Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

Hey, Foodie, Let’s Get Special

July 16th, 2011

snootyAs it has for centuries, the same answer fits both questions of what to give someone who has everything and what do the privileged need emotionally. That would be obvious and public confirmation that they are special and superior.

A sort, brilliant Simon Kuper piece in today’s FT comes at it from the food-and-status angle, leaving no snot without disdain. He notes how the high-disposable income types have lately been out-peasanting the peasants for ego thrills.

While the richest don’t bother, the social strivers and educated middle-class see peasant food as a status marker. As he writes:

By the 1970s, (Verlinvest’ direcyor Eric) Melloul said, food-processing had liberated the working woman. “Now the same working woman is finding time to go to the farmers’ market, and do the cooking herself – what her grandmother used to do. I go to dinners where probably 50 per cent of conversation centres around food.”

However, Kuper knows this is just another expression of the need to feel special, in control and trendy by choice. He adds, “But eventually strivers must abandon it too. When missionaries like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama succeed in spreading peasant food to the masses, it will lose its status.”

For us boomers, this comes and comes and comes like weak lake tides forever lapping societal shores. It has ranged from lower middle to upper middle classes, with each group seeking alimentary, culinary distinction and pride. In my childhood, the women’s service magazines had the new recipe and new food item, which erupted like pimples before the prom everywhere. It seemed the entire nation ate the same damn thing as soon as Redbook or Ladies Home Journal published it.

As human  foibles go, this food-as-status one is largely harmless. No matter how unthinking the herd behavior, at least it broadens the tastes, smells and colors served up on our tables. When you notice, don’t snort, you likely have your own food pretensions you assume are merely more signs of your superiority.

Expounding on a Pound

July 10th, 2011

MHcanI suspect two forces worked on the adults keeping Cub and Boy Scouts crafty and busy. First, the cultural and religious idea that idle hands are the devils tools was one of seemingly countless clichés the WWII generation loved. Second, we were to imitate what our parents thought was manly.

Honestly, the second had good side-effects. Those included having to understand how things work to make stuff. In turn, as adults that leads to being able to fix, make do, and make multiple applications for objects. I fear we boomers have slacked off on that, parents and teachers alike. Far too many Gen-X and Y sorts live in a Mac-fantasy world where things are just supposed to work. When they don’t, as is often the case, even with Apple products, they are at a loss — the curse of the gentle Eloi.

When I open a can of coffee, I sometimes transport to the church basements where we Cubs made pinhole cameras. Those worked most easily using the classic 1-pound low can (like the one in the screen capture of a 50s commercial). For reasons inspiring the following rant, that’s no longer true.

Kodak still puts out instructions for such cameras, as here. That dulls my point. You can still do it. Of course, with digital cameras per se as well as in most cell phones, and next to no photo labs accessible to most of us, that may be moot. Although, I bet boomers acting as Scoutmasters and Den Mothers may crawl into the WABAC machine to get their lads involved. At least the adults will think the project worthwhile.

The modern instructions, however, require a 2-pound can. That’s not to use bigger film, but because short of an antique store or online auction, you can’t find a low 1-pounder. While not all of the WWII era coffee cans were the squat ones, I think about half were. Nowadays, coffee is in bags or the tall cans, neither at all suited to the cameras.

Moreover, coffee is a devils tool in itself, one of deceit. The incredible, shrinking foodstuff would not have made a good horror movie, even in the 50s and 60s where we churned out hundreds (Mole People, Giant Claw, It and They Came from Outer Space, Killer Shrews and such, of course including the Incredible Shrinking Man). Yet, it is a weekly horror at the grocery, one so commonly visited on us that we are inured.

Each of us likely has particular issues here. There is less cereal in each box and fewer chips in the bag, even when the package stays the same size — contents may settle, snort! It is not as obvious when the package is in ounces and fractions.

However, when you grew up with a pound, in the pre-metric world, the miniaturization is all the plainer.

