Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fair Fight? Not really.

It may come as a surprise to my readers, but I just don’t hunt.

It may come as a surprise to my readers, but I don’t have much of a problem with folks who do.

If someone wants to go shoot a deer for venison stew, or a bear for a rug, or a lion (as long as it’s not endangered) for the Hemingway-esque thrill of it all, have at it. Just remember to wear your blaze orange hat and vest, and make sure you look twice to make sure that you’ve got game in your sites, not someone’s grandma out for a nature walk.

After all, it’s not as if I’m some sort of rabid vegan who wouldn’t trouble a hen for its eggs or bother a cow so I can continue to enjoy Cherry Garcia Fro-Yo.

I’m sure that if I really thought about the food industry, I’d lean more vegetarian, but I love a occasional burger, wear leather shoes, eat sausage pizza, and enjoy all sorts of other animal-exploiting stuff.

So who am I to stand in the way of someone who wants to get up at dawn and freeze their butts off stalking around in the woods hoping to bag something wearing antlers? Or sit around in a duck blind for hours so they can blast a few Mergansers out of the sky. (Actually, as long as I had control  over the situation, I would never stand in the way of anyone carrying a gun.)

Feel free, oh great (probably mostly) white hunters, to roam the aisles of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s to your hearts’ content. (I would prefer that you not use a machine gun, however.)

And yet I am totally appalled at the thought of hunters who go the fish in a barrel route, to the not-so-happy-hunting grounds that are the fenced in “captive hunting camps” where hunters go when they want to improve their odds – more cash and carry than skill and luck. Somehow, this doesn’t seem all that sporting.

Apparently the state wildlife/fish and game folks in Vermont felt the same way, because they just closed down one of these outfits which the state claimed was operating illegally.

The two operators of the camp, called Hunt the Ridge, are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court after a sting in which two game wardens, posing as hunters from Pennsylvania, paid to shoot and kill a wild boar and a Spanish goat, authorities said. They face fines up to $7,000 and the loss of their hunting and fishing licenses.

“One of the more important aspects of hunting is the notion of fair chase,” said Patrick Berry, the state fish and wildlife commissioner. “If you have an animal trapped behind a fence, it loses that sense.”  (Source:

Hunt the Ridge was located in Fairlee – or UnFairlee, if you’re taking the animal’s perspective.

One of the legal facilities, Wild Hill Preserve, which was grandfathered in when Vermont outlawed captive hunting, is also under investigation.

Not surprisingly, the owners of Wild Hill take the counterpoint:

“They call them ‘canned hunts,’ but our preserve is a huge area,” said Marlene Richter, whose husband is a lifetime hunter who worked as a bush pilot in Alaska and the Amazon.

“Our game has a longer life expectancy than game in the wild. They’re fed in the winter; they’re treated very well. They have plenty of opportunity to get away,” she said. “They aren’t pets that are just shot in a barrel. That’s the impression that people have.”

Well, no, I don’t have the impression that these animals are pets. But, well, yes, I do have the impression that it’s more like shooting in the barrel than it would be if they were mucking around on their own turf.

The reason hunters flock to these outfits is that it improves their chances of scoring something that’s on what is called a harvest list, which I take it is similar to the lists that bird watchers maintain. To my knowledge, however, a real bird watcher wouldn’t check off a bird unless they saw it in its natural habitat, as opposed to in an aviary in a zoo.

“Yes, it is fenced in, but we have to have it fenced in to contain these animals,” Bill Richter said. “These are dreams that people have, and they would not be able to do this without preserves.”

His wife added, “These people would never be able to hunt this game anyplace else.”

But wouldn’t it be more of an accomplishment to snag a Russian boar in, well Russia – or at least in a place where they were running wild – as opposed to in an area surrounded by a chain link fence?

Not that I’m planning on heading there any time soon, but, thanks to Google – which has substantially increased the odds that those of us hunting for information will be able to find it – I was able to track down the Richters’ place, Wild Hill.

At Wild Hill, you’ll have the opportunity knock quite a few species off of your harvest list: “Russian boar, Red Stag, Elk, Buffalo, Fallow Deer, Ram and wild Goat.”

By traveling a relatively short distance from home, a hunter can leave everyday cares behind and coexist with nature, testing his skills against his game in a true wilderness setting. Bill's knowledge and experience will assure you of an exciting and memorable hunt.

And there’s more good news:

No hunting license is neccessary [sic] because no game at Wild Hill is native to Vermont.


We hunt only pure Russian boar; they are larger, much better eating and make for a more impressive trophy than the feral hogs found on many other preserves.

As I said, I’m no vegan, and if someone handed me a big, fat ham on rye with grainy mustard and a kosher dill pickle just about now, I would be delighted. And I will admit that a Russian boar rampaging around the fields and woods in Vermont no doubt leads a more fun and interesting life than the average pig raised for slaughter.

Still, wouldn’t we all feel better – and wouldn’t the hunters themselves feel prouder – if the wild animals they killed were actually in the wild?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The unhappiest of jobs

As a list junky, I am always delighted to see a list – especially when you don’t have to click through a slide show to get at the info. So I was plenty happy to see a list of the happiest and unhappiest of fields to be working in.

I found the article on Huffington Post, which, in turn, was citing, one of those online whatevers where I can’t quite figure out what the business model is.

Anyway, I was not surprised to read that the unhappiest of field is retail.

As one who had plenty o’ retail experience back in the day, all I can ask is ‘how could it not be?’

A good deal of the time, it’s drop dead boring. If there are no shoppers to pay attention to, you can straighten the merchandise, but trust me when I say that there are only so many times you can pat down boxes of stationery.

You’re also on your feet all day, which is not especially comfy and pleasant when you’re twenty. So I’m guessing that it really doesn’t get any better when you’re fifty, however sensible and orthopedic the shoes you’re wearing.

Then there’s having to slap on the smiley-face and deal with “the public,” including those who are: trying to return obviously worn clothing without even bothering to wave the supporting sales slip at you; attempting to bargain you down because their potential purchase is a bit shopworn or somehow damaged (when that “somehow” may have involved their own nefarious intervention: that missing button is in their pocket!); running an “I gave you a ten, now give me back a twenty” change scam on you.

And then there’s the paltry, miserable pay, that leaves you so skint that, even with your 10 or 20% employee discount, you can’t afford to buy anything in the store. (Unless you worked at Route 9 Surplus, where you wouldn’t want anything to begin with and, if you did, you could afford to spring for even without the 10% off. Who needs a discount on 59 cent flip-flops? Surely not my sister Trish…)

The one thing that retail does give you, however, is insight into human nature.

In one of my memorable encounters, while working in the Filene’s stationery department at Christmas, I waited on a man who was buying a box of writing paper. I pointed out that the box was somewhat dirty, and offered to get him something cleaner.

“Don’t bother,” he told me. “It’s just for my wife.”

So anyway, wanting to learn more about unhappy industries, I wended my way over to CareerBliss, only to find yet another delightful list, this one covering the unhappiest of jobs. Without working myself too much into a sweat about the distinction between “field” and “job” - I mean, there is a big difference in retail between clerk and senior buyer. While a buyer might be a lot more pressured, it’s a much better paid gig, and not so boring, since you get to jet around from one Fashion Week to another, rubbing shoulders with Jean Paul Gaultier, Donnatella Versace, and Stella McCartney. At least this is the case if you’re a buyer for Neiman-Marcus; buying for Wal-Mart may be a tad less glamorous - I was quite interested in what those unhappy jobs were. I figured, quite reasonably enough, I felt, that since retail is such a miserable industry, then retail clerk would be right near the top of the bottom.

Not so!

First on the misery list was security officer, which is more or less equivalent to retail clerk in terms of compensation and boredom, with danger and a gun layered on. But while it may be in retail half the time, it’s not of retail in the same way that clerk is.

RN was the next least happy jobs, which surprised me, since most of the ones I’ve met – dozens over the last year alone – seem to be competent, committed, and compassionate, a trifecta that would seem to me to be associated with job happiness. Then again, the nurses I’ve met are all at Mass General Hospital, which was – speaking of lists – chosen the #1 hospital in the US last year. Maybe the fact that everyone in the hospital was given a commemorative fleece made the nurses seem happier.

Teacher was the third least happy job, which I find sad but not surprising, given how much of a beating they’ve been taking lately, as if it’s their fault that they can’t fix all the problems of our diverse and troubled society in six hours a day.

Sales engineer was next on the hit parade, which I didn’t find much of a surprise either. Having worked with sales engineers for years, I realize that they were perpetually pissed off that they were the brains of the outfit, having to continually make up for the idiocy and false claims of the sales people they support, while making half the money.

What I was surprised to see was that, of the final six places on the unhappy list, three were occupied by jobs that I had held: product manager, marketing manager, and marketing director.


Sure, product manager can be a thankless task. When people used to ask me what a high tech product manager actually did, I would tell them this:  Everything that needed to get done to develop, release, sale, and support a product was set out on a table. Everyone involved in the development, release, sale, and support of a product walked around the table and picked out what they wanted to work on. What was left was what the product manager did.

