Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dinner in the Sky's heart-attack-on-a-plate

Yesterday, I posted about blimps, and how magical I find the idea of floating around in one.

Today, well, there's a slightly different story.

My sister Trish sent me a link to an article in the Boston Globe, which talked about a local guy who's part owner of a Dinner in the Sky setup in the States. I'd read about this outfit before - the company is Belgian - but the concept's immigrated and now, you, too, can dine al fresco at 180 feet up on a 5 ton platform suspended from a crane. The platform accommodates 22 diners (hooked in with 4 point seat belts - just to make sure), and 3-5 staff members. (This photo apparently shows a sort of busman's holiday for chefs.

You rent the rig for 8 hours, and you're free spend the time on one really lllooonnnggg dinner, or a bunch of smaller events -  a wine tasting, coffee, ice cream sundae party: you're in charge of the catering. (You can't expect this company to be good at both craning people up and food prep, can you? I'd rather have them be good at just one thing, and that's crane safety. Although, personally, I can't imagine wanting to be up there for a sip of water, let alone an 8 hour dinner but, as the Belgians no doubt say, chacun à son goût.Dinner in the sky

Dinner in the Sky's site is a trove of information.

First up on the FAQ's: what happens if you need to, errrrr, powder your nose.

Not to worry. You just raise your hand, as you once did in grammar school, and the crane lowers the boom for everyone. It only takes a minute - truly, not much longer than it would take to zoom to the facilities in a land-locked restaurant.

Worried about weather? You can take out cancellation insurance "which is 10% of your global budget + 15 % insurance fee." Whatever this means. (I think it loses something in the translation.)

And who wouldn't be thinking insurance, especially given a couple of recent crane collapses in NYC which were just plain old vanilla crane collapses that didn't involve 22 people, plus 3-5 chefs and wait-staff on a 5 ton platform? Dinner has "worldwide coverage," but they "advise [their] clients to take out an event insurance as an extra precaution." And, for us American litigious types: "Especially for our US customers we have an extra US$ 10 millions liability insurance policy in place which can be used for US$ 5.500/event day ." (You wouldn't want to lose your best customers, or key executives, without getting back a little walking around money.)

No open fires, by the way, but you can use a gas barbie. And if you're thinking of bringing the kiddies along. "Dinner in the sky is not age related but height related, we need to be able to secure you safely in your seat, minimum height is 150 cm."

I am truly wracking my brain here, but I can't think of one parent I know who'd be willing to head for the heights with a 150 cm tall kid strapped in - even if it is with a 4 point seat belt. Can you imagine what a relaxing meal that would be, worrying about whether little Johnny was going to get bored and decided he wanted to sit under the table and pound on his father's shoe for a while. But, wait, Johnny, there's no floor to crawl on...Johnny, JOHNNY. Oh, no. (That's why you just might need that extra $10 million in insurance.)

So far, in the US, the Dining in the Sky franchise is operating out of Las Vegas - but it's portable, sitting there on an 18 wheeler waiting to be trucked anywhere in the US. Prices are somewhat sky high - $35K for starters - and I'm guessing that doesn't include the fuel to haul it your way, let along all that extra insurance.

"Some people have compared it to eating on the top floor of a skyscraper with no walls and no floors," said [co-owner Michael][Gallant, 31, who lives in Revere [Massachusetts]. "The best way to describe it is dinner amongst the clouds."

Well, 180 feet isn't exactly amongst the clouds, unless it's a really foggy day. And then what a miserable dining experience that would be, what with no big roaring fire to take the chill off.

The apparatus was "built to German safety specifications that 'supersede some of the safety standards we have in the States.'"

Hmmm. Wasn't that what the makers of the Hindenberg said?

Anyway, Dinner in the Sky not likely to be coming my way anytime soon.

Boston public safety regulations for such offbeat operations are among the most stringent in the United States, according to Patricia Malone, the city's commissioner of consumer affairs and licensing. "There'd be extensive permitting and extensive public safety issues that the city would have to look into before we could determine whether or not Boston would be someplace [Dinner in the Sky] could do business," Malone said.

Thank you, Patricia Malone!

I'm sure that I would be having my first heart attack before that crane had hoisted my party even halfway off the ground.

Forbes has named Dinner in the Sky (which now operates in about 20 countries) one of the 10 "most unusual restaurants" in world. I'll have to get a hold of that list and check out what the other 9 might be.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Despite my fear of heights, I have no fear of flying, and would like nothing more than to hitch a ride someday on a blimp/airship/ dirigible/zeppelin.

I've always loved blimps.

When I was a kid, we occasionally saw one off in the distance, and spotting one - they were always heading west - from the back yard on a summer's evening was supremely exciting. How often this happened, I have no recall, but we spotted blimps on more than one occasion.

Where were they coming from? Where were they heading?

I have nary a clue.

I don't remember that they were advertising blimps - Hood Milk, Goodyear [or is it Goodrich?] - but they may well have been. I have a vague memory that they were military, but to what end they'd be sailing over Worcester, I can't imagine.

But just seeing them, off in the distance over one or the other of the Worcester hills, was both mysterious, thrilling, magical.

There was a cookie that my mother often bought - some type of butter cookie that came in the shape of toys. I remember a rag doll, a block, and - what could be more wonderful - a blimp.

Although they were exactly the same, other than for their shape, the blimp, my favorite, just tasted better than the others.

Blimp-spotting is more common now than it was then.

During baseball season, on a home game day, all I have to do is look west to see one.

And every time I spot one, it still makes me smile.

Other than the chilling old film of the burning of the Hindenberg - "Oh, the humanity!" - what's not to like about blimps?

Of course, I really don't know much about the distinction among different types of airships. They're all blimps to me, but apparently a dirigible has some type of metal frame that makes it rigid and gives it some strength and maneuverability lacking in the balloon-esque blimp.

Blimp or dirigible, they'll always be blimps to me.  So I was delighted to see a recent NY Times article on what may well be a new dawning of the "New Age for Dirigibles."

A French architect, Jean-Marie Massaud, hasn't quite:

...ironed out the technical details, nor has he found financiers or corporate backers for his project — to create a 690-foot zeppelin shaped like a whale, with a luxury hotel attached, that he has named Manned Cloud.

The Manned Cloud.

I like the sound of that.

Sure, Massaud may have his head in the unmanned clouds, but there are others getting in on the act with ideas that, if not more down to earth, exactly, are more tethered to reality.  Sort of.

The French postal service is looking into using them to get the mail to their overseas territories.

And a Canadian company, Sky Hook, has hooked up with Boeing to develop an airship that can do some heavy lifting - 40 tons, to be exact. SkyHook's tagline is "taking industry beyond the last mile", and the thinking behind it is that this is a more environmentally friendly way to get at (and extract resources from) mines, forests, and the petro-chemical underground. (Okay, you can argue that we should be leaving all that wilderness beyond the last mile alone, but we all know that we will hunt the last natural resource down with the avidity of rat scratching through a garbage bag to find that last chicken bone. So we might as well not wreck all the environs building roads and sending kazillion pound trucks in over all that fragile tundra and rainforest.)

Other companies looking into airships for ocean crossings. Given that the Queen Mary is making a resurgence with Atlantic crossings, there may well be an audience for those who want to poke along in an airship (which, according to The Times, over 400,000 souls - Oh, the humanity -  did before the Hindenberg exploded in Lakehurst, NJ). And, of course, it takes less time to poke along in an airship than it does to poke along in a ship-ship.

In an article on Good Clean Tech notes that they can go 150 m.p.h., so a trip from London to NY would take 26 hours. (I think I'd rather take in the other direction, with the wind to my back.)

There's also some sight-seeing potential - there are $500 a pop tours over Monterey Bay run by an outfit called Airship Ventures - but they're not likely to see a lot of build up, I suspect, in places where the weather is really terrible for, say, 6 months out of every year.

A number of airship ventures, apparently, haven't quite gotten off the ground. But with concerns about jet fuel costs, not to mention that environmental depredations visited upon us every time we take flight in a big old jet plane, the time for the airship may well have come.

The Manned Cloud may never take wing, but I like the idea of it.

And maybe, just maybe, someday I'll get a chance to sail around in a blimp.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This takes brass. (How low can you go?)

A few years ago someone stripped some brass/bronze markers off a wall near the Esplanade on Boston's Charles River. I can't recall what historic or heroic thing the markers commemorated, but they were kind of funky, and then they were gone. Hundreds of thousands of people walk by this wall when they come to the 4th of July concert, and now there are gaping scars where the markers used to be. The guess was that someone sold them for scrap.

Every once in a while, someone will steal one of the "Make Way For Ducklings" ducklings from Boston's Public Garden. But that's usually a college kid doing it as a joke, and Mack-Ouack-Pack or whichever of the duckling sibs goes missing gets returned to its rightful place.

Abandoned buildings have long been stripped of their fittings, including any copper piping.

And every once in a while there's a spate of brass door knocker thefts, where someone makes off with all those cool lobster and whales.

Wrought iron gets stolen with regularity - including off the front of buildings. Including from the place where I live, that had a couple of wrought iron faux porches stripped off many years ago, allegedly by a guy who did some work around the building. (We were never able to prove anything - and those faux porches still haven't been replaced. They sure were pretty.)

And, of course, there are those who take the flowers off of graves, which has happened to quite a few people I know, including family members. And which I've always thought was pretty darned low.  (Can you imagine spading up the geraniums that someone has just planted on Gramma's grave and moving them to your front yard? What goes on in people's heads?)

