Monday, December 24, 2012

The Heat Is On. (Oh, and Merry Christmas.)

Friday night, we had a little pre-Christmas (mis)adventure.

While plugging in the very tree pictured here, we suddenly smelled something that seemed awfully like something electrical burning.Tree 2012 (Even by the low-low standards of smart phone photography, this picture is pretty lame. And although it does almost mask the gaping bare spot in the lower right, it does not do the tree justice at all, at all. It does look pretty good on my Blackberry.)

Anyway, having Smokey-the-Beared the electrical burning, we then realized that the blower part of our HVAC system was no longer blowing HVAC. Indeed, that the circuit breaker for our HVAC system had done what circuit breakers do (I think), and flipped the 100 amp HVAC fuses off.

My husband, who this time of year goes by the handle Scrooge McGrinch, immediately blamed the tree – which draws as much power as an alarm clock in unalarmed mode – fingering it (almost literally) as the party responsible for the blowout of our blower.

Anyway, while Jim called the emergency HVAC number, I called 9-1-1 and asked the dispatcher if she thought it made sense to have the BFD swing by. The answer to that question is pretty much always ‘yes,’ so within a couple of minutes, our condo was full of burly and nice looking young men bearing halligans and axes, sniffing out the source of the burning electrical odor – which, they agreed with Scrooge McGrinch, was behind the panel where our blower lies. They then were up on the rooftop, quick quick quick  - five flights via the narrow back staircase - and turned off our HVAC. Fortunately, it wasn’t all the cold out that night, so we really weren’t going to need the H. But as the world had NOT ended on Friday – I sure called that one -  it was pretty clear we were eventually going to need us some H.

After the boys got through agreeing with Scrooge McGrinch about the source of the electrical burning odor, they agreed with me that the Christmas tree had nothing whatsoever to do with the blown blower. And while they didn’t come right out and say it, I know that they were thinking Scrooge McGrinch was suffering from a tiny bit of post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

We had to wait a while for the emergency, on call HVAC fellow to show, as he was coming from – of all places – Worcester.

Dylan was a new guy we hadn’t seen before, and he was every bit as burly and nice looking as the firefighters who came and went before him.

He found the fault line. Some fairly shoddy legacy wiring that had been taped up with electrical tape and had somehow managed to last over 20 years before having its meltdown.

The fix could not be made right away, so I in my kerchief and Scrooge McGrinch in his cap had to settle down for a long winter’s nap without heat. We survived, and Dylan came back first thing in the morning with the right stuff and fixed us up in about 10 minutes. So we were all set. I had already begun some baking, so we were getting some heat going, anyway. But this is New England and, despite global warming, baby it’s cold outside.

And so it is Christmas. Or, at least, Christmas Eve.

Which means I get to say Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays to all my Pink Slip readers. (No war on Christmas here, but just in case…)

I am taking the week off, but will return on January 1st.

See you then.

Friday, December 21, 2012

If you’re reading this…yippee: the world hasn’t ended.

If you’re reading this, breathe a big sigh of relief. I’ve got some excellent news for you:

The world didn’t end today.

At least not as of yet.

But I guess there’s time.

After all, there’s so many predictors that today’s the day the jig is up.

It’s the end of the Mayan long-form calendar, and if the Mayans weren’t preparing to get up and make breakfast and do the laundry on December 22, 2012, maybe we shouldn’t be, either. (What did the Mayans know, and when did they know it?)

Then there’s the worry that planet earth is going to be sucked into a black hole, which actually might be cool to experience, if you lived to tell the tale. Which you probably wouldn’t. Or we could have a cataclysmic run-in with the planet Nibiru.

And then there’s the web site devoted to the belief that today begins World War III, in which Russia and a bunch of bad-actors in the Mideast take on Europe. Then the real hellzaoppin’ breaks out, with mobs attacking the Vatican, the Pope fleeing, David Cameron decamping to the US, Paris burning, civil war in the US (bad timing on David Cameron’s part), chemical and nuclear warfare, and a tsunami-triggering comet thrown in for good measure. Pick your poison. (Source:

We dodged a doomsday biggie in May 2011, when it was predicted that there’d be a major, mother of all earthquakes earthquakes, followed by hell on earth for a few months, and then complete oblivion on October 21st. Pink Slip was pretty sure that this wasn’t going to happen, and that we’d live to blog another day. Which, as it happened, is how it turned out.

I’ll go out on a limb again here: World end’s today? Ain’t going to happen.

Not that anyone’d be around to say ‘I told you so’ if, in fact, it’s all over now, baby blue.

And I’m in good company.

NASA saying no way the world is ending today, bang or whimper.

And the Vatican’s top astronomer – the Vatican has multiple astronomers???? -  is also urging calm:

The Rev. Jose Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, wrote in Wednesday’s Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that ‘‘it’s not even worth discussing’’ doomsday scenarios based on the Mayan calendar that are flooding the Internet ahead of the purported Dec. 21 apocalypse. (Source:

Not all the predictions for December 21, 2012, are dire. Some New Agers believe something along the lines of “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”

As long as all the men don’t start wearing ponytails, and the only food is tofu, I’m down with this:

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more need for superstition
All your living dreams are visions
Mystic crystal revelations
And the mind's true liberation.

Other than that mystic crystal revelation – huh? – and possibly the bit about “all your living dreams are visions”, which I don’t quite get, either, what’s not to like?

Anyway, the world will NOT end today.

You heard it here!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The high school’s virtual, it’s just the team that’s real

Anyone who watches any television and/or follows any professional football, knows that it pays to be an MVP quarterback. Drew Brees and Peyton Manning seem to be leading the endorsement pack, with Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers nipping closely at their heels. I’m sure that Our Tom (Brady), with both the looks and the sports cred, would be all over the TV ad map if he hadn’t decided to focus on GQ-style print, where he’s having a nice and no doubt lucrative bromance with UGGs and Movado watches.

The quarterbacks get the glory, the girls, the greenbacks, alright. (They also get more than their share of the responsibility, the pressure, and the blame.)

So if you’ve got a son who seems to have what it takes to become a professional quarterback, an who wants to become one, you’d do everything you could to make sure it happens for him, right?

David Sills IV is doing just that for David Sills V, stretching the definition of “everything” beyond recognition. For starters, he paid a lot of money (which, as a real estate and construction “magnate”, he can well afford) to have his kid – then aged 10 - work with “quarterback guru” Steve Clarkson out in California, which, as anyone with the least sense of geography knows is just a hop, skip, and a pump fake from Delaware, where the Sills live.

David Sills V is apparently a bona fide phenom, so much so that he was offered a full ride by USC. When he was in seventh grade.

Okay. Sending your kid across continent to commune with a quarterback guru may do a bit of everything-stretching, but it’s not over the top extreme.

I would, however, put in that category: building a football stadium and training facility at the kid’s private high school; subsidizing the coaching staff; and offering financial aid to the largely African-American kids who would make up a worthy supporting cast for the athletic ambitions of Sills IV and (presumably) Sills V.

Alas, Red Lion Christian Academy decided that there were more important things in life than operating as a football powerhouse, a junior version of the football factories that many big time college programs are, and they pulled back.

In need of a showcase to showcase Sills V’s prowess, Sills IV was seemingly left with no other option but to establish a new school. Eastern Christian Academy is not only an online school, it’s a school that’s purpose-built to be a football team:

Eastern Christian was established six months ago [this is as of August 2012], and with less than three weeks until the start of the academic school year, 54 students are enrolled in grades six through 12. Forty-six are boys, and 46 are on the football team. The staff includes four teachers, a nurse, a minister and seven football coaches. The running backs and defensive backs coach is the director of operations, the de facto principal. (Source: Sports Illustrated.)

Were the eight girls recruited to be the cheerleading squad?

Sills V claims that the school is all about creating opportunities for poor kids to get into colleges:

“…that’s really what we care about…getting these kids into college, because a lot of these kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to college if it wasn’t for football, and we all know that college education is huge.” (Source: The New Yorker, October 15, 2012).

Sigh…on a couple of accounts.

First off, I am of the opinion that the meme that sports offers the only way to a college education for poor kids is a terrible, and terribly destructive, one.

