Thursday, May 31, 2018

You like tonic? So don’t I.

We hear a lot about globalization. Not so much about its precursor, nationalization. No, not nationalization as in nationalization of an industry, in which the commies take over the railroads. Or something. No, the nationalization, I’m talking about my own coinage. It’s the process through which, over the years, regional identities have to some degree disappeared.

Oh, they aren’t totally gone.

I was in Texas last week and a number of folks in the Dallas neighborhood I was staying in were flying the Texas flag.

Not that we don’t love our state: we do. And not that we don’t fly flags: we do that, too: US, Ireland, Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, Patriots. But, other than on a public building, I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen anyone fly the Massachusetts flag.

It’s just that a lot of the little things that marked your city, state or region as different have been lost in the giant homogenization of the world. Filene’s used to say Boston. Marshall Field used to say Chicago. No longer. We all shop at stores owned by Federated. Or at Target.

I still get a kick out of seeing a Dunk’s in a foreign location, like Dallas. But it also weirds me out. America doesn’t run on Dunkin. New England does. And my friends found Polar soda water for me at their grocery store. Polar? It’s made in Worcester, for crying out loud.

And then there are the regional linguistic peculiarities. Those little quirky regionalisms are dying out. We move around too much. We watch too much TV.

We used to say elastics. Now it’s rubber bands. Corner stores were spas. Porches on old wooden multi-family houses were piazzas. Bubblers were water fountains.

Part of this is self-defense. If you’re in, say, San Francisco, and ask where the bubbler is, you may be directed (as I was many years ago) to a mailbox.

Fortunately, some have managed to stay the course. No one from New England would order a milkshake if they wanted a concoction of ice cream, milk and syrup. We’d still ask for a frappe. Unless we’re from Rhode Island. Then we’d ask for a cabinet.

And then there’s good old tonic…

While other parts of the country may debate soda vs. pop, we clung for more than a century (since 1888, when the first use was recorded in print) to tonic as the catchall for any carbonated soft drink.

This despite the fact that “tonic” was already the name of a specific beverage, a clear liquid made of soda, sugar, and quinine, originally developed as a defense against malaria, whose flavor was so bitter that it actually improved with the addition of gin. (Source: Boston Globe)

It’s no longer used all that often – we came down on the side of soda: I’ve never heard anyone say pop around here – nevertheless, it persists, if not in usage then at least in understanding.

Or so Globe columnist Billy Baker found out when he went around asking for tonic.

What do you get in 2018 when you ask for a tonic in Boston? Would people know what I was talking about, or would I be looked at like I had three heads? The answers: Yes. And yes.

Billy went to Roche Brothers in West Rox. When he asked for the tonic aisle, an youngster drew a blank but an old timer working the cheese counter was able to direct him to Aisle 7. The aisle was full of sodas, but it also had tonic water. So, while I’m guessing the old timer knows tonic from tonic, the persistence of tonic wasn’t proven.

At a lunch counter around the corner from Roche Bros, a younger woman didn’t get what Billy was asking for when he ordered a small tonic. But, once again, an oldster:

…named Nancy Slyne came around the corner from the kitchen and stepped in for her younger colleague.

“Do you want Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite?” she said gesturing toward the fountain machine.

Admittedly, the younger woman had a pretty good excuse. She was from Albania. But yay, Nancy!

At a pizza joint, ordering tonic at the bar yielded a coke. At another lunch counter, yet another elder, Paula Ferzoco knew what Billy was asking for. He said tonic, she pointed him to a cooler full of Pepsi cans. Yay, Paula!

When I explained what I was up to, she laughed. “I used to call it tonic, but then I changed to soda because I was in Disney like 30 years ago and I asked for a tonic and they gave me tonic water.” Ferzoco said she knew what I was asking for, but it was rare to hear it nowadays.

At two renowned Boston watering holes, the bartenders knew the drill.

“What kind of tonic?” [Doyle’s] bartender Bob Donato, 65, said when I ordered. “You want Coke, ginger ale, 7-Up?”

The same happened at the Eire Pub in Dorchester, where an older man with a thick Irish brogue knew exactly what I was asking for, and said that people still ordered a tonic all the time, expecting a soda.

At Sullivan’s on Castle Island, an older fellow knew that Billy wanted a soda. A younger worker served Billy’s father a soda water when he ordered a tonic.

After his experiment, Billy Bake concluded that knowledge of tonic was mostly age-related. People of a certain age who are from around here – people like me and my ilk – know what a tonic is, even if, like Paula Z, we’ve converted to soda. Younger folks, on the other hand, think tonic is tonic water.

What’s next on the loss of local-ness front?

I really hope we don’t lose my personal favorite: the negative agreement. As in, when someone says “I like tonic,” you answer “So don’t I.” This used to drive my Midwestern mother batshit crazy. And if one of my sibs said, “I like driving Ma nuts”, there is only one answer: “So don’t I.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

What, me worry?

The other day, I got an email from my brother-in-law with this click-bait subject line: In case you don't have enough to worry about...

Well, personally, I never, ever, ever have enough to worry about. So I took the bait.

Seems that while we’ve all been worrying about whether a certain someone in the Oval Office will decide to press The Button rather than just send a tweet, we should have been worrying about the “elite squad responsible for safeguarding America's nuclear weapons.” Seems that, out in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a bunch of them have been using LSD, Ecstasy, cocaine, and marijuana.

Most of the air men involved were from two security units at FE Warren: The 790th Missile Security Forces Squad and the 90th Security Forces Squad. (Source: AP reporting and source material, via ZeroHedge)

These units were responsible for guarding 400 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles  - you know, the ones that are available 24/7 from their underground silos out there in flyover country. The ones that can kill and awful lot of people.

Most of the drug use was when they were off duty – in the ringleader’s apartment, in state parks, and in Denver, where after dropping acid, the fellows went longboarding. As we used to say back in the day, oh wow.

Although it wasn’t on base when these guys were guarding the nukes, still…Especially with LSD, with its flashbacks. (I don’t actually know this first-hand, as I never dropped acid. Too scary, never wanted to be that out of control, etc. But I did have friends who used LSD and I remember quite distinctly spending a college Saturday with a friend coming off a bad trip. Among other stops along our way, we visited the Don Oreone Shrine in Revere, home of a 40 foot statue of the Virgin Mary. That was a trippy enough scene without being on drugs.)

During one courts martial, the air man on trial described their experiences using the drug. One described "bad trips" that led to intense feelings of paranoia. Others described pleasurable sounds, colors and sensations.

"Minutes felt like hours, colors seemed more vibrant and clear," [Kyle] Morrison testified. "In general, I felt more alive." He said he had used LSD in high school, which could have disqualified him from Air Force service; he said that his recruiter told him he should lie about it and that lying about prior drug use was "normal" in the Air Force.

I’m pretty sure that if “prior drug use” disqualified folks from the service, it’d be a lot harder filling the ranks. But it’s interesting that a recruiter advised him to lie. (Reminds me of when my 85 year old Aunt Margaret went to get her license and didn’t want to have to wear glasses in her license picture. I believe the guy at the Registry coached her. Or was it her eye doctor?) And as for those more vibrant colors and feeling more alive. Oh wow.

The drug ring – which included more than 12 members – was tripped up when one of those members posted a pic on Snapchat of himself using grass. This although the club had only two rules: no bad trips (don’t know how that one gets enforced) and no social media (which apparently wasn’t so enforceable either).

You know, given how tech savvy and experienced with social media the young folks are, you’d think they’d have a bit more awareness of how social media comes back, again and again, to bite social media users in the arse.

Surprisingly – to me, anyway – Nickolos Harris, the ringleader and drug procurer, got off pretty easily. Maybe he got off easily because there was some sympathy for the odd spelling of his first name. Or perhaps it was because, once they found Harris, he ratted out the others on his “team.”

Harris was eventually sentenced to five months confinement, as well as 15 days hard labor. However, thanks to his cooperation, he managed to avoid a punitive discharge - though he did pay a more than $5,000 fine in the form of forgone wages

This does seem kind of light, given that this is the military. But what do I know about military justice? 

"I absolutely just loved altering my mind," he told the military judge, blaming his decisions to use hallucinogens and other drugs on his addictive personality.

I suspect that if I were in the Air Force, stationed out in the middle of nowhere, I would have “absolutely just loved altering my mind”, too.

The men acknowledged that, by taking the drugs, they had put their country in danger. Air man Kyle Morrison, another member of the ring, acknowledged during his court martial that he wouldn't have been able to carry out his duties if called upon to do so while under the influence of LSD.

Hmmmm. All things considered, not being able to carry out his duties might actually be a good thing, no? Depends on whose finger’s on The Button.