Still, I enjoyed product management, since it gave you a tremendous insight into all elements of the product process, you weren’t stuck working with the same people all the time – you were stuck working with different people – and it was seldom boring. Plus, on occasion, when the product was released and sold (but before the support calls started bombing in), you actually got to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Marketing manager and marketing director are also positions that I held. Those titles are, of course, umbrella titles, and can mean a lot of things, but I found marketing – at least, and at least in the tech sector – is interesting, challenging, and creative.  And, especially if you can stay as far away on the continuum from really horrendous sales people, it was actually fun. I recognize that bad salesperson avoidance is not always possible, and that, however small or large the company, you will on occasion have to deal with screeching salespeople who believe that a) they know everything there is to know about marketing; b) marketing is really just about knowing how to order golf-balls with the company logo on them; and c) unless you can tell the sales person to go to the 14th floor of the Acme Building on May 7th and ask for Linda, who’ll have the signed, enterprise sales contract ready for you, what you- your feeble marketing manager – are calling a lead is not actually a lead. (One good thing about bad sales folks, however, is that they made you really and truly appreciative of the good ones. So, after-the-fact thanks to Ted, Valerie, Kevin, Tony, Chris…)

Okay, I would never say that a career in product management and marketing was “career bliss” exactly. But unhappiest of jobs?


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Taking a bath in a trailer, oh by gum by gee…

Oh, come on. Who other than the snobbiest of snobs hasn’t at least experienced a nano-second or two during which they wish that they could just take off in an RV, or with a trailer buckled to the back of the car? When they invent one that gets more than 3 miles a gallon to drive or lug – solar-powered, wind-turbined, battery-driven, nuclear- fueled -  I’m there. (Okay, maybe not nuclear-fueled.)

As someone who likes small spaces, I could no doubt live most contentedly in a trailer. But that trailer would most definitely be an Airstream.

OMG, I just love the look of an Airstream.

And, as the economy continues to make its fits and starts recovery, I was more than happy to learn that the RV industry is doing its part to move things along. There is, of course, always a catch.

As in many industries, it's the luxury end of the RV world that is driving the recovery, industry executives and analysts say.

Oh, great, it wasn’t enough for the elites to swan around in super-yachts, their own jets, and personal submarines. Now they have to come down market and start discovering RV’s.

But beyond the rarefied realm of six- and seven-figure bus-like motor coaches, the high-design strategy has also begun to infiltrate the market for more moderately priced tow-along trailers. (Source: WSJ Online.)

Excellent news, as this means that my beloved Airstreams will now come with interiors that are every bit as fabelhaft as their shiny, cocktail-shaker-y exteriors.

At the ultra-high end, super-yacht designer Mauro Micheli – whose work is in the hands and underimage the sea-legs of both George Clooney and Sean Connery, is bringing his high concept to the Airstream. Forget I ever said never pull a trailer that’s nicer than your home.  This kitchen rocks, and my trailer’s going to have one.

Since it’s not clear that the Mauro Micheli land yachts are going to actually go into production, I may have to 0pt for the Christopher Deam interior, which is more of an outside-in look and feel, and comes with accents in yellow-green (Arctic Dijon) or purple (Obsidian Violet).

As if the Airstream needed any wonderful-ness added to it, Airstreams are made in the US of A. And while I’m never going to beat a direct path to Jackson Center, Ohio – where Airstreams are manufactured, and which appears to be in the middle of nowhere – if I ever am in the neighborhood (perhaps with my Christopher Deam Airstream in tow), I would most definitely stop by for the factory tour.

Hmmm. That mention of “factory tour” sets me off on a bit of a side trip.

Why, exactly, are factory tours so popular?

Is it because so few of us actually work with our hands that we want to see how physical things are actually made? Which kind of has an animal-in-the-zooish aspect to it.

I’m assuming that they’re only available for cool, iconic brands like Harley Davidson and Airstream, Ben and Jerry’s and Sam Adams.

I mean, who would want to go on the factory tour of a factory where chickens get processed? Or sweat shops where garments get stitched?

And when I worked in the H.H. Brown Shoe Factory in the late 1960’s, weren’t no one walking through to gawk at us workers on the line.

As for white collar work, certainly, there’s no such thing as an insurance company tour - “Here’s where the claims processors look through the forms that arrived in today’s mail.” Or a call center tour – “That’s where they listen to you swearing at the voice recognition system.” And we do get to do our own tours of retail establishments any old time we want.

But back to the Airstream, is there anything on the road that is cooler looking than an Airstream trailer? And now that they’re all duded up on the insides, what is not to like?

Anyway, my secret is now revealed. Since the first time I set eyes on an Airstream, I have longed for one. And my longing was only made more acute by the cartoon in which Farmer Alfalfa warbled the immortal tune:

Taking a bath in a trailer, oh by gum, by gee.
I sure enjoy it ‘cause the water’s free

I suspect that Farmer Alfalfa was wrong about the water. Sure, you could use rain water, but you do need to pay for hookups, and waste removal, and – of course – the gas to lug it around. Still, how much fun would it be to buzz around the country, seeing the sights, knowing you were going to put your heady down in a high-end Airstream trailer?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Remind me never to stay in a $65 a night hotel on Skid Row

Occasionally,  you get to look back on some of the sketchier decisions you’ve made and let yourself give out with a major ‘phew’. For me, one such instance was spending a couple of days in a 50 cents a night hotel in Turkey.

This was, indeed, many long years ago.

Still, even in 1973, 50 cents a night was not exactly pricey. (It translates into about $2.50 by today’s standards.)

What did that 50 cents buy us?

A room that looked like something out of Camus’ Algeria: smoke-stained stucco walls, a languid fan, a bed with coiled spring and a thin and ancient mattress, a pair of communal clogs (if you were willing to slip your feet into them), lights that were turned off at 10 p.m., and a toilet in the hall. (The communal clogs were what you were supposed to put on to walk to the communal toilet in the hall.) The communal toilet in the hall was of the hole in the floor variety, with the hole in the floor surrounded by a porcelain tray that featured treads for comfortably standing or squatting on. The most interesting feature of the toilet in the hall was that, like the room lights, the water was turned off at 10 p.m. There was, however, a metal poker that you could use to poke and prod your personal effluent, as well as that of the other strangers staying on your floor, far enough down the hole to make some room.

Fortunately, my friends and I made it out not just alive, but fully intact. And Izmir, sewery small aside, was lovely.

Since then, I will admit to having stayed at some dumps, but nothing quite of the caliber of the 50 cent a night spot in Turkey.

Most of my hotel misadventures were while I was on business. (I wouldn’t dream of staying at a dump for pleasure.) One of the most memorable was the Gramercy Park Hotel before it was rehabbed. (This would have been the mid-1980’s.) I shared a suite with my friend and colleague Michele, and the price – it was $50 a piece – should have alerted us that something was amiss. (I believe that a more standard rate at that time would have been $200-250). It was right before Christmas, New York hotels were packed, and our original reservation had gotten screwed up. I had seen ads for the Gramercy Park Hotel in The New Yorker, so – running out of options on a sleety night after an exhausting day – I told corporate travel to put us there.

To this day, Michele and I go back and forth on what was the best part of our stay. The cold, wet plaster that dripped on your shoulder while you were showering? The stretchy turquoise-with-gold-metal fabric that the couch and chairs were covered with? The cigarette burns on  all the furniture? The old men in bathrobes on the elevator? Or the fact that, when we checked out, they accidentally charged Michele $500 rather than $50.

But nothing I’ve experienced has come close to what recent guests at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles had to put up with.

British tourist Michael Baugh and his wife said water had only dribbled out of the taps at the downtown Cecil Hotel for days.

On Tuesday, after showering, brushing their teeth and drinking some of the tap water, they headed down to the lobby and found out why.

The body of a Canadian woman had been discovered at the bottom of one of four cisterns on the roof of the historic hotel near Skid Row. The tanks provide water for hotel taps and would have been used by guests for washing and drinking…

[Public health official Terrance] Powell said the water was also used for cooking in the hotel; a coffee shop in the hotel would remain closed and has been instructed to sanitize its food equipment before reopening.

"Our biggest concern is going to be fecal contamination because of the body in the water," Powell said. He said the likelihood of contamination is "minimal" given the large amount of water the body was found in, but the department is being extra cautious. (Source: Huffington Post.)

The Cecil is located on LA’s Skid Row, in an area that’s on the margins of gentrifying. Here’s how they describe themselves.

Centrally located in the heart of historic district downtown, we are just a short stroll or bus ride away from some of Los Angeles best icons including Hollywood and the Santa Monica Pier. This Downtown Los Angeles boutique hotel accommodation offers a variety of stunning guest rooms with choices that suit the needs of the budget-minded, business, and experienced leisure traveler. (Cecil Hotel.)

In the pictures on the web site, the place looks plenty stunning and boutique-y, but they do have a bedbug rap sheet, which would have been enough to keep me the hell out, even if the Skid Row location and $65 price tag wouldn’t have.

And then there’s the body in the cistern…

Primary sympathies, of course, go the family of the young woman who was found dead. They have not yet determined how Elisa Lam died – natural causes or foul play.

Still, one has to feel some sympathy for the Baughs and other “experienced leisure travelers” who took their vitamins with a water chaser, tried to wash their hair, and had a nice, soothing cup of tea in the Cecil’s coffee shop.

How many showers, how much dowsing yourself with isopropyl alcohol, how many gargles with Scope, would it take you before you got yourself back to normal?

Fortunately, there weren’t all that many guests to get themselves back to normal:

By noon Wednesday, the Cecil Hotel had relocated 27 rooms used by guests to another hotel, but 11 rooms remained filled, Powell said. Those who chose to remain in the hotel were required to sign a waiver in which they acknowledged being informed of the health risks and were being provided bottled water, Powell said.

Eleven rooms remained filled?  Eleven rooms remained filled?

Just how does that “let’s stay” conversation go?

