Saturday, December 27, 2014

Too X To Fail

The ruling is out: Met Life is a SIFI. Kind of like Taylor Swift, though she would be a SIMI. And Peyton Manning would be a SIQI. If that sounds cryptic, it's because you aren't tuned into the workings of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, or the FSOC in government-speak. The council is tasked with identifying financial organizations that are critically important to the health and well-being of our overall economy. And it pronounced Met a SIFI, or Systemically Important Financial Institution. Put another way, it's "too big to fail." It's not that the company can't go south; it's that doing so would hurt the entire industry. Likewise with Taylor and Peyton. She is a Systemically Important Musical Institution, while he is of the quarterback variety.

As we come to the end of the year, many things, organizations and people who thought they were indeed too big to fail turned out not to be so after all. And as often as not, the reasons for their troubles were self-inflicted. They went into it thinking that they were, if not too big, then too popular, too entrenched, too well connected, or the biggest miscalculation of all, too smart to get into trouble. Needless to say, it didn't actually work out that way.

Take General Motors. Rising almost phoenix-like from the ashes of the financial crisis, it was just 5 years ago that they required a bailout to stay in business. Serious discussion was had as to whether or not we should let them slip away as a real-life demonstration of economic Darwinism. But prop them up we did, and since then they have earned over $22 billion. True, the stock price hasn't really soared, and so taxpayers lost $10.6 billion, since the collateral we took was in shares as opposed to IOU's. That aside, as a company, it is one of the most profitable in the nation.  

But then someone turned the key. Or actually the key turned itself, courtesy of a faulty ignition switch. Costs related to the recalls essentially wiped out any first quarter profits. And that's before the law suits and settlements really get going. And all because it turns out that they knew about it and covered it up. So maybe they are too big, but obviously not too stupid to fail.

Then there's FIFA. This was the year that the world watched the World Cup. And by world, I mean the US. People who until now thought that football only meant Tom Brady were discussing the finer points of headers and corner kicks. And it wasn't just cheering for the national team, though Tim Howard did become a household name for a few minutes. Belgium and Holland, along with perennial powerhouses Germany and Argentina, all attracted huge American followings. It looked like it might finally be soccer's time on these shores.

But then the report came out about bid rigging associated with the next tournaments. Russia and Qatar secured the rights, with absolutely no one thinking that either location won because they were the best choice. (In Qatar at game time it should be about 122 degrees.) FIFA doesn't really care, because, well, they don't think they have to. They are sure that once again the fans will come and the world will watch. Again, maybe too big to fail, but perhaps not too corrupt, given a chance.

Turns out Bill Cosby was not too iconic to ignore his accusers. Justin Bieber was not too popular to get arrested. The New York Jets were not too bad to become even worse. Vladimir Putin was not too popular to stop the ruble from plummeting. Ray Rice was not too indispensable to get away with hitting his girlfriend. And Roger Goodell was not too NFL commissioner to handle it all the wrong way.

There are many more that thought that there was no way that things could turn out badly. But like Tiger Woods or Bernie Madoff before them, things have a funny way of changing directions on you pretty fast, especially when you think you can do no wrong. The bottom line is nothing is too big. Except maybe if you are Taylor or Peyton. I mean, should he ever lose his arm, the government may need to step in. The economy is one thing, but don't go messing with football.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is too small for anyone to really care. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hot, Hotter

You know the scene. Tom Cruise, as a young, gung-ho military lawyer, confronts a snarling Jack Nicholson, playing a ramrod straight officer running Guantanamo Bay in "A Few Good Men." Cruise, as Lt. (j.g.) Daniel Kaffee, prods Nicholson as Colonel Nathan Jessup on the stand. Jessup snaps back at Kaffee, "You want answers?!" to which Kaffee responds, "I want the truth!" In one of the most iconic lines ever, Jessup thunders back, "You can't handle the truth!"

My situation was almost the same. Except it was not a trial and I am not a lawyer, merely a person getting some lunch. The guy behind the counter was no officer, just someone taking orders. And we weren't talking about truth, we were talking about chicken.

Hot chicken to be precise. Philadelphia may have its cheesesteak and New Orleans its po'boy, but if you are in Nashville, you must find time to try the city's culinary specialty. There are a couple of places nationwide that have tried to gain a toehold selling the stuff, but they are few and far between. To get this particular variant you really have to go to the mother churches found in Music City USA.

