Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Let the post-covid luxury spending boom begin!

High end cabins on a cruise to the Bahamas are going for $20K. I know that the ads used to tell us that "it's better in the Bahamas," but what could make a cruise that expensive?

Oh, lots of things, I suppose. 

Not sure what's on that pricey Bahamas sail, but luxury cruises offer lots of goodies. Like a private steward to cater to your (nearly) every whim. Nespresso machines at the ready. Binoculars from Swarovski, that disappointingly are not bedazzled with Swarovski crystals. Your own Jacuzzi. Personalized stationery. And suites bigger than my condo.

Of course, if I were going to set sail on a cruise - which I most decidedly am not - my preference would be high end.

The only thing stopping me is a) personal disinclination to cruise; and, oh yeah, b) the money.

But sploshy cruises are making a post-pandemic comeback, as are most good and services in the luxury sector. 

The urge to get traveling is, of course, understandable, given that folks have been cooped up for a year and a half now. Plus those with means have more means than ever to spend on discretionary items. 
Thanks to stock market gains, stimulus and a pandemic recession that largely bypassed white-collar jobs, Americans were able to save an estimated $2.5 trillion more than usual since the pandemic began, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Additionally, the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans added more than $8 trillion to their net worth, according to the Federal Reserve, as stocks and home values soared in 2020. (Source: WaPo)
All that savings has been burning a hole in an awful lot of pockets. And now it's getting spent, providing a boost to the overall economy. (The U.S. economy is largely - 70% largely - driven by consumer spending.)

The good news is that this spending actually does come with some trickle down economics. Those private stewards, popping those champagne corks and fluffing your pillows on those luxury cruises, need to get paid. But it also means that as more and more spending comes out of the upper echelons - that spending has always, of course, been disproportionate; it's just that it's becoming even more so -  companies will be bringing more and more high-end options to market. 

Lafayette 148 New York, a high-end women's clothing retailer, "is doubling down on luxury." The pandemic has:
“...made us aspire to be more luxury, less mass-market,” [CEO Deirdre] Quinn told The Post. “I actually have moved the brand more into luxury because I think that’s what my customer is looking for.”
Even middling (upper middling?) retailers like J. Crew and Uniqlo - which I think of as pretty solid middle class outfits - are moving up the luxury chain. 

Travel's moving up-market as well:
On an earnings call this year, Lindblad Expeditions founder Sven Lindblad laid out an agenda to turn the luxury cruise line — 35-day Antarctic cruises start at about $50,000 — into a “diverse high-end travel aggregate.”
What's the the hollowed out middle to do once J. Crew starts pricing us out, and Linblad turns itself into a "'diverse high-end travel aggregate'"? What's in it for our peeps? Do we have to content ourselves with pressing our noses up to the glowing shop window like the poor little match girl? Or hold our noses and start shopping at the Dollar Store? Do we have to get by with a splash in the Charles River on a Duck Boat, or just stay the f' home? 

Anyway, high-income consumer spending started to bounce back in March, just in time for the first anniversary of the pandemic setting in. It's now up over and above pre-pandemic spending levels by 11 percent. 

No surprise that travel and entertainment are accounting for a lot of that spending. 

But high-enders also spend more on education - the top 20 percent accounts for 54 percent of spending on private college, private schools, and tutoring services. They're also bigly spenders on eldercare, pets, and toys. 

Oh, thanks to the stimulus and  unemployment subsidies, folks on the lower end are spending. It's just that their money goes to basics like groceries, rent, and transportation. 
But the cycle of economic recovery is not driven by necessities. It is driven by discretionary spending. And increasingly, that means luxury goods.
Even Amazon is trying to get in on the luxury spending boom, with their Luxury Stores. 

Don't know about you, but this doesn't come up automatically for me when I get on Amazon. I do see Amazon Basics, however.

Still, if it's good for the economy, all this luxury spending is good for the economy. (Sorry, forgot to issue a tautology alert!) But is it good for the soul? Asking for a friend...

Monday, August 30, 2021

Clickbait-iest headline of the year award?

Well, who among us wouldn't want to grow their retirement account by an order of magnitude? Or two? Or three? Or more? Or even by, say, 300,000 percent. 300,ooo percent, huh? Tell me more!

Thus, I eagerly clicked on the Wapo bait and to read an article with the title "The simple tricks that turned one investor’s $70,000 retirement account into a $264 million fortune."

Simple tricks? Tell me even more! 

And so I set out, yellow notepad and rollerball pen in hand, so I could take notes and not miss a trick when it came to those simple tricks.

Friends, would it surprise you to learn that by the time I finished that article, my yellow notepad had nary a jot or tittle on it? 

Alas, it's true. There are, in fact, no simple tricks to turning $70K into $264M. 

Instead, the story chronicled the amazeballs success that one Ted Weschler, a "low-profile money manager", without actually revealing much by way of easy-peasy, smarty-pants tips. 

 Weschler isn't just any old "low profile money manager." He’s a helpmate of Warren Buffet, for whom he keeps an eye on a whole bundle of Berkshire loot. His personal retirement account is a sideline.

Overall, his wisdom comes down to the same advice that most of us give ourselves, even if we’re not quite as assiduous as Weschler is when it comes to following our own advice.

...save and invest, early and often, and take advantage of any retirement account benefits offered by their employer. (Source:

Accruing his fortune was also helped by converting his plain vanilla IRA to a Roth nearly a decade ago. For Roth’s, you pay the taxes upfront, rather than when you withdraw your money.

Such transactions weren’t available to high-income people like Weschler until 2010 when legislation (intended in part to pay for prolonging some of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts) waived the income limits on IRA- to- Roth conversions.

Converting to a Roth from a regular IRA cost Weschler serious money on his 2012 taxes — but he won’t have to pay the IRS anything when he takes money out of his Roth. This means that down the road, he’ll save lots more tax than he paid nine years ago…He acknowledges the policy challenges that presents.

“Although I have been an enormous beneficiary of the IRA mechanism, I personally do not feel the tax shield afforded me by my IRA is necessarily good tax policy,” he wrote. “To this end, I am openly supportive of modifying the benefit afforded to retirement accounts once they exceed a certain threshold.”

So, if Weschler had his druthers, rich folks couldn’t do the Roth conversion thang. But us little guys would be. That is, if we could afford to do so. Of course, one of the attractions of saving in an IRA is that you don’t pay taxes on your contribution, which makes it a lot easier to make it.

Anyway, Weschler's simple tricks - save often and early, do a  Roth - aren't going to build any astronomical fortune for you.

Weschler’s career has been in investing (hedge fund, leveraged buyout fund), so he spends a lot of time researching and thinking about investments. He's a smart guy. And he cautions that those of us who don’t have his time and talent to keep an eye on individual investment instruments should keep our IRA dough in index funds. Which, of course, so many of us do, and thus we get the “chug along” returns we get – admittedly pretty good of late – but not the crazy-money returns that Weschler has achieved. If he’d invested that $70K IRA in an index fund he’d have a lot less. With Vanguard, he’d have accrued a modest $1.6M.

The story of how he met Buffett is an interesting one:

In 2010, Weschler, a long time Buffett admirer, entered and won the annual auction run by the Glide Memorial Church of San Francisco to have a lunch with Buffett by making a $2,626,311 donation. He also won the 2011 auction by bidding $100 more.

Rather than join Buffett for high-profile lunches in New York City, Weschler flew to Buffett’s hometown of Omaha to dine at a since-closed steakhouse called Picolo’s.

These two lunches, which Weschler says lasted about four hours each, resulted in Buffett offering Weschler a job.

