Monday, April 24, 2017

Something bugging you?

I’m neither a bug-lover nor a bug-hater.

Other than bedbugs – toward which I harbor both fear and loathing – most bugs don’t bother me all that much. Not that I’m St. Francis of Assisi all over them, mind you. No reverence for all living creatures and all that. I crush any silverfish I see in the bathroom and flush the remains down the toilet. I own (and know how to use) a flyswatter. I step on ants that I see indoors. If I spotted a cockroach, I would be setting off Raid bombs. But I don’t go nuts at the sight of an insect. Nonetheless, in terms of animal sympathy, mine lies with those further up the sentience scale. I would not, for instance, step on a dog or a bonobo. Instead, I would engage with them.

And, hey, I actively like fireflies and ladybugs.

Anyway, even if I had been a STEM type of gal, I wouldn’t have been drawn to a career in entomology. Fortunately, there are people who are drawn to the profession which, if you’re a public entomologist like Gale Ridge, who works for the state of Connecticut, is a lot more varied a job than collecting insects and labeling the jars you house them in.

Her clients enter [her lab] brandishing pill bottles, jam jars, and Tupperware containing roaches and weevils, meal moths and fabric moths, bedbugs and stinkbugs. Tiny mangled spiders come in on bits of Scotch tape; gypsy moth caterpillars by the wriggling bucketful. Some people even send in live beetles by mail: The envelopes arrive empty, with chew marks in the corner.

She has helped gardeners identify the scourges of their crops, she’s guided homeowners through the treacherous terrain of bedbug control, and she’s helped police investigate a murder by examining the maggots found writhing in the victim’s flesh.(Source: Bloomberg)

RIdge has definitely found the right profession. She even has empathy for bedbugs, allowing those from her lab an occasional feed on her blood by sucking on her thigh.

“There is nothing worse or more sad to see than a frustrated bedbug who can’t feed,” she told me when describing one of her experiments.

Well, I can think of just a few things that are worse and sadder than a frustrated bedbug, but I’m perhaps insufficiently kind and empathetic.

In addition to her regular bug-related duties, Ridge spends time as some type of hybrid physician-shrink for those coming her way who believe that their bodies have been invaded, and that they’re being eaten alive, by bugs:

She labels these cases DP, short for delusional parasitosis. Some entomologists prefer Ekbom syndrome, because it carries less stigma. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which most psychiatrists use, the condition is listed as one kind of delusional disorder, defined as an unshakeable belief that you are being attacked by bugs or parasites even when there is no evidence of infestation.

“Patients” Ridge has seen have gone to extremes to get rid of what’s bugging them. One fellow bathed in insecticide.

The folks who come to Ridge have already seen their doctor and a dermatologist. When they’re told that they need a psychiatrist, they take exception.

The patients believe that the proper medication is not an antipsychotic but an antiparasitic, that the correct expert is not a psychiatrist but an insect specialist.

For her own part, Ridge sees up to 200 cases a year, which seems really incredible to me. And she’s not alone.

“Every state has somebody like Gale or me,” said Nancy Hinkle, a professor of veterinary entomology at the University of Georgia, in Athens. She estimates that these inquiries take up about 20 percent of her time. “I tend to stay a couple of hours every day to deal with the invisible bugs.”

Countrywide, the number of cases is growing, and Ridge is collaborating on an initiative to come up diagnostic guidelines. Most, she’s trying “to prevent people’s lives from unraveling.”

I have a tiny bit of an idea what that unraveling might be like.

On a trip to NYC about five years ago, my husband and I both got what looked like a bedbug bite, which is distinguished by a three red dots pattern. We were pretty sure we were bitten at a weirdly charming but rundown little French bistro that we went to on each NYC trip. Not only were the menu and d├ęcor completely old school, they had a pianist playing Broadway show tunes, and the average age of the diners made us look like kids. (I just googled, and it closed about a year ago. Maybe the last regular patron passed on to the great French bistro in the sky.)

Anyway, for weeks after we returned home – with no signs of bedbugs in our luggage or on our clothing – I lived in complete fear that we were being infested. I bought some sort of natural anti-bedbug treatment. I bought a bedbug detector. I tossed and turned and regularly got out of bed in the wee small hours to toss and turn the mattress for signs that we had bedbugs. The fear of bedbug infestation didn’t bug my husband. What bugged him was my obsession. I finally went out and bought new pillows, anti-bedbug pillow cases, and an anti-bedbug mattress cover. Only then could I sleep.

So while I don’t exactly have DP, I do get the obsession with bugs.

Fortunately, there are entomologists out there to help DP sufferers, even if they can’t do much for them except get them to start taking anti-psychotics. Fortunately, there’s an anti-psychotic that one study shows is also an anti-parasitic. This gets some of the DP-ers to take a drug for what’s bugging them without having to acknowledge that they have a psychiatric disorder.

Me, I bet that there’s a reasonably good chance that at some point they’ll find that there really are teenie tiny parasites that are too miniscule to be identified with today’s microscopes.

Meanwhile, how’s entomologist for an interesting occupation?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Humans 1, IoT 0

Juicero is a heftily-backed little company that makes something called a juice machine. Well, I’ve got a blender, and that’s juice machine enough for me. But my blender is not part of the Internet of Things (IoT), so there’s obviously a lot I’m missing out on. My blender, however, does a number of handy things, like chop, whip, and  puree. And since I have neither the need nor the desire to order it around when I’m not in its presence, I guess I’m good with my old-fashioned blender. Plus when I want juice, mostly what I do is go to the fridge and take out whatever juice I have at the moment, which is apt to be orange, or grape, or apple, or cranberry.

But the Juicero juice machine, which costs $400 (over $300 more than the cost of my blender), is not just about any old juice. It’s a transformative device, and what it transforms (by squeezing) are:

…single-serving packets of chopped fruits and vegetables into a refreshing and healthy beverage. (Source: Bloomberg).

Well, refreshing and healthy both sound good. But why does it need it to be part of the good old I of T? Glad that you asked that question. The Juicero is all connected up so that it can read the code on the single-serving packet, check it against an online database, and let you know if the contents have expired or been recalled. Golly, that’s a swell idea. How many times have you looked up and down to find the expiration date on something? They print those in the damnedest places. But here’s Juicero, thinking outside of the juice box so that they can give us a head’s up that our chopped fruits and vegetables are expired and, thus, might not be as refreshing and healthy as one might have desired. Or as Gwyneth Paltrow might have desired, since, it will come as no surprise, she’s a big fan of Juicero founder Doug Evans, who prior to Juicero owned of a chain of juice bars that sold cold-pressed juice. In glass jars, natch.

Anyway, what Juicero does is provide consumers with a weekly supply of bags full of triple-washed and chopped fruits and veggies. (According to their web site, “each plant has a specific chop.” Gwyneth, I’m quite sure, would approve.) Consumers run it through the Juicero squeeze box, and voila: a glass full of cold and healthy.

Juicero has been dubbed the Keurig of juice, and that’s a subscription, razor/razorblade model that investors like. In the case of Juicero, investors including Google’s VC wing and Kleiner Perkins put $120M into the company.

But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands.

And you can squeeze your bags faster than the Juicero machine, although with a small loss of yield.

Reporters were able to wring 7.5 ounces of juice in a minute and a half. The machine yielded 8 ounces in about two minutes.

Sort of like John Henry, the steel-driving man who beat the steam-powered hammer. Except that John Henry died in the process, and squeezers presumably live to enjoy their cuppa.

Juicero maintains that its customers “prefer to use the machine because the process is more consistent and less messy.” Four hundred dollars worth of consistency and less mess. Okay. And don’t forget the IoT.

Founder Evans has:

…likened his work to the invention of a mainstream personal computer by Apple’s Jobs. “There are 400 custom parts in here,” Evans told Recode. “There’s a scanner; there’s a microprocessor; there’s a wireless chip, wireless antenna.”