The basics are simple: you take some chicken, marinade it in buttermilk, coat it with flour, then pan or deep fry it. After cooking, a paste made of lard and spices is rubbed onto the pieces. Consisting of some combination of sugar, garlic and cayenne pepper, the trick is to impart both flavor and heat. The result is served on thick slices of white bread accompanied by slices of dill pickle.

Of course, it's called hot chicken not because of the temperature. Most places make it at varying heats per the wishes of the consumer. At the bottom of the scale is something mildly akin to regular fried chicken. At the other end is something that one reviewer describes as "crying-from-your-eyes-and-nostrils-and-other-orifices kind of heat. Your tongue will curl up in the corner, and pray for death's swift, sweet kiss." Yeah, it's that hot.

Being one who likes spicy food, I thought I could handle something in the middle. So I decided to have my "come to chicken" moment at a place called 400 Degrees, where you order your heat in hundred degree increments. When it was my turn, I requested an order of chicken strips, a side of coleslaw and an iced tea. The gentlemen dutifully wrote it down, then asked me my heat preference. I replied, "Well, I like hot Buffalo wings, so how about 200?" He looked me up and down, sized me up as a newbie, and channeling Colonel Jessup said, "Son, these are no Buffalo wings."

I'm sure he saw the deflation and hurt on my face, because he quickly changed his tone. "Tell you what. Strips come in three, so I will give you two 100 degree pieces, and one 200 degree. And if that 200 isn't too much, you come back and we'll step you up. How's that?" I readily agreed to this face saving compromise. I paid my tab, and went to sit down and wait.  

A while later they brought me a tray. Two of the pieces had a rosy glow, but one was ruby in color. To start, I cut off a piece of the lighter colored strip. It was powerful stuff, flavorful and vibrant, a taste that made you sit up and take notice. After I did a little palate cleansing with the coleslaw, I took aim at the 200. It barely got it into my mouth before my eyes teared up and my nose started running. It had flavor, to be sure. But mixed with that flavor was fire. My tongue tingled, my ears started ringing and all I could think was, My God, what must 400 be like?

Still, I alternated back and forth, enjoying both variations, grateful for the ice cubes in my cup. The guy from the counter walked by and smiled. He returned a few moments later with a small tray. "You look a nice guy, so we made you another piece," he said. Between sips of tea, I thanked him profusely as he put it in front of me, praying to the Lord above that the new piece was colored to the century mark and no higher. Buffalo, forgive me, but you have been bested.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves to eat. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Let the Girls Play

First the disclaimer: I live in the Northeast, so anything I write about country music is suspect at best. Like guns and NASCAR, the fact the certain things have overwhelming followings in areas outside of the Boston-New York-Washington corridor that aren't based on Yankee sensibilities seems, frankly, unbelievable. But yes, to those of us to whom brunch in Red Hook is considered the height of cool, there are places where Luke Bryan is at least as well-known as Jay-Z, where Florida Georgia Line isn't a border between two states but a group with whose song "Cruise" dominated the charts with 20 weeks in the top spot.

It's a genre that was written off as "mature" not too long ago, described by one music critic as "stoic men in ten-gallon hats and soprano women who'd lived full lives singing songs about, divorce, war, and that aching, hollow heartbreak feeling." No more. Fusing elements of rap and pop to its country roots, it's moved far beyond Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubbs and Patsy Cline to Jason Aldean and Brantley Gilbert and Chase Rice. You can argue about the definition, and just how heir-to-the-throne-of-George-Strait these new comers really are, but this is most definitely NOT your daddy's country. Put another way, if you know the former three and not the later, then you don't really have your finger on the right pulse point.

But while that body may have a lot of blood pumping through it in the form of airplay, there's a problem: it's mostly male. With Taylor Swift no longer considered a country girl, the charts are dominated as almost never before by men. And not just any kind of men, but young, fit, hard partying types singing about the three "b's," usually explained as some combination of babes, bars and beers. In the so-called "bro-country" movement, every night is a Friday Night, every vehicle is a truck and every girl is lit by moonlight, has painted-on jeans and loves to drink Bud.