As opposed to taking the next place option, under the assumption that it just can’t be any worse. Or deciding to sit up all night in the bus station. Or to not eat for a day and use the money to stay in a $100 a night hotel.

I don’t know about you, but I think that I’d have checked out. And this is coming from someone who actually slept in a hotel in Turkey that only cost half a buck per night.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Apocalypse Now Trade Show

We caught a bit of Doomsday Preppers the other night.

Unlike most of the folks who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars stockpiling assault rifles, water purifying tablets, and freeze-dried legumes, the fellow profiled traveled light. He was prepping to survive a doomsday tsunami by running up a 4,000-foot-high peak in Hawaii, barefoot, and with nothing in his backpack but a water – or, when there was no water to be had and he had built up a powerful thirst running up the mountain, piss – bottle. He was planning on living by his wits and off the land and the “pros” who rated his preparedness efforts told him that he would probably survive by his wits, off the land, and with his very own piss for about three months.

(Me, I would undoubtedly (and blessedly) perish during the tsunami.)

Given this fellow’s rock-bottom material needs, he would not likely have bothered with the recent International Disaster Conference & Expo (IDCE), which I read about in Business Week the other day.

Samples of gourmet self-heating rations and drink pouches that could purify puddle water via reverse osmosis competed for attention near a booth that touted a product called Powdersafe, designed specifically to handle your anthrax-letter-disposal needs. (Source: Business Week)

It probably wouldn’t hurt to have a stock of gourmet self-heating rations around, just in case. And maybe even a pouch that can purify puddle water. (You never know.) But I suspect I will never have much by way of anthrax-letter disposal needs. Now junk-mail-that-comes-into-this-building needs, that I have a-plenty. It’s not that great a burden to have to toss six-units worth of Pottery Barn catalogs into recycle. Still, there are some times of year – the Christmas run-up and the eagerly-anticipated delivery of the Yellow Pages – when I wouldn’t mind having a pouch that could purify all that paper out of existence.

There were inflatable radio masts, triage tents, and decontamination showers. There were paperback-size solar panels ($160), portable seawater desalination units ($75,000), and a tricked-out 18-wheeler called the THOR Shield that functions as a rolling 911 dispatcher (for lease). Two Swedes proudly showed off a $45,000 field toilet—the EcoJohn—with its own incinerator.

At first, I was wondering why someone would need a $45K field toilet. Couldn’t you just, errrrr, go the way of the bear and shit in the woods?  But that’s so every woman for herself, such all about me and mine Doomsday Prepper thinking.

As I learned when I looked the EcoJohn web site, there are plenty of situations in which lots and lots and lots of folks need toilet facilities, and a spade and a slit trench won’t do much to help prevent disease from spreading and/or give people at least a tiny bit of the comfort of home when they’re out of commission for a while. As in”the military, disaster and relief efforts, refugee camps, oil and gas industries…”

Personally, I would love to see an EcoJohn replace any of the fetid Porta-Potties that I have had to use, fortunately with great rarity. Let’s face it, the average Porta-Potty makes an airplane toilet or highway restroom look like a place you’d want to spend hours chillin’ with a pina colada an a good book.

Post-Katrina, New Orleans – the home of the recent IDCS -  is certainly an excellent place to think disaster preparedness.

And while I am not exactly a doomsday buff – other than to wish that if  there is a capital-D Doomsday event, I hope that it occurs on top of my head – I do, on occasion, enjoy a good trade show.

When I worked full time – during the height of the technology trade show era – I attended (and worked the booth at) plenty of them, and liked nothing better than strolling around picking up swag: day-glo yo-yos, cheap pens, cheaper tee-shirts, ill-fitting ball caps, logo’d Post-it notes, mouse pads, squeeze balls, triangular plastic three-color markers. And, of course, seeing just what folks had on offer.

Although 99% of the time, what they were giving out – even if it was just a day-glo yo-yo – was far more interesting than what they had on offer in terms of their products.

If a booth was holding a drawing, I always threw my card in the fishbowl to see if I could win the grand-prize. Of course, someone who was not an “enterprise buyer with budget” the chances that I was going to win the bright Orange Hum-vee, or even the laptop, were slim to non-existent. Having run those collect-the-card raffles plenty of times myself, I realized full well that the business cards of non-prospects were as likely as not to find themselves glued to the side of the fishbowl. That said, I did manage to win a cam-corder at one show. The company from which I won the cam-corder was actually a competitor, so it was doubly bizarre that I –as both a non-buyer and a competitor - would win. (Or singularly embarrassing that they did not even recognize that my company was a competitor.)

Anyhow, disaster is big biz, and apt to get bigger and busier with climate change, melting ice caps, and all the nihilistic loose cannons out there.

Sorry I missed the show.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hippity, hoppity, Triple A is on its way

One thing about not having a car, I never have to leave a car in an airport parking lot.

One thing about not living in Colorado, I never have to leave a car in a parking lot at Denver International Airport.

So it is highly improbable, I might even say impossible, that I will ever have a problem with mile-high rabbits “eating [my car’s] spark plug cables and other wiring” at DEN while I’m off gallivanting around Paris (CDG), or NYC (LGA or JFK), or one of my other prime gallivanting spots (including, but not limited to SNN).

Talk about cwazy wabbits!

Sure, out of more than four million “parking transactions” logged last year, there are only three claims made looking for compensation for rabbit damage.  Still, if you’re one of the three…

And, of course, that’s only those reporting incidents. I’m quite sure that there are plenty more where they came from.  As seems to be indicated by the Feds getting involved:

To stop the problem, federal wildlife workers are removing at least 100 bunnies a month while parking companies install better fences and build perches for predator hawks and eagles. (Source: AP article on

Fortunately – or not  - there’s another pre-fix that individual car owners can take care of on their own:

Mechanics say coating the wires with fox or coyote urine can rob the rabbits of their appetite. Fox urine can be purchased at many hunting shops.

And will probably be coming to airport newsstands as well, although once you’re in the terminal, you’ve already left your car alone and vulnerable in a parking lot or garage, where the rabbits are cooling their paws waiting for the chance to hop into your engine and gnaw. Still, the thought of cleverly packaged bottles of fox urine for sale next to the mugs, ball-caps, Mentos, Peoples, and James Patterson novels is one that I much enjoy.

Probably more than I’d enjoy the actually smell of that prophylactic fox or coyote urine that would no doubt infuse your sedan’s heat-AC system once you’d started your engine.

(Just a thought: how do they capture fox and coyote urine? Talk about a lousy job…)

While I have no experience with rabbits gnawing the innards of my car, I do have some background with automotive critter infestation.

When I was still a car owner, I parked on occasion out in back of our building in a space that belonged to a fellow condo-owner. He wasn’t using it at the time, and invited me to take advantage of a parking space that was not only free, but – better yet – did not require a 45-minute hunt to find, a stand-off with the other parking-space-hunter who thought he’d gotten there first, and – if you won the stand-off – a 45-minute back-and-forth to wedge your way into a space that was no more than 3 inches longer than your car. As anyone who has owned a car in a city can tell you, one skill you will end up acquiring is the ability to parallel park in the tightest of spaces, even if you do end up burning out a clutch a month proving you can do so. Believe me when I say that I have had few moment of triumph in my life that are greater than those when I managed to get into a seemingly impossible parking space.  Satisfaction supreme!

It may come as news to some, but there are rats lurking in even the toniest of urban neighborhoods, drawn like all of us by the good restaurants and handy shops, while also drawn – unlike the rest of us – by choice garbage put out three times a week and ample places to burrow.

Having lived on Beacon Hill for many years, I speak with full authority when I write that not all rat holes are in rat holes.

During one of the periods when I was parking out back, I used my car to get to Salem to visit my sister and her family. When I got there, I decided to take care of the one car-ish thing I know how to do (other than parallel park like a pro, if there’s such a thing as a professional parallel parker). And that’s top off the windshield wiper fluid.

When I popped the hood, I noticed the oddest thing.

There was a half-eaten piece of fried chicken sitting on the engine.

Next to it, there was a slice of pineapple.

And next to that, a hunk of fruit cake.

My first thought was the obvious one: some weird-ball had somehow gotten under my hood to hold some type of voodoo or Santeria service.

After a moment of wondering just who that might have been – there not being a ton of voodoo or Santeria practitioners on Beacon Hill that I know of, the only house of worship in my section being an Anglican Church so high-church that they use incense and even used to have nuns – realized that I pretty much had to rule out that my engine had been used for some type of ceremony.

I then looked more closely, and observed that there was what urban-I could identify as rat scat strewn hither and yon in my engine.

I am not one to freak out all that easily, but I was a bit shaken at the thought that rats had been shopping in our building’s garbage bags, and hauling their goodies into my poor Beetle’s engine so they could feast in the comfort of what to them must have seemed like a heated patio.

Thankfully, my brother-in-law cleaned the chicken, pineapple, fruit cake, and scat out of my engine.

Suffice it to say that I never parked out back again, or, when I could help it, picked a spot anywhere near a storm drain (i.e., rat burrow gateway).

I did mention the rat “thing” to my next door neighbor, who confessed that he had recently found evidence that there had been rats in his car. He implored me not to tell his wife.  And I later learned from a friend that rats in the engine was a big problem down by the Boston waterfront.

I have to say that, on the animal continuum, I much prefer the idea of rabbits mistaking my car wiring for carrots to the image of rats picnicking on my engine, even if those munching bunnies did more harm than the feasting rodents.

But in either case, one more reason why I’m just delighted to NOT have a car.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Child’s Play. (My take on re-enactment.)