400 custom parts – a buck per part! The human hand has only 29 bones and 34 muscles. Even times two, that’s a lot fewer parts than the Juicero has. So you’d think that the Juicero would go a little faster, wouldn’t you? (As for that comparison to the invention of the mainstream PC? RFLMAO. Or am I just suffering from a paucity of imagination in that I can’t see a future in which almost every home has an IoT juicer in it?)

Anyway:

Juicero didn’t broadly disclose to investors or employees that packs can be hand squeezed, said four people with knowledge of the matter.

Apparently none of them thought to try it for themselves. So some of them are a bit teed off.

Me? I’m with Kurt Jetta,

…who runs retail and consumer data firm Tabs Analytics. “Entrepreneurs may be tempted to have a technology angle when it’s not really there.”

Technology in search of a problem to solve, anyone?

Meanwhile, the product – the packs cost $5 to $8, which seems like a lot for a glass of juice, even before you factor in the machine cost (and they won’t sell you the packs if you don’t buy a juicer) – is only available in 17 states, none of which is Massachusetts.

Packs can’t be shipped long distances because the contents are perishable.

Now that’s what I call a flaw in the model.

Anyway, for $400, plus the cost of the packets, I could have had a V-8. A lot of them.

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A Pink Slip squeeze of affection to my sister Trish for pointing this story my way, and for suggesting the title.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Career derailment

Yesterday was a big news day for career derailment.

Annie Dookhan is/was a chemist. Oh, she’ll probably never work as a chemist again, not after her terrible stint working in a Massachusetts state lab that police departments and prosecutors relied on to test drugs. Unfortunately, Dookhan didn’t test all the drugs she claimed she had, sometimes substituting visual inspection for an actual lab test. Which doesn’t work all that well. Didn’t folks used to get duped into buying oregano thinking it was pot? But, hey, that powdered sugar could be cocaine.

Sometimes Dookhan forged her co-workers’ initials on forms. And sometimes she tried to cover up her activities by mixing drug samples.

For her troubles, Dookhan spent a couple of years in prison. (She was paroled last spring.) And prosecutors, it was announced yesterday, got to throw out 20,000 cases that relied on evidence that Annie Dookhan had her hand in on.

Of course, Dookhan derailed her career a number of years back, but yesterday’s announcement isn’t going to get it back on the right track any time soon.

It’s not clear what motivated Dookhan. Was she trying to get dealers off the street, whether they were dealing or not? Did she want gold stars and brownie points for getting her work done more speedily than her colleagues? Was she bored on the job? Or was it nothing to do with motivation and everything to do with mental illness?

In any case, it’s doubtful that Dookhan will ever work again at what had been her profession for more than a dozen years.

Former Patriots’ tight end Aaron Hernandez was also in the news yesterday. On a day when a number of his former teammates were at the White House celebrating their Super Bowl win, Hernandez – who had been serving life without parole for murder – hung himself in his cell.

Last week, a jury failed to find Hernandez guilty of two counts of murder. It’s not that there’s all that much doubt that he was involved in those murders. It’s just that the state’s prime witness was a thug who struck a deal. The prosecutors might as well have been presenting evidence worked on by Annie Dookhan.

Anyway, it can be argued that Hernandez’ career was on the way to derailment early on, as he’d been in plenty of capital-T Trouble since he was a star athlete in college. But it began to serious derail in June 2013 when, shortly after signing a $40M contract with the Pats, he was arrested for what turned out to be murder #3. Speculation is that Odin Lloyd was killed because he knew that Hernandez was responsible for the deaths of those two other men.

Aaron Hernandez is now dead and gone, and while this is mostly a case of sigh of relief and good riddance, he added a complication – or was it an F-U? - on the way out the cell door. In Massachusetts, if you die while your conviction is being appealed (as his was for the Lloyd murder), you go back to “innocent until proven guilty status.” Because of this, the families of his victims will have a hard time pressing civil suits against his estate. I suspect that, given the two trials Hernandez had gone through, most of that estate is already in his attorneys’ hands. Still…

Some commenters argue that Hernandez, knowing about this quirk in the law, killed himself so that his family would get whatever’s left behind. I doubt that he was that smart, as there’s been not a scintilla of evidence that he had any intelligence whatsoever. I’d put my money on his realization that he really was in the stir for life and just couldn’t take it.

(The big excuse for Hernandez’ throwing away a lucrative career and opting for the thug, gang-banger life instead, is that his father died when he was a teenager. Yep. That’s plenty awful, plenty sad. But just off the top of my head, I can think of four people I know and love – my husband (11 years old), my father (11 years old), and my brothers (15 and 18) – who also lost their fathers young and who didn’t turn out to be punks. Just sayin’ this looks to me like a pretty BS excuse.)

Anyway, Aaron Hernandez is gone, and all that’s left are some remnants of his career: jerseys and autographs that collectors jumped on eBay to sell, now that their presumed value had increased.

Yesterday’s third career derailment story was, of course, that of Bill O’Reilly.

In the face of all those advertisers abandoning the not-so-good ship BillO, Fox decided that he would no longer factor in their network lineup, where he will be replaced by the smarmy and odious Tucker Carlson.

O’Reilly came of age in an era where versions of his office playbook, while never exactly acceptable, were accepted. Sure, O’Reilly’s behavior – given his power – was worse than that of most men. But harassment, crude banter, etc. were widespread. They were objectionable. They were irritating. But women mostly shrugged and figured it was the cost of entry into a man’s world. When Senator Orrin Hatch, during the Clarence Thomas hearings, said that he couldn’t imagine anyone uttering the words “pubic hair” in the workplace, everyone in my workplace just laughed.

But the times have been a changin’, and women no longer put up with this kind of crap.

The downfall of O’Reilly is pretty sweet, given his pious rants about how the world would be a better place if we could just hold the calendar steady at 1952. And his latest book in which, I gather – I certainly haven’t read it/won’t read it – he talks about the importance of gentlemen treating women like ladies.

Sorry, Bill. Old school is out. Forever.

He won’t starve. I’m sure he’ll set up some online presence for his audience. He’ll keep best-selling his books. But he’ll no longer be pontificating on Fox, which would apparently like to expand its audience beyond aging white males.

So. Annie Dookhan. Aaron Hernandez. Bill O’Reilly.

Three pretty good-sized career derailments for one day…

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Rx? (Don’t take Taltz if you are allergic to Taltz…)

I am most fortunate in that, even at my great advanced age, I don’t take any prescription drugs. Oh, there’s some ear cream that I use sporadically, but I don’t think it has a real brand name. And it’s certainly not advertised. Maybe there aren’t all that many people plagued by psoriasis of the ear.

But there are plenty of folks with severe plaque psoriasis. At least I’m guessing that’s the case, given all the ads for different drugs for treating plaque psoriasis. (And a lot of the plaque psoriasis sufferers are apparently MSNBC news junkies, because that’s where I see most of the ads…)

Taltz. Humira. Ortezla.

I’m sure there are others, but these are the ones that are top of mind.

But whether it’s a plaque psoriasis drug, or something else, I’m always amazed (and alarmed) by all the warnings that come along in the ads. In fact, once the ad is over, I tend to forget what the drug is supposed to treat. Instead I remember the lines like “Don’t take Taltz if you are allergic to Taltz.”

Okay. That sure makes sense.

But who would know whether they’re allergic to Taltz unless they’ve taken Taltz and broken out in hives or whatever?

We’re warned in drug ads about all sorts of bad things that can happen to you.

Tuberculosis. Lymphoma. Pancreatitis (which may prove fatal). Heart failure. Loss of vision or hearing. Suicidal thoughts. (And then there are the minor ones: diarrhea, headache.)

I get that the cure may end you up with some other terrible health problem. Three years ago this Sunday, my closest friend died from complications to a stem cell transplant that was treating a recurrence of lymphoma. Lymphoma which had been likely brought on by the drugs she had taken for years to treat lupus. So, there are tradeoffs, and if you’ve got something god-awful – like severe lupus – then they may well be worth making.

