On Vacation, 2009

"HARWICH - Bent over a laptop in the drivers’ seat of her car, Marcia King hunted for a signal. She wanted to connect with the outside world. Just for a few minutes. And then she could go back to her vacation.

"King’s summer home in Harwich Port, like many old Cape Cod houses, doesn’t have an Internet connection. But the Brooks Free Library offers free wireless Internet signal, pulsing out the door even when the doors are closed. King drives to the library parking lot nearly every day, joining other vacationers looking for a quick jolt of home, via the free Internet connection.

“You come here at 10 p.m. at night, and there’s a couple people sitting in the parking lot,’’ said King, who travels from Maine to live on the Cape for two months each summer." (Boston Globe)

I remember a pre-internet vacation one summer with my family on Nantucket, when all hell was breaking loose back at the office. No cellphones, no phone in the rented cottage, a one-mile bike ride into town to a public phone. There was no expectation of constant updates and input, and I had several built-in excuses why I "couldn't get back to you."

I did end up having a couple of long business calls on the public phone at the wharf while watching ferries of tourists come and go, and it was difficult to delete the business file from my mind completely, but it's certainly different - and, I think, worse - today.

On Pride

“I have a new client, a laid-off lawyer, who’s commuting in every day — to his Starbucks,” said Robert C. Chope, a professor of counseling at San Francisco State University and president of the employment division of the American Counseling Association. “He gets dressed up, meets with colleagues, networks; he calls it his Western White House. I have encouraged him to keep his routine.”

I'm sure that many in the crowded demographic of the recently unemployed can relate to this, and, if they're smart, have implemented some variation of this strategy.

America's Next Top Model

In a weak moment one night last week, I watched the conclusion of last season's "America's Next Top Model."

This is the kind of thing that happens to a guy caught in that dreadful lull between football and baseball seasons, especially if he doesn't care about college basketball.

So having watched the show, I wasn't at all surprised to read the following in today's New York Times:

"An open casting call for the reality television program “America’s Next Top Model” turned into mayhem on Saturday afternoon in Midtown Manhattan. Fights broke out, three people were arrested and at least six others suffered minor injuries after they were pushed down in a crush of thousands of aspiring models waiting in line to be discovered."

What did surprise me as I watched the video, was how many of the hopefuls and their entourages continued to push forward in order to improve their place in line, instead of getting the frack out of there:

On Not Doing Due Diligence

I think Joe Nocera asks an important question: should taxpayers bail out the investors who lost their money in the Madoff scandal?

“'These were people with a fair amount of money, and most of them sought no professional advice,” said Bruce C. Greenwald, who teaches value investing at the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University.

"Mr. Hedges said: 'It’s like trying to do your own dentistry. It is a real lesson that people cannot abdicate personal responsibility when it comes to their personal finances.'

"And that’s the point. People did abdicate responsibility — and now, rather than face that fact, many of them are blaming the government for not, in effect, saving them from themselves. Indeed, what you discover when you talk to victims is that they harbor an anger toward the S.E.C. that is as deep or deeper than the anger they feel toward Mr. Madoff. There is a powerful sense that because the agency was asleep at the switch, they have been doubly victimized. And they want the government to do something about it.

"I spoke, for instance, to Phyllis Molchatsky, who lost $1.7 million with Mr. Madoff — and is now suing the S.E.C. to recoup her losses, on the grounds the agency was so negligent it should be forced to pony up. Her story is sure to rouse sympathy — Mr. Madoff was recommended to her by her broker as a safe place to put her money, and she felt virtuous making 9 or 10 percent a year when others were reaching for the stars. The failure of the S.E.C., she told me, “is a double slap in the face.” And she felt the government owed her. Her lawyer, who represents several dozen Madoff victims, told me he “wouldn’t be averse” to a victims’ fund.

"Even Eli Wiesel thought the government should help the victims — or at least the charitable institutions among them. “The government should come and say, ‘We bailed out so many others, we can bail you out, and when you will do better, you can give us back the money,’ ” he said at the Portfolio event.

"But why?

"What happened to the victims of Bernard Madoff is terrible. But every day in this country, people lose money due to financial fraud or negligence. Innocent investors who bought stock in Enron lost millions when that company turned out to be a fraud; nobody made them whole. Half a dozen Ponzi schemes have been discovered since Mr. Madoff was arrested in December. People lose it all because they start a company that turns out to be misguided, or because they do something that is risky, hoping to hit the jackpot. Taxpayers don’t bail them out, and they shouldn’t start now. Did the S.E.C. foul up? You bet. But that doesn’t mean the investors themselves are off the hook.

"Investors blaming the S.E.C. for their decision to give every last penny to Bernie Madoff is like a child blaming his mother for letting him start a fight while she wasn’t looking."

Virginity Auction Now At $3.8 Million

Click here for an update to the following post from September

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A 22-year-old woman in the United States is publicly auctioning her virginity to pay for her college education, sparking a heated online debate about sex and morality.

The student from San Diego, California, who is using the pseudonym Natalie Dylan for "safety reasons," said she had no moral dilemma with her decision and found it "empowering".

