Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Boxty Belt

Fun little memoir piece by Michael Malone in the NY Times the other day on the “Irish Alps,” the Irish-American version of the Borscht Belt: a Catskill getaway for the sons and daughters of Erin. Malone vacationed there with his family when he was a kid in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, by which point the Irish Alps was already a bit passed its prime.

According to Kevin Ferguson, who directed the 2016 documentary “The Irish Catskills: Dancing at the Crossroads,” there were once as many as 50 Irish themed inns, along with several bungalow communities sporting shamrocks on their shingles. Today there are a scattered few.

“I’d say 1955 to 1965 was the sweet spot,” Mr. Ferguson said. “Mobs of people would be walking down Route 145, going from place to place.”

They were the immigrants of the Bronx and Brooklyn, fleeing stifling tenements for the Catskills’ clean air, the traditional music, the dance, the camaraderie. “It was like a little Ireland without having to go to Ireland,” said John Connors, singer in the Irish Express, a band that has played the East Durham scene since the early 1980s.

The three A’s — air conditioning, airlines, assimilation — are said to have been the resort communities’ downfall. After that mid’ 60s heyday, many immigrants had departed the tenements, plane travel was no longer limited to the rich and the Irish became, well, America(Source: NY Times)

Most of what I know about the Borscht Belt came from Dirty Dancing. (“Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”) And, of course, from listening to all those Borscht Belt comedians tell bad jokes on Ed Sullivan for all those years. (Think Jackie Mason and Henny “Take my wife, please” Youngman.)

But the Irish Alps? Or, as I’ve decided to think of it, The Boxty Belt?(For boxty, think Irish latkes.) Never heard of it.

I was familiar with the Irish Riviera – shorthand: the Irish Riv – which is half the towns on the South Shore (i.e., seaside communities that are south of Boston). That’s our version of the Irish Riv. New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Indiana have their own. And there are plenty of towns on Cape Cod that are plenty Irish Riv-ish. (And, yes, The Dennis-es, I’m looking at you. Plus, at minimum, the street my cousin Barbara has her Pocasset cottage on.)

Growing up, we sometimes vacationed on the Cape, in Bass River (part of South Yarmouth). “Vacationed.” That sounds sort of swell, doesn’t it? What we did was rent the small Cape ranch of my parents’ friends Mae and Nemo for two weeks. You could walk to the beach, and to shops, including an Irish gift store, where – pious little prig that I was – I once bought some rosary beads. They were of surpassing ugliness: weirdly shaped brown beads – were they pebbles? -  that looked like badly decayed teeth. A normal pious prig of a child would have gotten rosary beads made of green glass. And/or had a Celtic cross. But, no, I wanted something that looked like my grandmother’s teeth.

I don’t know whether that gift store still exists, but South Yarmouth is now home to the Cape Cod Irish Village, which is a hotel cum pub and restaurant, and features regular Irish-y entertainment. So it sounds a little like what’s still on offer in the Irish Alps, albeit to lesser extent than in those halcyon days before air conditioning, airlines, and assimilation. 

I grew up in a predominantly Irish Catholic enclave. Our parish church and school were staffed by Irish American priests and nuns. It was difficult to escape a sense of Irish consciousness. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. We listened to the Jimmy Dooley “Irish Hour” on the radio. It was pretty clear that being Irish was superior to any other option.

But there was never a sense of “Worcester Irish” in the same way as there was and is a sense of “Boston Irish”. Somewhere way back in the day, I read that the Worcester Irish were never as insular and us-vs.-them as the Boston edition. I can’t remember the exact reasons for this, but I think it had something to do less of a contentious relationship between the immigrant Irish and the incumbent Yankees. Was it because the Irish who came to Worcester weren’t poor, bedraggled famine Irish, but came  - like my great-grandparents, who immigrated in the 1870’s – in the next wave? They were by no means wealthy, but they had more than a pot to piss in. My sister Trish has Bridget Trainor’s trunk, which is actually quite pretty.

In any case, by the time if got down to my generation, we may not have had air conditioning. We may never have flown on a plane. But, by god, we were assimilated. No one joined the AOH (Ancient Order of Hibernians.) I was aware of Irish step dancing because I saw all those Boston Irish girls stepping on Community Auditions, Boston’s answer to the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. No one I knew took Irish step dancing. The kids I knew who took dance took tap. And no one I knew deliberately went on an Irish-themed vacation. If you went to the Cape, or to Hampton Beach (which were basically the only places anyone went unless, like us, they didn’t trek every other year to Chicago to visit family), you were likely surrounded by Irish Americans. But that was the by product, not the main event.

Still, it was fun to read about the Irish Alps.

Who knew?

And a tip of the scally cap to my brother-in-law, Rick, who went to camp, and later worked as a busboy/waiter, in the Borscht Belt. (Nobody puts Rick in the corner.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

“Bypassing the brand system”? It’s just so damned opaque out there.

The only thing that’s got to be worse than being an adult who has to carry around an EpiPen in case of a food allergy emergency, is having a child who might have a food allergy emergency. Hard to imagine ever wanting to let your allergic kid out of your sight.

Most instances of death from anaphylaxis aren’t from food reactions. They’re from medicines. But there are plenty of ER-related visits made in the US each year due to an adverse reaction to some sort of food; 200,000 of them, in fact. The estimate is that, annually, there are only 200 deaths from food allergy. But that’s a statistical “only.” Not much comfort in a statistical only if one of those 200 deaths is your kid. (Data Source: Allergic Child)

I don’t recall ever hearing about severe food allergies when I was growing up. And it’s not just my imagination. Food allergies have increased over the past several decade. They haven’t yet put their finger on why, but more processed food, environmental changes, overuse of antibiotics are on most lists of suspects. (Round up the usual…)

That said, I have known folks who’ve had severe food reactions, in one case to shellfish, in another to anything with citric acid in it.

Many years ago, we were out to dinner with friends – one with an allergy to shellfish. The restaurant swore that there was nothing shell-fishy about the fish dish our friend ordered, but it turned out that it had been poached in some kind of shrimp-based broth. Fortunately, our friend’s wife was a nurse, and fortunately she had something – were there even EpiPen’s in the 1980’s – that could undo the reaction. But it could have been ugly.

And today, of course, I know folks whose kids have the dreaded peanut allergy.

All those peanut and other allergies translates into a big demand for EpiPens. And big demand does have a way of translating itself into higher prices, even if there are no shortages. And especially if there’s a third party footing all or part of the bill for those Epi kits.

I’m using the word EpiPen as the generic expression for a needle loaded with epinephrine. It’s the most well-known brand out there. The EpiPen people have cornered the school nurse’s office market. They do all that advertising. Doctors routinely prescribe it by name. And, overall, its owners have made it the Kleenex of the allergy response world. But the recent story is, of course, about the trademarked EpiPen® from Mylan. Which has been scooting prices up since they acquired the product in 2007. Back in that day, a two-pack retailed for $100; these days, it goes for a bit over $600. And since they have a shelf-life of 12-18 months, you can’t just buy a pack and forget it.

Anyway, since insurance has mostly covered the cost, regular, quite gouge-y price hikes were easy to sneak by the parents: they weren’t paying. But now with higher deductibles, more folks are noticing. So there’s been a big hue and outcry over Mylan’s behavior. Cue the pitchforks, especially when it came to light the Mylan CEO’s compensation had chugged right along, increasing from $2.4 million to $19 million since 2007. (She wasn’t the CEO in 2007, but that’s beside the point, given all those pitchforks…)

Mylan’s response to their recent bad press was to rush out with a generic version that will be identical to EpiPen®, brand identify and packaging aside.

We can expect the usual reaction from those being prescribed the generic. Many will welcome it, as it’s the same only cheaper and less glitzily packaged. Others will accept no substitutes. (I read somewhere, years ago, that the little purple pill called Nexium did such a bang-up job advertising, that many patients balked at using a generic version, believing that only Nexium had the purpleness that made it effective.)

Here’s how Heather Bresch, Mylan’s CEO, framed the announcement of the plain brown wrapper version of her company’s money maker:

Because of the complexity and opaqueness of today’s branded pharmaceutical supply chain, and the increased shifting of costs to patients as a result of high deductible health plans, we determined that bypassing the brand system in this case and offering an additional alternative was the best option. (Source: Mylan)

While this was in the press release, under “Heather Bresch commented”, we do know that she never actually said this. Nobody in the history of human speech would ever make this comment. Even by press release gobbledygook standards, this one is gobbledygook-y. Pretty darned opaque, if you ask me.

Having recently written a white paper for one of my clients on how their product makes the pharmaceutical supply chain a better place, I do understand that it’s complex. But is it really all that opaque? In announcing a plan to bypass the brand system, isn’t Myllan really just saying that there will be fewer nodes along the chain with their hands out, grabbing their piece?

And, of course, there’s opaque and then there’s opaque.

In bypassing the brand system, Mylan is “able” to cut the price of the EpiPen® in half. But, given rebates, they stand to make pretty much the same profit per pack. So it really won’t matter, one way or the other, whether consumers accept the generic or insist on the “real” version. You know. The Kleenex, the Nexium one that does all the advertising, and gives all those samples out to doctors.

And we wonder why prescription drugs in the US cost so much.

I’m all for making a profit. I’m all for drug companies investing in R&D. But this whole situation seems ridiculous.

