Saturday, April 30, 2016

Pronoun Problems

This is a quick sampling of misused pronouns I've encountered in the last 10 days. The sources are newspapers, well-educated professional persons and public releases from serious organizations.

I do not scour publications looking for these things.  They just pop out at me.  I also do not profess to be a skilled grammarian (and yes, I admit to having a typo problem.)

Most of what I know about this stuff I learned in grade school, effectively an eight-year frogmarch through spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, pronouns, prepositions, active and passive verbs and much else.   By sixth grade, I was pretty tired of going through the same material over and over again, but it did come in handy later.

Now I wonder whether what I was taught is becoming irrelevant.

Here are some examples of clashes between current usage and my earlier understanding of the English language.


        "He may be the only billionaire who I've ever had contact with."  (A quote from a 
        person with a law degree and 25 years of professional experience.)

                    Who is a nominative pronoun.  If we straighten the sentence a  bit,
                    it comes out like this: 
                    "He may be the only billionaire with who I've ever had contact."
                    See? The sentence needs an objective pronoun: whom.

       "They want constant validation that they are a higher-value customer," he said.  (A quote
       from the COO of a cruise company that offers elite accommodations to very rich people.)

                  They is a plural pronoun that should refer to plural higher-value customers.


        Caspersen, who's LinkedIn page also boasts ties to prominent private equity firm
        Coller Capital, later tried to obtain an additional $20 million investment from the
        same charitable foundation and a $50 million from a multinational private equity
        firm headquartered in NY.

               Who's is a contraction of the phrase who is.  The possessive wanted here is whose.


         The freshman dance major was recruited by the university two years ago after they
         saw her at a dance performance when she was in high school.

               The antecedent here, the university, is not a plural personal pronoun, i.e., they.  
               The university did not see the dance major at a high school performance.
               Better:  The university recruited the dance major after its faculty members
               were impressed by a high school performance of hers.


           I entered the hospital room late at night, thinking it would either be empty or if not,
           the patient would be asleep. They weren’t.  (The room had a single bed.)

                    Again, the antecedent is patient, singular, and the pronoun, they, is plural.
                    Better:  I entered the hospital room late at night, thinking its single bed
                    either would be empty or its patient asleep.  The patient was awake.


          It’s easy to underestimate the company on the basis of its relatively small scale in the
          market: their goal is to produce 80–90k units. . . .  If you think about it, the competition
          has already had 10 years to counter Tesla’s moves, yet they haven’t. What’s going on?

                    A company is not a plural noun; in second reference, the possessive its
                    is correct, but the next reference to their goal is a plural possessive.  Why?
                    The next sentence does it again:  The antecedent, competition, becomes they.


         Whole Foods has been under siege lately as supermarkets and big-box stores are
         dedicating more shelf space to organic food, and often doing it at lower prices. With 365,
         they hope to fight back and broaden that kind of customer they cater to.

                     Here we have three nouns: Whole Foods, supermarkets and big-box stores;
                     it is hard to tell which is the antecedent for "With  365, they hope to fight
                     back and broaden that kind of  customer base they cater to."  My guess is
                     that the plural they  refers to the only singular noun of the three.

                     The second sentence would be easier to decode if it went like this:
                     "With 365, Whole Foods hopes to fight back and broaden that kind of
                     customer it caters to."
                     (Also "broaden that kind of customer base they cater to" suggests something
                     humorous, most likely unintentionally.  Leave aside the business of ending
                     the sentence with a preposition.)


       Michael Kors has positioned themselves to have superior brand recognition through key 
       celebrity endorsements.
                      Michale Kors could be a reference to the designer or to his company.  Even
                      with the s on the end, either is singular.  Themselves is plural;  Himself  or
                       itself is what is needed.  Even better would be a simpler sentence.


        "There's a long history in business of picking a successor and then discrediting them."
         (Quote from a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.)

                         Simple problem:   Successor is singular; them is plural.


       We have contacted local law enforcement, informed them of the allegations, and are
        committed to assisting them in their investigation.  (Quote from a letter from a letter
       sent by an elite Northeastern prep school.)

                         Here we go again.  Law enforcement agencies is plural, but
                         law enforcement is singular.  Calling "law enforcement agencies"
                         them on second reference makes my teeth hurt; calling "law
                         enforcement" them is even worse.


         . . . the other passenger could have moved to an empty seat in another part of the plane
         but they refused.

                          Here we have one passenger in one seat, and in second reference, the
                          single passenger is they.  There are better ways to express this.


        When a celebrity emerges on the red carpet of the Met Gala, there is the distinct possibility
        that their carefully-crafted look might become a style staple for several decades to come.

                         Again, celebrity is singular, and their (as in "look") is plural.

                         (Plus, saying a celebrity "emerges on the red carpet" makes me think of an
                         insect emerging from a pupa.  And "carefully-crafted" doesn't need a hyphen.)


       Coach has been underperforming over the past five years, with their competitors greatly
        outperforming them.

       Coach is currently undervalued as it has lackluster revenue growth and increasing operating
       expenses once oil rebounds. Despite Coach trying to re-brand themselves and bring value to
       the shareholders, lack of revenue growth will continue to leave them underperforming
       compared to their competitors. Since Coach has been careless about improving their
       position, new competitors have started to emerge and will continue to take away market share
       from them.