"I don't think auctioning my virginity will solve all my problems," she told celebrity television show The Insider on Wednesday. "But it will create some financial stability. I'm ready for the controversy, I know it will come along. I'm ready to do this. We live in a capitalist society. Why shouldn't I be allowed to capitalize on my virginity?" she added.

The woman, who has earned a bachelor degree in women's studies and now wants to start a master's degree in marriage and family therapy, is hoping the bidding will hit $1 million. The online auction site eBay turned her down so the auction will take place at a Nevada brothel, the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, where her sister is working to pay off her college debts. The date for the auction was not immediately available.

In a flurry of media interviews and appearances, she admitted that her mother, a fourth grade teacher, does not agree with her decision.

(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)
© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

Botox For Eyelashes

The lead for this news item today doesn't really come as a surprise:

"First it was frozen foreheads. Now it’s Betty Boop eyelashes."

"Allergan, the company that turned an obscure muscle paralyzer for eyelid spasms, Botox, into a blockbuster wrinkle smoother, hopes to perform cosmetic alchemy yet again.

"At the end of the month, the company plans to introduce Latisse, the first federally approved prescription drug for growing longer, lusher lashes."

Speaking as a guy with a wife who doesn't need this crap to stay beautiful, the surprising thing is buried further down in the article:

An Allergan spokesman said that "many women would not blink at spending $120 for a one-month, three-milliliter supply of the drug. He compared the cost of longer lashes to a daily cup of coffee.

“If you think about it in terms of luxury, it’s four dollars a day,” he said. “We think this is fairly acceptable to a large segment of people even in these times.”

"But one analyst...said the expense of Latisse and the inconvenience of obtaining a doctor’s prescription might deter many women from trying it. Health insurance does not typically cover such cosmetic treatments.

"[He] said Latisse might have more value to Allergan as a gateway drug that brings new patients to cosmetic medicine and leads them to try Botox.

"Indeed, Jennifer Nobriga, one of a pair of stay-at-home mothers behind the Web site beautyinreallife.blogspot.com, said she intends to stick with plain old mascara rather than splurge on the eyelash drug.

“It would not be at the top of my list,” said Ms. Nobriga of Woodbridge, Va. “I would rather spend the money on a good under-eye cream.”

The $120 per month doesn't surprise me either.

What does surprise me is the casual use of the phrase "gateway drug" in the article, in referring to Latisse.

That's scary, just like an earlier Botox post on the Freeway.

It's All HGTV's Fault!!

"That's right. The cable network HGTV is the real villain of the economic meltdown."

Finally! The root cause of the economic crisis has been exposed!

All this time, I thought it was just me shouting at the television as I watched whining Yuppies blather on about granite countertops.

"'How much money can these people possibly make?'" I shout at my wife before wrestling the remote from her hand and switching it to the nearest sports program. 'The guy can barely string together two sentences!'"

"And yet on episode after episode for this entire irrational decade, HGTV pumped up the housing bubble by parading the most mediocre, unworthy-looking homeowners into our living rooms to watch while they put their tacky, run-of-the-mill tract homes on the market for twice what they paid and then went out and bought houses with price tags too obscene to repeat."

"You couldn't watch these shows without concluding that you must be an idiot and a loser if you lived in a house you could actually afford."

(Photo: Kendra Todd, host of "My House is Worth What?")

Back Before The Sixties

Some interesting observations today from Judith Warner about the current fascination with late 1950s/early 1960s America, on television (Mad Men) and in the movies (Revolutionary Road):

"Unlike the baby boomers before us, we “baby busters” of the ’60s never rebelled against the trappings of domesticity represented by our images of the 1950s. Many of us, deep down, yearn for it, having experienced divorce or other sorts of family dislocation in the 1970s. We keep alive a secret dream of “a model of routine and order and organization and competence,” a life “where women kept house, raised kids and kept their eyebrows looking really good,” as the writer Lonnae O’Neal Parker once described it in The Washington Post Magazine."

"The fact is: as an unrebellious, cautious, anxious generation, many of us are living lives not all that different from those of the parents of the early 1960s, yet without the seeming ease, privileges and benefits. Husbands have been stripped of the power perks of their gender, wives of the anticipation that they’ll be taken care of for life."

As with all of Judith Warner's columns, the Comments about them are always worth reading too:

"My life as a 50s and 60s housewife was quite pleasant, although we managed on far, far less than the two-income homes of today. Married women today have a mountain of debt to worry about, now that their husbands are unemployed.It couldn't last--the grandiose culture that so many women expected to enjoy. Self-indulgence has led so many ordinary couples to financial ruin, despite the wife's second income. Expectations of self-fulfillment have been far too high."

Fly The Friendly Skies

A former TWA Flight Attendant reflects on the decline of airline service over the past two decades:

"I know the days are gone when [flight] attendants could be written up if we did not put the linen napkins with the T.W.A. logo embossed on them in the lower righthand corner of the first-class diners’ trays. As are the days when there were three dinner options on flights from Boston to Los Angeles — in coach. When, once, stuck on a tarmac in Newark for four hours, a planeload of passengers got McDonald’s hamburgers and fries courtesy of the airline.