While there's some sense that this particular pickup is running out of steam, some are trying a little harder to, if not push the vehicle into a ditch, at least let some others share the road. And that means not just songs that appeal to a more female sensibility, but performers on that side of the ledger as well. And it's the idea behind a rotating group of female singer-songwriters known collectively as the Song Suffragettes.

With the slogan "Let the Girls Play," the idea was hatched back in March by music industry veteran Todd Cassetty and Helena Capps as a way of encouraging more female artists. Having outgrown their first home in Nashville, they now convene every Monday night at the Listening Room Café on Second Avenue South. Since they started, over 60 different young ladies have taken the stage, some well-known only in their home towns, others veterans of shows like "The Voice" and "American Idol," but all showcasing their very considerable songwriting and performing chops.

On a stage backed by white damask curtains, fronted by a few old lamps and some mismatched chairs, the format is simple. Each of the five or so performers introduces herself, and plays and sings one of her own songs. They go down the line, circle back to do it again, then perform a group cover of a more well-known tune. The night I visited a solid and appreciative audience heard Betsy Lane do "Southern Crazy" while Kalie Shorr sang "God Sees Everything," each a hit waiting to be discovered or perhaps recorded by a more well-known name. There were equally good offerings from Daisy Mallory, Karli Chayne and Gracie Schram. And not one mentioned a pickup truck.

The music business is a fickle one. Talent and determination are table stakes at best, assuring nothing other than a chance to perform for your family and friends and perhaps a few interested strangers who might buy a CD. Anyone can do that. But making even a bare-bones a living at it? That‘s a different story. And becoming the next Reba McEntire or Miranda Lambert or Faith Hill? That's not a story, it's a fairy tale. But regardless of the eventual outcome, the first step is to play and be heard. And that's what Song Suffragettes is all about. Let the girls play. You just might like what you hear.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves listening to live music of any type. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Price of Words

The week before Thanksgiving was one for the books in the NFL. Just two weeks after Jets Coach Rex Ryan opened his mouth, a move which cost him $100,000, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch didn't open his and got charged the same hundred grand. Admittedly both have multi-year deals, with Ryan making about $3.3 million this year, and Lynch averaging about $7.5 million. In that light, the impact is a bit more muted than if you or I were hit with similar fines. According to one online calculator (yes, there are such things) for a person making about $50K a year, Rex's fine was equivalent to about $1500, Marshawn's less than half of that.

Rex got his for cursing at someone as he was walking to midfield for the traditional post game "handshake-and-make-nice" with the opposing coach and team. (And this was after they beat Pittsburgh. Lord only knows what would have come out of his mouth if they had lost.) Officially the fine was leveled for "profane language," a penalty that usually carries a price tag of $11,025. But Ryan was a repeat offender, having previously been hit with a $50,000 fine in 2010 and a $75,000 penalty in 2011. Asked what his wife thought of his once again vehemently defending the Jets' honor, he rolled his eyes: "She wasn't real happy."  

On the other side of the coin, Lynch was hit for not talking to anyone at all. The league has a media policy that requires players to talk to the press after a game. Not wanting to have a chat, Lynch ducked out of the locker room following the team's loss to Kansas City. He had done that before, getting hit with a $50,000 fine for avoiding the media before the last Super Bowl. In the aftermath of that incident, the NFL held the fine in abeyance pending his future cooperation. But his recidivism didn't sit well with the folks in the league office, and so they leveled a new $50,000 fine, piling on the old for good measure. Hence the price of silence was $100,000.  

(In response, Lynch was available to talk to all comers who clustered around his locker the following week. To the 19 questions asked by reporters he responded 14 times with "Yeah," twice with "Maybe," once with "I don't know," and once with "No Juice," the last in response to what song he had listened to on the way to the field before the game.)  

The fines, while higher than many, are all well within the league's discretion, and indeed are part of a schedule of offenses.  While there is leeway as to whether or not a fine is actually assessed, the published list includes a charge for $5,512 for throwing a football intro the stands and $2,756 for unnecessarily entering a fight area where there is no involvement. A face mask infraction will cost you $8,268, while being guilty of roughing the passer will hit your wallet for $16,537. In most cases fines are doubled or even tripled for subsequent offences.