Weschler, by the way, has done just fine for Buffett Berkshire. It’s just that he does a lot better for his own IRA, where he can take greater risk and swing for further fences.

Anyway, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t know – other than that maybe I should have done some Roth conversion at some point, especially given that the market’s been doing well by me of late. Not that it would make that much of a difference. I’m not exactly a high roller with a rich-guy tax rate.

Bottom line: there’s no simple trick to growing your IRA by 300,000 percent. You need to be smart, canny, tough,persistent, and lucky. There is no “everyone can do it” strategy. The “everyone can do it strategy” is start building your IRA early on, stick it in an index fund, play the long game (lean into equities - be bullish - when you’re young), and you’ll be able to have a more comfortable if somewhat modest retirement.

Didn’t need to read this clickbait article to know that.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Prince of a fellow

I'm all for capitalism. (I didn't get that business degree for nothing.) Just not capitalism of the unbridled variety, which would grind everyone and everything in its path into dust. But bridled capitalism? I'm there. And by bridled capitalism I mean capitalism that pays workers a living wage, provides a safe and sane workplace, lets people retire before they drop dead in their tracks, builds products that don't kill people, doesn't lie about its people-killing products, shares its wealth with those who helped build it, doesn't price rapaciously just because they can (seriously, the man that came up with insulin gave the patent away for free so that the lives of diabetics would be saved; today, we have people going broke paying for their insulin - or dying because they can't pay), doesn't dump toxic waste wherever it wants, etc.

There's a reason that the regulatory apparatus built up around capitalism. Think Triangle Shirtwaist. Think Love Canal. Think Purdue Pharma.

But while capitalism may not be super-great, and is, in fact, pretty damned flawed, but it sure beats its opposite number.

I was in Berlin just as The Wall was falling and got to see what Communism produced and it wasn't pretty. We went "shopping" in East Berlin a few times: underwear that seemed to be made out of sheetrock; rotten apples; pairs of shoes with two left feet. (Okay: almost but not quite.) Everything gray, drab, depressing. And repressive. There's a reason why Communist societies tend to end up with gulags, while capitalism gives you The Hamptons.

And I actually believe that capitalism, the free market is going to save us.

Once companies start demanding that their employees get vaccinated or lose their jobs (or pay more for their insurance coverage), I'm guessing we're going to see a lot more whining - but a lot more people getting vaccinated. And maybe, just maybe, the pandemic will wind down.

And it's the insurance companies that are going to lead the private sector charge on global warming.

So, capitalism: Yay! Not a stunningly loud yay, but yay nonetheless.

But capitalism sure does produce plenty of rotters.

Case in point, war profiteer and mercenary par excellence Eric Prince, who was offering to fly Afghans out of Kabul Airport for $6,500 a seat. Extra charges if you need help making your way to Kabul Airport.

When there's a major global humanitarian effort underway to help those Afghans who justifiably fear life under the Taliban get out alive, this prince of a fellow sees only an opportunity to make a buck.

I suppose if you're an Afghan with the scratch, and you're someone who wouldn't otherwise make it onto an American or allied or humanitarian plane, you'd be all in on this. Still, anyone with any combination of heart and/or soul wouldn't be looking to make a buck at a time like this. 

But it's no surprise:

Prince, the brother of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and a top donor to former President Donald Trump, is no stranger to controversy: he allegedly violated a U.N. embargo by selling weapons to Libya, reportedly recruited spies to infiltrate liberal groups and he even reportedly planned to create a private army in Ukraine.

Just imagine what Thanksgiving dinner must be like for this family. Do they sit around giving thanks for all the evil that they do? Play games of one-ups-man-ship? You think you did something shitty? Have I got a topper for you. Do they compare bank accounts?

Needless to say, Prince positions himself as a philanthropist.

Here's what they have to say on Blackwater Worldwide (and, no, I can't figure out what relationship this outfit has to all the different other entities Prince has founded and renamed):

Mr. Prince’s philanthropic endeavors are focused on refugees, humanitarian relief and economic development.
Refugees? As in all those desperate Afghans? Humanitarian relief? As in charging refugees an exorbitant amount to get to safety? 

Now economic development. That one's pretty clear. Mr. Prince seems pretty focused on his own.

As I said, I've got nothing against capitalism. I just don't like this guy's brand. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

What's in a name?

The good-to-great news on the covid front has been the full approval by the FDA of Pfizer's vaccine. 

I'm hopeful that this will push some of the anti-vaxxers to finally get vaccinated. If nothing else, it lets them save a bit of face if they've been claiming  (for whatever - generally uninformed - reason) that they have been oh, so wisely holding out for the FDA imprimatur.

Inevitably, the ink on the pronouncement wasn't dry before the talking points brigade was out there yammering about how the FDA was forced into making a premature decision here. But I still think that we'll see an uptick in vaccinations.

This move by the FDA may prove especially effective when combined with the dire news coming out of states where the great unvaxxed are monopolizing hospital/ICU beds and dying at alarming but not surprising rates. Surely, the dying wishes of ventilated anti-vaxxers - a variant on what we used to call back in my religo days a deathbed confession -  that friends and family get vaccinated will push some of the vaccine-shy to do the right thing.

Anyway, I'm buoyed by the news about Pfizer, and eagerly await a similar call being made on Moderna and J&J. Maybe we'll finally kinda-sorta-maybe be turning a corner, so that we don't have to go through another grim winter of lockdowns, shutdowns, and going-out-of-business signs.

While Pfizer's FDA approval has been good-to-great news on the pandemic front, the rollout of the official vaccine has not been without its lighter moments. Namely, the reaction to the announcement of the vaccine's name: Comirnaty. (Not that you'll ever have to say it, but it's pronounced koe-mir-na-tee. Just not certain which syllables are accented.)

I know up close and personal that naming a product isn't easy, and that you're lucky if you please anyone, let alone everyone. At least when I was helping name products back in the day, we weren't spending any money on it. I think I may have run a couple of contests where we gave the winner of the name-that-product contest a hundred bucks or so, but product naming in small tech companies was done on the total cheap.

Not so with Pfizer, which used the Brand Institute, a naming agency with a specialty in pharmaceuticals. I'm guessing they were paid well over $100K to develop the Comirnaty name. 

Unlike the Twitter critics, I don't think it's a bad name at all. I mean, it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, but it's not all that awful. And it tells a story. 
According to Pfizer, the pharmaceutical companies [Pfizer in collaboration with BioNTech] wanted to emphasize COVID-19 immunization and the vaccine's core mRNA technology. They also wanted to encompass "community" and "immunity" into the final product. (Source: NPR)

Not that anyone will actually use the name, mind you. At least not for a while. (Once we're into covid-as-the-new-normal mode, where there'll be an annual covid shot, we'll no doubt hear the Comirnaty name. Clinical studies show that Comirnaty is more effective than any other leading brand. Don't take Comirnaty if you're allergic to Comirnaty. With Comirnaty you may experience shortness of breath and suicidal ideation. Tell your doctor if you experience an erection that lasts more than 48 hours. Viva Comirnaty.)

The short list included Covuity, RnaxCovi, Kovimerna, and RNXtract.

Covuity is too close to Genuity, a late and not particularly lamented company I once worked for. RnaxCovi and RNXtract just don't work. I suspect that they'd end up being abbreviated to Covi and Xtract. And Kovimerna sounds like a Russian term of endearment. That or a Greek greeting. Kalimera, Kovimerna. 

So Comirnaty it is!

The best comment I saw on it was that it sounds like a town in Ireland. Indeed.

Anyway, I'm happy to see a bit of levity at play here. Covid is deadly, and deadly serious, but if the Comirnaty name has given a few people a teeny-tiny little laughlet or two, I'm all for it. 

