Friday, January 31, 2014

Shiver me timbers, January’s over at last

Not that I have anything much to look forward to in February, but I, for one, am just delighted that January will end on time - but none too soon - tonight at midnight.

January is always long. January is always dark. January is always cold.

But this year it’s been longer, darker, and colder than usual.

Cheerless, relentless, and, I’m quite sure, something-else-less.

It’s not just January and its nasty and brutish cold that I’m sick of, however.

There’s plenty of other items on that list.

I am sick of Dennis Rodman, and his demented and pathetic “antics”. I know that Hugo Chavez is dead, but couldn’t Rodman have found a more benevolent despot to buddy up with?

I am sick of Vladimir Putin. No, the Olympics haven’t even started, and – blessedly – nothing’s happening in Sochi so far, but I have had it up to here with this one.  I swear I will turn off whatever obscure sport I’m watching if the camera pans on Putin’s mug for even a nano-second – unless it is a nano-second during which VP is caught reacting to some U.S. athletes having kicked some Russki arse.

I am sick of David Ortiz bitching about his contract. I luv ya, Papi, but enough is enough. If you think it’s worth leaving the Old Towne Team for a few more benjamins, rather than hanging up the spikes as a beloved, number-to-be-retired member of the Red Sox – that’s assuming that there’s any team out there willing to cough up more benjamins for you – have at it. We get it’s a business, etc., etc. And maybe it’s just not in you to give a home town discount to stay (thank you Dustin P, thank you Jon L), but you’ve still got a lucrative year on your current contract. So please, will you just shut up, get thee to spring training, and start swinging the freaking bat, why don’t you.

It goes without saying that I’m sick of Justin Bieber. Why don’t you just marry Lindsay Lohan and be done with it?

Not that things are entirely miserable.

I was absolutely amused to catch these headlines as I trudged (virtually) around the ‘net looking for a topic that was interesting enough to blog about today.

  • Schools Tussle Over Proper Training for Butlers
  • Harvard Overpaid for Timber as Romanian Agent Held for Bribery
  • Gold Horses Boost Chinese Jewelers as Bullion Slumps

I’m too January-whipped to get into any of them at this very moment, but they do hold promise for the near future. \

I know that I’ve blogged about butling schools in the past, but it may be worth a revisit. Who knows what might be new on the servant front?

That “Harvard Overpaid for Timber…” headline could turn into something. Not so much on the “Harvard Overpaid” front as on the “Romanian Agent Held for Bribery” end of things. With my Romanian connection – my mother, while German, was born there – I’m betting I could find some there there.

And as for those gold horses. If I pursue that topic, I will not even bother to read the article.

Get me a gold horse so I can ride me out of January.

Meanwhile, on the  perhaps January has a silver lining front, on Wednesday – which was bitterly cold and windy – I saw a big, fat red, red robin, bob, bob, bobbin along. This is either a truly bird-brained bird who thinks that January in New England is fun, or maybe even a sign that spring will be sprung on us sooner rather than later.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Museum going for alternative culture vultures

A few years ago, I found myself in the pokey little town of Ashfield, Massachusetts.

I had a bit of time to poke around, which is pretty much all that there was to do in Ashfield, Massachusetts. So I poked.

Unfortunately, my poking around took place early on a Sunday morning, and the Ashfield Historical Society Museum was not open. (Nor was what appeared from the outside to be the equally cool Milo M. Belding Library.)

Not surprisingly, I had better luck visiting the Worcester Historical Museum – Worcester is, after all, just a tad bit larger than Ashfield – make that 100 times larger – so one would expect the Historical Museum to be more generally available. Which it was, to my cousin Barbara and me. There, a few years back, we got to see a very interesting exhibit on Worcester’s history as a manufacturing center. (And, of course, Worcester as home ground to the smiley face, which is also highlighted in the Museum and, quite naturally, in the gift shop.)

With cousin Babs, and cousin MB, I’ve also been to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, which was quite fascinating in a seen-one-Russian-icon-seen-them-all kind of way.

Museum going doesn’t have to be all Museum of Fine Arts, DeCordova, and Isabella Gardner, that’s for sure. And it doesn’t have to be all highbrow and artiste.

If you know where to look, New England is chock full of museums large and small, and many of them are a lot quirkier than, say, the Museum of Russian Icons. In fact, New England is home to 12 museums per 100,000 population – more than double the national average of 5.9 per.

In Sunday’s Boston Globe, there was a roundup of some of these lesser known, sometimes lower brow, museums.

Massachusetts alone:

…is home to many museums devoted to subjects that stretch beyond the standard topics of history and art. We have a museum devoted entirely to golf. There are institutions dedicated to plumbing, printing, quilts, paper, and pirates. You can even find exhibitions of burnt food, airsickness bags, and Tom Thumb memorabilia.

Well, Pink Slip is no stranger to the airsickness bag museum, having blogged about that six years ago.

But I was not familiar with some of the others.

There’s a Museum of Antiquated Technology in Hanson. (There’s also a Museum of Antiquated Technology in a corner of our bedroom, devoted primarily to laptops and routers.) Among the cool stuff in the real Museum of Antiquated Technology, there are a bunch of ancient radios, and:

… a box containing a wand-like device called the “Master Violet Ray.” This obsolete medical device was once used to treat a variety of ailments, such as arthritis, acne, dandruff, sciatica, and gonorrhea.

STD’s may be a recurring New England museum theme:

At the Public Health Museum in Tewksbury, the less-than-appealing topics covered include syphilis, tuberculosis, and polio.

When I was a child who was briefly enamored of General Tom Thumb and his bride Lavinia, I would have been delighted to visit the Middleborough Historical Museum, which:

…features the child-sized clothing and tiny personal items of Charles Sherwood Stratton, the 19th-century celebrity whose stage name was General Tom Thumb.

The Plumbing Museum in Watertown has a “urinal designed specifically for women” among its treasures.

“They didn’t do well,” said Linda Veiking, the museum’s event coordinator. Women “like to sit.”

My brother-in-law Rick is a proud resident of Brookline, home to the International Paper Museum, which actually looks kind of cool, and which:

…bills itself as having one of the largest collections of handmade toilet paper in the world.

Handmade toilet paper? I haven’t checked on Etsy yet, but maybe there’s a craft opportunity for some enterprising crafter. Or perhaps Martha Stewart can get in the swing here.

Another distinctive collection with local roots is the Burnt Food Museum . It was started by professional harpist Deborah Henson-Conant, who lives in Arlington.

This is primarily a virtual museum, which was started a while back when Deborah managed to burn some cider she was mulling and decided to preserve the crisp.

If only I’d hung on to some of my culinary failures…

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And a tip of the cap to Rick T. for sending me the link to this article.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

American Greed

One of my favorite TV shows is American Greed, which profiles grifters, schemers, and charlatans of all stripes who are able to con their prey into cashing out their 401 K’s and mortgaging the farm to get in on the ground floor of some no-fail investment scheme.

They’re not all financial related – in a recent one, a real-fake contractor got all sorts of reasonably intelligent, not especially greedy, folks in the DC metro to pay up front for major home improvements, which he’d partially complete before disappearing with the loot.

But most are schemes of the Ponzi-variety, in which ridiculously hefty returns are promised, and most of the payday goes to the scam’s originator.

It’s amazing to me that, given all the scams that have been so well publicized, and chronicled in such detail, that there are still American Dupes out there who get sucked in.

But there is a sucker born every minute, and, apparently, a con man born every hour to sucker them in.

For a variation on a theme, I was amused to read a piece by Matt Levine on Bloomberg.

Levine was keying off a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) press release detailing an operation – which ended up with a $29 million settlement on the part of the perpetrators of the con – for bullshitting people into buying software applications that would tell them what S&P futures trades they should make.

The apps, from an outfit called CTI or Cooper Trading, were named “Boomer” and “Victory” – which should perhaps have been a tip-off the something could gang agley, but, hey, I was the product manager for econometric forecasting tool called AutoBJ, so what’s in a name?

Anyway, “Boomer” and “Victory” sold for $5K to $6K, a lot of money, but a lot less money than some of the enterprise application software I was associated with during my career and which, arguably, didn’t do the purchasers much more good than “Boomer” and “Victory” did their buyers. But we weren’t out to con anyone. The software worked. It was just way over-priced and brutally difficult to use. (A story for another day…)

Anyway, the story for today is that of Stephen Craig Symons and James David Kline, the masterminds behind “Boomer” and “Victory.”

These products were sold over the phone, from a high-pressure boiler room operation, in which “Openers” – the telesales person who made the first contact with the mark:

…were expected to make a minimum of 200 to 300 calls per day.

Two-hundred to three-hundred calls a day, huh?

This explains why the real human who picks up when I press one on the robo-call inviting me to consolidate my (non-existent) credit card balances hangs up so quickly when I start to ask questions about just what credit cards they’re talking about.

When the Opener found a live one, he passed it on to the Closer.

…salespersons [who] knowingly or recklessly falsely referred to themselves as being an "owner," "founder," "Senior Partner," or "President" of CTI.

Not surprisingly, fictitious names, with fictitious credentials, were used by sales personnel and in promotional materials. The fake names were something of a business necessity:

83. By virtue of one of CTI's Closer's use of the fictitious name "Jack Logan," Defendants concealed from CTI's Clients that for most of the time since in or around 2000, rather than working on the technology behind CTI's Systems, as he claimed to a Client, that Closer has either been in prison following his conviction for sex with a child under the age of 16, or working as a telemarketer selling, among other things, cemetery plots and sushi makers. (Source: this is from the CFTC papers that Levine quotes from.)