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A tip of the AF service cap – if I had one – to Rick T for sending this story my way.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Looking forward to all that free time come football season

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of pro sports.

I am first and foremost a baseball fan. Most evenings I’ll watch at least an inning or two of the Red Sox game. I watch plenty of games in full, and keep tabs on the playoffs, even if the Olde Towne Team isn’t playing. I’ll watch the entire World Series.

Basketball and hockey are my fair-weather sports. I can watch them both pretty intelligently, but I’m not likely to get truly into things if the Celtics or the Bruins aren’t doing well. Come what may, I’ll pay a bit of attention to the playoffs, whoever’s playoffing. But don’t watch all that much. I watched a lot more basketball when my husband was alive, as this was his first and foremost sport. I forget how much I enjoy hockey, until it’s in front of me. During my recent visit to Dallas, I watched a few (non-Bruins-involved) games with my friends, hockey being Tom’s first and foremost sport, his having played it in college.

And then there’s football.

As I’ve said (and written) more than once, football is the veal of sports. If I thought about veal, I wouldn’t eat it. If I thought about football, I wouldn’t watch it.

But I do, on occasion, eat veal. And I have, over the years, watched plenty of football.

It’s been sporadic, however.

While I grew up watching Sunday afternoon football (NY Giants; this was pre-Patriots) with my father, by the time I was grown up, I’d grown out of any interest in football. Too violent, too militaristic, too brain damaging, too exploitative of the many “supporting cast” players who end up with nothing to show for their careers (other than brain damage), too much of everything I no like.

My husband wasn’t that into it, either. So for decades, I didn’t watch any football. On Sunday afternoon, we took long walks. Or long naps.

And then the Patriots got good, and Jim and I started paying attention. And watching games. And it was good. And it was entertaining. And it was fun. As with veal-eating, I didn’t think about the aspects of the sport that had always irked me.

The first Super Bowl I ever watched was in 2002. Pats won! Yay!

Mostly, we were into the Patriots. One year, we began watching a non-Pats Super Bowl. At half-time, we switched to a special on the Red Sox 2004 American League Championship run, in which they brilliantly came from behind three games to zip and beat the Yankees. We never did get back to the Super Bowl.

But if the Pats were in, the game was on in our house. And although I thought our TV was too damned large, I had to admit it was great for watching football.

During the last year or so of Jim’s life, when we couldn’t get out as much, we watched a ton of football. Mattered not who was playing, we watched Thursday night, Monday night, Sunday afternoon, Sunday night. We watched all the playoff games.

And it was good. And it was entertaining. And it was fun. As with veal-eating, I didn’t think about the aspects of the sport that had always irked me.

Once Jim died, I stopped watching quite as much. But I continued to turn Patriots’ game on with some regularity. I watched the playoffs. I watched the Super Bowls.

Last year, I watched the knee-taking movement with some interest, sympathetic to the largely African-American athletes who wanted to draw attention – very respectfully, I might add - to the way in which African-Americans are so often treated by the police. Naturally, this was a natural topic for Trump to jump in on. After all, it centered around African-Americans, who don’t for the most part belong to his fan base. And it was something he could tweet-storm into a big, divisive, frothing-at-the-mouth wedge issue. (These days, who needs a dog whistle?)

I’m guessing that, this coming season, the knee-taking would have run its course. Or just turned into a “thing” that some athletes did and some didn’t. Something no one really noticed. White noise.

But then the National Football League decided that, this coming season, they would levy fines on teams that allowed players to take a knee during the national anthem. Maybe they were worried about more tweets emanating from the White House. After all, the Tweeter-in-Chief has upped the ante from suggesting that knee-takers should be fired to suggesting that they leave the country entirely.

Maybe the NFL owners surveyed their fan bases and decided that enough of them cared mightily about those ungrateful, spoiled, largely African-American athletes disrespecting the troops or the flag or the country or whatever they thought those players taking a knee were doing. So maybe they didn’t want to piss this portion of their fan base off. Or maybe they even wanted to rev them up more. (“We’re on your side!”) Maybe they just wanted to deflect attention from the grim statistics on how many of their players end up with disastrous brain damage from taking all those hits, which is a lot more dangerous in so many ways than taking all those knees. Maybe they just wanted to suck up to Trump. Maybe they really like and admire him. (One more reason not to like or admire the NFL.)

In any case, I’ve had it with pro football – even if they do back off their latest announcement (which, the day after, was already being somewhat hemmed-and-hawed over).

I’ll keep an eye on where the knee-taking goes this fall. One owner has said he’ll let his players do what they want, and he’ll pay the fine. Maybe, in a show of solidarity, entire teams will stay in the locker room during the anthem - which is allowed if players want to make an invisible protest. (Last year, there were many shows of solidarity in which teammates locked arms, or placed their hands on the shoulders of those taking a knee.) And I’ll continue to read the Patriots gossip about GOAT Tom Brady vs. Coach Bill Belichick vs. Patriots owner Bob Kraft – the sort of dysfunctional workplace stuff I so enjoy.

But come Sunday afternoon, I don’t plan to be watching football.

If it’s nice, I’ll be taking a nice long walk.

If it’s not so nice, I’ll be taking a nice long nap.

Enough is enough.

So long, pro football, it’s been good to know ya.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day, 2018.

Once again, Memorial Day is upon us.

Nothing to say that I haven’t said before in my first Memorial Day post, Decoration Day, way back in 2007, and my last, Broken Record and Then Some, just last year.

But, hey, there’s always something more to say…

The other day, while waiting at DFW for my plane to Boston, I was sitting next to a fellow with a very sweet-looking service dog (a Golden) from an organization that provides them to wounded vets. I asked if I could pet him (the dog, not the fellow). I didn’t get the guy’s name, but the dog’s name was Ross.)

Ross’ human companion was fine with it, so I patted Ross’ head and scratched his ears, and we – Ross’ human companion and I, not me and Ross - ended up chatting a bit.

Although he was in his thirties and had already been in the service, Ross’ human companion joined up after 9/11. He ended up in Iraq and got his knee blown away by an IED. Years later, and after serious time logged at Walter Reed, he was doing okay. But that knee didn’t flex all that well.

Anyway, Ross’ human companion had a tattoo on his arm that said First Cav (Cavalry), and I asked, “the guys who wear the cowboy hats?” (I was flashing back to the Robert Duvall character in Apocalypse Now, the classic Vietnam War film from back in the 70’s. Which is no surprise, since everything I know about war – pick a war, any war – I learned from books, television, and movies.)

I was a bit embarrassed, but Ross’ human companion just laughed. “We call them Stetsons.” He then pulled up the sleeve of his other arm and showed me a tatt that looked something like this.

First Cav

Ross and his human companion were called for pre-board, and that was that.

Here’s this year’s picture of the flags on Boston Common. These are placed each year at this time to commemorate the lives of allflags 2018 those from Massachusetts who’ve lost their lives fighting in an American war – good war, bad war; just war, stupid war; wars without end, amen – since the Revolution.

On this Memorial Day, here’s hoping that no one as crazy and amped up as the Robert Duvall character in Apocalypse Now amps us into yet another war. E.g., by writing things like this to, say, a North Korean despot, “You talk about nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” We really don’t need any more guys in cowboy hats Stetsons getting their kneecaps – or worse – blown up and out, let alone what the outcome would be if the nuclear dogs of war are unleashed.

Happy Memorial Day to all those who made it back alive. (And to their service pups, too.)

Friday, May 25, 2018

Goose alert, etc.

Yesterday was my first day back from a trip to visit friends in Dallas. While in Dallas, I did absolutely nothing of a touristic or cultural nature. Basically, after an early morning walk – the heat’s too fierce to go out walking much after 9 a.m. – we just hung around and talked. I was visiting my college roommate and her husband. Since they dated in college, I’ve known Tom just about as long as I’ve known Joyce. So, 50 year friends. A lot to talk about.

On those early morning walks, we mostly ambled around their neighborhood, a very nice section of Dallas. It’s an older residential area near the outskirts that has the wonderful feature of a lot of mature trees (and meticulous, very attractive landscaping for 99% of the houses). The trees provided much-needed shade for the rare person out walking. Alas, there were no sidewalks, and despite the signs reading “drive as if your children live here”, many of the drivers rampaged around like maniacs. Maybe that’s how they drive around their kids. (There was plenty of evidence of children: swings, play structures, signs cheering on what ever high school their kids went to, but we didn’t see much by way of actual children.) Not a walking neighborhood, with or without kids apparently.

One morning, Joyce and I ventured across the MPperimeter road (the width and speed of the Mass Pike, and, like the Mass Pike, no traffic lights) to check out a new development – built to your liking – that was going up.