And wait until the Twitterverse gets wind of the rumored Moderna brand name for their vaccine: Spikevax.

Spikevax, eh? 

Sounds more like a Viagra competitor, but I can imagine telling someone I got Spiked when I go for my booster. More than I can say for Comirnaty. But, as a Moderna girl, I may be biased in their favor.

Whatever flavor, whatever brand. Viva Comirnaty! Viva Spikevax!

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

50 - make that 7 - ways to leave your lover - make that job

I've always thought there were only two, maybe three, ways to leave your job.

  1. Politely give two-weeks notice, in person, meeting with your boss, accompanied by a letter to your soon-to-be-ex employer, thanking them for the wonderful years you had with there, saying you learned a lot, that you'll miss everyone, that the decision to leave was difficult, but you couldn't pass up the amazing opportunity. (There is a variant on this that is less effusive, but still lets you depart without burning any bridges.)
  2. Walk out the door in a no-notice huff. (There is a variant on this in which you metaphorically put your Bic lighter to the metaphorical fuse of a metaphorical hastily assembled Molotov cocktail and metaphorically hurl the metaphorical Molotov cocktail at the metaphorical bridge, pausing long enough to turn to make sure that the metaphorical bridge is in metaphorical flames.)
Oh, I suppose there's a third option, where you drop dead at work. (This actually happened when I worked at Wang. A guy who worked on my floor/in my tower, had a heart attack and died in his cubicle as we all awaited Wang pulling the triggers on a major layoff.)

While the third option can be deployed with any sort of job, the talk with your boss plus the two-week-notice letter, whether effusive or curt, is generally used for professional positions. The walk out in a huff - at least in my experience - is reserved for waitressing jobs.

But Monster.com, the monster job website, citing an old 2016 article in the Harvard Business Review, recently informed us that, while Paul Simon offered us 50 ways to leave your lover, they could provide us a more modest seven ways to leave your job.

The first is the "By the Book" way, more or less my catch-all Number 1, other than that they just have it down as a verbal one-on-one with your manager, not a written letter. 
Consider this your default approach. It ticks all the boxes: It's respectful, professional, and gives your employer time to prepare for your grand exit. (Source: Monster

You should use this one if you generally had good workplace relationships, liked the job well enough, etc.

There second option is called "The Grateful Quit." It's a variation on a theme of "By the Book," only you use it:

...when you want to end your job on a positive note and acknowledge that your supervisor or co-workers have gone above and beyond to make your time at your job really excellent.

Hmmmm. I'm looking back on my long career, and - while I almost always enjoyed my colleagues, and even most (but definitely not all) of my managers (if not the companies themselves) - I can honestly not come up with any situation in which my "supervisor or co-workers have gone above and beyond to make your time at your job really excellent," other than always having been fortunate enough to have friends I could close the door with - and, yes, my friend V, you are coming to mind here -  and howl about workplace idiocies (and idiots). But I don't think that's the sort of thing that Monster/HBR have in their minds when they talk about making time at the job really excellent. But maybe this is just me. 

Monster/HBR do caution not to use the gratitude approach if it's not true. 

The "In-the-Loop Quit" should be used if you'd given our manager a head's up that you were going to be looking for a new job. And now you've found it. 

Avoid this approach if you're leaving for a direct competitor or you're concerned about an early dismissal from your current job.

I have a variant on an "In-the-Loop" story. In the run up to the big Wang layoff - the one that left a colleague dead on his cubicle floor - I told my boss that I was looking for a job, and that he should put my name on the layoff list to spare someone who actually wanted to stay at Wang. He didn't listen to me, and a couple of weeks after the layoff that more than decimated our team, I had my "In-the-Loop Quit" convo with him.

Nothing to do with In-the-Loop, and everything to do with "leaving for a direct competitor," this one also reminds me of situation in my past.

I worked for a few years for a large web hosting company. This was early on in the dot.com era, and things were wild. At one point, a number of folks left my group for an archrival. None of them revealed where they were heading, but we all figured it out pretty fast - even in those days before LinkedIn, we had our ways... (One way was actually calling the switchboard at the rival and asking for "X.") The archrival was nearing an IPO, and everyone decamped hoping that they were going to become rich. Maybe some of them did. The company had a successful IPO and their share price skyrocketed. But within a year or so, the company got bought out for a buck a share. Presumably, some of the defectors got out while the gettin' was good, but I'm thinking that most of them were richer on paper than they ever got to be in real life. (Wish I could remember the name of the person I called looking for. I can picture her. Martha Something-or-Other.)

Of course, at the archrival company, they at least had a get-rich-quick chance. Our company's IPO was doomed from the get-go, with the share price beginning its rapid tumble to zero shortly after the opening bell on Day One. 

"The Perfunctory Quit" is a pared down version of the "By-the-Book" option. It's the "just the facts" - I'm leaving - without any explanation of why you're leaving, where you're going, etc. This is the recommended approach if you fear that your manager/company might sabotage you at your next job, which explains why you shouldn't reveal where you're going, but doesn't really address why you're leaving, unless it's that you fear your manager/company in general. 

With "The Avoidant Quit", you don't let your manager know in person. You leave a note or drop an email or "tell HR or colleagues." This seems like such a chickenshit method, but if you have a manager who's unresponsive or never around or is a psycho, this may be the way to go. The advice is not to use it just to avoid a difficult conversation. If you're that worried about how that difficult conversation might go (e.g., boss is a psycho), you could enlist someone from HR to be with you. (Good idea.)

Then there's "The Impulsive Quit," in which you just take off and don't let the door hit your arse on the way out. 

When you should use it: If your employer has a history of unethical behavior or has created a truly toxic or unsafe work environment, ghosting is acceptable.

Yes, sometimes you do just have to give yourself permission to get the hell out of Dodge. 

When you should not use it: If you're on good terms with your employer and want to maintain that after you leave. Ghosting will definitely kill that. Also, if you're living paycheck to paycheck, you don't want to leave on a whim. Prepare for it. Set yourself up so that you have enough money to live on while you're finding your next job.

Why someone would just walk out the door impulsively if they actually liked their employer is beyond me, but I guess some folks operate purely on impulse. Just doesn't seem like a good idea at all, at all.  

I would have thought that "The Impulsive Quit" is actually a bridge-burner, but HBR's definition of "The Bridge-Burning Quit" is something of a barn-burner.
What HBR says it is: You attempt to sabotage the company or your co-workers, often with verbal assaults or other unsavory maneuvers on your way out.
What it might sound like coming out of your mouth: Expletives and insults. (This is sometimes done via email or social media, too).

When you should use it: Cursing is always bad form, regardless of your situation, but bridge burning isn't necessarily verboten. The single reason you may want to burn bridges is if maintaining a relationship with the people in your company would somehow have an adverse effect on your long-term career goals or personal brand. If your company is undergoing a public investigation or known to be an abusive environment, it's understandable for you to sever those ties as thoroughly as possible.


I've been in some plenty toxic environments, but nothing bad enough to warrant a "Bridge-Burning Quit." Truly, unless you just found out that the company is completely full of embezzling axe murderers, you might be better served with going "The Impulsive Quit" route, and leaving the fireworks, expletives, and rantings to stories told after the fact.

Me, I'm mostly the calm conversation and positive letter type or quitter. I have had my moments, of course. But silly me. I thought calling Valle's Steakhouse from a payphone in Friendly's to quit after one waitress shift because my roommate and I didn't like the overall vibe (or tray service) was a "Bridge-burner," when all it was was an "Impulsive Quit."