We tend to buy Latino or Italian espresso coffees. They reflect the downsizing along with the WASPy U.S. cans of watery, lighter brews. Cans are tall and increasingly thin. Vacuum bricks seem to have been left out in the rain to shrink. Typical cans have gone from a pound to 14 ounces to 12 to 10, and bricks are now typically 8 or 8.5 ounces.

For awhile, whether it was cereals or coffee, the companies maintained the package price…while the contents shrank, shrank and shrank. Now with global economic pressures, growing demands and production problems, they are pumping up the prices for their deflated goods.

That’s likely to continue. Perhaps it would be the single trend that could finally stop the supersizing of everything caloric that we ingest. We might be priced out of obesity.

The majority of Americans likely never made a pinhole camera. They likely have never seen a low 1-pound can of coffee either. So the makers and vendors don’t constantly remind them of what they’re not getting — they never had it. There’s another opening for another cliché of how you can’t miss what you never had.

Crowing in Hyde Park

June 23rd, 2011

With a wholesome sort of boosterism, Hyde Park (and a wee bit of Roslindale) City Councilor Rob Consalvo got to brag. To hear him tell it this morning, his district is sucking up far more than its share of development projects and business expansions.

Oddly enough for a pol, he didn’t take credit for most of it. He was quick to point out that corporate and government deals tend to be in five-year terms. A few years of talking and planning have similar period of funding and implementation. That goes for massive sidewalk and street reconstruction underway, the two huge rehab and expansion plazas anchored by Stop & Shop on American Legion Highway and Truman Parkway, and a lot more.

Another Go at Coffee

The scene for his bragging on his district but not much on himself was a soft opening of the Bean & Cream coffeehouse/ice cream parlor on Truman off Faimount. The actual open-for-business starts Monday.

I was bribed with both a free coffee (super dark roast, not diner stuff) and biscotti made by the owner Tom Papadopolous’ mom. (She was right when she let slip that they were better than the commercial Nana’s. These had nuts and dates and were fresh.) (Brother Peter is in the biz as well, but was not there this morning.)

Nevertheless, I think I’m not too tainted to report that Bean & Cream is promising. I’d need to taste the ice cream as well, but there’s lots to recommend it. Of course, it’ll have WiFi and Tom says he’s encouraging loiterers. There are about 10 tables (catchy name for somebody) in a spacious and light room. Even the johns are remarkable in that they are roomy and what you’d like to but never do find in a service station.

Locals have bemoaned the shutting of Townsend’s coffee shop, T.C.’s, run by the restaurant owner’s wife Rosaleen Tallon. As well as co-owner of the big place, she’s an excellent baker and still does the desserts there. Apparently they didn’t get the business they hoped on the coffee/pastry side, although regulars were very loyal.

Mild disclaimer: Michael Tallon is always chatty and cheerful, but we’re not real friends. We do live a couple of houses apart and my wife and I eat in Townsend’s. I’m prejudiced in favor, plus I can attest that Rosaleen does grand things with lemon in her pastries. Moreover, Michael has a great nose and mouth for ales and beers that they offer.

I have been attending the HP zoning and redevelopment meetings. I suspect that when they finally expand parking at the Fairmount commuter-rail stop and drop the fare to subway level instead of $4.25, the Logan Square area will get more daytime oomph for such businesses. Meanwhile, the new shop may do well for several reasons:

  • Cappy’s Pizza in the same block, owned by the Papadopolouses for about a decade, draws lots of lunch as well as dinner business.
  • While Ron’s ice cream/bowling is half mile away in Cleary Square, Bostonians love their ice cream, maybe even more than donuts.
  • The write-a-novel or just gossip coffee shops are in West Roxbury and JP, but not HP. There may well be a need.
  • Tom P. seems to be building a little empire, which short of alcohol, would give people what they want from breakfast through evening snack.