Lest you think that physical altercations are all that get penalized, verbal abuse or taunting can also get you smacked. And protecting what is really valuable, transgressions against the image and licensing agreements that the league has merit the most opened-ended penalties of all. Recently a number of players, including marquee quarterback Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco, were slapped with $10,000 fines for wearing Beats headphones after the league signed an exclusive deal with Bose. Put another way, it costs more to wear your own earbuds than to chop block an opponent. I guess it's a question which is more dangerous in the bigger picture of things.

If there's any good news, it's that the funds collected for these offenses goes to a variety of charities aimed at players, as well as various disaster relief and health-related organizations backed by the NFL. So thank you Roman Harper for hitting Devin Hester. Much obliged J.C. Tretter for that leg whip against Trent Cole. And bless you Jerry Hughes for cursing an official during the Buffalo-Miami game. You guys helped push the season total so far to over $22 million. This week let's see if someone steps it up and tries a horse collar tackle. After all, $25 million is not too much of a stretch.


Marc Wollin of Bedford rarely gets fined for anything. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

An Unplugged Gift Guide

They say Black Friday won't be quite as black this year, more "Black-ish" if you will. The reasons cited are several. Everything is always on sale somewhere. More people shop online and stay away from stores. But perhaps the biggest reason is that the traditional start of the holiday shopping season has been usurped by Black Thursday (formerly known as "Thanksgiving"), and indeed, the entire month of November.  

Call it Red-Green Mission Creep, but there's no denying the evidence. Target started pushing their gift catalog on November 10, Staples a week later. And both were beaten by the biggest Santa of all, when Walmart kicked things off on November 1. It's some kind of retail Darwinism, where the traits that have made the day after Turkey Day such a success are grafted onto every other one preceding Christmas. The resulting beast is a reindeer with a hump that can endure long stretches of seasonal shenanigans without breaking for water. At this rate, does anyone doubt that the Easter Bunny will soon be using a sleigh to get around?

However, having more time doesn't lessen the central question: what to put under the tree? Leaving aside the littler ones in the audience (and the myriad of tie-ins to "Frozen" and "The Hunger Games") what do the big kids want? To be sure, tech will be the big winner. Aside from getting those on your list an upgraded pad or game console, there are innumerable gadgets to accessories your device. Headphones and Bluetooth speakers along with wearable alerts, both fitness based and other, will top the list. I mean, who wouldn't want a Ringly, a ring that pairs with your iPhone, then vibrates and/or changes colors depending on if you get a call, a text or have a meeting. (I mean, I don't want one, but I'm sure plenty do.)

But what if you just can't bring yourself to buy another something that has a cord? Well, there are still plenty of options out there for the Luddites on your list. Try some of these on for size.

For sheer fun, what's better than flying a paper airplane? Nothing, unless it's a paper airplane with a motor. Just make your favorite design, then get the PowerUp 2.0 Electric Paper Airplane Conversion Kit. This little propeller and rechargeable battery pack hooks onto your glider front and back, and off you go into the wild blue yonder.

Know someone prone to swear, and but catches themselves at the last minute and veers off into more family friendly territory? For your favorite G-rated excitable boy or girl, consider the F-Bomb paperweight. It's just what its name implies: the letter "F" married to a round ball with a fuse sticking out. Use it to hold down your wireless phone bill or other papers that would normally have you cursing a blue streak.

If someone you know always has a water bottle with them, but also likes the flavored variety, maybe the Flavor Infuser bottle is a winner. Looks like a regular water bottle, but with one important addition. Inside is a central tube covered with lots of little slots. Into the tube goes lemons, strawberries or whatever fruit your well-hydrated friend craves. Five to ten minutes later, you have it: DIY blueberry H2O.

Oh, OK: one techy thing. The problem with most electronic games is that they are designed to be played alone or connected to someone far away. But sometimes a game can bring us together. If you and your significant other crave some friendly competition as well as some "us" time, but you can't bear to put down your pad, check out the iPad Foosball table. Other than the fact that it's just 12 inches long and 6 inches wide, it has four spinners on each side just like its full size cousin. But for this Lilliputian version, rather than a hard surface and real ball, just download the app, place your iPad in the center face up, and prepare to yell GOOAAALLL!

There're lots more possibilities. A DIY macaroon kit. A stapleless stapler. An OCD cutting board with grid lines. And there's always a new Nerf gun. The latest model, the Zombie Strike Clear Shot, is perfect for when you are feeling threatened by a blank faced ghoul. Of course, you could just ask your husband nicely for the TV remote, but this holiday being armed is a good plan B.