                   First Coach, a singular entity, has their competitors beating them, then it has
                  lackluster growth and is trying to rebrand themselves, then has concerns about                                       them underperforming competitors and fearing that new competitors will take
                  market share from them.  Got it?  Me neither.

The Issue

I don't want to get too het up about this.  Our country has bigger problems than the misuse of pronouns.

Sloppy constructions like those above would undermine your reputation in a country that takes its language seriously.  Think France.

Even here, it can be difficult to take seriously the ideas that come from the mouths and keyboards of people who can't express themselves coherently.  In addition to the distraction, the mishmash mangles the message.

Pronouns are interesting for another reason: They are the face of the evolution of standard English.  Much of what I flagged above is on its way to being normalized.  In addition, some of our self-styled betters are preparing a whole new batch of pronouns to add to the ones that already give us so much trouble.

I will take up these two matters in the next week or so.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Marijuana and Heroin

Many of the old shibboleths about the evils of marijuana have been cleared away.

Nobody says marijuana is a "gateway drug" to cocaine or heroin anymore.  I agree with that.

Nobody says marijuana is worse for your health than alcohol or cigarettes.  I agree with that too.

Nobody says that locking up people who smoke dope or have a few plants in the house or garden or even distribute small amounts of marijuana need to be in prison.  I'm fine with all of that.

Since 2000, by my count, at least half the states have adopted medical marijuana laws.  Two states have outright retail sales, and it is likely that others will follow.  There are getting to be legitimate marijuana farms.  

In the non-legalizing states, there seems to be much less marijuana enforcement.  My impression is that it is much easier to get your hands on the stuff.

My question is this:  What is the effect of all this on the illegal drug market?

For many years, Latin American drug cartels trafficked in marijuana.  (Also cocaine, although there appears to be less demand for that now.  This is just my impression; I don't buy street drugs.)

There was good money in this business.


As the marijuana business has come out of the shadows, there has come to be less demand for the Latin American cartels' products. 

Drug cartels are like big businesses in at least one way:  When demand for one key product declines, they look for another product to market instead.  

As marijuana has become easier to obtain, the cartels have begun to bring heroin across the border in much, much larger quantities. 

If you think about it, there are some benefits to selling heroin over selling marijuana.

     --  Marijuana is sold by the ounce, heroin by the gram.  If you have 1,000 doses of heroin, you 
          can fit them in a much smaller package than 1,000 doses/pipes/whatever of marijuana.  This
          is useful when moving contraband across national borders.

     -- A marijuana customer may not hook up with a dealer on weekdays or when anticipating
         a drug test by an employer.  Heroin customers, on the other hand, are steady customers, at
         least until they die.   

Like other markets, drug markets vary over time.  The new popular drugs -- following the crack cocaine and methamphetamine epidemics of the last 30 years -- are opioids, including pharmaceuticals like oxycodone and fentanyl, and also heroin, which is sold on the streets.  

Opioids are particularly lethal.  Here is a CDC chart tracking the fast rise in death from overdoses of prescription opioids and heroin between 2000 and 2014.  The upward trend seems to have continued since then.

To me, the trend line suggests a substitution of heroin ($4 a dose) for prescription pharmaceuticals like oxycodone ($40 a dose) is under way and rising fast.

We have had a public discussion that generally has resolved that doctors need to cut back on prescribing opioids, and I believe medical professionals have done so.  Some of the people who became addicted to prescription pharmaceuticals have turned instead to street drugs.

But a great many others -- frustrated or lacking self control or enticed by the easy availability of heroin -- seem to have taken comfort in a drug that turns them into addicts.

I know of two cases.  In one, a wonderful young man we knew as a child began using heroin in adolescence, then stopped for several years.  When he drifted back, he died of an overdose.

In the other case, an alumna of my high school, 26 years old and strung out, was put in jail for a week or more as her body suffered through heroin withdrawal.  As her family agitated to see and help her, she died; no medical or jail personal noticed or took action during her rapid decline.  

I'm nowhere close to the epicenter of this phenomenon, but these stories frighten me. 

Broader Costs

Last summer, the Mexican government released data showing that between 2007 and 2014, more than 164,000 people of its citizens were homicide victims. The U.S. has 2.6 times the population of Mexico, but there are more murders in Mexico each year, largely a result of drug trafficking. Ironically, drug use in Mexico is much less common than it is here.

The prominent disappearance (and presumed murder) of 43 Mexican college students in 2014 has been linked to drug cartels and their corruption of police and government agencies in the region.  Imagine if such a thing happened in the U.S. today. 

The U.S. sends large sums every year to Latin American countries, particularly Mexico, to fight drug gangs, effectively outsourcing enforcement and loss of life because of our citizens' taste for drugs.  


Alas, we do not have a plan for this.  

Some people talk of treatment, but many drug users cycle in and out of treatment many times.  Once addicted, they seem vulnerable to relapse for the rest of their lives. The ready availability of heroin on the streets makes life no easier for them.

Others talk of legalizing drugs or supplying addicts with maintenance doses for the rest of their lives.  Legalizing heroin or subsidizing permanent dependence on heroin seems like a big step from legalizing marijuana, however.