Whining Muffled

By coincidence, I had just griped to Consalvo by email about the dreadful crosswalk at the HP Y (where his wife Lisa works). There’s a combo of terrible design and Boston driver/parker behavior. People park there massive SUVs and F-150s next to and often on the crosswalk. Drivers on River Street race to the stop signs a short distance away. The effect is that kids, seniors and everybody in effect is darting out between parked vehicles, blind to the street and drivers to use the crosswalk. I went on and on.

That’s taken care of, it turns out. As part of the River Street Road work (Mattapan Square to Reservation), that and other crosswalks will get an upgrade. The pedestrian zones will make it obvious you can’t park there and provide line of sight to all. So there to me!

Money on the Table

This morning’s meeting was the neighborhood business networking. Consalvo described commercial boons that should become booms.

Foremost are the grocery-plazas — the two S&S ones and the relatively new Price-Rite on River Street. All three are multiphasic deals, with more to come. Each has created a plaza with itself as an anchor store and will expand with more building and more stores. He figures each represents about $30 million invested. To Consalvo, these deals prove his contention that these large corporations have done their market research and believe the district will expand and provide profits.

I did get a brief flashback to the South when he spoke of S&S’ putting stores within a mile of each other. Actually, it’s a bit farther but they are still oddly close. This is similar to the successful strategy of Memphis-based Piggly Wiggly. As a child and young man, I noted the obvious proximity of its stores in many Southern cities and towns.

Locals set me straight when I was eight. They referred to the white Pig and the black Pig. The then separate cultures (despite nearly identical foods) dictated racially solid customer bases, thus parallel grocery tracks and support for close stores.

Hyde Park is not that separate, but there is considerably similarity. The Price-Rite for one example seems to have a few white customers, some Latino, but very heavily black shopper base. The American Legion S&S is similar. The Truman Parkway S&S has largely white customers, although neighboring Hyde Park areas are highly diverse. Once the new Truman store opens in larger format, perhaps it will attract a more mixed set of customers, particularly if they add a fresh fish counter, which either of the other stores has.

Back to Consalvo, he also ticked off $10 million to the Y and $4 million to the public Wright golf course/club house. Even though he minimizes the credit due him for his relentless boosterism, everyone else in the room was quick to say much was and is and will be his doing.

Amusingly, I lost count of his most frequently used phrase today. That was tough fiscal times. He’d use it and follow up with the development underway. He’d use it and point to 130 new cops and 50 new firefighters on or about to be on the job. He said pols in nearby towns ask how Boston can do all this. His answer, he said, was that the mayor and council have prioritized.

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My Glasses Are Yellower Than Yours

June 11th, 2011

YesYellow
I thought I had yellow glasses before (see here). I did not, but do now.

My aesthetic contribution to my son’s recent wedding was springing my new specs. They were obvious to all, as I solemnized the event and stood before the assembled 70.

Several of the groomsmen, bridesmaids and guest commented, typically, “Nice glasses!” As the occasion was in the arboretum, perhaps I fit with the flowering trees.

I consider myself relatively clothing and accessory conservative…short of glasses. For previous jobs requiring neckties, I was wont to reps and such, the dull stripes of the timid. It has been my wife who bought me the well received Tobasco-themed, red with black Chinese characters and such.

Yet, getting glasses in the third grade led me to despair over the dreadful sameness of boys and men’s eyewear. Back to us boomers, but still through today, by what they are offered and what they choose, males tend to boring spectacles. Behold the men with tortoise shell, black, brown, wire rim and similar yawn-producing and nondescript frames, all about us.

Not I.

Particularly for the past three decades of lucking into a similarly eye-adventurous optician in Boston, I’ve had fun with glasses. More men should.

Eyes of the Beholder

I think of a big meeting of the Society for Technical Communication. I had my previous pair of yellow frames and got lots of compliments from women. My group was the people who write computer manuals and such, not famous for artistic statements and appreciation. Two men commented separately that they too were daring with eyewear. Each had wire rims, one with a gray frame instead of black, silver or gold, and the other with a frame where the wire did not cover the bottom third or so around the lens. I can’t say I was overwhelmed by their daring.