Forget that sordid conviction. It’s no wonder “Jack Logan” turned to finance. There are only so many cemetery plots and sushi makers you can sell on any given day. But who out there doesn’t want to make some easy money?

84. Similarly, by using the fictitious name "Mark Bishop" for Defendant Kline, Defendants knowingly or recklessly concealed from CTI's Clients that Kline never earned a degree in economics, as "Mark Bishop" (i.e., Kline) claimed to Clients, and that from in or around 1995 until in or around 2008, Kline (CTI's purported Chief Compliance Officer or Compliance Officer) held a string of non-finance related jobs, including telemarketing and sales (for, among other things, discount coupon books, sports betting advice, and real estate time shares) and provided psychic readings over the phone using the pseudonym "Ivan."

Same for “Mark Bishop”. Discount coupon books and time shares. Yawny-yawn-yawn. What sports bettor needs advice that he can’t find on his own by googling the odds and/or drawing on his inner sports genius? And psychic readings can get you into all sorts of emotional tangles.

Nope.

You want to go where the money is, and the money is where the money is.

The main point of the complaint, of course, is not so much the pseudonymity as that they lied about the actual system, with Kline telling one client that it provided "good, strong, consistent income, which I, which I like," and another that as a result of using the system "he would not have to use his retirement or savings to help support his two children who were going to college." They (allegedly, etc.) lied about how many customers used the system, and how much money those clients were making. They claimed to offer a money-back refund, and said that no customer had ever asked for a refund; in fact, many had. (Some got refunds, but "CTI ignored or denied many of those requests.")

I have to say that, by these standards, I’ve worked with at least a couple of sales guys who could end up making settlements of their own for some of the promises they made. On the other hand, they were all working under there real names. At least I think they were.

But Levine points something out that’s quite interesting:

There really was a computer system that generated trade ideas, and not via a random-number generator either:

49. Each of CTI's Trading Systems had been developed by applying various trading strategies to known historical trading data. This process is known as "back-testing," and it does not involve any actual trading.

50. By the use of back-testing during the development of CTI's Trading Systems, CTI's System developer was able, with knowledge of past market patterns and trends, to construct a profitable hypothetical past performance history when developing the Trading System.

Which, as Levine notes, is pretty much how legitimate systems of the sort work.

You study past market patterns and trends, you apply a bunch of strategies, you see what would have worked in the past, and you adapt it for the future. What else is there, you know? Do you think real quantitative trading firms are working with something other than "various trading strategies" and "known historical trading data"?

Sure, Symons and Klein were liars, and dirty rotten scoundrels, but they actually were trying to build a software package that worked. Symons, in fact, used “Boomer” on his own, and sent an annoyed e-mail to the CTI developer working on it, bitching that he was down 14% in less than a year.  Symons was only doing small potatoes trading – the big bucks were in conning others into buying “Boomer” and “Victory.” Yet they really did have a software package that they’re company had developed.

They were just really, really inept at it. And they were liars, and dirty rotten scoundrels, and they got caught.

This all reminds me of an uncle of mine (not a blood uncle, mind you; this was the first husband of one of my aunts). He was pretty much a failure at anything he set his hand to. Among other things, he opened a Winnebago franchise about three-and-a-half minutes before the 1973 oil embargo. He also worked as a gold miner for a while.

At one point, he developed a software application for commodities trading, and he sold quite a few of the floppy disks containing them.  I believe he also dispensed investment advice along the way. The extended family was intrigued that there were actually people out there who would take investment advice from, or use a trading application developed by, someone who didn’t have two nickels to rub together. (I just googled him up, and I do believe he’s still at it.)

I don't know, I find these scoundrels sort of charming. They decided to pivot from selling psychic readings and cemetery plots to selling stock trading computers, and they actually went and built the computer. Sure it was bad, and sure they seem to have lied about it compulsively and at massive scale, but it staggered vaguely in the direction of a real thing. As these fraud cases go, that's pretty good. No wonder they made so much money on it.

Yes, those who got conned were out the cost of the system, plus whatever they lost in bad trades. But caveat, investor.

And as scams go, these guys weren’t exactly Bernie Madoff’s.

Just a couple of seedy crooks, part of the long line of American Greedsters.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rock on, rockabillies

Jennifer Greenburg is a photographer, and she’s spent part of the last decade chronicling the American Rockabilly community.

…people that not only dress like it’s the Fifties, but also drive perfectly preserved Cadillacs and decorate their homes with furniture to rival the retro sets of Mad Men. (Source: Daily Mail UK)

I believe that Mad Men has now wended its way to the late 1960’s, but that’s a quibble.

Ah, the Fifties…

While I expect that those retros who are glorifying the Fifties didn’t actually live during them, there is certainly plenty of kitsch to go nostalgic over: chrome and Formica dinette sets; Fiestaware; jewel-tone aluminum drinking cups; Davey Crockett caps; ceramic panthers on top of the TV set; foam dice hanging from the rear-view mirror (my rockabilly Uncle Bob had these); etc.

And it was certainly better for everyone that the teen idol drama revolved around Elvis getting drafted and having his sideburns and pompadour shorn, than watching a stoned Justin Bieber drag race his Lamborghini and hurl eggs at his neighbors’ home.

So, yes, there’s much to look back fondly on…

I especially liked this photo (from Greenburg’s website), mainly because my father had an earlier (rounded proMiss Jolie on Her ’59 Fairlane , Chicago, IL 2003file) version of a two-tone blue and white Ford. Needless to say, my mother never perched on the hood in skintight gold lamĂ© pants. At least not that I recall.

I also enjoyed this picture of the cowboy kid, in his rockin’ cowboy outfit, with his rockin’ cowboy wallpaper, and his rockin’ Arty The Cowboy,  Itasca, IL, 2004chenille cowboy bedspread. He sure as shootin’ looks like a Fifties kid – although in real life he would have had a buzz cut, or those bangs would have been butch-waxed or Brylcreemed off of his forehead. Just wondering whether the parents enforce a TV time-warp for their kid, what with all the cable channels that show re-runs of of Wagon Train, The Rifle Man, and Wanted Dead or Alive - the full Fifties kid experience in black and white.

I do feel a bit bad for this kid.

Does he always have to be Fifties-ish? On Sundays, does he put on a little bowtie and mini-fedora and go to church? Is he allowed to play with Legos, or is he stuck with Lincoln Logs? Does he get to play Nintendo, or is it all Chutes and Ladders (gee, this is fun!)?

Does he even know who Justin Bieber is? I know, I know, it would be a blessing not to. But can he only listen to music that comes on a 45? Is it all Rockabilly Sheb Wooley Purple People Eater on his record player?

And how many of these rockabilly Billy the Kids are there out there?

Apparently plenty of them – at least plenty of grownups -  and it’s not just about Fifties style:

'At first I thought the culture was about fashion,' the 36-year-old photographer told MailOnline. 'Then I realized it was much, much, more than that. I realized that this was a culture of people who functioned as a community.'

From bankers and laborers to teachers and doctors, Ms Greenburg says there is 'not just one type of person who joins the Rockabilly community'.

'Some participants make their living inside the culture, but most have the same gamut of jobs that all people have. There is no trend,' she explained. 'Some dress at work to blend into the generally [sic] culture, some do not. Some have a hybrid way of dressing that is just toned down and not necessarily identifiable as 1950’s.'

Greenburg believe that Rockabilly folks are drawn to the quality, beauty, and “joyous”-ness of Fifties design.

Well, I’ll giver her that there was plenty joyous about a poodle skirt.

Still, this nostalgia for the Fifties may be a bit misplaced.

Sure, I like Buddy Holly as much as the next guy – in fact, while writing this post, I’ve been singing Rave On to myself – “Well, those little things you say and do/Make me want to be with you-hoo-hoo/Rave on it’s a crazy feeling/ And I know you’ve got me reeling…”

And if you were Beaver Cleaver, it probably was a kinder gentler world than the one Justin Bieber inhabits.

But when you think Fifties, you also have to think complacence and conformity. And things that were a whole lot worse.

Emmett Till, the fourteen year old African American kid who was murdered for glancing at a white woman in Mississippi – he was from Chicago; he wasn’t aware it was a capital offense – never got to party like it was 1955.

I seem to remember that Joe McCarthy’s reign of terror occurred in the Fifties.

And vice squads made it a practice of raiding gay bars.

So it wasn’t all joyous and beautiful.

Not that I begrudge the Rockabilly community their Rockabilly-ness. (They even have dating sites, combining their Fifties sensibility with 21st century technology.)

Rock on, folks.

It’s a big country.

Plenty of room for those who want to haunt flea markets for vintage cocktail aprons and Melmac plates.

Monday, January 27, 2014

There’s the Good Ship Lollipop, and then there’s the S.S. Ratso Rizzo

As opening lines go, this one’s a beaut:

A ghost ship full of diseased, cannibalistic rats could be nearing landfall somewhere in the British Isles. (Source: NPR.)

The Lyubov Orlova has been on the ultimate cruise to nowhere for about a year.