Still, those ads are just so dire.

There are ads that tell you to let your doctor know if you’ve ever been treated for cancer. Or had a liver transplant. I know that people switch physicians all the time, and that medical records don’t necessarily keep up (even when you’re seeing the same doctor, and when everything you’re doing, medical-wise, is within the same healthcare system). But how could you forget to tell your doctor that you’ve had a liver transplant? And if you’ve neglected to tell them, shouldn’t they have seen the scar and asked ‘what up?’

I can’t remember a time when there weren’t ads for OTC medications. (“Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself” was an infamous line in an Anacin (aspirin) ad. It even made it into a novelty song. And, of course,  “I’m not a doctor. I just play one on TV…”)

At some point in the 1980’s, we began to see ads for prescription drugs. Which is actually fairly odd (and somewhat insidious), given that, unlike other items that are advertised direct-to-consumer, we can’t go out and buy what’s being advertised. Prescription drugs aren’t like Ford F-150s or iPhones. We need to ask our doctor to prescribe the drug for us. So all of a sudden, once those ads started popping up, we had patients-as-consumers bugging their doctor to prescribe specific drugs that they wanted to pop.

I’m all for patients advocating for themselves and their loved ones. Doctors don’t know everything – there’s way to much to know – and you certainly have supreme interest in what it is that’s happening to you. Why not suggest avenues of exploration to your doctor?

But requesting branded drugs because you’ve seen them heavily advertised on TV (dire potential consequences or not)… Doctors are already being pressured by the pharma reps. Now they have their patients clamoring for the little purple pill.

Back to all those dire potential consequences…

If you do need to take a prescription medication, you really need to tune out the warnings or you wouldn’t take them.

Other than the one for a certain category of drug.

I’d say it is more than prudent to get medical help right away if you’re a fellow who’s experiencing an erection that’s lasted for more than four hours.

While you’re at it, tell your doctor if you’ve had a liver transplant. And don’t take Taltz if you’re allergic to Taltz.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Got stuff? Got a place to put it?

I always say that, every year, we should all pretend we’re pulling up stakes and use the “let’s pretend” to throw out all the stuff we’d toss if we really were moving.

I always say a lot of things, and this is just one of many that I always say and then proceed to ignore.

When I reno’d my condo in the fall of 2015, I did actually toss most of the stuff I would have thrown out if I were moving. Out went the old massive, mega BTU, energy-inefficient AC that we somehow hung onto when we moved from the carriage house we rented to the condo we owned- you know, the one with central HVAC. That old AC ran on the wrong kind of power – 220? 110? whatever it was, it wasn’t what we were wired for – not to mention that there isn’t a window in here that it would fit in. But hang on we did, for nearly 25 years, letting it take up precious storage space until I had the Brazilian junk hauling guy junk haul it away.

But I wasn’t ruthless enough when I went through things. The closet space that used to be taken up by the AC is now clogged with old PC’s and laptops. It’s on my “this year” list to do something about.

But what will I do with the space that’s freed up?

The plan is to move my Christmas decorations – now in a crawl space that I really do have to crawl into – into a quasi-walk-in closet that I can quasi-walk into. But I don’t plan on acquiring any new stuff to stuff into the crawl space. Stuff I still got plenty of. Or as much as fits into a 1250 square foot condo with limited storage, without making the place look like an episode of Hoarders.

If my footprint is small, I still have a lot of stuff. And even though I’m now hitting the Age of De-Acquisition, I’m like most modern Americans. I like stuff. And sometimes I fantasize that I have a big extra closet somewhere. Or that I have an outside storage unit. Where I could stow Christmas decorations. And things that I don’t exactly need or use, but that I want to hang on to for someday, for posterity, for my sisters and nieces to comb through, swearing under their breaths.

Which I won’t do. Who needs the extra monthly expense? Who needs the stored stuff?

But the storage problem is a real one for urban dwellers. We don’t have attics. We don’t have garages. We don’t have basements. So we either do without stuff (or periodically call in the Brazilian stuff-haulers), or we rent storage units. But some folks are starting to take a closer look at storage. Take NYC, where:

…as self-storage buildings have multiplied across the city, they are drawing increased scrutiny from city officials and community groups who say they take up space that could be used for something more productive. Now the city is proposing to restrict the development of new self-storage buildings in some industrial areas in the boroughs outside Manhattan, as part of a broader strategy to save more land for manufacturing and industry.

New York joins a small but growing number of communities, including San Francisco, Miami, and Charleston, S.C., that have moved to restrict or curb the spread of self-storage buildings, seeking to strike a balance between the demands for more storage with the needs of communities for other things such as jobs, housing, and grocery stores. (NYTimes, via the Boston Globe)

Self-storage is a relatively young industry, having started out in the 1960’s, when, I guess people became more mobile, and, I guess, had more discretionary money to spend on stuff.

People just didn’t use to accumulate as much crap as they once did. My grandmother Rogers lived in the same place for more than sixty years. As any of her grandchildren can bear witness, Nanny had a lot of stuff. There wasn’t an inch of space that wasn’t covered by some knickknack or another. Yet her stuff never spread beyond the confines of her flat.

Nanny lived in (and owned) a large three-family house. We moved out of our flat in 1956. The other renters had moved out a few years earlier. Despite the fact that she could have use the money, my grandmother never rented out either of those flats. She didn’t want tenants, period. But her stuff never spread out to encroach on either of those apartments. Nor did she ever use the cellar for storage. Her spillover storage was a hall closet just off the back entrance.

While Nanny was an accumulator, she was a small thing accumulator: bird figurines, decorative plates, her own water colors. She had the same furniture forever (some of which I now possess).

My mother lived for 45 years in the house we moved to around the corner from Nanny’s. Like Nanny, she was an accumulator, and there was stuff on every surface. Mostly small things: bird figurines, decorative plates, craft projects.

But her closets weren’t stuffed Fibber McGee, and, while there was plenty of junk in her cellar that we needed to get rid of before she moved out shortly before she died – stuff like old figure skates and bikes – the cellar was by no means packed to the gills.

Nanny and my mother were typical of their generations: stuff but not stuff. Certainly not stuff that would merit using a storage facility. Not like the current inhabitants of Planet America, where we all have 7.2 square feet per person of storage space. Okay, you can’t store much in 7.2 square feet, which is really just a small closet. But, in the aggregate, there’s a ton of self-storage space out there, taking up space that some cities believe is a more productive use.

I really don’t see manufacturing coming back to the heart of cities, but, sure, stores, gyms, and apartments are certainly more productive than places to store old Christmas ornaments.

But where are we going to put all of our stuff? And what happens to the economy if and when we stop accumulating it? First world, 21st century problems, I guess.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Thank you, Kathrine Switzer

Pink Slip generally celebrates Patriots’ Day with a paean to our quirky little holiday. Last year’s post was no exception.

I really love this holiday, and this year the forecast is for beautiful weather. And, once again, I have tickets to see the Red Sox play. The Marathon runs nearby, so when we spill out of Fenway, we’ll spill into the less-competitive runners. Post-game, I may go to a post-Marathon party at Kennedy Brothers PT, when we’ll fete the runners who ran on behalf of KBPT’s charity, Christmas in the City. All in all, it promises to be an excellent day. But, other than this one paragraph, this year’s post isn’t a tribute to Patriots’ Day. It’s a tribute to Kathrine Switzer.

I don’t recall reading the news about Kathrine’s attempt to be the first woman to officially run Boston. That was in 1967, and I was spending the week in NYC with my friend Kathy – the week I fell head-over-heels in love with MarathonManhattan. So I missed the news about Kathrine – who used her initials K.V. to register – getting chased by race official Jock Semple. There’s Jock in hot pursuit, trying to pull the numbered bib off of Kathrine’s sweatshirt – and screaming at her to “get the hell out of my race.” Not to be outdone, Will Cloney, who was the head of the Boston Athletic Association (which runs the Marathon), was quoted as saying, “If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her.”