Maybe all the light being shed on Mylan will make the opaqueness of today’s branded pharmaceutical supply chain a bit more transparent. Would that it can do the same for opaque press releases…

Monday, August 29, 2016

Crime shoppers. (Yet another reason ya gotta love Walmart)

When I began reading the article on crime at Walmart, the first thing that came to mind was the term ‘going postal.’

I mean, didn’t someone finally figure out that the reason there were so many workplace murders involving postal workers was because there are so many postal workers?

So I was thinking, of course there’s more crime at Walmart. Therere are more stores, more shoppers, more everything at Wallies. It would stand to reason, then, that there are more crimes associated with the vast emporium of our nightmares. (Mine at least.)

But not so fast.

Turns out the that the situation is more like Walmart’s being able to get away with crappy pay and benefits by letting the taxpayers pick up the difference between what a worker can eke out there vs. what they need to live on. (For the record, I’m all in favor of helping the “working poor” make up the difference between what they make and what they need. But there does seem to be something wrong when Walmart hauls in billions in profits on the backs of the poor – and the poor taxpayer.) Why pay for security when the local PD’s will handle it for you?

Here’s the story:

In Tulsa, there’s an officer who operates out of the security office at one of the city’s Walmarts. Over the past five years, the police van – I guess we can no longer say paddy wagon – has made over 5,000 trips to the store to pick up shoplifters, as well as for more serous crimes: “including five armed robberies so far this year, a murder suspect who killed himself with a gunshot to the head in the parking lot last year, and, in 2014, a group of men who got into a parking lot shootout that killed one and seriously injured two others.” (Source: Bloomberg)

The demands placed on Tulsa PD by four Walmarts resulted in more than six times the calls from Walmart than from the city’s four Targets.

And it’s not just Tulsa:

More than 200 violent crimes, including attempted kidnappings and multiple stabbings, shootings, and murders, have occurred at the nation’s 4,500 Walmarts this year, or about one a day, according to an analysis of media reports.

Then there was the meth lab that cops found in a Walmart parking lot drainage pipe in upstate New York…

It’s pretty clear cops should be jumping in when it there are shootouts in its parking lots, people getting stabbed and kidnapped. And when meth labs are open for business, well, if that lab blows, Attention Shoppers. That said, stores do have a legal obligation to protect shoppers from crimes that the store might reasonable have known could happen.

But some of these crimes are occurring due to Walmart negligence. And tying up police forces to handle shoplifters on the recurring basis it seems to be recurring on? Not that I have any reason to know this personally, but didn’t store security just take shoplifters aside and scare the crap out of them? (Which reminds me of a story that we were told in grammar school by one of our more imaginative nuns. Some kids must have been picked up shoplifting gimcrack at the local Woolworth’s. Anyway, Sister Saint Whatever, having told us that our record would follow us throughout our lives, let us know that in Woolworth’s, there were “midgets with cameras in baby buggies” shooting pictures of shoplifters. So we were bound to get caught. Plus, we were also warned about ‘shoplifting in uniform’, which would cause scandal, because Protestants would see us shoplifting and judge the entire Holy Roman Catholic Church on our behavior. I actually didn’t know anyone who ever stole from Woolworth’s, or Zayre’s, the other cheesy store in our neighborhood mall, Webster Square Plaza. But the nuns were all over it.)

Back to our friends at Walmart:

There’s nothing inevitable about the level of crime at Walmart. It’s the direct, if unintended, result of corporate policy. Beginning as far back as 2000, when former CEO Lee Scott took over, an aggressive cost-cutting crusade led many stores to deteriorate. The famed greeters were removed, taking away a deterrent to theft at the porous entrances and exits. Self-checkout scanners replaced many cashiers. Walmart added stores faster than it hired employees. The company has one worker for every 524 square feet of retail space, a 19 percent increase in space per employee from a decade ago.

In terms of profit, all this has worked: Sales per employee in the U.S. have grown 23 percent in the past decade, to $236,804. For criminals, however, the cutbacks were like sending out a message that no one at Walmart cared, no one was watching, and no one was likely to catch you.

And it’s not making local police departments very happy.

They like the way they do things at Target a lot better.

Sure, Targets tend to be in wealthier neighborhoods. And,

Unlike most Walmarts, they’re not open 24 hours a day. Nor do they allow people to camp overnight in their parking lots, as Walmarts do. Like Walmart, Target relies heavily on video surveillance, but it employs sophisticated software that can alert the store security office when shoppers spend too much time in front of merchandise or linger for long periods outside after closing time. The biggest difference, police say, is simply that Targets have more staff visible in stores.

Ditto for shopping centers, which also have less crime.

Walmart is supposedly becoming more security conscious, but maybe not so aggressively, given that it could mean loss in profit.

Why am I not surprised?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Happy 100th, National Park Service

If not for clicking on yesterday’s Google Doodle – something I rarely do – I never would have known that August 25th marked the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

I’ve been to a number of the National Parks, mostly in 1972 when my friend Joyce and I drove cross country, camping along the way.

I remember the National Parks as grand and glorious. We drove through Wind Cave, where the buffalo were roaming. We drove through Black Hills, and gawked at the stone faces on Mount Rushmore.

Ah, Mount Rushmore. Goofy, yet so magnificent. George Washington. Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln. Theodore Roosevelt.

How does TR get to keep company with those greats?

Ah, well. Teddy Roosevelt might have been a jingoistic nutter. And I’d rather see his cousin Franklin D’s visage on Mount Rushmore. But he was one hell of a conservationist. And while it was Woodrow Wilson who founded the National Park Service to oversee our national parks, monuments, historic sites, etc., Teddy Roosevelt played a major role in raising our collective national consciousness about the environment, and during his administration, established a number of new national parks.

We camped (and had a flat tire) in Yellowstone, and camped (with no flat) in Grand Teton. When we were in Yellowstone, did we see Old Faithful? If we did, I don’t remember it. What I do remember was that, on the outskirts, we passed a motel called The Flamingo. Or The Palms. Or something that seemed – neon sign and all – spectacularly ridiculous in that setting. I guess the names like Mighty Pine, Grizzly Cub, and Old Faithful were taken. What I also remember was the breathtaking beauty of those western parks. And that, Grand Teton became one of my two favorite national parks.

We breezed through Crater Lake, and Redwoods, and camped at Yosemite and Sequoia. I suppose we saw El Capitan. Mostly I’m thinking about the road signs that posted a speed limit of 5 MPH. They don’t call them hairpin turns for nothing.

At Yosemite, we spent one night ‘camping’ in the confines of our Karman Ghia. After spending some time visiting with the folks at the next camp site – okay, we were sharing a joint – we came back to our spot only to find two bear cubs playing in the well of our tent. We didn’t wait for mama bear to come back and fetch them. We hopped in the car and spent a fitful night trying to get a bit of shut-eye.

In Arizona, we buzzed the Petrified Forest which disappointed me. Somehow, I had imagined that the trees in the forest would be full standing, not the logs and stumps that make it up.

We did not hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but did (sort of) peer over the ledge.

It was cold and rainy when we camped in Rocky Mountain.

We spent a night at Hot Springs but, even though a ranger encouraged us to take the waters, we didn’t.

I think that our last national park was Shenandoah which ties with Grand Teton as my favorite. Just beautiful. Although scary. We were the only tent in a large site (it was late September, mid-week), and a ranger came by to warn us about bears. We knew all the precautions to take: no food on the ground, don’t sleep in the clothing you cooked in, don’t use scented hand cream. Still, Joyce and I were a bit nervous. We didn’t want another repeat of our night at Yosemite.

Then, in the middle of the night, we were both awoken by the sound of an animal sniffing around our tent. This was it. We reached out to each other across the space that separated our sleeping bags, and held hands while we tried to remember if we ever knew what to do when a bear is sniffing your tent. Scream? Play dead? Bang a pan? Oh, the pans were well away: washed up and stowed in the car.

Just as we thought we might be breathing our last, the clouds parted and, in the bright moonlight, we saw that what was sniffing around our tent was a skunk.We weren’t quite sure whether it would be better to be mauled by a bear or sprayed by a skunk.

I’ve been to a few other national parks since then. A couple in Arizona. Catoctin, where Camp David is, and where I spent a week winter camping a million years ago. (We were in an very rough, uninsultated cabin, and we did have a fireplace, but, boy, was that cold.)

When I worked for Wang, I went out to Tacoma, Washington, with a colleague to meet with a client to spec out a project. The schedule had been set up by a business development guy, without our input, and he planned for three days. We were done in one day.

Because it was going to cost a few hundred bucks to change our plane tickets, Wang wouldn’t approve our coming back. This was in the days before laptops and the Internet, so there wasn’t a lot of work we could get done. So we decided to go up to Mount Rainier National Park and spend the night. We did, in a rustic hotel at the base of the mountain. We couldn’t do much hiking in our business clothing. Even my travel outfit didn’t quite work: a pair of silk slacks and some Cole Haan loafers. But we did have a very nice meal at a nearby restaurant: just-caught trout, and blackberry pie made with just-picked blackberry. Yum. Best business trip ever…

I haven’t been to Acadia in Maine, which is the only – I think – national park in New England. We have a whole bunch of national historic sites, and I’ve been to plenty of them. Boston is one big national historic site, and there are plenty of national park rangers floating around.

So since it was the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, I went to one of those national historic sites: the Museum of African American History, Boston. It’s just up the street, and I’ve been planning on stopping in for years.

