’m delighted for Michael Smith that AT&T backed down after what I’m sure was plentiful distraction (and legal fees).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

You oughta be in movies. (Or at least professionally shot stills.) After all, you are YOU.

I don’t own a camera.

Oh, I have an old cast off – a pretty good Canon – that my brother-in-law gave me years ago when he upgraded.his And I used it for a bit. But then when I started using  Windows 7, there was some compatibility problem with uploading pictures that I was never able to resolve. So the camera just sits there.

I take an occasional good-enough  (good enough for Pink Slip, any way) picture on my Blackberry.

But mostly I don’t “do” pictures.

Not that I don’t have some regrets about having to rely on memory to revisit vacations past. I have an excellent memory, and can vividly recall people, places, events, and sensations. But I wouldn’t mind having a picture of what I looked like buzzing cross-country with my roommate in Joyce’s Karmann Ghia in 1972. Or hitchhiking around Europe a year later.

So, yes, sometimes I do have picture envy.

But being camera-less means I never have to worry about recording an event. I just have to experience and enjoy it.

Well, there’s good news for travelers who want to cast off the burden of taking your own travel pictures. For the right price, you no longer have to worry about little Maisie’s blurry face or the top of Uncle Joe’s head being lopped off. (Come on, Joe, just bend your knees a bit. There ya go!)

The Wall Street Journal had a recent article on this new trend:

A growing number of hotels and resorts are offering sessions with photographers to chronicle guests' vacations. Travelers want to record memorable moments without ruining them stressing about focus and flash. They want more sophisticated shots to share on social media. And vacationers realize that an iPhone may not catch that perfect surfing or skiing triumph.

And, let’s face it, who doesn’t crave perfect?

Jumby Bay said it came up with the "Together Package" [which includes a two-hour professional photo-shoot] because its employees were getting so many requests from guests to take their pictures.

Nice one!

Why should an employee be bothered to take 5 seconds out of their busy day to show a bit of generosity and courtesy to resort guests when you can turn it into a commercial opportunity?

Disney World sells $350 an hour – prints extra – that includes retouching. I’m all for professional photographers getting work, but I wonder what part of that $350/hour the photographer actually gets.

But $350 an hour is really nothing much:

The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai in Hawaii, for example, charges $800 for an hour. A half-day shoot is $3,200.

Well, what’s an extra $3.2 grand if you’re having fun and want to look really good on Facebook.

But if you really want to go all the way:

Abercrombie & Kent, the luxury-travel outfitter, occasionally has clients who hire photographers for their entire vacations. "They just want to enjoy the destination without anyone [in the family] being responsible and having to worry about missing a shot or a memorable experience," says Rob Veden, manager of private travel at A&K. Mr. Veden says many clients hire a photographer for hours or a day.

What well-to-do narcissist traveler wouldn’t want to have every waking moment of their pricey adventure chronicled? I mean, come on, if you’re paying for this:

AandK

You don’t want to settle for:

One of the advantages of going pro is, of course, that most will do all the digital retouching you want.

Remember those high school graduate portraits where everyone’s zits were air-brushed out?  Even though I had a relatively blemish free adolescence, this was the right thing to do. Kids outgrow that acne, and who wants to be perpetually reminded of it?

But the retouching as gone well beyond a bit of photoshop Clearasil or tooth brightening:

Tara Leigh, a photographer in Nevis in the Caribbean, has had some more involved requests. For a recent maternity shoot with a pregnant vacationer, the client said, "I don't want my thighs to be that big," Ms. Leigh recalls. Ms. Leigh, who had worked as a fashion photographer in Toronto, was used to digitally shrinking models. Afterward, the client was thrilled. "She said, 'I look like a supermodel pregnant lady,' " Ms. Leigh says.

I don’t get it.

You want to have pictures for your maternity album, but you don’t want them to make you a) look like you; b) or like you’re pregnant. Because those thighs are one of two things: the thighs you have all the time, or the thighs you’ve gotten with pregnancy. In either case, if you’re self-conscious about them, how about just foregoing any pictures in which you’re in a bathing suit or short-shorts? Why not just some “hey, world, look at me, I’m pregnant” side-view shots while you’re wearing a cover up?

Oh, well, why settle for reality if you can look like a “supermodel pregnant lady.”

Wonder if supermodel supermom will have Leigh airbrush any parts of her baby that don’t look quite right. Are chunky thighs and dimply elbows on an 8-month old going to be okay? Or will they need to get the anorexic carve out, too?