The name of the development is the ultra-classy Da Vinci Estates, and the first house that’s gone up was a pile that appeared to be in the 8-10K square foot range. They grow ‘em big in Texas. There are nine plots in this development, and I think six have been sold and staked. It will be interesting to see on my next swing through Dallas what actually goes in there. Or it would be interesting if this wasn’t destined to be a gated community, so it’s unlikely we’ll get in to rubberneck.

But the thing that struck me was the wording on the sign  touting “MODERN PYRAMIDS.” I’m not all that up on ancient Egypt, but weren’t pyramids used as the final resting place of the pharaohs? Wouldn’t this be like advertising MODERN MAUSOLEUM? Then again, given the size of the one home we saw built, MODERN MAUSOLEUM might have been more apt, given that people refer to big old houses as mausoleums. At least where I come from.

Maybe the name pyramid was a warning to anyone attempting to cross that perimeter road on foot…

Me, I wouldn’t care to live in a pyramid, modern or otherwise. As for my post-mortem residence, it will be an ash plot at Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

Anyway, it was great to be with Joyce and Tommy, whose home is gorgeous: ultra-modern (their architect won an award for it) and, at a relatively modest by Texas standards 4K square feet, neither a pyramid nor a mausoleum. But it was, as it always is, wonderful to get back to Boston.

After five days of 90 degree heat, it was especially great to come home to yesterday’s upper-60’s, sunny, blue sky weather.

The magnolias are mostly past-prime, but there are flowers abounding and, on my walk along the Esplanade, a park running along the Charles River, I was able to stop and smell the lilacs. This after passing some graffiti on the Fiedler bridge that read “Darma’s a bitch.” Only someone had scrawled a “K” over the “D” in the misspelled darma. I don’t think the correction was necessary, as I believe that both dharma and karma can be bitches. Just sayin’.

After my time in Dallas, it was also quite nice to see water, as in the Charles River. There are creeks in Joyce and Tom’s neighborhood, but Dallas is more sun-baked than water-world. (I asked my friends – Rhode Island natives – whether they missed the ocean. They looked at me like I had two heads. Of course they miss the ocean, and they were quick to let me know that the Texas Gulf Coast doesn’t count.)

Quite naturally, where there’s water there are also water fowl.

I didn’t see many ducks on the Esplanade but, alas, I saw plenty of Canada geese, which in the past decade or so have become an urban scourge in these parts. Talk about foul fowl. They may look lovely on Christmas cards when they’re wearing a wreath around their goose-necks, but in real life they seem to do nothing other than waddle around leaving turds that look like cigars all over their paths. Which, by some nasty coincidence, tend to be the paths that humans walk, jog, and bike on

In some years past, “they” – whoever “they” are, I don’t recall – have done things to keep the geese from proliferating. At first they took their eggs, but then the geese would just lay more of them. So they started covering the eggs with oil. This process managed to keep the mother geese happy, but kept goslings from forming. Win-win.

“They” – whoever “they” are – don’t seem to have been doing much of anything this spring, goose ZPG-wise. Every goose I managed to pass along my walk had anywhere from 3-5 goslings with it. They may look all sorts of cute and fuzzy now, but by the enGeesed of June there’s no doubt that they’ll join the ranks of the turd-producing waddlers.

Why can’t they be like their far-better behaved duck friends? In a couple of weeks, our ducks will be producing flotillas of ducklings – I’ve seen as many as a dozen trailing behind their mothers – but I don’t believe I’ve ever had a close encounter with a duck turd. I don’t imagine that they’re trained for it, but I’m guessing that our local ducks crap in water. Bless ‘em.

Bottom line: goose alert to anyone walking down by the banks of the River Charles, which is where you’ll find me on many of my daily strolls, avoiding goose turds. Happy to be back. Oh, Boston you’re my home.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Caged tiger at the prom? Excellent idea!

I wasn’t much of a prom goer, but I did go to the Assumption Prep (now defunct Catholic boys school) senior prom with a guy from the ‘hood I was friendly with. He was plenty smart, funny and nice enough. I went out with him a couple of times – whenever he needed a date. But there was no “like” there. (As it turns out, P was gay – a category that we were not generally aware of in 1966. Sadly, he died pretty young, I believe by suicide after losing his partner to AIDS. At least he got out of Worcester and found his way to San Francisco.)

In keeping with the practice of the time of borrowing the title of a popular song, the theme of the prom was Cast Your Fate to the Wind. Since we were all such sophisticated wits, our big yuck was rebranding the theme. At our table, at least, the theme was Cast Your Faith to the Wind. Which I’m guessing was precisely what happened within the next couple of years to at least half of the young folks sitting at that table at The Yankee Drummer Inn eating rubber chicken.

(In case you’re wondering, I wore a pale pink dotted Swiss empire waist gown and white patent leather flats, as P was my height and it just wasn’t done for the girl to be taller than the boy. I carried what was known as a colonial bouquet, with pink sweetheart roses, baby’s breath and a paper doily. Very sweet, as was P, especially in retrospect, as the entire event must have been torture for him. P wore a very pretty blue batik dinner jacket.)

Proms – at least back in the day, at least when you went to a prom at a boys school – featured a favor for the girls. Our was a tiger pajama bag. Pajama bags, for those unfamiliar with this particular item, was like a stuffed animal. Only unstuffed and with a zipper. When you got out of bed in the morning, you’d tuck your PJs into the bag and prop it in the middle of your bed.

I never used the tiger PJ bag, as it was a strident yellow-orange color, which clashed with my bedspread. I think my (much) younger sister Trish used it – maybe as a toy, stuffed with nylons.

When our table wasn’t repeating the Cast Your Faith to the Wind witticism, we made sly jokes about how suggestive a pajama bag was, what with the extraordinarily slight whiff of “sex” associated with PJs and beds. Racy stuff!

I hadn’t thought about that tiger in years. That is, until a Florida high school decided that it was a good idea to have a caged tiger at their prom.

The theme of this year’s Christopher Columbus High (like Assumption Prep, an all-boys Catholic school) was “Welcome to the Jungle.” So why not liven things up?

The prom, hosted at a hotel near Miami International Airport, featured several animals including a caged tiger, a lemur, two macaws and an African fennec fox. (Source: USA Today)

While this sounds like the kind of brain-dead idea that a bunch of high school boys might come up with, it seems that it was school staff who planned the event.

No word on the other animals – did the lemur leap? did the macaws caw? – but it’s reported that the tiger paced throughout the dance. Imagine the agitation on the part of all these animals, being subjected to loud music, flashing lights, and a couple hundred sweaty noisy kids jumping around (at least some of whom were some sort of high).

According to statements sent to multiple local outlets, Christopher Columbus High School said the tiger was never in danger or forced to perform, and handlers were with the animal at all times.

I read somewhere else that there were also two police officers on hand, just in case the tiger managed to free itself from its cage. How wonderful it would have been to have cops firing at a powerful, wild, hell-bent-on-escape tiger, in a venue replete with loud music, flashing lights, and a couple hundred sweaty noisy kids jumping around. Not to mention a no-doubt agitated leaping lemur and a couple of wildly cawing macaws. (I don’t know what an African fennec fox might have been up to. Probably no good.) Now that would have been a prom experience to remember. A lot more interesting than tittering about a pajama bag or jadedly re-quipping, “Cast Your Faith to the Wind.”

The school’s statement is posted on their website as Prom 2018 Statement

As a school community, we regret the decision to have had live animals at our prom. This incident in no way reflects our school’s Marist values and/or accomplishments of our young men nor our sensitivity to animal rights. We will immediately evaluate our current policies and procedures regarding all school activities and events. We can assure the Columbus community and all who have expressed concern, that we are sorry. We have learned a great deal from this experience.

I’ll just bet you’ve “learned a great deal from this experience.” What else are proms for?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

And sometimes life is nasty, brutish, and long

The oldest women on earth has spoken. A bit short of her 129th birthday, Chechnyan Koku Istambulova has plenty to say. And ain’t none of it cheerful.

Poor Koku sure missed out in the joie de vivre department.

'I have not had a single happy day in my life. I have always worked hard, digging in the garden.

'I am tired. Long life is not at all God's gift for me - but a punishment.' (Source: Daily Mail)

Of course, there are plenty of reasons for that profound unhappiness. Koku was born in a poor and backwards – even by the standards of 1889 – village. She lived through the Bolshevik overthrow of the tsar. Watched Nazi tanks roll through her town. Was deported by Stalin – along with everyone else in Chechnya – to Kazakhstan, which was/is no garden spot. And as if Kazakhstan wasn’t bad enough, she was shipped to Siberia for more living misery, digging through the permafrost, trying to make her garden work. And as if Siberia wasn’t bad enough, she eventually landed back in Chechnya, which resulted in zero joy, even though Chechnya was her native land and Koku missed it when she was in exile.