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Henri, we hardly knew ye

This past weekend, New Englanders hunkered down, waiting to see what Hurricane Henri had in store for us. 

Correction: we hunkered down once we completed our quasi-panic grocery shopping. 

I did hit the stores on Saturday a.m., picking up some milk. I was running low, and what if I wanted a storm-watching cup of tea and ran out? While I was there, I also got some parsley and lemons, just in case I decided to make some lemon-parsley pasta, or lemon-parsley chicken. Which I didn't. 

Oh, and to go along with the milk, I picked up a package of Halloween Oreos. (I'm quite sure that, in a blind taste test, I couldn't distinguish Halloween Oreos from regular Oreos, but for some reason I like them a lot more.)

After I finished up at the normal grocery store, it was on to Trader Joe's so I could set in a supply of Hold My Cone mini ice cream cones. Chocolate chip. Yummers. 

Anyway, by Saturday afternoon, I was fully prepared to hunker down in front of the TV to watch weather porn.

We get a lot of it.

During the winter, it's the Nor'easter that's going to eclipse the Blizzard of '78. 

Although we did have Snowmageddon in 2015, when every weekend for a more than a month we got two feet of snow, the Blizzard of '78 remains the standard, and all these years later, it's yet to be outdone. 

So instead, we do the panic shopping that the Blizzard of '78 inspired, then watch the reports from local grocery store parking lots, the DPW sand and salt mounds from a couple of towns, then on to Logan Airport, Copley Square, beautiful downtown Worcester (worst whether in New England this side of Mt. Washington), Sandwich on the Cape, Plum Island (where, if we're lucky, we'll see a house swept into the water), Marshfield (where, if we're lucky, we'll see a wave crash over a house by the beach).

Not that we want that Plum Island house to be swept away, that Marshfield house to get flooded out. It's just that the possibility adds a bit of frisson to the event. Sort of like watching Evil Knievel attempt a motorcycle jump over the Grand Canyon. We don't want him to plummet to earth, but if it happens...

The hurricane weather-watches are similar. Only instead of the salt and sand mounds, we're shown folks taking boats out of the water at a couple of local-ish marinas.

Anyway, despite all the stay-at-home-unless-you're-the-National-Guard buildup, Hurricane Henri had more or less petered out by the time it made landfall.

Rhode Island got the brunt of what was by then a tropical storm. Lots of power outages, lots of downed trees.

Parts of Massachusetts got a ton of rain, and the winds took down some trees, but all was quiet on the Boston front.

On Sunday, we had one big storm burst, then rain in drips and drabs. 

On my walk, I avoided the Public Garden. With all its old trees, if gale force winds had started puffing and huffing, there was always a danger that one would become uprooted and topple. So I stuck to the streets, avoiding the trees, but getting my miles in.

Back inside, the local stations were still running in all-storm, all-the-time mode, but everyone seemed to be somewhat disappointed that this wasn't The Big One. Or even A Big One.

This wasn't Bob (1991), when we got something like 10 inches of rain in something like 10 minutes. Or Gloria (1985), which I prepared for by taping our windows with masking tape (while my husband laughed), and which resulted in flooding and all sorts of downed-trees. After Gloria ended, we - me, Jim, and my sister Trish - took a walk. In the Public Garden, I made the foolhardy move of standing on the edge of the swan boat lagoon. Next thing I knew, I was on my butt, skidding into the drink. I still remember what I was wearing: jeans and a watermelon-pink Shaker knit cotton sweater, items that absorbed about 10 gallons of yucky swan lagoon water before I laughed my way up and out. The humidity was already at 100% so, although I was soaked through, it didn't seem to make any sense to go home and change. So we continued our walk.

Ah, the good old days.

This hurricane time around, Henri mostly ignored us.

But it brought terrible weather elsewhere: flash flooding in Tennessee that took a coupledozen lives, including those of 7-month-old twins, swept out of their father's arms. An unimaginable horror.

New England? No deaths reported.

Monday brought pea-soupy fog and the sort of hurricane muggies I remember from childhood. 

I took my walk in the Public Garden, admiring the lush, almost tropical plantings. The humidity was awful, but there was no rain until the evening. This break in the action gave the Red Sox a chance to make up Sunday's canceled outing, and they managed to win in dramatic extra-innings fashion with a walk-off grand slam home run. Which I, of course, missed because after they had blown a late inning lead and I had turned the game off in disgust.

A fan's life...

I'm happy that we were spared Henri's brunt. Our old trees are intact. There's been no local flooding. All's well in the world, weather wise. 

But we'll be staying tuned. 

Hurricane season has a while to go. There will no doubt be more opportunities to panic shop and sit here, a stupefied couch potato, watching an endless weather report. Hoping against hope that nothing happens. Hoping against hope that a little something does. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Feeling bad for the folks at Topps just about now

The soundtrack of my childhood includes the clickety-clackety noise your bicycle tires made when they had baseball cards clothes-pinned to them. Sure, it was (mostly) boys who  collected baseball cards. And (mostly) boys who traded baseball cards. And (mostly) 
boys who flipped baseball cards. And (mostly) boys who chewed (or attempted to chew) the miserable thin flat slab of bubble gum that came with a packet of baseball cards. But us girls like baseball cards, too. Especially for that clickety-clack sound. (

This girl also liked to use them as flashcards to teach her baby sister to recognize baseball players. That baby sister was plenty smart, and could soon identify the Red Sox rosters of the early-1960s. Among her first words: Gary Geiger. (Geiger was a middlin' Red Sox outfielder of the era. "We" acquired him as part of a trade for Jimmy Piersall, of all people.)

Those clickety-clackety-ing baseball cards were sold by Topps, which since 1951 has had a deal with Major League Baseball to produce baseball cards - which have become, of course, a big deal collectible item. 

Since 1951. Take it from someone who's been around from a bit before 1951: that's a long time. And now Topps has been dumped.
Memorabilia leviathan Fanatics, continuing its push into the collecting space, has cemented a deal with Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association for the exclusive licenses to produce baseball cards. (Source: ESPN)
They've also acquired rights to other major league sports, but collecting basketball, football, and hockey cards has never been the "thing" that colleting baseball cards was, is, and ever shall be, even while the sport seems to wane in popularity.

I actually have no idea whatsoever whether kids still collect baseball cards, but I'm guessing that they're no longer available in little five-packs that you buy for a nickel at the corner market ("spa", in Worcester parlance) or the local drugstore. And I'm guessing that kids don't flip them, let alone attach them to their bicycle spokes. And I'm guessing that the collectible market has gotten so insane that most of the folks who buy cards do so as an investment. They're hoping that they end up with something that, down the line, ends up like the rookie Mickey Mantle card - "the Mona Lisa" of baseball cards - which sold last year for $5.2 million. (Compare this to Mantle's highest salary of $100K, which he made in his final two playing years, 1963 and 1964.)

So I'm guessing that cards these days come in fancy packaging that enables the owner to hang on to a pristine-condition card that's going to be worth something someday. 
According to the memo, Fanatics' deal with MLB and the MLBPA is more than 10 times larger than any the union has ever agreed to. The memo also states that the deal, when combined with other recent deals, is expected to generate roughly $2 billion by 2045.

Lots of money out in them thar' baseball cards alright.

Fanatics - natch - also has the rights to sell MLB NFT's (non-fungible tokens, which I first typed in there as "non-fungible tokes", which I'd sure need a few of in order to get myself to purchase an NFT).

This has got to be a crusher for Topps, as baseball was its flagship business.

Sure, they still have a few other irons in the card collecting fire, like Women's Lacrosse and Major League Soccer. And they'll always have the Garbage Pail Kids, which I suspect kids, rather than those hoping for a big score, still collect .