It had been sold for scrap and was being towed from Canada – where it had been abandoned after its unpaid crew walked down the gangplank en masse -  to the Dominican Republic when the towline snapped during a storm last January. It has been adrift since then, and there’s some conjecture that, while the ship is without crew and passengers, it may have left its last port of call with a hold full of rats.

And since there were no 24/7 buffets on the Aloha Deck, and since even the most evolved rats aren’t known to fish or have the ability to fashion a slingshot and shoot down seagulls, there’s some speculation that the rats have gone Donner Party.

The Sun quotes Pim de Rhoodes, a Belgian-based marine missions specialist, as saying, "There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other. If I get aboard I'll have to lace everywhere with poison."

Maybe something’s lost in translation, but do I detect a hopeful note in Pim de Rhoodes’ “if I get aboard” comment?

Seriously, there’s someone out there who actually wants in or on?

The only conditions under I would step toe aboard this tub would be if, for my troubles, someone had handed me a valise containing $5 million in cash (which I had counted): I was wearing the ultimate in rat-proof hazmat suit, around which was a ‘let’s make extra sure’ layer of boy-in-the-bubble protection that was impervious to rat fang and claw; and I was surrounded by a phalanx of Navy Seals armed with plenty of tactical weapons.

The presence of a colony of super, survival of the fittest rats is, as I mentioned, just speculation at this point, as neither Pim de Rhoodes nor anyone else has been on the Lyubov Orlova.

The last sighting may have been off the coast of Scotland, but that has not been confirmed.

Meanwhile, coastal residents of England, Scotland, and Wales should be on the lookout.

If anyone spots a cruise ship where there are outsized-rodents lolling about on deck chairs. they would be well advised to head inland.

Too  bad that Prince William has retired from the Royal Air Force. A bombing sortie might have been just the thing to prevent this ship from landing and loosing a pack of ravenous rats who’ve had nothing to sup on for the past year, other than each other, on seaside towns. Where they, no doubt, would hoover down every available sausage roll, fish and chip plate,licorice all-sort, and steak and kidney pie. Taking care of this sticky wicket would be just the thing. What better way to further embed Bonny Prince Billy in the hearts of the British public?

But William, I believe, has resigned his commission to see to more pressing tasks, like ribbon cuttings at fish hatchery openings.

I think that Price Harry is still in the service, and I can see him leading some of the lads on a commando raid, a waterlogged version of Rat Patrol.

There’s some speculation that the Lyubov Orlova could wash up on Irish shores.

Jaysus! Wouldn’t that be something?

St. Patrick managed to drive all the snakes out back in the day. Surely, there’s some boy-o who could rise to the occasion and do the same for the rats.

In any case, I’m sure glad that the prevailing winds are prevailing, and that S.S. Ratso Rizzo is heading in that direction, not ours.

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A tip of the captain’s cap to my sister Trish who spotted this gem.

And happy birthday to my husband. I’m so glad to have you here for it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Game on!

This is the time of year when baseball fans get antsy.

Oh, sure, there’s Super Bowl (yawn). And basketball. And hockey. And the Olympics coming up, which will give all us sports fans the opportunity to become instant experts in events we’ve never even heard of before.

But, really and truly, there is no sport like baseball to get this girl’s heart start going pitter-pat.

So bring on pitchers and catchers. Get thee to spring training. Let the (baseball) games begin.

Us Red Sox fans are coming off one of the best seasons ev-ah – all the better because it kinda-sorta snuck up on us.

Oh, there will be no season to top 2004, when The Olde Towne Team won their first World Series in 86 years – 86 long years that seemed to have been experienced by us die-hard fans whether we were around for all of them or not. (It reminds me of a company that I worked for for many years. When I joined, which was shortly after the first of the year, employees were disgruntled because they had been given an IOU for the prior year’s bonus. People did so much pissing and moaning about the promised bonus that, after a couple of months, I started to feel that I was entitled to it, too. It almost goes without saying that the bonus never materialized. Even though I wouldn’t have been eligible for it, I still felt that I was missing out, and had been – along with my colleagues – screwed.)

Anyway, for Red Sox fans, the 2004 experience will nev-ah, ev-ah be repeated. (When the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the ALCS, my sister Trish called me, and the two of us just burst into tears and had a good phone cry. The World Series at that point was but a foregone conclusion. The Cardinals did not stand a chance. They might as well have conceded. Come to think of it, they almost did.)

The downside of the upside, of course, was that Red Sox-fans-come-lately started coming out of the woodwork. Suddenly, the Red Sox were the “in thing,” and Fenway Park the place to be seen.

All of a sudden, the real fans were being priced out by pink-hat wearing fans nouveau who weren’t aware of the role that Bucky F-in’ Dent had played in and with our psyches.  Who didn’t know where they were when Pudge Fisk waved that homer fair. (Or even who Pudge Fisk is.) Who didn’t now the difference between an infield fly and a balk.

All of a sudden, the immense pleasure of deciding on game day that it was a good day to take yourself out to the ballgame, and could just stroll out to Fenway and get a ticket.

This situation prevailed for several years after the magical season that was 2004.

Getting tickets was going to cost you time and/or treasure.

Six years ago, I ranted about trying to get tickets, and losing years off my life in the Red Sox Virtual Waiting Rom. (And even got a response from the team.)

But that’s what you get for fielding a dream team. (The Sox won the WS again in 2007.)

Then the team began to trip, stumble and fall.

In 2011, what was billed as the Greatest Baseball Team of All Time – take that, 1927 Yankees – ended the season in the most epic of epic fails.

This was followed by the 2012 season, which was a colossal joke. The team was supremely unlikable, the manager an ineffectual loudmouth.

The upside of the downside was that tickets were easier to come by.

And then the surprisingly likable – did I ever think I would actually be rooting for John Lackey? - surprisingly excellent 2013 edition of the Red Sox won the World Series.

We laughed, we wept, we cheered, we fell in love. (With everything but those yucky beards.)

I even went to the parade, and the flatbed that David Ortiz was riding on stopped directly opposite of where I was standing. Papi led the crowd in a chorus of Sweet Caroline. The fall of 2013 was not exactly the best time I’ve ever had in my life, but what joy I took I took from the Red Sox.

Then the fear factor set in.

Would the pink hats return? Would tickets yet again become difficult to get? Would the Virtual Waiting Room revert to the Virtual Inner Circle of Hell?

Yesterday, my sister Trish – Red Sox fan girl and my usual game-going companion – called to asked if I’d gotten the promo for the advance ticket sales.

I had not – probably because I have a new e-mail since last season’s online purchases – but Trish was, of course, more than willing to share the secret code – JANUARY – for ordering tickets before they became more generally available this weekend.

Trish scored first.

We’re going to see the Red Sox play the Cubbies in July!

I nabbed Tampa Bay in late May, the Angels for mid-August.

Trish scored Blue Jays in September.

Sated, we were able to relax.

We’re covered for the season.

Game on!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Jersey steps up

With apologies to super-Patriots fans – I am an admittedly fair-weather follower – there are a number of upsides to the local eleven’s not making it to the Super Bowl this year.

Foremost among the upsides is not having to put up with a couple of weeks of run-up hoopla in the local press, where every evening’s local news will include way too many banal utterances on the part of one of the boys of autumn. Thank you, gods of football for that.

Another key upside is being able to watch none, part, or all of the BIG GAME without actually giving a hoot who wins.

Sure, I’d just as soon not see Payton Manning and Wes Welker swanning around amidst the confetti.

But mostly it would be hard for me to care any less than I do.

Yawn…

Pretty much the only thing I find interesting about this year’s SB is that it’s being played under cold-weather conditions.

Playoff games in days of yore used to be played on the home turf of one team or the other, and as often as not – especially in days of yore – home turf was the frozen tundra of some field like Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Real football for real people!

But nowadays, Super Bowl is mostly played in a warm weather destination, or at least in a covered stadium. None of this nasty, chancy outdoors stuff, thank you.

Not all the Super Bowls are in “glamorous” tourist destinations like New Orleans, where there’s plenty of stuff to do, or places like Phoenix where fans can chill by warming up and playing golf. Some of them have been in zones that can at best be characterized as lesser-fun venues. Places like Indianapolis and Detroit, which get to host because they have domed, neutral-climate stadiums.

This year, however, the NFL decided to come in from the warm, and awarded the game to the Meadowlands in New Jersey, the home field to both the New York Giants and the New York Jets. Neither of which team came within a the length of a football field to making the playoffs, let alone getting to Super Bowl.

Other than being home to the NY Giants and the NY Jets, the Meadowlands is perhaps best known as the supposed burial site of Jimmy Hoffa.

Anyway, the big attractions of playing in New Jersey are not, for the most part, in New Jersey.

Let’s face it, most of the fun stuff will be happenin’ in New York City – hotels, restaurants, shopping, shows. After all, there has to be something for the several hundred thousand fans who show up for Super Bowl but don’t attend the game. (Most stadiums have a capacity of about 80,000.)

But New Jersey is not without its own enticements and charms.

Atlantic City will undoubtedly attract plenty of the sorts that are drawn to events like Super Bowl, but other than that…

Pretty much the only time New Jersey makes the news is when it’s wiped out by a hurricane, or when Chris Christie gets caught up in a GW Bridge closing scandal. 