Certainly, if kids are told day in, day out, that the excelling at sports is the only path they have to an “education” and to making something of themselves, and that the bling and the high life that come to those who make it big in the NFL (or the NBA) is desirable and their only way out, they will start to believe it.

Yet we all at least have a gut sense of the statistics: few college athletes make the pros, and at those colleges and universities that serve as the minor leagues for professional football and basketball, many athletes don’t get a degree at all, or get a worthless basket weave degree.

The young athletes who make it into the highest level college programs have no doubt worked very hard to develop their athletic skills. How much better off would they be if they had gotten the message that hard academic work is a better-bet path to a college education and a decent life?

Then there’s the virtual school thing.

Online learning is often a good thing, offering students the opportunity to augment their classroom school work with courses that their schools can’t offer. It’s certainly an alternative worth exploring for students who don’t do well in the traditional classroom. And there’s definitely going to be more of it before there’s less, that’s for sure.

But something tells me that, if we let it, online learning will become a prime educational outlet for poorer communities, while those in more affluent places will get to go the blended route: some online combined with traditional teachers, and food fights, and flirting in the halls, and slammed lockers, and decorating the halls for the Homecoming Hop (or grind, or whatever it’s called these days). In person school will be a luxury good afforded to and by some, not others.

Kids at Eastern Christian, by the way, don’t get a free ride:

Football programs are expensive, and Eastern Christian is not giving scholarships. Parents can help cover tuition by getting sponsors to buy $1,200 advertisements in the stadium and on Eastern Christian's web page, and Sills says he has partnered with a bank to provide families with 15-year loans.(Sports Illustrated.)

Oh, a 15 year loan to send your kid to a virtual high school so that he may or may not get into a football factory, where he may or may not get a (probably bogus) degree. That sounds like a just dandy idea. There’ll no doubt be one or two who makes the pros, and one or two who really takes advantage of the athletic “scholarship” to actually become a student with a worthwhile degree. But for most, it will likely be field of pipedreams.

[Sills IV] expects to hold a prom in the spring. He looks across the prospective 90-acre campus and imagines a football stadium, baseball diamond and softball field. "We'll never put athletics before academics," he promises, "but we'll probably come closer than most." (Sports Illustrated.)

I have no doubt about that final statement.

Check back in a few years and see whether Eastern Christian’s still up and running once Sills V is off to USC, and Sills IV no longer needs a team for his son to play with.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Real beard vs. “traditional” beard, the Santa feud continues on

‘Tis the season when sides are taken, the battle lines drawn, the skirmishes commence.

I’m speaking, of course, about whether the department store, mall, or office party Santa should have a real beard or a fake one.

On the side of the fake beards, which are often made of yak belly hair and can run you over $2K, they often look better than a beard of the DYI variety. (By the way, fake beards are better known as designer beards, fashion beards, or - in a near-Orwellian usage - traditional beards. Traditional? Yes, traditional. That’s because the Santas of near yore, as in The Miracle on 34th Street and my childhood, had fake beards because no one in that near yore would have considered for a North Pole minute growing a full, bushy, flowing, white beard. No, men then wanted to look sharp, feel sharp, and be sharp with a safety razor from Gillette. I don’t remember ever seeing a man in a beard until I was in college.)

“Not many people can grow a beard that looks storybook, but Santa is always supposed to be larger than life. Unfortunately, many people who try to grow a Santa beard look more like street people,” said one local “designer-bearded” Santa who declined to be named, because it’s a small community.  (Source:

What real beards have going for them – other than the obvious commitment to the trade that they imply – is that they never fail the pull test (which IMHO would be conducted only by a bratty, out of control little monster who deserved nothing so much as a half a lump of coal in his stocking).

Real beard-os contend that real beard = real Santa, and many of those who advertise for Santas accept no substitutes: real beard-os only need apply.

“A real Santa has a real beard. If it’s a fake beard, people think it’s a fake Santa,” said “Santa Bruce,” who will be host to thousands of screaming and smiling children at the North Shore Mall this holiday season.

Santa Bruce? He may have a real beard but doesn’t that sound like a fake handle?

Macy’s, by the way, has declared, coming down on the side of the uniformity, which can only be provided through yak-ery, fakery:

.. last year, Macy’s, whose New York Santaland is an icon of the season, ousted its real-bearded Santas to give all of their portrayers a uniform appearance.

Naturally, one things leads to another, and I stumbled on Clausenet, “the largest social network and online resource for the Santa Claus Community!” Santas on both sides of the real vs. traditional divide seem to get along pretty amicably, I didn’t read through all the bearded forums – Real or fake Beards, Santa Beard – but the comments generally seemed more nice than naughty.

One question I had is how they find so many real Santas with beautiful white beards. After all, how often do you see someone young enough to withstand the rigors of being a Santa, with a beautiful head, let alone beard, of beautiful white hair.

The answer, found on the boards at Cluasenet, is that some Santas, at least, give nature an assist and dye (or even, weirdly, paint their beards, as a read in one reference). Does he or doesn’t he, only Mrs. Santa Claus knows for sure.

Meanwhile, in other Santa-related news, up in Maine – a bit closer to the North Pole – a mall Santa got fired for general snarkiness. He refused to let a little girl sit on his nap because her mother wouldn’t buy the $20 photo, which seems a bit mean, even though a good part of the reason for the mall Santa season is selling those pictures, no?  The same child got dissed when she asked for an American Girl Doll and Santa told her she’d be getting an American football, which seems a bit mean, even though it’s a tiny bit funny.

Anyway, the guy who was fired doesn’t sound like he was cut out to be a Santa – sounds more like David Sedaris coming back to do the Christmas thing, but has been promoted from elf to Santa; maybe the guy’s just a David Sedaris wannabe. Given his lack of Santa empathy and smarts, I’m guessing that the fellow who was fired was a fake beard, traditional Santa. Not that I’m suggesting that fake beard, traditional Santas are lacking in empathy and intelligence. It just doesn’t sound like this one was in to enough to go through the trouble of growing a real on.

In any case, the debate rages on.

On Dasher, on Dancer…Yak, yak, yak.


Battlin’ bearded Santas are nothing new. In 2008, I blogged about a rift between two not-so-benevolent-orders-of Santa Claus, which got the fur flying among all kinds of St. Nicks.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Too cool for school (or, rather, for dorms)

Well, the latter-day privateers have taken over a lot of prisons, KP in the military, and an increasing amount of schooling, so why not start privatizing college dorms?

Of course, there have long been private accommodations for students. In my day, they were run by those called “slumlords” and, in my recall, none of them offered the ability to “lounge around a resort-style pool in private cabanas.”

No, back in the day, we had to deal with 1920’s stoves that always seemed on the verge of exploding, crazy neighbors screaming at each other in languages we couldn’t recognize, heating pipes that woke us up in the middle of the  night with what sounded like a Gene Krupa solo turn, and cockroaches scuttling out of our toasters when we popped an English muffin in.

Today’s students, of course, could not be expected to put up with what we were, in truth, delighted to contend with. This is how students willing to forsake the “comforts” of the shared 10x15 cement block dorm room expected to live in their first foray into the independent adult world.  Instead, they:

…practice their golf swings at the putting green and meditate in a Zen garden. Videogamers sip complimentary coffee while playing "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" on a multiscreen television wall. (Source: Wall Street Journal Online.)

At least if they’re students at the University of Central Florida, where the upscale University House has been developed by Inland American Communities Group.

At the University of Central Florida, the golf swinging, Zen gardening, and video gaming apparently don’t detract from the academic purpose of the school, which was recently ranked the least rigorous school in the country.

And it obviously appeals to some prospective students:

Both students and administrators say housing has become a big factor in college selection, increasingly trumping degree programs or beloved sports teams. Mark Sampson says his daughter took "about two looks at the campus" of University of Florida in Gainesville and declared it too old. She picked University of Central Florida and hopes to move into University House this fall.

Nice! You can go to the state’s flagship university, or you can matriculate at the place with the posh digs. Lack of rigor be damned, full cabana lounging ahead!

UCF isn’t the only college where upscale lodging’s sprouting up. Michigan State, Arizona State, and Texas A&M are among other schools where happenin’ living’s happenin’.

Nor is Inland American the only developer hopping into this lucrative business:

Developers say that colleges provide a steady stream of new customers every year, and that students—and their parents—are willing to pay for luxury amenities.