The above might be worth considering if we could convince Americans not to take up drugs in the first place.  But how?  Criminalization did not work, and the idea that we could convince our broader population do be more self-protective seems laughable given our failure even to educate young people in reading, arithmetic and civics, let alone prepare them for meaningful careers in a changing economy.

In particularly, nobody seems to have given much thought to addressing directly the supply side of the problem -- the criminal cartels that enable addiction here and destroy life and governance south of our border.  Those cartels seem to be planning to be in the business for the long term. 


The Significant Other, who for some reason is following politics this year, says that Donald Trump has claimed his proposed border wall will stop the flow of illegal drugs into this country.  
I don't buy the argument.  At least 75 smuggling tunnels have been discovered along the border with Mexico, and nobody has any idea how many others exist.  Detection relies on witness tips, and there doesn't appear to be an effective technology to detect tunnels from above the ground.  In addition, there are boats, planes and many lightly patrolled spots along the also-long Canadian border. 
Put simply, drug cartels are more motivated to keep their business going -- even at the cost of overdose deaths, corruption of governments and outright murder -- than we are to stop them.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

Movie Monday: A Hologram for the King

This movie was aired first at the Tribeca Film Festival and somehow wandered across the Hudson River to a couple New Jersey theaters a week before its national opening last Friday.

It is one scattered piece of work.

The story is from the 2012 Dave Eggers novel of the same name.  (I did not read it: Middle-aged American executives' frustrations have been discussed rather extensively in our literature for almost 100 years now, and I was not drawn to the idea of another book plowing the same ground, albeit in a different setting.)  Critics liked the Hologram novel, but my impression is that readers were somewhat less enthusiastic.

Plot Metaphors

One thing that is striking is how many reviews of the movie reach for classic metaphors to describe its themes.

The main character, Alan Clay, is of course played by -- who else? -- Tom Hanks.  Clay and Hanks are both described as Everyman, the subject of a 16th century morality play that probably hasn't been staged in at least 200 years.  Alan Clay is a middle-aged executive who has lost his job, his marriage, his house and his ability to pay his daughter's college tuition.

This backstory is dispatched quickly in jerky shots and a quick-cut recitation from the Talking Heads song, "Once in a Lifetime." The other historical bit is a five-second recurring image in Clay's memory of the time he faced a roomful of blue-collar workers about to be fired when their Schwinn manufacturing jobs were outsourced to China.

Then it's on to Clay as Willie Loman in "Death of a Salesman," leveraging a brief encounter with a Saudi prince many years earlier into a long-shot assignment to sell a holographic system to King Abdullah Economic City, a massive enterprise just getting under way in Saudi Arabia.

After Clay arrives in Saudi Arabia, he becomes a character from the Samuel Beckett play, "Waiting for Godot." He is stalled at work, awaiting the arrival of King Abdullah to see Clay's company's presentation and fielding increasingly angry calls from his boss at the head office in Boston.

These metaphors may be the inventions of film critics trying to make sense of the uneven and not well-paced plot.

Then comes another metaphor drawn from the original novel -- a lipoma (a lump of unusual tissue growth) that has developed under the skin on Clay's back.

Clay's dismay continues until his lipoma is removed by a female doctor.  Then, finally, the king arrives and appreciates the company's presentation.  This is followed by the unsatisfactory resolution of Clay's marketing effort, which is explained (but not shown) in a few sentences.  The final act becomes an improbable love story that ties the whole project together.  At least that is the intention.


The film, perhaps like the book, observes but does not dwell on the relatively more challenging difficulties faced by people in Saudi Arabia.
        "We don't have unions here," Clay's driver tells him.  "We have Filipinos."
        When Clay remarks on a crowd he has seen as he is driven to his work site, his driver explains that the people have gathered to watch public executions.


One thing I enjoyed about A Hologram for a King was its travelogue aspect, including desert views, exotic buildings and even an unplanned drive through Mecca, a holy city that is absolutely off limits to non-Muslims.  These pictures gave me a sense of a country that I am unlikely to visit in my lifetime.
          Then, later, I learned that the exterior shots were filmed in Morocco.  This is not surprising; Saudi Arabia is a tightly controlled country that almost certainly would not countenance the film's scenes of heavy drinking and a woman talking privately with a man who is not a relative.
          I should have known better.


What most disappoints about the movie is that it bites off more than it can chew and isn't as coherent as it might have been.
         It is a film truism that a movie is more like a short story than a novel, and this makes sense to me. It takes 20 or 30 hours to read a book, and even when descriptive writing is replaced by imagery, most books have more plot action and character development than most movies can do justice in a couple hours.
         The Hologram movie compresses its main character's background so much that his existential crisis, his frantic grab for a very speculative job and his floundering in an entirely new culture lack sufficient grounding (the "before" of the story) in Alan Clay's past.  Several scenes and secondary themes probably should have been edited out of the script in favor of strengthening the overall narrative.


A Hologram for a King is set in the still-soft economic environment of 2010, but some of its elements, including the outsourcing of Schwinn jobs, happened much earlier.  This is a perfectly acceptable fiction convention -- conflating one company's woes with those of a major economic slowdown -- but it is a little bewildering if you know the history.