But, let's face it. Heinous as all of this behaviors are, they are innocent child's play compared with the latest:

Fire departments across the country report that thieves are twisting the brass nuts off the tops and selling them for scrap, raising concerns that the hydrants won't work when needed most. (This from a recent Boston Globe article.)

In California last spring, thieves had wrenched the nuts off of the five hydrants closest to a house on fire. The firefighters couldn't get the water they needed. As a result, the house was a total loss.

Some firefighters are now carrying spares to that they can use hydrants that might be tampered with.

What are the brass nuts from a single hydrant worth?

Apparently about $10.

Which means you have to go after quite a few hydrants if you want to make any kind of a haul.

If this keeps up, it's surely a matter of time before some out of commission hydrants factor in a death or two.

When that happens, I'm sure we'll have tamper-proof hydrants. Or security cameras mounted on every corner, as is happening in the UK.

But in the mean time, how rotten and desperate do you have to be that you're willing to endanger someone's life for $10 worth of brass hydrant nuts. (And just how rotten do you have to be if you're running a scrap yard and you're willing to take a bag of hydrant nuts from someone? They are pretty recognizable for what they are.)

Meanwhile, it's probably worth taking a look at your nearest hydrant to make sure it's still got all of its brass fittings.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fish-based pedicure - is this a new outsourcing paradigm?

The other day, I saw a somewhat disturbing article online about a spa in Virginia that's offering "fish pedicure":

Rather than having the nice young Vietnamese woman use a pumice stone to soften up that hard, yucky skin on your heels - as is done at "my" nail salon - Yvonne Hair and Nails started using garra rufa, also known as the doctor fish, to nibble away at that dead skin.

To date, the salon has served up 5,000 folks, who soak their feet in warm water while their dead foot skin is munched on.

Owner John Ho, who had heard of the practice (done in some Asian spa), said that customers were, at first a "little intimidated."

Well, "intimidate" wouldn't be the first word that came to my mind.

Perturbed, maybe. A tad(pole) grossed out, even. But not intimidated.

One customer

...described the tingling sensation created by the toothless fish: "It kind of feels like your foot's asleep."

Okay, if I were going to have fish eating my dead skin, I'd prefer them to be toothless. And, because they're toothless, that have to go for dead skin, and can't get to live skin. Which is a reasonably good thing.

Still, the prospect of putting my feet to soak in a tank that contains 100 or so tiny little fish - which, presumably, are exercising other bodily functions while in between swimming and eating - is not in the category the way other nail salon features are. (In this category, I'd put the hand and lower arm massage, which is free. And looking at the fun names for the OPI nail polish. Current fave - and current pedicure choice - Any Man in a Portugal. (Coming up with OPI polish colors - now there would be a fun job.)

Besides, the treatment is pretty costly: $35 for 15 minutes, $50 for 30 minutes. I pay $35 (I think) for a combo mani-pedi. Of course, that doesn't count tips and, presumably, you don't tip the fish. Although, of course, the fish aren't trimming your nails, applying multiple coats of polish, and sticking those foam toe-separators on your feet.

Ho wants to branch out and franchise his pedicure business, and is considering "full-body" treatment that would take care of psoriasis. (As the woman married to the man with the driest skin on the face of the earth, I'll have to ask him what he thinks of the idea.)

The full body concept is used in Turkey, as well as in spas in Asia (and one in Croatia, so wikipedia tells me).

Wiki also lets us know that, while garra rufa  (a.k.a., the reddish log sucker) makes a fine aquarium fish, you can't just pluck them out of your fishbowl and have them start grooming you. In order to get them to eat dead skin, you have to deprive them of other sources of food - meaning that dead skin is right where you'd expect to find it on the Food Pyramid: absent.

I do hope that my nail salon won't be investing in fish tank pedicure systems anytime soon.

But this did get me to wondering whether we're missing any other ways in which we could use our friends in the animal kingdom - obviously in edition to the multiple ways we exploit them already, wrote the woman who's sitting in her suede moccasin slippers, having just eaten some of last night's doggy-bag steak for dinner, and having earlier in the day used some nice brown eggs to help make those brownies to bring to family gathering this weekend.

Are there any other mundane little tasks we might want to outsource?

Friday, July 25, 2008

1Sky (or, how Kelsey and Leah are spending their summer vacation)

Like a lot of Americans, I worry about global warming, with the worry running the gamut from "it's really hot and humid today, I wonder if...." to out and out existential dread. (Does Boston get flooded if the polar ice  cap melts?)

Like a lot of Americans, I feel at least somewhat guilty about global warming, with the guilt running the gamut from thinking about how darn good we have it (as I linger a few extra minutes in that wonderful hot shower), to feeling supreme guilt whatever role I've played in helping move the world along its reckless and crazed path of over consumption and environmental depredation.

Like a lot of Americans, I do my micro bit, which runs the very narrow gamut from bringing my own reusable bags to the store, to buying a Sigg water bottle, to voting for candidates who at least give lip service to things green.

(I can't take environmental credit for not having a car. Yes, my car got great mileage, but I got rid of it not because I made a decision to walk everywhere, but because it was a big, royal, pain in the butt to keep a car in the city.

(Frankly, I love to drive, and have every bit as much "romance of the road" as do my fellow Americans. I just am not wild about cars, and I really despise keeping a car in the city.)

Like a lot of Americans, I feel that there is a distinct lack of leadership around the issue of global warming.

Sure, we demand that our politicians talk some sort of a mealy-mouthed talk, but when it comes to real action we seem to fall into a largely collective lull, from which we don't want to be disturbed by hearing about the true costs of doing something before we hit some catastrophic point.

We let ourselves believe that there'll be some technological breakthrough or "natural" discovery (fingernail clippings, when added to water, will get you 35 m.p.g., highway driving). That "the market", using the same colossal wisdom that has gotten us to the point we're at, will correct itself.

Miracle occurs there, then - when we really need it.

1Sky is trying to do something about all this by harnessing all the piecemeal mini-action (and fretting) into a movement that's demanding "bold federal action by 2010 that can reverse global warming."

They are proposing solutions that are:

...grounded in scientific necessity—they are the bottom line of what's needed to dramatically reduce carbon emissions while maximizing energy efficiency, renewable energy and breakthrough technologies. They also represent significant economic promise. By pivoting to a clean energy economy, we can relieve our dependence on foreign oil, unlock the potential of sustainable industry and usher in a new era of prosperity and green jobs.

No, I don't know all that much about what these solutions are, other than that they're:

  • CREATE 5 MILLION GREEN JOBS in order to conserve 20% of our energy by 2015.
  • FREEZE CLIMATE POLLUTION levels now, then cut by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

  • NO NEW COAL PLANTS that emit global warming pollution; invest in renewable energy.

But if you're looking for a place to focus your existential anxiety about global warming, they look like as good a place as any.

I'd never heard of 1Sky until last week, when I got an e-mail from my friend and former colleague, Todd Stone, whose college-senior daughter Kelsey, along with her friend Leah Gourlie, is biking cross-country to raise awareness of and support for 1Sky.

So here's a shout out to Kelsey and Leah (and a link to their blog).

When I was their age, my roommate and I drove cross country in a Karmann Ghia.

That was a long time ago - before we worried about carbon emissions or fossil fuels - and when environmental awareness was pretty much confined to concerns about DDT and littering on the highway.

Last time I looked, Kelsey and Leah were in Colorado.

You go, girls! May the wind be always to your back, and may all those roads rise up to meet you.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rock-a-bye reborn baby

Last week, my sister Trish (along with my sister Kathleen, and excellent source of the weird and the creepy) sent me a link to an article on something called "reborn babies."

Apparently, there've been a couple of incidents in which folks have smashed the windows of cars (including a new Hummer) to "save" the lives of suffocating babies, only to find out that what's there is just a "reborn baby", the weird and creepy name for what might otherwise be called a life-like doll. (The article doesn't say whether the babies were in car seats - which would have been plenty odd - or just lying there on the seat like the inanimate object they are.)

I had never heard of reborn babies, but I'm certainly not surprised, given the "lifelike pet" business.

Reborn babies - which typically cost well over $1K - are reconfigured, expensive baby dolls that are repainted, weighted, and otherwise duded up so that they look and feel like the real thing.

I went to the site of Kay Dunne, a Canadian woman who makes these dolls, and many of her dolls could pass for thebabylove real thing.

This is Dunne's logo, and, while I couldn't find anything that said whether this little one is real or fake, it sure looks like a real baby to me. (Don't you want to just do raspberries on its belly and Kootchy-Koo?)

Dunne and the others who create these dolls are obviously skilled at their craft, which is quite laborious, and includes opening up the nostrils of standard dolls and painted the insides so they look real; multiple coats of paint to emulate a baby's mottled skin tones; are weighted to achieve real baby heft; and have many other little touches. Some of the reborns "have heartbeats" and "breathe." Some have umbilical cord remnants attached. (Do they dry up and fall off after a couple of days?) Dunne makes both special order, bespoke dolls, and dolls that she puts up for adoption.

Most of those who buy the reborns are collectors, but some are grieving parents who've lost a baby.

Even though I have no children, it's absolutely impossible for me to imagine a worse grief than losing a child. It is completely unfathomable - the mere thought of it (especially when it's connected to a child I know and love) is intensely painful.

And, having grown up in a home that was haunted by the death (the result of an avoidable accident in childbirth) of my sister Margaret, my parents' first child, I know that this is not something that parents easily "get over."  My mother went to her grave grieving for little Margaret Mary, 55 years after her death.