Let’s be plain. Particularly on the East Coast and more generally in the U.S., men don’t get a lot of glasses choices. You can verify that by walking into an optician and comparing the racks of women’s and men’s sample frames. Even if you ask for catalogs, there’s not much beyond earth tones and a bit of metal.

My guy Len Shwom though understands. On  the advice of my NYC insurance agent, when he visited us after we moved here, I tried Gopen Optical three decades ago when he and his father Sydney were in Chinatown. It turned into a family affair with my wife and three sons getting fitted.

Sydney is gone and Len moved the business to Dedham Square, but he remains far more flexible and innovative than any of the chains. Len is kind of a Clark Kent of opticians, with superpowers and surprises all the time.

Same Old, Same Old

Len appreciates my eagerness for a flash of excitement in the necessary. Indeed, isn’t that appetite what keeps us from leading the same tedious day over and over again?

He has confirmed what I heard from chain opticians — colorful and innovative man’s frames are available widely in Europe and a little on the West Coast. The manufacturers and vendors determine who will and therefore who can buy what and where.

Len has long been a frame magician or elf though. I’d come in for a new pair of glasses and he’d beam. He’d squirreled away several frames he’d picked up at shows and conventions or stumbled on in catalogs. He’d also help me track down new colors and materials. We’ve had me in red plastic or metal, green metal, and truly funky black metal sunglasses frames.

In fact, that may be the key to a guy who wants to kick off the mundane. Think sunglasses.

Foster Grant, Ray Ban and others made both sunglasses and prescription frames. Pop out the darkened lenses and voila, prescription specs!

He also tells me first that his father was very customer oriented and would say, “If a second customer asks for something you don’t have, you’d better get it.” Second, just having frames like mine on the rack inspires men, if not that far, at least to avoid the most clichéd choices.

My garish yellow frames are surely outre for many. You needn’t go from milquetoast wires or dull plastics to mine though. There are lots of interim steps. Visit any site that specializes in frames or the manufacturers’ sites. Don’t limit yourself to the prescription pages.

A decent optician or my great one can set you up. If you’re thinking mid-life crisis, a few hundred dollars for some funky eyeglasses are a lot cheaper than a sports car or lover. They also come with out parking charges or jewelry bills. Plus, you can put them in their case whenever you want.

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Personal Tricks, Cheap Thrills

April 2nd, 2011

SApark

Ah, we humans so like to be in, to have little advantages over our fellow humanoids. Sometimes it is so simple as knowing the localized slang and placename pronunciations. More satisfying is being so familiar with your turf that you can get from here to there by arcane shortcuts.

One of mine has long been esoteric parking spaces, particularly in downtown Boston. One I just lost grieves me.

Until the Imperial Storm Trooper-style, solar powered, credit-card accepting, programmable paring meters appeared, there was a small row of meters a couple of blocks from the Haymarket that had a magical 90-minute Saturday loophole. On New Chardon down from the State House and before Congress, these meters guarded parking spots that had to be rush-hour clear from 7 until 9:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, holidays excepted. The spirit of the regulation was to allow free passage during the work morning.

These red-capped meters were the older, stupid mechanical sorts. Reprogramming them to kick in on Saturday morning would have been a very big deal. Thus, from 8 a.m. when the rest of the meters in town, including the ones on Union Street directly next to the Haymarket kicked in, these old machines were hanging around waiting until 9:30.

trooperNow that we have moved to the very bottom of Boston, as far from the Haymarket as possible while still being in town, I almost always drive there. Many years ago when we lived on Beacon Hill, then Charles River Park, I walked, generally with a boy in a Snugli. Then below Forest Hills, I tried biking, but returning with a large bag with 30 or more pounds of produce was unstable.

It is possible to drive into the abutting garage, get a chit, have a vendor stamp it, and pay only $1 to park. You save so much from Haymarket buying that $1 is negligible…except for skinflints. I got my cheap thrill parking free before 9:30.