Marc Wollin of Bedford only wants no bills under his tree. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Too Many Opinions

More than once in the past few weeks, I have turned to the Net to help me make a choice about something. Ten or fifteen years ago I might have asked around or consulted a travel guide or asked a friend. No more. Now I do the same thing as any of you: I punch up Yelp or Google or Amazon reviews, and quickly troll the comments left by others.  

The idea behind these reviews is simple: give voice to the people. Instead of experts anointed by some editor or a panel of professionals, ordinary you's-and-me's would be able to weigh in, and post their opinion unfettered by anything other than their own personal experience. For this, I would be the wiser. My decisions could be crowd sourced, culling out the experiences that I wanted to have, and equally important, those I wished to avoid. It was supposed to make it easier, better. And it was supposed to work whether the choice in question was a new phone, a bottle of wine or a beach on which to lay. Instead, now I don't know which way to turn.

It's not that there are too few reviews; there are simply too many. For every negative there is a positive. For every rave there is a pan. For every, "this was the best movie I ever saw" there is a "don't waste your money on this piece of crap!" And the problem is this: they are all right.

That's because in almost every case they're based on a singular experience. And there are two truths about any encounter anywhere, anytime. The first is that no matter how hard a supplier might try, things can sometimes go wrong. And the second is that bad news is at least as interesting as good.  So you get plenty of posts about good guacamole, but equally as many that says someone found half a cockroach in their burrito. The result is that everything becomes a schizoid nightmare.

Take my own situation. I was going into the city for a project which didn't look to end till 1AM. That was paired with another that required a 7AM startup time the next morning. As such, I decided it would be more prudent to get a hotel room for the night than drive back and forth. Knowing the market in New York can get pricey, and needing just a clean place to catch a few hours of shut-eye followed by a hot shower, I started scanning sites for a modest layover. I figured somewhere between a $500+ room at the Waldorf and a $69 shared bathroom at a Bowery SRO I had to be able to find something acceptable.

Options themselves were not an issue; there are literally hundreds within 5 miles of midtown. Restricting myself to Manhattan, I looked further out to the edges than the center, assuming the cost would be cheaper. And indeed it was. But as soon as I clicked on a place, up popped a review: "Very nice, nice location, friendly staff. But it was paired with "Worse experience I ever had: small, cramped, rude." OK, maybe another. "The room is very small, but nicely kept. " Sounds good, until you read the next: "The quality of everything is bad already, but to have mice roaming around?" Getting to the client early and sleeping in the reception area was starting to seem like a reasonable possibility.  

And it's no different if you look at restaurant reviews. Punch up any random place. First rating: "Really enjoyed the curry." Second one: "Crappy service, ugly place, terrible food." Or book reviews. "This is a subtle and evocative story" is paired with "This book was clearly written for the money." Or dance music: "The best thing out of Austria since Mozart" vs. "Did someone leave the synthesizer running and go to the loo?"  

Garrison Keller famously starts each edition of his "News From Lake Wobegon" by noting that it's a place where "all the men are strong, all the women are good looking and all the children above average." Were you to journey to that fictional place, you know what you'll find when you get there. But if Expedia took you there? It would be matched with "Residents are weak, homely and stupid: find another place to live."


Marc Wollin of Bedford picks restaurants based on proximity to parking. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Use It and Lose It

Riddle me this, Batman: what do you use in an emergency, but if you use it, you lose it? Hmmm.  A spare tire? True, but you can repair it and make it a spare again.  A fire extinguisher? While there are lots of disposable models out there (as there are with many things), in their original form you can refill or recharge them and they are as good as new. Likewise with a flashlight; add new batteries, and off you go.

I am sure I will get emails with other possible answers, but I was going for "insurance." Specifically the homeowner's variant. That stuff you buy to cover your abode and all the goodies in it against the perils of man and nature, that gives you peace of mind that all you have spent a lifetime building up has at least as some measure of protection for it.  

For most of us, we get the stuff expecting to never use it. Or at least hoping not to. Save the extraordinary event, like a Superstorm Sandy, most of the stuff that gets damaged around the house requires a phone call to a plumber or an electrician as opposed to your agent. But every now and again something happens that trips the wire, and makes going to the well seem like the right course of action.