And now, the Super Bowl – THE SUPER BOWL! – is heading to New Jersey. And New Jersey, understandably, wants to cash a bit in:

As football's Super Bowl comes to East Rutherford, N.J., Feb. 2, officials in nearby Secaucus and other north Jersey towns have a message: Why not party and sightsee in the Garden State? Secaucus—a town whose name is subject to debate over its pronunciation—is touting its first-ever beer garden. Country music will blare through the speakers of a tent stretching several blocks. A mobile museum, part of the New Jersey Hall of Fame, will include photos, videos and pieces of state history inside a 53-foot trailer that expands…

"I don't think you'd want to vacation in Secaucus by itself," Mayor Michael Gonnelli said. "But you are certainly close to New York. And you can get anywhere on the East Coast from the train station here."(Source: WSJ Online.)

Even some Jersey Girls who left the Garden State for the garden of earthly delights that is Manhattan are heading home for Super Bowl.

These ranks include Cindy Fox:

…known as "The Naked Cowgirl," [she] usually wears her red, white and blue bikini and a brimmed hat to sing and play guitar in Times Square, one of the world's busiest intersections.

Come Super Bowl weekend, she is performing in Secaucus, N.J. "For me, it's going to be a little strange," Ms. Fox, 47 years old, said. "I grew up here, and I've always tried to keep my Times Square life separate. I really have a lot of pressure to look awesome and perform great. It's the Super Bowl."

Secaucus isn’t the only town in New Jersey going all out.

Hoboken is setting up a curling center, and is “bringing national curlers in to teach the winter sport to anyone who comes by.”

Just as the mayor of Secaucus wasn’t all that certain why someone would want to visit his city, when asked why someone would choose Hoboken over Manhattan,

…a city spokesman paused and said, "That's a good question." He later added that Frank Sinatra was born there, though his home has since burned. A star marks where it once stood.

East Rutherford – home of the Meadowlands – is getting in on the act as well, with a tailgate party replete with a Bruce Springsteen tribute band. Ridgewood is hosting a chili cook-off cum marching band performance.

None have outdone Secaucus, where the planned festivities stretch three days and include dozens of activities. Highlights include a "hoedown" with line dancing lessons; an inflatable snow globe that people can climb inside for pictures; and 500 pounds of cheese, which officials hope to fashion into the world's largest mozzarella ball. There will be some three dozen food trucks, hockey tournaments and inflatable dinosaurs.

Forget the Super Bowl, what I love about all these New Jersey initiatives is that they’re exactly the sorts of events that my home town of Worcester would stage.

Oh, Worcester might not try to build the world’s largest mozzarella ball, but I can see them closing down Shrewsbury Street and going for the world’s longest grinder record.

Maybe they wouldn’t set up curling, but I can see them bringing in candlepin bowlers to show visitors the splendors of small-ball bowling.

Maybe Worcester wouldn’t have a marching band to march, but I’ll bet the Heart of the Commonwealth could muster a drum and bugle corps or two.

And the Naked Cowgirl would definitely not be Worcester style.

Still, there’s plenty of New Jersey in Worcester.

So I hope that they have a wonderful time hosting Super Bowl.

Who cares whether Denver or Seattle wins when East Rutherford might beat the world record for the size of their mozzarella ball.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Baskin-Robbins still exists? Really? Why?

We haven’t had Polar Vortex like the Midwest has had Polar Vortex, but we’ve had some pretty cold weather this winter. And this week we’re in big chill mode.

Even in the dead of winter, however, this is New England. So it’s ice cream season. (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire are all among the top-ten ice cream consuming states.)

We are fortunate, living here, to have access to good ice cream.

While Friendly’s and Brigham’s ain’t what they used to be, they still produce relatively decent ice cream. (Brigham’s Mocha Almond remains one of my favorite flavs ever. I’m also partial to Maine Black Bear, made by Gifford’s.) And, in addition to plenty of Ben & Jerry’s outlets, we have a number of excellent small chains – like Emack & Bolio’s and J.P. Licks. Plus one-off ice cream makers like Toscanini’s and Roncatore’s. And the gelato places in the North End.

So there’s really no reason at all, at all, to go to Baskin-Robbins.

In fact, even though I walk by it pretty much every time I’m in Harvard Square, I was surprised to find that there’s still a Baskin-Robbins there. Maybe the Harvard kids, who come from places where they don’t have much by way of good ice cream, patronize it and keep it alive… Make that Harvard freshmen who haven’t yet discovered what ice cream can taste like. Which is something a lot better than Baskin-Robbins, which – while I haven’t had a B-R in years – I remember from my travels as being rather gummy.

But apparently the real threats to Baskin-Robbins aren’t the availability of better ice cream. It’s mostly from the rise of frozen yogurt, and to lesser extent the decline in consumption among weight-watching Americans, that’s hurt Baskin-Robbins.

The number of U.S. outlets was 2,467 at the end of 2013, down from 2.872 seven years earlier. (B-R’s not the only one suffering. Cold Stone Creamery – another chain I’m not especially enamored of; I think the add-ins are too much of a shtick – saw it’s revenues decline by 15% last year.)

But 2013 did see a slight uptick for Baskin-Robbins, with four new stores opening. And there are plans for modest growth – an increase of five to ten outlets projected for 2014.

I had not remembered – if I ever knew – that Baskin-Robbins is owned by Dunkin’ Brands, which is a local company made good.

I’m something of a D-D fan, stemming from childhood, when Sunday morning meant a trip to Dunkie’s in Webster Square, where my father would buy a dozen, which grew to 18, which grew to two-dozen donuts to tide the family over until Sunday dinner. (It’s amazing that we didn’t all end up obese and diabetic.) I don’t have donuts very often – a couple of times a year – but I’m partial to D-D chocolate honey dip.

But what they’re doing with Baskin-Robbins…

In 2010, the company appointed new management and focused on improving operations and service through ongoing training programs. Baskin’s same-store sales were positive in 2011 and 2012. To refresh its image, it introduced a new store design last year with LCD menu boards and graphics on the wall. (Source: Business Week.)

Interesting that the focus was on improving operations, service, and graphics rather than on improving the quality of their ice cream, but I guess this is the American Way. And I guess it’s easy to be an ice-cream snob when you live in a place where good ice cream is the norm rather than the exception.

Meanwhile, while Baskin-Robbins growth has been miniscule, Dunkin Donuts continues on an “expansionist tear,” including a goal/belief that “it can eventually have 1,000 Dunkin’ Donuts locations in California.”

In 2013, Dunkin’ Donuts opened 371 net new restaurants in the US and 138 net new restaurants outside the US, including restaurants in Greater London and Ho Chi Minh City, the company said. (Source: Boston.com)

Years ago, although we didn’t stop in, my husband and I were amused to stumble across a Dunkin Donuts in Budapest.

Still, Ho Chi Minh City seems a stretch.

Oh,  if I ever do get to Viet Nam, I’m sure I’ll be happy to see the familiar face of Dunkin-Donuts.

But coffee and donuts in such a hot country?

Not that I wish bad ice cream on them, but wouldn’t Baskin-Robbins make more sense?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Okay, Martha and Richard Smalanskas, I’d like to know just how you justified this one

Interesting article in the Boston Globe a few weeks back on a husband-wife team in court to plead guilty:

…to charges they paid an immigrant they helped bring into the country illegally less than $3,000 for the 13 years she cooked, cleaned, cared for their children, and even shoveled snow for them, according to court records.

$3K for 13 years.

Hmmmm.

That works out to less than $250 a year, less than $5 a week.

Bet that’s less than the allowance that Martha and Richard Smalanskas’ three kids got. And I bet that they did a lot less for that allowance.

Authorities determined that the couple hired the nanny when she 16, when the couple lived in Bolivia. After three years, they brought her to the United States and helped her get false documentation to make it appear as if she was related to them.

Once here, they took her travel documents away, and she was required to work long hours: From 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. six days a week, although she was allowed to leave early some Saturdays. She had Sundays off. (Source: Boston.com)

The indentured servant had been promised $100 a month – which wasn’t paid. Then she was given a promised raise to $150 a month – which wasn’t paid, either.

Well, pay back can be a bitch, and in this case, the pay back will be $150,000 in restitution that the Smalanskases will make. While $150K is a goodly amount, especially to someone who had been making less than $250 a year, the judge has estimated that, based on prevailing wage standards, the former servant – she left the couple’s employ nearly three years ago – really should have earned $300K during her near-slave time. (The couple could also have been sent to prison for ten years for immigration law violations, so they should be counting their lucky stars that they’re just facing restitution and probation.)

What I would find interesting here is some explanation of how Richard and Martha Smalanskas, who – chances are – are not evil and sadistic monsters, justified paying this poor young woman so poorly.

We treated her just like a member of the family…

We always gave her everything she needed…

She never complained…

The children loved her…

She loved the children…

We took her on nice vacations…

We gave her Christmas presents every year…

She had her own room and bathroom…

It’s not like she was held prisoner…

How did they even come up with fake-pretend promised salary of $100 – later raised to $150 (why not higher, given that they weren’t going to pay it, anyway)?

Let’s see, she’s on duty 14 hours a day, six days a week, but, let’s face it, some of that time she’s just sitting on her duff watching the baby sleep – or learning English from Oprah. So let’s say that, rather than 84 hours a week, she’s working-working more like 48 hours. But let’s round that to 40 to make the arithmetic easier.

A buck an hour sounds fair, doesn’t it? Maybe a little less, given that we’re giving her the same room and board we give our kids and ourselves. Plus gym-equivalent, what with the snow-shoveling and all.