The nerve of a “girl” – Kathrine was a twenty-year old Syracuse student at the time – trying to run the boys-only Marathon.

Admittedly, fifty years is a long time. But for those of us who were there and then, it’s just yesterday.

And that was a yesterday when there were far fewer athletic opportunities for women. My high school (all girls) had one sport: basketball, which was played old-style: half-court, with two stationary forwards, two stationary guards, and two rovers. I didn’t play on the inter-scholastic team, but I did play intramural. Again, basketball was the only sport for intramural. The uniforms (which were our gym uniforms) ooked like waitress dresses. Each class had different colored waitress gym uniform. My class was Dawn Yellow. The “real” team’s uniforms were similar, but I don’t think they had starched white collars, which our gym unis did.

Phys ed, by the way, was mostly about doing wand drill and playing Squirrel in a Cage, supervised by the ancient Miss Foley. We didn’t shower after gym, because no one worked up a sweat.

These days, my high school is something of an athletic powerhouse, and has teams for cross country, field hockey, soccer, swimming & diving, alpine ski, basketball, winter track, golf, lacrosse, softball, spring track, and tennis.

What a difference fifty years make.

And that difference was made in no small part due to women like Kathrine Switzer.

This year, the Boston Athletic Association is retiring the number – 261 – that she wore way back in 1967. The BAA doesn’t retire numbers lightly. The only other retired number is 61, in honor of the 61 races run by Johnny Kelley. (When I first came to Boston – fall of 1967 – I went quite often to watch the finish of the Marathon. It wasn’t a big deal back in those days. You could walk about to the finish line at the last moment, and you stayed until Johnny Kelley had crossed the finish line. Johnny Kelley would have been sixty the first time I saw him race in 1968.)

By the way, at age 70, Kathrine will be running Boston again to commemorate her 50th marathon-i-versary. She’ll be in good company. Last year, out of the more than 30,000 numbered racers, 46% were women.

Although I love sports, I’m no athlete. When I was younger, I skied a bit, played tennis a bit, but never seriously took up any sport. I suspect if I were in high school now, I would be doing something. My father was a superb, multi-sport athlete, and both of my brothers played sports. One of my brother was a chip off the old block, athletic-wise. It’s even irritating to play mini-golf with him, as he just has that natural athlete confidence and sense. I’m typically okay on the first nine, but then get in my head and blow up on the back nine. Nonetheless, I did stand a 50-50 chance of inheriting the athlete gene. So who knows?

Anyway, here’s a shout out to Kathrine Switzer, Marathon Woman, still running after all these years.

At 70, she won’t be finishing among the elite runners. Maybe when the game is over, I’ll see her legging it through Kenmore Square. Go, Kathrine.

A few years ago, I stopped Gloria Steinem on the street to thank her for all that she had done for the women of my era.

I’ve got another thanks in me.

Thank you, Kathrine Switzer.

 

 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Goats to the left of me, goats to the right of me

You know, I can go days, maybe even weeks, without giving goats first, let alone a second, thought. And then, what do you know? Goats to the left of me, goats to the right of me…

Goats, apparently, are a thing.

And given that I didn’t get around to finishing up my taxes until 11 p.m. last night – and was confronted with the I-O-them realization that I had neglected to factor in Social Security – oops - when I made my estimated payments; and thus owed a chunk of changes – I was way in need of a some goat news to put me in a cheerier frame of mind.

First there was the wonderful video of goats doing what looked a lot like parkour, which the Huffington Post (and more than 10 million viewers) picked up on. Watching kids of the human variety parkour their way up the sides of buildings and do a parkour leap from roof to roof makes me nervous. Watching kids of the caprine variety, well, that just me smile and give a tiny little bleat of joy.

While goat parkour filled me with joy and ooh-aah wonderment, a news article on goat yoga filled me with puzzlement, the puzzlement perhaps stemming from insufficient knowledge and appreciation of either goats or yoga.

Anyway, a yoga studio in Western Mass is holding a special class “Goat Yoga For Charity” next week.

 “It’s just yoga with baby goats running around,” explains Shae Blaisdell, who co-owns the studio. “They jump on people’s backs, lie on people’s mats — they just play.” (Source: Boston Globe) 

“Just yoga with baby goats running around”? Oh. Just that.

Participants – and the event is sold out – have been warned that they should only wear and bring gear that they’re not afraid to get a bit of pee or poop on, as that’s what happens when you “blend movements and gentle stretches with the playful antics of live kid goats.”

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of mixing goats and yoga.To me, yoga – despite pose names like Downward Dog - always seems kind of humorless. Having a bunch of goats scampering around might lighten things up quite a bit.

Goat yoga isn’t just happening in Western Mass, of course. It truly is a thing. There’s even an outfit in – no surprise here – Oregon that combines goat yoga with wine tasting. Do you taste the wine before or after the goats crap on your yoga mat? Just wondering…

With Easter upon us, it’s kind of fun to think about an animal other than Easter bunnies and Easter chicks. Maybe next year there’ll be goat Peeps. Not that yoga practitioners would ever let a bite of Peep pass their lips. Still…

So, Happy Easter.

May there be a gift certificate to a goat yoga session in your Easter basket.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Cleanliness is next to sickiness. (You dirty rat…)

Even before I heard of the hygiene hypothesis, I knew that us hale and hearty types were going to eat a peck of dirt before we died.

I grew up in the era before there were different colored cutting boards and knives for each different food type. And while I did have food poisoning/stomach flu a couple of times, it was never because my mother didn’t bleach the kitchen after cutting up a chicken. One time, I was poisoned – along with hundreds of others – after eating Chicken a la King at a Christmas thank-you event held for everyone who worked for or volunteered at Our Lady of the Angels parish. (I was a worker: my friends and I had the very plum job of opening the donation envelopes, and counting and recording the collection take from all the Sunday masses. We got paid a couple of bucks, plus we got money for breakfast and junk food and were allowed to raffle off any Kennedy half-dollars that were thrown in the basket. As a side benefit, if all the priests were out, we could snoop around the rectory.)

I had the “stomach flu” a couple of times, too, the most memorable occasion being when some virulent virus went marauding through my college. The nurses went door to door distributing Lomotil – bring out your dead -  as we were all too sick to make it to the infirmary. Again, nothing to do with my mother’s neglecting to bleach the kitchen.

Throughout my life, I have pretty religiously followed the ten-second rule about food on the floor. I really don’t think there’s any salmonella lurking on my living room carpet. And, while I do wash fruits and veggies before I eat them, I have never felt the need to sterilize them.

And no one was wiping us down with special wipes, or dipping out mitts in Purell, every time we came in from our grubby play.

So here I am, on the cusp of old age, barely worse for the wear.

Anyway:

THE hygiene hypothesis posits that certain diseases—notably asthma, eczema and type-1 diabetes—which are becoming more common than they once were, are caused in part by modern environments being too clean. The diseases in question result from misfunctions of the immune system. The hygiene hypothesis suggests such misfunctions are the result of children’s immune systems being unable to learn, by appropriate exposure to viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasitic worms, how to respond properly. (Source: The Economist)

But the fetish for cleanliness in the house can’t hold a candle – a candle no doubt dripping waxen germs – to the sterility of a scientific lab. So now researchers are checking out an extension of the hygiene hypothesis, that: “laboratories’ spotlessness might also mean mice are sometimes too healthy to act as useful models for disease.”

Which isn’t such a good thing, “because mice are often used in medical experiments on the assumption that their reactions are similar enough to those of human beings for them to act as stand-ins.”

Mice acting as stand-ins for humans pretty much says it all. Of mice and me? No big difference? But better those little pink and white lab rats than a more sentient and human-like critter like a chimp or a dog.

So far, it’s not clear whether the hygiene hypothesis works with mice. Some studies say yes, another not so fast. As is often the case with these sorts of preliminary literature reviews, the outcome is a grab-bag of intriguing results, rather than a coherent hypothesis or prescription for action. But the evidence Dr [Lili] Tao and Dr [Tiffany] Reese have assembled suggests there is something going on here that needs investigating. It seems to be a classic example of the law of unintended consequences. The point of raising mice hygienically is to eliminate as many uncontrolled factors from an experiment as possible. That hygiene itself might be such a factor has not, until now, crossed people’s minds.