Now the new electronic parking troopers know too much. They understand there is no rush hour on Saturday and they display the time. They also kick in at 8 a.m. on Saturday and if you arrive before that, they read, “No Payment Needed Until Sat 08:00 AM” as well as the current time.

My cheap thrill loophole has closed.

Of course, I always could have gotten there as I do now, before 7:30, so that I have time to stock up and leave before I would have to put in 75¢ for 36 minutes — at the new, usurious rate. For some reason, having the extra 90 minutes of flexibility, particularly in late-dawning winter days seems important. Intellectually, I know I should deal with the $1 garage options or just be glad I know where there are low-cost options at meters where there are always free spaces on Saturday morning. It just does not fit the ideal of the advantage of knowing local esoterica.

As humans, our parochial pride in small distinctions is at once dull-witted and amusing.

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Twice Favored by the MBTA

March 25th, 2011

Harrumphing aside, and despite what my sons might say, I am capable of praise as well. On this week’s zoom in and out of NYC, the Boston T met its skeds and delivered me on time to and from the farthest reaches of this city.

Cynicism would note that I have been reduced to cheering this lumbering, sputtering, bureaucratic service for doing its job. Indeed, there are many reasons why I prefer going by bicycle in the great wheel and on its spokes from Winchester to Wellesley to Stoughton. It takes less time for me to bike from the bottom of Hyde Park to Davis Square for example than to drive or depend on bus/trolley/subway combos. Of course, as a skinflint, I delight in it being far cheaper.

Ah, though on pre-dawn Wednesday, the scant and silly Fairmount commuter rail options worked perfectly and on Thursday night, the equally spare and precise hourly buses from Ashmont to home dovetailed exactly with the Red Line from South Station. Perfecto.

The grousing on Universal Hub of late for delayed, cancelled, vomit-splattered trains, and those with surly staff is understandable. We have a fair mass transit permeation here. So many of us are carless or choose not to pay for commuting, shopping and hitting shows and shops in parking, time and space seeking that we are virtually captive to the T.

Regular readers here and at Marry in Massachusetts know I eagerly await the Purple Line. We can skip or slide the half mile from the top of Fairmount Hill in the bottom left of Boston to the often dilator commuter rail. Its sked is plain silly, with only a few morning runs into town, no weekend service, and a mere two evening returns from South Station — 7:30 and 9:40 — totally in the wrong times to see a show or have a decent meal.

The new sked supposedly within a year will give some choices to the tens of thousands of largely middle class and poor, many of color, who are far from the Orange and Red Lines and who have heard and seen the rare commuter trains roll over and through their neighborhoods with no stations and no service. Also, there’s a fair chance the fare will finally drop from $4.25 to a subway $1.70/$2. That’s fair fare for areas in Boston when many farther stops North and West have long been the subway cost.

Enough carping. Let me note that the T did me right:

  • The 5:51 a.m. arrived at 5:51 at Fairmount and hummed me into South Station in plenty of time to bolt on Bolt for Manhattan.
  • As a bonus, three of us guys got driver Dan who looked and sounded like an off-season Santa, who named our ride the Ship of Good Cheer, who took pictures of us, and who was highly skilled even in the narrow chute of the Midtown tunnel.
  • On the return, traffic in the Bronx into Connecticut had us running behind. Many fretting teens with texting thumb tics whined into their iPhones as did the inane middle-aged guys, constantly updating their families at length about nothing of action — their exit or whether they had the right cell number to call in four hours when they arrived in Boston. Blah, blah, drone. These folk must also need nightlights.
  • We arrived at South Station at 8:33 p.m. and the hourly bus from Ashmont left for my house in 27 minutes. Miss it and the half-hour ride to within 100 feet of my front door would turn into three times that, either with a Red to Orange Line, then a 32 bus to Cleary Square and a 15 minute, mile-plus walk, or waiting for the Mattapan trolley and likely walking the two plus miles in the dark up the wet road. Worse can happen, but those are not what I would seek. The option would be the kill an hour in or near South Station and take the last Fairmount train.
  • Instead, I hustled like squirrel in front of a feral cat. I galumphed the many station stairs, skirted the Atlantic Avenue side, and careered three floors down to the outbound Red Line. Within three minutes, the Ashmont train arrived and made good time to its terminus.
  • Both the South Station platform and the bus shelter on the other end were full of passengers. My trip was fully orchestrated as though all awaited me.
  • The 24/27 bus was nearly full. It is an hourly show after all. I arrived at figurative curtain time, took a seat and enjoyed the brief play. Even the passengers getting on covered with huge snowflakes seemed cast in a musical about Boston in winter.