To add to Koku’s misery, she outlived all of her children, including a daughter who died a few years back at the age of 104.

But not one “single happy day” in her entire life? Yikes!

'Looking back at my unhappy life, I wish I had died when I was young. I worked all my life. I did not have time for rest or entertainment.

Hmmmm. I consider myself to be someone who has “worked all my life,” but there’s work and there’s work. And when work is pure, unadulterated drudgery without any “time for rest or entertainment”, well, I might “wish I’d died when I was young” too. But, Jeez Louise, grim as the story of Koku’s life is, you’d think there might be at least a scintilla of happiness in there. One perfect spring day when her kiddos were small and the family had an egg to share. Talk about depressing.

'We were either digging the ground, or planting the watermelons. When I was, my days were running one by one. And now I am not living, I am just dragging through.'

Man, not even being able to take some pleasure from eating watermelon. Of course, she just mentions planting them, not eating them. Maybe she had to sell her entire crop.

One of my husband’s favorite TV shows was the late 1970’s-early 1980’s sitcom Taxi, and his favorite character was Latka Gravas, who had emigrated from some fictional Eastern European hellhole. When talking about his childhood, Latka would say that it wasn’t that bad, even in those early years when his family lived outdoors. “We had the bucket. We had the chair.” (I have a tiny bucket ornament that hangs on my Christmas tree in honor of Latka and my late Christmas-hating husband. Jim’s favorite quote from Latka was this one: “The only thing that separates us from the animals are mindless superstition and pointless ritual.")

Anyway, Latka’s life sounds like an absolute fun-filled pleasure cruise compared to Koku Istambulova’s. 

I’m not one of those folks who want to live forever. Right about now, 90 sounds good for the endgame. But ask me if and when I hit 89. If I still have my health and mobility, if I’m not demented, if my home isn’t underwater (literally: I live on landfill), if my family and friends are still around in good health and mobile, and not demented, well, why not?

But 129 sounds like about 29 years too much for anyone, even for someone like me who’s led a pretty good life with plenty of happy days along the way. Let alone for someone whose highpoints were watermelon digging while Panzer tanks rumbled past.

Guess Hobbes wasn’t right about everyone’s life. Sometimes it turns out to be nasty, brutish, and long.

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A shout out to the wonderful Lauren Duca, who tweeted about poor Koku, and who “cannot wait for this feature film starring Kate McKinnon.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Robots are people, too?

While we haven’t yet reached the technological singularity (when AI will just start getting smarter and smarter and surpass human intelligence: can’t wait), it’s no secret that robots are keep getting smarter and smarter. (While it sometimes seems that actual people are getting dumber and dumber, I don’t think that there’s actually any evidence that this is the case. Yet.)

Anyway, the robots, or their virtual, software-based cousins, the bots, are out there. And some of them – especially those nasty little bots; especially those nasty little Russky bots – are up to no good.

As robots/bots get older, wiser, and more malicious, the question arises about who’s responsible if one of them does something bad. Prosecutorially bad.

Under an ongoing EU proposal, it might just be the bot itself. A 2017 European Parliament report floated the idea of granting special legal status, or “electronic personalities,” to smart robots, specifically those which (or should that be who?) can learn, adapt, and act for themselves. This legal personhood would be similar to that already assigned to corporations around the world, and would make robots, rather than people, liable for their self-determined actions, including for any harm they might cause. The motion suggests:

Creating a specific legal status for robots in the long run, so that at least the most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons responsible for making good any damage they may cause, and possibly applying electronic personality to cases where robots make autonomous decisions or otherwise interact with third parties independently. (Source: Slate)

Oh.

The “robots wouldn’t have the right to vote or marry.” I agree with robots not getting the vote, even though they’d certainly be smarter than certain low information voters, that’s for sure. On the other hand, robots/bots could “decide” to make some truly terrible electoral choices. And the prospect of robots marrying is too ghastly to contemplate. Would a robot be able to marry a bot?

But robots are surely more like actual living, breathing persons than are corporations, and SCOTUS has declared corporations people. So who knows what’s going to happen in the long run.

At least with a corporation, you can identify who’s responsible and accountable for bad corporate behavior: the officers of the corporation. They can be fined, and even become imprisoned, if their companies play fast and loose. Because we know that, when it comes down to it, the “corporation” isn’t the actor. It’s the people running the corporation.

Who’s responsible when it’s a robot? The robot’s owner? The person who created the code that the bot used to smoke the entire power grid of the US?

With robots/bots “self-learning”, getting smarter and perhaps nastier, who’s responsible when they go rogue?

All this fretting about robotic personhood:

It’s a forward-thinking look at the inevitable legal ramifications of the autonomous-thinking A.I. that will someday be upon us, though it’s not without its critics. The proposal has been denounced in a letter released April 12, signed by 156 robotics,* legal, medical, and ethics experts, who claim that the proposal is “nonsensical” and “non-pragmatic.” The complaint takes issue with giving the robots “legal personality,” when neither the Natural Person model, the Legal Entity Model, nor the Anglo-Saxon Trust model is appropriate. There are also concerns that making robots liable would absolve manufacturers of liability that should rightfully be theirs.

My goodness, who knew there were that many models of just what defines personhood? I’m just as happy to sit here in blissful ignorance, without worrying a whit about the economic, legal, and philosophical underpinnings that need to be considered if and when robots get declared people.

Certainly, before I gave such vaunted status to machines, let alone software, I’d vote for creating a demi-personhood category for sentient beings, like doggos and pygmy chimpanzees.

I don’t know what John Frank Weaver, a Boston attorney who works on AI law and author of Robots Are People, Too – and here I was thinking that my blog post title was original -  thinks about doggo or bonobo (pygmy chimp) personhood, but he does think that we should be figuring out just what status robots have.

Weaver has written about what it means to give robots various aspects of personhood, including the right to free speech, the right to citizenship, and legal protections (even for ugly robots). As you can guess from the title of his book, he himself recommends limited legal personhood for robots, including the right to enter and perform contracts, the obligation to carry insurance, the right to own intellectual property, the obligation of liability, and the right to be the guardian of a minor.

Okay. I’m nodding along until I get to “guardian of a minor.” A minor human, or a minor robot? The inquiring mind of an actual human would like to know.

Meanwhile, while I’m fretting about whether dogs should be given some of the rights of personhood – so many dogs being so colossally superior to so many humans – I do have to point out that robots are dogs now, too. If you haven’t seen the Boston Dynamics pup, check it out here. (See Spot run!) All I can say is that, if humanoid robots are going to get personhood, surely dog robots should too. Arf!

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*I initially read this as “robots”

Monday, May 21, 2018

The All-American Language Lab

This map’s been around for a few years, but there’s something pretty fascinating about it, no?

Language Map

It makes sense that, in California, Nevada, and Hawaii, the third up language is Tagalog. Lots of Filipinos in those states And lots of Vietnamese in Washington and Texas make sense, too. Washington is West Coast, and I remember reading about Vietnamese shrimpers/fishermen in Texas. But who’da thunk that it would be the third most commonly spoken language in Oklahoma and Nebraska?

And what’s with Oregon and Russia?

It’s interesting to see where the native tongue is a native tongue: Navajo in Arizona and New Mexico, Yupik in Alaska, and Dakota in South Dakota. I like that a lot. But compare and contrast South Dakota with North Dakota, where the third most popular language is German – one of 16 (if I counted correctly) where that’s the case. I knew that the Midwest and Plains states were loaded with Germans. And I’m pretty sure that Lawrence Welk was from North Dakota. But, given that the last great wave of German immigrants was probably in the immediate years after WWII when the Germans who’d made it over during earlier waves brought over a bunch of second-cousin displace persons, where are all these German-sprechters coming from? This last wave was 60-70 years ago, so who’s out there speaking all that German?

By the way, I know about DPs because a lot of them ended up sleeping on my German grandmother’s couch in Chicago. When we visited Chicago – an every other year routine – there was always a landsmann or two buzzing in and out of Grandma’s house on North Mozart. Nephews, cousins, fellows from her home town. Most of the ones I recall were men, but I’m sure there were women among the people by grandmother sponsored. (The only woman I remember was the French wife of one of those German cousins. They’d met during the war.)

Anyway, I’m guessing that when German is the third most spoken language, all that means is that there aren’t a lot of folks in the state who speak anything other than English or Spanish.