My mother lost her baby in the days when not much attention was paid to things like grieving a baby's loss. Therapy was, more or less, get back up on the bicycle. Eleven months after Margaret's death, my sister Kathleen was born. (They were the only set of "Irish twins" - babies born less than a year apart - in our family.)

So if parents want to have a lifelike doll around, far be it from me to question this (other than to wonder whether, psychologically, it's advisable).

And maybe it helps the senile. In one article I read on reborns, use of these dolls for Alzheimer's patients and the elderly was discussed. A doctor quoted in that article, however, said that the dolls don't have to be all that realistic for patients to find comfort in them. He buys his off-the-shelf at Toys 'R Us.

Some of those acquiring reborns are not trying to deal with the loss of a child. Some just out and out miss their children's (or grandchildren's) infancy, and want to hang on.

Hey, most people who spend any time with infants miss it when those days are gone. Forget the foul diapers, midnight howling that can't be rock-a-byed away, projectile vomit, and spit up. You absolutely miss the talcummed, milky sweetness; the feeling of holding that living, breathing "hot pack" against your chest while it's sleeping; nuzzling those silky little heads; and, oh, that baby-soft baby skin. Sigh.

But it does seem kind of creepy and a tad unhinged about trying to replicate this with a doll, rather than figure out how to find real live babies - living dolls -in your own life, or in your community, that could use an occasional snuggle. (Of course, with the real thing, you also chance the diapers, spit up, shrieking....)

Ah, well, to each her own.

I just wished they called them something other than "reborn babies" - that term's just to unsettling for me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What did you do in the war, KBR?

The swell folks at KBR - primo outsourcers in the war in Iraq - are in the news yet again.

According to an article in last week's NY Times:

Shoddy electrical work by private contractors on United States military bases in Iraq is widespread and dangerous, causing more deaths and injuries from fires and shocks than the Pentagon has acknowledged, according to internal Army documents.

KBR, among other services, provides troop housing.

As long as there have been wars, soldiers have been dying in ways that are not directly related to combat. They accidentally shoot themselves. They get runover. The fall overboard. They're in a jeep crash. (Isn't that how General George Patton died?)

Getting electrocuted is just one more unnatural cause, I guess - although admittedly a really horrific one.

But there seems to be an awful lot of faulty wiring in Iraq, and a lot of it was put in by KBR.

During just one six-month period — August 2006 through January 2007 — at least 283 electrical fires destroyed or damaged American military facilities in Iraq, including the military’s largest dining hall in the country.

Thirteen American have been electrocuted "in country," with higher numbers sustaining injuries from shocks.

A log compiled earlier this year at one building complex in Baghdad disclosed that soldiers complained of receiving electrical shocks in their living quarters on an almost daily basis.

According to the Army, "electrical problems were the most urgent noncombat safety hazard for soldiers in Iraq," a problem attributed to "the poor-quality electrical fixtures procured and installed, sometimes incorrectly". Supposedly, even KBR has acknowledged that there are electrical work problems.

The electrical problem is coming to light because the family of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, electrocuted last winter while taking a shower, is pushing for answers. The Army's now inspecting the wiring in all the KBR buildings in Iraq.

KBR, it will come as no shock, denies that there's evidence of any link between their work and all the fires and electrocutions. Their "commitment to the safety of all employees and those the company serves remains unwavering.”

Not that having the military do its own wiring would guarantee that the job was done perfectly, but this story is one more in a disturbing sequence about the problems that attend the government's prosecution of the war by relying so heavily on contractors, who see to task that the military used to do for itself.

There have been other problems with KBR:

They include accusations of overbilling, providing unsafe water to soldiers and failing to protect female employees who were sexually assaulted.

So much has been outsourced in Iraq "that companies like KBR were simply overwhelmed by the scale of the operations."

Subcontractors were used, who in turn hired unskilled Iraqi locals and paid them a pittance - a very nice way to both a) increase the bottom line; and b) remove yourself from the perils of direct accountability. ("I thought I could trust that darned subcontractor.")

Whatever you think of the war, it is shameful and hideous that we're allowing things like this to happen to our troops so that we can save money, allow "friendly" corporations to profiteer, and mask the true costs of the war by minimizing the number of troops involved (substituting civilians to serve in roles that, in prior wars, were held by soldiers).

Surely we can do better for our troops than providing them such substandard housing that they can't even step into the shower without worrying about coming out alive.


A year ago, I posted here on the plight of a woman who'd been hired by KBR to do laundry in Iraq.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Let Sleeping War of 1812 Vets Lie

New England is dotted with odd little side-of-the-road cemeteries and small middle-of-nowhere family burial plots.

One such Vermont burial ground, surrounded by an oh-so-New-England-white-picket-fence, is in the middle of some prime property that was purchased not long ago by a Wall Streeter.

While the mini-cemetery was not precisely located where J. Michel Guite plans to build his dream house, it apparently lies too close for comfort and - according to a Boston Globe article - "Guite was concerned that the cemetery would trouble his children when they played in the tall-grass fields."

Well, maybe the Guite children are hyper-sensitive, but I'm guessing that most kids - even if they were kind of weirded or icked out by the presence of a creepy old cemetery - would get plenty of ghost story/fairy tale goose-pimple pleasure out of it. Older kids could scare younger kids; younger kids would become older kids and scare the next passel of younger kids; the Guite children would grow up, and their kids would be scaring each other. ("Run, run, it's the ghost of Noah Aldrich...")

Noah Aldrich, a War of 1812 veteran - and there couldn't have been all that many of these - has been lying in his grave since 1848, where he's kept company by two young granddaughters who died in a flu epidemic, by his wife Lydia, and by the cremains of a family who owned the property in the twentieth century.

So, in addition to affording children to scare each other, having the cemetery around could provide a good old-fashioned learning experience about the War of 1812. About flu epidemics. About life in the old days being nasty, brutish, and short. About life and death.

But life belongs to the living, and the property belongs to J. Michel Guite, so he's free to do what he wants with it, even though he's got the town of Hartland, Vermont, up in arms about it. The judge who rules in the case,

...Joanne Ertel, noted that she had little choice but to permit the move because of a restrictive Vermont law. She went on to say: "Despite the fervent and far-reaching opposition to his plans, Mr. Guite has persisted in his quest. The court finds it difficult to fathom his persistence in the face of such widespread and heartfelt opposition. It's hard to imagine introducing yourself to a community with an action that the community finds abhorrent."

With the law on his side, Guite is now free to go ahead and move the graves to, in his words, "'a more peaceful place, far from the house and barn'" that Guite is putting up.

Well, dead is dead, and I'm pretty certain that the dead don't give a hoot and holler about where they end up. But the living care about where the dead end up, and the folks of Hartland don't want this small piece of their history disturbed.

Too bad for the folks in Hartland that some long-lost descendant of Noah and Lydia Aldrich stepped into the fray.

With the help of the Hartland Historical Society, Coloradan Marcia Neal had been tracing her roots. When they discovered the connection, the Historical Society enlisted Neal's help in opposing Guite. Originally, she was with them, but over time changed her view.  Her Western, property-rightish self- why should Guite have to deal with the potential problem of having Aldrich descendants feel that they should have grave visitation privileges - got the better of any trace elements of Ye Olde Vermont history buffish-ness that may still be running through her veins.

She withdrew her opposition to Guite's moving the graves, which paved the way for the judgment

It does seem too bad that this small part of a town's history, culture, and identity has to give way to one man's wealth-stoked desire to have his own way.

And this incident is, of course, just another episode in the ongoing tension between Moonlight in Vermont Vermont, and Vermont as rich New York playground Vermont. This has been going on for years, and the drama will continue to play itself out, until all the old Vermonters are as dead and gone as Noah Aldrich, and the well to do have created the perfect paradise that their wealth allows them. No rusting old heaps in the side yard. No peeling paint on the farmhouse. No smell of cow dung on the boots of the old geezer in the country store.

Nothing particularly new about this, and nothing particularly Vermont about it, either. (Just ask the folks in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; or Nantucket; or Connemara Ireland.)

Just another little tale about how folks with means can always find their way

And, Vermont being Vermont, there's a glorious footnote to this one. The group that sold the land to Guite? None other than the Unified Buddhist Church of Vermont.

I'll go out on a sugar maple limb here and state that the Unified Buddhist Church of Vermont was not the church that Noah Aldrich and his granddaughters were buried out of.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Oh, my aching back

Well, I wasn't going to write about this one, but - as my friend Valerie pointed out - it was just too good to be true, so here goes.

Albert Arroyo is a Boston firefighter whose case is being closely followed by the Boston Globe.

He had been out of work and collecting his salary tax-free since March, when he reported suffering a back injury that no one witnessed at a fire station where he was not assigned to work.

The injury was ostensibly so severe that his doctor wrote that he should be granted an accidental disability retirement because he is "totally and permanently disabled."

Hey, I know what it's like to hurt your back falling down stairs.

Maybe ten years ago, I was heading out to work right after an ice storm.

My husband and I got our parade order a bit screwed up.

He was behind me with the bag of Halite to throw on the stairs; I was in the lead.

"Be careful," he said.

"It's fine," I replied, and proceeded to fall down the stairs, bumping my back on each step and finding myself sprawled on the ice sidewalk.

While I didn't miss any work because of it, I did endure 6 months of extremely painful sciatica. Of course, I was working in an office, not as a firefighter. So, while I had to occasionally strain my brain, and do a lot of metaphorical pushing and shoving, I never had to carry a 200 pound man down a ladder, or smash through any walls with a Halligan.