Anyway, this announcement has scuttled Topps' plan to go public, which I'm sure has all the Topps' investors and execs (not to mention any rank and file employees who may have earned a bit of coin from the company's going public) tearing their hair out. (Topps had a $1.3 billion pre-IPO valuation.) And I'm sure that all that hair-tearing out was accompanied by plenty o' swearing.  

The baseball license Topps holds doesn't disappear overnight. They have a few years, and there are details like not being able to sue the team logos on their cards in the meantime. But what a blow. And Topps was reportedly blindsided by the deal. Which means that Topps folks were asleep at the wheel or, more likely, MLB and the MLBPA are scummy snakes in the grass.

I do feel bad that the folks at Topps lost out on a lucrative IPO. Especially if the little guys there were in line for an extra special payday. But IPO aside, I feel bad for those at the top of  Topps who were blindsided. For everyone on down through the ranks who had anything to do with the baseball end of Topps' business: account managers, product managers, marketers, designers, printers, et al. 

Life sure was a lot simpler back when half those Topps' cards ended up clipped to bicycle spokes...

Friday, August 20, 2021

How about an early valentine for Dr. Valentine?

Walt Disney Co. Cisco. United Airlines. Google. Walgreen's.

I've been saying for a while that corporate America is going to to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting of saving us from the anti-vaxxers by requiring employees to get vaccinated. When faced with the option of keeping your job or getting the jab, I'm pretty confident that a lot of the "principled" opposition, hubris, and idiocy will fall away. I'm also sure that plenty of other organizations are in the wings, ready to go with employee vaccination mandates, but waiting for the FDA to give the full greenlight on the vaccines, which will remove the wiggle room that some holdouts have been exploiting.

So, go corporate America!

The Feds are requiring employees to be vaxxed, or follow stringent testing, distancing, and masking rules. Many state and local governments are following suit.

I'm amazed that every healthcare institution hasn't done this as well. Many have, of course. And it looks like "mine" - Mass General Brigham - will be doing so only after the FDA has granted final approval for one of the vaccines. Personally, I can't imagine being treated by a healthcare worker who hasn't been vaccinated but, regrettably, there are plenty of them out there. 

I did see that, as of June, the AMA says that 96% of physicians are. (Amazingly, fewer than 50% of nurses are vaccinated, and the rate is even more dreadful among aides.)

Anyway, at least one physician is turning the tables on his patients. Dr. Jason Valentine of Mobile, Alabama, has put a new policy in place. As of October 1, his patients are being told - via signs up in his offer - to be vaxxed or be gone.
"First day of these signs in my rooms," he posted on Facebook. "All 3 unvaccinated patients on my schedule asked where they could get their vaccine today. No conspiracy theories, no excuses. Just where do I go. If they asked why, I told them covid is a miserable way to die and I can't watch them die like that."
Valentine said he was mailing a letter to patients explaining his decision and posted a copy online.

"We do not yet have any great treatments for severe disease, but we do have great prevention with vaccines," he wrote. "Unfortunately, many have declined to take the vaccine, and some end up severely ill or dead. I cannot and will not force anyone to take the vaccine, but I also cannot continue to watch my patients suffer and die from an eminently preventable disease." (Source AL.com)
Bravo, Dr. Valentine. And a very Happy Early Valentine's Day to you!

I'm sure there are those who would argue that this is wrong. That no physician should be this judge-y. Or refuse to treat patients in need. I'm sure people will be making the 'what next' argument: Can a doctor stop treating a smoker in danger of lung cancer or COPD? A patient who keeps non-stop donut eating even with Type 2 diabetes? An alcoholic nearing liver failure? A motorcyclist who won't wear a helmet? (First they came for the anti-vaxxers...)

But that argument goes only so far.

First, we're all of us human. Including - get this! - physicians. And physicians need to be able to forgive us our trespasses, and provide us with the best advice and healthcare they can. If we're hellbent on destroying our bodies, that's on us, not on the dear and glorious physician.

More important, all of the above situations are pretty much "do no harm" to anyone other than the person destroying their body. Admittedly, a smoker still puffing away in the house is endangering everyone else who lives there with their second hand smoke. And a drinker who's a driver, well... But mostly the collateral damage is interpersonal, emotional: watching someone near to you get sick and maybe even die because of their lifestyle (hate that word!) choices.

Not getting vaccinated is different, of course. You're not only jeopardizing your own health, you're jeopardizing the health of family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and complete strangers. Not to mention physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers. 

The only situation I can think of that's at all comparable would be a physician back during the AIDS epidemic, when AIDS was a death sentence, refusing to treat a patient in a high risk category who continued to have unprotected sex - especially if they did so without disclosing their health status. The situations aren't fully analogous, of course. Most of the time, sex involves consent. There's no consent involved when someone with covid sneezes on you in the grocery store.

Anyway, the more stands that are taken on getting vaccinated, the better. I'm all for vaccine passports (legitimate ones, anyway) on/in planes, boats, trains, restaurants, movies, and concerts. Vaccine requirements for high school and college students (and teachers and staff). And, once the vaccine for kids is approved, for all schoolchildren. Any and all employee vaccination requirements. Bring it!

And I'm hoping more doctors follow Dr. Jason Valentine's bold move. 

Something's got to wake these knuckle draggers up before they kill us all. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Talk about a lousy career move

In this day and age, where information on (almost) everything and (almost) everybody is so public, so universally available, so open to scrutiny, judgement, and commentary, it never fails to amaze me that people do truly stupid and awful things of the illegal and/or career damaging variety.

They're caught on the candid camera contained in everyone's smartphone. Caught harassing people, making racist remarks, pulling off masks, or attacking the Capitol. (Many of the Capitol-attacking idiots weren't "outed" by bystanders: they shared their selfies on social media and the FBI found them.)

Then there's the case of the Chicago Walgreen's pharmacist nabbed by the Feds for having sold 125 fake vaccination cards on eBay for $10 a pop.

Tangtang Zhao is by no means the only fraudster out there peddling vax cards to aholes who'd rather go to the trouble of acquiring a fake vaccination record so they go out to bars and fly United (with the unfortunate by-product of jeopardizing the health of everyone they come in contact with) than walk into a CVS - or a Chicago Walgreen's - and get a legitimate jab. Whatever the reason - political insanity, ignorance, procrastination, hubris, laziness, pseudo reasoning (it's not yet fully approved by the FDA, and I, a google expert on everything, not to mention a Tucker Carlson aficionado am awaiting that final approval) - if you're still refusing to be vaccinated for anything other than health reasons, you're an antisocial jerk, and maybe even a sociopath.

No, Mr. Zhao isn't the only one. Some guy who'd worked at a mass vaccination site was arrested for light-fingering 500 blank cards from said site. And the Feds just seized 3,000 fake cards (sent via FedEx from China) that were going to be distributed for sale throughout the US.

But Zhao was a pharmacist. A healthcare, near-medical professional. And now:

Zhao is charged with 12 counts of theft of government property. He appeared in court Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila M. Finnegan of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois...

“Knowingly selling COVID vaccination cards to unvaccinated individuals puts millions of Americans at risk of serious injury or death,” said Special Agent in Charge Emmerson Buie Jr. of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office. “To put such a small price on the safety of our nation is not only an insult to those who are doing their part in the fight to stop COVID-19, but a federal crime with serious consequences.”