Another corporate phenomenon that occurred before the book's 2010 date was the promotion of holographic connections as the next big thing in corporate communications.  I had a minor role in a fund-raising effort for such a company.  The project manager was absolutely convinced that the technology would change the way multi-nationals did business.  This of course did not happen.
         Funny to encounter the idea in a book published years after teleconferencing and Skype had erased holograms from commercial memory.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rosé Revival

Rosé wine is trending these days.

Earlier this year, when the Significant Other and I joined a hip friend for dinner at a high-end pizza place in Southern California (no, not Spago), he suggested ordering a bottle of pink wine.  

This was a new thing for me.  My only rosé memory was of my grandmother drinking a glass on special occasions.  She and my grandfather sometimes stocked their cereal shelf with Cocoa Puffs (mostly for him, I think), and they delighted their grandchildren with large bowls of ice cream after dinner.  She was a wonderful person -- generous and smart and stylish -- but I grew over time to think of pink wine as the sort thing that appealed to a person with a sweet tooth.

Our dinner companion was a sophisticated fellow, and so we decided to live dangerously.  We ordered the rosé.  When the wine came, it looked like this.  

The winery, Mouton Noir, describes the product thusly:  

          Love Drunk is an intoxicating rosé. Much like new love, it clouds the brain, causes 
          eyes to sparkle, cheeks to glow, blood pressure to rise, and lips to pucker.  Provocative 
          aromas of strawberry and raspberry, followed by refreshing flavors of wild strawberry, 
          watermelon rind, and a hint of kiwi.

Like most wine descriptions, this is a bit over the top, but in fact Love Drunk is refreshingly inexpensive, and it tastes very good.  

So good that when the SO and I returned to the restaurant about six weeks later, we ordered it again.   Turned out the place had sold out its entire supply.

Not to worry, the waiter said.  There were five other rosés on the wine list.  (Five rosés!  More evidence of a trend.)  He offered to let us sample them.  We accepted the offer.

Three of the five tasted mostly like seltzer, and the fourth was reminiscent of strawberry soda.   The fifth was drinkable, and so we ordered that.  But it was no Love Drunk.


Love Drunk comes from Mouton Noir, a winery in the middle of Oregon's Willamette Valley, one of the best places in the world to grow pinot noir grapes.   Perhaps to harmonize with its French name, the winery describes its home state as "Oregnone."

Mouton Noir doesn't seem pretentious, however.  Company literature describe its products as "unique and distinctive garage wines, initially created for some of New York's best restaurants," where founder André Hueston Mack worked as a sommelier.

The rosé is a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes.  The light color develops when the combined juices soak for a few days with noir grape skins.

I was surprised to learn later that Mouton Noir is the same winery that makes Other People's Pinot, a drinkable and unusually affordable pinot noir that is gaining something of a reputation on both coasts.  We served O.P.P.  to family and friends at Christmas dinner last year.  There were no complaints.

Unfortunately, Mouton Noir's rosé has not gained traction yet in the critical New Jersey market.  


For a party last week, the S.O. went to the "good" wine shop in our town.  At the suggestion of an employee, he bought a couple bottles of the above, a French vintage from Provence, which tasted fine and was relatively inexpensive.

Apparently people in France have been onto this rosé stuff for many years.  French rosés (like many things French) are a bit more complex than our domestic varieties and can stand more aging than American ones.  

I even read that Mick Jagger is a fan of fizzy pink wine, specifically, Cristal Rosé.  

This makes sense to me.  Mick is about the same age my grandmother was when I remember her sipping rosé all those years ago.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Upskirt Season

The Manhattan district attorney recently issued several warnings to female subway passengers about the beginning of Upskirt Season.  Five arrests were made in a single week in March, and many more arrests are expected during the summer months.

If riding a crowded underground train is not part of your daily routine, you may not have heard of this.

To "upskirt" is to slip a camera under a woman's skirt and grab a picture or short film of her underpants.  This is more easily accomplished in the summer months, when women wear lighter and fewer clothes.  As do men, for that matter.

Guys trying to look up women's skirts is not a new thing.  But the practice really took off with the ready availability of small cameras, chiefly cellphone cameras.  Every year the police report more complaints and more arrests.  In New York, convictions can lead to  prison sentences of up to four years, at least theoretically.

Upskirting happens everywhere, but creepy men with low self-control are particularly attracted to subways.  For one thing, many of the cars are crowded and surreptitious actions are less likely to attract attention.

(Crowding also creates a nice environment for groping women, a perennial subway complaint.  Less crowded cars seem to appeal more to flashers and masturbators.)

In addition, the passage from an underground train to street level involves climbing stairs or riding an escalator, and snatch voyeurs can follow behind and just below women, close to the hems of their dresses and, well, you get the picture.

Women are rightly offended by this behavior.

One Case

Last August, a quick-minded young woman, "Amy," contacted police after such an incident. She even provided a stick-figure drawing of what happened.  In it, Amy is the standing blue figure and the upskirter, drawn in red, is reaching past another seated passenger to slip a camera under her skirt.