Now that it’s crossed the minds of at least a couple of scientists – and I do find it interesting that the scientists wondering about whether the lab is too clean are women – the next steps aren’t clear.

Running trials twice, with “dirty” and “clean” mice, could be one approach. Another might be to agree on a set of bugs to which early exposure is permitted.

We may see the day when you dirty rat is a good thing to have around the old lab.

Keep on experimenting, folks. Quite selfishly, whatever you discover via mice may prove useful to us aging Boomers. But I can tell you that the dirty mice will have more in common, hygiene-wise, with those of us who grew up before the world got so damned clean than those clean mice will.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How to take $103 million and turn it into $31 million

The rich are different from you and me. And, no, it’s not just because they have more money. They also give their children names like Chauncey Devereux Stillman. And where the rest of us live in neighborhoods or on streets, they have named estates, like Wethersfield.

Wethersfield was the home of Chauncey Devereux Stillman, grandson of James Jewett Stillman, who headed up the bank that eventually turned into Citigroup. So despite the terrible name, Chauncey was born with a leg up. When his grandfather died in 1918, he left his heirs an estate that would be worth $1.6 billion in current dollars. Obviously not much compared to the big bucks numbers that get bandied around these days. We all know that a billion is the new million. Still, $1.6 billion isn’t all that shabby, even when diluted among multiple generations of descendants. There was a Depression in there, but you’d think that $1.6 billion is sort of built to last.

All of the $1.6 billion did not, of course, go to Chauncey. But he scraped together what he could and, as a young man in the 1930’s, bought up a few “depleted” farms north of NYC and created an estate named Wethersfield. (Wethersfield was the town in Connecticut where his ancestors had emigrated in the early 1700’s.)

 He spent more than two decades creating gardens evoking those in 17th century Italy. A room with a vaulted ceiling and frescoes once displayed his most prized artwork, “Portrait of a Halberdier,” a painting by Pontormo that sold at auction to the Getty Museum for $35 million shortly after his [Chauncey Stillman’s, not Pontormo’s] death in 1989.

But by the early 2000s, the Wethersfield fortune began to fade. The foundation’s expenses and grant outlays exceeded revenues for 14 straight years, filings show. Trustees diverted millions of dollars to personal causes, including alma maters and children’s schools, according to admissions they made in connection with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s probe.

Homeland’s assets totaled $103 million in 1998. By April 2015, they’d dwindled to $31 million. That year, Schneiderman alleged that former trustees used the foundation as “a piggy bank” and that its ex-president misdirected $701,328 for personal benefit. In an agreement with Schneiderman’s office, seven former trustees admitted they routinely awarded money to “institutions that had nothing to do with the Wethersfield Estate.” (Source: Bloomberg)

I’m not the canniest person on the face of the earth when it comes to finances, but $103 million to $31 million? That’s quite a dwindle in 17 years, especially when they bolstered the coffers with $35 million with the sale of the Pontormo. But I guess that’s what happens when the trustees can tap the foundation for their pet causes and/or their walking around money. Not a lot of oversight going on there. And I’m sure if you’re a trustee with oodles of money just sitting there it’s way, way, tempting to be a showoff and write a big check that’s not coming out of your own pocket. You get the stroking and the kudos, the cultivation and the sucking up, and it costs you zilch. (Then there’s the temptation to outright steal, which was going on a bit with that “misdirection” of funds.)

So now, in hopes of keeping Wethersfield alive (gardens, trails, stables, stately manse, etc.) – it’s been open to the public since Chauncey Stillman’s death in 1989 -  the family foundation is selling off Stillman’s art collection.

On the auction block will be works by Degas, Sargent, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Maybe they’ll go to museums, but it’s more likely that they’ll go into private collections of those with a lot more than $1.6 billion. Where no one will see them ever again in the whole wide world. Unless, of course, the estates of the purchasers turn their billions into millions and need cash.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What is up with United Airlines?

A few weeks back, it was the teenaged sisters who weren’t allowed to board a flight because they were wearing leggings. Turns out they were flying on an employee family pass, and United has a special dress code for family members because, even if no one knows who they are, they apparently represent. My guess is someone in this family party ticked off a gate agent – for a real or imagined reason  – and the gate agent decided to power-mouse it up and exercise some  capricious and arbitrary authority. That or the girls looked like they were going to do a pole dance mid-flight and the gate agent feared that the average passenger would be offended.

Anyway, “#leggingsgate” flared on social media for a while, with calls to boycott United, etc.

Well, now United has gone ahead and upped the ante, and in the process, upped the anti.

It all began at O’Hare on Sunday night when United was trying to resolve an overbooking situation. After the passengers were seated for a full flight, United realized they had no place to seat four United employees who had to be in Louisville for the next day. So they offered passengers $400 – later (once the flight was boarded) upped to $800. Plus an overnight hotel room, and a flight to Louisville the next afternoon. It comes as no surprise to me that there were no takers. It’s Sunday. People flying on Sunday are either a) going home and want to get there; b) need to be where they’re flying for something on Monday.

I’ve never been bumped, but I did take the offer one time. My husband and I were flying to San Diego on vacation and had a stop in Chicago. They were overbooked on the Chicago-San Diego leg, and were looking for volunteers. The offer was lunch money, an upgrade to first class, and a small (couple hundred bucks) flight voucher, in return for a six hour delay. Back in the day before you had to be at the airport two hours early, six hours meant we could take the El downtown, walk around the Magnificent Mile, and have a nice lunch. What the hell? We took the offer and made a nice old day of it. Other than the fact that it was freezing in Chicago and we were dressed for San Diego, a nice outing entirely.

Another time, on a business flight from Atlanta to Dallas, they came on and announced that, given the head winds, they wouldn’t have enough fuel to get to Dallas unless 1,800 pounds of human and baggage got off. I had to be at a meeting, so I didn’t volunteer. I don’t remember what the offer was, but they did find some volunteers and off we went.

Can’t remember which airlines these “incidents” occurred on. The SD-Chicago may well have been United. The Dallas flight was likely American. But both occurred back in the TWA and Pan Am days when all sorts of airlines were flying around.

Back to United’s latest fiasco, rather than do the economically rational thing to do, i.e., keep sweetening the pot until they found four passengers to take the offer and deplane, or suck it up and hire a private jet to fly its employees to Louisville, United invoked a fine print rule that lets them randomly select passengers to bump.

Well, it’s one thing to be bumped when you’re in the waiting area. It’s another to be bumped when you’re sitting there with your seat in the upright position, seat belt on, carry-on safely stowed, and the tray table snapped in place.

And for some reason, someone at United (actually Republic Airways, running a United Express flight) decided it was a good idea to get everyone seated before bumping. So rather than figure this all out in the waiting area, where people might get pissed off, but wouldn’t have to be forcibly pulled off, United let the passengers board and get comfy, and then announce the lucky winners of the random drawing. And what happened is that, while three of those randomly selected took the offer, one of the randomly selected passengers did a hell-no-we-won’t-go:

In a video that quickly went viral, a passenger is shown shrieking and bloodied as he was forcibly removed from an overbooked United plane at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Sunday night by police officers [Note: these were actually unarmed airport security personnel, not real cops]. He refused to leave the plane, saying that he was a doctor with patients to see in the morning…

In the disturbing video, fellow passengers yelled, “Oh my God, this is wrong! Look at what you’re doing to him,” as officers dragged the man down the aisle. He didn’t fight with the officers. Instead he went limp and was pulled across the floor of the plane, arms first.(Source: Boston Globe)

Maybe the doctor was being a jerk. But when it comes to siding with a jerk or the goon squad, well, we know where the sympathies are going to lie. And that is not likely to be with the not-so-friendly skies.