And so it was last week for us. The wind picked up to the point one evening where it was sounding like a freight train. The trees were swaying mightily, and certainly gave us pause. But prior events, including the aforementioned Sandy, had pruned much of the deadwood. We had also cabled a bunch of split trees, making them less likely to come down. Still, the sound and fury was both impressive and scary even if the danger was somewhat attenuated.

When we awoke the next morning and looked out, indeed, there appeared to be little damage. When we looked to the side, the site of several large specimens between us and the neighbors, all stood tall, and we could see the other house. It actually took a minute to notice that second point: that we could see the house. That was strange, because there used to be a fence there. And on second glance, it was still there, just flat on the ground. About 60 feet of stockade fence had caught the wind like a sail, and lay like sections of boardwalk across our lawn.  

Luckily, the damage was confined to that, and the no one was hurt. It was too much for me to try and repair alone, and so we called the company that installed it in the first place. They came toot sweet, and gave us an estimate. At the same time I called our insurance agent and reported the damage. After all, that's what our policy was for. He said, yes, we were covered, and deductible aside, no problem no getting recompense.

But when I sent him the estimate, with the calculation that after the deductible we would be due about $400 from our claim, he called back. Might not want to do that, he said. I was puzzled. We were covered, right? Indeed. Any reason to think they wouldn't pay? None at all. Then why would we not use what we had been paying for all these years. Well, he said, you remember that claim you made about 3 years ago when that tree fell down and you had to have guys come and cut it up? Sorta, I said. But that was then, and this is now, no?

It turns out that the insurance companies view their product as protection in the case of a catastrophic loss. Should we sustain major damage, they would have no hesitation on paying off, assuming all the paperwork was square. But a claim for a few hundred last year AND a few more this year, and they see you as a nuisance. And they will drop you like a hot potato.  

Use it and lose it. It makes no sense. But on his advice, we sucked it and paid for the fence out of our own household pocket. We can only hope the next time a tree cleaves the entire place in half; then we would be in fat city.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has insurance of many types. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Election Results

As I write this, it's still several days away from "the most important election in history." Even without knowing the outcome, however, I can predict certain things. The winners are crowing about how they have the kind of ironclad mandate that only comes with racking up 50.1% of the electorate. Meanwhile, the losers are busy working on their finger pointing, while simultaneously staring at another 2 or 4 or 6 years of life at the law firm as a junior partner, and wondering if they can put themselves and their families through the same meat grinder come next election cycle. Was I right or was I right?

But beyond the results themselves, what did we learn? One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. And yet every 2 years we go through this collective exercise in frustration called an election. In it we endeavor to select people to run our lives and and our world, but who campaign on anything but the issues. It's character assassination, pandering, promises that no one thinks they can keep, obstructionism and action plans that always seem to be at least one year longer than the term for which they are trying to get elected. Is it any wonder that voter turnout is around 56%, and drops to the mid 30's in the off years?

Still, some truths emerge. What's astounding is that while they seem apparent to everyone, from voters to candidates to political operatives, no one takes action on them. If you doubt me, write these down, and seal them in an envelope to be opened in 700 or so days. I will wager a ten-spot that very little will have really changed.

Robocalls don't work. There should be a special place in hell for whomever invented this technology. I don't care who is endorsing you; calling me twenty times and paying back a recorded message will not make me think about you any differently. If you're like me, the second you pick up the phone and hear that "click," you can't hang up the phone fast enough. And if you have several lines, and they all start to ring within half a second of each other, you just walk away, assuming you don't yank the phone cable straight out of the wall first.  

Direct mail is a waste. We keep our garbage cans in our garage. To go from our mailbox to the kitchen you have to pass them. All those glossy brochures for you and against the other guy? They never make it past the first can. Unless it's full. Then they get to the second one. Though I guess if you look at them as a private subsidy for the US Postal system, perhaps they do serve a purpose.

Repeating it countless times does not make it so. We're not stupid. We may be lazy, pampered, spoiled, but stupid? No. Just because you say "Jim Smith took money from seniors" or "Sally Jones wants handguns to be free and plentiful" 700 times doesn't make it true. Most positions are more nuanced, and anyone who has ever had to make a decision about anything know that sometimes, just sometimes, thing aren't simply black or white.  