Initially, Amy thought the man was trying to touch her leg, she told a news reporter:

              "It was between  East Broadway and Delancey that I noticed his camera phone
              facing up my skirt. Once I noticed it my mind blanked and all I remembered was
              grabbing his phone and screaming 'What the fuck are you doing' and we wrestled
              maybe 5-10 feet down the moving train while it pulled into the station.

             "He was yelling in Spanish and broken English stuff like 'I didn't do anything!'
             'What're you doing?'"—Amy added that she's Mexican and understood him—
             "and I yelled back that he was filming up my skirt, I called him a pervert, I told
             him if he wasn't doing anything to just let me look at his phone and all the while
             no one around me stepped in... I think because the guy was feigning ignorance
             and everyone was really confused."

             When the train stopped at Delancey, she says the man "ripped the phone out of
             my hands and got off" the train. Delancey happened to be Amy's stop too. She
             noticed that he turned right, as if "he was just trying to get away from me
             because it seemed like he didn't know the station very well because there's no
             exit to the right on this platform." So she waited for him.

             "He came out a few seconds after me and that's when I started taking the photos.
             He was yelling at me about how he was going to report me to the police... [maybe]
             as a way to manipulate me and make me feel like 'Oh maybe he wasn't filming
             up my skirt."

Amy took four cellphone pictures of the man and gave them to the police, who only started to look for the man after a second woman filed a similar complaint about him; this is apparently the standard law enforcement response.  No reports of an arrest.

Amy sounds like a spirited gal.  She can take satisfaction from the way she handled her situation, but she also took risks that could have turned out badly for her.


--- The upskirt phenomenon was so prominent by 2012 that a small New York gallery hosted an art exhibit by that name.  It did not appear to be a prurient thing -- a costume designer and a textile designer assembled several women's clothing displays in which white-gloved attendants lifted up the skirts to reveal unexpected fabric creations.  Maybe the transgressive title and its news value inspired the artists.  Maybe it was funny, but it sounds a little weird.

--- The police are busy.  New York recorded only 333 homicides in 2014, a record low in modern times, but the trend switched upward in 2015.  The number of rapes reported also increased in 2015.  Making cases against upskirters is time-consuming, partly because incriminating evidence is in the hands of offenders who have an incentive to get rid of it, and partly because many witnesses do not have the time or inclination to participate in a drawn-out process of investigation and prosecution.  Also, the police may find it difficult to justify diverting energy in a violent city to catch low-rent creeps.

--- The judicial system is not always helpful.  In 2014, the top court in Massachusetts overturned a Boston upskirter's conviction because state law only criminalized voyeurism involving naked or partly naked persons.  Police had caught the man in a sting operation after multiple complaints about him.

--- In fact, when men are caught and prosecuted for upskirting, their cameras often reveal multiple incidents.  In a 2013 case, a New York urologist was convicted for using a "spy pen" camera that was found to contain pictures of 11 different women's private parts; more images were located later, presumably in his home. The doctor took a no-jail plea deal with no sex-offender status in exchange for getting therapy.  He also was fired by his prominent hospital, and most likely will have a hard time getting work in his field.

My Story

Some people like narratives, and so I will share my own experience for those who care to read it.

When I was 17, I had a part-time job at the main branch of the Portland library, a broadening experience that introduced me to interesting new books and, perhaps more, to a range of eccentric individuals.

A number of downtown street people, mostly older men, would spend all day in the library, often sleeping at the tables with their heads leaning on their folded arms.  Some of them smelled pretty bad, but nobody bothered them.  Libraries are the original safe spaces.

Crazy people visited frequently.  I particularly remember a man who was very interested in cacti.  Several times a week, he would visit the stacks desk and submit requests for certain cactus titles that had disappeared from the collection long before.  Always the same titles, never there.  The cactus man would throw little fits every time he requested the same books and nobody could find them.

Another regular at the stacks desk was a well-dressed older woman who signed each request form with many names, always including "Queen Elizabeth" in the group.

Colleagues told me that a particular restroom on the first floor was a regular cruising location for gay men seeking sex.

One day when I was reading shelves (straightening for Dewey-accurate order) in the Literature and History room, I squatted to check titles and numbers on the lower shelves. After a few minutes, I realized that a man in the next row over also was squatting and was staring at my crotch.  He caught my eye in a moment of distraction and leered at me.

I got up and found my surpervisor, a large and surprisingly agile woman who chased the voyeur down the stairs and out of the building.  Nothing more happened.

I was a little shook up for a few minutes, but I had worked several months at the library by then.  I knew these things could happen.  I also knew that the librarians and supervisors would back me up in any serious situation.

Then I got over myself and went back to work.

What to Do

I don't think the legal system is equipped to deal with upskirters.  The jails are overcrowded with violent felons, and there isn't room to lock up all the cowardly creeps who prowl the streets.

Maybe we could send the upskirters to group therapy, but that would be expensive and my guess is that those guys would meet up after sessions and share pictures with each other.

Activists say women suffer traumas after upskirting events, and it is easy to understand distress in such a circumstance.  On the other hand, there are activists advocating for all kinds of victims these days. The allure of victimhood seems to be irresistible to many people.  It would be difficult to sort which victims have suffered most, and it is certainly not a project that I am prepared to undertake.