If we multiply that by 52 weeks a year – hey, she doesn’t need to take a vacation; why her life’s practically a vacation as-is, especially compared to life in Bolivia; besides, where’s she going to go, given that we have her travel documents – that would be about $2,000 a year.

Which sounds like way, way, way too much for someone who’s really a family member, and who’d probably just as soon do all this for free, anyway.

Seriously, folks.

It’s not like we all don’t do it at one time or another, usually about something small, but I’m always intrigued about just how people are able to justify crappy behavior, and justify it enough that they’re able to live with themselves.

And what was going on in the mind of this young Bolivian woman during her long, ill-paid slog with the Salamanskas family?

Yes, she probably did love the kids, and she probably had a nicer room than she had back home in Bolivia.

But being marooned out in Harvard, Massachusetts – a community best known for its orchards and for being the home of the Slaves of Mary, the crackpot religious group founded by renegade priest Leonard Feeney after he was excommunicated in the 1950’s – how must that have felt? Going days, months, years without friends your own age. Living in a place with little by way of entertainment or public transportation.

It’s not like we’re talking Cambridge, Massachusetts here – vibrant, urban, polyglot city. We’re talking white-bread, well-to-do, nothing-doing Harvard, Massachusetts here.

Poor thing!

Anyway, what the Smalanskases paid their servant girl was an out and out disgrace – less over a thirteen year period than I pay our cleaning people in one year for a two-hour cleaning every two weeks.

Okay, N&G don’t get room and board. But they don’t have to shovel snow, either.

Glad that the nanny will finally be getting something to show for her time as an innocent abroad.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Liposuctioning an obese fake Barbie? There’s actually an app for that?

I am enough of an old tech fogey that I remember when software applications were rather novel.

Before we had applications, when you wanted your computer to do something for you – like add up some numbers or spit out a report – you had to create a program to do it. Once you had gone to the trouble of coding that program, you, of course, wanted to be able to reuse it for slightly different purposes. So you un-hard-coded parts of the program, and put in placeholders for variables that you could change each time you ran the program.

And, of course, since programming was so darned inaccessible to the everyday, run of the mill employee, when you wanted something done – like a calculation or a report – you put in your request to MIS and waited a couple of months for them to take care of it for you.

Anyway, next thing you – and MIS -  know, there were off the shelf applications that did all the stuff – like add up numbers and spit out reports – that your home-grown programs used to do.

I still remember the thrill of using MultiPlan (early spreadsheet) and WordStar (early word processing).

The thing with applications, back in the day, was that they actually did something useful. (More or less.)

Spreadsheets were more efficient than calculators; word processors were more efficient than typewriters.

Then the games began, but that wasn’t anything I was interested in. (Other than Tetris, which I was rather good at. And WordZap. And FreeCell. And Taipei. Other than that…)

But they were still applications. And while they may not have done anything that was actually useful, they were fun. And most of them were at least mildly challenging in terms of eye-hand coordination, logic, strategy, vocabulary.

Then all of a sudden – thanks, Apple! – it was raining apps.

Needless to say, most aren’t especially useful, and most aren’t especially challenging, lacking even the pretense that there’s anything constructive going on.

In fact, most apps now seem to fall into the category of pure, unadulterated time-waster.

They waste time in ways that, in the good old days, someone might have spent doing a paper-based crossword puzzle, or reading the obituaries, or staring out into space and thinking great or not so great thoughts.

So now, instead of taking out your Giant Book O’ Puzzles, or the local rag, or positioning yourself next to a window – the better to stare off into space – you pull out your iPhone and get to work wasting time electronically.

Into this broad category of time wasters, I’d have to toss Plastic Surgery for Barbie, which, rather than being constructive, is rather reconstructive.

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The free game, which was labeled as suitable for children aged nine and over, involved making incisions with a scalpel and performing liposuction.

The description on Google described the overweight girl in the game as "ugly".

After performing a variety of procedures on the girl, she is revealed as a much thinner version of her former self and and users can compare her body before and after the surgery. (Source: BBC)

Now, even by time-wasting standards, which are notoriously low, this one’s a pip. Snarky, nasty, mean-spirited, and seeming without redeeming cultural, intellectual, moral, athletic, or any other value. And well worth the price, which I believe was free.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you choose to look at it, “Plastic Surgery for Barbie is no longer available on the App Store and Google Play has taken down its version, known only as Plastic Surgery.”

This after a Twitter-outcry that the app was snarky, nasty, mean-spirited, sexist and just plain bad, especially given that it was targeted at children as young as 9.

In a statement, former British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps) president Nigel Mercer described the Plastic Surgery for Barbie app as "sexist and disturbing".

He said: "This app blatantly and shamelessly uses child-friendly brand names [such as Barbie] to target young, vulnerable children and exposes them to sexist and disturbing rhetoric as the 'game' critiques the body of a cartoon character who does not conform to an unrealistic beauty standard.

"Even more shockingly, the app then encourages children to utilise surgery - going so far as to include images of syringes, scalpels and liposuction cannulas - to 'fix' the patient, who is described as an 'unfortunate girl'.

Well, it’s hard to argue that Nigel Mercer of BAAPS doesn’t have a point.

And yet it’s also hard not to argue that, however rotten and questionable the taste of this “game,” it’s really up to parents to police the games their kids are playing. Or to use this singularly hideous and nasty app to get into a discussion about body image, superficiality, nonsense “standards,” and the downside of botched plastic surgery. Or even non-botched plastic surgery played out over time.

Given me a wrinkly old lady over a plastic-fantastic-o any old day.

Is there anyone out there – other than Joan Rivers herself – who thinks that Joan Rivers actually looks good, and not rather pathetic?

Anyway, while I don’t think the world needs Plastic Surgery for Barbie, if the developer wants to waste her time creating a free time-wasting application, let her. And if people want to download this and waste time performing liposuction on a cartoon, well, have at it.

Yes, it is unfortunate and shameful that anyone would encourage nine year olds to think along liposuction lines – as debased goes, this is right down there – but surely there’s no reason to ban this application.

Let the market – and the parents – take care of this one on their own.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Interview questions that actually make sense

Usually when I see an article on interview questions, it’s about those too-clever-by-half questions that too-cool-for-school companies ask:

  • How many cows are there in Canada?
  • What superhero are you, and would you wear your superhero outfit to work?
  • How many quarters high is the Empire State Building?
  • How many windows are there in New York?
  • A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?

Source for these questions: Business Insider

These cutesy-wootsies are supposed to demonstrate your creativity, quick thinking, analytical ability, unruffled-ness. But I personally don’t see how they really get at the merits of a candidate. I just find them obnoxious and a bit smug – aren’t we the clever ones?

And then I saw a list of questions in a Business Week article, questions offered by a bunch of executives, that I actually thought were pretty good. Most of them I would have liked to have been asked, or to have used during my own days as an interviewer.

Some of them aren’t all that original, but they’re mostly pretty good.

Who do you most admire and why?
I don’t have any one specific person who I “most admire”, but I do have a couple of categories. One: folks who come from poor backgrounds and manage to scrambled their way out of them. Give me the self-made man or woman, someone who started out without the leg-up that money and educated parents give you. My second category is those who find themselves in a dire situation – make that a dire health situation – and who don’t bitch, whine, and wallow in self-pity. (Hmmmm. As I’m writing this, I realize that my husband falls into both of these categories. My hero!)

In your last employee review, what areas for improvement were identified?
I can’t remember the last time I had an employee review. I didn’t have one at either of my last two jobs. But both places were exceedingly political, especially the latter one. So I’d say that my main area of improvement would have been honing my political skills, and being cagier in terms of my allies. Forget about who you think has it right, forget about who you like and want to work with. Pick the winner!

In the former company, I made several terrible hires. Yes, most of the people I hired were very good, and if they were put on the opposite side of the scale from the F-for-Failures, they would have more than balanced them out. But I have to admit that, while when they were good, they were very, very good, when they were bad they were horrid. I hired a couple of lulus, pretty much making the same mistake each time – or a variant thereof. So, if I’d had a review, I would have to say that my area for improvement would have been to stop thinking that I could lay sane hands on crazy and come up with a cure.

Why are you here?
This is an excellent question and one which, surprisingly, some job seekers do not have an answer for. Also leaves an opening for a philosophical response to the existential question.

Just as long as you remember, if you’re going to answer in terms of why you’re at this particular company, undergoing this particular interview, that ‘my boss just did something really crappy and I’m here on the rebound’ is not a good answer. (Not that I’d ever have given it. Just saying.)

So you’re a Yankees fan. If you were their owner, how would you make the team better?
Well, no one would ever accuse me of being a Yankees fan, but this one would let me put my superb political skills into action by making all sorts of suggestions for “improving” the Bronx Bombers. For starters, why not get behind A-Rod and encourage him to fight his year’s ban from baseball.

What is your passion?
This is actually one question on the list that I don’t really like, mostly because I detest (with a passion) the use of the word passion in the workplace. This likely stems from a manager who told me that I would never succeed at the XYZ company because I . T“lacked passion for securities”, XYZ being a provider of securities data to the securities industry. When A said this to me – during a review, I believe – I almost laughed in her face. I told her that I could muster up a passion for doing a good job, for wanting the company to succeed, and for working with colleagues I liked and admired. But, no, nay, never, would I be passionate about securities.