They had a wonderful exhibit of photographs of Frederick Douglass, who was the most photographed American of the 19th century. (Now you know.)Talk about fascinating. The most interesting picture wasn’t a solo portrait, but a crowd picture of Abraham Lincoln giving his second inaugural address. In the crowd: both Douglass and John Wilkes Booth.

A National Park Service ranger gave us a tour of the African Meeting House, which is part of the Museum. It’s the “oldest black church edifice still standing in the United States.” Frederick Douglass spoke there many times, as did abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

Maybe not as magnificently scenic as our magnificently scenic national parks, but magnificent nonetheless.

Happy 100th to the National Park Service. May you have many more years of preserving our amazing physical, historic, and cultural heritage.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grave robbing. (Let sleeping dog tags lie.)

I remember a few years ago, reading – and blogging – about auction houses that subspecialize in Nazi paraphernalia. I can’t remember the details, and I’m too lazy to look them up, but there was some Goering-related stuff: teaspoons, ashtrays, coasters. Crap like that.

Goering memorabilia is apparently a real catch. In June, his silk underwear fetched $3.4K at auction. No comparison with his boss, however. A jacket worn by Hitler went for over $300K. (All part of a major purchase made by an anonymous bidder from Argentina. Is Josef Mengele still alive, or was that Paraguay?) (Source: Newsweek)

I can’t imagine who’d want any of this ghastly stuff, but there’s no accounting for warped taste and infinite pocketbook.

It’s not just objects associated with über Nazis that are drawing interest. Some collectors are after relics of plain old rank and file German soldiers from WWII. Which has gotten some enterprising Latvians to dig up gravesites looking for something worth selling.

Around 100,000 German soldiers were killed in Latvia in the waning days of the war. When it comes to long-dead soldiers, Talis Esmits is a good guy. He and a group of comrades see to about 700 reburials each year, helping landowners properly dispose of remains they find in their backyards and fields, working without compensation out of the goodness – or sheer weirdness – of their hearts.

“In Latvia, it is normal for you to have dead soldiers on your yard,” Esmits said. “When people came back to their homes after the war, they saw there was a dead soldier here and a dead soldier there, and they just buried them.” (Source: Bloomberg)

But while Esmit and his guys are going about their morbid, yet well-intended, tasks, there are others at work, and they’re looking to make a buck off the remains of the day.

…in recent years, the often illicit market in Nazi memorabilia has intensified, creating a new class of diggers across eastern Europe that is at odds with Esmits’s work. Of particular interest are relics—items dug up from the ground. “When we first started, the market for relics was a local one—you couldn’t even call it a market,” Esmits said. “Then the internet appeared, and Europe and the world opened up, and many things changed.”

As they say, the Internet changed everything.

And one thing that it’s changed is the market for low-end German leave behinds: dogtags, medals, uniforms, helmets.

This stuff doesn’t demand a ton, but they’re not making any more, say, Wehrmacht helmets, which today demand almost four times what they did just three years ago.

So the scavengers today compete with Esmits to grab up those helmets. And dog tags. Regular soldier dog tags go for $60. Creepily, SS tags can bring in several hundred bucks. When Esmits finds dog tags, he sends the information on them to a German group that focuses on reburials and “closure” for families. Some of the commercial grave robbers also give over the info, but others aren’t so concerned with the niceties. They want the cash.

All of this is making not just those whose have loved ones whose bones are being dug up, and their belt buckles pillaged, upset. It also makes war historians nuts, too.

Even though they were part of the Nazi war machine, I have some sympathy for the families of those dead soldiers. Most of them were probably not ardent, rotten to the core Nazis, but just plain grunts.

I also have some sympathy for poor Latvians trying to scratch out a living selling German dog tags and helmets. But

But what a grim and disgusting way to make a living. Why not just let those sleeping dog tags lie.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How to stay rich in Europe? Too late for that…

Like any good red-blooded American with visions of fleeing to Europe, based on an at least remotely possible election outcome, I was intrigued by a Bloomberg headline that read: How to Stay Rich in Europe: Inherit Money for 700 Years.

The article was about how a larger proportion of European billionaires – remember when millionaire was a big deal? – got their money the old fashioned way: they inherited it. In the US, “only” 29 percent of our billionaires are scionics. In Italy, the figure is 37 percent. In Germany, an astounding 65 percent.

The richest Florentine families today were already at the top of the socioeconomic ladder almost 600 years ago, according to a recent study by the Bank of Italy. And research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that in many European countries, not only wealth and income but even occupations tend to be “sticky,” passed on from generation to generation.

Six-hundred years? Or is it the seven hundred years of the title? What’s a century, I guess, if you’ve got all that money, not to mention your “sticky” occupation behind you?

Six-hundred years back, I’ll venture to say that both my German and Irish antecedents were peasant farmers. This is a pretty safe bet, given that what they were leaving when they came in the 1870’s (the Irish) and the 1920’s (the Germans) were peasant farms.

So I’m just as happy that those occupations didn’t stick.

I’ve only been to one antecedent town, Ballintubber (officially Ballintober) in County Mayo, where my great-grandmother Margaret Joyce hailed from. I saw the restored, 13th century Cistercian Abbey (quite lovely), and a graveyard full of Joyces, but I don’t recall the town. Ballintubber (officially Ballintober), County Mayo, is not to be confused, by the way, with Ballintober (officially Ballintober), County Roscommon, which is where my great-grandfather John Rogers came from. He met Margaret Joyce in Amerikay, and the rest is history.

The other Irish side, the Trainors, were from Ballymascanlon, County Louth. My cousin Barbara breezed through years ago. It’s one of those “blink you’re out” villages, but they do have a hotel, and it’s on my bucket list.

My more recently arriving family, the Wolfs of Neue Banat - a German settlement in the Austro-Hungarian empire that, after WWI, became part of Romania, hit our shores in the 1920’s – came through Ellis Island with all those other tired, poor, and huddled masses. I can only imagine what this little outpost looks like today (Neue Banat, not Ellis Island; I know what that outpost looks like), between WWII and all those decades under the Ceaușescu fun fest. I don’t imagine I’ll ever get there. (Romania is not on anyone’s bucket list, unless they’re a Dracula fan.) But my Aunt Mary did get there as a kid, when my Grandmother Wolf made a reverse pilgrimage to see her family in 1937, before all hell broke loose. In keeping with family dynamics, my mother – the oldest child, the drudge – had to stay home and tend to my grandfather. Grandma took Mary and my Uncle Jack.

Thanks to my cousin Ellen’s salvaging some family pictures of that excursion, I do know what Neue Banat looked like in the 1930’s. You can find them on her wonderful blog post, European Vacation: 1937, on her wonderful blog, Hello, Lamppost.

No billionaires there, I can tell you that.

Anyway, back to the Bloomberg Euro-billionaire story, the piece highlights two fellows, Lamberto Frescobaldi, of the wine- (and money-) making Frescobaldis of Florrence, and Count Alexander Fugger-Babenhausen of Germany.

I guess another part of being rich is not just the money, it’s the names. Jacob Wolf. Magdalena Folker. Mary Trainor. Charles Rogers. My grandparents. Not a Lamberto or Fugger-Babenhausen in the bunch.

Although I will say that, if my German family had been wealthy, I’d like to think that they would have been Fuggers. In the fifteen-hundreds, the ur uber-rich Fugger, Jacob, founded the Fuggerei, and affordable housing complex in Augsburg, Germany.

The Fuggerei’s 140 apartments have survived innumerable wars and partial destruction during World War II. While they have been renovated, they still follow the original floor plans and feature some unique Renaissance decor, such as a lever-activated door-opening mechanism that in the past let tenants allow visitors in without leaving the apartment’s only heated room.

Count Fugger-Babenhausen still keeps the Fuggerei up. Good for him.

Sometimes it pays to be rich, in more ways than one.

Meanwhile – and alas – it’s too late for me to become a rich European. Should have thought of that six (or is it seven?) hundred years back.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


I’m a big greeting card person.

Christmas. St. Patrick’s Day. Birthdays. Baby. Get Well. Sympathy. Thanksgiving. Easter. Halloween. Valentine’s Day.

Other than at Christmas, these aren’t mass mailings. But I do send out a lot of cards. Sometimes I send an e-card, but mostly I send something physical – personal note, signature, address, stamp and all.

And I like getting cards back. It’s nice when my birthday rolls around, and Christmas, and there’s something in the mail besides a bill or a tin cut letter from some outfit that I don’t actually owe anything to asking for money. Since so many of my bills are sent and paid electronically, I don’t even get that many bills these days. At least bills are somewhat personal… Not so the letters asking for donations, even if they have some kind of fake “Dear Maureen” in them, or are addressed using a faux penmanship font.

So I was interested in a recent article on Slate, by June Thomas, that clued me in on Postable. June checked Postable out when she got a birthday card that was a bit “off”. Sure, it was personal – she knew the sender, and he wasn’t asking for money – but what was up with the handwriting. So she followed the URL on the return address.