I am just finishing up the wildly entertaining book Man of War, in which writer Charlie Schroeder recounts his slog  through a year of weekend re-enactments* that took him from Roman times up to Viet Nam.

Along the way, he spent weekends participating in the French & Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War (no way he could have avoided that one), and World War II (not as a noble GI on D-Day, but as a Wehrmacht soldier at Stalingrad).

Having read Confederates in the Attic, having grown up in Sturbridge Village – Plimouth Plantation – Midnight Ride of Paul Revere territory, I was certainly aware of historic re-enactments.  There’s also some type of tenting in the old camp ground event that I’ve seen in my front yard (Boston Common), which I think had to do with the Civil War, but I’m not quite sure. There were no Civil War battles fought in downtown Boston, so it must a been just a muster. And every day I pass by at least one person in Ye Olde Colonial garb giving a tour of Ye Olde Colonial Boston.

There’s something called King Richard’s Faire held around here each year, which I take it revolves around Merry Old England. (Not quite sure why it’s King Richard’s, rather than King Henry’s Faire. Didn’t all the King Richards – the good, lion-hearted one, and the bad hunchback who killed his little nephews – appear a bit earlier in the march of history?)

And, as long as I’m rounding up everything I’ve ever known about re-enactment, I seem to recall a fellow you ran for Congress a couple of years ago whose candidacy was derailed at least in part when pictures of him in a Waffen SS uniform – apparel donned for some re-enactment or other – popped up. (Note to current reenactors who think they might want a future in politics: don’t let anyone take a picture of you in an SS uniform while you’re grinning.)

Anyhow, Schroeder’s book has added immensely to my re-enactment knowledge base.

Thanks to Man of War, I now know that there are several groups devoted to keeping alive the history of the Polish Winged Hussars, including, but not limited to, Suligowski’s Regiment.  And I’m now aware that there are businesses fully devoted to outfitting re-enactors (who desire/demand varying levels of historic accuracy) including, but not limited to an Indian-based outfit, Deepeeka, that helped spur the growth of the re-enactment industry by off-shoring costume production and, thus, making said costumes and related paraphernalia more affordable for the masses. Not to mention that there are sutlers who make their living provisioning Civil War re-enactors by camp-following re-enactment events. (Wonder if there are camp followers of the working-girl variety who also work the circuit?)

I find the whole notion of re-enactment intriguing, and on many levels, I get it. There’s love of history; the desire to rough it (no iPad, no microwaved Lean Cuisines, no air mattress); the camaraderie; the (mostly) male bonding. And given that most of us – gym membership and running shoes aside – live a lard-ass life, it’s no wonder that people want to take on a physical challenge on occasion.

Re-enactment seems to hold a certain charms for men, often ex-military, who want to blow off a bit of testosterone and anger in ways that are safer and less likely to involve prison terms when the guns fire blanks and the swords are swathed in heavy felt. (Some re-enactment specialties seem to attract less of the warrior types than the others. The Revolutionary and French and Indian War buffs, for example, seem more crunchy and granolish – there for the history. Less so, say, with the Viet Nam re-enactors, some of whom want to throttle the necks of those playing the role of gooks.)

Some re-enactors, I’m quite sure, are attracted/sympathetic to lost causes, and, for a variety of reasons, want to fight old battles. And some of these folks, for all their devotion to purity and authenticity (of the ‘we’ll only eat hardtack using ingredients and ovens available in 1861’ variety), have a somewhat peculiar desire to recast history to meet their political agenda.

Personally, while I don’t sympathize with it, I understand why Confederate re-enactors would want to view the Civil War through a prism that had more to do with the noble cause of states’ rights than the ignoble cause of slavery. But how do you rewrite history to make anything the German or Soviet Army did look good? I just don’t get why any Americans would want to put on a Waffen SS and/or a Soviet Army uni to refight a WWII battle of bad guys vs. bad guys, I’ll never know.  I know, I know, the average German or Russian soldier was most likely not a bad guy. But they did have the ill-luck to get drafted into the service of an irredeemably terrible regime.  And, while I will acknowledge that the Soviets did the bulk of the work needed to get rid of the Nazis, but that doesn’t exactly make Stalin a good guy. So, yeah, I think that sometimes the motives of the play-ahs may be a bit warped. If you want to be out in the WWII cold, why not just redo the Battle of the Bulge? Which still, of course, leaves the problem of who wants to play the Panzer Division and why.)

Those who want to swan around in SS uniforms aside, I think that the baseline appeal comes down to the fact that every last one of us has been a re-enactor at some point in life. It’s just that most of us chuck the desire to re-enact when we leave childhood.

Because now that I think of it, I have a long and glorious history as a re-enactor, or pre-enactor, or whatever you want to call it, that ended at about the age of 10.

We may not have gone in for full authenticity, but, really, all you needed to play Mass was a table, a towel, and a roll of Necco wafers.

There was a boulder in the woods near our house that was variously used as a boat (on which we were imperiled refugees), a Conestoga wagon (on which we could act out the most recent episode of Wagon Train ), or, if we just wanted to be boring and play dolls, a house. (This latter activity was more pre-enactment than re-enactment, unless we set it in another period  - think Little House – which we would sometimes do.)

My brother Tom and his friend Kevin were certainly re-enacting a buffalo hunt when my father took them and their Davy Crockett coon-skin caps to Green Hill Park to shoot at the buffalo with their Disney-plastic replicas of Davy’s flintlock rifle, Old Betsy.

In a neighborhood teeming with kids, we had more boys than girls, so I played plenty of “boys games”, including cowboys and Indians and war. (In one episode, I moved Fighting Father Duffy up to World War II and played the chaplain. What a re-enacting goody two-shoes I was. Although I guess if I were that much of a goody two-shoes, I would have played a nurse and not transgendered myself into a priest.)

And while we’re on the subject of goody-two shoes, perhaps my greatest triumph as a re-enactor came when my friend Bernadette and I tried to break up a rock-fight by walking into its midst carrying our rosary-beads on high. This was in emulation of  St. Dominic Savio, the saccharine and consumptive boy saint we were urged to imitate. Among other deeds that earned Dom his canonization, he had allegedly tried to stop some boys from fighting by walking between rival gangs holding a crucifix. He ended up a saint, while we ended up with Bernadette getting pegged in the ankle with a rock. So much for the miraculous ability of piety and sanctity to stop evil in its tracks.

Anyway, now that I think of it, I really do get all this re-enactment madness. Pretending you’re something other than you are is tremendous fun! Who wants to grow up?


*I’m hyphenating all variations of this word because I find it hard to read them if they’re not. Perhaps it has to do with having grown up as one of “The Een Sisters”. The letter grouping “een” just does not lend itself to two-syllables without the hyphen in there.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hospitaliano? Sounds kind of food-poisony to me.

With absolutely nothing, nada, zip, rien, zero better to do with my time, I actually let myself read an article in Business Week on the Olive Garden’s new uniform.

Since I never eat at an Olive Garden – other than that one time when visiting family who actually wanted to eat there, even though they actually do have real restaurants in their area – the change in uniform is something that has absolutely nothing,, nada, zip, rien, zero to do with me.

In case you’re interested the big switch was from black pants-white shirt-long tie to black pants-black shirt.

Having been a waitress in white-shirt or – wow, how retro – white waitress uniform (i.e., white nylon dress) restaurants, I will observe that white is just about impossible to keep clean, with or without an apron. (The one exception to wearing white during my waitressing career was a short stint in a place where I had to wear a bright blue polyester mini-sailor dress. Ugh does not begin to describe what that one was like, but I can pretty much assure you that there’s no way to remove sweat from a bright blue polyester mini-sailor dress.

“Everyone looks more dignified, classy, and clean,” gushed one employee who tested the new threads. “We resemble a much more upscale dining establishment.” A manager added: “The team members seem much happier and more themselves.”

Although I don’t eat there, I am happy that at least one employee will feel more dignified, classy and clean in the new duds. (The fact that the employee was reported to have “gushed” about the new unis is perhaps one more reason why I don’t frequent Olive Garden.)

And I’m glad that “team members” – a.k.a., waiters and waitresses – “seem much happier and more themselves” when decked out in black, which is certainly more of a current look than white-with-tie. (I was going to write “more of a hipster look”, but I don’t think that you’re allowed to use the words “hipster” and “Olive Garden” in the same paragraph.)

Along with the new uniforms, the Olive Garden-ers will be sporting

…big green buttons that read “Hospitaliano!”—a phrase Olive Garden made up to describe its “passion for 100 percent guest delight.”

I know, I know, what we’re suppose to see is a clever portmanteau of Hospitality and Italiano. So I’ll give them props for coining a new term.

But what’s your first thought when you see the word – or non-word – hospitaliano?

Me, I see HOSPITAL, which is not, frankly, a word I want associated with the restaurant I’m eating in.

Here’s the word association that “hospitaliano” suggests to me: salmonella, food poisoning, tree nut not mentioned on the menu, choking hazard, gag reflex, anaphylactic shock. And those are just the restaurant associations, which quickly trip on over to doctor, nurse, emergency, procedure, treatment, etc. Nothing I want to think about when I’m stuffing my face with endless breadsticks, endless salad bar, and endless pasta.

But, hey, maybe that’s just me.

Still, I can’t help but believe that the waitresses and waiters, snappy new uniforms or not, will get more than a few earfuls from patrons who either don’t get “hospitaliano” or are thinking ER and ambulance.