You’re a project manager? Tell me about a time you had a delayed project.
Good question to get at how someone deals with frustration. Another good project manager question – which I was once asked on an interview – was how did you learn to be a good project manager. My answer: I learned the old fashioned way, by screwing up a project.

Describe an environment in which you would not thrive.
Wish someone had asked me this when I interviewed at Wang. I would have said insanely bureaucratic and brutally hierarchical. My manager would have been smart enough not to hire me, and I would have been spared myself 2 years, 8 months of sheer on the job misery.

If you could do anything, what would be your ideal job?
I’ve actually got it now. I get to write. I don’t have to play politics. There are no opportunities to make bad hires (so I don’t have to end up firing my mistakes). There’s no commute. I have the ultimate in flexibility. And if I have a difficult client, I can just stop working with them.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sue the bastards, NFL Edition.

Bridge-gate isn’t the only interesting thing happening in New Jersey these days.

In late December, New Brunswick NJ’s own Josh Finkelman paid $4,000 for a pair of tickets to the Super Bowl, which is being held in New Jersey, at the stadium shared by the NY Giants and the NY Jets – don’t ask – on Groundhog Day.

Although I’m not a particular fan of the Super Bowl – I will probably watch some of it, and maybe even all of it, depending on which teams make it – I’m actually happy that we’re having a crappy weather, outdoor game this year. SB is traditionally played in a warm climate or roofed stadium. So a February 2nd outing in New Jersey is something to look forward to. Gotta love the old school-ness of it.

However, given my general indifference, I can’t imagine the circumstances under which I would actually attend a Super Bowl, even if someone gave me the tickets. As for paying $4K for a pair? Jeeze Louise.

Anyway, Finkelman’s not all that happy with having to pay that much for the opportunity to watch two teams – neither of which is “his”, since – I’m guessing – a Jersey guy is going to be a fan of the Giants, or the Jets, or the Eagles, or the Redskins – none of which is getting anywhere near Super Bowl this year. So, he’s:

…suing the NFL for failing to release enough Super Bowl tickets to the public, thus driving up the price. The class-action lawsuit alleges that the league violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act by dividing the tickets among itself, its 32 member teams and the two host teams, releasing just 1 percent of the tickets for sale at face value. Fans were forced to turn to scalpers and resellers, paying a huge markup for tickets that were already prohibitively expensive…. [Finkelman] seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and attorneys' fees…The suit claims that the NFL actually gave most of the tickets to sponsors, partners and "other league insiders," and that the teams actively sold them to scalpers.. (Source: Bloomberg)

As I’ve said before about watching professional football, it’s like eating veal: if I thought about it, I couldn’t do it. So I’m no fan of the NFL - a bunch of greedy bastards that con cities and states into subsidizing their businesses; a bunch of heartless exploiters who looked the other way while so many of their players suffer colossal brain damage – but this lawsuit seems a tad bit frivolous. I suspect that the NFL will see things my way.

But, oh, boo hoo, Finkelman had to pay far in excess of face value. So, on behalf of the average fan, class action it is.

And, depending on your reading of New Joisey law, they may have a case:

…the pertinent subsection of the statute states, "It shall be an unlawful practice for a person, who has access to tickets to an event prior to the tickets’ release for sale to the general public, to withhold those tickets from sale to the general public in an amount exceeding 5% of all available seating for the event."

In essence, alleges Finkelman and Nagel, the NFL was required to make 95 percent of the MetLife Super Bowl tickets available to the public — which they say does not include season-ticket-holders — at face value. (Source: NJ.com)

But mostly it looks like a stunt on the part of Finkelman and Nagel.

Because, seriously, folks, how can someone who’s demonstrated a willingness to pay a crazy amount on tickets turn around and complain about it. Finkelman was not, after all, forced to buy tickets. Like the rest of us, he could have stayed home and watched on his flat screen. It’s not as if this were a necessity of life – the last supply of water on earth. This is an entertainment event. And we all get that, when it comes to buying tickets, there’s supply and demand, and the law that connects them. That’s entertainment.

Thus, a few years back, when Neil Diamond was performing at Fenway Park, I thought it might be fun to get tickets to hear him sing Sweet Caroline. But when I got online, I found that the tickets were well beyond the amount that I was willing to pay to hear Neil Diamond.  My worth-it price was about $40. The tickets – through the official scalper of entertainment everywhere, Ticketmaster – were going for a lot more than that. So I stayed home.

Sometimes life is just downright disappointing.

But there are a lot of things out there that I either a) can’t afford, or b) am not willing to spend the going rate for.

Such is life.

However, if I were someone who thought along the Josh Finkelman lines, I might have sued Loehmann’s for that camel-colored designer dress I bought, oh, 40 years ago. I mean, it was a beautiful dress, and it really looked great on me. If you could get past the color. If there’s worse color for me than camel, I’m not sure what it would be. Olive drab, maybe? Canary yellow? Well, the statute of limitation on that purchase has, no doubt, been exceeded. And, besides, Loehmann’s is going out of business. Still. What were they thinking letting me buy that dress?

And there are plenty of other purchases I’ve made where I paid too darned much for too darned little.

I’ve got to start reading up on Massachusetts statutes.

Maybe there’s some bastards out there that I can sue.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Happy New Year Offer to you, too. I’m so happy you choosed me.

I can’t remember the last time I got an e-mail from a Nigerian scammer asking me to send a little good-will money his way so that I could eventually get my greedy little hands on a big-bucks inheritance from a long lost relative. Or any other scammer, for that matter.

Maybe it’s because, with so many e-mail accounts, I’m a moving target.

Or maybe my spam filters are just so damned good, they catch ‘em all. (I’ll have to check. I do kind of miss them.)

But my husband – who has remained AOL-loyal over the years – does get an occasional too-good-to-be-true offer dangled his way.

The most recent was a Happy New Year Offer! from Amazon.

Jim, it seems, is holding lucky ticket number 56 out of 100 winners.

56! A meaningful number indeed!

While this wasn’t the number of the house Jim grew up in, it was the number of the house I grew up in.  As luck would have it. So this winning number seemed like an awfully providential coincidence.

So I avidly read on:

This is a random selection from Amazon.com on the occasion of this new year 2014, we selected more than one million customers in first step then we choosed just one hundred other customers also randomly to be winner of a coupon for $1,000.

Out of a million customers, they choosed us! Randomly. From a random selection.

Goody-goody.

The only unfortunate thing was that, the morning before Jim got his e-mail, I’d done a bit of Amazon spending – a gift for a baby shower, a couple of books.

Drat.

If only I had knowed that we were going to get choosed!

I almost goes without saying that, if someone’s going to give you an Amazonian $1,000 coupon, they might want a bit in return.

And that modest return was completing a short survey:

In order to download your coupon ticket code winner , you have to complete a short survey.
If you don't know how to complete it, read this instructions:
1) Click complete survey in the link below and you will see a list of the surveys.
2) Choose one of the surveys from the list and click on it.
3) Enter required information and submit it.
4) Wait couple of seconds and your download will start.

It wasn’t that I needed this instructions. I mean, I know how to fill out an online survey.

And I will say that I was curious about just what those surveys were.

I suppose that, if I weren’t such a fraidy cat, I would have clicked through to see just what the surveys were asking for.

Please enter your Social Security Number? Please let us know what credit card number to put the $1,000 on? Please give us your bank account credentials so we can plunk the money in there for you?

But my online fraidy cat, my scammer antenna, and my ardent desire not to get malwared/botnetted,  prevented me from clicking through. So I had to settle for googling to see if some chump out there would actually admit to clicking through.

All I found was folks asking the ‘duh’ question: is this a scam? (And the info that Apple customers were targeted by the same choosed people.)

Well, duh…

Seriously, folks, isn’t someone who would fall for an offer conveyed in such piss-poor English too cretinous to figure out how to shop on Amazon to begin with?

Apparently not, or the scammers would choosed someone better to write their offer.

NOTE: You have to enter your real information to confirm you are not a robot, if you use fake information your download won't unlock and you lose your coupon code .

Actually, I don’t believe a robot would fall for this, even if there are actual human beings who do.

Too bad. If Amazon had actually choosed us, it would have been fun spending that $1K.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Welcome Homm!

Every once in a while, Pink Slip does a bit of a look back in time, a “where are they now?” for someone I’ve blogged about in the past.

So when I saw Florian Homm’s name in a headline – which prompted an “hmmmmm: I think I posted about him-Homm at one point” -  I decided to dredge him-Homm up. (See: Florian Homm goes off the lam)

For those who have forgotten him, Homm is a German-born hedgie who went on the lam after being accused of swindling his fund investors out of $200 million. Life on the lam in Colombia lasted for a few years - heartbreaking years away from “colleagues, clients, acquaintances, friends, bimbos, dogs, family and children.”

I, of course, felt tremendous sympathy for him, especially having to bid adieu to all those bimbos.

But life on the lam wasn’t all bad.

Homm managed to write his memoir, Rogue Financier: The Adventures of an Estranged Capitalist. And get it published. To promote his book, Homm headed home to Germany and apparently decided that Europe was an altogether better environment for a rogue financier/estranged capitalist. So he stayed.

It was in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence that Homm was arrested last March. And last week,

…Italy’s highest court approved Homm’s extradition, despite his petition to be hospitalized for multiple sclerosis in Italy. The 6-foot, 6-inches tall, cigar-smoking German stands accused of defrauding his investors, causing $200 million in losses. He’s charged with four counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, and securities fraud, and faces up to 75 years behind bars. (Source: Business Week)

So Homm, who notoriously escaped with $500K in cash stuffed in his undies, will be winging his way back to America, where he misbegot his fortune.