Over at Postable, I learned that the site bills itself as “snail mail heaven.” It notes that postal mail seems special and surprising these days precisely because “it’s a pain in the ass to send.” We’re all familiar with that particular PITA. In the case of a friend’s birthday, you have to remember the date, acquire a card, find the time to compose a message—if I’ve spent money on a card, I generally want to write more than “Happy birthday”—dig up an appropriate stamp, and take it out to the mailbox. Postable claims it was “created to alleviate that ass pain. We make sending seriously stylish snail mail as easy as sending an email. You type it and we handle all the annoying stuff. We print, stuff, stamp, address and mail all of your cards directly to everyone for you.” (Source: Slate)

I followed June’s trail over to see for myself, and I have to admit that most of the card designs are pretty good. They didn’t make the egregious “Happy St. Patty’s Day” error. (It’s St. Paddy’s Day, yez amadan, yez.) But there were some under the Sympathy section that were a tad bit questionable. Would you send someone a sympathy card that had a picture of a sheep on it, and the words “Thinking of ewe”? Or one that read “Ugh! This sucks.” Not me. (It does remind me of a group card signed by the office mates and sent to someone in my sister’s office who’d just lost her husband. One of Trish’s colleagues – apparently unfamiliar with normal expressions of sympathy – wrote “Bummer!” and then signed his name.)

For whatever reason, I send a fair number of sympathy cards. (What do I mean “for whatever reason”. I know exactly what the reason is. I’m getting to the age when the few people I know who still have parents are losing them, Greeting cardand when my friends are starting to lose their spouses, sibs, and friends.) Lately, I’ve mostly been sending the same card, which has the words of James Joyce on the cover: “They lived and laughed and loved and left.” Given that a lot of my friends and family members have a bit o’ the Irish in them, the Joyce quote makes sense. And I like the fact that the quote well may be the only words in Finnegan’s Wake that actually make sense.

Anyway, the Postable cards are also reasonably priced – especially when compared to what cards cost at the pricey card stores that I tend to drift into. (I do save on Christmas cards, however, in that I buy them for the next year on the day after Christmas, for half price. And I definitely try to avoid the cards that require extra postage. Recently, I did make a poor card choice when I bought a b-day card for my niece Caroline that I didn’t notice had a black envelope and black paper on the inside. Alas, I did not have any silver ink. Since I gave her the card in person, however, I was able to narrate what I’d written in invisible black ink on it.)

While the Postable cards look nice, and the price is right, I think I’ll keep with my practice of sending real physical cards, personally signed, personally addressed, personally stamped by me. In my personal, not so great, Palmer Penmanship handwriting. I like sending them, and I like receiving them. Sure, it may be a PITA to take care of all this, but I’ll take a page from my 91 year old Aunt Mary. Mary has a booklet where she has written down all the birthdays she observes, by month. Each month, she buys cards for the birthdays-of-the-month. My niece Caroline was a recent recipient. We were all thrilled, and getting my birthday card from Mary is an annual highlight. Nothing from Postable will ever do quite the same trick.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Retiring Minds Want to Know

As I drift into my Golden Years, visions of fully and intentionally retiring are starting to dance in my head. Most likely, I will “retire in place.” After all, Boston has been my home for most of my life, I have a beautiful condo in a great neighborhood, my front yard has the Swan Boats in it, I can run most of my errands by walking around the corner, and I can get to most anyplace worth getting to on my own two feet, including Fenway Park, the Gardner Museum, and my internist, eye doctor, dentist and Mass General Hospital.

Yes, Boston is colossally expensive. And, yes, as the climate continues to change and the oceans continue to rise, my ‘hood will be under water at some point. With luck, I will have sold my condo and moved to higher ground by the time that happens. But I haven’t given a ton of thought to where that higher ground might be.

Kiddingly (or not so kiddingly), I have occasionally mentioned that my home town of Worcester might be a fine place to retire.

Yes, almost all of the family I still have there are of the six-feet-deep variety. And you pretty much do need a car to get around. Not to mention that, in terms of weather, Worcester – although a scant 50 miles down the ‘pike from Boston - has the world’s worst weather. But housing-wise, you can get a lot more for a lot less than in Boston. There’s a decent hospital. Good restaurants. An excellent museum and other culture-vulture-y things to do, thanks in large part to all the colleges that are there. And it’s on the train to Boston. Why, there’s even a stop for Fenway Park.

You could do worse than retire to the Heart of the Commonwealth.

Alas, according to an outfit called WalletHub, the only way you could do worse than Worcester, Massachusetts (ranked 149), in terms of retirement, would be Providence, Rhode Island (150).

Providence? Huh?

As any Providence-watcher can tell you, this is one city that has really turned itself around over the years, going from what was pretty much a dump in the early 1970’s to the vibrant and interesting place it is today. I got to watch Providence change via second-hand up close and personal, as my great and good friend Marie moved there in 1977, settling up on The Hill, near Brown, where she and her husband had both gone. So I’ve been a regular visitor over the years. Like Worcester, Providence is a city I can actually see myself retiring to.

Unlike any of WalletHub’s Top Five: Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Scottsdale, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota? I get the affordability part, but, gee, how did Sioux Falls get to be ranked #1 for health care?

And I’m guessing that I should take back what I just said about Worcester’s weather. It may be Massachusetts’ worst, but it’s probably not any worse than what you experience in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

WalletHub, of course, used its own methodology to decide where it’s best to retire, some no doubt arbitrary combo of proxies (“key metrics”) for affordability, activities, quality of life, and health care.

Boston ranked a lowly 92 in the rankings, after “achieving” – make that underachieving – the same score as Chattanooga and Lubbock. Those scores, I suspect, is the only answer to the question “What do Boston, Massachusetts, and Lubbock, Texas have in common?”

My husband had always talked about retiring to New York City. Apparently, at position 88, a slightly better bet than Boston.

Meanwhile, I’m staying put.

(Lubbock, Texas…Hah!)


Where this was spotted: Huff Po.

Who did the spotting: my cousin Ellen, who grew up in Chicago (43), one step ahead of Jackson, Mississippi. Thanks, Ellen!

Ur Source: WalletHub

Friday, August 19, 2016

Division of Labor

Last week, the fire alarm went off in our building

The firefighters came and checked it out, but they can’t turn off the blaring alarm, which is skull splitting. It’s okay for someone “authorized” to turn the alarm off once the firefighters have given the “all clear.” That someone used to be my husband, but I never bothered to watch how he did it. It pretty much goes without saying that no one else who lives in this building has a clue, so I had to figure it out. Now I know.

On Sunday night, around 10:30, when I was taking the recycle out, I smelled gas coming from the laundry room. That’s the only place where there’s anything fueled by gas – the water heater and the communal dryer – and I thought that maybe the pilot had gone out in either one of these appliances. That wasn’t the case. Since paying the gas bill is the responsibility of the condo association’s management company, so I didn’t even know what our gas company is. I took a chance that it was Eversource, which provides my electricity, and called their gas leak number. They put me through to National Grid, and within a half hour, two National Gridders were here to figure out what was going on. What was going on was a gas pipe coupler, located in the recently-vacated apartment of an elderly man who died last month at the age of 99, wasn’t really coupling. I got the National Grid repair guys into Jack’s vacated apartment and hung with them for a couple of hours while they made the fix. What I wanted to do was go to bed, which is what I probably would have done if Jim were still alive. Dealing with emergencies like the gas leak were his thing, not mine.

Earlier this week, I got the plane tickets for Venice for me and my sister Trish. (We’re heading there this fall.) Given that Trish has a full time job, a kid, and a dog, I put my hand up to do the trip planning. It’s not a big deal to make plane reservations, yet I kept putting it off. Jim used to do all the trip planning. I’ve been on plenty of trips since Jim died a couple of years back – Ireland, NYC (three times), Chicago (twice), Scotland, Dallas, Tucson (twice). But for some reason, I’m not that wild about taking care of the details. Jim was really good at it, and I do believe he actually enjoyed it.

Like most couples, Jim and I had, over the years, worked out a division of labor.

Jim dealt with the repairmen. He planned the trips. He worried about retirement. He turned off the fire alarm. He was vice president in charge of television. He made the restaurant reservations. He took the trash out.

I was vice president of information technology. I dealt with painters. I remembered birthdays. I got the pictures framed. I bought the sheets and towels. I did the laundry. I took care of the recycling.

I suppose that, other than my being the vice president of information technology, our roles were more or less gender driven, but we never sat down and figured out who was going to do what. It just happened over time.

Most of what I miss about my husband is not that there’s no one other than me-myself-and-I to see to the little “stuff” Jim took care of.

I miss the hanging out. I miss the laughs. I miss having someone here when I come home. I miss taking the trips that Jim so meticulously planned.

But I do have to admit that, however wonderful it is to be completely self-sufficient and independent, it’s kind of a drag to have to take care of all of life’s little stuff. Plus, when I find myself having to deal with the National Grid guys, it’s just another reminder – as if I need one – that Jim’s gone.

Not that I sit around boo-hooing about it. It’s just that it really does make me sad when something comes up that was on Jim’s side of our division of labor.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bucks for the Bang

Two gun-related stories caught my eye when I was blog-idea grazing last weekend. The first was on the nerves of some University of Texas professors that are on edge, now that that concealed carry on campus has gone into effect in their state. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to be in a workplace where people were packing, even if the guns were out of sight/out of mind. One professor in an article I read said that discussions in her classroom sometimes became heated, and that she did have people sign up for her class just so they could attack her ideas. She’s understandably afraid. But there’s a long way between attacking ideas and attacking the professor. And if someone’s going to use a gun when a classroom bull session gets going, they’re probably not going to bother with the niceties of whether carrying a gun on campus is allowed or not. But we’ll see.