Come to find out, Arroyo didn't, either.

His job was to inspect home and businesses to see if they were up to code.

Still, that job presumably involves walking up and down stairs, and if you've got a really crippling back injury, that's probably more than you can handle.

Problem was, while Arroyo couldn't handle work, he was able to handle his hobby as a bodybuilder.

In fact, he handled it so handily that, in May, he finished in eighth place in the 2008 Pro Natural American Bodybuilding Championships.

Arroyo has been ordered to return to work today. It will be interesting to see if he shows up.

"If he can lift barbells, he can lift a clipboard," Boston Fire Commissioner Roderick J. Fraser Jr. said yesterday.

According to his lawyer, Arroyo was just following doctor's orders.

"My understanding is that a doctor certified him as being totally and permanently disabled, and if that's the case, then he needs to follow the directions of his doctor," said [James] Dilday.

Firefighters who suffer on-the-job disabilities can retire at 72 percent of their salary, tax free.

Surely, no one would begrudge a firefighter who's risked life and limb, and been injured because of it, his disability pension.

But Arroyo's case does seem a bit shady. And since this is Boston we're talking about here, the problem isn't a one-off:

The Globe reported in January that 74 percent of Boston firefighter retirements between 2005 and 2007 were granted because of accidental disabilities. Cities of similar size reported disability retirement rates of less than 30 percent.

Apparently, there's also a grand jury investigating abuses of the disability system.

It will be interesting to see what the grand jury comes up with.

I'm guessing that this one won't be a false alarm. Where there's this much smoke, there's bound to be some fire.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ave atque Vale

I saw a brief article in a recent Economist that said that college yearbooks are going the way of the raccoon coat and telephone-booth stuffing. Now that there's Facebook and MySpace, apparently a lot of students no longer feel the need to have a 6 pound, leatherette tome with a portentous name (something ending in an "um" or an "us") with black & white pictures of people they'll never see again until their 25th reunion (if then).

The article noted that high schools will probably not be far behind.

Yearbook publisher: One more business that used to be  - now on its way to becoming a business that ain't.

I actually like yearbooks, and feel a little bad that they're being buggy-whipped.

Not college yearbooks - I don't think people invest all that much emotional energy in them.

But, ah, the high school yearbook.

In my high school, it was a really big deal.

And I hadn't realized just how big a deal until I dug mine out.  Of the 84 girls in my class, 41 were on the yearbook committee. My friends Kathleen (editor) and Marie (assistant editor) had leading roles; I was one of the staffers. But I was a member of the all-important "meaningful quote" committee - an important enough committee that Kathleen-the-editor was on it. I can't remember if Marie-the-assistant-editor was, as well. (I saw her last week, but her role in the production of our yearbook wasn't on our agenda.) Anyway, we were the ones who picked the quote that appeared under everyone's picture. 

We had decided that we were only going to have quotes - not the lists of activities -  since we didn't want to hurt the feelings of the girls that didn't have any/many activities. We didn't want anyone to open up our yearbook and see someone with Latin Club 1 - and only Latin Club 1 - under her name. (This was not a personal worry on my part, as I was involved in plenty of stuff. Including - I think, or should I say, cogito -  Latin Club 1,2. I'm definitely sure I bagged it by 3,4.)

We agonized - and I do mean agonized - over making sure that everyone got an apt quote. Where did we come up with "Let us embrace the illimitable secret of 'begin'" for Joan S, and "A noon unto our own day" for Maureen Q? (Okay, I just googled, and Maureen's came from The Prophet, and the "illimitable secret"' comes from e.e.cummings - two sources which come as no surprise to me.)

I googled up short on my own quote:

As the tree's roots deepen, the tree grows to share its shade with everyone.

Maybe my-friend-the-editor Kathleen made it up. She was, and is, a poet. (I'll have to ask her - we're still friends and I e-mailed her just the other day about something.)

The other big deal was the name we wanted to give the year book.

I was in high school smack dab in the middle of the J.D. Salinger era.

Our freshmen year, we were cautioned by Sister Josephine of the Sacred Heart not to read T-C-O-T-R, her mis-acronym for The Catcher in the Rye, the book that in her classroom dared not speak its name.

T-C-O-T-R, she told us, R-O-T-T-E-N.

Needless to say, once we cracked the code, we all beat a path to Ephraim's Bookstore to pick us up a copy.

But Catcher was nothing compared to the collective swoon that our class' more literary types (that would be me and my friends) went into over Franny and Zooey.

I can't quite recall which one - was it Franny? was it Zooey? - but one of the Glass siblings had been told to do things she didn't want to do "for the Fat Lady". She never quite knew who this Fat Lady was, but the book's punchline - I'm going from memory here -  gives away the goddam secret:

Don't you know the secret? Don't you know the goddam secret? The Fat Lady is Christ.

By tradition, each class in my high school got to name their own yearbook. (We were preceded by The Torch and L'Esprit.) And we chose Fat Lady.

Well, there was no way that we were going to be allowed to name our yearbook Fat Lady, let alone have a line in there that said "Don't you know the goddam secret?" No goddam way!

Fat Lady? What if a real fat lady saw it and got her feelings hurt?

After all, most people probably hadn't read Franny and Zooey or the notorious T.C.O.T.R. They wouldn't know what we were talking about.

Thus, my high school yearbook was called Everyman.

And that punchline got a bit refined:

Don't you know it, Buddy, don't you know that secret yet? Everyman is Christ?

We were miffed, but we didn't actually have all that much say when it came to final say.

But Fat Lady or Everyman, I ask you: is there any OMG TMI LOL, skimpy-skirted, breast-flashing, passed-out-trash pictures and videos on the 'Net that can compare to this?

Ave atque vale to high school yearbooks?

This will be a real loss.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Oh, You Shouldn't Have

Once you reach a certain point in your life, most of us become something less of a consumer. Marketers know that: thus when you hit the big 55, you're out of the last at least quasi-desirable consuming demographic  of 49-54 years.

Oh, we're the target for denture cleaners, 5o+ vitamins, burial insurance, but these are all things that have to do with falling apart, hanging on, or moving on. No one's aiming the big purchase ads at us anymore.

The fact is that, you reach a point where it's not just a matter of not wanting to accumulate more stuff - it becomes a matter of wanting to lighten the load by getting rid of some of that stuff you've taking a lifetime to accumulate.

I haven't yet reached the de-accumulate stage yet, but I was a minor beneficiary of my mother and my grandmother when they went into 'get rid of it' mode. Thus, I have the cool little water colors my mother's friend Anne painted for her as an engagement present. And the yellow plate with the hand-painted fruit that hangs in my kitchen. Not to mention the steer horns that hung in my grandfather's saloon which, at some point when she was in her 80's, Nanny realized she didn't really care to have any longer.

So I was intrigued to read in The Boston Globe about the "virtual gifts" for sale on social networking sites.

The gifts are icons that people pay anywhere from a quarter to ten bucks.

You can send a friend with a pooch a squirrel icon from (Or, since - on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog - you could be sending that virtual squirrel to a real dog.)

Not surprisingly, Facebook is well into this, and, since they started selling virtual gifts in February 2007, they've sold 27 million of them.

Gifts in the Facebook catalog include images of pints of beer, penguins, pretzels, and toilet paper rolls. Users can send them to friends privately, but most people keep them public as badges of honor - or connections. The gifts are sold in limited numbers to create demand. As of yesterday, there were about 40,000 of 50,000 espresso bean gifts left but only about 3,000 jacuzzis.

Somerville, Massachusetts startup Viximo creates virtual gifts and sells them through Facebook. They have 15 employees, and also work with graphic artists from just about anywhere. (Viximo looks like a fun place, with an obvious sense of humor. Their "'design evangelist'" Jeff Clark, was quoted in The Globe article, and his quote "'It's like self-expression almost'" is cited on their website as the worst quote in the interview. They also have a blog with the tagline: Because you're not a real startup unless you're filling the internet with more crap.)

I'm not a big "live life virtually" kind of person. Some of it - like having your avatar attend religious services, or have sex, on Second Life - I find quite weird.

But there's a lot to like about the virtual gifts:

  • They aren't petroleum based
  • They don't have to be trucked across the country
  • They don't take up any room
  • They won't end up in a landfill

Yes, I know that data centers use energy, and that old PCs do end up in landfills.

But if all of us cut our "real" consumption by a few percentage points, and substituted "virtual" consumption, we might not be completely fulfilling our citizen responsibility to mindlessly accumulate crap we don't need, but we'd be adding a bit to the economy - think of those Viximo artists - and we might just be making the world a better place.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Frumps and grinds

The other day, while I was walking through Boston's financial district during the evening rush hour, I saw a woman wearing an outfit that was straight out of the 1980's. She had on a well-made suit skirt, in what appeared to be a lightweight, summer wool - I wasn't able to reach out and rub a bit of the fabric between my thumb and middle finger - in a soothing but fairly dowdy taupe, cream, and pale yellow plaid.  The skirt, which ended mid-calf, was fitted to the hips, then box pleated. 

There was no jacket in sight, but it was a very hot day, and the woman - who appeared to be about my age, if not younger - may have left it in the office. The skirt definitely looked like it was part of a suit.

Other than the fact that the plaid was a bit more Music Man than Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, that skirt could have been the bottom half of any one of a number of Friedman of Boston or Brooks Brothers menswear suits I wore 20 of so years ago.