Targeting doesn't work. Yes, it is indeed impressive that you isolate out specific data for Prius driving single women in northern Virginia who care about energy issues. But it's never that simple. Candidates have to take stands on multiple issues, not all of them lining up neatly with Republic or Democratic talking points. The hardest right candidate will be against same sex marriage until he or she has a gay son. The furthest left candidate will be against the Keystone pipeline until their husband or wife gets a job working on it. In neither case do they flip their entire belief system. Rather, like all of us, they accommodate and rationalize and adjust their world view. We are not the sum of our statistics. Rather, they are an incomplete snapshot, one which hardly gives a complete picture of what we want and what we're willing to accept.

But odds are all of these points will fall on deaf ears. All might take the weekend off, but come Monday it will be time to hit it hard. After all, the main event is just two years away. And a good robocall doesn't record itself.


Marc Wollin of Bedford voted a week early by absentee ballot. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Too Cheap

The technical definition of the term inflection point is "the point on a curve at which the curve changes from being concave to convex or vice versa." But it has a broader meting beyond mathematics. It's pushing the thermostat up to the point where you get too hot and have to turn it back down. It's passing cars on the highway until you realize that you're the one going the fastest and slow down. And it's eating that leftover Halloween candy thinking that it's just little itty-bitty pieces (and how bad can it really be?), which takes you right up to the point where you realize you're going to be sick.

Well, I think I found one specific inflection point in the retail world. They say that you can't be too rich or too thin, I'm pretty sure I've found the point where you can actually be too cheap.  

First, the setup from the both the internal and external perspectives. As far I go, I would say I'm frugal or thrifty. (OK, call it cheap.) I don't mind spending money, but I want it to be worth it. To that end, I am fine with off brands as long as they perform like their more storied counterparts. My ties tie the same even if they're not Ferragamo or Brioni. I used to buy only Sony TV's, but I've come appreciate those from Korean manufacturers like Samsung and LG. And while I grew up on Skippy, I'm OK with Jif, especially if it's on sale.

From the other side of the coin, the price per whatever has been steadily dropping over the years, driven mostly by advances in technology. Our first flat screen television cost $1500. Now you can get a bigger, better model for less than $600. Likewise phones, laptops, almost anything you plug in. I'm not an economist, but while things might cost more in absolute terms, the bang you get for that buck can be amazing compared to what you could purchase in the past.  

I'm usually looking for that that trailing edge, or how little can I spend and still get something which does what I want it to do. As to the specific example in question, I often need to play music for a crowd. And every show and client wants something different. Some want jazz, others current pop, still others something more background-y. Year ago we would have to burn a CD, hook up a player and use that. Now the standard is MP3 files we get from iTunes. But that means we need an ethingy on which to play them.

To that end I kept my eyes peeled for a small, cheap MP3 player for just such a use. I don't need a top of the line Apple device or anything close. Just a simple, cheap (there's that word again) device I can load specific tunes onto, and hand over without fear that losing it. I was walking through a computer store the other day, and saw just such an item. Styled to look like a more expensive player, it did exactly what I required, and it was just $15. I asked one of the sales people if they had experience with it. He confirmed what I thought: the technology was old hat by now, and it worked exactly as you would expect. I plunked down my card, and took it home.

Once in my office, I unpacked it and scanned the directions. I plugged it in to charge, and went onto other things. A couple of hours later, I went to play with it. I pressed one button, then another. Nothing. I read the instructions to see if there was a trick. Nope, just on/off and play/stop. But nothing worked. I called the help line in the package (already expending way more effort that I was planning), but they didn't have an answer. Alas, I will have to wait till I'm in that neighborhood again, hopefully within my 30-day return period, and get my money back.

So at least in this one particular case I have found the point where low cost doesn't equal value. I however, have not given up hope. I'm convinced a sub $20 player is out there. And so I will keep looking, confident that someone has invented, if not a better mousetrap, then at least one that catches mice at a substantial discount.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes walking through discount stores. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Disease Vector

You kind of don't know who or what to believe. Expert after so-called expert fans the flames, so much so that you're not sure just how worried you should be. And then just when you start to settle down and not worry, a new study comes out and you start to panic all over again. It's gotten so that any little twinge makes you pick up the phone to call the doctor, only to put it down as you realize that the reality is nowhere near what the media is hyping.