Maybe there’ll be some instance where a kid who never would have put his Smith and Wesson in his backpack if it were against his school’s code of conduct will start doing it now that it’s okay. And maybe if the debate really becomes charged he’ll decide to do more than just shoot his mouth off. Could happen.

For me, though, I’m a lot more nervous around open carry. When I’ve been in open carry states, I really get queasy when I see someone with a gun holstered to their hip. It just seems like such an aggressive, f-you thing to do. I am never going to be comfortable in any place of commerce where anyone other than the security guard is armed.

The other story that I picked up on was on the fact that the Olympian shooters aren’t feeling much love from sponsors outside of the gun industry.

The first medal that the US won in the RIo Olympics was a bronze in skeet shooting, won by Kim Rhode, who has medaled in six straight Olympics. The first woman to do so.

But Rhode’s agent can’t get any of the big time sponsors – like Coke and P&G – to back her.

Coca-Cola Co. didn’t respond to a request for comment, and Procter & Gamble Co.’s spokesperson Damon Jones said in an e-mail the company receives hundreds of sponsorship requests so it must be selective. Rhode and other shooters on Team USA think the reason they’re passed over is obvious. The rise in gun violence and mass shootings in the US have attached a stigma to shooting as a sport, they say. So while companies like Winchester, Beretta and Otis Technology support Rhode, she doesn’t have a single sponsor from outside the firearm industry.

The same is true for USA Shooting, even though the sport has since 2000 been the fifth-highest medal producer for the US team at Summer Olympics. The very first gold medal for any sport awarded in Rio went to 19-year-old Ginny Thrasher, competing in her Olympics debut. (Source: Bloomberg)

Skeet shooting and the other firearms related events aren’t exactly considered prime for the American Olympics-watching audience. Not that I pay such close attention to the Olympics, but I hadn’t even realized that they were Olympic sports. For some reason, they don’t actually seem like sports to me. But I suppose most things related to non-sexual physical activity that’s done for pleasure and/or entertainment is considered a sport.

Thus, I’d like to propose that jacks or jump rope – the only sports, by my lax definition, I’ve been any good at – should be included in the Olympics.

Lack of interest on the part of the TV audience is one reason why the P&G’s and Cokes – who tend to glom onto the athletes in the Olympic sports we do watch: swimming, gymnastics, track – don’t sign the shooters up. The other, of course, is the negative associations that Americans understandably have with guns.

The balance beam,the butterfly, and the javelin just don/t seem to get implicated in mass murders and other crimes in the same way that guns do.

Still, I don’t really associate skeet shooting with violence, either. It seems like a pretty goofy yet harmless thing that a certain class of folks take to. When they’re not watching their cousins in dressage competitions.

Anyway, the Olympic shooters just don’t get too much financial love. Which is too bad, given that they can’t exactly perform their sports with Saturday night specials or zip guns.

Competition-level firearms price between $8,000-20,000. Between ammunition, clay pigeons and range fees, a day of training can run as high as $450. “It really adds up,’’ said Vincent Hancock, one of Rhode’s teammates. “I’ve only found two sports that are more expensive -- anything to do with a horse, and car racing.’’

Because of the contribution that the shooting team makes to the US medal totals, the US Olympic Committee does fund the sport. But it doesn’t cover all the costs, and the team and its members are looking for more bucks for their bang.

I’m no big fan of guns, but even I can recognize that shooting for sport is benign and probably fun. This is “good” shooting, and, given that these athletes are representing the country (and winning plenty of medals) it’s too bad that they’re not given a shot by the advertisers. I can understand that major consumer product firms don’t want any association with gun nuts, all those accidents in which the two year old shoots his mother, cop killings,innocent civilian killings, gang murders, assassinations, mass murders, and all sorts of other madnesses that our gun-besotted culture is so understandably known for. But skeet shooting? Come on. They shoot at clay pigeons.

Good luck getting sponsors next time, guys. Maybe winning a lot of medals will give you the ammunition you need to break through.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Jaws of Life

My Grandmother Rogers died the month before she would have turned 97. Her family, the Trainors, were the most long-lived branch of my family. Nanny’s brother Pat lived well into his 90’s, and her sister Roseanne made it to 98.

On my mother’s side, my Aunt Mary’s making a longevity run of her own. Mary is 91, still completely sound of mind, still rooting for her beloved Cubbies to win it all.

I pretty much have the same long-life wish as most folks: as long as your health is reasonable, your brain still working. As long as there are still family and friends to hang with. For me, it’s also as long as there are books to read, ice cream to eat, and baseball games to watch. As long as the country hasn’t gone to the dogs of fascism. As long as life is still good, living into great old age – my nineties – sounds fine.

And, beyond, I guess.

But not forever.

I really don’t get those folks who want to swig the elixir of eternity. The world is already on its way to an unsustainable population of folks who want to drive cars, eat steak, and sit around in their air conditioned homes watching TV. We don’t really need a bunch of folks who refuse to die and leave room for someone new. At some point, don’t we all have the obligation to say ‘stop the world, I want to get off’?

So far, there is fortunately no magical formula for eternity on earth, but I’m sure those ‘hell, no, we won’t go’ Boomers who can’t stand the thought of dying will keep looking. (Forget ‘don’t trust anyone over thirty.’ It’ll be ‘don’t trust anyone under a hundred and thirty.’)

I’m sure they’ll be trying to dissect just how Greenland sharks – the longest-lived animal with a backbone -  manage to make it to great old age.

Using a novel dating technique, an international team of biologists and physicists estimated the age of 28 dead female Greenland sharks based on tissue in their eyes. Eight of the sharks were probably 200 years or older and two likely date back more than three centuries, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. (Source: Boston Globe)

The geezeriest of the geezer sharks, which was caught four years ago, is estimated to have been 392 years of age when she took the bait. That’s 392 plus or minus 120 years, which means she may have been born in 1500.

Leonardo daVinci and Michelangelo were painting. The Portuguese were “discovering” Brazil. And William Shakespeare was not yet a twinkle in his father’s eye. In fact, William Shakespeare’s father was not yet a twinkle in his father’s eye.

That’s a long time to hang on.

But not as long as some invertebrates.

An ocean quahog, a clam, lived 507 years and two different types of sponges are said to survive for 15,000 and 1,500 years.

That must have been one tough quahog when it was diced up and thrown in the processor at the Snow’s chowder factory.

And there are pine trees that made it through 5,000 years on earth. Must not get bored easily.

Anyway, I’m sure there are some ‘I wanna live forever’ folks who’ll be looking to fund shark research in hopes of grabbing that brass ring of longevity. Maybe the answer will be more shark fin soup. Maybe it’ll be wearing sharkskin suits. Or spending lots of time in the water, aimlessly moving to and fro. Maybe it will require eating raw seal. Or taking an occasional bite out of the leg of a swimmer. All I know is I’m not hoping to be a beneficiary of this type of Jaws of Life. Live forever? Ask me when I’m 99, but for now the answer is ‘no thanks.’

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Plain brown wrapper

When I was a kid, if you saw an empty Lucky Strike cigarette pack on the sidewalk, you stepped on it, and hit (not hard, but a hit-hit, not a tap) the nearest kid to you in the arm, while hollering “Lucky Strike.” This, of course, attests to a few things about the 1950’s and 1960’s:

People littered. The streets weren’t full of garbage, but people routinely tossed gum wrappers, cigarette packs, soda empties, banana peels, and all sorts of other stuff wherever they were standing when they were done with it. There’s a funny scene in an early Mad Men episode in which Don, Betty and the kids are on a picnic. When they’re done eating, they shake out their picnic blanket on the grass, and leave all their trash behind.

We weren’t a littering family – the only thing we could throw out the car window was an apple core, so “the birds can get it” – but you did see people throw all sorts of trash out of their cars while tootling down the highway. Of course, back then, people didn’t have as much stuff, everything wasn’t over-packaged, and there wasn’t much by way of fast food, so it wasn’t as if we were walking and driving around in landfill. Still, roadsides and sidewalks were far more littered back then than they are today – and this is coming from someone who routinely picks up trash from the sidewalk in front of her house, and from the paths through the Boston Common. That’s thank to the ‘don’t be a litterbug movement,” which aimed to “Keep America Beautiful,” by telling people that “Every Litter Bit Hurts.” All of a sudden, littering was something that just wasn’t done.

Kids hit each other. Even when they weren’t fighting, it’s my sense that kids used to hit, shove, push, trip, kick, and otherwise whack away at each other far more than they do today. I’m not talking mean kids. I’m not talking bullies. I’m talking physical contact of the routine kind, when play was a lot less regulated, children’s activities were a lot less observed and mediated, and life for kids was a lot more rough and tumble. There was one game when you took a kid by the arm and swung them around a couple of times, and then let go. Whatever awkward position they landed in, they were supposed to maintain or they were out. In another game, you hopped on one foot with your arms crossed and tried to knock another kid – also hopping on one foot with arms crossed – on their keister. Dodge Ball. Red Rover. Making a “whip” when you were skating. These weren’t blood sports. Until they were. And is there a Baby Boomer who at one point or another didn’t go whining to a parent to complain about being hit by another kid who wasn’t told “Well, go hit him back.” I’m not advocating for violence here, or Lord of the Flies, but you did get toughened up. And knowing that the other kid might spot that Lucky Strike packet first and whack you, did keep you on the alert.