American Campus Communities and Campus Crest Communities are public companies – or, shall we say, communities - that are helping move college living from 3 hots  and a cot to granite countertops on which to rest your pizza boxesimage.

And if they don’t want to bother whistling in Domino’s or Papa John’s, they can hang out in a place like the bistro at a “community” for Sam Houston University students.

For one student, the best part about being off campus in luxe housing is the privacy, and the ability to “take a five-hour shower and not worry about it, or take a bubble bath." After which, I guess, you come out nice and relaxed and prepared for an all night bull session on the meaning of life.

Among the amenities that off-campus housing may offer are an ice-skating rink, tanning rooms, poolside jumbo screen, a pet-washing station, a 300-foot-long lazy river, and at Texas Aggie, something called a “cornhole pit”. (I don’t really want to know what goes on there.)

The business is booming because all the later wave baby boomers’ kids are forming an echo boom. And all those later wave baby boomers obviously want their kids to live it up.

There are a couple of downsides to this particular version of a real estate boom:

"Most of these kids are going to have a step down in lifestyle when they have to enter the working-world environment after they graduate," says John E. Vawter, principal of Capstone Collegiate Communities, which developed [several of the “communities” featured in the article].

What a shock they’re in for when they smash their first cockroach.

But that’s a downside for the consumer. Caveat emptor, etc.

But there’s also the downside for those slapping these places up.

Like how crummy and outdated they’re going to look in a couple of years after revolving door packs of students swarm in and out. At least with cement block dorm rooms, never in style, never out of style.  And then there’s the likely coming contraction in the number of families who can afford to send their kids to away college for four years, let alone cough up extra for Zen gardens, tanning beds, and cornhole pits.

Oh, what a world we live in.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Slaughter of the Innocents

Even by unfathomable standards, the murder of all those little children in Newtown is unfathomable. It almost makes Columbine and Virginia Tech seem as if they make some sort of sense.

But six year olds? Seven year olds?

There is nothing I can add to all of the commentary out there that can lighten the grief of all those families who have been smashed to smithereens. Losing a child to illness, to accident: beyond terrible. But this? Unfathomable is the only word that comes to my mind, but even this word does the slaughter of these innocents scant justice.

There were also six grownups murdered last Friday at Sandy Hook School: the women who worked with the kids and who, by all accounts, acted admirably to try to protect the little ones in their care.

Rachel Davino, Lauren Rousseau, and Victoria Soto were young women, relatively early on in their teaching careers. Principal Dawn Hochsprung, special ed teacher Anne Marie Murphy, and school psychologist Mary Sherlach were well established in theirs.

All of the stories of that terrible day have yet to be told, but the ones coming out tell us that these women were heroes among us – ‘lunging’ at the murderer, putting themselves between him and ‘their kids.’

I hope that we do have these stories emerge. Kids need to know that there are grownups who will try to protect them, to spare them from terror, to save them from horror. We need to know this, too.

The ‘fast fact’ that appeared on one of the shows about the Newtown massacre said that there have been 181 school shooting incidents since Columbine in 1990. Still, you don’t think of school as a dangerous place, or teaching as a dangerous profession.

Yet even in this nice, well to do area, they had safeguards in place. Visitors have to be buzzed in. (One news report said that the murderer may have smashed the glass door in to gain entry.) Teachers and kids have had emergency evacuation rehearsals, which the kids probably paid as much attention to as we did to the fire and stick-your-head-under-the-desk atom bomb drills of my school days.

Emergency drills aside, surely none of these women went to school on Friday thinking it would be anything other than a typical Friday. Maybe a bit more charge in the air, the kids a bit antsier, given that it’s only a week until Christmas vacation, and a school full of 5-10 year olds means a lot of Santa believers.

But probably pretty much routine-routine.

I’m sure the teachers had their plan for what they were going to accomplish, maybe a small special surprise to break things up a bit.

It was a nice day. The kids would have been able to go out at recess and lunch and blow off some steam.

Like everyone does at work on Friday, I’m sure they were all thinking about what they were going to be doing over the weekend. Anyone who celebrates Christmas – which, based on their names, would be most/all of the teachers – likely had a long list of shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating to-dos.

How terribly, how unpredictably, how unfathomably that truncated school day ended for them.

And what of the teachers and other staff members who survived? Who weren’t in the sights and sites of the murderer?  They must be in complete and utter shock.

Colleagues killed, workplace upended, traumatized students to deal with. And the unfathomable slaughter of all those innocents…

How do they go on?

Terrible, terrible day for the teachers of Sandy Hook. Unfathomably so.


Friday, December 14, 2012

If you’re keeping score, it’s bonus: 73%, company holiday party: 5%

If all goes as planned, later today I’ll be joining the marketing department of one of my local clients for their annual holiday lunch. I very much like the folks there, and very much enjoy working with them. We’ll be at a nice restaurant, but the event will be low key. There’s a Yankee Swap, and I’ve decided to bring a straight gift, i.e., something that someone might actually like, want and use, rather than a gag one. (For a moment I entertained the thought of boxing up a bunch of the “treasures” I’ve accumulated over the years of doing the family Christmas Eve Yankee Swaps over the years. There’s that hideous clown statue. And the box of c. 1978 catechism class planning cards. Too bad I gave away the Elvis guitar clock.)

Today’s gathering will, fortunately, have none of the trappings of the traditional company party: after dark (after hours), fancy (or fancy-ish) location, fancy (or fancy-ish) dress-up, obligatory spouse drag, and the perilous availability of free alcohol.

On the list of things I decidedly don’t miss about working full-time, the annual holiday party is right up there.

I will say that I got pretty good at gaming my appearance and keeping it to the absolute minimum: show up a little late, grab a glass of wine and an appetizer or two, make sure to make seom face time or at least eye contact with those who keep a mental checklist of who’s there, do a bit of eye-rolling with your work buddies and say hello to their spouses, nab a few goodies from the buffet table and wrap them in a napkin for later, then cut and run. Once home, kick off shoes, thank spouse for his guest appearance, geniality, and restraint, and pour a real glass of wine for yourself.

Even I was only going to be there for 90 minutes max, I always approached the annual holiday party with something approaching existential dread.

Not that I didn’t like my colleagues. I made many close “life friends” at work.

It’s just that, dating back to my parochial school days when we were pretty much forced to feign ecstasy when presented with any perk – a screening of The Boy with Green Hair, the visit of a Filipino priest who barely spoke English (which he barely spoke or half an hour) – I have despised anything that feels to me like “obligatory fun.”

And, although I never worked a 40 hour week, I really resented having to eat into my personal time to attend a company function. (However it may appear on paper, there is no “fun” in company function.)

When I worked at companies that held major “obligatory fun” holiday parties, I always maintained the most employees would rather have $50. Or a turkey. Or an “early release” day. Or, at minimum, comp time for the hours they spent at the party. All preferable to suffering through the company party.

Turns out I was right.

According to a survey done by Glassdoor, reported in Fortune/CNN:

For the second year in a row, almost nobody wants to celebrate the season with a party, "even with an open bar."

What people overwhelming want (73%) is a bonus. Or a bit of time off that doesn’t come out of their existing vacation pot (36%). Folks would welcome a grocery gift card (29%) or permission to telecommute (13%). A mere 5% want a party.

I’ve got to believe that most of the 5% are folks with an at-home spouse who wants a break from spit-up and Dora the Explorer and/or wants to finally put a face with the names that the at-work spouse is always grousing, gossiping, raving about.

The holiday parties I didn’t mind were the ones like I’m going to today, or a full company party held for employee only, during working hours, at the office or at a nearby restaurant.

There’s enough stress around the holidays without compounding it with the company party.

Not for me…

And I wouldn’t have liked to 1950’s-1960’s drunk-out in the office, lampshade on the head, grope in the darkened office version either.  Still, they were fun to watch on Mad Men.


At Mad Men era parties, the wives stayed home. (I suppose if there were husbands, they stayed home, too.)


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bring me the head of, well, myself

I’m not quite a Luddite.

It’s not as if I don’t TXT, or order tulip bulbs online, or, errrr, blog.

And, after all, my career has been in technology.