In addition to Homm, who can’t be looking forward to 75 bimbo-less, cigar-less, Uffizi Gallery-less years in the slammer, I’m guessing that the only other person sweating this extradition is Amanda Knox. If Ms. Knox is convicted in her murder retrial in an Italian canguro court, the Italian government will no doubt be looking for a Red Rover return, as in “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Amanda right over.”

They gave us Florian Homm; they’ll want Amanda Knox.

I know, I know. Apple and orange.

Still, Amanda Knox can’t be all that happy when she gets wind of Italy-US co-operation on criminal extradition matters.

But for now, we’ll settle for getting Florian Homm back. I suspect his trial will be a doozy.

Starting with his name, this one has got flamboyant written all over it. (And what’s with these names? Last year’s miscreant was Goldman’s Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre, who was in cahoots with John Paulson on some type of collateralized debt obligation that nobody understood. Except, possibly, Paulson, who made a lot of money betting against the CDO’s that he helped invent. Paulson was not charged in the case, in which investors took a $1 billion haircut. But Fabulous Fab was charged – and convicted. Maybe it’s just plain more fun to go after the guys with the exotic monikers.)

Asked for comment, Homm’s U.S. lawyer, Jan Handzlik sent a statement to Bloomberg reporter Edvard Pettersson: “Mr. Homm looks forward to proving his innocence in court,” it reads. “Once all of the evidence is heard, he is confident the facts will demonstrate he acted honestly and in the best interests of investors in the hedge fund ACMH.”

See you in court, Florian.

And welcome Homm!

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Velveeta Shortage? How can this possibly be?

When I was a child, there wasn’t all that much to choose from, cheese-wise. At least in our house.

There was American, which was good for a sandwich – plain old cheese (grilled or not); as an add-on to the cold-cut grinders we had for Sunday night supper while watching Rocky & Bullwinkle, Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, and College Bowl; and as part of a Gus Sandwich, concocted by me and my brother Tom, whose nickname was Gus. A Gus is made up of cheese, pickle (kosher dill), bacon (about as un-kosher as you can get), iceberg lettuce (serving its highest, and perhaps only, purpose), and mayo on white bread (original version) or – far better – pumpernickel. Cheddar is now the official cheese of choice, but the only cheddar that existed back in the day was on TV, where weird old farts had it as a side with apple pie. Everyone with any brains in their head had vanilla ice cream with apple pie. So even if cheddar had existed outside of TV, we wouldn’t have had it with pie, anyway.

There was also cream cheese, which was used in the dip served with Ritz crackers or Saltines when my parents entertained. The family canapé dip consisted of cream cheese mushed together with chopped up walnuts, maraschino cherries, and canned pineapple.

At this point in my life, I had never had a bagel. And I wouldn’t have known enough to put cream cheese on it even if I someone had handed me one and told me to eat it. The first time I had a bagel I was in college, and I had it grilled with butter.

“Chivecheese” was another regular cheese at our house. This was also used on crackers, and came in small lipless glass jars that turned into juice glasses when the chive cheese was consumed.

And then there was Velveeta.

I actually have no idea exactly what type of cheese Velveeta is. Only that it was orange, came in bricks, and was an alternative to American cheese slices for a grilled cheese sandwich. Velveeta was a staple of the family larder, and I remember my brother Tom (a.k.a. Gus) being a major fan.

Ah, Velveeta.

It’s probably been 50 years since I last ate any, and it’s one of those food products – like Spam and Lucky Charms – that I’m always amazed to find is still on the market.

But it is, and, with NFL playoff season upon us, we are currently experiencing a shortage. So even if I wanted to buy some, I probably couldn’t find it. (And since I shop at Whole Foods, I probably couldn’t have found it to begin with.)

Kraft Foods says some customers may not be able to find Velveeta cheese over the next few weeks. A representative for the company, Jody Moore, didn’t give any reasons for the apparent shortage, saying only that they happen from time to time given the ‘‘nature of manufacturing.’’

She noted that the lack of availability is more noticeable because of the seasonal demand during the NFL playoffs. The company has been airing TV commercials featuring a recipe for a chili con queso dip made with Velveeta. (Source: AP via Boston.com)

I don’t recall seeing that commercial, but perhaps I have been able to block it out in a way that I have not been successful in blocking out ads for Bob’s Discount Furniture and those touting remedies for something called Low T, which most certainly did not exist when I was a girl.

There were rumors that “cheesepocalypse” – as it has been dubbed by some in Twitter-ville – was craftily engineered by Kraft to boost interest and a run on sales, but it seems that it is, in fact, a legitimate shortage.

Part of the reason it’s in short supply is manufacturing process related; part may be due to heightened demand:

Euromonitor International estimates dollar sales of Velveeta cheese increased by 23.7 percent in the U.S. last year. (Source: Business Week.)

23.7% growth in the past year? What the Velveeta’s going on?

The Velveeta brand, which includes processed cheese as well as pasta and casserole meal kits, benefited last year from Kraft’s marketing spend on Velveeta Cheesy Skillets, said Virginia Lee, an analyst at the firm, in an e-mail.

This is, apparently, not the only Super Bowl-ish shortage that the poor, beleaguered American consumer has had to endure:

Last year the nation bit its proverbial nails over a possible lack of chicken wings, only to find no real problem. Back in 2009, San Francisco narrowly averted a citywide guacamole shortage.

And now Velveeta.

Cry the beloved Velveeta eating public!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Oh when them cotton balls get rotten…

An annual New England newspaper feature has long been an article about high school students in places like Presque Isle, Maine, who take a few days out of school each fall to take part in the potato harvest. It’s always a cue to us city slickers  to thank our lucky stars that we didn’t live in Aroostook County, and/or to wax a bit nostalgic about a close to nature life that most of us never lived.

Let’s face it, the closest most of us get to agricultural labor is an occasional desultory pick of a few apples or strawberries, which always seems like a good idea at the outset, but which quickly moves into a combo of boredom, annoyance, and shock that it takes so long to fill a half-bushel with Macintoshes.

But it’s a different story if you live in Uzbekistan, where:

Throughout the fall, when the cotton harvest comes in, the government drafts about a million people, primarily public-sector employees and professionals, to work as cotton pickers, helping bring in the harvest for the world’s fifth-largest cotton exporting nation. (Source: NY Times.)

So each year, Dr. Tamara Khidovatova trades in her stethoscope for a burlap bag when:

…for a few weeks every autumn, she is forced to pick cotton, for which she is paid little or nothing.

There she’s joined by a million other draftees, “primarily public-sector employees and professionals.”

“You come to work, with all the makeup, wearing nice clothes, good shoes,” Dr. Khidoyatova, 61, said. “And the polyclinic director runs in and says, ‘I need 40 people in the field, the bus is outside, hurry, hurry!’ ”

Mostly people get more notice that they’re being dragooned into working the fields, where they’re forced to fill a quota of 120 pounds per day. And where, at night, they get to rest their heads on cots in school gyms.

Uzbekistan used to have school kids as young as 7 doing their cotton picking, but some advocacy groups jumped into the fray and began boycotting Western clothing companies that were making shirts and jeans with cotton picked by second-graders. Which led Uzbekistan to pull the second-graders out of the fields, and put the second-grade teachers in.

I suppose the cotton-picking Uzbeki professionals can at least be thankful that they’re not in the stir:

Human Rights Watch estimates that the country holds more political prisoners than the rest of the former Soviet Union combined.

Although if you don’t “volunteer”, you can be arrested (or fired).

The government maintains that all these professionals are volunteers. Which reminds me of the old Soviet Union joke:

Pavel to Ivan: “How are things going?”

Ivan to Pavel: “Can’t complain.”

The good news on the boycott front:

…the international apparel industry, having tolerated forced labor of younger children in Uzbekistan’s fields and already stung from negative publicity for relying on Asian sweatshop labor, has extended its boycott here to include forced labor of any sort. So far, 136 companies, including Disney, Fruit of the Loom, Gap, H & M, Levi’s and Walmart, have pledged to avoid knowingly buying Uzbek cotton as long as the practice continues.

But this harvest season, the boycott hadn’t quite clicked in, and more than a million folks were out there picking away.

The good news, according to one elementary school teacher:

“Nobody beats you with a whip.”

I guess it’s good news that there’s no Simon Legree out there with a horse whip, and that, after their stint in the fields, the pickers do get to return to their real lives.

Anyway, while the harvest is going on, you’re impacted whether it’s your turn in the fields or not. Employees are put in two groups. If you’re not cotton picking, you’re working double shifts. Or, in the case of teachers, doubling up your classroom.

Meanwhile, your boss as work is also your field boss.

And then there’s this:

Cotton-picking skills become a component of annual job evaluations, skewing decisions on promotions, said Dmitri Tikhonov, a rights activist and an authority on Uzbekistan’s cotton-picking policies.

Cotton picking aggravates office politics when, for example, a promotion goes to an otherwise inept doctor or teacher who is a stalwart in the fields.

There is a way out. Just like in the Civil War, you can hire someone to take your place, or get a family member to sub for you. But when you do outsource your cotton picking, you no doubt have to keep in mind that the government loves, loves, loves their cotton picking ways.