People smoked. Other than having one lunatic brother who refuses to kick the filthy habit, I don’t know many/any people who smoke. This was not always the case. Growing up – pre-Surgeon General’s Report – almost all men and a lot of women smoked. Before switching to Marlboro’s, my father smoked Luckies, and a Christmas gift might be a beanbag ashtray or, if a couple of us chipped in, a carton of smokes. My mother didn’t smoke, but some of her friends did. And some of my friends’ mothers smoked. Two of those mothers died of lung cancer, by the way. Teenagers hung around on street corners, smoking.

When we visited the glamorous teen mother, Bee, who lived in a three decker in our neighborhood, and let us hang out with her, we always hoped that her gas station attendant husband George would come in while we were there – handsome George with his slick DA, and his packet of cigarettes rolled up on his shoulder, in the sleeve of his white tee shirt.

Fast forward into the 1970’s, and I was an episodic smoker. Mostly when I was a waitress. We smoked so that we could take cigarette breaks. So that if the head waitress or manager came looking for you, you could tell them, “Just let me finish my f’ing cigarette.”

I smoked Salems, in the green and white package. Menthols. “Take a puff, it’s springtime.” I switched to Virginia Slims. A cigarette aimed at women. Mostly white packet. “You’ve come a long way, baby.” But who needed a “girl’s cigarette”?

So I started smoking Marlboros. Red and white packs. Women were getting liberated. Marlboros, with the Marlboro man, were kind of butch. “You get a lot to like with a Marlboro.”

My final stop was Mores – skinny brown cigarettes in a green packet. I have no recall of any tagline. I smoked them because a friend of mine did.

All told, I maybe purchased thirty or forty packs of cigarettes in the course of my life time. I never smoked enough to become brand loyal. But I do remember what those cigarette packs looked like.

And now some countries are trying to enforce plain packaging of cigarettes, so that they’re less attractive to consumers – especially younger ones. Togo is one such country, but Philip Morris is going after them for it, threatening that masking cigarette brands in a plain brown wrapper would be unwise.

It would risk “violating the Togolese constitution”, the firm’s subsidiary explained, “providing tobacco manufacturers the right to significant compensation.” It then outlined how plain packaging would violate binding global and regional agreements. (Source: The Economist)

That violating the constitution thing sounds like an NRA-style argument, but Big Tobacco has sued Uruguay for warnings on packaging that Philip Morris claims violated a trade agreement. Big Tobacco is appealing to the World Trade Organization, griping that not being able to use their trademarks is “an appropriation of intellectual property.”

LSMFT – Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco” -  as “intellectual property”? Never thought of it that way, but if you say so…

Australia has been the most radical in terms of their push for non-brand appealing packaging:

…banishing iconic trademarks from tobacco packs. Its law mandates that brand names—such as Marlboro, Winfield or Dunhill—appear iyn grey type against a background of Pantone 448C, a putrid green deemed the world’s ugliest colour by a market-research

It’s actually more of a putrid brown color, but the point it made.

Other countries – including France, Ireland, and Canada have initiated plain packaging as well.

Big Tobacco, of course, would rather fight than switch. Given the rulings against TV advertising, and the mandates for warnings on packages:

…plain packaging clamps down on one of their last bits of advertising. The design of the box is where they must convey not only the name of the brand but abstract qualities, such as masculinity or the idea that a product is “premium”, and worth an extra outlay. If such traits are stripped from packs, consumers may choose cheaper brands. That is particularly worrisome in emerging markets…where standard packs would threaten the aspirational appeal of smoking.

The article suggests that the plain packaging movement is unlikely to impact the US, given the strength of the First Amendment. But you never know. The US did manage to kick cigarette ads off of television, after all.

It won’t impact me one way or the other. Probably not my smokin’ brother, either. But I will say I would be less inclined to pick up any product packaged in guck brown, with gray printing on it. And when the product is as rotten and dangerous as cigarettes, that’s a good thing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

IP Address Nightmare.(Out of your MaxMind)

MaxMind is a local (Waltham) tech company that provides IP intelligence. Through MaxMind data, which maps an IP address to a true or, failing that, approximate physical address, its customers can:

…locate their Internet visitors and show them relevant content and ads, perform analytics, enforce digital rights, and efficiently route Internet traffic. (Source: MaxMind)

So if I’m caught searching for, say, odd-flavored Oreos – there’s now a limited edition version with Swedish Fish filling, which is where even I draw the line – a store selling them near my zip code could pop an ad up (which I would ignore, of course), letting me know that I could get my fill there. (This example won’t happen because Swedish Fish Oreos are available only at Kroger’s, and we don’t have Kroger’s. I will note that the company’s founder, Barney Kroger, used as his mantra: “Be particular. Never sell anything you would not want yourself.” That may have worked in 1883, when there were a lot fewer items to be had in any grocery store. Can you imagine any grocery chain sticking to that nowadays? How many people are there who’d want Swedish Fish Oreos for themselves?)

There is, of course, no privacy these days. Which is sometimes a good thing, as it helps catch kiddie porn consumers and other bad guys, but is often a bad thing, as when you’re a completely innocent browser getting bull’s-eye targeted with “relevant content and ads.”

But data mining and targeting are all the rager these days, so I suspect that MaxMind’s business is doing well.

The company’s technology is not without its problems, however. And one of those problems was what to do with the 600 million IP addresses – the string of numbers associated with every device you own that connects to the Internet – that they couldn’t get a pinpoint physical address for. All MaxMind knew was that those addresses were in the US.

So why not pick a coordinate that’s more or less the dead center of the continental United States. Plunk those IP addresses in the middle of Kansas. Flyover-ville. Cornfields.

Unfortunately, MaxMind neglected to ask themselves the Kansas question “Is there anybody there? Anybody at all?”

Turns out that there is someone out there. Why, it’s James and Theresa Arnold, who rent a farmhouse near Potwin, Kansas, population 449. And those 600 IP addresses are mapped to their front yard.

Which would probably be fine with the Arnolds – who cares, they’re barely Internet users themselves -  if there weren’t some disturbing byproducts to the mapping.

Officers would show up, accusing them of harboring runaway children. Of keeping girls in the house to make pornographic films. Ambulances appeared, prepared to save suicidal persons. FBI agents, federal marshals and IRS collectors have all appeared on their doorstep. So have angry Internet users, who claimed they were ripped off by the Arnolds. (Source: Boston Globe)

All of this has been a shock to the Arnolds’ system. So they’re suing MaxMind “for turning their pastoral home into a digital age horror story.” They’ asking for $75K in ‘‘compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000,’’ ‘‘plus their costs.

Having checked out MaxMind, I can say that they look like a good little company. Even factoring in my favorable bias towards local tech companies that are doing something completely nerdly, they look like a good little company. (Factoring out my negative bias towards anything that contributes to the death spiral of any privacy whatsoever. Of course, MaxMind didn’t invent the IP address, and, of course, something’s got to tell the Internet where you are. Still, I really despise all this targeted marketing stuff. Leave me alone! Which, come to think of it, they – as in the “theys” that do target marketing – are probably already doing, given the geezerly demograhic I’m in.)

Anyway, they look like a good little company. Every job they have advertised pays $100K-plus (that’s engineering for you). They plunk half of their profits into do-gooding. They’re management team all look so brainy, earnest, interesting, smart…

So even if it does cut into the share of the profits that can go to do-gooding, they should probably settle with the Arnolds.

Meanwhile, those 600 million orphan IP addresses, with no place to call home, have been relo’d to a lake west of Wichita.

Still Kansas, but no longer the Arnolds’ front yard.

Good luck to those searching for miscreants. And lucky those who’ll be able to dodge precision marketing.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Toying around

I invented a toy once – a bread basket with a couple of ball bearings in it, covered with a piece of that filmy plastic that dry cleaners use. You shook it and it made noise. I suppose I could have called it the Bread Basket Rattle, but the toy was never named, let alone monetized. I was ten. I invented it to amuse my baby sister. And it apparently inspired her. When she was about 3 or 4, she came up with a toy invention of her own: stick a pencil through an empty spool of thread and roll it around. Watch it go!

My sibs and I were toy innovators in other ways as well.

Back in the day, Texaco offered an annual series of (boy) toys that were available around Christmas to patrons for cheap or free. There was a Texaco delivery truck, and a motorized Texaco oil tanker that we tested on the waters of Hendy’s pond, which was just down the street from our house.

We were a Texaco family, and my father was a regular at Walter Marchessault’s station at the corner of Varnum and Main. I remember Mr. Marchessault quite vividly. This was the day when folks who worked in gas stations dressed for work, and Mr. Marchessault was always snappily decked out in a uniform (including hat) quite similar to what Ike wore when he addressed the troops the day before the Normandy invasion. I guess you might say that Walter Marchessault was Supreme Allied Commander of his gas station.

But I digress…

One year, the Texaco toy was a gas station.

Unfortunately, and unlike the other Texaco toys, it was a flimsy piece of junk.

My father complained and was given a second one. Also a flimsy piece of junk.

The plastic station and gas pumps just didn’t stay put.

But the base of the station. Now that was something entirely different.

It was rectangular piece of metal, maybe 18 x 24, coated with an incredibly slick grey paint. It made an excellent snow toy – faster than any sled, toboggan, or flying saucer in the ‘hood. And we had two of them.