Anyway, as I said, I don’t eat there, so this will have absolutely nothing, nada, zip, rien, zero better of an impact on my life. I’m just happy that I got to use the nifty word portmanteau for what may well be the first time.

Monday, February 18, 2013

President’s Day 2013

This is one of those quirky holidays that everyone doesn’t have off – but everyone should have off.

Okay. It doesn’t rise to quite the level of Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, and those fabulous summer-bracketers: Memorial Day and Labor Day.

And, as a local, it’s hard to beat Patriot’s Day – and Presidents’ Day doesn’t.

But it pretty much trumps Columbus Day and – sorry about that, revelers – New Year’s.

Still, it’s definitely a day we should observe, if only so we can all spend a couple of minutes of it reflecting on our imperfect yet better than most form of government. (Although the parliamentary/prime minister set-up definitely has a number of excellent aspects to it, most notably the occasional need to form coalitions and maybe even compromise.)

The presidency, after all, is one tough-cookie of a job, especially in these fractious times. So while we’ve probably had more who were bad or indifferent than we’ve had who were good-to-great, they deserve a day of their own. Plus it comes in the middle of winter, when we are all completely deserving of a day off – especially this year, for those of us in New England who just had to shovel out from under a big whomping snowstorm.

I will observe the day by consuming the better part of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Fro-Yo which, for the day, I will personally rebrand as “George Washington Cherry Tree.”

Whether you’re off or on, enjoy the day. 


More of my thoughts on this day of days:

Presidents Day 2012

Presidents Day 2010

Friday, February 15, 2013

Near miss: if you’re reading this after 2:24 p.m. Eastern, the asteroid spared us

Look, up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Nah. It’s 2012 DA14, and asteroid that’s passing “perilously close” to the earth.

Of course, NASA’s idea of “perilously close” is a bit farther out than mine – 17,200 miles sounds “comfortably distant” to me. Especially when it will be at its closest to Mother Earth when it’s over the Indian Ocean. (Out of continent, out of mind.)

Still, a 130,000 metric ton asteroid would cause a big ouchy if it landed on your beanie.

It will be travelling eight times as fast as a bullet from a high-powered rifle.  (Source: WSJ Online.)

Talk about faster than a speeding bullet and, no doubt, more powerful than a locomotive.

Alas, Americans won’t get a glimpse:

Depending on local weather, it may be visible from Eastern Europe, Australia and Asia, with binoculars or a moderately powered telescope, space-agency officials said.

Those guys in Eastern Europe have all the luck!

Although I guess you could argue that we’re all pretty lucky. This is “the closest known approach of a dangerous cosmic object since NASA started tracking such debris.”

This non-critter is only about 150 feet across, so even if it crashed down or splashed down, it wouldn’t do as much harm as the six-mile-wide asteroid that slammed in off the coast of Mexico a while – make that 66 million years – back. That one has been linked with the extinction of the dinosaur.  But even something as petite as 150 feet across will do some damage if it weighs 130,000 metric tons and is traveling eight times faster than a bullet fired from a high-powered rifle.

Hey, if it gets closer, maybe all the folks with the assault weapons can go after it. Forget clay pigeons, that’d be some real skeet shooting.

2012 DA14 is, of course, not alone out there. NASA estimates that there are about a half-million floaters about the size of 2012 DA14 sailing around over our heads and crossing our path with some regularity.

At least one object that size flies close to Earth about every 40 years and one likely hits the planet about once every 1,200 years, astronomers calculate.

I’m assuming that this is the every-forty-year-drive-by, so I should be good for life, but it would be helpful to know when that “once every 1,200 years” sucker last hit. Sounds like we’re A-OK, to ues the only space parlance I know, since this was the last one I found. It occurred in 1908, when:

An asteroid estimated at 50 meters across explodes above Tunguska, Siberia, blowing down trees across 2,000 square kilometers and killing a thousand reindeer, but apparently no people. Because the stony object exploded in the atmosphere, there's no crater. (Source: Why Files)

Well, if an asteroid is going to screw up 2,000 square kilometers, Siberia is as good a place as any, but too bad about those reindeer. Counting the bodies must have been a fun task, but the Czar had plenty of minions to dispatch to take that particular and peculia census.

Anyway, 1200 years from 1908 gives NASA plenty of time to figure out how to divert an asteroid of evil that’s hell bent on doing us harm. Phew!

But what is up with Fridays?

I know that each day of the week has a bit over a 14% chance of being the day when something bad happens, but still…

Last Friday, it was the storm of this century. Today, it’s the near miss of an asteroid. What do  you think will happen next Friday? (Friday, Friday…)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Leftover electronics? What an eWaste.

An old Blackberry. An antique Palm Pilot. A couple of routers. Four old laptops –  Dell, HP, Sony Viao, Sony Viao. There may be an old desktop and CRT screen combo lurking in the far reaches of the closet in ‘the blue room” (so called – despite its green walls –because the couch is denim blue).

I did finally get around to buying the software that will let me wipe the laptops clean. Which, of course, won’t work on the HP, which is dead as a doornail. So I guess I’ll have to don a surgical mask and gloves, dismantle it, and pluck out the chips that may hold the secret to logins and passwords that are mostly defunct. (At least I hope so.)  I may be able to wipe out what’s on that old Blackberry and just toss it in the box at the Verizon Store, where I historically let my cell phones requiescat in pace. But that was in the good old days, before phones were smart, and I didn’t really care if someone hacked phone numbers. Logins and pws, on the other hand… And I just don’t know what to do with that Smithsonian-worthy Palm, but there can’t be much that’s worthwhile on it, as it was even dumber than my cell phones.

I don’t there’s anything worth a damn on the wireless routers, either. Yes, I did have them “secure”, but I never even bothered to call the network anything other than “Linksys.”

Once I get all the secret handshake info off of my devices, I’ll just need to find a place to recycle them.

The City of Boston has a couple of annual haz-mat turn-in days, but I don’t know if they accept electronics. They don’t pick them up with regular trash or recycle, as you can tell from the occasional CRT (or TV) that someone puts out on trash day, that you see sitting on the sidewalk for weeks on end.

In truth, it would be easy enough to throw a Palm, a Blackberry, a router, and even a laptop into a trash bag. The g-men would pick it up, toss it in the back of the truck, the jaws of death would grind it up, and it would end up in landfill with banana peels, desiccated teabags, and wadded up Kleenex. BUT THAT WOULD BE WRONG.

So I’ll have to do my research and find a place that takes care of the nasty business of electronics recycling without sending it by scow off to some toxic heap in Nigeria, China, or Pakistan, where someone making about three-cents a day, gleaning whatever precious metals there are to be had. 

There’s an awful lot of it out there:

Waste consisting of dead electronic goods, or e-waste, is growing at three times the rate of other kinds of rubbish, fuelled by gadgets’ diminishing lifespan and the appetite for consumer electronics among the developing world’s burgeoning middle classes. In 1998 America discarded 20m computers; by 2009 that number had climbed to 47.4m. China alone retired 160m appliances in 2011, 40% of America’s haul. A 2011 report by Pike Research, a consultancy, estimates that the volume and weight of global e-scrap will more than double in the next 15 years…

…e-waste is not just poisonous: it contains precious metals, too. Processors, chips and connecting pins (known as “gold fingers”) contain seams of silver, gold and palladium; these “deposits” are 40 to 50 times richer than dug-up ores, according to a study conducted by the United Nations University. Other less valuable and more troubling lodes for “urban miners” include cadmium, lead and mercury.  (Source: The Economist.)

There are high-tech ways to recycle, but they – surprise, surprise – cost more than the ship-it-to-a-poor-country-and-forget-it-methods, in which “workers risk burns, inhaling fumes and poisoning from lead and other carcinogens.”

There is now a ban on rich-to-poor “export” of e-waste, but, as it turns out, the poor countries are getting richer, so these days they’re generating a lot of their own e-waste.

Meanwhile, the manufacturers are doing precious little to make electronics themselves greener.

And meanwhile, I’ve got to figure out a place where I can dump my own little heap of toxicity, a place that’s real green, not faux green, and isn’t going poison anyone after those “green fingers” and traces of cadmium.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Carbon Copy

I wonder what – if anything – the “young folks” think that cc: means when they copy someone on an e-mail. Wait – let me correct that. “Young folks” aren’t using e-mail. So I wonder what – if anything – the “Xerox generation” thinks that cc: means when they copy someone on an e-mail. (And let’s not even get into bcc…)

Anyway, if the question has ever flitted across your brain, the answer, kids, is “carbon copy.”

Which, of course, leads to the follow on huh? – what does ‘carbon copy” mean.  Copy we get, but carbon? What’s that?

Oh, mes enfants, for those of you who’ve never used a typewriter, or had to manually fill out a form in quintuplicate, carbon – in this case – means carbon paper. Carbon paper is a thin sheet of paper. coated on one side with dry ink. It’s placed between the original and a second sheet (and maybe even a third, fourth, or fifth, if you hit the keys or bear down hard enough) so that you get copies of the original. Which was how we rolled before copy machines became ubiquitous in the 1970’s, let alone before personal computers and e-mail made it possible for us to send everything “online” so that people could print their own darned copies.

Except for my college-era office jobs – some of which involved filling in those quintuplicate manual forms – most of my experience with carbon paper is pre-professional. But I did have plenty of amateur jobs where we made carbon copies of the documents we typed. And let me assure you, it was a complete p.i.t.a. to make corrections on the cc’s.  I also had one spectacularly boring over-Christmas job in an insurance company, where I spent the better part of each day typing the letter “B” on carbon-ated forms.