I see that the third most spoken language in Illinois is Polish, rather than German, and that Polish outpost floats in the sea of German. Not much of a surprise – lots of those Central Europa types immigrated to Chicago. But I would have thought that there’d be more Germans than Poles. Maybe this reflects more recent immigration patterns. I know that there are a fair number of newby Polish immigrants in the Boston-area. (Don’t know if it’s still the case, but for a while there were a number of imported Polish priests around here. One of them said the funeral Mass for my cousin twenty years ago. We were all a bit weirded out that someone with such a pronounced Polish accent was officiating at a parish so Irish-y that the statue of St. Pius X that adorned the front entrance resembles JFK.) Anyway, maybe the Chicago Poles are newcomers.

The Midwest outlier, however, isn’t Illinois. It’s Michigan, where Arabic comes in third. Hamtramck, outside of Detroit, used to be a majority-Polish Catholic town. It’s now homing in on becoming majority-Muslim. Hence the Arabic. Or it’s Minnesota, where Hmong is third-most-likely to be spoken. That’s because in 1975, when Laos was more or less destroyed, Minnesota welcomed in a lot of Hmong refugees.

After German, French is the language placing third in the most states: 11 in all. (Twelve if you count French Creole in Florida.) Four of the French states are in New England, which comes as no surprise, given the French Canadian population of these states. Massachusetts and Rhode Island, however, have Portuguese as their third. Lots of Azores/Portugal folks – think the Gloucester, Provincetown, and New Bedford fishing fleets. And there are a ton of Brazilians in the Boston area these days, too.

Back on the French front, Louisiana is one of the Francophone states, as anyone who’s seen The Big Easy will understand, eh cher? But what’s up with West Virginia? French? C’est vrai? (French for ‘huh?’)

For those of us who know folks from Philadelphia or who are familiar with Frank Sinatra, Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen’s mother, it’s no shocker that Italian is the third language of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

And anyone who’s spent more than a New York minute in Manhattan will get why Chinese is spoken there.

Two states speak Korean: Georgia and Virginia. Why not?

I really don’t know why I found this little map so interesting. Guess it’s because, if you squint a bit, you can see something of the history of immigration to the U.S. More or less. Plenty of British Isles immigrants over the years. And lots of Irish in that immigrant flow as well. Thanks to the British occupation of Eire, the Irish contributed little to the Tower of American Babel. Our English wa already baked in.

In any event, I had fun looking at the All American Language Lab. It’d be even more fun to look at what they looked like in 1900 and 1950. Spanish probably wouldn’t have been Number Two, other than in California, Texas and a couple o other states. But I’m too lazy to track down those earlier maps. If they show up in my Twitter feed, however, I’ll be so there.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Where’s the beef? In the carnivore’s freezer.

It seems like only yesterday that I was putting down my bowl of ice cream to chuckle about the Paleo diet. You remember Paleo? Think only foods that Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble would have put on the table: meat and fish, fresh fruit and veg, eggs and nuts. Strictly hunter-gatherer – no grains, which need to be cultivated – no processed foods, and no dairy, because I guess there were no domestic cows for Wilma and Betty to milk. And Fred and Barney were getting their meat from animals like hyenas and not bothering to milk them on the fly. Or from animals like dinosaurs, that don’t produce milk.

Odd as Paleo struck me – I ain’t never going to give up my grains, thank you – it made more sense to me than vegan. Sure, vegans can have grains, which is an improvement on Paleo. And I’m cool with the vegetarian aspects. What I don’t get about vegan is thinking that it’s exploiting a chicken to take an egg, a cow to spritz some milk, a bee to nab some honey. If you have the chickens in your backyard air-conditioned chicken coop, and know that they’re cared for, etc., how exploitive is it to ask them to produce an egg or two for you?

But, hey, I couldn’t stick with Atkins or South Beach for more than three days before falling off the no-carb wagon and landing, mouth wide open, in a big old bowl of pasta.

And then there’s the carnivore diet…

…a regimen that involves eating only animal products like meat, offal and eggs, and no plant-based foods. It’s an extreme version of the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet – which trains the body to run on fat rather than carbohydrates – that has become popular in recent years. Proponents of the diet say it reduces inflammation and blood pressure while increasing libido and mental clarity. (Source: The Guardian)

I like meat and eggs just fine. But offal? Oh, how awful.

I wouldn’t refuse liver if it were the last food on earth, and I do occasionally eat pate. But kidney? Isn’t their function to filter out impurities? And don’t they come with a whiff of urine?

Sweetbreads I tried once: too rich for my blood. Brain I ordered by accident in Paris. I recalled from high school French that veau meant veal, but I forgot entirely that cervelle was brain. It actually didn’t have much taste, but it looked kind of like chewing gum that had been extruded through the space between my front teeth.

As for tongue. Big gross beef tongue. Little pink lamb tongue. Really weird duck tongue. Yuck of yucks.

And no plant-based foods? No apples. No oranges. No peppers. No pears. No pistachios. No tomatoes. No potatoes. No broccoli. No grapes. No peaches. No cereals. No asparagus. No cukes. No bread. No blueberries. No walnuts. No rice. No thanks…

One of the adherents to the life of carnivory is Shawn Baker, a surgeon who eats roughly 4 pounds of steak a day. Which is about the amount of steak I consume in a year. Baker admits.

“It can be monotonous eating the same thing over and over again, but as time goes by you start to crave it.”

I tend to be kind of a boring, monotonous eater. After all, I’m somone who ate a baloney sandwich on white bread with kosher dill pickle every Monday through Thursday for all four years of my high school career. (On Friday’s – fish day – I ate a PBJ.) Yet I don’t think I could hack eating steak all the time.

But Baker likes the simplicity of it. No meal planning, no thought going into what’s to eat, quick in-and-out grocery shopping. All you need to know is where the beef is. Sort of like wearing the same outfit everyday. (What to wear today? Jeans and a sweater. That was easy.)

It did not surprise me in the least that:

…the all-meat diet has been embraced by a cluster of cryptocurrency entrepreneurs, who describe themselves as “bitcoin carnivores”.

As Michael Goldstein, a “bitcoin and meat maximalist” has it:

“Once someone has grown capable of seeing beyond the lies and myths that experts peddle in one domain, it becomes easier to see beyond them in other domains as well.”

Should we all be spending more time on Reddit and with InfoWars? Will that help us grown capable of ferreting out lies and myths?

While all sorts of wonders are attributed to the carnivore diet, many are skeptical. One such skeptic is Stanford professor of medicine Christopher Gardner, who has this to say:

“Are these T rex? African lions? Or humans? Assuming [you are referring to] humans, this sounds disastrous on multiple levels,” he said.

The lack of dietary fibre in an all-meat diet is likely to wreak havoc on the bacteria in our colons, known as the microbiome, he said. “Growing evidence suggests that in the absence of adequate fibre, the bacteria in the colon consume and thin the protective mucus lining, which then leads to impaired immune function and inflammation.”

Well, mucus-consuming bacteria is a bit more medical-ness than I needed. But it does seem logical that all meat wouldn’t be all good for you. There’s also research that suggests that consuming more meat is bad for your heart. Then there’s:

Factory farming of animals is also linked to antibiotic resistance in humans and is a huge contributor to the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

You’ve convinced me. No carnivore diet for this gal.

Think I’ll go have a cookie and a glass of milk.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

That Aaron Schlossberg sure is one clever marketer

Advertising costs a ton, and I’m guessing that’s especially true for the lawyer ads that run on TV. Better to take advantage of free press and social media. Which is what NYC attorney Aaron Schlossberg did the other day. What better way to reach your target audience, attract new prospects, than have all kinds of buzz buzzing around you?

Here’s the scoop on Mr. Schlossberg.

Apparently hoping to expand his client base, he did a bit of inspired performance art in a Manhattan restaurant when he stopped in for lunch. Overhearing a couple of employees speaking Spanish – a language that, according to his web site, Mr. Schlossberg is fluent in – the man went on a full-bore/full-boar rant. Fortunately for him, someone was able to capture his performance on her smartphone. And as luck would have it – or maybe just clever planning on this part – the video went viral. You can check it out here.

Some of the highlights:

In the video, the man tells an employee, “Your staff is speaking Spanish to customers when they should be speaking English... This is America.” (Source: Huffington Post)

Which reminded me of a weird old experience I had when I was in college. My roommate’s widowed mother and two maiden aunts came into town and took us out to The CafĂ© Budapest – back in the day, one of the swankier Boston restaurants. There was a couple sitting nearby, speaking French. For some reason – likely associated with tee many martoonis – the two maiden aunts went into a bit of the rant about people coming to this country and not speaking English. Part of their rave included repeatedly emphasizing the fact that their parents were immigrants, but they had always spoken English. They omitted the fact that their parents, who were themselves the offspring of Irish immigrants, spoke English to begin with. My roommate and I, along with her mother, were completely mortified. Eventually the maiden aunts calmed down.