Praise to the T…and to fortuitous timing. I appreciated jolly Dan on the ride down as well. Mass transit and cheap buses worked wonderfully. May all of my and all of your commutes and special trips be so blessed.

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Ick Factor on Groupon

February 4th, 2011

In a first, Groupon’s offering creeped me out this morning. The offer from a plastic surgeon and the accompanying image seemed straight out of an SNL skit.

pointyThe deal was a choice of three body mods from Dr. Seckel in Concord, apparently DBA Boston Plastic Surgery Associates. So what will it be:

  • 50 units of Botox®, a $300 value for $175?
  • 3 laser hair zaps, an $800 value for $129?
  • 1 high-intensity pulsed light removal of broken veins and such, a $450 value for $129?

The model is disturbingly unnatural and in strong contrast to Brooke Seckel (below). She looks like she could easily poke a hole in a sugar maple with her chin. She is proof that you can be too thin and surely comes by her looks through surgery, extreme dieting and makeup.

In fairness, I see that Seckel got her pic from his Botox supplier.

roundIn contrast, the guy with the needles looks like the fellow ahead of you at the buffet. He clearly doesn’t go for Botox either.

The offer is billed as a “med-spa treatment,” which doesn’t even begin to describe it. The florid wording underneath gets it on, including:

Dr. Brooke Seckel…is a medical Ponce de Leon, immersed in a perpetual quest for age-defying noninvasive and nonsurgical therapies to keep his patients budding and boisterous…Patients can also punish their naughty shampoo-stealing pelts with three laser hair-removal treatments on either the lips, chin, sideburns, front of neck, back of neck, underarms, feet, hands, or ears…All prospective baby faces need to call ahead for an appointment.

Honestly, I’ve grown to enjoy Groupon deals. The ones I typically buy are for restaurants and travel. There’s no reason vanity treatments shouldn’t find their audience. We’re not among them.

There are those whose wrinkled glabellae upset them. How terrible it must seem to wear a furrow between your eyes that makes you look like a thinker. Others use the word “unsightly” for any stray hair. Here’s a deal for them.

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With Greed from Iran

January 29th, 2011

Wowsers, kiddies, it’s been almost four years since I strummed the glories of my spammer’s accidental poetry. Now for my next act, I got around to checking the meaning of the spam I’m too ignorant to read.

Starting about two months ago, I began to get an ever increasing amount of Arabic spam to one of my email addresses. I plugged several into Google Translate and learned a bit.

First, over half of them are not Arabic, rather Persian, most popular in Iran. More significant, none, zero, nilch, nyet, nada relate to the stereotypes of English-language versions. From early email days in old browsers, I have long gotten used to invitations to double my penis length, to pay a few thousand dollars to reap millions in a dead man’s fortune, and from the beginning of the housing collapse, sure, cheap ways to refinance.

So, I’ve been looking at those undecipherable (to me) strings, like

جورج کلونی دوست ندارد رئیس جمهور شود !؟
جورج کلونی دوست ندارد رئیس جمهور شود !؟

and not getting it. That was my first task for Google. As I don’t click on unknown and unknowable (read perilous) links,I still don’t know that one was offering. It is in Persian and translates literally into, “Geoerge Clooney does not like to be president?” The link in the nondescriptive message from one  mohammad ali hasankhani with a gmail account had a condensed URL and I didn’t brave it.