"I have experienced the decline of service along with the rest of the flying public. But I believe I have felt it more acutely because I remember the days when to fly was to soar. The airlines, and their employees, took pride in how their passengers were treated. A friend who flew for Pan Am and I have a friendly rivalry over which airline was better. Friendly, yes. But we each believe we worked for the best.

"We tell stories about cooking lamb chops and dressing them in foil pantaloons; we debate the beauty of my Ralph Lauren uniform versus her Oleg Cassini. I like to tell her how we would have the children on board serve the after-dinner mints — delicious pale-green circles with T.W.A. stamped on them, arranged on a silver tray. We remember the service we provided — dare I say cheerfully? Happily? Proudly? And when my friend and I part ways, although we hold on to our allegiances, we know that all of our passengers were served well."

I am an infrequent flyer today, but old enough to remember those glory days of air travel -- particularly international travel -- which I did a lot of for business.

We just returned from a great vacation, marred only by the serial hassles of airlines and airports. The personal memories evoked in this article are warm, but so very distant. And, I'm afraid, never to return.

Bon Voyage!


File this under "Be Careful What You Wish For:"

I was once part of a team reviewing a software application that vets internet inquiries from potential customers. As part of the project, a list of "vulgar" words and phrases was developed to screen out pranks and inquiries not worthy of followup.

One of the words on the list was "hooters," which meant that any inquiry containing that word would not be passed through for marketing and sales followup.

Someone on the team pointed out that Hooters has 310 restaurants, generated over $120 million in revenue in the prior year, and according to this recent article is open to new technology:

"ATLANTA -- Hooters of America Inc. will install Radiant Systems' 6e line of back-office and point-of-sale technology at all 110 company-run branches of the 310-unit casual-dining chain, Radiant said.

"The technology vendor also said Atlanta-based Hooters had named Radiant as a preferred supplier to franchisees."

"By providing comprehensive table-service functionality from the POS to the back office, Radiant technology will help Hooters efficiently manage restaurants and improve profitability," Chris Duncan, Hooters vice president of administration, said in a written statement.

"He said the 6e system's centralized data-reporting capabilities and Internet functionality -- or "Web-architected platform," as Radiant described it -- would "allow our employees and managers to see enterprisewide metrics in near real-time, which will enable us to manage growth and change based on more accurate operational information."

"Hooters" was promptly removed from the "vulgar" list.


Add Restylane and Botox to Wal-Mart and McDonalds on the short list of things that seem to be thriving in this awful economy.

“It’s like comfort food,” says Maralyn Burr of Omaha, Neb., who in June lost her job as a district sales manager for Borders bookstores. With $140,000 in debt from her 22-year-old daughter’s musical education, Burr told the WSJ she’s slashed spending and all but stopped eating out. But she hasn’t given up her Restylane and Botox injections."

As indicated in an earlier post on the Freeway, Botox appears to have become mainstream.

Governing The Other 56,255,297

My Manager approved my request for a vacation day on January 20. I’m not going to Washington that day, but I am looking forward to President Obama’s Inauguration speech.

I was impressed with his election-night speech in Chicago, after it was clear that he’d won the election.

I think Maureen Dowd really captured that moment in her column the next day in the New York Times:

“His somber speech in the dark Chicago night was stark and simple and showed that he sees what he’s up against. There was a heaviness in his demeanor, as if he already had taken on the isolation and “splendid misery,” as Jefferson called it, of the office he’d won only moments before. Americans all over the place were jumping for joy, including the block I had been on in front of the White House, where they were singing: “Na, na, na, na. Hey, hey, hey. Goodbye.”

“He rejected the Democratic kumbaya moment of having your broad coalition on stage with you, as he talked about how everyone would have to pull together and “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

“Promising to also be president for those who opposed him, Obama quoted Lincoln, his political idol and the man who ended slavery: “We are not enemies, but friends — though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

As I wrote in my post just after the election, 56,255,297 Americans voted for McCain/Palin, and many more didn’t vote at all.

It appears at this point that President-elect Obama understands this reality; I hope so, because we really need a President who can govern in the best interest of all Americans.

Wombs For Rent

Here's an update to a Freeway post about women lining up to sell their eggs:

In a recent Wall Street Journal, Thomas Frank responds to New York Times reporter Alex Kuczynski’s personal account of hiring a surrogate mother.

Actually, “responds to” is probably not the right phrase -- it’s more like “rips apart.”

Thomas Frank writes:

"Surrogate motherhood has been the subject of much philosophical and political dispute over the years.

"To summarize briefly, it is a class-and-gender minefield. When money is exchanged for pregnancy, some believe, surrogacy comes close to organ-selling, or even baby-selling.

"It threatens to commodify not only babies, but women as well, putting their biological functions up for sale like so many Jimmy Choos.

"If surrogacy ever becomes a widely practiced market transaction, it will probably make pregnancy into just another dirty task for the working class, with wages driven down and wealthy couples hiring the work out because it's such a hassle to be pregnant."