Still, I’m not 100% enamored of new techie stuff just because it’s new. Or techie. I tend to view all of it – including the elements that I use (and enjoy using) regularly, like TXT-ing, ordering tulip bulbs, and blogging – with a slightly jaundiced eye. Do we really need cars that park themselves? Yet another social networking app that lets everyone and his brother know where everyone else and his brother is at any moment in time?  I like doing flight check in ahead of time, but do I really need to be able to watch a TV show on my smartphone?

But if there’s one technology that I am absolutely capable of falling virtual head over virtual heels in love with, it’s 3-D printing.

“YOU can carry your own head in your hand,” enthuses Bre Pettis, inviting customers to try out a three-dimensional photo booth that will scan their head and then print a miniature plastic version of it as a solid object. (Source: The Economist.)

Not that I actually want a plastic 3-D scan of my head, or the head of anyone else, for that matter. But I’m loving the idea of MakerBot, which is the maker-bot of:

…desktop MakerBots, which make things out of plastic, for just $2,200. It is still early days, but MakerBots and machines like them are “empowering people to make the things they want, rather than buy them from factories,” says Mr Pettis.

Forget economies of scale! Think scale of one.

Fast forward a few years, and how cool will it be to go to a shoe store and have them print me up a pair of 10-1/2 AA shoes that don’t look orthopedic or nunnish. Not that I’ll be bringing on the Jimmy Choo’s or the Laboutins, but a pair of fun-colored kippy flats that won’t fall off my feet? I’m so there.

How about being able to merge a Peter Paul Mounds with a Peter Paul Almond Joy and get both dark chocolate and almonds. Because sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. (And while I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice the scrumptious blue M&M’s to do so, I’d also like to bring back tan M&M’s while I’m at it.)

And I’d love to be able to print out a Christmas tree. A real one, thank you. Seven-foot balsam (with that real balsam smell).

Although I don’t consider myself a classic narcissist, I’m down with empowering me to make the things I want.

The first MakerBot store is in NYC, on Mulberry Street.And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.png Wish that I’d known this when I was in The City a few weeks back. I would love to see these MakerBots in action. I might even have let them print out a copy of my head. (Christmas ornament?)

Given that one of Dr. Seuss’ first books was And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, how cool that a store that sells products that are almost Seussian in nature plunks itself down there. (And to think that I didn’t see it on Mulberry Street, even though I was just around the corner. Oh, boo-hoo.)

Okay, okay. 3D printers aren’t printing out many real things. Yet. Certainly not Christmas trees. Or Jimmy Choos.

But they’re extremely useful for creating prototypes, so I’ll imagine that product designers are all over this. Here’s a nifty little John Deere printed on a MakerBot Replicator 2.

And check out MakerBot’s Thingiverse, a gallery of objects designed/created by MakerBot users.

I have no idea whatsoever what I’d do with it, what I could possibly contribute to the Thingiverse. But the Replicator 2? I want one!

Who knew there was a techie thang out there in the thingiverse that could get to the acquisitive heart of this near Luddite?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

If dogs have a heaven, there’s one thing I know…

The past few days, I’ve been dog-sitting my dog-phew. I don’t think I’m being at all biased here when I say that Jack is absolutely in the Top 10 when it comes to adorable and sweetie-pie, cutie-pie pups.

If it’s cute your after, it’s hard to do better than a Black Lab. Jack, by the way, came from a no-kill shelter, where his family of origin had left him for some reason that was undoubtedly sad for them, and certainly a boon for our extended family.

Forget Rodgers and Hammerstein: There is nothing like a dog, nothing in this world…There is nothing you can blog, that is anything like a dog.

Although Jack is just in his dogged, middle aged prime, my thoughts turned to him when I saw an article on on the growing niche market for products and services for geriatric canines.

Old dogs touch a nerve — and the pocketbook. With an eye on burgeoning market possibilities of the senior set, canine product purveyors sell specially formulated kibble, beds, bowls, ramps to get up into the car, harnesses, diapers for incontinence, as well as various supplements, herbs and holistic remedies designed to cosset a senior dog through its last years. Doting owners find it difficult to resist the pitch for anything to help their four-legged family member.

Well, young and middle-aged dogs touch a nerve – and the pocketbook, too. But I absolutely understand why anyone who can afford it goes the extra mile to make sure their aging pal is comfy and cozy in his great old age.

Orvis – inventor of the dog bed - has an entire line of products for dogs getting along in dog years, mostly memory foam and Tempur-pedic beds. I noted with interest that many of the dog beds bear a dog’s name, and the most popular names are Dakota and Jack. Jack, as it happens, was originally named Dakota, but was rechristened when my sister and her family adopted him. So I guess naming your dog Dakota or Jack is like naming our kid Jacob or Madison. One day, you’ve never heard it, the next day it’s everywhere.

(By the way, if you click through to Orvis, the dog who most closely resembles our Jack is the one posing with the Solid Foam Microfiber Backseat Extender.)

And speaking of Jacks, the first night of my dogsitting gig, we had a pajama party at Auntie Moe’s place in Boston. While I was taking Jack out for his final airing of the evening, we ran into the man who lives across the hall, who is also named Jack. Human Jack was pleased to meet a four-legged namesake. Canine Jack was silent on the matter.

Of course, today’s dogs are more likely to sport human names than the dogs of my childhood.

My grandmother had a series of Black Labs named Midnight, Thunder, and Lightning. My cousin had a Meadowlark, whose sister, owned by another cousin, was named Kelly, but I believe that she was named for a place (Kelly Pond) not a person. Dogs in the ‘hood when I was growing up included Dapper, Clipper, Sheba, Rasputin, Brian Boru, Blackie, and Queenie  (whose face actually resembled that of a carp).

Blackie was the one dog I actively hated. That’s because I was bitten by him while innocently walking by his house, swinging my OLA school bag. Blackie, apparently, took some offense, and pell-melled off his porch and bit me in the arm. My father had to come home from work and take me to the ER for a shot. There, I had to wait in line behind someone who had stapled his thumb with an industrial stapler. Ouch.

Blackie was pretty much a menace, but his owner was a cop. So what were you gonna do?

There were some human-named dogs around, even in the old days. My uncle had a mutt called Luke, and we had a Sid and a Cindy floating around the neighborhood. My friend Marie had a Sam, a lovely poodle-mutt who just disappeared. 

Which sometimes happened to dogs. And some dogs were put down, and some died in there tracks. But a lot of dog mortality was death was by car, in that era of free-range dog life.

Our dog Grimbald had a quasi human name.

Grim, who was quasi free-range – he sometimes did an overnight cavort with Sheba (that bitch!) -  made it to 12 – reasonably ripe old age, especially for a large dog (German Shepherd) who’d been diagnosed with dysplasia as a puppy. The day my mother and I took Grim on the last leg of his dog’s journey, a final trip to the vet, was one of the saddest of my life.

So I understand completely why someone would pay $275 for an Orvis Tempur-Pedic Dream Lounger Dog Bed.

If such an item had existed, and I’d thought it would have given Grim a shot at a bit more of his doggy life, why not? And I would not have been alone.

Jon Comeau, product development specialist for dogs at Vermont’s Orvis Company, says his company’s market expands with the aging dog population.

What a great job title! Product development specialist for dogs. Talk about being able to go home from work each night knowing you’d done good.

“We see it in the sales figures that come through,” he says. “Ten years ago, we were selling products to keep dogs off the couch. Now we’re selling products to keep them on the couch.”

An aging dog population is occurring alongside the aging human population, and for some overlapping (sorry) reasons. Vet [medical] care is better, dog food [nutrition] has improved, and a more affluent population is willing to lavish more money on their mutts [selves], keeping them alive. (Not that having a seasonal change in dog collar is going to extend your life, but didn’t dogs just used to get one chain collar, issued when they reached adult size, and that was about it. Sort of like the one shirt that peasants had in medieval times.)

If your wondering what constitutes old age for a dog:

The actuarial table depends on size. For small dogs, old age begin after 10. For bigger dogs, after age “8 or 9,” according to Moses, and for “giant breeds (Great Dane, St. Bernard) at 5 or 6.”

Fortunately, our boy Jack has a few more squirrel-chasing, pajama partying years to go before we have to order him that Orvis Tempur-Pedic Dream Lounger. (Good idea for a combined Christmas-Birthday gift from us.)