Let's see.

Over the years, I had a medium blue with subtle fuchsia and green pinstripes. (Sounds ghastly, but it was actually quite pretty.) A dark charcoal with subtle pink windowpane plaid. (Sounds ghastly, but it was actually quite pretty.) A medium beige with a subtle red and blue plaid thing going. (Sounds ghastly, but it was actually quite pretty.) Solid navy. Blue tweed. Solid gray. Solid black. Black and periwinkle hounds tooth check. Taupe (with Eisenhower jacket - war is hell, work is hell). And, for my summer enjoyment, pale lavender, pale aqua, blue and white seersucker, and a cream, taupe, and pink tweed.

Most of them - especially those Friedman suits - wore like iron and traveled spectacularly.

The woman I saw on the street was wearing a formal, long-sleeved white shirt. When I wore my suits, I mostly wore them with silk blouses - often with some sort of tie-ish thing at the color that I tied in a bow, or just flapped over for a more tie-ish effect. Early on, I also, on occasion, wore menswear shirts with silk, floppy bowties.

For a while after I stopped wearing suits to work every day (c. 1990), I wore the skirts and jackets as separates.

Then I stopped wearing them entirely.

They went into the donation pile. Some of the pieces may have gotten used. Most of it probably got ragged.

There was one final touch to the outfit the woman I saw was wearing: She had on stockings. And white athletic socks and sneakers.

Which, after paying all sorts of money to re-cover the heels of the Johnson and Murphy high heels I'd caught in brick sidewalks, I also did for a while, before I switched to flats. (As I recall, having caught site of myself in a window with dark stockings with white socks pulled over them, I realized that I looked sort of like a racehorse with taped ankles. So I went out and bought more sensible shoes and got rid of anything with a heel thin enough to get caught in the cracks of a brick sidewalk.)

Where did this woman work, I wondered, that they still dressed like that? Accounting? Banking? Law? The women I know in those professions do get dressed up for work, but none of them are stuck in the 1980's - no more long, box-pleated skirts; shorter skirts or pantsuits; interesting tops.

Frump, I thought when I saw that skirt, those sneakers.

But as someone who frumpped through the workplace for many a year, I also thought: practical, sensible, comfortable, no-nonsense, professional. No slave to fashion. If the clothing still has wear in it, why not wear it?

Good for her!

But she sure did stick out - I haven't seen any one dressed quite like that in a good long time.

But what I have seen is a lot of women half her age, traipsing around downtown Boston, mid-day in the workweek, dressed like they were heading to the Bada-bing for a pole dance.

Obviously, I don't notice those who are dressed "normally", those who manage to fall in the middle between the frumps and the grinds.

But I do seem to notice plenty who are dressed for what has got to be abnormal at almost every type of office work environment I can think of.

Sure, you may want to go clubbing after work, but can't you bring a change of clothing  to the office. Or at least keep one more button buttoned. Or throw a shirt or sweater over that neckline that has taken a decided plunge?

I have a friend who has a senior management position in a downtown (i.e., more dressed up than Route 128 techie) company. She's told me that many of the younger women in the firm have no real sense of what it means to dress professionally: flip-flops, see-through blouses, micro-mini skirts. Why not?

Anyone who cautions them about what they're wearing comes off as a jealous old frump.

My friend - who has beautiful clothing, is quite fashionable, and has loads of interesting shoes, bags, and jewelry - is held up as someone who dresses appropriately, but with flair and a sense of fun. (She's probably viewed as an Auntie Mame eccentric.)

But she's also found a happy medium between frump-er-ella and let's go clubbing.

I'd hate to see the world go back to the ironwear suits of yore (and not just because I don't have mine any longer). In retrospect, we looked boring, somewhat unnatural, sheep in wolves' clothing.

But it was apparently a necessary step that women had to endure to become more accepted in the workplace. We should all be happy that it's over.

Most of the women I see going to work look just fine: if they're in suits, the suits are attractive, professional, and flattering. This summer, a lot of women - especially the younger ones - are wearing cotton print skirts, and they look fresh and lovely in them.

In my khaki capris and LL Bean tee-shirt, I'm hardly a fashion arbiter.

But I do know that at least Ms. Frump never has to worry about whether they're keeping her around to catch a glimpse of her breasts. Her look may not have aged that well - she stuck out as much as the proto-pole-dancers do - but it's sure aged a lot better than the other look ever will.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

America's Pastime? Honk if you love Honkbal!

Well, tonight they'll be playing the All Star Game, and lest you think this is a meaningless exercise, the outcome determines whether the American League or the National League gets home field advantage in the World Series.

As in other major American professional sports - most notably basketball - baseball has become more and more international over the years. While I long remember Latin American/Caribbean players (think Juan Marichal from the Dominican Republic, Roberto Clemente from Puerto Rico, and Cuba's Minnie Minoso), there are now players, if not exactly from "all over", then from lots of different places.

In addition to several players from the DR - including All Stars Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz - the Red Sox have two pitchers from Japan (Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima).

There are quite a few Japanese players these days, as well as folks from China and Korea.

The Latin and Japanese connections are no surprise, given that there are many places south of the border with strong baseball cultures, and that the Japanese have been playing ball since the late 1800's. China and Korea are more recent converts.

Both China and Korea have berths in the upcoming Olympics, where baseball has been a medal sport since 1992.  Although baseball in the Olympics have been dominated by Cuba - three out of four Golds, not that surprising given that it's more difficult for their stars to make it to the big buck pros than it is for players from other countries - the sport, along with softball, is being dumped for the 2012 games for being "too American."

What is surprising is that Italy and the Netherlands have made fairly regular appearances in the Olympics in baseball.

The Netherlands, in fact, is the only Euro team that's qualified for a slot in the 2008 Olympics. (The other seven qualifiers are: China, China-Taipei, Korea, Japan, Cuba, Canada, and the good old US of A.)

There is apparently some history of baseball in the land of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates.

An article in the International Herald Tribune this past May says that Dutch kids played during WW II to stick it to their occupiers, a nice piece of passive resistance.

The sport retained some postwar popularity precisely because it is American (so there, Olympic Committee!), and because it could serve a role as a placeholder sport between soccer season and soccer season.

A few Hollanders have made it to The Bigs - according to the article, there were five Dutch nationals playing Major League Ball last year. (I'm guessing that includes Aruba and Dutch territories in the Caribbean.)

Robert Eenhoorn, who did a pro stint with the Yankees, coaches the Dutch national "honkbal" team. (I just checked on Yahoo's Babel Fish, and "honk" comes back as "limped", while "honkbal" comes back as "ball limped." The term obviously loses more than a little spin on the ball in translation.)

Even though they've made it to the Olympics, honkbal doesn't come all that naturally to Dutch kids.

Certainly, the Dutch Baseball Federation, with its 30,000 members, cannot compete with soccer, whose federation has 1.5 million members. Give a Dutch boy a ball, and he'll usually drop it and try to kick it.

A Dutch mother of two players on a youth team - and a softball player herself - summed up a bit of what makes baseball so great.

"It has tactics, and the game has a lot of variety," said [Yolanda] Silfhout, who plays softball. "You bat, you run, you catch the ball. It's a bit of thinking, a bit of doing."

(Another woman interviewed had sons named after Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, of all things.)

Naturally, once you start looking, there's a whole lot of baseball going on in Europe. The Confederation of European Baseball lists 40 member countries, everything from A (Armenia) to U (for Ukraine).

I get that baseball might have a cleat-hold in countries where there's a lot of young people going back and forth from the States, like Ireland; or places like Germany that had big American GI presence in the day. But Croatia? And Turkey? Georgia? Maybe there's a potential Ty Cobb out there who'll be the next Georgia Peach.

There's also an Israel Baseball League which was, in fact, how this whole thing got going.

For whatever reason, the other day I googled the name "Dan Duquette", the former GM of the Red Sox, and found that he has something to do with Israel's baseball league.

Again, given the close relationship between the US and Israel, it's not all that surprising that Israel would have some baseball going.

The Israel Baseball League has a great tagline: Holyland Hardball: It only took 5,767 years.

The League uses players from all over, but looks for players of "Jewish extraction," who would naturally have more of an affinity for - and maybe less of a fear factor about - playing in a place that's a little scarier than Fenway Park.

While the game's the thing,

...there is an extra element added to IBL baseball games that makes them “must see” entertainment. Before each game, in between innings, and often post-game, there are games, promotions, and interactive activities taking place on the field. Sack racing, “sumo wrestling” competitions, karaoke, and more all take place every day at the ball game. There are game themes, like “Wedding Day”, when the baseball field plays host to any couple that wants to get married and the league provides the rabbi, the chupah, the wine, the glass, even a piece of wedding cake to all fans in attendance, ending with a gala fireworks display – all free of charge to the lucky couples. There are “Speed Dating Nights”, where singles switch their seats every half inning, finding themselves beside a new member of the opposite sex each time to engage in conversation. And there are many more promotions to come!

No measly bat day for these guys! (And what must Hank Greenberg be thinking? He's probably laughing.)

I enjoy sports, but there's not one sport that I love and enjoy (and, at times, loathe) the way I do baseball.

I'm delighted to see that baseball is, if not taking off around the world, showing up in some new and exciting places.

But I have a hunch that, in most places, being a baseball fan is akin to being a Major League Soccer fan is here:

Nobody else really gets it.

Anyway, tonight's the night at Yankee Stadium: AL vs. NL.