 All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close up. Just make sure you get my good side. And if you want to take off a few of those wrinkles and that jowly thing I sometimes see in the mirror, please do. I’m on vacation. That’s the Eiffel Tower in back of me. I don’t just want to look good, I want to look super.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

As Tomas Lopez found out, some jobs just ain’t a day at the beach

Tomas Lopez might have been forgiven if he actually had thought his job was going to be a day at the beach. After all, he was a lifeguard in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

That was until he made an unforgivable mistake.

Now, I can think of plenty of unforgivable mistakes that a lifeguard might make. Like ignoring someone flailing around in the water yelling for help. Or paying too much attention to cute girls and failing to notice the kid whose just been swept out to sea on the riptide. Or missing the shark fin at 12 o’clock high because you’re staring at your reflection, admiring your pecs and your zinc oxide nose in a tidal pool.

Tomas Lopez was guilty of none of the above.

What he was guilty of was abandoning his post to help save the life of a drowning victim foolish chose to hit the waves on a part of the beach that nobody was paying Jeff Ellis and Associates to guard.

Tsk. Tsk.

Lopez clearly didn’t know the first rule of business: you gotta pay to play.

Orlando-based Jeff Ellis and Associates, the company Lopez worked for, said lifeguards cannot go beyond the perimeter of the beach they are responsible for overseeing.

But that day, a beachgoer rushed to Lopez's lifeguard station to alert him to a man who was drowning.

The man was some 1,500 feet outside the company's protection zone in an area where signs warn visitors to swim at their own risk, a supervisor with the company told CNN affiliate WPTV. (Source: CNN.)

A couple of other lifeguards have quit in solidarity/disgust, and Lopez himself calls his firing “ridiculous.”

" What was I supposed to do? Just let the guy drown?"

Apparently the answer is ‘yes.’

After all, it’s right there on the Jeff Ellis web site:

Our lifeguards a professional, courteous, and trained in customer service.

See, it’s there plain as day: trained in customer service.

Not in the service of the freeloaders and scofflaws the next beach over, which is posted as a ‘swim at your own risk’ area, and which is unguarded.

Jeff Ellis brags about its unblemished record of ‘zero drownings’ in eight years in business.

You don’t get a record like that by taking your eye off the zone you’re paid to cover.

Sheesh.

What was Tomas Lopez thinking?

He was, in fact, thinking about company policy. But:

Even though he knew it was outside the company protection zone, Lopez ran into the ocean toward the struggling man and pulled him ashore.

The man, he said, had turned blue.

"He was having a lot of trouble breathing," Lopez said.

The man may have been blue in the face – he ended up in the ICU – but Jeff Ellis has liability issues to worry about.

Lopez has acknowledged what he “should” have done in such cases:

"We are supposed to call 911 and hope they get there in time."

So Lopez did the only decent thing you could do: try to save the guy’s life.

Okay. The guy was swimming in an unguarded area – one posted as so. Caveat swimmer.

And Jeff Ellis and Associates does have liability to worry about. Someone could have needed help while Lopez’s back was turned. The person that Lopez went to rescue could well turn around and sue for a broken rib. Something terrible might have happened.

But didn’t.

How would Jeff Ellis & Associates have felt if Tomas Lopez had actually followed the rules and let the guy drown?

It might not have “counted” against their zero drownings record, but they would have looked like a bunch of callous a-holes. We would be reading about this jerk of a lifeguard who was ‘just following orders.’ The blogosphere would have been all hopped up about it. Lopez’s actions would no doubt have been seen as an indictment of his generation. (He’s 21).

Which is all far worse than what they got because Tomas Lopez went by his human, humane, and decent impulses and saved the guy’s life.

But what they did get doesn’t make them look like the kind of an outfit you’d want to do business with. Or work for.

How much better if this incident had prompted a review of company policies, some ‘what if’ training for lifeguards, rather than the knee-jerk decision to go by the book.

Tomas Lopez now counts himself among those who don’t want to work for Jeff Ellis & Associates.

Yes, the company ended up backpedaling and offered him his $8.25 an hour job back. Lopez turned them down.

The eponymous Jeff Ellis himself has admitted that the supervisor who fired Lopez – and two other lifeguards who admitted they would have done the same thing – was in the wrong.