The Uzbek government characterizes the widespread participation in the harvest as upholding tradition or patriotic service, akin to volunteering for the National Guard or a neighborhood cleanup. Pickers are paid about 3 cents a pound, a pittance even here. Sometimes, the cost of a bus ticket and food exceeds this payment, meaning laborers work for nothing or even end up owing the state.

Nice!

In a speech in October, Mr. [Islam] Karimov [Uzbekistan’s president] praised the citizenry, saying: “Since olden days cotton has been seen as a symbol of whiteness, of spiritual purity. And only people of pure mind and beautiful soul are capable of farming it.”

I guess we can all add Uzbekistan to the list of places we'd rather no live. I suppose it beats North Korea, but not by a lot.

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A tip of my wide-brimmed straw field hat to my brother-in-law Rick for passing this article on to me.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Zappo-ing management

Zappos has quite the reputation for the emphasis it places on delivering tremendous customer service, and on its rather unorthodox corporate culture.

Apparently no company meetings where you fill up flip charts with (nonsense) ideas and (false) promises. Where, after the fact, those flip chart sheets are rolled up and stowed in someone’s office, where they stay put until that someone gets laid off, or has the good sense to leave.

Apparently no company meetings featuring break-out sessions where everyone takes a turn closing their eyes and falling back into the arms of their colleagues. (See? This is how we build trust!)

Apparently no company meetings where the senior executives stand up their spinning the company’s downward spiral so that it appears to be a strategy. And where new euphemisms for lay-offs are perpetually coined. (My personal favorite: at a Genuity all-hands, held the day after a major RIF in which 2,000 people were let go, it became apparent that the president was not aware that the lay-off had taken place. He attempted to cover his tracks by assuring us that, while those 2,000 pink slippers were no longer with us physically, as long as they were on severance, they were with us in spirit. (If only in payroll spirit.))

Nope.

Zappos is so far removed from days of yore, that they have company meetings like this:

The company’s Q4 “All Hands” meeting in November was aptly-themed “Gone Wild”: one female employee voluntarily climbed into a case filled with tarantulas to win a $250 gift card. The event opened with a Lion King performance put on by employees at the Smith Center in downtown Las Vegas and closed with an after party at the museum next door. (Source: Aimee Groth on Quartz.)

Admittedly, I’ve gone to many a corporate function held at a museum. I may be missing a couple, but I’ve been to company events at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, the Children’s Museum, the Computer Museum, and the DeCordova.

But the only case filled with tarantulas I’ve ever seen was metaphorical: a stage filled with senior management.

Which may well be how Zappos sees the management strata, too.

…Zappos’ traditional organizational structure is being replaced with Holacracy, a radical “self-governing” operating system where there are no job titles and no managers. The term Holacracy is derived from the Greek word holon, which means a whole that’s part of a greater whole. Instead of a top-down hierarchy, there’s a flatter “holarchy” that distributes power more evenly. The company will be made up of different circles—there will be around 400 circles at Zappos once the rollout is complete in December 2014—and employees can have any number of roles within those circles. This way, there’s no hiding under titles; radical transparency is the goal.

First off, I wan to laud Zappos’ Tony Hsieh for having the zapatos to name his company’s governing system a word beginning with “hol(e)”. At any company I ever worked for, the troop reaction would be that we already had a management structure in place that was a complete and utter hol(e)acracy.

But maybe when you have a corporate culture like that of Zappos’, and employees willing to dive into a case of tarantulas – presumably trusting that her colleagues (or the assemblage formerly known as Zappos management) would not let any harm befall her - you don’t get employees who make that particular  immediate word association when they hear the word “management.”

Tsieh didn’t invent holacracy.

Credit, I believe, goes to Brian Robertson, founder of Holocracy, which promises “purposeful organization through social technology.”

Admittedly, they lost me at “purposeful”, but here’s a bit about it:

Holacracy is a real-world-tested social technology for purposeful organization. It radically changes how an organization is structured, how decisions are made, and how power is distributed.holacracy

The use of the light gray type clearly signals that this concept is for the younger set. No Boomer could read that chart! Millenials only need apply.

But, hey, Boomers are so, so, so very yesterday.

“We’re classically trained to think of ‘work’ in the traditional paradigm,” says John Bunch, who, along with Alexis Gonzales-Black, is leading the transition to Holacracy at Zappos. “One of the core principles is people taking personal accountability for their work. It’s not leaderless. There are certainly people who hold a bigger scope of purpose for the organization than others. What it does do is distribute leadership into each role. Everybody is expected to lead and be an entrepreneur in their own roles, and Holacracy empowers them to do so.”

Perhaps Zappos, with the premium it places on hiring people who have a perfect fit with the corporate culture, never, ever, ever hires anyone who actually doesn’t have what it takes to be an entrepreneurial leader, or any interest in being one. Is there no longer room in the workplace for someone who just wants to get the job done?

And aren’t some people better at organizing work, delegating tasks, mentoring individuals, evaluating performance, communicating ideas, etc., than others.

God knows, they don’t all get into the managerial ranks.

Still…

In its highest-functioning form, he says, the system is “politics-free, quickly evolving to define and operate the purpose of the organization, responding to market and real-world conditions in real time. It’s creating a structure in which people have flexibility to pursue what they’re passionate about.”

Ah, yes, the “in its highest-functioning form” qualifier.

Has there ever been any organizational structure that involves two-plus people that can operate “politics-free”? If so, I’ve yet to encounter one.

In fact, while politicking gets a bad name, in its purest, non-destructive form, it’s actually the art of convincing others that your ideas are better than the alternatives. And some of those entrepreneurial leaders are going to have better ideas, and/or they’re going to be better at convincing others of the merits of their ideas.

And politics is about negotiating between competing ideas, and – ideally – actually getting something good out of those negotiations.

Isn’t this how the world works?

I’m actually all for trying new ideas to make the workplace more functional. In my day, it was all about ratcheting back and forth between traditional hierarchy and matrix organizations.

And maybe the holacracy shoe will fit some companies, so good luck to them when it comes to wearing it.

Yet there’s something kind of hole-y about holacracy.

On the other hand, Brian Robertson did present it at TED, so what do I know?

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Fox in the donkey meat? I HATE when that happens

I guess it’s a given that everyone else’s cultural/religious/ethnic traditions are just plain weird, while ours – so blessedly unexamined  - are normal.

I remember as a kid reading about Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheels and thinking about how utterly peculiar a concept that was. It being Lent, I then picked up my rosary beads.

And those Mormons doing their after-the-fact ancestor baptism?Puh-leeze! Makes me want to pray for a perpetual indulgence so I don’t get stuck in Purgatory…

Then there’s the food thing.

Norwegians with their lutefisk? Gag, gag, gaggedy-gag gag.

But – not that I would ever have indulged – I thought it was completely normal that my father loved pigs feet, crubeens that were no doubt served at the Rogers Brothers’ Saloon.

One time a few years back, my husband and I were in a Boston Chinatown restaurant that was largely patronized by Chinese. There was something on the menu that I was curious about –  I’ve forgotten exactly what – and when I asked the waiter about it, he shook his head, “For Chinese people only.” Well, you don’t have to tell me that twice.

Anyway, there are all sort of food taboos, and one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

One case, which Pink Slip covered, was last year’s Burger King scandal, in which horsemeat made it’s way into the BK supply chain. (It takes two hooves to handle a Whopper…)

This year’s tainted food scandal, however, is a horse of a different color. It’s happening in China, and involves one of my favorite retail empires, WalMart.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, has recalled donkey meat sold at some outlets in China after tests showed the product contained the DNA of other animals, the U.S. company said.

Wal-Mart will reimburse customers who bought the tainted "Five Spice" donkey meat and is helping local food and industry agencies in eastern Shandong province investigate its Chinese supplier, it said late on Wednesday in official posts on China's Twitter-like Weibo. The Shandong Food and Drug Administration earlier said the product contained fox meat.(Source: Huffington Post.)

Donkey meat, huh?

Maybe if you five-spice it up, it tastes okay, but it certainly sounds gray and tough, doesn’t it?

And I don’t imagine that it being adulterated with fox would improve things all that much. Does rabies count as a sixth spice?

As for the impact on Wally, is there anyone other than the denizens of Bentonville who doesn’t chortle just a tiny bit when they see WalMart get in a bit of trouble:

"This is another hit on Wal-Mart's brand, meaning wealthy shoppers will start to lose the trust they had before," said Shaun Rein, Shanghai-based managing director of China Market Research (CMR) Group. CMR estimates Wal-Mart's market share fell from 7.5 percent to 5.2 percent over the last three years.

China is, of course, no stranger to tainted food scandals, and by tainted food scandals, this one is pretty low key.

Not all that much donkey is consumed to begin with. Only 2.4 million donkeys were slaughtered in China in 2011. China’s population is 1.35 billion, so, per capita consumption-wise, people aren’t pinning that much tail on the donkey. (For comparison, nearly 40 million cattle were killed for meat in the US that year, for 314 million people.)

While WalMart may be taking a bit of a PR (and wealthy consumer) hit on this one, Chinese consumers seem to be taking it in stride. One practically-oriented blogger even saw a possible upside,

"Isn't fox meat more expensive than donkey meat anyway?" asked one bemused user.

As for me?

When it comes to donkey, with or without fox, I’m guessing that waiter would be telling us, “For Chinese people only.”