Go, American League! You never know who might need that home field advantage. (And if it can't be the Red Sox, may it be the Chicago Cubs - so it just might be ok if the National League gets themselves a win this evening.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Let us now praise Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapists

Last October, I broke my arm - fractured in three places, just below my shoulder.

They don't do much for this type of break: they tell you to wear a sling for a week, then they tell you to start PT.

The "they" who were telling me what to do were at a World Famous Medical Institution within walking distance of my home. Since I have, in the past, received (mostly) world class health care at said World Famous Medical Institution, I did what they told me.

And although they didn't really direct me one way or the other, I started physical therapy at the World Famous Medical Institution.

At first, I thought I was making good progress.

I was after all, doing everything my therapist told me to do - and she was assuring me that I was doing well. When I saw the orthopedist, he, too, told me that I was ahead of the game. Many folks, he told me, just aren't willing to do much of anything because it hurts.

But after a couple of weeks, I started to wonder whether there was something more I could be doing. I was, as I kept telling my therapist, willing to work aggressively; willing to tolerate some pain; eager to get back as near as possible to my full range of motion.

Sure, I had a few curl-up-and-self-pity moments, but mostly I refused to baby myself. Gimp arm and all, I shoveled snow, lugged groceries, put up my Christmas tree, took down my Christmas tree, drove 335 miles to Syracuse, drove 335 miles back from Syracuse...

But my frustration was growing, and I seemed to be stalled - the best I could muster in terms of raising my arm was a limited, modified Fascist salute, which I could only manage with some effort.

Something wasn't working quite right - and it wasn't just my arm.

My sister Kathleen told me I should look into a sports therapist. This seemed to make a lot of sense. God knows, I'm no athlete (spectator sports, only), but if there's anybody who wants to get back 100% of their arm-shoulder-leg-knee-whatever, it's someone who plays sports, rather than just watching them.

Kath had gone briefly to Kennedy Brothers with a problem hip a while back, and suggested I check them out. "They're a bit wacky," Kath said. "I think you'll like it."

On the day of my final PT appointment at the World Famous Medical Institution, I was goofily worried about how to let my therapist know that I would be going elsewhere, that I needed to try something else. I didn't, after all, want to hurt her feelings.

She had already figured out that I hadn't signed up for any more appointments beyond the initial referral. Showing up 20 minutes late to our 30 minute appointment, she announced that there was little more that PT could do for me, and that I would more than likely need surgery.

A day or so later, I walked into Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapists on Franklin Street in downtown Boston. (They have a couple of other sites as well.)

There I saw the head guy, Jake Kennedy, who asked me to show him what I could do with my arm, which wasn't all that much (beyond that limited, modified Fascist salute).

He told me that, due to lack of use over the past three months, my shoulder capsule muscles were fibrotic, but that he felt we would be able to restore enough range of motion to avoid surgery.

"Did I just waste three months at the World Famous Medical Institution?" I asked.

"You did, indeed," Jake told me.

Jake got me going right then and there on stretching and strengthening exercises.

At first I couldn't row very fast, or push very hard, or pull very much.

But I started coming twice a week,and doing the home exercises as religiously as I'd done the ones given to me by the World Famous Medical Institution. Only these exercises actually seemed to be doing something for me, and pretty soon I was making good progress. Even after just one visit (and my homework) I was able to put my hands behind my back and have my fingers meet. It hurt like hell, but I could do it.

Every week, Jake, assisted by his able cadre of Northeastern University (mostly) co-op students getting advanced degrees in PT, got me to do a little more. Some of the things were fun. Some were pure torture. The worst torture was the stretching session, where Jake manipulated by arm. At some point in each of those sessions, I felt like the top of my head was going to fly off, the pain was so intense. A few times, I had to sit there for a couple of minutes after we were finished because I thought I'd faint if I got up off the table.

But bit by bit: I could put those plates back in the cupboard without hurt or hesitation. I could sleep once again on my side. I could take my parka off without looking like I had St. Vitus Dance.

I started talking to the other folks who were at Kennedy Brothers - some for physical therapy, some for fitness, all it seemed because Jake is the real deal: somebody who really and truly knows what he's doing and is damned good at it.

Several of the people I met had stories similar to mine: they'd been told that they'd need surgery; they'd been told they'd never do X or Y again.

"Jake is a healer," Seamus my comrade in arms (or, rather, comrade in bad shoulders) told me.

Indeed he is.

He's also really smart, really funny, really generous, and really good. (There always seems to be some 'run for something-or-other' going on - and, in particular, they support fund raisers for ALS.) Inner city kids from the Boston public high schools get to come in and use the fitness equipment for free. And Jake and his wife sponsor an annual event, Christmas in the City, that provides for the needs of homeless families - not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. (The back reaches of the Kennedy Brothers' space is full of things that people have donated, and many times I've been there, there've been women with small kids in tow coming in to see Jake about help. Or so I surmise: no on makes a show, least of all Jake, about what these folks are coming in for. They're just part of the parade of people of all shapes and sizes, ages and races, that flow in and out of Kennedy Brothers in the course of a day.)

Kennedy Brothers is not for everybody.

The place - at least the one on Franklin Street - can be chaotic. There's a TV in the front of the place that's always got news or sports on, while out back the world's goofiest radio station, WJIB, is blaring Kate Smith, Perry Como, the Carpenters, Bobby Vinton, Carole King, and the Murmaids. The first five I recognized. When the song "Popsicles, Icicles" was played, Jake asked me if I knew who sang it. I hadn't a clue. Even though WJIB never announces the songs they're playing, Jake knew it was the Murmaids. (But he didn't know that this was the peculiar spelling of this one-hit-wonder group until I told him. Let's hear it for Google.)

On St. Patrick's Day, all the chaos was augmented by the strangest, most eclectic set of Irish music I've ever heard. (The year before, I'd been walking by on March 17th when I heard Mother Machree - the John McCormack version, I believe - or was it Dennis Day? - wafting down. There's some sort of Catholic center next door, so I assumed it was coming from there. This year I was at The Source: Kennedy Brothers.)

The place is decidedly not swanky. The carpet is worn. The rowing machine - my favorite piece of equipment - is quasi-broken. And half the pins in the weight machines are missing, so you have to wait for someone to finish with a machine and go grab the pin they were using. Sometimes they run out of ice, or ice bags.

You don't get one on one attention and hand holding during any sort of official appointment. You just come in, fend for yourself - and find people to help fend for and with you when you need them.

The Northeastern co-op students will help you figure out the equipment, and will set you up with the muscle stims, etc., but especially when it's busy, you have to be assertive if you want something.

While PT patients get time with Jake every session, nothing is formally scheduled. You have to get in his queue by being a little pushy.

As often as not you'll be told that he'll be with you in a minute.

Well, dog years ain't got nothing on Jake Kennedy minutes, I can tell you that.

My sessions there have lasted between one-and-a-half and three hours - but they will generally ask how much time you have, and juggle things around so that they can get to everyone for everything, sooner or later. So for someone on a really tight schedule, Kennedy Brothers might not work.

But if you're not high maintenance, have a sense of humor, like trivia (there's generally some contest or another going on the whiteboard, often hilariously funny), and - most important - want to get better: this is a great place.

Last week I had my last PT session.

I am still not 100% - I still can't hook my bra from the back - but Jake has assured me that if I keep working the arm, I'll make further progress. He also told me that I've exceeded expectations - maybe he tells that to all the broken humeri, but I get the sense that I was in pretty rough shape when I showed up there, and that I'm lucky to have gotten to the point where I'm at.

Okay, I'll take some credit for this: I worked pretty darned hard. (Once an A student...)

By I couldn't have done it without Jake - and his able assistants, in particular Chris, a.k.a., Mr. October, and Chris, a.k.a., Maury. (All the kids who work there get nicknames. So do some of the patients. I'm sometimes called Mo-Torious or MoTo.)

Anyone in Boston who needs to see a physical therapist for the type of injury I had - they specialize  "in treatment for all orthopedic injuries to the spine and extremities" -  should consider Kennedy Brothers Physical Therapy.

I can't help but believe that they're head and shoulder (at least this shoulder) above the rest.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Here Comes Santa Clauses....

It may come as a surprise to those who never reads it, but there's almost always something fun in the Wall Street Journal, and yesterday was no exception, with a "Christmas in July" gift from Jim Carlton in the form of an article on the Amalgamated Order of Real-Bearded Santas. (I think that the WSJ content is only available to subscribers; the Amalgamated site is, of course, free.)

If you live in Kansas City, Santa Claus and Santa Claus and Santa Claus and Santa Claus, are coming to town this weekend for the Amalgamated Order's convention.

But it's not going to be all that ho-ho-ho,

The Amalgamated Santas, one of the nation's largest Santa groups, are dealing with a schism in their ranks. The rift has left burly bearded men accusing one another of bylaw violations, profiteering and behaving in un-Santa-like ways. Some Santas have filed complaints of wrongdoing against others in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.


The rift started with a not so jolly power struggle, and, as a result there are now splinter groups, including the Fraternal Order of Real-Bearded Santas, who have thrown their weight behind the Celebrate Santa Convention, which will be held in Gatlinburg, Tennessee next March (over St. Patrick's Day, no less), and will be the:

...largest gathering of Santas, Mrs. Clauses, Elves, Reindeer Owners and Christmas folk to ever assemble under one roof, let alone in one town!