That was nearly 50 years ago. The world one might have hoped had changed for the better, not the worst.

The employee attempted to explain that his co-workers were simply interacting with other customers.

That hardly satisfied the man, who can be seen pointing wildly around the room at everyone he said he overheard speaking Spanish.

After other customers laugh at his antics and taunt him, with one telling him he’s “fucked up,” the angry man becomes even angrier.

“My guess is, they’re not documented, so my next call is to ICE to have each one of [them] kicked out of my country,” he said. “They have the balls to come here and live off of my money I pay for their welfare, I pay for their ability to be here. The least they could do, the least they could do is speak English.”

Schlossberg seems a bit confused here. First off, he forgot to call these people “animals”, which seems to be the on-trend word for Hispanic immigrants of late. Second, these were Spanish-speaking folks with jobs, so what was that about paying for their welfare? But Schlossberg’s the clever marketer, and he’s the one that would know best about what search terms would most help him reach his ideal clientele.

On his firm’s website, they tout their creativity:

We are proud of our ability to develop out-of-the-box solutions while still offering exceptional litigation strength that can win for our clients when more conventional approaches are most appropriate.

Personally, I’d prefer my lawyers to take that more conventional approach if it is, in fact, most appropriate. But that’s just me and, anyway, I’m not their target client. I will say it’s good to see that his firm is committed to out-of-the-box, whether they’re litigating or marketing.

Prior to his brilliant out-of-the-box video – he even got a complete stranger to shoot and post it for free – Schlossberg had already proven himself adept at social media. As I saw in his LinkedIn profile (which for some reason seems to have been taken down), one of his two references was from a woman with the last name of Schlossberg, of all things. I’m sure it was just a coincidence. After all, while Schlossberg is not as common a surname as Rogers, there are plenty of them around. Isn’t Caroline Kennedy a Schlossberg?

Anyway, the review on LinkedIn wasn’t written by Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. But by using a reference that gets us thinking – is this his mother/aunt/sister/cousin/wife? – Aaron Schlossberg is demonstrating his prowess with out-of-the-box thinking. I mean, anyone can have a LinkedIn reference written by someone who’s not related. But, hey, the most conventional approaches may just seem the most appropriate.

I wish Attorney Schlossberg all the luck in the world.

He may need it if he wants to do any more take out lunching in midtown.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

So good, so good, so good…

Tomorrow night, I’ll be seeing my first live and in person Red Sox game of the season, a make up for the rained out Patriots Day game. The weather forecast is great – in the 70’s, no rain – which is quite a bit different than the weather on Patriots Day, which featured temps in the upper 40’s, soaking rain, and headwinds in whatever direction you happened to be walking or running in.

Throughout the season, I watch a bit of pretty much every game, usually flipping back and forth between the talking heads on MSNBC and the talking heads on NESN, which broadcasts the Red Sox. Sometimes – if the news just gets overwhelming – I’ll stick with the full game. If a game goes extras, and I end up giving up on it (especially if it’s an extra innings West Coast game), I’ll typically check on the score if I get up in the middle of the night.

But there’s nothing like seeing a game up close and personal at Fenway Park.

Yes, I know that most of the seats aren’t comfortable. I’m only 5’7” and if I’m in the bleachers, my knees are pressed up against the seat in the row in front of me. It takes forever to exit the ballpark postgame, those too-few exits obviously built for a time when folks weren’t always in such a rush to get to where they’re going after. And don’t get me going on the cost of the concessions. My mother fed a family of seven for a week on what you pay for a couple of hot dogs, a soda, and some Cracker Jacks.

But there’s still something about seeing a game live, especially at a park so steeped in tradition and, for me, memories that date back to my first game in July 1960. (Sox beat the Indians, 6-4. Ted Williams homered.) Love it.

I also like the singing.

Even though very few people sing along with the national anthem, I do. So does my sister Trish. Rather than have the Star Spangled Banner belted (or dragged or screeched) out by the 12 year old from New Hampshire or the singing firefighter from Brockton, I wish they’d encourage the crowd to sing. (A few years back, I wrote to the then-president of the Red Sox, and he responded by having a sing-along the next game Trish and I attended. We were announced on the PA, and it was fun – but would have been more gratifying if more of the folks around us had chimed in.)

I also like singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch.

If, during the game, they play the Dropkick Murphy’s Shipping Up to Boston, I’m in. Put me in, Coach, if that comes up, too.

When the Red Sox win, I like singing along with Dirty Water. And if it takes long enough to exit the park – which it often does – I like singing along with the Dropkick’s Tessie.

And I also like Sweet Caroline, which for the past 20 years or so, the Sox have played between the top and the bottom of the eighth.

But a lot of people despise this tradition, and the other day, the annual let’s-get-rid-of-Sweet-Caroline article ran in The Boston Globe.

The anti-Sweet Caroliners accuse anyone of liking this song of being pink hats, the sneering name applied to those who come to games because it’s a thing, fair-weather fans who don’t know the difference between a bat and a ball, let alone the definition of the infield fly rule. Real fans, the purists moan, are filling in their scorecards (K!), not jumping up and hollering “so good, so good, so good.” Even when the Red Sox are behind.

They complain that Sweet Caroline has driven them out of the park, that they no longer go to more than one or two games each year because they can’t possibly bear the two minutes of so when Neil Diamond’s playing and most of the fans are merrily singing along.

They point out that Neil Diamond once said that the song was inspired by a picture of Caroline Kennedy, taken when she was a pre-schooler living in the White House. This is certainly a plenty icky thought, given some of the lyrics – “touching me, touching you.” (Diamond later walked back this claim.) But it’s seems to me likely that, if Caroline Kennedy did inspire the song, it was her name that was the inspiration for the title, not her four-year old on a pony who inspired the sexually-tinged lyrics.

Anyway, I’m not a pink hat, and I like Sweet Caroline. So there.

But it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the Red Sox decided that it would only be played if the Red Sox were ahead. After all, it does seem pretty stupid to be top-of-the-lunging the words “good times never seemed so good” after the Sox have blown a five run lead and are now trailing by a pair. Yes, I get that those making a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Fenway Park consider singing Sweet Caroline part of the overall experience – an experience they’ve paid through the nose to experience. But there is a legitimate argument to be more selective about when the song is played.

Someone suggested that, when the Sox are trailing, a better song to play might be Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. This would be a good choice. If your team’s behind, what could be better than singing, “Don’t worry, ‘bout a thing. Cause every little thing’s, gonna be alright.”

I would hate to see them get rid of Sweet Caroline entirely. Restricting it to game where the Sox were ahead half way through the eighth inning would work for me.

Some of the commenters who posted on The Globe article also want the Red Sox to do away with The Wave, which still pops up occasionally. Unfortunately, The Wave doesn’t really require any involvement by the team. People just start doing it. And as far as I can tell, it pops up at the most inopportune times. The lunkheads sitting in front of me are standing up and waving just as the payoff pitch is being fired in. I wouldn’t want to those who instigate The Wave – talk about pink hats (and/or drunkards) tossed out. But I would like to see more people sit it out and stop blocking my view. When enough people stop participating in The Wave, it’ll die a natural death.

As for The Sweet Caroline Abolitionist Society, they, too, can lead by example. If enough fans stop singing it, I’m sure it will eventually die out. I won’t be one of them, but have at it.

As for me, I’ll be singing along. So good, so good, so good.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Free Whitening System? Hmmmm….

When it comes to dentists, I’ve led a pretty charmed life. I still have a couple of fillings put in place by my childhood DDS nearly 60 years ago. For a couple of years in my twenties, my dental care wasn’t up to the standards I was used to, and during this period I had a couple of teeth-related nightmares. And then I met my husband, and started going to his dentist. Dental nightmares begone! This guy is an incredibly good dentist, and I’ve been seeing him for decades now.

But he’s getting on in years – he’s now in his seventies – and our fear was that we’d be lost when he hung his drill up. Then, wonderfully, his son joined the practice. Also an excellent dentist, so I no longer have to worry about looking around in my old age for a new dentist. (Bonus points: his wife is my primary care physician, so top to toe I’m covered until death do us part.)

Bottom line: I’m not looking for a dentist. But if I were, the “three blonde female dentists” who run Renaissance Dental Center in Raleigh, NC, would most decidedly not be my cup of teeth-staining tea.