"I am of the opinion that the supervisors acted hastily, " Jeff Ellis told the Sun Sentinel in a phone interview. (Source: CBS.)

Repent in leisure, as they say.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Website Innovations that no one needs. (You guys leave Auntie Em alone!)

Preying on the elderly is nothing new. And nothing rare. Googling “preying on the elderly” gets you nearly a quarter of a million hits. The hits for “scamming the elderly” are almost that high.

Mostly, I read about this in the abstract.

But shortly before my mother (at age 80) sold her house, she was being hard-sell hustled by some company that wanted her to buy something super-expensive. I can’t recall exactly what it was, and my mother is no longer here to ask, but I think it may have been a state of the art home security that would have been more appropriate for an estate insured by Chubb than for a modest ranch house in Main South, Worcester.

Because my mother was a kind, polite, and hard of hearing old lady, the sales person almost convinced her she HAD to invite him to make a home visit and buy something or other from him. But in addition to being kind, polite, and hard of hearing, Lizzie was also frugal and with-it enough to enlist the advice of her kids. We put the kibosh on this transaction.

More recently, my cousin Ellen has had a close encounter with a web-based marketing services company that had suckered her elderly aunt-in-law into agreeing to spend $15K for a computer, web site, banner ads, etc., and a full set up that would let her run a home-based marketing business.

The company that sold her this bill of goods was Website Innovations.

Keeping in mind that, on the web no one knows you’re a dog, the company looks legit, with a range of reasonably priced web services. But running through their price list, I’d say that they must have gotten Auntie Em to purchase two of everything.

While the business might look like it’s on the up and up, the Better Business Bureau of Central, Northern, and Western Arizona – Website Innovations is headquartered in Arizona – gives the company a big fat:

BBB® F Rating

for running one of those insidious work-from-home schemes.

BBB complaints and inquiries allege that Website Innovations is a work at home business opportunity that charges up front fees, and makes high income claims that do not generate income for the consumer. On December 28, 2011, the BBB requested that Website Innovations provide substantiation that they are not a work from home business opportunity. While the company provided the BBB with information by the deadline given by the BBB, the information did not substantiate the company is not work at home.

Website innovations like this we could all live without.

Anyway, Auntie Em was saved by the fact that the price tag on her purchase was so high it required a bank transfer. The bank smelled a rat and called the police.

It’s easy to see how Auntie Em got snookered.

A widow with no children, Auntie Em is, at 84, suffering from dementia.

But she was with it until a couple of years ago, and had held a number of good jobs over the years,. For many years – up until her early 80’s – she ran a successful bookkeeping business, with many clients ran, from home. But as she aged, and dementia started to set in, the mistakes started adding up and Auntie Em was out of business.

So, here’s a woman who well into old age had been professionally active. And who remains (these are Ellen’s words) “in so may ways her witty, engaging, funny self.... Until you find out the litany of weird things she's been doing.” One of which was paying $1,000 for a vacuum cleaner that she didn’t need, which is probably what got her on the sucker list.

How simple it must have been for someone to convince Auntie Em that she could, once again, become a vitally engaged business woman.  That she would once again be in the professional driver’s seat, making her own decisions, running her own company.  And while Ellen and her husband Mike have been watching out for Auntie Em, making repeated visits over the last several months as her condition has deteriorated – no small thing, given that Auntie Em lives 250 miles from Ellen and Mike’s Chicagoland home – they can’t be there with her every day.

Fortunately, the bank was able to nip this con in the bud.

I’m sure that the Website Innovation high-pressure phone salesperson would tell you that they weren’t doing anything illegal. And why shouldn’t a little old lady be enabled, even encouraged, to keep on keeping on with her own business?And how were they to know that Auntie Em was a little old lady with dementia?

Well, whether it’s legal or not, it sure isn’t ethical.

Speaking of which, Website Innovation’s Facebook page includes a link to their section on something called Ethical Arizona – which is part of that Central, Northern Western BBB and is “your source for ethical companies in Arizona.”

When you click on the link with the URL that’s particular to Website Innovation’s, you come up empty.

Maybe they thought nobody’d click through. Just like maybe they thought that no one had Auntie Em’s back.

Bad enough suckering anyone into one of these rancid work at home businesses, let alone someone’s who’s 84 years old.

You really have to ask yourselves how some people manage to look themselves in the mirror, don’t you?

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A tip of the Pink Slip hat to my cousin Ellen for letting me use Auntie Em’s story.