Anyway, now that I’ve established my bona fides as a toy developer, you’ll understand my interest in a recent Bloomberg article on toy inventors.

Inventors like Ellie Shapiro who, in 2012:

… invented a new kind of toy: little animal figurines with snow globes in their bellies. Shapiro called them Wishables, and she loved them, which meant something. Before her nearly two decades as a toy inventor, the 53-year-old had spent 10 years as an executive at toy-industry titans Mattel Inc. and Walt Disney Co. and worked on such major brands as Barbie and Disney Princess. (Source: Bloomberg)

Let’s not get too deeply into the merits of animal figurines with snow globes in their bellies. Let’s just say that it’s no Bread Basket Rattle. It’s not even a spool with a pencil stuck in it. But someone who worked on Barbie and Disney Princess clearly knows something about what appeals to kids.

One of the toymakers Shapiro pitched the concept to was Hasbro, which asked her to work up some concepts for embedding snow globes in brands like My Little Pony. The pitch went well – she was even asked to send samples in – but Hasbro ended up taking a pass.

Shapiro says she continued trying to find a home for Wishables until the fall of 2014, when she walked into her local Target store in Eagle Rock, Calif., and saw a new toy on the shelf. It was a little animal figurine that doubled as a snow globe. It had been made by Hasbro.

While toy companies have inside people working on new toys, they also rely on freelance inventors for ideas. The freelance inventors rely on the toymakers for their manufacturing and marketing chops.

Yet allegations of stealing are rampant to the point of routine. Many inventors largely chalk it up as an unavoidable part of the job: Either accept that some of your ideas are going to be lifted, or pursue another career, says Louise White, who’s been inventing toys for more than 15 years. Companies have borrowed from her submissions too many times to count. But there have been at least five instances when she was blatantly ripped off. The most egregious came when she says a manufacturer, whom she declined to identify, didn’t even bother changing the name of the bath toy idea it stole. When she complained, the company said it would get its lawyers involved. She balked. Legal action is risky because it can get an inventor branded sue-happy and dry up opportunities, plus few have the money to fund a suit, she says.

“They know you are the little guy and know you won’t waste the time and money bringing a lawsuit,” said White, who lives in Long Branch, N.J. “It makes you angry, but after a while you just shrug your shoulders.”

Is this any way to run an industry? Apparently so…

Anyway, Shapiro sued – using a real lawyer, not Lawyer Barbie, by the way – and the case is coming to trial this fall.

Hasbro claims that their in-house inventors were already at work on the embedded snow globe concept.

See you in court.

Meanwhile, the toy industry is dealing with tough times. Kids play with mobile devices, not toys. (If only they had the opportunity to get their hands on a Bread Basket Rattle.) And a good proportion of the toys that are available license “intellectual property” – think Star Wars and Frozen – so the toymakers have to fork over a lot of money for use of IP. There’s also the pressures from mega-buyers like Walmart and Amazon to keep prices down, while wages in rock-bottom manufacturing countries have been going up.This puts the squeeze on what toymakers are willing to pay their inventors – if they’re willing to pay them anything at all.

Best of luck to Ms. Shapiro. As a fellow toy inventor, she has my sympathies and support.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Restaurants going to the dogs?

A couple of times, when we were dog sitting, my husband I were able to eat out at Salem restaurants with our beloved dog nephew Jack. These were both outdoor situations, late lunch so not that crowded. Jack lolled under the table, and we gave him an occasional treat. I think the restaurant provided our boy with water.

We always wanted to get Jack over to Yappier Hour – cocktail hour for pups -  at Boston’s Liberty Hotel,. Alas, we never made it. Probably for the best. While Jim and I would have loved it, Jack really isn’t much of a city boy. With his easy going personality and ability to make both inter- and intra-species connections, Jack probably would not have minded the social hour. But he would have hated the walk over. Only five minutes, but along a busy street and with a chaotic intersection.

Apparently, doggy dining is not all that much of an anomaly. Or so I learned from an article I saw on Bloomberg.

Posh spots in London, New York, and California are inviting our four legged friends to come on in. And we’re not talking about service dogs, or “comfort animals” with their phony paperwork.We’re talking about plain old doggy dogs. (Of course, whether their papers are in order or not, the truth is that pretty much all dogs are comfort animals, at least IMHO.)

This spring, New York City's health department issued new rules allowing dogs in outdoor areas of restaurants. After California passed a similar law two years ago, restaurants there have been putting out water bowls, leash stands and other doggie amenities, the California Restaurant Association said.

"It's very gratifying when people say they can go out for dinner more often because we welcome dogs," said Jeremy King, co-owner of several hit London restaurants that open their doors to dogs, including brasserie Bellanger, Colbert and the American Bar at the Beaumont.(Source: Bloomberg)

While the US is coming around, dogs are supposedly more generally welcome in Europe than in the US. The FDA, in fact, recommends keeping all but service dogs out of the dining room. But if Europe is so much dog-friendlier, I don’t recall ever seeing dogs eating out in Europe.

Not that I would have minded (mostly).

Anyway, if you’re worried about hygiene, don’t be:

The fears around health and safety are overblown, said Dr. Lisa Ackerley, a professorial fellow at the Royal Society for Public Health and food-safety adviser to the British Hospitality Association.

"It's a myth," she said. "If they are not in the kitchen, they can't contaminate food that is being prepared, and in a dining room they are no more of a risk than humans."

"People are unhygienic," Ackerley said. "How many sit down and start handling food without even washing their hands? If we are worried about hygiene, we should worry about ourselves."

Whether dogs or people are more or less hygienic, I make no bones about the fact that I’m a dog lover.

Still, I’m not quite sure I’d be happy if, all of a sudden, all restaurants were dog-friendly. Maybe just some of them.

After all, dogs do represent a tripping hazard. And there’s no denying that, especially among older dogs, flatulence can be a bit of a problema. Not to mention that, while dogs are in general wonderful and marvelous, some small dogs are yappers. And if I were going out for a really fancy meal, I wouldn’t necessarily want mutts underfoot. On the other hand, I’ve been to plenty of places where people let their free-range kids run around, squawking and squalling, and generally making life unpleasant for all the diners who aren’t related to them. So if I had to pick one or the other, I might come down on the side of pooches. I have yet to see a dog throwing a tantrum.

In any case, I will be on the lookout for dog-friendly places. I’m dog sitting for Jack in a couple of weeks. Maybe I’ll take him out to lunch one day.

Meanwhile, it’s not just dogs that are getting their day:

There's a waiting list for tables at Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, which bills itself as London’s first Cat Cafe.

Cats sneakily slinking around, rubbing up against my ankles. That happened to me once at McSorley’s Ale House in NYC. I let out a tiny bit of a shriek. Considering the decrepitude of the surroundings, I thought it was a rat. Cats in restaurant? That’s where I draw a line in the kitty litter.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Vegan Mayo Gate!

There’s a famous story about Ty Cobb that claims that, when he was starting out as a ball player, Cobb sent a series of telegrams to famed sportswriter Grantland Rice anonymously touting the prowess of one Ty Cobb. Cobb would probably have high-spiked his way into the pros anyway, but why leave anything to chance. 

There are companies devoted to getting your book on the New York Times best seller list, which might set you back over $200K. That’s a lot to pay for bragging rights but, hey, if you really need to promote “brand you”…

And speaking of brand you/brand me, there’s John Barron, a.k.a., Donald Trump, calling reporters to tout what a stud The Donald is.

You have to spend money to make money, right? (Unless you’re Trump.)

So we shouldn’t be all that surprised to learn that in 2014, vegan food startup Hampton Creek, hired a whole bunch of people to send their Just Mayo flying off the shelves.

In addition to buying up hundreds of jars of the product across the U.S., contractors were told to call store managers pretending they were customers and ask about Just Mayo. Strong demand for a product typically prompts retailers to order more and stock it in additional stores. (Source: Bloomberg)

Vegans cheating? Tsk, tsk. Is it just me or does this run counter the holier than thou, ethically attuned aura that so many vegans give off? (At least my vegan niece Caroline assures us that, while she’s vegan, she’s not an “ethical vegan”, and, thus, doesn’t judge the rest of us. She just prefers a vegan diet.)

Hampton Creek had a pretty important reason to rev up sales and make their product appear to be the vegan “it” mayo: they were in a funding round in which they were trying to convince investors to pony up $90M.

Hampton Creek claims that they were primarily doing the bulk buying for quality assurance, a claim countered by the contractors themselves, who say that they were told they could use or toss the mayo they bought and were reimbursed for. It’s also countered by what’s actually in the Hampton Creek QA database. And by the normal QA practices in the food industry. Some quality assurance.

And that QA effort is not mentioned in the emails to the contractors talking up the project.

“We need you in Safeway buying Just Mayo and our new flavored mayos,” Caroline Love, Hampton Creek’s then director of corporate partnership, wrote in an April 2014 e-mail to contract workers known as Creekers. “And we’re going to pay you for this exciting new project! Below is the list of stores that have been assigned to you.” Love’s memo also referenced a key competitor: “The most important next step with Safeway is huge sales out of the gate. This will ensure we stay on the shelf to put an end to Hellmann’s factory-farmed egg mayo, and spread the word to customers that Just Mayo is their new preferred brand. :)”

There’s plenty wrong with this, starting with hoodwinking potential investors into over-valuing your company. I’m sure plenty of investors wouldn’t mind seeing this sort of behavior after the fact if it a) were disclosed, and b) eventually translated into real sales. If… But I’m also sure that investors value transparency. I’d be a tad pissed if I’d invested in Hampton Creek.