My preferred reaction is rage.  My experience wasn't traumatizing, but it did make me angry.  If I had been a few years older and a little more confident, I like to think I would have told the voyeur off in a loud voice instead of notifying my supervisor.

One little-discussed way to promote civil behavior is this:  Public shaming.  People get embarrassed when confronted with their own bad actions.  It traumatizes THEM.  It is surprisingly effective.

My advice is this:  If you see some jerk taking pictures under a woman's skirt, create a scene.  Speak loudly (do not yell) in a controlled voice that lets everybody in the vicinity know what you have observed. People will come to stare, and some will voice their own scorn.  Get out your cellphone and take the guy's picture. Post it on the internet, and pin a copy to the closest bulletin board or tape it to a nearby wall.  Share it with the police.

When weaselly people have a legitimate fear of being called out publicly, they tend to behave better.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mid-Spring Sandals

One thing I learned when I moved to the Northeast from the room-temperature climate of Southern California was that fashion moved in gradations with changes in the season.

As winter gives way to milder temperatures, women cast off their Ugg boots (and, if they are smart, throw them into the dumpster) and don normal shoes.  Then, come April and occasional pleasant days, women start wearing sandals.  But not espadrilles or strappy white ones. 

What is wanted in these climates and at those moments are dark sandals, sometimes worn with socks.  This makes some sense because rain showers and even occasional dustings of snow occur well into the spring season. 

For many years, the ideal spring sandal, at least for fashion-forward young women, was a sort of Goth-looking black number with heavy straps and a lot of coverage.  Such sandals went well with jeans and skirts alike.  They were just the thing to wear to as the cherry tree blossoms burst out and then fell and as leaves began to appear on the trees and provide patches of shade that would be welcome in the summer to come. 

Now, I notice, fashion houses have caught up and are including midseason sandals, including some heavy black ones, in their collections.  Here are few from 2016:

You probably wouldn't wear sandals like these in the hot summer months, except possibly for trips downtown when you want to avoid the gunk on the streets.

In Southern California, black Goth sandals can be seen all year.  So can knee-high boots, for that matter.  Because the seasons are so similar, there is no need to acquire separate wardrobes for summer and winter.  A few die-hards change things up based on the calendar and tradition, but those women are rare.


1.  Another fashion custom here for many years was to paint one's toenails a light pink shade in the spring, then to switch to bolder reds as the weather got hot.  At least this was the housewife look.
      Then the younger women switched to light blue, deep maroon and black nail shades, depending on their moods, not the seasons.  This has been imitated by the grownups, including the hausfraus, for several years now.  One effect of this is that choosing a color at a mani-pedi shop has become a time-consuming, mildly agonizing experience.

2.  Those black high-coverages sandals gave way to another unfortunate footwear fashion that happily seems to be fading:  peep-toe boots.
      To a form-follows-function person, as I am generally, boots are for puddle protection and to keep the feet warm. Boots that expose your big toes to the elements do not meet those criteria.
      The peep-toe look was fresh and new for a while, but it always struck me as strange.  Honestly, how many women regard their toes, even when beautifully manicured, as among their best physical features?
      What's the point?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Movie Monday: The Boss

If you haven't seen Melissa McCarthy since her star turn in Bridesmaids in 2011, the trailer above will let you know that she's still playing the same character -- a gross-out gal willing to say or do anything to get a laugh.

McCarthy is a comic genius (really)  and the first plus-size actress I can recall who can carry a movie.  Working often with her husband -- screenwriter-director Ben Falcone -- she has starred in four films since 2012.  All were made on modest budgets of less than $50 million, and all reported ticket sales over $150 million.

In this current iteration, McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a tough, self-made zillionaire who is jailed for insider trading and loses her fortune.  After her release, she is reduced to sharing an apartment with her assistant, the single mother of a tween daughter.  But Darnell has spunk and when she sees an opportunity to make another fortune, she grabs it.  The plot of course includes a sad childhood that gave the character her hard-shelled exterior, and there is redemption to be had, more or less.

New York Times critic Manohla Dargis said The Boss "is funny without being much good; mostly, it’s another rung on Ms. McCarthy’s big ladder up. It’s a fitful amalgam of bouncy and slack laughs mixed in with some blasts of pure physical comedy and loads of yammering heads."

That pretty much gets it right.

Besides the yucks, the movie has a very heavy Girl Power theme.

Darnell comes up with a business plan that enlists middle-school girls to sell cookies; she also encourages them to swear and engage in fisticuffs with other girls.  (All very funny, but would it work if the girls or their opponents were African American, or if the girls were boys?  Just asking.)

In addition, Darnell's assistant gets a love interest who's an amiable schlub; Darnell's frenemy lover, a much tougher character, is played by Peter Dinklage, who in real life is a little person.

Because she is talented and bankable, Melissa McCarthy can make movies like this for as long as she wants.  The critics have been wondering for the last couple years about whether she'll do anything else.  Will she always be the female Adam Sandler, or can she become the female Bill Murray?  We'll see.

Before The Boss, my last Melissa McCarthy movie was The Heat in 2013.  Unless she gets a new schtick, I'm probably not going to see another McCarthy film until, oh, 2022 or so.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Ersatz C-Notes

Is this a face you can trust?