Earlier on, we sometimes had carbon paper at home. Somehow, when you’re a kid, making copies of your scribblings is an amazingly fun thing to do.

(There was also something called “tracing paper”, thin, translucent paper that you could place on top of something and trace what’s beneath. I can’t remember whether she used carbon paper or tracing paper, but when I was very little my mother would occasionally make copies of pages from coloring books so that we all – which, at that point was just Kath, Tom, and me – could color the same page. It’s hard to imagine that my mother had the time to do this, but there you have it. At this point, we were living in a flat in my grandmother’s house that had so little hot water that my mother had to bring in kettles-full of warm water from the kitchen stove so that we wouldn’t freeze to death in the bath tub. The washing machine was one of those wringer-specials, and drying, needless to say, happened outside – except in winter, when my mother set up drying racks in the kitchen. The freezer compartment in the fridge could hold a couple of ice-cube trays and a pint of ice cream, so there was no stock-pile of frozen dinners. Sure, my mother did use some of the fabulous fifties convenience foods – Campbell’s soup and Kraft Dinner for lunch – but mostly she was whipping up three meals a day, from scratch. And yet, she still found time to trace pictures from coloring books so we could all color the same picture?  Thanks, Ma.)

I would have thought that carbon paper was something that was pretty much long gone.

But not yet. New York cops occasionally use carbon paper for evidence vouchers (using $1m-worth of new typewriters bought in 2008). A firm called Swintec supplies prisons in 44 American states with around 5,000 electronic typewriters annually (made with transparent plastic to hamper smugglers). Inmates must use carbon paper: the jails like copies of all outgoing post. Jim Gordon of Form-Mate, Canada’s last carbon-paper maker, recalls prisons’ “desperate” appeals after other suppliers went bust. (Source: The Economist.)

The business, however, is hanging on by carbon filament:

Survivors scoop up business as rivals go bankrupt. But they agree that trade is ailing. “I will die with it,” says Miles Murphy of York Haven, Britain’s last manufacturer, who is “staggered” that demand has lasted so long. From an annual 10,000 tonnes a year for Britain in 1990, he says, his output now struggles to reach 15 tonnes.

(You load 15 tonnes, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt…)

India, with its old-fashioned bureaucracy, is a good market for carbon paper. And there are other uses.

Pigeon fanciers use it to log racing times in specially designed clocks. A blue, film-coated version checks the height of dental fillings; a heavy-duty black sort helps guide stonemasons’ chisels. Mr Murphy sells 40,000 sheets of red carbon paper every year to potters: it transfers drawings onto clay (when fired, the pigments vanish).

And then there are tattoo parlors, that use it to transfer designs onto skin.

Old products, it seems, may be harder to kill off than one might imagine. (The Economist even mentions demand for trebuchets… Why, that’s even before my time.)


A carbon-coated tip of the Pink Slip cc: cap to Rick T for suggesting this topic.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thank you, Matthew and Bridget Trainor. Thank you, John Rogers. Thank you, Margaret Joyce. You spared us the Magdalen Laundries.

As I have often noted when writing about Ireland, my grandmother Mary Trainor Rogers would frequently say that, “If Ireland were so great, we wouldn’t have all had to come over here.”

True that, Nanny, true that.

Yet Ireland is place that I love, and have visited many, many times. But I do go with at least some understanding that for all the good, there is plenty of bad, especially in the country’s past. This Ireland’s-not-being-so-great’s list of terrible regrets includes a level of viciousness directed mostly at the young, much of it by terrorists – there is really no other word – who were part of The Church.

Of course, I knew about the Magdalen laundries, workhouses run by orders of nuns where girls and young women were sent to slave – they were paid nothing for their work – and where they had little if any control over if and when they would be released.

What I hadn’t remembered was that the Magdalen Laundries were still in operation as recently as 1996 – at which point, I had been visiting Ireland for over twenty years, and quite regularly (sometimes annually) from 1985 on. Nor was I aware of how complicit the Irish government was in all this. (Shouldn’t have been a surprise. The government was historically in total cahoots with the Catholic church.)

…orphans and abused, neglected or unruly children were among more than 10,000 sent to the Magdalen Laundries from 1922* to 1996.

Some had committed minor crimes, others were simply homeless or poor. Women with mental or physical disabilities and some people with psychiatric illness also found themselves in the laundries.

Their average age, the report found, was 23, but the youngest child was just nine and the oldest known entrant was 89.(Source: NBC News.)

A decade ago, a film called The Magdalene Sisters chronicled the abuses and miseries predicated on the poor girls and women who ended up there.  It took them a while, but in 2011, the UN Committee on Torture noted the "physical, emotional abuses and other ill-treatment" that Magdalen victims were subjected to, and articulated its grave concerns about the failures of the Irish government  to do anything about it. (Among other things, the government used the laundries to do theirs, e.g., laundry for the military.) So the Irish government – which is these days blessedly free from many of its historic yokes – established a commission to look into things. (The full report can be found here.)

The original Magdalene Homes – which have been around for hundreds of years – were established to keep prostitutes off the street, and unmarried mothers out of the community. I remember when there was a local Magdalene House in Boston, a home for unwed mothers. (I actually think it was on Route 9 in Brookline, just outside the city). But I don’t believe it was a sweat shop – just a place where teenage girls sat out their pregnancies when it was considered a scandal for them to appear in public.

The Magdalen laundries that the Irish report focused on were run by orders stunningly called:

  • Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge
  • Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy
  • Religious Sisters of Charity
  • Sisters of the Good Shepherd

Charity. Refuge. Mercy.

Too bad they offered none of the above. (And yes, I do know that many of the women who “went in” were pushed in, and that many were victimized by the charity-less, refuge-less, merciless way in which they were treated by their orders during their inculcation period and beyond. If they weren’t nuts when they went it, many ended up nuts because of the institution.)

Among the incidents cited:

  • [A] woman said "They were very, very cruel verbally — 'your mother doesn’t want you, why do you think you’re here' and things like that."
  • One said she was put in "a padded cell" three times and told "if I didn’t work there’d be no food and the infirmary."
  • Another woman said that when she wet the bed "they pinned the sheet to me back and I was walking on the veranda with it."
  • "You learned not to ask questions or complain. You couldn’t be forward in any way. Talking was a thing that was seen as sinful," another said.

It’s not clear whether the Irish government will  be forthcoming with an explicit apology, or to make reparations to those who slaved their lives away taking care of the dirty laundry of others.

In truth, I doubt that I would have ended up in a Magdalen Laundry. Still, I’m glad that my great-grandparents – Matthew Trainor and Bridget Trainor of County Louth; John Rogers of Roscommon; and Margaret Joyce of Mayo - were tough enough, smart enough, and lucky enough to get out.


*1922 was the year in which the Irish Free State, i.e., modern Ireland separated from England, was established.

And a tip of the laundress’ cap (or is it nun’s wimple and veil) to my sister Trish, for sending this one my way.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Year of the Snake. (Hiss….)

While Boston was dealing with the before, during, and after-effects of NEMO, The Great Blizzard of 2013, the Chinese were busily fire-crackering in the Lunar New Year: the Year of the Snake.

For a number of reasons, the Year of the Snake is not especially an auspicious one, making it a tough sell, especially since it follows the uber-auspicious Year of the Dragon.  So last year saw droves of believers trying to get their weddings and babies in while the auspiciousness lasted. And this year, the wedding halls will be empty, and the birth rate down.

But there’s a sometimes overlooked downside to it being the snake’s year that has nothing to do with its lack of awesome auspice. And that’s the fact that the snake doesn’t lend itself to cuteness in the same way that the dragon does. Why even my year – the ox – could, in its stolid plodding way, pull off a bit of cuteness. Maybe not cuteness on the level of the dragon, dog, or rabbit, but certainly the equivalent of the goat or the boar.

But the snake?

Only the Year of the Rat can give the Year of the Snake a run for its money, anti-cuteness-wise. And even the Year of the Rat has the alternative out of being called the Year of the Mouse. And thanks to Walt Disney and Topo Gigio, we are well aware of the potential adorableness of the mouse.

But the snake?


With snakes, we’re talking some powerful cute underload.

Which leaves the stuffed animal producers and vendors somewhat out in the cold.

After all, it’s nigh unto impossible to make a snake – for a variety of reasons starting with the unmentioned and unmentionable obvious – look like something that the kiddies would and should want to cuddle up with.

Look, Ma! No hands! No feet! No nothing!

Evolution-wise, they’re something of an also ran. Far more difficult to anthropomorphize than most critters – even the mythic dragon which, while having a bit of the reptilian about it, still manages to have appendages, rather than to be one.

In some quarters, the snake has been banished altogether. Hong Kong's annual Lunar New Year parade is one of the city's crowning holiday events, and typically the Zodiac animal of the season is out in force, says Mason Hung of the Hong Kong Tourism Board. In 2012, a 100-foot floating dragon made an appearance. The year before that, during the Year of the Rabbit, some 50 children dressed like rabbits charmed the crowd. (Source: WSJ Online)

No surprise there. What parent in their right mind is going to let their kid dress up like a snake?

As for snake madness:

Not this year. Last summer, the city asked a design agency to come up with ways to incorporate a serpent motif. All of the proposals were rejected. "The visual effect was not appealing," said Mr. Hung. "This year, we have tried to do away with snakes and replace them with candies and balloons to create the atmosphere of a street party," he said of the parade, expected to attract some 100,000 spectators.

100,000 spectators who, last year, might have bought a couple of stuffed dragons, but who will likely be going home empty-handed of stuffed animals.