So, inevitably, folks began live tweeting the situation. Within 24 hours, nearly four million people had viewed the video. And, inevitably, there was insta-talk of a boycott.

It took a while, but United is all apologies for what the company’s CEO termed "an upsetting event to all of us here at United."

"I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened," United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement Monday. Munoz said the airline is trying to reach the passenger to "further address and resolve this situation." (Source: Chicago Trib)

It doesn’t help the situation any that the passenger dragged off was apparently a POC (Asian). Nor does it help that power moves on the part of “authorities”- however tin the badge and mickey mouse the authority – do seem to be disturbingly on the increase.

As for United, I’d hate to be their in-house flack or their PR firm. At least this PR nightmare has relegated #leggingsgate to a position further down the old search engine. But the real bad news is that #boycottunited is trending.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Democracy dies in darkness, but did it have to take the Peeps Diorama contest with it?

What with Easter coming up, an old lady’s fancy quite naturally turns to Peeps. After all, if there’s anything that says spring has sprung, it’s biting the head off of a Peep. Even though Peeps are now available year round, and for every imaginable holiday, my preference is for the original yellow chicks. Nothing like a fresh Peep. Yum!

Peeps are not, of course, just for the eating. For a number of years, the Washington Post has run a Peeps diorama contest. I wasn’t wild about last year’s winner – a cross-cut of Donald Trump’s brain. Or something. (I posted about the 2016 contest here.) But Trump aside – if putting Trump aside is actually a possibility; he sure does seem to ruin everything, doesn’t he? what a killjoy – there have been some spectacular entrants over the years. If you doubt my word, just take a look at In Your Easter Bonnet, With All the Peeps Upon It.Peep-Twinkie-B

That was the year (2013) when the grand prize winner was a tableau depicting a funeral for the Twinkie. But that was in kinder, gentler times, when we could laugh at things like the death of the Twinkie. Fortunately, Twinkies have risen from the dead and are available once again, if you’re inclined to eat one. Me? I think they’re better placed in a casket in a Peeps diorama. (On the other hand, a Hostess Cupcake: now you’re talking…)

But we have now entered the national no-fun zone. And – alas and alack - WaPo has decided to put away childish, or at least Peepish, things. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and all that. This year they pulled out of the Peeps Diorama business.

I absolutely agree that it’s really important to have good, strong investigative journalism. I read the Washington Post every day, and I say keep at it. But why can’t we still have Peeps? Surely Post owner Jeff Bezos understands the American psyche better than anyone else, and, thus, should recognize that, while we like serious stuff, we also crave both the impulse buy and the flat-out ridiculous. (Sometimes they’re one and the same.)

Of all the dire predictions I made in my head after the election, the Post’s doing a Peep-drop on their diorama contest wasn’t one of them. If there’s anything that’s better with DJT in charge, I’ve yet to figure it out.

Another outfit has picked up the slack and is running a diorama contest. It’s the National Harbor, which is a destination/marketplace/whatever on the Potomac. In Maryland.

But, alas and alack, National Harbor seems to be more interested in getting you to show up at the National Harbor to look aPeep-diorama-1-editedt the dioramas than they are interested in showing them to you online. All I could come up with was this diorama, which seemed more intent on showcasing the National Harbor experience than showcasing what might or might not be in Donald Trump’s head. Or a Twinkie funeral. Or any of the other swell tableaux that creatives have submitted over the years.

National Harbor – which is home to a mega-Peeps store – also sponsored a Peeps-eating contest on Saturday.

Much as I like that first bite of a Peep head, there are few things that sound more disgusting than a Peeps-eating contest. (This year’s winner, by the way, managed to stoke down 255 Peeps in 5 minutes – Peeps that could have been put to far better use, IMHO, in a diorama.)

I am exceedingly disappointed that the Washington Post is no longer sponsoring the Peeps Diorama contest.

Keeping democracy from dying in darkness – (“Democracy dies in darkness” are the words now displayed beneath the Washington Post masthead) – is obviously more important and serious than, say, the bread and circus task of running the Peeps Diorama contest. But why can’t we have both?

Easter won’t be the same this year. I might just have to bite the head off of two Peeps.

 

 

Friday, April 07, 2017

Polo, anyone? No one?

If you’re in Manhattan and happen to feel the need for a polo shirt – make that a Polo shirt - coming on, pretty soon you won’t be able to pick one up at the Ralph Lauren fancy-arse flagship store on Fifth Avenue. It’ll be closing in another week or so.

This won’t bother me any. The Ralph Lauren items in my closet number two: a turquoise and white striped long-sleeved cotton shirt that I got at Marshall’s a couple of years ago, and a turquoise cardigan (okay, I’m color consistent) I picked up when Filene’s was going out of business in 2011.  

Way, way, way back, I owned a few polo shirts, which I mostly wore under sweaters. But when I did wear them solo – I swear to God – I never did the collar-up thing. Just flat out not preppy enough for that particular look.

The entire Ralph Lauren schtick – all those vacant looking perfect- family blonds (with, in a nod to diversity, with the occasional dark-haired/dark complected “friend” thrown in). All those perfect-teethers, with nary a book in sight nor a thought in anyone’s head beyond how damned perfect everyone looks. All sitting around at impossible angles in white Adirondack chairs on the perfect green lawn of some ocean-front Long Island estate. It’s always been a bit too WASP-envy for my taste. (Not that I wouldn’t mind being a perfect-looking blonde lounging around in an Adirondack chair waiting for my yacht – or at least my sailboat – to come in. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just that I wouldn’t want to be around all that many perfect-looking blondes all wearing the the same navy blue and madras outfits. Or be one of them. I’d have to change my name to Mimsy or something. Plus wear a headband.)

Ralph Lauren isn’t the only retailer hurting, up and down the economic scale. Payless Shoes is closing stores, and filing for bankruptcy to boot. (To shoe?) J. Crew is in trouble. Gymboree.

The rise of e-commerce has left many fighting for survival. Consumers have gotten used to discounts. And an address on Manhattan’s luxury showcase isn’t what it used to be. Tourism is down, rents are too damn high and it doesn’t help that security surrounding the Northern White House, down the block, has diverted foot traffic. Fifth Avenue vacancy rates are hovering near an all-time high, according to Cushman & Wakefield Inc.(Source: Bloomberg)

(NYC voted overwhelming for Hillary Clinton, 79 percent HRC to 19 percent Trump, so maybe there’s no interest on the part of the Job Creator in Chief in creating jobs for New Yorkers. If only there were veins of coal running under Fifth Avenue…)

In addition to the general retail sector problems, Ralph Lauren has some particular ones. The look of their stores – there are two in Boston, and I’ve glanced in the window when passing by – are old-school and fussy. They look like you’ll be issued a smoking jacket (men) or string of add-a-pearls (women) on your way in. Fuddy, meet duddy.

Similar brands have done more to appeal to hip and happening young folks. Take Burberry which, as far as I know, still outfits the Queen, but has also gone a bit edgier and more youth-oriented. None of this silk scarf tied under the chin for them!

Coach – on the pocketbook front – has long had a rather sturdy, expensive, and boring appeal. But they’ve kipped things up over the years as well. In Manhattan, not far from the soon-to-be-shuttered RL store, Coach’s:

…store entrance has two mechanized conveyor belts with a rotation of its colorful handbags and jackets. The center atrium holds a 12-foot sculpture of a dinosaur made with the company’s leather bags.

Ralph Lauren will be putting more of its focus on eCommerce, and looking at trendier concepts for the stores that it keeps open.

But they’ll need more than a dinosaur made up of sweaters. For starters, they should probably avoid any dinosaur images. And they might want to look for some trendier clothing styles while they’re at it.

Honestly, would you pay $498 for that RL emblazoned blazer? Or $98.50 for this shirt with that gigunta polo emblem on it? Polo shirtpPOLO2-25307742_lifestyle_t240

Me, neither. Even if I were a perfect blonde, lolling around Amagansett in my Adirondack chair.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

On the brink of extinction

We’re not talking the polar bear of mountain gorilla here. Not even the piping plover.