However, letting Google translate several other, I limned a pattern. They are sports oriented and maybe just trying to sell some worthless medical product or more likely charge a fee for a sports video or instructional booklet. Granted, a click to the links may send you someplace phishing for your credit card info, but at least these seem relative wholesome in contrast to what I regularly see  in English in my spam bucket.

One promises exercises to make you taller:

Collection of sports movements for increasing height

In the first step regardless of your age level, growth will begin Qdtan! ! ! ! ! Maybe have a little surprise, but 100% regardless of your age, this growth will occur in your height. For further should be said, more than 95% of people without news have bent and your spine curved in the back part of their Darndv the bezel and also sinking more than is normal.

Persian with sales pitch and shortened link from “Amir Ghazaee”

Another promises pool prowess:

Billiard

This unique collection of the principles and professional billiards learn pool training pool world by top professors and applied a set of rare beauty, secrets find a pool professional to teach you. all tips, trick and All the intricacy of fun playing pool with all the film one hour to learn. different ways of tapping method to cut the ball and everything you need to know to enjoy billiards ..

For more information, click and buy

Persian with sales pitch and shortened link from”Mani Rahnama”

Still another eluded Google’s Arabic powers, but seemed to be selling videos of what we call soccer here:

Sutee Hay House Khandh worldly affairs Voetbal

Goofs your friends are a set of football world to see? Scoring itself, Goofs and goalkeeper … In this CD in a series of world football Goofs collected

Include:

Scoring automatically by defenders and goalkeepers

Nzdn striker scored in a few step away gates and even the empty gates

But besides these reactions Goofs stunning diving goalkeeper and their golden

The beautiful flowers by the attackers will also be displayed

Click to view

Arabic with sales pitch and shortened link

After decades of primarily sexual oriented spam, I find some small joy in seeing what appears to be a more naive type of hustler. Maybe their net censors would never pass along  lewd pitches. Maybe they just have different hot buttons. Taller in the body instead of longer in the middle seems so, well, 1950s, a simpler time.

Trusting the Chickens

January 23rd, 2011

We should feel for the many companies pushing me-too products. Think laundry detergents and even chicken. To thrive, they have to convince consumers their same-as stuff is different and better somehow. They also have to bribe stores for shelf and counter space. It’s fierce in the grocery.

Today our Boston Globe arrived in a Perdue plastic bag with just such dubious distinctions on it. THE FIRST CHICKEN COMPANY WITH USDA PROCESS VERIFIED PROGRAMS it read in the middle. The print near the bottom was almost as large with their slogan TASTE THE PERDUE­® DIFFERENCE.

perduebragBetween the shouting was a new seal replete with a pretty irrelevant  two ears of corn (makes a little more sense than apple pie). It had check marks beside the U.S.D.A.-related claims of all vegetarian diet, no animal byproducts, raised cage free, and tenderness guaranteed. It also plugged no hormones or steroids added, this with a wee asterisk.

For getting with the U.S.D.A. program, it gets to put the new logo with the slogan on its packages. Particularly for customers concerned about health (and hesitant to pay two, three or more times the cost for claimed organic chicken at the hippy-dippy supermarkets), this is likely a feel-good combo.

Without being too cynical, let’s see what this means. For anyone used to manufacturing lingo, the key is obvious in the name process verified. Yes, boys and girl, men and women, this is just another spin on ISO 9000. Perdue has carefully defined how it buys, raised, murders, cleans out, cuts up, packages and ships its birds. They promise consistency and monitor the whole routine. It’s the same every chicken plucking time.

usdaThere are a couple of other companies who have gone through this trouble already. Sparboe Farms in Michigan and the related Van Essen Farms in Iowa do it. Actually, they seem to exceed Perdue’s standards and procedures. Unlike Perdue, they specify how and when they trim chicken’s beaks, how they test the dead birds that occur in raising, and employee training requirements. They truly are with the program.