For those not old enough to recognize the other dog-related tune that Elvis Presley popularized (the first being, of course “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog”), the title of this blog is taken from the song "Old Shep.”

Now Old Shep is gone where the good doggies go,
And no more with Old Shep will I roam.
But if dogs have a heaven, there's one thing I know
Old Shep has a wonderful home.

Sniff, sniff.

Still, when it comes to heavenly dog epigrams, I’ll stick with Will Rogers:

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

I wonder how Grim and Jack will take to each other, and will I be there to see it? Hope so!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lampooned: Timothy Durham gets 50 large

As Ponzi scheming con-men go, Timothy Durham was no Bernie Madoff. Still, $200 million remains a relatively significant amount of defrauding, and Durham will be spending the next 50 years in The Big House because of it. Given that he’s 50 years old, this pretty much amounts to a life sentence. The prosecutors had asked for 225 years, so Durham should be counting his blessings. (Something to count, now that he doesn’t have much money or property left.) Of course, his attorney had asked for three years, so…

Durham was not just a pint-sized Madoff in terms of the amount he larged off with. Unlike Madoff, who, while bilking some middle-class folks, mostly schnookered the supremely well-to-do (before they got well-to-done, thanks to Bernie), Durham specialized in the little guys:

Durham and two associates were accused of bilking more than 5,100 mostly small blue-collar investors in Fair Financial from the time he bought the business in 2002 until its collapse in November 2009…

Unable to succeed legitimately as a businessman, Durham robbed thousands of investors to finance the trappings of a multi-millionaire lifestyle, complete with exotic cars, planes, mansions and assorted businesses," prosecutors said in a pre-sentencing report. (Source: Huffington Post.)

For those who weren’t familiar with Durham – I wasn’t – his is quite the colorful story. And quite the All American story, at that.

Among other tidbits, he got his big start in life when he married a rich man’s daughter and went to work for the old man, who was a wealthy entrepreneur. Durham quit being a boring old Indianapolis attorney and became an investor. His specialty was buying companies, sprucing them up, and the flipping the sale. And he had a niche: heavy-duty, Rustbelt companies that manufactured school buses, auto parts, cargo trailers. Stuff like that. You know, stuff.

Then he went Hollywood, buying up the remnants of The National Lampoon, part-aying at the Playboy Manager, and pirating around the Caribbean in his yacht. But for a while he stayed rooted in the Midwest and, as life went on, the cost of supporting the hot-shot lifestyle grew, and pretty soon – darn the luck – legitimate investments turned out not to be quite enough to cover his wildly growing nut. Among the businesses he got into:

… a rally-car builder, a plastic surgery center, a car magazine, a tour bus operator, a limo rental company, a nightclub, an Italian restaurant, and a cell-phone billing processor… (Source: Business Week.)

Now if that’s not a combination of the All American aspirational (plastic surgery, limo rental) and the All American standard (nightclub, Italian restaurant).

I am always intrigued and/or horrified by what these jamokes blow their – or, as is so often the case -  somebody else’s money on.

For Durham, this included a party for 1,000 of his closest friends to celebrate his 45 birthday.

For this blessed even, he had:

…30 glamour models, flown in from Los Angeles, picked up at the airport in exotic cars from Durham’s collection, put up in a hotel, and paid standard modeling day rates, according to model Megan Hauserman. “He said it was a Playboy-themed party, so we should wear what we would typically wear to the mansion,” she says. The standard uniform there is lingerie and heels.

Where there are glamour models, there are, of course B- and C-list male guests. For this soiree, that meant Indianapolis Colts players, and none other than –  brace yourself – Kato Kaelin. (Didn’t I tell you this was an All American story?)

Durham dressed like Hugh Hefner, in a plush robe. When he went to blow out the candles, his cake was frosted with his likeness in the center of a million-dollar bill.

Keepin’ it classy, eh?

By the way, the fleet of exotic cars used to ferry the glamour models to the party so they could meet Kato Kaelin included:

…a Lamborghini, an Aston Martin, a Bentley, and a 1929 Auburn Speedster. The crown jewel was a 1929 Duesenberg Phaeton, driven by Elvis Presley in the 1966 film Spinout.

Playboy party, Kato Kaelin, Elvis Presley. And just when you think you’ve read enough, you have one of those ‘but wait, there’s more’ moments:

Durham’s [30,000 square foot] home, too, was a monument to acquisition. Constructed in a faux-manor, brick-and-slate style, it included not one but three entrance gates, with a large interior courtyard for showing off vehicles, as well as a tennis court, and elaborate landscaping. On display inside, as he noted when a local television station came to visit, were a Picasso and one of Frank Sinatra’s Grammy Awards.

What did I tell you about All American aspirational – Picasso – and All American standard – Sinatra Grammy?

But how you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve bought The National Lampoon.

Short answer, you can’t.

Durham moved to Hollywood, where he rubbed shoulders with Gene Simmons and Khloe Kardashian, and became buds with Ludacris.

Durham pointed to one bedroom where he said the rapper Chris “Ludacris” Bridges was staying. In another there were boxes and boxes, stacked waist-high, filled with unworn shoes.

Shades of Imelda Marcos!

And if you think things couldn’t get any more ludicrous, among the blue collar folks that Durham bilked were:

…members of the Amish and Mennonite communities, who provided a steady revenue stream.

Talk about breaking Amish.

A few years back, as The House that Durham Built began its collapse, an Indianapolis TV station asked him:

“If you could recreate your wealth, would you spend [it] the same way?” they asked.

“Probably not. No, probably not,” he said.

What? No Kato Kaelin? No Elvis car? No Old Blue Eyes Grammy?

Say it isn’t so!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The world is treating me bad, misery

Actually, living as I do in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the world is NOT treating me bad. It’s just not every day that I get to quote The Beatles. (Although if I put my mind to it, I probably could dredge something up on a near-daily basis.)

Now, if I lived in Mississippi, the world would, indeed, be treating me bad. Maybe not me personally, but me as a Mississippian. Which I have never been and hope never to be. So far, so good.

Even if I did really, really, really want to move to a state which proudly displayed the Confederate stars and bars on its flag. Even if Eudora Welty came back from the dead and invited me to live in her cool house in Jackson. Even if I had a powerful hankering for hushpuppies. Even if all these factors were in play, I could never, ever, ever live in a place that was sweltering hot and dripping humid six months out of the year. (Presumably, I’ll be dust in the wind by the time the weather in Massachusetts gets this bad.)

But if you happen to be a Mississippian by birth or desire, you probably already have a pretty good idea that, even if you’re comfortably ensconced in a Welty-esque home, which you never have to leave, there’s a shrimp-boat-full of misery in your state.

In fact, according to Bloomberg, Mississippi ranks Number 1 (or Number 50, depending on the way you look at it) on the Misery Index, with a ranking of 73.17 out of a possible 100.

Misery loves company, and Mississippi is surrounded by other states with heavy duty misery. Neighboring Louisiana is Number 2, neighboring Alabama is Number 3, and neighboring Arkansas is Number 5. South Carolina, which grabs the Number 4 spot, is not an abutter, but it’s not far afield.

These are, of course, poor states, so it’s no surprise they rank high in the items contained in the misery index: “air pollution, child poverty, infant mortality, poor health, premature death, violent crime, unemployment.”

Still, you can live pretty darned well in any of these places.

I’ve been to Charleston, S.C., which is almost Disney-esque in its pristine charm.

But, of course, most people don’t live in the old town section of Charleston.

On the other end of the misery continuum, Minnesota (at 20.12) is the least miserable of states. New Hampshire is right behind it, then North Dakota,  Vermont, and Massachusetts. Of the top 10 states, three were plains states, three were Midwest, and three were from New England.  Hawaii made it onto this list, which is no surprise, if you’ve ever stepped toe there. I’m sure it has its pockets of poverty, and I know they have to pay a lot for cars and appliances. Still, living in a place that’s perpetually and pleasantly balmy, plus has bougainvillea growing in abundance everywhere you look, has to put a smile on your face most days.

I know, I know.

Indices like this are pretty ridiculous. It’s not as if everyone in Mississippi drops out of high school and dies young. It’s not as if everyone in Minnesota has a PhD and lives to 100.