Still, who wants to see an article listing 36 once-popular names that are on the brink of extinction in the UK. And finding your name on it. And if it’s happening in the UK, look for it to be exported here next, sure as they export their sitcoms, game shows, and talent contests.

I believe that some of the names merit extinction.

Come on, who would name a baby Bertram, Ernest, Leonard, Dean, Doris, Clarence, Roy, Cecil, or Wayne?

I mean, Bertram? Has that name been used since P.G. Wodehouse picked up pen and invented Bertie Wooster and Gussie Fink-Nottle

Answer: No.

I don’t mind Len as a nickname – one of my friend’s husband is a Len – but Leonard has always been a dud in my book. Not quite as awful as Lionel, but right down there. I’ll bet you anything that Lennie in Of Mice and Men was a Leonard. Ernest I place in the same category as Leonard. A dull and deadly name.

Clarence is another pretty terrible name. And, sweet and harmless as Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent of Beany and Cecil fame was, this is a name that shouldn’t be given to anyone unless there’s a title and castle attached to it.

Let’s play a round of word-association: Dean-Martin, Doris-Day, Roy-Rogers, Wayne-Newton. No self-respecting parent making any of those associations would go ahead and register their spawn with one of these monikers.

The other male names on the brink are a mixed bag: Clive, Cyril, Dennis, Derek, Duncan, Geoffrey, Horace, Malcolm, Neville, and Nigel. One would have thought that Neville Chamberlain would have done the name Neville in way back in 1938. No peace in our time, and no Nevilles, either. But it apparently managed to hang on for nearly 80 years. But Clive and Nigel seem like perfectly fine British names. Duncan and Geoffrey, too. Derek has always struck me as sort of sleazy, but what’s wrong with Malcolm?

Dennis was a name I crushed on as a kid, even though the only kid I knew named Dennis was a quasi bully who was a few years older. (Side note: he became an ambulance-chaser in Florida. I only know this because, a few years ago, someone from Main South Worcester saw a post I did on Main South Worcester and emailed me. In the email, he mentioned that he had been friends with this guy.)

And Horace? How stodgy is that one? Horace Mann. Horace Greeley. And Horace Bolton, Judy Bolton’s brother in the 1930’s girls book series I hoovered up as a kid, even though they were pretty outdated by the time I got my hands on them.

Take away Doris, Wendy (too Protestant), Sally  and Tracey (too hip and happening), and the roster of girls names going extinct wouldn’t have been out of place on the class roster of any class I was in during grammar or high school.

Angela, Beverley, Carol, Debra, Diane, Donna, Elaine, Joanne, Paula, Sandra, Sharon, Sheila,Yvonne.

I didn’t actually have any Angelas in any of my classes. But I could have. One of my closest friends has a sister named Angela, and my father had a cousin Angela, who became infamous in the family for not stirring her stumps to drive from the Cape to Worcester during a blizzard to attend my father’s wake. Woe betide Angela H when my Uncle Charlie ran into the likes of her at the Stop & Shop a few months later.

Beverley was a sort of sad girl who was the foster child of a family in the neighborhood for a few years. Along the way I had friends named Carol, Diane, Donna, Elaine, and Joanne. And colleagues and/or classmates named Debra, Paula, Sandra, Sharon and Sheila. I had a babysitter named Yvonne.

And then there’s Maureen.

Oh, I’ve seen this one coming.

For years, it’s been a shock running into anyone under the age of 50 named Maureen. How did this happen? There were an awful lot of us in my high school class. Maureen D, Maureen P, Maureen Q, Maureen O… And then, all of a sudden, the name died in the water.

I have two cousins with daughters named Maura.

But Maureen?

I’ve never especially liked my name. I’d prefer regular old Mary. Or Maura – the same thing, but without the diminutive speared on the end. Or Elizabeth, my beautiful middle name. I should have re-invented myself when I had the chance.

Maureen can be a problem name. These days, unless you’re of a certain age or from an area with a lot of Irish-Americans, no one knows how to spell it. Murine? Maurine? Morene? Moron?

And most folks don’t know how to pronounced it, either.

Growing up, in a heavily Irish-American neighborhood, it was MAUR-een, which is pretty much how it’s pronounced in Ireland. But somewhere along the line it’s been Americanized with the stress on the second syllable: Maur-EEN. Which would be kind of like pronouncing Ricky as Rick-EEE, or Kathy as Kath-eee. (I will also note that my sister Kath was called KATH-leen as a child, but the more general current American pronunciation is Kath-LEEN.)

Although I was never that fond of my name, I hate to see it go.

I did see an ad the other day for Subaru that features an adorable Black Lab named Moe. Perhaps my nickname will have a second life as a dog’s name. Works for me.

Meanwhile, for those having and naming kiddos:

If you're looking for a unique name for your newborn, it might be wise to ignore suggestions like Arlo, Drake, Amelie and Kendra and opt for one from the list [of extinct names]. Source: Falmouth UK Packet.

And a Pink Slip thanks to my cousin Ellen – she of the ever-popular first name – who sent this my way.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Word.

In February, when I was apparently too busy staring off into space to notice, Merriam Webster announced the new words that they’d just added to their online dictionary. More than one thousand of them, and I say bring it on.

I like Seussian ("of, relating to, or suggestive of the works of Dr. Seuss"), but given the current sitch, might they not want to also add anti-Seussian (“crazy and made up, but, unlike Dr. Sesuss, malevolently so”). And if sitch isn’t in there, they might want to make room for that as well.

Prosopagnosia ("an inability to recognize faces") is also in there, perhaps in tribute to the late Oliver Sacks, who suffered from this disorder and wrote about it. Curiously, I recently met a woman with prosopagnosia, who told me that the next time I see her, I would need to reintroduce myself.

There are a number of tech terms, including abandonware (“software that is no longer sold or supported by its creator”). Would that this term had been around during my career, the path of which was full of jettisoned software. In one company I worked for, we had an in-office Halloween Party in which we were all asked to come as dead products. (Management didn’t find it quite as amusing as we all did.)

I’m surprised that it’s taken all this time for airball to make the show. And I guess that we’re just getting around to supercentenarian, or those who make it to 110+, because there are now so many of them. (Maybe I’ll feel different if I’m still around in 2059, but, at this point, I’m thinking that I’d rather see than be one.)

Foodies are represented by arancini, EVOO, and macaron. I like macarons just fine, but I find them prettier than they are tasty. Arancini: yum! What a great invention. A whole new meaning to fried rice. Thank you, Italian cooks! As for EVOO, my palate’s not refined enough to detect the difference between EVOO and plain old VOO.

The political sphere gave us truther, SCOTUS, and FLOTUS. To hell with truthers. The jury’s out on whether it’s to hell with SCOTUS. And, personally, I want my old FLOTUS back. (Miss you, MO…)

What else? Train-wreck, throw shade, geek out, yowza… Love them all. And boo-hoo is now a verb! Bravo!

There were a couple of words that were new to me on the list. Bokeh, for instance. The definition is “the blurred quality or effect seen in the out-of-focus portion of a photograph taken with a narrow depth of field.” Sure, every once in a while I’ll notice a blurred bit on an old snapshot – especially pics taken using the family’s trustee 1950’s vintage Polaroid. But, really, how often does the need for the word “bokeh” come up in conversation. Oh, one might say pretty often in a world of Instagram and Snapchat, but that’s not a word world, so…

Then there are microaggression, safespace, and first world problem. Interestingly, microaggressions and safespaces are pretty darned good examples of first world problems. (Should I have put a trigger warning in there?)

My favorite Merriam-Webster add may be wayback machine, something entirely familiar to those of us who grew up watching “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

My least favorite? Pareidolia – “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.” You learn something new every day, but I suspect I’ll go to my grave (well before I become a supercentenarian) without ever having used this one, happy just to be able to look up in the sky and say “that cloud looks like an elephant.”