Because even if you did an initial buying burst to get grocery chains to buy more, what was going to happen if the product just languishes on the shelf gathering dust? (Wait. Is dust allowed to gather on vegan foods? Doesn’t dust have stuff like mites in it?)

In addition to the mayonnaise buying spree, contractors were asked to pretend they were consumers and call grocery stores demanding that they stock Hampton Creek products. (C.f., Ty Cobb.)

The e-mails also directed contractors to conceal their identities and fib if questioned on the calls. “Remember, you are calling as a customer,” says an e-mail addressed to a contractor and signed by Myers, whose title now is Ingredient Sourcer. “The conversation should go something like this: Hi, I’m doing some catering and I’m looking to pick up this new mayonnaise. I think it’s called Just Mayo ...” In another script, contractors were told to say, "Hi! I’m hoping you can help me out. I’m planning a Back to School event and I’m looking to pick up this new mayonnaise. I think it’s called Just Mayo ...”

“I think it’s called Just Mayo.” Good one.

From what I read, Just Mayo is supposed to be pretty good – comparable to Hellman’s. But, hey, all those pro Just Mayo comments may have been paid trolls. (In the articles I looked at, many of the comments also noted that, whatever Hampton Creek was or wasn’t doing with its fake sales, it was nothing in comparison to what goes on in the evil egg industry.)

Admittedly, while I could quite comfortably become a vegetarian – and probably would become one if I gave more thought to the food industrial complex - I could never be a vegan. No milk products – no ice cream, no yogurt, no cheese. No eggs, thus eliminating all those baked goods. No honey for my tea, as honey, I guess, exploits bees.

Anyway, Hampton Creek is trying to close yet another funding round. Bet those investors will be looking a bit more closely at Just Mayo sales…

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

You ought to be in movies

Growing up, my family was into still pictures – sort of – not movies.

My mother had a black and white Kodak Brownie, and at some point in the late 1950’s my father decided to be an early adopter of the Polaroid. Cameras were used to chronicle holidays – Christmas and Easter (oddly, never Thanksgiving), special events (First Communion), and other family gatherings. I suppose they would have chronicled vacations if we’d ever gone any place really exciting. But vacation meant one of three things: Chicago to visit family, the Cape or day trips. The only vacation pictures I recall seeing are family pictures taken at my Chicago grandmother’s house on Sand Lake (which, in truth, should have been called Muck Pond), which was about 50 miles or so outside of Chicago, or – on the occasion of my cousin Michael’s christening – in the Dineens’ back yard.

When my father got that PoIaroid – which, by the way, unlike the Brownie, never went on a road trip – many of the pictures taken were us sitting around the living room or the family room doing nothing. Thus there is a picture taken by my mother of my sitting with my father on the LR couch. I’ve got my hair done up in spoolies, with a nifty little night cap to hold the spoolies in place.

But vacation pictures? We didn’t really do things on vacation, so why make a big deal out of it by taking a lot of pictures. When we went to famous places, i.e., downtown Chicago, we bought postcards. Who in the world would have thought of taking pictures of themselves in a famous place? Huh?

As for movies, that was my Grandmother Wolf’s province.

The Wolfs were actually photography mad.

There are hardly any pictures of my father when he was a kid or of anyone in his family. The Rogers just weren’t big on pictures.

But the Wolfs…

I wouldn’t be surprised if their first picture in the New World was a camera, purchased to take snapshots to send back to the Old World.

As kids, it was great fun to go through the family picture box, quizzing my mother on who was what in all those 1930’s pics.

Given what keen photographers they were, it’s no surprise that the Wolfs would get a movie camera.

Alas, the wonderful reels my Grandmother Wolf shot were lost when my Aunt Kay’s kids burnt their house down. (Not exaggerating here, by the way.) 

My husband and I weren’t big on taking pictures or videoing. Every once in a while we’d get a disposable camera and take some pictures. Film anything? Memories are meant for the brain, not the screen. (Now I wish we’d actually taken some pictures or videos of our many trips. Je regrette un peu…)

Others, of course, have a far greater desire to record their every move, especially if they’re on a trip.

And if you’re taking a fancy-arse trip with a fancy-arse travel company, you can get your adventure for posterity by hiring filmmaker Tim Browning. He’s worked on plenty of big budget films – Skyfall for one – but now “he has signed on as the exclusive drone photographer for bespoke travel outfitter Black Tomato.”

Among the things he might capture while heading up Black Tomato's just-launched "Drone the World" initiative: travelers on motorcycle tours of Ho Chi Minh City, sand boarding down the dunes of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, hiking along the Great Wall of China, or scaling a volcano in Iceland. Unlike major metropolitan areas, these iconic destinations are among the places where drones are allowed to film freely. (Source: Bloomberg)

I’ll have to keep this in mind if I ever decide to go sand boarding on the Skeleton Coast.

Anyway, this does not, of course, come cheap. The “starting price per person for a weekend trip that includes Browning as a tag-along guest” is $5.5K.

For those still enamored of stills, Flytographer has operatives in cities around the world, and you can book one for a half hour starting at $250.

One of the downsides of traveling these days is all the annoying selfie-takers. Now we’ll have to start factoring in the annoyance of drones and flytographers. Oh, well, I guess the upside is that most of this will be digital, so there’ll be less for your heirs to throw away when you’ve had your last close up.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Secondary sex characteristics, consumer version

There’s dopey TV commercial for Summer’s Eve ‘feminine hygiene wash’ that I’ve seen a couple of times of late. Apparently it’s been around for years, but as happens so often with pop and consumer culture, I’m late to this particular par-tay.

Anyway, in the ad, a woman informs her husband, who’s showering away, that the body wash he’s using was designed to clean the “V”. He hot foots it out of the shower and starts chopping wood and crushing beer cans and doing all sorts of manly things, presumably while resisting the urge to look down to make sure that his bout with Summer’s Eve hasn’t washed or withered his man thang away.

Whatever the merits of using feminine hygiene products like Summer’s Eve – and I will say that I come down on the side that using unnecessary chemicals that may be carcinogenic is a must avoid – there are some products that are absolutely gender-distinct. Like tampons. And Viagra. Like Jockey shots. And bras.

Then there are those items - plenty of them - that, for whatever reason, are pitched to one gender or the other. Think Ford F150. Think elder-care services.

But most things we buy are, when it comes to use, gender-neutral.

The Summer’s Eve ad came to mind when I saw an article in The Economist, “His and Hers”, that talked about how so many products are “needlessly gendered,” and not just products of the pink-and-purple-bikes for girls variety. (Not to mention Hello Kitty guns.)

I wasn’t aware, for instance, that you can now get Q-TIPS for men. And that Bic offers pink and purple Bic for Her pens. There’s yogurt in black tubs for men.

Hero Clean is a full line of cleaning products – laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, odor spray – built for men.120880171

According to their web site, necessity was the father of this invention, which came about after a thwarted shopping trip:

After trying in vain to find one that didn’t smell offensively sweet or floral – it dawned on me that everything in the laundry and cleaning products aisles was fragranced, branded, packaged, and marketed to and for women.  None of it smelled good to me.  I wasn’t vibing the cute characters or flowers on the labels.

Well, I’m with our hero in that I don’t want my products to “smell offensively sweet or floral,” either. But it’s not all that difficult to find products that don’t “vibe” cute characters or flowers. Case in point, I give you my laundry products.

Sure, there’s a picture of a women on that bottle of Sport-Wash to the left20160807_155947. But she looks more like a marathoner to me than a cute character or a delicate flower. I will admit that the Bounce is of the “Free and Gentle” variety, and perhaps “gentle” would be off putting to a manly man. But I was focused on the “free”: free of dyes, smells, etc. There’s nothing here that screams girly-girl, and that goes double for my household cleaner product array as well.

Anyway, it seems as if gender-linked products are proliferating.

One theory is that because men and women are increasingly doing the same things, such as attending the same universities, doing the same jobs and household duties, marketers see a chance to appeal to an older instinct, for differentiation. (Source: The Economist.)

Appealing to this ‘older instinct’ seems pretty wasteful to me. But it’s not out and out offensive. Unlike:

Some firms are even trying to charge women more for the same products. A 2015 study in New York city found that women’s products cost more two-fifths of the time.

I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but my dry cleaner used to charge more to light-starch-hanger a woman’s blouse than they did a man’s shirt. So I started telling them that my blouses were shirts. Which they were. Why should I pay more for my light-starch-hanger LL Bean shirts than my husband was paying for his?

But am I paying more for my razor blades than the guys do, just because my razor handle is turquoise? How about shaving cream? What I’m using now is generic CVS brand, Just the Basics. But it’s “just for woman.” Next time I’m at CVS, I’ll have to see if it costs more than “just for men”, and whether there’s any difference in the chemical composition.

I can definitely see pitching some products separately. Few men are going to want to pick up a package of Lady Clairol, even if they’d end up with a better color than they get from Just for Men.

But mostly…

And, no, I don’t want to pay MORE for the same things.

Sheesh. We can’t get equal pay for equal work, and now we find out we don’t even get equal price for equal product.

Think I’ll take to my fainting couch with a bottle of cute and cuddly pink smelling salts.