But even if you live in Mississippi, and have a PhD and an annuity table that forecasts a mega life span, it has to be pretty depressing (or enraging) to know that, on so many vectors, your state is doing just terribly. That everyone else in the country looks down at you. Even if you live in Louisiana, you can always tell yourself ‘at least I don’t live in Mississippi.’

Of course, there’s the opposite tendency in the low-misery states: we get to be smug and condescending because “we” have it better. At least the “we” who check the news on Bloomberg do.

In the early 1960’s, many Americans were shocked, or embarrassed, or galvanized into action, when they read The Other America by Michael Harrington and In the Midst of Plenty by Ben Bagdikian, which chronicled poverty in these United States.  Fifty years on, there’s still an other America ratcheting around in the midst of our plenty. (And, let’s face it, even in 2008, in the throes of the recession, we still had, in aggregate, plenty.) Maybe, relatively speaking, the Other America’s inhabitants are materially better off than they were back then. Maybe there are fewer people living in crude shot-gun shacks with wind whistling through the cracks in the wall. But is it an improvement to be living with your kids in a dumpy motel with no fridge, with your earthly possessions stuffed in garbage bags?

The poor they will always be with us. The miserable, too.

Hey, I’d rather live in a low-misery state than in a high-misery state. We do, on balance, have it better: richer, healthier, better educated… So I’m in a good place.

But a day doesn’t go by when I don’t pass someone panhandling, or sleeping on the streets.

Plenty of misery to go around, I’d say.

We don’t need an index to tell us that.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Seals smacked down

Today is the day we remember Peal Harbor, even if most of us have no first hand memory of it.

Thinking about Pearl Harbor – when over 2,000 American military men, most of them sailors, most of them little more than kids, none of who had enlisted when their country was at war, lost their lives -  also gets me thinking about the most recent Navy headlines, i.e., last month’s news that a group of Navy SEALs have been disciplined for giving away some “company secrets” when working on a video game:

The seven members of SEAL Team Six are all still on active duty. One of them was on the raid which killed Osama bin Laden and made SEAL Team Six a household name. For two days this spring and summer, they worked as paid consultants on a recently released video game, "Medal of Honor: Warfighter."

Four other members of the team who have since transferred out of the unit but are still on active duty are under investigation. (Source: CBS News)

Not that anyone in his or her right mind would actually slap a SEAL on the wrist, but this was more than just a metaphorical slap on that iron-hard wrist.  These SEALs  have been docked pay and have had letters of reprimand placed in their files, which pretty much puts the kibosh on promotions.

The game does not recreate the bin Laden raid, but it does portray realistic missions, such as an attack on a pirates' den in Somalia. It was produced by Electronic Arts, which boasts that real commandos, both active duty and retired, help make its games as realistic as possible.

It is unclear what secrets members of SEAL Team Six gave away, but while serving as consultants for the game, they used classified material which had been given to them by the Navy. They also violated the unwritten code that SEALs are silent warriors who shun the spotlight. (Source: CBS News)

Hmmmm. It seems to me that that particular “unwritten code” was written over a while back, like when one of the raiders couldn’t get his story out fast enough after the bin Laden kill.  (That fellow “may face legal action for violating a non-disclosure agreement he signed as a SEAL.”)And, hurray for Hollywood:

In February, movie audiences thrilled to Act of Valor, a big-budget Hollywood film starring actual Navy SEALs. Next month comes Zero Dark Thirty, a major recreation of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, directed by an Oscar winner. Both films carry the blessing of U.S. military leaders, who clearly aren’t shy about marketing their elite troops to curry public favor. (Source: Wired.)

Not that the SEALs shouldn’t have known better than to give away the classified goods, and that tell-all SEAL who couldn’t wait to cash in on his particular act of valor deserves a kick in the ass. (Not that anyone in his or her right mind would actually kick a SEAL in the ass.) But these guys do seem to be getting mixed semaphores from the top brass.

The upper Pentagonians love having films that glorify war and military personnel. Not all that much different in intent than the steady stream of B-grade movies that Hollywood spewed out during World War II, but definitely different in execution. No one today would sit through Purple Heart or your average gung-ho John Wayne schlocker. Today, moviegoers demand realistic action, and that we get in spades.  The upper Pentagonians also like the video games. Not only are they, like the movies, excellent recruitment vehicles, I take it that they also help train players in how to use some of the ultra-cool high-tech equipment that military personnel use today.

So, the other day it’s okay to make a movie, but the day after it’s not okay to be expert video game advisors?

I am not particularly wild about the current glorification of the military, the hoohah (oorah?) about warrior culture, which I believe is mostly there because of the trade-off we make in having an all-volunteer force: you get to risk your life on occasion, and, in return, we make believe that everyone who goes in the service is a hero. Which I do not believe for one New York Fort Bragg minute.

I do, however, believe that 99.99% of those who go in (however motivated by dead-end job prospects in the outside world) want to serve their country, and have a capacity for physical courage that is pretty much lacking in my repertoire of skills and attributes. (At least to date. Who knows? Maybe I’ll turn into a 60-something Wonder Woman).

But those who go into elite-of-the-elite groups like the SEALs do place themselves (voluntarily) in a very strong position to become actual heroes. I don’t know if all SEALs actually see hero-making action, but they do seem to have extraordinary bravery, immeasurable cool and calm, the ability to make quick decisions under tremendous pressure, unbelievable physical abilities, and the complete and utter willingness to risk their lives.

Were these guys – who, as has been pointed out, managed to keep their lips sealed before the bin Laden raid occurred – really giving away important information, or did they just get a bit too big for their wet suits? The SEALs I’ve seen interviewed do seem to be totally in love with themselves and plenty snotty about the rest of us.

Hey, what I know about the military is entirely second hand. It comes from bad war movies (anything starring John Wayne) to good war movies (Hurt Locker).  From books – memoirs, novels, journalistic accounts, which I’ve been reading pretty regularly since I picked up a mildewed, dog-eared copy of Guadalcanal Diary when I was 10 years old. And  from my father, where I learned that the military – and for my father, that was the Navy – could be capricious, arbitrary, and absurd.

If these SEALs truly gave away Top Secrets sure, go ahead, slap them on the wrist, kick them in the ass, bust them entirely. But if this is one of those times when the military is being a bit capricious, arbitrary, and absurd, then…

People willing and able to become SEALs don’t grow on the same trees that average recruit does. Do we really need to (delta) force these guys out?

Oh, well, at least they can have follow on careers a soldiers of fortune, personal high-end security operatives, or, I guess, video game designers.

Meanwhile, seventh day of each December, we remember, we remember. Don’t give up the ship.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

She’d not called Yoko Ono for nothing…

You say you want a revolution, well, you know. We all want to change the world.

And Yoko Ono wants change to start with a change of clothing, from normal, straightforward menswear like jeans, khakis, and Brook Brothers button-down shirts, to something else entirely.

What man wouldn’t want to swap out a pair of DockersYoko-Ono-Fashions-for-Men.jpg for those winter whites with the cagily placed hands. And that sheer pink, nipple-showing number? Toss out your Tom Brady #12 shirt. Immediately. With luck – and climate change – you’ll be able to wear this light weight – it’s mesh! -  fashion item year round.

All we are saying, is give piece a chance.

So thank you, Yoko.

Not seeing exactly what you want quite yet? There’s plenty more where this comes from, over on Opening Ceremony – the clothing line’s – site.

Whether you’re buying for yourself, or for that special man (lucky guy) in your life, don’t get suckered into wussing out and going normal-ish guy with the blue hoodie with the word DREAM printed on it. And don’t think you’re wussing out by and springing for the eerily regular-guy looking trousers that are only $250. If you’re not up for a big surprise, you’d best read the fine print that says “Cutout Trousers.” Keep looking until you get the full non-frontal view. Operative word here, that “Cutout.”

The clothing line was inspired by John Lennon’s “sexy bod.”

I was inspired to create 'Fashions for Men' amazed at how my man was looking so great. I felt it was a pity if we could not make clothes emphasizing his very sexy bod. So, I made this whole series with love for his hot bod and gave it to him as a wedding present. You can imagine how he went wild and fell in love with me even more. (Source: Racked, quoted in Huffington Post.

And you thought John was just the smart Beatle.