Each count Zhao is charged with is punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. However, if convicted, Zhao could serve less time in prison based on sentencing guidelines. (Source: WTTW)

I wouldn't expect (or hope for) Zhao to be sentenced to 120 years in the slammer, but he'll probably (and appropriately) do some time. And he will more than likely (and appropriately) lose his license as a pharmacist. Federal felon. Someone who's lost a job he'd studied long years to achieve. All for the chance to make $1,250 on eBay. What a jerk! Maybe he can work in the prison medical unit, dispensing chill pills to inmates, but I'm guessing he's never going to be working at Walgreen's any time soon.

Years from now, someone googling "Tangtang Zhao" is going to find this sordid story and not hire (or go out with him) for anything.

Shiftiness, theft, fraud, embezzlement, and general bad behavior (legal or not) has never been a good idea. But in this day and age, when any and all bad behavior lives online forever, I really don't know what people are thinking. 

As for Tangtang Zhao, his rancid behavior has put people at risk. And what a stunningly lousy career move.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

101 and still working. Yikes!

If my mother had lived, she'd be 101 years old. By the time she died at the age of 81, she'd been retired for 16 years from her job as a secretary in the Biology Department at Clark University. While she no longer work-worked at a job-job (i.e., a paid job), she kept putting in plenty of hours as a volunteer. She worked in the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store a few days a week, and as a long-standing member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (a Catholic charitable organization), she worked at tasks like lugging a turkey and all the fixings up the treacherous backstairs of a Worcester three-decker to make sure a family in need had what they needed to put a Thanksgiving meal on the table.

Liz was working up until the end, so it can definitely be said that she died with her boots on - 20 years ago this past week, in fact. (And it wasn't just work that she stuck with. Among other things, she had three trips planned when she took the ultimate one-way journey: Chicago for a family wedding; Cape May, New Jersey, to look at Victorian houses; and a tour of Vienna and Prague.) 

But the boots my mother had on when she died were metaphorical ones. Certainly not the fisherman's boots that Virginia Oliver is pulling on a few days a week to go out lobstering with one of her sons. She's 101; her son Max is 78. 

101. 78. Another son, Bill, is still lobstering at 79, but he has his own boat. Talk about flinty Yankee Mainers. 

To Virginia, it's no big deal.
“I grew up with this,” said Virginia Oliver, a Rockland woman who began lobstering when she was 8, just before the Great Depression. “It’s not hard work for me. It might be for somebody else, but not me.” (Source: Boston Globe)

I can guarantee that it would be hard work for me.

Years ago, I went on a lobster boat tour out of Perkins Cove in Maine. We went out on a small lobster boat and the lobsterman pulled up a few traps, which the kids on board helped haul in. That excursion was enough to convince me that I wasn't cut out for the lobster life.

Not Virginia. She works with aplomb, and even throws on a little makeup and wears earrings - though not "the dangling ones", as they could catch - and that's not the type of catch Virginia wants to deal with. 

Virginia's father was a lobsterman, and she learned the ropes from him. She was thus well prepared when she married a lobsterman. Virginia took a bit of time off to raise her four kids, then worked with her husband for years. He died 15 years ago. When she first began lobstering with her husband, she was the lone woman among the bunch. 

Even though she's not hauling the traps, her work isn't easy.
Oliver’s job is to measure the lobsters, using pliers to place tight bands around the claws of the keepers, tossing the undersized overboard, and stuffing small pogies into bait bags.

Naturally right-handed, Oliver has worked the pliers with her left hand since she broke her right wrist several years ago. Despite the change, her hand movements seem remarkably supple and strong.

“You know, you do what you have to do,” she said. 

It's hard enough cutting those rubber bands off of a lobster's claws after the lobster is boiled and past its squirming prime. Clamping a live lobster that wants to live? Wow! 

Virginia hits the water three days a week, and is "the oldest licensed lobsterer in Maine and possibly on the planet."

Of course, the season is short: end of May to beginning of November. So she does have half a year to rest up. Still...

On the homefront, although Max helps a bit with the heavy lifting, Virginia still does all her own housework, shopping, and errands.
“I don’t walk around the wharves the way I used to, but I still drive — a GMC four-wheel-drive truck. As you can tell, I’m pretty independent.”
No shit, as they say. 

She also takes the wheel of the boat on occasion. 
Geno Holmes is a fellow Maine fisherman who was interviewed for the Globe article. 
“I’m 50 years old, and I want to retire,” Holmes said, shaking his head. “It’s incredible. To be able to get on a boat at her age, it’s crazy.”

Virginia, on the other hand, fully intends to die with her boots on.

I'm somewhere between Virginia and Geno in terms of retiring.

I gave up the full-bore corporate life shortly after I turned fifty. That's when I decided I'd had it with politicking, commuting, managing, and all the other aspects of my career that I wasn't exactly in love with. But I, of course, kept working. I put out my shingle as a marketing writer and managed to make a second career out of it.

And, at 71, I'm still working at it. Sort of. I work very part time, and, in the last few months have turned down a few projects that, just a year or so ago, I would have jumped at. If the interest level isn't there, I'm not going there, either. And fortunately I have the luxury of being able to just say no. 

Although if I'm fit and independent I'll be okay with it, and despite having had a grandmother who nearly made it to 97, I don't imagine I'll live to be 101. But if I do make it that far, I can't imagine I'll still be working. At least not doing marketing writing, primarily for tech companies. I have a friend who just turned 70, and is still doing work similar to mine. (Hers is more strategic and high-level, but we're both in the same ballpark, workwise.) We were talking recently, and she said that she believed that if some of her clients knew how old she was, they might not hire her. I've often felt the same way. Imagine if someone found out I was 101? Would they really want me writing about the tech latest? (Probably not worth worrying about: Thirty years from now, marketing writing will likely be extinct as a means of communication. What passes for writing will no doubt be some extreme version of the TikToks, Instas, and Twitters of the future. That and telepathy.)

As for Virginia, that woman is absolutely amazing. Next time I have a lobster roll, I'll be thinking of her, and wondering whether she's the one who put the band on "my" lobsters claw.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

THIS is how you ask for customer feedback!

Everyone wants your feedback. No matter how insignificant your order, now trivial the encounter, any company you have a brush with wants to know how you feel about their product, how you think they did. 

As someone who had a career in marketing, I get this.

I concocted plenty of surveys in my day, but I made at least a partial escape before metrics madness set in. And I blessedly never had to compute a Net Promoter Score (folks who like you minus those who don't). But today, everything revolves around the numbers. 

How satisfied is satisfied when it comes to customer support? Do I really want to rate the delivery goodness (or not) of every package that shows up (or not) on my stoop. How much is there to say about a laundry pen? A used five-dollar pamphlet on Robert Todd Lincoln's home, Hildene? 

Half the time these days, you can't even have a nice quiet meal in a restaurant without having a card to fill out about the food and service. (These I do tend to fill out. After all, mostly I've got a couple of minutes to kill before signing the credit recent. That is, unless it's one of those new-fangled placed that brings the pay-up device right over to the table.)

But for me, at least, I'm more inclined to review something if I'm not happy with it. Human nature, I guess. But even then, I tend to write the negative reviews in my head and then forgive and forget about it.

I'm more apt to answer a follow-up survey on a customer service encounter than a product-related survey, especially if the person was knowledgeable and helpful. 

But I hate being bombarded with requests for reviews. (I really need to start using a substitute email address for online ordering. Let these requests fall into a black hole.)

One problem I have with these requests is, quite frankly, the question of what's in it for me. This is not a question I ask regularly in my life. Personally, I'm not exactly Ayn Rand's darling. Yet when it comes to these irksome requests to answer irksome surveys, well, WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?

In June, I spent a few nights at a VRBO three-day rental. The place was fine, but I really had nothing much - rave or critical - to say about it, nothing that would add to whether anyone else was going to decide yay or nay on whether to rent it for themselves. Did it really matter that I found the decor - dark sage, brown mustard, and guck brown - boring and dated? I'm not living there. Neither is the next guy who rents it for three nights.