First off, I’m not wild about professionals – doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants – who advertise. I’ve never seen doctors advertising, nor dentists for that matter. It just might not be a New England kind of thing. But we do have lawyer ads, and I’d go back to law school and become my own lawyer before I’d “better phone Stone” and sign up for Jason Stone’s Stone Cold Guarantee. Or dial for dollars with Tom Kiley, The Million Dollar Man. Maybe I’d think differently if I were in the back of an ambulance that one of them was chasing, but for now…

Second off, the Renaissance ads that they run in a local mag are cheeseball even by the tawdry standards of professionals who advertise.

In the past, the three dentists – all quite attractive – have appeared as construction workers. They’ve posed in workout clothing, and with hearts and teddy bears for a Valentine’s Day-themed ad. (Awwww…)

Truly, based on the ads alone, I wouldn’t let one of these dentists near my gaping mouth with a drill. I don’t care how competent they are, I just couldn’t get past the kitsch.

But their latest ad would really have me questioning their collective judgment.

Free Whitening System

Given that one of the women is wearing a kimono and has chopsticks in her hair, and another is wearing Indian garb while posing with her arms folded in ugga-bugga-wigwam mode, a lot of people are squawking about cultural appropriation. Me, I’m not all that big on squawking about cultural appropriation. Okay, I don’t like to see drunken young women wearing fake Irish maiden outfits puking in the streets of Boston on St. Patrick’s Day  - or other ridiculous and disrespectful borrowings of ethnic look and feel – but why can’t a little boy go out as a Indian brave for Halloween? Why can’t an artist wear a kimono? Or paint a picture of a white woman wearing a kimono? (There was some brouhaha a couple of years back around Monet’s La Japonaise, part of the collection at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.)

All cultures appropriate. That’s how the world evolves. As long as it’s respectful and not exploitative, I think it’s okay to be both a borrower and a lender. (Take my Irish maiden costume, please. Just don’t go puking outside The Black Rose, okay?)

Anyway, if I don’t find the dentist outfits particularly offensive, how about the line below? FREE WHITENING SYSTEM?

Presumably, the dentist in the Scots garb doesn’t need whitening, but an authentic Japanese woman, and an authentic Native American, well, they would be actual people of color. And probably wouldn’t consider themselves in need of a whitening system, even if it were free. Talk about offensive. Talk about whatever the visual equivalent is tone deaf.

Not surprisingly, this ad had plenty of people gnashing their teeth:

“Free whitening system indeed,” one person quipped….

“No excuse to be clueless anymore,” another person added. “This is shameful.”

One commenter opined: “This is like if SNL did a parody on clueless white people.” (Source: Washington Post)

The backlash prompted the dentists to issue an apology:

In one of our recent advertisements, we attempted to focus upon something that unites us…the warmth and joy behind a smile. We now realize it was ignorant and offensive, and we are truly sorry. We have learned a valuable lesson in this situation. Again, our sincere apologies.

The Renaissance Three also pulled their ad, replacing it with one in which they cutesily appear as referees.

And the magazine in which it appeared has “implemented a more stringent policy for checking over ads.”

May be time for the dentists to get a new advertising agency. And how’s this for an idea? Why not pose in – get this – the outfits you wear when you’re being dentists? Makes more sense to me than the Village People approach they’ve been taking. And a lot more culturally and professionally appropriate.

Monday, May 14, 2018

In (qualified) defense of Kelly Sadler

I never thought I’d even offer a qualified defense of any member of the Trump Administration. After all, if you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas. On second thought, let me fix that insult to all the wonderful doggos out there. If you lie down with bedbugs, you get up with bedbug bites. (I was doing to use cats and fleas, but I don’t want to insult cats, either. Bedbugs? Ain’t nobody going to jump to their defense…)

Anyway, the one and only member of the Trump Administration I have any regard for is James Mattis, and that’s only because of my fantasy scenario, which is that if Drumpf decides to start WWIII, Mattis will launch a coup. Or something.

And the only members of the Trump Administration I have any pity for are actually members of the family, not the Administration. And those members are Tiffany (the luckily for her forgotten and neglected daughter) and Barron (poor kid period).

But back to Kelly Sadler…

A week ago, no one other than her friends, family, and colleagues knew who she was. Then overnight, among those who obsessively follow the news, she’s a household word. Make that a household epithet.

For those who don’t obsessively follow the news, Sadler is the member of the White House communications team – our tax money in action! – who infamously made a crack about John McCain’s dying. This was in the course of a meeting where the crack communications team was discussing the upcoming vote to approve Gina Haspel as CIA Director. McCain had announced that he would not be voting to approve because of Haspel’s refusal to agree that torture is immoral. Sadler apparently made a ‘who cares’ sort of remark, noting that McCain was dying, anyway.

Thanks to one of her colleagues, the story went public, and all of sudden the dudgeon was riding preposterously high.

Sadler’s comment was unfunny – “sources” reported that her “joke” fell flat. Callous. Crass.

But who among us hasn’t made an off-the-cuff remark in a work or social situation that we lived to regret. We said something hurtful. Off-color. Untruthful. Stupid. Mean. I’m not talking about necessary truths that someone is going to find unpleasant. I’m talking about something that just plain didn’t need to get said.

If you’re smart - and not given to saying things that are hurtful, off-color, untruthful, stupid, mean, unfunny, callous, crass – you read your audience and apologize right away. If you’re not that smart, or your timing’s off, a friend, family member or colleague will call you on the remark, and you get to be embarrassed. Most likely followed by an apology.

If you’re really unlucky, you have a friend, family member or colleague who won’t confront you, but will just go an blab to the world what terrible thing you said.

Which is what happened to Kelly Sadler.

Hard to believe, when there are no doubt plenty of sterling candidates around, but maybe Kelly Sadler is the very worst person on the WH communications team. Maybe everyone’s delighted she’s been outed as an unfunny, callous and crass piece of crap. But, given the White House reputation as a recurring lost episode of Game of Thrones, it’s more likely that she’s just part of a faction that another faction hates with a fury. No better or worse than the person in the next office down.

So, off to the press with that little leak. Really a nothing, as leaks go. And really, as far as unfunny, callous, and crass things to say go, what Sadler said was pretty much of a nothing, too. A crack about John McCain’s probably sooner rather than later death? Seriously, BFD.

Of course, in today’s world, what shouldn’t be a BFD turns into a major shit storm. And all of a sudden Kelly Sadler is a household name (at least among news obsessives).

Here’s what I think:

Kelly Sadler said something untoward.

Apparently, one of her colleagues couldn’t wait to hiss their way out of the snake pit and inform the world.

And all of a sudden, Kelly Sadler finds herself a proxy for those in the White House who are more visible and who make crass and callous remarks with some regularity. (And, yes, I’ve got my eye on you, Mr. President. And you, too, Mr. Kelly – fellow graduate of a school run by the Sisters of Notre Dame: for shame! Just slap those illegal kids into foster care “or whatever”.) Not to mention LIE all the time.. (For getting my eye on: ditto the aforementioned, and throw in Sarah Huckabee Sanders.)

All of a sudden, there’s a big hue and outcry for Kelly Sadler to be fired.

Attention huers and outcriers: unless she’s doing a ton of rotten stuff behind the scenes, unless she’s colossally incompetent – and both of these conditions may be true: we just have no way of knowing – Kelly Sadler shouldn’t get fired just because she said something unfunny, callous, and crass. Maybe she gets a reprimand, a black mark in her personnel file. Maybe. In most of the world, someone would have called Sadler out on her remark and that would have been the end of it.

I understand that the people who care about John McCain – his family, friends, and colleagues –  are upset by this remark. They’re watching someone they love approach the end of his life. Been there, done that. Sadness and tension abide. But firing Kelly Sadler can’t do anything about John McCain’s glioblastoma. Nor would it bring civility and decency back to the White House. (And, by the way, Sadler’s remark  was not especially uncivil or indecent, at lease to someone with my lax and unrefined standards. Just unfunny, callous and crass.)

I shouldn’t feel at all bad for Kelly Sadler. After all, you lie down with bedbugs…

Still, I have some (qualified) sympathy for someone who gets caught up in such a major contretemps because she’s got a nasty colleague with a big mouth. I’m all for those WH leakers telling us the big stuff. I want to know the outrageous things this cast of malefactors is saying and doing to undermine our democracy - and the world, while they’re at it.

By the time you’re reading this, Kelly Sadler’s time in the barrel may be over. There’ll probably be some new outrage to focus our collective umbrage on. Let’s just try to reserve that collective umbrage for things that really matter – and nobody needs me to put that list together. A dumb stray comment by a lower-tier staffer isn’t one of them, even if we want to make it emblematic of all the truly awful stuff that’s going on behind closed doors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Sikh and ye shall drive?