Talk about Please, Please Me.

I’m sure that there will be some folks who actually buy this stuff. But I’m thinking that it will probably not be the grownup edition of the average girl in madras, penny loafers, a flip do and bangs who screamed when the Fab Four shook their mop-tops on Ed Sullivan. Nah, they’ll continue shopping for the “boys” in the Dockers section.

Maybe there will be some Beatles fanatics and/or Yoko Ono groupies who throw a few things in their cart.

But mostly I’m thinking it will be the fetishist, S&M brigade. Or some hipsters who’ll think that the hands-on pants go with a fedora. Not that fetishists and hipsters shouldn’t have options beyond Dockers…

Still, this does seem to have elements of some sort of performance art joke. (I’m channeling Ricky Ricardo and Fred Mertz in the I Love Lucy episode where they create haute couture outfits for Lucy and Ethel. Haute couture made out of potato sacks and feed bags.)

And it’s really telling me a bit more about John and Yoko’s private life than I need to know. Enough that we had to see their Bed In. Now we have th_72993_032_fw12yoko-ono_1.jpgthis inspire, $400 item:

Transparent chest plaque with bells and leather neck strap | Writing reads, “RING FOR YOUR MOMMY”.

No need to ask who’s your daddy on this one, is there?

And I used to think that pants with the word PINK spanning the backside were in questionable taste…

Meanwhile, ecce Yoko, looking a bit latter-day Dr. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

We hope that you enjoy the show.

What else is there to add, other than that Yoko’s 79 and looks pretty darned good. And she’s not just alive, but kicking.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Pig(alle)-ing out: is this any way to treat a customer?

On Thanksgiving, a woman from New Hampshire ate at Pigalle, an upper-end French restaurant in Boston.

The pumpkin pie apparently left a bad taste in Sandy Tremblay’s mouth,where it lingered for several days before she decided to make a projectile comment on Pigalle’s Facebook page,

…angrily claim[ing] her pumpkin pie tasted like “vomit.” “Thanks for ruining my Thanksgiving!” she wrote. (Source: Boston Herald. (That’s right, The Herald.))

As anyone who dines out with any regularity is well aware, you can get served some pretty bad meals. Mostly, if you mention it, the restaurant will make good on it. Sometimes not. Still other times, they go all you-are-so-ignorant haughty on you.

Some of my standout recollections include:

  • A bottle of wine that tasted and smelled like formaldehyde.  The owner came out and very nicely explained that this “woody” (his word) flavor and odor were what this wine was all about. He then pleasantly suggested another bottle that he felt would be more in liking with our pedestrian tastes. It was. This restaurant was Italian, but chacun à son goût.
  • Shrimp that was well beyond its mulch-by day. This was on a Monday in a restaurant that was closed on Sunday, and they were obviously trying to palm off the last of the batch that they didn’t sell on Friday-Saturday. We had ordered this appetizer many times before, and knew what it was supposed to taste (an smell) like, so we weren’t having any of it. The waiter suggested that we order another appetizer, which we did. When he gave us the bill, he mentioned that the shrimp had been taken off. (Well, hello!) But we were sufficiently annoyed that a) they’d tried to get away with shrimp that was well beyond its use-by date to begin with, and b) that they didn’t give us the other appie for free, that we haven’t been back.
  • A legendary family meal taking my mother out for her birthday. When we got there, we were seated at a very small table. My brother-in-law mentioned that we had reserved a table for six. The maître d’ snottily told us this was a table for six. We had barely taken our cramped seats – truly, we almost had to sit sideways to fit, and we are hardly from The Land of the Giants – when we were told that someone else had  a reservation for this very table for 7:30 p.m., so we’d have to hurry it up. Even with the gulp-and-go, the food was passable. Except for my husband’s swordfish entrée – which I can still picture in my mind’s eye, maybe 20 years after the fact – grey, sloppy, soupy. By that point, we were all past caring, so we didn’t say anything, chalking it up to par for the main course. We were not surprised when this restaurant folded a few months later.

Anyway, the Pigalle patron should probably have complained then and there, rather than let the bad pie stew, and then spew her comment on FB. It would have been a better course to tell the restaurant in the moment, contact them (e-mail, phone) after the fact, or maybe even do a rant on Yelp, which would not have seemed quite so snarky as posting on their FB. But, hey, maybe the vomitous pie was just the icing on the cake for an overall dreadful experience.

Whatever Sandy Tremblay’s social media sins, what was truly over the top was chef/owner Marc Orfaly’s orfaly, orfaly angry reaction. Orfaly responded by calling Tremblay:

… “fat,” “uneducated” and “unintelligent” in a series of expletive-laced and misspelled rants.

The “series of bombs from Orfaly” included:

…“hey sandy ,(sic) go (expletive) your self(sic)!” he said, as well as: “you must enjoy vomit you (expletive) if you know how much it tastes like.”

…Orfaly later deleted his attacks, but they had already gone viral, sparking backlash from aghast patrons.

Orfaly has apologized, both publically and via phone call to Tremblay.

And now, sigh, they are Facebook friends. Tremblay is even “strongly” recommending trying Pigalle. (Too bad the pumpkin pie is no longer available…)

I dunno about taking her recommendation.

Pigalle is about a 10 minute walk from where I live.

I haven’t been there in years, but liked it well enough the few times I have eaten there.

But I don’t think I want to eat in a restaurant where an intemperate man, armed with a cleaver, might come storming out of the kitchen and call me fat and unintelligent if I told him that the wine smelled like formaldehyde.

Let the chef say whatever he wants when behind closed swinging doors, but this is no way to treat the clientele, in person or online, even if they do end up friending you later.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Twelve Days of Christmas? Who on earth’d want this much stuff?

Well, PNC’s annual Christmas price index is out, and the cost of one set of each of the fab gifts mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – maids a-milking, swans-a-swimming, geese-a-laying and all – will set your true love back $25,431.18, up 4.8% over 2011.

And if your true love decides to go full tilt, and buy the requisite number of gifts each day, so that you end up with twelve, count ‘em, twelve partridges in a pear tree, the full cost is $107,300.24, a jump of 6.1% over last year.

(More if you shop online, by the way, to the tune of $15K more for the low-end package.  The cost of shipping all those birds…So much for the glories of Cyber Monday vs. Black Friday.)

The big inflationary culprits?

Not surprisingly, with the world as we know if coming to an end because of the Mayan calendar and/or the election results, those gold rings have gone up in price, skyrocketing 16.3% over 2011.

Swans, up 11.1, and now costing a cool $1K per. Yes, they’re beautiful and all, but swans in real life are rather nasty. So I’d just as soon not have my own, thank you. If I want to take a gander at swans, I just have to cross the street to the Boston Public Garden, where I can see both real swans and swan boats.

Big year for fowl inflation, by the way: French hens are up 10%.

Pipers and drummers are up, too, by 5.5%. Good news for musicians, but not so good news for dancers. The cost of ladies dancing and lords a-leaping stayed flat. As did the unskilled labor provided by maids a-milking, who labor for the udderly pathetic minimum wage.

Someone out there may want to order up those leaping lords, but for the most part, no one would want any of this stuff. Other than those 5 gold rings, of course.

And if they’re puttin’ a ring on it, you’d definitely want the full largesse of eight days worth of five golden rings, for a total of 40.

But the question is, since I have neither the interest in nor the room for the full 12 days monty, what might I be hoping for if I were going to get a gifts for 12 days.

The first thing that came to mind for wanting 12 of was books, but now that I’m a library-phile, I don’t fell the need to be buying books all the time. So, I’d go for 12 CD’s.

Yes, I know, all music is digitized and played on an i-something (or which I at least have the minimum configuration: an iPod), but I still like to play my CD’s. (I see that Nancy Griffith has 2012 new CD. That’d be on the list.)

I’m always looking for pens, so how about 11 pens to usher in the new year? I’m not fussy, but it would be nice if they were one step above the 4-packs I get at Staples.

Those pens should be followed by 10 pads o’ paper. Then I’d slip 9 books in there. (Starting with Alice Munro’s new collection.)