Anyway, the enticement to get me to review my experience was the promise that, if I filled in the survey, I would be able to see how the owner of the condo rated me. Talk about not giving a hoot. What could he possibly say? I suppose if we'd left the place a mess, Andrew from NJ could have dinged me. But we didn't. So I didn't bother to fill in the survey. And, guess what, they nonetheless let me see that Andrew from NJ had given me high marks. 

So a kind of dumb "reward", at least they were trying to sweeten the pot by offering me something.

Sure, it was of negligible value. I.e., zero value. But still, it was something beyond the future and likely never-realized promise of "serving you better" which accompanies so many asks for feedback.

Then, just the other day, I actually got a real something. Something I'll really use. Something worth $5 - a non-negligible amount, especially when put towards the price of a pizza.

Upper Crust Pizza is a small pizza chain. It's pretty good, and it's just around the corner. I probably average a purchase there every six

weeks or so.

It's a good little place. Yes, sometimes they confuse orders. (Sometimes the person you're dealing with has somewhat limited English.) But the pizza and service are generally pretty good. 

The company does have an interesting and rather unsavory history.

Their first store was "my" store on Charles Street, and us locals went insane when they opened, it was that good. But they expanded from there and then got into all sorts of legal trouble for not paying overtime and back taxes and other not-so-great stuff. For a while when they weren't paying workers overtime - and were calling some employees managers so they could put them on salary and work them ungodly hours - I boycotted Upper Crust. Then they had a change in ownership, so I went back. And after ordering a couple of pizzas on Saturday night for a family gathering, I got an email asking me to fill out a survey in return for $5 off my next order

This is how you do it if you really want your customer's feedback!

And there's no reason that other outfits can't offer something of tangible value.

I'd be fine with Amazon bombarding me with feedback requests if I accumulated points every time I filled one out - points that could eventually accrue to a small gift card at some point. Comcast/Xfinity could offer me a free movie. Put me in a raffle for a drawing or something. Etc.

Be like Upper Crust!

I'm looking forward to cashing in my coupon. Bravo, Upper Crust!

Monday, August 16, 2021

I will always love Dolly Parton

I admit it.

When Dolly Parton first came on the scene, I thought she was ridiculous. That hair! That makeup! That - yowza! - rack. (Was it even real?)

Then I saw her up close and personal, walking into a hotel in La Jolla, California. She's just a little bit of a thing. And underneath all that hair and makeup  (and above that rack), Dolly, I realized, is quite beautiful.

And then I started listening to her sing, and realized she's quite a wonderful performer.

I have my favorites, of course. "Wildflowers." Her most excellent duet with Kenny Rogers, "Islands in the Stream." I have a few of her albums, including the amazing one with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris (what a trio!), and a couple of Christmas albums. 

And then I realized that Dolly Parton's also a songwriter. Sure, she's written a clunker or two. "Me and Little Andy" is one of the most god-awful songs ever written, let alone sung. And I'm not wild about "Jolene." But "9 to 5"? And the glorious "I Will Always Love You" (which, oddly enough, was the B-side of "Jolene" when Dolly recorded it).

Oh, and she can act, too. 9 to 5, etc.

And then I learned that she's a shrewd businesswoman, as well. 

Now I'm not the target market for Dollywood. (For one thing, I wouldn't be caught dead in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.) But her amusement park/entertainment complex has been open for well over 30 years. It's profitable, and it's the #1 tourist attraction (by ticket sales) in Tennessee. So, more people pass by Dolly's ticket-takers than visit the ghost of Minnie Pearl at the Grand Ole Opry. 

Overall, she's worth an estimated $650 million.

Dolly Parton is also a philanthropist. One of the main initiatives of her foundation is a literacy program that builds a love of reading by sending pre-schoolers a book a month from birth until kindergarten, when - thanks to Dolly - they're ready to read. Then there's her million dollar support for medical research at Vanderbilt University that - get this! - helped with the development of Moderna's covid vax. (I turned out to be a Moderna gal, but I didn't know that when I wrote about this last fall in How wonderful is Dolly Parton? Think COVID vaccine. THAT'S HOW WONDERFUL!)

And then there's what she did with the royalties of "I Will Always Love You." Dolly earned a lot of those royalties - an estimated $10 million during the 1990's -  thanks to Whitney Houston's cover, which was the themesong of the film the The Bodyguard

Last month, Dolly revealed:

... how she spent her money from the songwriting credit for Houston, who died in 2012: She invested in a building located in a historically Black Nashville neighborhood.

“I bought my big office complex down in Nashville, and so I thought, ‘Well, this is a wonderful place to be,’ ” 

...“It was a whole strip mall, and I thought this is the perfect place for me to be, considering it was Whitney, so I just thought, ‘This is great, I’m just going to be down here with her people, who are my people as well,’ ” Parton said.

She added, “I love the fact that I spent that money on a complex and I think, ‘This is the house that Whitney built.’" (Source: Washington Post)

Here's what Nashville historian  David Ewing had to say about Dolly Parton's investment in the predominately Black Sevier Park neighborhood:

“We’re just hearing now, because of the Black Lives Matter movement, how down for the cause Dolly has always been — even when others in the music industry weren’t,” Ewing said. “Dolly Parton could have built and bought any piece of property in Nashville. But you would have to have gone out of your way to buy in the 12 South neighborhood, because no Realtor would have shown Dolly that lot to buy.”....

At the time, the neighborhood was “African American funeral homes, businesses and churches,” Ewing said. Now, 12 South is one of the hottest neighborhoods in Nashville, he said.

...“She’s never cared about race or gender or the other things people in the South have judged or restricted others about,” Ewing said. “The fact that Dolly would buy in what was a Black neighborhood was a very Dolly thing to do.”

Oh, Dolly. I will always love you. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Well, I'll be a monkey's aunt

There's a ton of misinformation about vaccines floating around out there. And plenty of this good, old-fashioned misinformation is disinformation, which is the wing of the misinformation family that is purposefully dishonest.

Honestly, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. When Greg Abbott or Ron DeSantis opens his mouth, is that misinformation flowing out or actual disinformation?

Whatever it is, it's sending plenty of those choosing not to get vaccinated - and, as collateral damage, kids who aren't yet eligible for vaccination - to the hospital. And plenty of them to the morgue.

In truth, other than for the innocent children and those who for whatever reason cannot be vaccinated, I don't have a ton of sympathy for the unvaccinated who take ill. I do not wish death upon them, or even a ventilator, but if death or a ventilator is the by-product of a deliberate decision to get vaccinated, so be it. And if they're wearing a DON'T FAUCI MY FLORIDA tee-shirt while dying or ventilating, then SO. BE. IT.

But I do have a modicum - a teeny-tiny modicum - of sympathy for those who've been on the receiving end of a solid dose of misinformation/disinformation from Fox, OAN, Newsmax, and those of our nation's so-called "leaders" who would rather see their fellow citizens die than let the Biden administration succeed with respect to wiping covid out. Sure, those being disinformed do have agency, and could be more careful of their sources, but in the post-truth world, it is admittedly difficult to figure out what's wheat and what's chaff. Until you find that you've been starving yourself to death on a steady diet of chaff.

Or you find that a ventilator is doing your breathing for you.

Social media is, of course, a major source of disinformation, as people carelessly pass around conspiracy theories and other nonsense, until enough people have seen it that it takes on an aura of truthiness. BS brought to you as received wisdom.