Still, some vendors are giving it a try.

They’ve even come [SB10001424127887324590904578287393196008064]up with these lil’ darlins’. Look closely, and you’ll see that these snakes are fruit-themed: grape, strawberry, watermelon, and pineapple. Yet for all those nifty fruit colors, those precious, twee, wee little faces, it’s hard to disguise their underlying, off-putting snakiness.

Snakes are turning up on shelves and advertisements adorned with bow ties, aviator goggles or Bambi-style eyelashes. In pictures pasted in shop windows, snakes appear swathed in robes, with arms holding flowers, and tails discreetly tucked behind piles of gold ingots. Forked tongues are transformed into hearts.

Personally, I’ve seen snakes turn up adorned, if not with aviator goggles or Bambi-style eyelashes, then with bow ties and swathed in bathrobes. And I say nothing doing, even if their tails are hidden in piles of gold, they’re carrying bouquets in the arms that nature most certainly did not endow them with, and they have forked tongues transformed into hearts. (Yeah, right.)

Other vendors aren’t even trying.

One toy company that churned out 10,000 dragon toys didn’t even bother with snakes. Another came up with the idea of a duck in a snake costume – the snake skin can be stripped off, leaving the fortunate toy-owner with (Peking) duck.

The few, the proud, the aginners are going snake.

One Hong Kong mall, Metroplaza, has embraced the year by installing eight live snakes under a gold arch in a case lined with peony-blossom wallpaper. To open the exhibition, the mall invited two models wearing orchid-strewn hats to pose for photographs with pythons coiled around their arms.


If there’s one thing I like even less than a toy snake, it’s a models “wearing orchid-strewn hats…with pythons coiled around their arms.”

Happy Lunar New Year, anyway.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Blizzard! (Where were you during February of 1978?)

Today, if all goes, well, well (?) – at least from the perspective of the local weather-folk – we’re in for a big, honking blizzard, which is something we haven’t had in a few years.

I’m prepared. There are oranges and apples in the fridge, and bananas in the stamped aluminum fruit bowl on the fridge. We’ve got milk, eggs, and bread (both gluten-free and gluten-full). Batteries (purchased last fall for the Sandy threat). Chocolate. And wine.

I just went to the library, so I’ve got my reading bases covered.

So we’re good, even if we do get the predicted two feet.

Oh, yes, and I also called the guy in the condo association who kinda-sorta is in charge of shoveling to let him know that I’m not planning on doing any shoveling this time around. Somehow or other, I always end up doing the initial pass out in front of the building. This year, I’ve decided to hang up my shovel, although I will make sure that the storm drain on the corner is open for business – a task that I’ve handled for the last few years with a genial neighbor who’s well into his 70’s (he may even be 80-something). For some reason, the folks who own the mansion on the corner who, by custom, should be responsible for clearing the storm drain next to their mansion on the corner, do not seem to get that their shoveler should take care of this – even though I have pointed it out a few times.

So, while I won’t exactly be singing ‘let it snow, let it snow, let it snow’, we’re good to go if the weather outside is frightful.

That this big storm has been a-brewing on the anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978 is just enhancing the excitement.

The next time you start whining about a few inches of snow, ask someone who lived through the Blizzard of '78 to tell you about the storm that dumped up to 4 feet in places and took lives, made sidewalks impassable for days, stranded cars, and destroyed homes. It happened 30 years ago this week. At left, skiers on Summer Street in Boston Feb. 6, 1978, the day the blizzard began.

The Blizzard of 1978. Now that was a storm.

The evening it started – which was a Sunday – my boyfriend (now husband) and I had dinner at an Italian restaurant in the North End. I believe it was called Teresa-something-or-other. I believe it was on Richmond. I believe it’s no longer there. And I'm 100% sure that I had some type of chicken and artichoke dish for dinner.

The snow was just starting, but the wind was already whipping by the time we left for home.

What happened next was pretty darned extraordinary, and – until we lostCars were left abandoned on Route 128 South in the Needham area. It took more than a week and help from the National Guard to dig them all out. power (and heat) for a while – we watched quite a bit of it on the handful of TV stations that were then in existence, getting to see Governor Mike Dukakis, in all of his crewneck-sweatered glory, as the take-charge kind of guy we knew he was. In addition to Mike in his sweater, the images that stand out the most in my memory are the shots of the cars stranded on Route 128. The sinking of the Peter Stuyvesant – where the banquet hall at the late and not particularly lamented Anthony’s Pier 4 was housed.  (As I recall, it listed there for a few years before it sunk-sunk, or was hauled away.) The Peter Stuyvesant, a retired river cruise ship that was part of Anthony's Pier 4 restaurant, blew off its steel-and-concrete cradle, which had been hammered into bedrock, according to a Boston Globe report from the time. It sank in the harbor. Snowfall in the city reached 26.7 inches over two days, and winds were hurricane-force.And, of course, Shelby Scott, the WBZ-TV reporter who was always sent out to cover the worst weather, and was in her absolute element during the Blizzard.

For a week or so, no one went to work. No one went to school. And no one could buy bread or milk, which – since then – has caused locals to go into panic-purchase mode when a storm-yield of more than six inches is forecast. People were cross-country skiing in downtown Boston, and downhill skiing on Beacon Hill.

Walks were great fun, but we spent much of the time-out hunkered down in Jim’s hovel of an apartment on Pinckney Street. (Hey, I was in my twenties.) My sister and her husband were stranded in town, and stayed in my tiny but non-hovel of an apartment on Lime Street. (We dropped in on them to eat hot dogs, which I had in my Lime Street freezer. Possibly the last time I had hot dogs in my freezer.)

The National Guard was out in full force for snow-removal, and to keep people from trying to get in their cars and drive anywhere. (Seeing armed soldiers on the corner of Charles Street was weird and pretty darned chilling.)

When the banks opened – this was pre-ATM – the limit per customer was $50.

I took my $50 to the store to get – what else? – bread and milk.

There was a big sign up asking people to take only what they needed, but the woman in front of me at the checkout line – a typical Beacon Hill doyenne of the time: fifty-ish, blond hair pulled back with a headband, fur coat – was clutching at least a dozen loaves of bread, which she spilled onto the counter. Shopping for her shut-in neighbors, no doubt.

A few years later, I began working at a company where a bunch of employees were stranded at the computer center. For years, they told stories about breaking into the candy machines in order to survive. And yes, they did keep the computers up and running.  Worse off were the folks attending the Beanpot Hockey Tournament at the old Boston Garden. I can not imagine how terrible it must have been to be stranded in that particular rat hole.

Anyway, we’re prepared: prepared for the snow, prepared for the round-the-clock coverage, and prepared for the stroll down the memory snow-bank of the Blizzard of 1978. (Boy, have those 35 years whizzed by…)

Photos courtesy of

Thursday, February 07, 2013

My state smells better than your state!

Every once in a while, I see an article that contends that there’ll be no more radical, game changing innovations – just marginal improvements (or non-improvements, depending on your perspective) to things that already exist.  Everything that’s going to be invented that will make a real difference has already been invented. Or, to go Ecclesiastes rather than The Economist or Technology Review,  there is nothing new under the sun.

Well, never underestimate the power of capitalism to keep on keepin’ on with bold new ideas.

I give you the United Scents of America, a Hoboken-based parfumerie, that’s rolling out a “state-inspired scent collection.”

…each fragrance was created to remind the user of the places they've come from or the places they wish to be. (Source:

Forget collecting those fifty state quarters. Forget trying to spot all fifty license plates.

Collectors and perfume buffs will definitely be embracing this manifestation of the next new thing.

The first five states that Sasha Bertran and Samantha Sherwin have brought out scents for are New York, California, Florida, Texas, and – of course  - their home state of New Jersey. These are big states, so this makes a lot of sense.

Here’s what they’re aiming for:

United Scents of America Fragrances are meant to evoke nostalgia for your home state, the state your currently live in or one that holds a special place in your heart..Our goal became to make our scents personal to the customer, not ourselves, and to remind people of where they come from. We hope our fragrances will bring people back to fond childhood memories, favorite vacations or any time in their life that they can associate to a special place. (United Scents of America)

New York, a place that does hold a special place in my heart, is a blend of:

…apple, violet, ozone, melon, cortland apple, lime zest, cyclamen & rosewood, jasmine, basil & lily, peach & kiwi.

I’m not sure how these combinations get combo’d. The USofA site lists ingredients by top, heart, and bottom – whatever that means -  but I’d be curious to know how they came up with this particular mix. Apple and Cortland apple I get. Violet is a nice nostalgic touch – makes me think of WWII sweethearts meeting under the Biltmore hotel clock – he in his snappy naval uniform, she in her mouton coat, seamed nylons, snood, and wearing a spray of violets.  Ozone for Ozone Park, I guess. And you gotta have zest, so lime zest works. The jasmine gets you Chinatown, the basil gets you Little Italy. As for the rest…

Where’s the taxi exhaust, the diesel fumes of Grand Central, that weird hot air smell that gusts up from the subway vents? I know, I know, I’m being a bit NYC-centric here, but where’s the smell of chestnuts roasting outside Central Park? A whiff of a Sabrett hot-dog stand? And how about the smell of money?

But who am I, a non-perfume wearer, to judge what goes into a complex state-based melange?

Mostly, the state mixes seem apt,  if a bit lacking.

Florida has orange, grapefruit, ocean breeze, and key lime.  But no nod to alligators, or old people.

Texas is heavy on cedar, but is missing gunpowder, saddle soap, and cattle. And bluebonnets (which are very Texas-y, but I’m just not sure they have any odor).