Celebrate Santa (which has been around since 1939) is trying to stay above the political fray:

While we are members of Claus Net, I.O.S, F.I.R.B.Santas, S.A.T.G., and Honoree member of Mystic Order of Traditional Santas, NONE OF THESE OR ANY OTHER ORGANIZATION has any claim or influence over Celebrate Santa. We respect and admire all organizations but as individuals, we are inviting other individuals regardless of their current, past or future associations. We only ask they do not wave their association credentials to other attendees while in Gatlinburg. We are here to learn and have fun, not to hear political or social agendas.

I wonder if this is a veiled, or rather bearded, reference to the Amalgamated Group?

Amalgamated started out in the mid-nineties, when 10 Santas found themselves together shooting a commercial. What they had in common was that they had real beards - not the cheesy clip on ones that "disguise" youngsters (and even, yikes, women).

By 2003, Amalgamated had 100 members, and the Santas tapped a new St. Nick, Tim Connaghan, to run the group. (Among other things, Connaghan is an academic of sorts, since he runs the International University of Santa Claus. Warning: Charlie Brown Christmas theme is playing there.)

Under Connaghan, Amalgamated's roles grew to 300, and held a convention in Branson, Mo.

But there was a lump of coal in the organization's metaphorical stocking.

Connaghan got into with Nick Trolli, the Santa in charge of the 2008 Kansas City convention.

One thing led to another, and - on Dasher, on Dancer - soon there was more flying than sleighs through the December night.

Connaghan was accused of conflict of interest for doing bookings for Santas. Then Connaghan:

...disclosed that he had signed a contract with a Hollywood production company for a possible movie on a Santa convention. Mr. Connaghan acknowledged he stood to retain as much as $25,000 as the film's consultant, but said the group would also get up to $50,000. Some Santas said he was personally profiting as head of the organization.

Connaghan resigned, and Trolli succeeded him.

The lines were drawn, Santas took sides, and - with trash talk flying around on the Amalgamated chat group (Elf Net) - every Santa could see (and comment on) who was being naughty and nice.

Then things got even naughtier: a shoving match; withdrawal of a URL; threats to take it to the FBI; involvement by the Kentucky AG's office; charges in Pennsylvania about unregistered solicitation of charitable donations; Trolli's claiming that his family has been threatened by rogue Santas....

Once you know that there are hundreds of Santas out there, it becomes somewhat predictable that Connaghan is throwing his bowl full of jelly into the Red Suit Society, which is the alumni association of Santa U.

And then there's the World Santa Claus Congress, coming up in another week or so in Copenhagen...

Who knew?

Although the department store Santa I had my one and only picture taken with (along with my sister Kathleen and brother Tom) looked like the real deal (if the beard was fake it was a decent one), most of the Santas of my childhood were the exact opposite of the Real Bearders.

In first grade, Kathy Shea's mother came by and gave out little mesh bags full of hard candies. As I recall, her beard looked like a roll of cotton batting.  And I'm pretty sure we all knew it was Mrs. Shea.

A year later, friend and neighbor Jack McGinn came by our house on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa. Even I knew that Santa wasn't a beanpole with a Worcester accent - let alone a beard that was even worse than Mrs. Shea's.

"That Santa is a fake," I screamed. "It's Mr. McGinn!"

Well, that was it for me and Santa.

Maybe if a member of the Red Suit Society, or the Amalgamated Order of Real-Beard Santas, or the Fraternal Order, or any of the other authentic Santas, had swung by our house that fateful Christmas Eve, rather than Jack McGinn, I might have been a believer for a little while longer.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Things I Buy Too Many Of

The other day, when I went into CVS to buy yet another pocket comb, I had to ask myself: where have the other dozen or so pocket combs I bought in the last year gone?g

I don't have all that many pocketbooks, so I should be able to have one-per-pocketbook, no problem - especially given that I always seem to buying the darned things.

Or is the problem that, in addition to those pocketbooks that -come to enumerate them, does represent a quantity greater than I would have thought off the top of my head - I also have two backpacks, two briefcases, three "things" that you can fit your sunglasses, cell phone, and some money into and hang around your neck, and more tote-bags than I could shake a pocket comb at.

What I really need to do  is take a bag inventory, combined with a comb inventory. Then, after throwing out all the combs with broken teeth, I should go out and buy enough combs so that I can equip ever carrying-object with one. Plus a few left over, just in case, for my raincoat and parka pockets. And maybe my good winter coat and the blue suede jacket, while I'm at it.

In any case, I never seem to have a pocket comb when I need one and thus find myself, on every windy day when I have to be somewhere where it would be nice if my hair looked at least halfway decent, ducking into a CVS or some sort of corner variety store to by yet another pocket comb.

This seems to go for nail clippers, as well.

I always seem to be buying them, but never seem to have one handy when I need to clip a nail.

Even the one I keep handy-dandy on the bathroom shelf seems to take wing periodically.

With combs, of course, you do have the occasional breakage problem. But nail clippers, unless you're trying to use them for something they're not designed for - like trying to open clambox packaging or prying out old grout - don't break all that often.

The other things I buy an awful lot of - pencils, pens, and yellow pads - I at least use up. Although I must say that I probably have a life time supply of Post-It notes in just about every color they come in. (Which does not prevent me from buying more when I see a new color assortment at Staples.)

Umbrellas are yet another item that I can't seem to have enough of.

While I don't buy them with anywhere near the regularity that I do with pocket comb and nail clippers, I do seem to end up with at least one or two new ones every year.

I now have three black umbrellas, one periwinkle blue, one wine-colored, one beige, one multi-colored striped, one Mickey Mouse pattern (what was I thinking), and some sort of outsized golf umbrella I got at some company event.

Yes, umbrellas do break - especially if you live in a city that has some seriously windy nasty weather; one storm day last winter, I counted over 50 dead umbrellas on a mile-long walk through downtown - but my count is just of the ones that are in working order (although many of them no longer have the sheath they came with).

Tape measures. Key chains. Little boxes to put stuff in.

And don't even get me going on black pants, China blue shirts, and periwinkle sweaters....

Why do I end up with so many of the same damned things?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What Was Sam Israel Doing in Southwick?

It's really not surprising that runaway hedge fund trader Sam Israel decided that life on the lam is no lambchop. I mean, it's one thing to spend a little while cruising around campsites in an RV for a brief vacation, but I'm sure that RV-ing grows old and cold if you're used to living in a bit more of an upscale fashion.

Which, presumably, Sam was doing with the $450 M he and his hedge fund partners bilked out of investors.

But my first question is not about what Sam did or didn't do with the money.

It's how in God's name did he find himself in Southwick, Massachusetts?

Not that Southwick isn't a perfectly pleasant place.

Personally, I have spent many happy hours there visiting with my husband's family, but it's not exactly the sort of place you'd expect a fugitive from justice to end up.

Southwick is a small town, just outside of Westfield, Massachusetts. Which is just outside of Springfield, Massachusetts. While it's in and of Massachusetts, it juts into Connecticut, and is pretty well surrounded by it.

Over the last couple of decades, Southwick has gotten pretty built up as a bedroom community, but when I first started going there in the late 1970's, it still had a lot of active tobacco farms.

Now, most people don't associate Massachusetts with Tobacco Road, but the Connecticut Valley in the Western part of the state was home to many shade tobacco farms at one point. Driving out there, you can still see the tobacco barns here and there.

Southwick still has some working tobacco farms, and I've seen cheesecloth protecting the plants, watched the crop harvested, been in the barns when the tobacco is "fired" (dried out), and listened to plenty of stories about my husband's working on his uncle's tobacco farm during summers in college.

Uncle Bill's tobacco farm is long gone - by the time I got to know Jim, Bill and Carrie had long since converted their farm to a golf course. But some of Bill's relations still run farms out in Southwick, growing the tobacco that forms the outer leaves of expensive, yet still noxious, cigars.

Tobacco farming in the Connecticut Valley, by the way, is the setting for a quite melodramatic oldie-but-goodie swoony-dreamy Troy Donahue movie, Parrish, in which Troy's mother marries a tobacco farmer and Troy ends up romancing tobacco-chicks and fighting blue mold.

But Sam Israel wasn't in Southwick to golf or pick tobacco.

He was there to turn himself in, which he did by driving up to the Southwick Police Station on his motor scooter.

He had apparently tried to turn himself in at nearby Granville, which - by Southwick standards - is the real sticks. But they're part time police force was not on duty.

Thus, Sam took himself to Southwick, turned himself in there, and put Southwick on the map for the day.

Who knows how he found himself there, not all that many miles from where he lived, swindled, and faked his own suicide.

Bloggers speculated that he had left the country for some place that lacked an extradition agreement with the US, and where he could live in peace and luxury with the swindled $350 M which has yet to have been recovered.

But, no, Sam was camping in Granville, and maybe hanging out in Southwick watching tobacco grow on those last few working farms.

Not much of a life, compared to what he was used to.

No surprise that he turned himself in.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Layoffs Hit Foxwoods

Apparently, even those with the gambling jones are impacted by the recession and/or the high price of gasoline.

What else is there to make of Foxwoods' recent announcement that it has laid off 100-200 workers? (Information taken from an article in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.)

Meanwhile, the other Connecticut casino - Mohegan Sun - is cutting a similar number of positions through attrition.

Sure, both Foxwoods and Mohegan still employ upwards of 10,000 each, but this should come as a bit of a cautionary tale to those who believe that casino gambling is the big economic development panacea. There are plans in Massachusetts for a few "casino resorts", and trying to follow the debate and the local votes on location is enough to give you tennis neck. I have no idea where we are on any of these initiatives.