Facebook is, of course, a majorly guilty party when it comes to providing a platform for disinformation. (They have plenty of company, of course: Insta (which FB owns), Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Reddit..)

However many thousands of employees Facebook has chasing down lies - and kiddie porn, and snuff images, and all sorts of other hideous stuff - they should hire more of them.

Disinformation is particularly severe when it comes to covid.

How else can you explain why so many otherwise potentially rational and not entirely stone-stupid people would embrace the anti-vaccine position, risking their own lives, not to mention the lives of everyone else on earth? If they're steadily bombarded with disinformation, eventually the disinfo sets in. 

Facebook is doing a tiny bit to improve matters. Just recently, the company:

...has removed hundreds of accounts it said were part of a disinformation campaign largely run out of Russia that also used social media influencers to peddle fake claims about coronavirus vaccines, including that some shots could turn people into chimpanzees.
Investigators said they traced the origins of the campaign to Fazze, a subsidiary of a U.K.-registered marketing firm whose operations were primarily conducted from Russia. The operation “targeted audiences primarily in India, Latin America and, to a much lesser extent, the United States,” according to a report published Tuesday by the social media company. (Source: Washington Post)
I guess the good news is that they weren't primarily targeting the U.S., as there are proportionally more poor and poorly educated in other areas. But I don't give Americans all that much credit, given that there are a lot of our fellow citizens who believe that Bill Gates is using vaccinations to inject people with a tracking device. Or whatever. (Never mind that most of us carry a tracking device with us 24/7: our phones.)
The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company banned Fazze because these actions violated Facebook’s policy against foreign interference through “coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign entity,” it said.

I'd be just as happy if they also banned inauthentic behavior on behalf of a domestic entity, but this is better than nothing. 

Facebook has identified Russia - surprise, surprise - as the biggest producer of disinformation. And, within this world:

An analysis by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit, of a large sample of anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter found that the majority of the posts could be attributed to just 12 individuals.

"Just 12 individuals" responsible for so much misery-causing blather. This crap goes viral with the same zeal as the coronavirus itself.

In case you're wondering - in case you're Moderna, Pfizer, or J&J - it's AstraZeneca that purportedly turns people into chimps.

AstraZeneca hasn't yet been approved by the FDA, so - if it turns out that it really does turn people into chimpanzees - there's no need to start checking for increased hirsuteness, the ability to swing through trees, and a tendency to pant, hoot, and hurl feces.

Not that there's anything wrong with being a chimpanzee,

mind you. In fact, if we could turn some folks into chimps it'd be an improvement. Chimps are plenty smart. And plenty cute. Of course, the folks who'd be coming up the evolutionary scale probably are going to be vaccination holdouts to infinity and beyond, so nothing would change there. Alas.

Anyway, glad that Facebook's doing something about the vaccine disinformation that's been spreading on its platform. They could be doing more, but let's be thankful for small measures. (And, while I'm at it: Fuck Russia. Seriously.)

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Vessel of sadness

The last time I was in New York City was during May, 2019 (which seems like a million years ago). The Vessel, a climbing structure that's a prominent feature (i.e., tourist attraction) at the Hudson Yards, a still-in-the-works West Side real-estate development made up of a combo of commercial and residential properties, opened in March 2019. So I could have strolled over to "experience" it. But I didn't. I've walked the High Line park, which is in the same neck of the woods and is wonderful, but the Vessel just didn't appeal to me. 

The Vessel is a combo of a jungle gym and shoots and ladders (with an emphasis on the ladders). It's 16 stories high, with all sorts of interconnected staircases and landings. Definitely a workout. If you sign up for the first hour it's in operation, there's no charge. Other than that, it's $10 a ticket. Or was. Because of the latest suicide - there've been four since the Vessel opened - the attraction has closed.

Three of the four suicides were young folks in their early twenties. This latest one was even more horrific: a 14 year-old boy there with his family

It's difficult to imagine the depth of the pain and sorrow for this family. Difficult enough to lose a child under any circumstances. But to suicide...

I have a friendly acquaintance who lost her son this way. A young man in his late twenties, he was by all accounts a kind, loving, accomplished, attractive, and loved young man. But he suffered from profound depression that he found unlivable. He just couldn't see any other way out of the pain. I had never met him, but when I wrote the check to the mental health support organization listed in his obituary, I was crying. 

The Vessel had also closed in January for a few months while Hudson Yards management put:

...new safety measures in place, including increased security, a buddy system and signs about mental health resources. (Source: CNN)

The buddy system prohibits anyone from entering solo. If you're on your own, you have to join another singleton or a group. Which wasn't enough to save this boy. Such sadness. Such unfathomable pain. 

Now, the Vessel's future as the Instagrammable centerpiece of the largest development in Manhattan since Rockefeller Center is in limbo. Can it be saved?

Aside: does everything have to be Instagrammable??? 

Anyway, the firm that designed the Vessel is trying to come up with a physical solution that's "feasible in terms of engineering and installation." The railings are at present waist-high, so they could be raised. But while that might thwart an impulse suicide, it won't necessarily deter the determined. NYU's Bobst Library installed eight-foot high plexiglass barriers in its atrium after two students jumped to their deaths. Another student managed to get over that barrier. NYU solved the problem with aluminum panels that enclose the space and let in light - a brilliant solution that looks like it was part of the original design. And which has done the trick. There've been no suicides at Bobst since the panels went in in 2012. 

Bridges - the Golden Gate, the George Washington - now have or are installing safety nets to minimize suicides.

For the Vessel, some see another problem that defies a simple physical fix. 

The central point of architecture and design is that the constructed environment influences how we feel and act. And the Vessel -- surrounded on all sides by concrete, glass skyscrapers and crass commercialism -- has a more fundamental issue, according to Jacob Alspector, a distinguished lecturer at the Spitzer School of Architecture at The City College of New York.

"The Vessel is like some MC Escher nightmare," he said, referring to the famed graphic artist known for his staircases to nowhere. "It's kind of relentless. It's very gaudy, it's very cold. It's thrilling ... It's not the most friendly and life-affirming and inclusive kind of space or structure. It's kind of empty. What's the point of it? Just to walk up and walk down?"

He added: "People who feel alienated with the world may not be supported very well by an experience like that."
In case you're wondering whether those who are suicidal will just find another place to jump, or another method to kill themselves altogether, if their first choice isn't available: At least one study suggests that if suicides by jumping are prevented, there's "no associated increase in suicide by other means." In other words, people are finding another way to cope with their crisis. 

It seems inevitable that the Vessel will have to find a physical solution. When they reopened in May, the $10 entry fee was new, with the proceeds used to hire staff "to watch for distress" and top put up signs. They need to do better.

Jacob Alspector doesn't think that just putting in a higher barrier isn't going to work for the Vessel. He points to the Guggenheim Museum, which has a low barrier - and has never had a suicide in its over 80 years of existence.
"I think it's because the space is so beautiful, so magical, so affirming, so wonderful," said Alspector, the architect and professor. "I don't know that I've heard anyone describe the Vessel as beautiful."
He recognizes that, for the Vessel, the redesign problem is "tough," but they need to go with "something that's humane, life-affirming."

I know next to nothing about architecture, but I'm with Jacob Alspector.

The world is brutish enough without tourist attractions that are death traps.

I haven't been to the Guggenheim in years. Make that decades. But next time I'm in New York, I think I'll head over. Not that there's any reason I need to avoid the Vessel. Thankfully, I don't suffer from anything beyond minor, occasional situational depression, and I'm not the suicide type. But I don't really want to spend anytime in a place that's been a locus for suicides, that's unfriendly and not life-affirming. The very thought's depressing...

So I'll just keep myself away from the Vessel of sadness.