As far as I can tell, every manicurist/pedicurist in Boston is from Vietnam. At least everyone I’ve ever gone to is. I did a quick google and the estimate is that 50% of the nail technicians in the US are first or second generation Vietnamese. Vietnamese women, on average, are tiny – again to the google: average height 5 ft. – and, as far as I can tell, have pretty small feet. So I often sit there wondering what they make of my foot size (11 2A).

A lot of the folks who work in Boston’s parking garages are from East Africa. The numbers may be going down as the next generation moves on up, but for a while, most of the corner stores in midtown Manhattan were owned by Koreans.

And so it has always been: think coal miners from Eastern Europa and Italian cobblers, said the granddaughter of the German butcher and the Irish barkeep, a granddaughter who grew up in a neighborhood with bars named Hennessy’s, Mulcahy’s, and Breen’s.

Still, I was a bit surprised to see an article in The Economist on the presence of Sikhs in trucking. Turns out there are an estimated 135K Sikh truckers, and their numbers are growing, with 17,000 added to their ranks last year. There’s even a trade group – the North American Punjabi Trucking Association – devoted to Sikhs. (The Punjab is the region most closely associated with Sikhs.)

If you’re like me, your mental image of a truck driver is a middle-aged white guy in jeans and a MAGA cap. Yet here was the February cover-boy of industry mag, Overdrive:

Overdrive-Sikhs-February-2017-cover-image-2018-02-06-10-59-768x835

Who needs to MAGA, when you need to look no further than this example of what has long made America great: the ability to assimilate people from so many diverse cultures. Sigh… Sikhs in trucking is also an example of “outsiders” taking over professions that are no longer so attractive to natives. (Think picking crops, working in chicken factories, and pedicuring the size 11 2A feet of folks like me.)

Before deregulation in the 1980s, trucking was a blue-collar route to the middle class. Since then, pay has stagnated, and the job has lost much of its appeal. The Bureau of Labour Statistics reports median earnings of $42,000, or about $20 an hour, a sum that may dwindle after expenses. Annual turnover rates within firms hover around 90%. The American Trucking Associations warned of a shortage of 50,000 drivers by the end of 2017, rising to 174,000 by 2026. The median age of the private-fleet driver is 52; many younger would-be drivers refuse to take on a job with a grueling, erratic schedule and long stretches away from home.

Yet, though most Americans may not think highly of trucking, Sikhs regard it as a prestigious career. Many Sikh drivers come from trucking families in India, where Sikhs are also prominent in the industry. (Source: The Economist)

Interesting that trucking is facing an aging workforce and driver shortages. You’d think that, given this, that the wages wouldn’t be stagnating: they’d be going up, no? At least that’s what we used to learn in good old Economics 101, with the good old supply and demand curve. But apparently – and weirdly – not.

Also interesting is that shortages are expected to keep growing over the next decade.By 2026, I’m guessing that there will be plenty of autonomous vehicles on the road, 10-4 good buddy-ing while barreling down the highway. So there will be fewer truckers needed. But that’s still a few miles down the road, so for now, Sikh and ye shall drive.

When I think about trucking, of course, popular culture pops into mind.

First off, there’s the made-for-TV movie (when made-for-TV movie was a big deal, in the way back of 1971) Duel, in which poor Dennis Weaver is chased down the highway by a psycho truck driver.

Then there are all sorts of – earworm alert – trucker songs.

Who can forget “Six Days on the Road.” “I’ve Been Everywhere.” And, of course, “Convoy”(we got a convoy goin’). Not to mention the ultimate earworm alert for non-Dead fans: “Truckin” (like the doodah man). There are actually a few truckish songs that I like: “On the Road Again,” “Me and Bobby McGee”, and – my fav – “Willin” (as sung by Linda Rondstadt).

Trucking has been romanticized like few other professions, second only to cowboy. Thus all those songs.

But wait, there’s more. The Sikh’s are getting in on the act, bringing a bit of Bollywood style to the genre:

Surjit Khan’s “Truck Union” is part of a new crop of trucker songs hitting America’s highways. Like the 1970s classics, Mr Khan’s ditty is all blue jeans, work boots and American-dream fulfilment. Unlike those classics, though, the music video features turbaned dancers in flashy kurtas belting out Punjabi lyrics while gyrating to bhangra beats, before a stage-set of lorries.

Here’s the link. Enjoy, good buddy.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sisterhood-boom-bah

I absolutely understand why a grown woman would want to be a cheerleader for an NFL team.

They were cheerleaders in high school and college and just want to keep shaking those pompoms.

They’re dancers and want to high-kick in front of 75,000 fans.

It’s a good way to work out.

They get the camaraderie that comes with being part of any group.

They get to build their network.

They get to watch football games for free.

Even if there are rules against fraternizing, you might get to go out with the football hero.

That said, if ask to pick from a list of any 100 vocations or avocations, for me, cheerleader would be in the lowest decile, if not rock bottom. Even if I were young, lithe, gorgeous, energetic and had whatever the 21st century equivalent of Farrah Fawcett hair is, cheerleading is not how I’d want to spend my time.

There’s just so much exploitation and just plain ickiness about it, with plenty of stories out there about terrible pay, poor working conditions, and arbitrary rules.

And then there’s the recently-emerged story about how the Washington Redskins cheerleaders were treated back in 2013 when they were flown to Costa Rica for a calendar photo shoot.

Bad enough, that:

…Redskins officials collected their passports upon arrival at the resort, depriving them of their official identification.

But:

For the photo shoot, at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, some of the cheerleaders said they were required to be topless, though the photographs used for the calendar would not show nudity. Others wore nothing but body paint. Given the resort’s secluded setting, such revealing poses would not have been a concern for the women — except that the Redskins had invited spectators. (Source: NY Times)

I’m sure that your cigar will just fly out of you now-gaping mouth when you learn that these charming and wholesome spectators were “a contingent of sponsors and FedExField suite holders — all men.”

The close-up access afforded these guys had a two-fold purpose. One was just a good, old-fashioned salacious ogle on the beech. The other was to let the fellows decide which nine of the 36 cheerleaders would get invited to act as personal escorts for a nightclub outing with some of the sponsors.

Their participation did not involve sex, the cheerleaders said, but they felt as if the arrangement amounted to “pimping us out.” What bothered them was their team director’s demand that they go as sex symbols to please male sponsors, which they did not believe should be a part of their job.

The “job” – the trip to Costa Rica for the photo shoot - by the way, paid nothing. The cheerleaders had their airfare, meals, and hotel covered. But other than that, nada.

Their treatment has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks since two former N.F.L. cheerleaders filed discrimination complaints and described a hostile work environment in which they were often dangled as sex objects for the titillation of male fans away from the games. Interviews with dozens of current and former N.F.L. cheerleaders revealed a common perspective:

They enjoyed performing at games, developing friendships with other cheerleaders and participating in charity work, which included visiting hospitals and going overseas to entertain military troops. But they were disturbed by some of the extracurricular requirements that put them in what they considered unsafe situations.

It goes without saying that the Redskins (and the female director of their cheerleading squad) have a different perspective on the Costa Rica event. But I’m not sure I’d take the word of a team that refuses to acknowledge that there are at ton of folks out there who believe that their team name is a racial slur. And it sure doesn’t sound like the cheerleaders are making stuff like the:

…2012 team-bonding party…a wild gathering, where men shot liquor into the cheerleaders’ mouths with turkey basters. Below the deck, men handed out cash prizes in twerking contests. No cheerleaders claimed that they were touched inappropriately, and the two team captains said the trip was pleasant

One added, “They were all adults and got out of the experience what they wanted to get out of it.” One cheerleader a few years later was told what to expect at the annual affair. “I’d been given a heads-up that we were going on this particular man’s yacht and that he had a lot of money — and that you could make a lot of money there if you wanted,” one cheerleader said, referring to the prize money in the dance contests. “But that was not for me, and lots of us felt the same way. But we were too scared to complain. We felt that our place on the team would be compromised if we did.”

Maybe the cheerleaders will just have to make an individual pro-con decision:

“You kept telling yourself that it was going to get better,” one of those women said. “But it never got better. Finally, I had to admit to myself, this is not what I thought it would be.”

Remember, two of the most beautiful words in the English language are “I” and “quit.”

But maybe the sisterhood of the sis-boom-bah should think about organizing. Lock arms, sisters, and get it in writing that you won’t put up with crap. Demand better compensation. This would be risky. There may be plenty of other women ready to take their place who don’t mind twerking for a bunch of old geezers. But it seems to this old lady sitting on the sidelines that a bit of solidarity might be worth a shot.