I can see that, from the building trades point of view, casinos are good news - especially with residential construction down. All those jobs on a big project that lasts a reasonably long while.

I can certainly understand why the Native Americans, who are the only ones in these parts allowed to run such gaming enterprises, are all over casinos. Instant riches and pay back for loss of life, loss of identity, and loss of land (except for some pretty crummy reservations).

I can understand why the folks who live in the somewhat remote backwoods of Connecticut casinos are located were happy to have the jobs in their area.

And of course, the states love the $$$. (In a May 17th article, The Economist reported that the $430.5M that the state took in from slot machines alone equaled more than half of the amount they take in from corporate taxes.) The article also noted that overall gambling revenues are down in Connecticut, Atlantic City, and Las Vegas. Thus the greater interest in making these place "resorts with gambling," not "gambling resorts."

Still, gambling on gambling to bolster your economy doesn't strike me as all that sensible or logical in the long run - especially given the diminishing returns. If Massachusetts opens a couple of casinos, surely they will cannibalize some of that Connecticut gaming revenue? (I've blogged on this before, including in this post on the attempts by Bethlehem PA to remake their steel mills.)

Meanwhile, Foxwoods has recently opened the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, a posh hotel and theater set up that has upcoming concerts with quite a peculiar mix: Trisha Yearwood, Joe Cocker, Kanye West, Carole King, Melissa Etheridge, Celtic Thunder, Carrie Underwood, Celine Dion, Bobby Vinton and Bob Dylan. (You just can't make this stuff up.) I guess they're trying to attract as many different demographic slices as they can - but are old lefty boomers who watched in shock as Dylan shifted from acoustic to electric at Newport in the wayback going to pay big bucks to stay in the MGM Grand to see Mr. Tambourine Man in a tuxedo? (That answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.) Does the crowd get warmed up by a comedian, or by the Limelighters or the Chad Mitchell Trio? Or maybe those who only know Dylan through his corporate gigs, or his shilling for Victoria's Secret, will show up. For all they know, he's a lounge act.

The Grand opened in May, and the show-biz guests (and I'm guessing they truly were guests, and not paying ones) included John Mayer, Alicia Keyes, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't imagine Michael and Catherine are going to be hanging around Foxwoods with any regularity, although - if I ever do get there - I hope to see them at the quarter slots, amid the pensioners dragging their oxygen rigs.

I actually wouldn't recognize John Mayer unless he has Jennifer Aniston in tow.

And as for Sean Combs, I've already seen him up close and personal, in 2004 in the corridor of the Democratic National Convention. In truth, I didn't really know the difference between P Diddy and Puff Daddy at that point, but my friend Michele was able to explain to me that they were one and the same. We were there in the rafters to watch Kerry's acceptance speech. At least Michele and I were. P Diddy/Puff Daddy presumably had better seats than we did.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Embezzled Heaven: Raffaello Follieri's Folly

When I was in grammar school and high school, we had the occasional "treat" of watching a movie. Sometimes we paid for the pleasure (with the proceeds going to the missions), sometimes it was free. Invariably, the movies were out of date, something we could just as easily see on TV on Boston Movie Time. The movies were also was either exceptionally weird or spectacularly clunky, and boring. (The one exception I remember was The Last Hurrah, the fictionalized portrayal of Boston Irish mayor James Michael Curley.)

In the latter category, I'd place the movie Kim, which I found so boring, I watched the reels go around, and Mario Lanza in The Student Prince (no doubt chosen because Lanza had been the teen-age heart throb of some of the nuns before they "went in").

In the former category, I'd have to go with The Boy with Green Hair, a post-war "message" movie in which, as I recall, Pat O'Brien befriends/adopts a wise child who's an orphan from a Displace Persons camp. I think. Anyway, I'm sure we got that one because the nuns assumed that anything starring Pat O'Brien had to be good and wholesome.

The other oddball I remember was Embezzled Heaven. Without resorting to Google, I recalled nothing of the plot, other than a poor old lady coming to Rome to find her priest son - that and the fact that, once she got to Rome, the movie turned from black and white to color. (I ended up googling: the plot revolves around a woman who thinks she can gain heaven by paying for her nephew to become a priest. Instead he becomes a layabout. I couldn't bear to read through the entire plot line. Somewhere the Pope factors in.)

In any event, the strange case of Raffaello Follieri brought the title Embezzled Heaven front and center to my little mind.

Follieri is the head of the Follieri Group, a  NYC-based real estate investment company founded in the aftermath of the Catholic Church's clery abuse scandals to:

...provide assistance to the Catholic Church in divesting themselves of real estate assets that were no longer serving the needs of the Church. They saw the necessity of ensuring that these properties were converted to uses that would continue to serve and contribute to their respective communities in a socially responsible fashion consistent with the ideals of the Church. Sensitivity to the Church's goals and views is of critical and ongoing importance.The Follieri Group was formed to assist the Catholic Church by purchasing, as principals, the Church's properties and then renovating them for uses such as low and middle income housing, community centers, daycare facilities, senior citizen housing, places of worship, offices and retail spaces.

How noble of them!

And apparently the investors who poured millions of dollars into their fund thought so, too. Hey, they could do good and make money - all with the seeming imprimatur of the Vatican. After all, Raffaello claimed to be buds with the Pope. (Maybe he could answer for once and for all that pressing question, Is the Pope Catholic?) Sure, the Catholic brand has been a bit tarnished over the last decade or so, but I guess it's still plenty potent.

As we used to say in Latin class: nihil obstat. Let nothing stand in their way.

I know virtually nothing about Church finances, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that, when it comes to business, they're not about lending their name to make the other guy rich. And I could be wrong, but I thing that the sell-off of local Church assets (under-performing parishes, etc.) are the responsibility of the diocese where the property is located - not Rome. (Wouldn't you think someone might check all this out before they made a big investment here?)

In any case, the Follieri Group did precious little investing in Church properties, but plenty of spending from their well-lined coffers - with the spending including Raffelo's $37,500 a month digs in Trump Tower, and dates with the actress Anne Hathaway, someone I rather liked in The Princess Bride and The Devil Wears Prada.

In the wake of Follieri's recent arrest, Hathaway has dumped him.

Follieri is currently housed in New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center, charged with fraud and money laundering, and with bail set at $21 million (which as of this writing they haven't found a bail bondsman to touch). And this devil is no longer wearing Prada, he's in a regulation orange jumpsuit. I'm sure he can take some solace in the fact that orange isn't all that bad a color on someone with dark hair and a tan.

Follieri's career, as laid out on the FG site, is quite impressive for someone who's just 30 this year.

While still in school, he :

...founded a cosmetics company, Beauty Planet, S.R.L., producing mass market hair and body care products. One of the company's most noteworthy successes was the prestige hair and body care line Shatoosh, licensed by an internationally-renowned hairstylist in 2000.

He was then EVP of an investment firm the dabbled in real estate, oil trading, gold mining and diamond mining. Nothing unsavory there, I'm quite sure.

And now, if the Feds have their way, Follieri will have another item to add to his c.v. - that of convicted felon.

Bet he'll be wishing then that he hadn't tried to get away with embezzling heaven.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Well I'll Be Doggone: Leona Helmsley Trust

Over the last year, there's been all sorts of huff and puff - including mine - when it was revealed that hotelier/real estate empress Leona Helmsley had left $12M to her dog (subsequently cut to $2M). Now it seems that the charitable trust that's the recipient of the bulk of her wealth is supposed to be use exclusively for the welfare of dogs.

That, at least, is the goal expressed in Helmsley's mission statement (as reported in The NY Times):

The two people who described the statement said Mrs. Helmsley signed it in 2003 to establish goals for the multibillion-dollar trust that would disburse assets after her death.

The first goal was to help indigent people, the second to provide for the care and welfare of dogs. A year later, they said, she deleted the first goal.

While the mission statement is apparently not binding legally, it is customary to follow said wishes.

Just how much is that dog trust in the window?

It's valued at $5B - $8B, which according to The Times is

...worth almost 10 times the combined assets of all 7,381 animal-related nonprofit groups reporting to the Internal Revenue Service in 2005

Wow! (Or is it bow-wow.)

My first thought was to ask myself, 'Was she nuts?' There are so many human charities out there that need help, why didn't she just let the bit about "indigent people" stay put?

But my second thought was, 'Hey, it was her money.'

And there are plenty of dog-related things that the money could go to (most of which would also help us two-legged friends out, too):

  • Better neutering programs (who, other than the dogs themselves, could object to this?)
  • Reduce the waiting list for those needing seeing eye and other helper dogs (if there is one)
  • Dog parks/dog runs in cities (that aren't just set up, but are maintained by the trust)
  • Free pet clinics in poor areas (and while we're at it, why not throw a physician's assistant into the mix and provide a little wellness care while the pet owners are paying a call)
  • Endowed chairs at veterinary medicine schools
  • Research into dog diseases (wouldn't it be nice to get rid of the hip dysplasia that causes so many big dogs to live in pain? it might actually help humankind out, too)
  • Programs that put pets in nursing homes, homes for the handicapped, schools with special needs kids - anyplace where having a pooch around might help people cope
  • Establish an artists' foundation, with annual grants for those who paint, sculpt, or write about dogs (I'm sure there's plenty of dog-art out there that doesn't involve bull dogs and labs sitting around a card table playing poker and smoking cigars)

Hey, Leona may have been a bitch, but it was her money, and just because it's going to the dogs, doesn't mean it's going to the dogs.