Eight? Give me eight interesting sweaters. I haven’t really added much to my sweater set since I stopped working full time and could no long justify paying $400 for a really cool sweater that someone in Peru got paid $4 to knit for me. (And if you don’t think that any sweater on earth is worth that much, I will tell you that I have a number of sweaters that I’ve had for over twenty years. One of my all time favorites remains a fabulous one I got myself for my 40th birthday. My definite cold day go-to.)

While I’m on a clothing kick, how about seven pairs of interesting socks (in long). I have long enjoyed wearing patterned socks, but the one downside has always been that the big toes on my elongating foot – I’m now a 10 1/2 – poke a hole through socks after a few wearings. Then I discovered Cambridge Clogs. To hell with the clogs (which I don’t think come in narrows, the one narrow part of me being my feet). This store has an entirely awesome collection of socks – I am wearing a nifty blue-striped pair as I type – and many of them come in long. So what if they cost $20 a pair? As with the $400 sweater, if they last…

I used to like cool earrings, too. (Whatever happened to me, sitting her in my Macy’s studs?)   So six pairs of them.

I have never stopped being a scarf lady. Even if the dead of summer, I rarely go out of the house without a scarf if not on, then on hand, in case I need it for A/C.  I can always scarf down a new scarf.

Four decent suits might be overkill. Back in the day, when women had to don that particular apparel every day, I always had at least five. These days, I don’t have to dress up that often. But I am already getting sick of the black pants suit I got at Nordstrom’s last spring. A black or navy skirt suit might be good for a change. (Do I even remember how to put on panty hose?) A navy pants suit. Dark charcoal. Something else. Surprise me! Would plaid make me look like Professor Harold Hill?

Three something-or-others. This making a list thing is harder than it looks. I’m actually nibbling my cuticles over it. Eureka! I could use a manicure and pedicure right now, and I’m sure I’ll feel the same way at least twice more over the winter.

Two tablets sounds greedy, I know. But I really do need to get on the iPad bandwagon, as everybody I know seems to be sending me e-mail messages from them. But I’d also like to try a Windows Surface.

Really, the only thing I actually do want is an extra long trip to Paris. Although the trip won’t be extra long, we are scheduled for seven days in May, bracketed by a couple of days in Ireland. Kinehora!

So, here’s what I’d be getting on those twelve day of Christmas, if I were the getting kind (and if you are the sing-along kind, fell free to sing along):

Twelve CD’s playing
Eleven pens for writing
Ten pads of paper
Nine books worth reading
Eight funky sweaters
Seven pairs of cool socks
Six pairs of earrings
Five great new scarves
Four decent suits
Three mani-pedis
Two ta-ha-blets
And one extra long trip to Paree

That’s all I ask… (Oh, yeah, and no going over the fiscal cliff. And world peace. And all that good stuff.)

Monday, December 03, 2012

Out of sight…

Triangle Shirtwaist is – I was going to write “alive and well”, but neither word quite works here – still out there in different manifestations. It’s just that it’s no longer in NYC. It’s in Bangladesh, and a few weeks ago over 100 factory workers lost their lives there in a terrible fire. So that we could buy cheap t-shirts, polos, and fleeces at Wal-Mart.

I am by no means about to argue that we should restore our garment industry to the Pajama Game era. Thanks to Adam Smith I get that jobs are going to flow to places where they can get done the cheapest. The net-net is mixed-mixed.  The standard of living will rise (however marginally for most workers) in the cheap labor nations; American workers – especially those unwilling or unable to acquire new and more advanced skills – will see their jobs disappear and their wage-earning capacity diminished; and whoever’s still got the money to pay for them will be able to buy goods for less.

My problem with the great labor arbitrage scheme is two-fold.

One, the U.S. has done a woeful job in preparing our workers for (and protecting them on the downside from) the results of globalization.  We have a sporadic, ad hoc, piecemeal approach to retraining workers who’ve lost their jobs. (Are we afraid that we’ll become a Planned Economy, a Soviet-style world where shoe factories manufacture left shoes only, and where the tractor plant can’t figure out why square wheels don’t move very well?) Sure, some of the burden should fall on the workers – they’re the ones who directly benefit, so they should be clamoring for and clambering to retraining – but we don’t make it any easier for them in terms of providing support. Some states are, of course, better than other. (Guess which ones?) Unemployment insurance is more generous, programs more available, etc. But on the whole…

And certainly American businesses could do a better job with this.

No one thing was the final nail in the Romney campaign coffin, but if you saw the ad “Stage” you’ll recognize that it was one of the nails. (I don’t know if in this particular case, the jobs were off-shored or just disappeared, but you’ll get the point.)

Out of the blue one day, we were told to build a 30 foot stage. Gathered the guys, and we built that 30 foot stage, not knowing what it was for….Just days later, all three shifts were told to assemble in the warehouse… A group of people walked out on that stage and told us the plant is now closed and all of you are fired. I looked both ways. I looked at the crowd and ah, we all just lost our jobs. We don't have an income….Turns out that when we built that stage it was like building my own coffin, and it just made me sick. (Source: Daily Kos.)

Maybe this company thought they were retraining their workers for the construction industry…

Anyway, if our options are retraining workers (and investing in our infrastructure, while we’re at it) vs. letting the market play itself out and letting the U.S. turn into a binary economy in which most citizens live in Northern-clime favelas and the narrow band at the top live in gated communities (covered with geodesic domes because of the air quality), why does it seem that we’re opting for the latter? (Admittedly an extreme portrayal, but I look at it as a counter-balance to those who claim that we’re a few weeks away from turning into Greece II.)

Of course, in exchange, everyone in those favelas gets his or her own flat-screen TVs so they can watch Monday Night Football and Breaking Amish. (Who needs bread when they can have circus?)

My second problem with globalization is the blind eye we turn to working conditions in the countries where jobs get offshored to.

Oh, we can tell ourselves, it’s just growing pains. In terms of working conditions and worker safety, in terms of pollution, they’re where we were 100 years ago when Triangle burnt down. They’ll come around.

We can pressure our brands (think Nike) and our stores (think Wal-Mart) into not using slave labor and child labor, not wreaking environmental havoc, not allowing the goods they produce and sell to be made under harrowing conditions.

Or we can just ignore it, not even bothering to give thanks for the workers who lose life and limb so that we can buy crap cheaper.

Tazreen Fashions, the Bangladesh garment factory where all those people were killed, is, not surprisingly, bread-crumb connected to Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart does worry – at least on paper – about being seen as insensitive to working conditions in the factories it sources from. They engage an “ethical sourcing” assessor that goes around and rates the places where Wal-Mart goods are made:

In its 2012 Global Responsibility report, Wal-Mart said that "fire safety continues to be a key focus for brands and retailers sourcing from Bangladesh." Wal-Mart said it ceased working with 49 factories in Bangladesh in 2011 because of fire safety issues, and was working with its supplier factories to phase out production from buildings deemed high risk.

Tazreen was given a "high risk" safety rating after a May 16, 2011, audit…Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said online documents indicating an orange or "high risk" assessment after the May 2011 inspection and a yellow or "medium risk" report after an inspection in August 2011 appeared to pertain to the factory. The August 2011 letter said Wal-Mart would conduct another inspection within one year.

Gardner said it was not clear if that inspection had been conducted or whether the factory was still making products for Wal-Mart.

If a factory is rated "orange" three times in two years, Wal-Mart won't place any orders for one year. The May 2011 report was the first orange rating for the factory. (Source: USA Today.)

Three strikes seems might generous, doesn’t it? But, hey, there are low-cost polo shirts at stake.

Now Wal-Mart’s saying that Tazreen “

…was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for Wal-Mart, but that a supplier subcontracted work to it ‘‘in direct violation of our policies.’’  (Source: AP on

But, of course, the more subcontracting you do, the cleaner your hands are, and you’ve got all kinds of plausible deniability. (Shocked, I’m shocked…)

In much the same way, bottom-line chasers outsource all kinds of dirty work – like cleaning hotel rooms – to subcontractors who hire the poorest of the poor – often illegal – and pay them peanuts, give them terrible hours, etc.

Meanwhile, as the Tazreen fire details emerge, it sounds an awful lot like Triangle: locked exits, victims jumping to their deaths from high floors…

Just so we know that there’s a price we pay for having an infinite variety and amount of stuff to buy. We pay it in all sorts of ways, just not with our lives like those poor shirt-stitchers in Bangladesh.