Perdue’s lesser version is better than nothing. It’s probably healthier for the chickens and us who eat them and their eggs that they eat grains with no ground up chicken or other animal parts. Most of us probably think that is the norm, but nothing requires it.

The cage-free thing is nebulous, but likewise, kinder to the birds. It pretty much means they are not in tiny cages and can walk a bit and spread their wings while still staying inside. It certainly is not the same as the stereotypical old-style chicken farm where the birds walk about, eating grain and bugs off the barnyard.

The tenderness guarantee is a marketing ploy. If you don’t like a Perdue purchase, you might be able to get the store or company to refund your purchase if you go through the trouble.

bwak

For that asterisk,  it notes that federal regulations require no steroid or hormone added anyway. That should be true for all poultry sold in this country.

For the whole process verification thingummy, the ISO 9000 certification is a good idea at all its levels. All manufacturers, including food processors should define their whole operation, teach their folk how to do things right, and then monitor and measure compliance. Yet, having been involved in implementation at several companies, I snort too.

What ISO 9000 really means at it core is consistency. You can end up doing the same crappy thing over and over, so long as it is what you specify and you make sure it is. GIGO (garbage in/garbage out) as the old computer term puts it.

So we can simultaneously praise and pity Perdue. They sell commodity products and have a lot of competition. They have to try constantly to differentiate themselves and convince people that their chicken is not just the same as another chicken.

To Perdue’s credit, it has bred beasties with lots of breast meat, which Americans prefer. It also got a lot of traction with dad, Frank Perdue, in his ads. He claimed with great sincerity and commercial success that it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken. Therefore, we pay more, believing his and now his son’s company’s birds are better. Plus, he looked a lot like a barnyard fowl himself.

USDA Process Verified…what was it Garfield used to think, “Big fat hairy deal!”

Grocery Theater

January 10th, 2011

megaphone“You better be f***ing gone when I get home, b**ch!”

Such was the very public message screamed into her cellphone by the young woman standing in the produce aisle between the displays of bananas and pinkish tomato-like objects. In her mid-20s, she carried her infant daughter in a thick, pink sweater suit. The tot in one arm had all the protection of the body and none from the hate inches from her wee head.

The woman continued to hold forth at extreme volume. She seemed to address another woman and added, “Pack your sh*t and get out now!”

I wondered as perhaps the other dozen fruit and veggy shoppers must have what inspired the tirade and its timing. How is it that the shouter discovered something while in the supermarket that primed her explosion? Did she simply call her home and hear a rival or disfavored sister’s voice? Did someone call her as she entered the store and dish some serious dirt?

Regardless, this was just one of the many cellphone thespians visiting their petty personal problems or prides upon the disinterested world of you and me. One underlying theme accompanies all those fools who career into people and objects in the streets, stores and hallways of America with cellphone or headset in use, fairly bellowing and blathering. The delusion to some may be cartoonish — that cellphones radiate some magical cone of silence and invisibility. Otherwise, we have to assume that these folk believe that their pathetic little dramas or observations are aural gifts to the rest of us.

Practically, I think of what surely must be billions of dollars spent on cellphone fees, either minutes or flat monthly, to enable such intrusive triviality. There are so many charities, churches, civic groups and more who could put those funds to meaningful application. Otherwise the babblers and boasters would be better off spending the money in ways that would ease or improve their lives or those of their families.

cell.jpgInstead, they are wont to tell their cell counterparts (and those of us within 50 or more feet) what they had to eat or are about to or some such silliness. They do display that nothing worthwhile is going on in their lives or their brains. Their tiny, trivial skits are desperate indeed.

Over a decade ago, I started seeing this regularly. I worked next to the Burlington Mall. Whenever I was there, indolent teens and adults lived the great lie of Microsoft — that we humans are intrinsically multitaskers. The shoppers and food-court gawkers could not walk and talk. They’d bump into each other, their ignored chums, or even store doors. They were jokes without self-awareness of being such.

Remarking nonstop on the unremarkable is the real task of the self-absorbed.

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