Not to be outdone, dictionary.com (Random House) added some 300 new words, one of which is 420. I wasn’t familiar with this numero-wordo, but should have been, given that Hempfest is held each year practically in my front yard (the Boston Common), and 420 refers to smoking cannabis. Oh wow. (Not to be confused with woo-woo, which made the list at Merriam-Webster.)

As April 20th is Hitler’s birthday – now how did I know that? – I would have thought that 420 would be more associated with the alt-right, which is, in fact, on the dictionary.com list of newbies.

They had some pretty good ones – bitchface (but not resting bitchface), clicktivism, burkini, man bun, and mic drop. And some odd ones.

Stochastic terrorism: is “the public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted.” (Source: Mashable)

Not that this one doesn’t make sense, given how much stochastic terrorism’s been going around of late.

Struggle bus? “A situation, task, etc., that seems difficult or frustrating.”

Which sounds like something that would only be used in conversation with a four-year old. But I guess there are plenty of days when the wheels of the struggle bus go round and round for all of us.

Uncanny valley: “a psychological concept that describes the feelings of unease or revulsion that people tend to have toward artificial representations of human beings, as robots or computer animations, that closely imitate many but not all the features and behaviors of actual human beings.”

I mean, I get the definition, but “uncanny valley”?

Huh? What’s the opposite of yowza?

 

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

I’d like to teach the world to invest, in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke, to keep it company.

Warren Buffett on a can of Coke?

We won’t be seeing it here in the States, but in China, The Sage of Omaha’s wise old visage will soon be gracing cans of Buffet colaCherry Coke.

Oh, why not.

The Chinese are apparently gaga over Buffet, and investors throughout the country try to emulate his tactics, if not his relatively austere lifestyle and philanthropic bent.

I like to hoist a Coke every once in a while, and I did have a brief period when I rather favored vanilla Coke, but I’m not a fan of flavored colas. Anyway, Cherry Coke was introduced to China last month, and the limited-edition Buffet cans are part of the promotion.

It may seem odd to use someone who’s never been a movie star, athlete, or rocker; or even some celeb famous for being famous – and an old geezer to boot – to shill for a consumer product. But in this case, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway holds a major stake in Coca-Cola (9.3%). Plus:

He’s also a heavy user of the product: Buffett has said that he drinks about five cans of Coke per day, and he’s  frequently seen sipping the beverage at public events…(Source: Bloomberg)

And he’s stated:

“I have not seen evidence that convinces me that it’ll be more likely I reach 100 if I suddenly switched to water and broccoli,” Buffett said.

So there, Michael Bloomberg!

I wouldn’t advocate that anyone start drinking five cans of Coke a day. I was at one point a couple-a-day Diet Coke drinker. That was until the day my heart started racing as I began downing a third in a row. Since then, I ration myself.

But if Walt Whitman can shill for Volvo, a product that I can say with pretty high certitude that he never rode or invested in, surely Warren Buffett can be used to promote a product he owns and loves.

It does remind me of the ad that Nobel economist (text-book author and MIT professor) Paul Samuelson did decades ago for Allied Van Lines. My first reaction to the ad was “what was Allied Van Lines thinking?” Unless you took an economics course, Paul Samuelson wasn’t exactly a household figure. Were there 10 people planning a move in 1982 who might have been influenced to go with Allied based on Paul Samuelson’s recommendation? That many?

My second thought was “what was Paul Samuelson thinking?”

As it turns out, when he did the ad he really wasn’t thinking. He ended up giving his fee to charity, and declared:

''I think it's really a demeaning thing for a scientist to be doing. It was an error of judgment on my part.'' (Source NY Times)

We can quibble about equating “economist” with “scientist.” Dismal scientist maybe. But interesting that Samuelson rued the day that he lent his name to Allied Van Lines.

My guess is that Warren Buffett’s getting a kick out of being on a Coke can.

It got me wondering what other famous people haveWallace Berry endorsed Coke over the year. The list (actors, athletes, rockers) is too long to convey, but Elvis, Ryan Gosling, and Betty Boop are all on it.. Warren Buffett might be the most offbeat, however. (Okay, other than Betty Boop.)

I did, however, come across someone else with the initials WB who’d promoted Coke. If you’re thinking Warren Beatty: wrong! Or, rather, wrongish. He did down a cool one in Bonnie & Clyde.

No, the earlier WB honors go to one Wallace Beery, and actor popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Somehow, I can’t imagine someone who looked like Wallace Beery getting much ad time today. Maybe in China, but only if he knew how to invest.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Book binding

The other day, my sister Trish asked me whether I had Hillbilly Elegy and, if so, could she borrow it.

Well, yes and no.

I do have Hillbilly Elegy, but it’s on my Kindle. So if she wants it..

But most of my books aren’t on my Kindle. I still buy plenty of them, as do my sisters and brothers. And we regularly swap back ad forth.  To me, there are few pleasures greater than browsing a bookstore and picking up some new books to add to the pile on the chair next to my bed. My local is Trident Booksellers & Cafe on Newbury Street, a pleasant mile or so walk to, and a less pleasant mile or so walk fro if I forget to bring my backpack. Yes, I’m one of those fortunates who has an indie nearby. Nothing against the non-indies. Borders used to be my closest bookstore, and I haunted it. But what was a quite excellent Borders is now a Walgreens specializing in makeup. And the closest Barnes & Noble is just not very good. Thankfully, there’s Trident just up the way.

I’ve always liked books. I like looking at books stacked up in the chair next to my bed. I like knowing I have books around. I like reading books.

Although I do have a few bookcases full, I don’t tend to hang onto them. Not that I’ll ever get around to rereading most of them. They’re my comfies: good to have around. But mostly your can forget that “neither a borrower nor a lender” nonsense. Books are for borrowing and books are for lending.

Not that the Kindle’s not fine – it’s especially good for traveling – but a book in the hand? Nothing like it.

But, unless the pages fall out in my hand, or the spine cracks wide open the minute I open it, I don’t think much about book binding.

Nonetheless, I was drawn to an article in the Boston Globe the other day on Acme Binding, a local bookbinding company located in the Charlestown section of Boston.

First off, there’s that wonderful name: straight out of the Depression. Or maybe out of Looney Tunes. Then there’s the fact that, although they’re now a division of a larger book binding outfit, it seems to still retain a quirky little independent feel to it. Acme’s president Paul Parisi, is the son of the company’s founder. Another son, John – on whose date of birth in 1958 the company was founded – works there as well.

Although Acme was born in 1958 (on Halloween, no less), through a acquisition that it made in the 1980’s, the company can trace its roots and claim a lineage back to 1821. That “makes it the oldest continuously operated book bindery in the world.” And that’s quite saying something.

As I noted, unless the book comes apart in my hand, I don’t spend much time worrying about book binding.

In fact, the last time I gave book binding any thought was the day I took my husband’s dissertation to be bound at some little bindery outside of Harvard Square. That would have been in 1977 or 1978.

Other than that, if asked, I might have guessed that books are printed and bound in book factories. But Acme just does binding.

Trade binding of high quality books. Periodical binding for libraries. Textbooks rebinding so that those pricey books will “last more than four times longer than new!” Short runs. (Vanity press.) Fine hand binding (for that family history you’ve been meaning to write). And, yes, thesis binding!

Parisi talks about books as if they are animate objects — old friends that hang around on bookshelves. Indeed, he wrote the standards for how library books should be made so they are sturdy and durable enough to last for years. While others are looking to exit the industry in the age of e-books, he continues to put money into the family-owned business. “Many people think print is obsolete, but I think the future is strong,” says Parisi, 63, who employs 150 people in a labyrinth-like 100,000 square-foot plant where machines systematically bind, fold, cut, perforate and box. (Source: Boston Globe) 

I’m with Paul Parisi.

I may have gone over to the dark side in terms of newspapers, but I’m still a physical book buyer.

So good on Acme Printing. May they bind long and prosper.