When I was in a small store last week, I noticed a sign by the cash register saying the establishment would not accept $100 bills for purchases.

"There were too many counterfeits," said the cashier.

The police blotter in our local paper reported this week that the Neiman Marcus store at the mall had collected $1,800 in bad $100 bills in a single day last week.

The Benjamin got a big update three years ago with a new look and better security features, including ink colors that shift when a bill is moved about under a light.

The counterfeits now being passed are of the less secure, pre-2013 design.  Usually, it has been said, they are older $1 or $5 bills that have been repurposed by fraudsters who use a chemical treatment to pull off the original ink and then reprint a new $100 bill on the same paper.

Some recent reports:

     -- Last Monday, police in Rochelle, Ill. reported, a woman used counterfeit $100  bills
         at several local businesses.

     -- Six different stores and restaurants in Woodbridge, NJ, were the unlucky recipients of fake                 Benjamins on a single day in February.

     -- Malls in Connecticut and New Jersey reported several cases of fake $100 bills
         being used to buy goods in January.

     -- Also in January, police in Sauk Prairie, Wis. said three different persons used
         bad Benjamins at five local stores in a single day.

It seems that people with limited ethical standards sometimes buy fake money for about 40 percent of the (false) face value.  These people often make small purchases with the large bills and collect the change in genuine currency.

Two years ago, the U.S. Secret Service busted 13 people for operating a counterfeiting operation that was reputed to have produced $77 million in funny money since 1999 at plants in Israel and New Jersey.  (The four leaders of the group were described as Russian-speaking Israelis.) Before the raid, there had been increasing numbers of reports of counterfeit money in the Northeast.

This new surge of fake money complaints may mean that another unscrupulous group has set up shop since 2014.    

It happened before.  In 2007, street gangs in Los Angeles were reported to be passing fake banknotes all over Southern California and as far away as Hawaii.  In 2005, the federal government charged that North Korea was printing fake U.S. currency.  That same year, a Canadian counterfeiter admitted he was the manufacturer of very, very realistic-looking $20 bills.

According to law enforcement officers, there are several ways to ascertain whether a banknote has been bleached and reprinted.
           The simplest is to hold the bill up to a light and see whether the watermark matches the inked image.  If the printed image is Benjamin Franklin but the watermark looks like Abraham Lincoln, (whose picture is on $5 bills) then the bill almost certainly is a counterfeit.
           More subtle signs are red and blue fibers that appear to be printed, not embedded, on the bill's paper, and presidential images that look more flat than the vivid images on genuine currency.

One Thought

Sometimes in the late spring, I tuck a $100 bill into a graduation card for a young friend.  This usually requires a trip to the bank since I don't carry large bills.  I hope banks are as reliable at spotting counterfeit money as their officers claim.  Imagine giving an 18-year-old a gift that could land him in the hoosegow!

Maybe it would be more safe to get debit cards instead.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Striped Handbags

Recently, I paged through a bunch of 2016 fashion magazines that were on the doorstep when we returned from a three-month hiatus in California.  (I have mentioned before that our local postal employees miss us when we are out and, to lure us back home, forward as little mail as possible.  Touching and rather sweet, when you think about it.)

What struck me about the new season's look is a trend in handbags:  stripes.  

I saw striped handbags of all types -- small satchels, hobos, bucket bags, clutches, messengers, all of them -- in fashion pages.  Not so much on the streets yet, but that may be changing soon. 

Some of these are in basic colors and perhaps could serve as go-to bags for the season.  Others are rendered in such unusual hues that they probably require co-ordinating outfits.

I cannot recall ever owning a striped pocketbook, and I'm not sure I'm interested in buying one now.

What puzzles me is how this became such a "thing" this year.  Did all the designers  have a teleconference and agree to include striped bags in the year's collections?  We could call them and ask, but I'm pretty sure they would regard such information as a trade secret not to be shared.  Fair enough.

Anyway, here are some examples followed by a personal recommendation. 



Proenza Shouler

More Proenza Schouler




More Gucci

Salvatore Ferragamo

Sara Battaglia for Salvatore Ferragamo

More Sara Battaglia for Salvatore Ferragamo


Louis Vuitton

Dooney & Bourke

Saint Laurent

Valentino Rockstud

Michael Kors

Thom Browne

Le Petite Joueurs

Ralph Lauren

Betsey Johnson

Kenzo from Paris Fashion Week

Getting Real

See what I mean?  That's a lot of stripes.

It seems clear there is a bit of a trend here, but the question is whether to invest in it.  

Most of the pictured bags cost north of $1,000.  That's a lot to spend for one season's pocketbook, especially if you're not sure that the other cool girls will adopt the look.   

Here's my thought:  If you're really eager to buy a striped bag, why not just go to Target?  The house Merona brand is selling several striped handbag/backpacks, including the one below.  

I have two reasons for this recommendation.  

First, it's a pretty basic design with basic colors.  You could carry it with almost any spring or summer outfit.  

Second, it's inexpensive.  You can toss it out without regret if trends shift over the winter and the new look for 2017 turns out to be polka dots.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

What's Wrong with the Knicks?