California is a simple mix of: fresh cut coconut, eucalyptus, and vanilla bean. How about swimming pool chlorine?

No surprise, given that Sasha and Samantha are homeys, but New Jersey seems to get it best: fresh buttered popcorn, cotton candy, caramel & coconut,vanilla extract, peach, patchouli. Don’t know what peach and vanilla have to do with it, but gotta love those hints of coconut and patchouli. (Snookie lives.) Some might argue – and I believe my sister Trish, who clued me in on this story, would be one of them  – that there needs to be some element of oil refinery and turnpike in this particular mix.

While Massachusetts didn’t make the first wave, I am pleased to note that, along with Hawaii, Massachusetts is in the next batch.

We’ll be represented with a:

…mix with a rustic autumn-inspired fragrance of our own, featuring notes of cranberry, bergamot, sage, red oak, and tobacco leaf, launching later this month. (Back to here.)

Cranberry? Check! Tobacco leaf? Check – a surprise, perhaps, to those who don’t know that shade tobacco for expensive cigars is grown in Western Mass. Red oak? Check – if they mean the smell of burning oak leaves which, alas, we’re no longer allowed to do.

“Rustic autumn” is actually an excellent choice for the Bay State. But there are a few things missing from the Massachusetts bundle. First off, if they’re doing “rustic autumn”, we have to get an apple in there somewhere. And maybe it’s too summery, but shouldn’t salt air be added? And the combined hot dog-popcorn-concrete-beer smell of Fenway Park?

Whoever said there’s no more innovation couldn’t see what was right under his nose.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what gets incorporated in the brew for all 50 states. Some, I suppose, will be obvious: Kentucky will have to combine bluegrass and moonshine; Wisconsin, I’m afraid, will need some sense of dairy cow. Others will be harder: does North Dakota actually have a smell?

And if you think that having these 50 new perfumes is innovation enough, well, think again. They’re also coming out with “corresponding candles.”

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Yea, Yogurt

I’m not sure when I first started eating yogurt.

It didn’t really exist in the world I grew up in.

That was, of course, a simpler time. Cheese was American, or Velveeta, or something called “chivecheese” which came in little glass jars that turned into juice glasses once the “chivecheese” had been spread on Ritz crackers.


Maybe weird-balls, and ethnics, and foreigners ate it, but the closest we came to yogurt in my house was sour cream, which was mostly used when my mother made her award-winning (Worcester Telegram and Gazette) cucumber and dill salad.

Then, all of a sudden, ecce yogurt.

I ate Dannon.

Then I switched to Yoplait.

But Yoplait was too smooth, so I switched back to Dannon, where the fruit had more texture.

Then I became a Colombo fan. (Colombo was a local brand.)

Somewhere along the way, I adopted Stonyfield, with occasional side excursions into Wallaby and Oikos.

Then I discovered Chobani. Yowza! Or should I say Oopa – this Greek style yogurt is mighty fine. Can something that tastes this rich really have so few calories?

Then my sister introduced me to Fage.

Okay, I don’t like the little side tubs of fruit – a bit too precious to my liking, plus it’s hard to get all the fruit out without prying it out with your finger. (Maybe I have a banana-slicer idea: a purpose-built spoon to dig out all the fruit compote in a Fage container.) But, boy, is Fage delish. Even if I can never remember how Fage is pronounced. I sort of know it’s fa-yeh, but I want it to be fayge.

While I have certainly not been brand loyal, I have been pretty much flavor loyal. Whatever the brand, I’m a cherry, peach, and lemon (especially when I throw in my own blueberries) kind of gal.

So yea, yogurt!

Thus I was interested in a recent article on the subject that I saw in Business Week.

Chobani was the company featured in the article, and what a story they are:

Five years ago Chobani had almost no revenue. This year, the company will sell more than $1 billion worth of yogurt, says [Hamdi] Ulukaya, who’s the sole owner. Once a niche business, Greek yogurt now accounts for 36 percent of the $6.5 billion in total U.S. yogurt sales. (Source: Business Week.)

All’s not completely peachy on the Chobani front, however:

[Ulukaya’s] ex-wife is suing him for $1 billion, saying she helped fund Chobani and is entitled to at least 33 percent of the shares. (Ulukaya says the suit is meritless.)

Even if his wife does get what she’s looking for, Ulukaya’s is one of those great immigrant stories. He came over from Turkey twenty years ago to learn English, and decided to stay.

Ex-wife aside, thanks to the success of Greek-style yogurt, the yogurt biz is going well. And there’s no place it’s going weller than in Upstate New York.  Which, amazingly, is the “Silicon Valley of Yogurt.”

Chobani has a massive plant in South Edmeston, which would be pretty smack dab in the middle of nowhere if it weren’t in the same county as Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Cardiff Giant, and stuff to do with James Fenimore Cooper. At Chobani central, Chobani employees 1,300 workers churning out 12 million containers of pretty darned good yogurt a week. (Maybe I’ll trade in my Fage. At least I know how to pronounce Chobani.)

Fage also has a plant in Upstate. As does Siggi, an Icelandic brand I never buy because it’s way more expensive than anything else. (Maybe I’ll do a try and buy.) All told, there are seven yogurt producers in Upstate. I guess it helps to be close by to all those cows. (Not to be totally outdone, there are a half-dozen yogurt producers downstate, in NYC and Long Island.)

I’m a big fan of Upstate New York, so I’m delighted to see that the yogurt cluster is working for them.

It may not be high-tech, it may not be bio-science, it may not be totally knowledge-worker cool.  But yogurt is tangible, useful, and edible.

Yogurt, yea!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Forget the Tsingtao, I’ll take a six pack of air

Having seen recent pictures of Salt Lake City, which is sitting in the middle of some pretty awful pollution funk, we can’t be completely pointing fingers at our friends in the East and tsk-tsking their terrible air quality. Still, from what I read about Beijing, spending any time there at all will choke you up. (Remember how during the 2008 Olympics the Chinese government jumped through all sorts of non-fossil fuel-fueled hoops to make sure that visitors (and competitors) didn’t have to equip themselves with oxygen tanks?)

The current air quality is the worst it’s been in almost 60 years.

In a remarkable record of dirty air, 24 out of January's first 29 days this year had air classified as hazardous. And the skies have still not cleared. (Source: ABC News.)

I’m actually surprised that the air quality was this bad in 1954, since there couldn’t have been 10 motor vehicles that weren’t army trucks in the country at that point. Still, they were probably burning some really nasty stuff to stay warm back in the day. I was in Berlin over New Year’s 1989-1990, when Eastern European (formerly Communist Bloc) countries were staying warm with some very sulfur-y coal. There was a thick brown haze over the city that you could almost taste. And the smell…

I’ve also been to LA, and can even remember a time when Boston would regularly suffer from some sort of climate inversion that would produce some pretty serious pollution.

But on a day to day, year to year, decade to decade basis, we ain’t seen nothing that compares with Beijing, with all that industry burning all that yucky coal, and all those new drivers with their pedal to the metal.

Visibility is reduced to 100 yards in downtown Beijing. Travel has been disrupted with more than 100 flights cancelled, at a time when millions start the journey home for Chinese New Year.

Of course, where there are problems, there are solutions. Or, if not exactly solutions, there are opportunities to capitalize on the problems.

Enter Chen Guangbiao and his cans of fresh air, called, cleverly enough, Fresh Air.

Chen is a wealthy entrepreneur, and he’s actually not trying to con folks into thinking they can crack open a can of air and get a whiff of revivifying air. (Why am I thinking of the Salem cigarette ads of yesteryear that claimed “Take a puff, it’s springtime”?) What he’s trying to do is “stimulate awareness of environmental protection among government officials and citizens.”

"If we don't pay attention to environmental protection, in 10 years every one of us will be wearing gas masks and carrying oxygen tanks on the streets," Cheng told ABC News. "By that time, my canned fresh air will be a necessity for household," he predicts.

“Toxic smog” is no joking matter, of course. With it comes all sorts of ills: pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma. Which doesn’t actually make me want to grab my mask and jump on the next Air China flight out. Especially when the government is sending out texts telling folks to stay indoors.

Masks have become a big seller in Beijing, where an average of 100,00 have been sold each day for the last month.

But the number of Chen Guangbiao presents his company's canned fresh air at Beijing Financial Street on January 30, 2013 in Beijing, Chinamasks being sold is nothing in comparison with the cans of Chen air, which are completely flying off the shelves (which they may well be doing, since they’re almost lighter than air).

[Chen] says 10 million cans have sold in the last 10 days as pollution levels climb to record highs. (Source: Daily Mail.)

Chen, who made his money in recycling, is on a mission:

'I want to tell mayors, county chiefs and heads of big companies: don't just chase GDP growth, don't chase the biggest profits at the expense of our children and grandchildren and at the cost of sacrificing our ecological environment', Chen said.

Chen is not lacking in ego and/or humor. The cans say “Chen Guangbiao is a good man.’

Good enough, anyway, to give the sales proceeds “to poor regions of China, and places of historic revolutionary importance.”

Here’s a fellow who’s supposedly worth $740M, and he’s funding “places of historic revolutionary importance”. A page out of the Little Red Book, and a tip of the Mao cap to Citizen Chen.

When someone can become an almost billionaire, while honoring the Long March or Mao’s swim in the Yangtze, the world is indeed a wondrous place.

Just wish it were a bit less polluted. Hope that Chen Guangbiao never has to really go into the Fresh Air business.