The New York Knicks played their final game of the season Tuesday, losing in Indianapolis, 102 to 90.  Nobody was expecting a win, and most fans seemed to be looking forward to the end of another losing year.  The team's  2016 record, 32 wins and 50 losses, looks good only when compared to its 2015 record, 17 and 65, its worst ever.

Knicks fans, 2015
I wrote in February about the team's newest member, Kristaps Porzingis, who was drafted for the power forward/center position.  In his first string of games, the team turned in fine performances in Houston, Miami and Orlando.   For a brief period, New York had a winning record.

Then the Knicks reverted to form.  After nine losses in a 10-game stretch, the coach was fired and replaced by Kurt Rambis, who seems to be the NBA's designated interim coach.

Since 2001, the Knicks have had four winning seasons and 12 stinkers.  The team has had 10 different coaches, including some pretty good ones.  The team has been described repeatedly as "rebuilding."


In 2014, as part of the latest rebuilding effort, team owner James Dolan, a difficult man even on his best days, brought in Phil Jackson as the Knicks president.  (Jackson coached the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers to 11 NBA championships.)  His role seems to be to find coaches and players and, more generally, to pull the team out of the basement and get it going on an upward trend.

These things take time.   This summer, Jackson will oversee recruiting and draft choices and settle on the new coach, possibly signing Rambis to a longer contract.

There are other personnel matters:  Should Carmelo Anthony, the hard-working, anointed savior who joined the Knicks in 2011 stay, or should he go?  Should the Knicks bring back Jeremy Lin, the star guard of the 2012 season who is now with the Hornets?  How long will it take 20-year-old, first-year player Porzingis to hit full stride?  (A comparable hire, German-born Dirk Nowitzki, joined the Dallas Mavericks at the same age and grew into the role over several years.)

In fact, Jackson has been making noises about settling these matters and then leaving New York for Los Angeles and his fiancee of 15 years.  Many others have had the same impulse after spending a couple years with James Dolan and the Knicks.

What Jackson seems determined to leave behind as his legacy is his beloved style of play -- the triangle offense.

Triangle Offense

The triangle offense was devised in the 1940s by Sam Berry, a legendary college coach.  Later it was employed by Red Holzman, who coached the Knicks to their only two NBA championships in the early 1970s when Jackson was a member of the team.

I'm not going to go into a lot of inside basketball here, but the triangle is characterized by fast-moving action, with players passing the ball frequently and switching positions often to capitalize on opportunities created when the other team's defense is momentarily distracted.  It requires selfless commitment to true team play, which can be difficult to cultivate when players are traded often or when there is friction among top players with tender egos and huge salaries.

Other strategies might focus instead on getting the ball in the hands of a team's best shooters or having the point guard distribute the ball based on his read of the defense at any given moment.

Jackson, described as something of a zen master in his coaching years, regarded the triangle as the nirvana of  basketball strategy.  He has modestly credited his coaching success in Chicago to convincing Michael Jordan to participate more selflessly in a triangle strategy.

Not everyone shares Jackson's view.

One who does not is Charles Barkley, the former star of the 76ers and now a straight-shooting sports television commenter.  Here is what he said in early 2015 on CBS:

"The Knicks just don't have good players (except for Carmelo Anthony) . . . . And I think Phil Jackson made a mistake trying to make those guys run the triangle.  You have to work with the personnel you got.  Because those guys, No. 1, they're not going to learn the triangle because they're all going to be gone next year.  They're really just auditioning for their new teams.  The Knicks are probably going to have eight to nine new players next year, so to think that those guys are going to buy into the triangle for six months, that was ridiculous.  They know they're not going to be there.  So you can blame Phil for that."

Barkley amplified on this a little later, when he said, "They haven't drafted any good young players the last 10 years, and that's why they stink. They try to raid everybody else's free agents, and when they don't get free agents, they stink."  (These comments came before the Porzingis draft choice, which Jackson opposed initially.)

Another triangle opponent is former Pacers great Reggie Miller, who last month described the Knicks under Jackson as "a glass half empty."

"What does Phil want to do?” Miller questioned. “What does Dolan want to do going forward with this?  How do we want to play?
     "Are we going to continue with this triangle crap, or are we going to play a traditional free-flowing style like the Warriors play?
     "I love the triangle if I have Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Scottie Pippen.  I'd play the triangle all day. But if I've got Carmelo and Porzingis, no, I do not like the triangle.  Without Kobe and Shaq and Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the triangle is just a circle."

(To be fair, the Knicks may not want advice from Miller.  There was deep enmity between the Knicks and Pacers during his playing years, and Miller and Spike Lee, possibly the Knicks' most ardent fan, had a running, public feud.)

Knicks Future

For all the team's problems, the Knicks franchise is valued at $3 billion, the highest in the NBA, largely because of its long-term television contract.  The team's games at Madison Square Garden always sell out -- ticket prices average $200 or more -- although many seats were empty as the season drew to its dismal close.

Dolan, the Knicks owner, seems ready to lavish money in the interest of better results, but he has made some serious missteps.  (Isiah Thomas, anyone?)  Bringing in Jackson probably didn't hurt exactly, but if Jackson leaves behind a team-style offense for a team that traditionally has been composed of notorious prima donnas, that effort may be unavailing as well.