Ebola? No, not that. Three people have been infected out of a population of about 318 million. Do the math: that's 0.000094%. You have a better chance of getting killed by a bee sting. Or a rollercoaster. Or accidentally shooting yourself. You even have a better chance of getting killed because you partied too hard: every year 88,000 Americans die from alcohol abuse. But Ebola? Unless something changes big time, you can safely take off your hazmat suit before you go grocery shopping.

No, I'm referring to the study much more germane to me and my ilk. By my ilk I mean middle age men who are, how to put it politely, follically challenged. According to a study recently published by the Journal of Clinical Oncology, men with moderate baldness in the front and crown at age 45 had about a 40 percent increased risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer than men with no baldness at that age.  

What's important to note is that this is a correlation and not a cause and effect situation. In another words, it's a marker: you don't get prostate cancer because you are balding, but it may indicate you might get it. May. Might. Or put another way by Dr. Michael Cook, senior study author and an investigator in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute, "While our data shows a strong possibility for a link between the development of baldness and aggressive prostate cancer, it's too soon to apply these findings to patient care." Translation: put down the phone.

While this important study got some modest exposure in the form of a quick hit in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets, it certainly wasn't front page news. This in spite of the fact that prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind only lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates a man's lifetime risk of developing prostate cancer is 15.3%, while the risk of dying from it is 2.7%.

Those are significant numbers. Yet MSNBC and FOX haven't devoted wall to wall coverage of the disease, or of what seems to be a possibly important tool in the screening, detection and treatment of a significant health risk concerning half the population. Out of the 151 million males out there, myself included, about 233,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year. Still, perspective is important; it's all about vigilance and awareness, not hysteria.  

In other words men like myself should be more tuned in to the disease, and the symptoms and indications of its presence. Indeed, there have been several attempts at campaigns aimed at men the same way that breast cancer awareness has become a national focus, through things like the Susan Komen Race for the Cure and the NFL's Pink campaign. No doubt lives would be saved if more men paid more attention to their health, and simple warning signs like baldness were confirmed as useful tools to spot the disease.  

But contrast that with Ebola. When you compare the two, I am 1,637 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than to have to be quarantined because of virus. And so we can debate the best way to stop this horrible disease in West Africa from turning into something broader, be it sending money and troops to the continent, or screening individuals at airports, or a total ban of flights. And to be sure there's room in that discussion that includes not just the medical point of view but the psychological one as well, given the horrific course it takes. But forgive me if I turn off CNN when I see them put graphics on the screen like "Is Ebola the ISIS of Biological Agents?"


Marc Wollin of Bedford is not afraid to fly just because the guy next to him is coughing. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Death, Taxes and FedEx

Most notably, death and taxes are among those things that fall into the category of "it'll always be there come hell or high water." Were your time cycle to match any of these phenomena, you could set your watch by them. And it's not just these big ticket items. On a more prosaic level, there're WalMart sales, the Jets losing and Lindsey Lohan getting into trouble.

But most things are far less sure. In fact, the world in changing at an increasingly rapid pace, so much so that whatever you thought you was here to stay is probably obsolete just about the time you get it down pat. As an example, just about the time you got your home wired with phones in all the right places they went wireless. So you replaced all those old princess models with snappy 900 megahertz models, only to find out they don't ring anymore because nobody calls, they just email. Now email is going the way of the dinosaurs, surpassed by texting. And texting itself is increasingly being pushed aside by things like SnapChat, FireChat and ThisIsEvenNewerChat.    

Still, we look to things that remain rock solid to give us stability and hope. In the category of things we know we can depend on is the overnight service FedEx. While they've updated their slogan over time, the one they started with says it best: "when it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight." Most of us still marvel at the mechanisms involved, and don't know how they actually make it happen again and again. But we have come to take it as an article of faith that if we drop a blue and orange envelope into one of their pickup boxes, as surely as night follows day, it will show up tomorrow at Aunt Helen's in Topeka or Granma Ruth's in Denver.

Seemingly nothing can stop them, with anecdotal stories reinforcing their prowess. One involves the FedEx driver who stopped to retrieve packages from a drop box, and found it couldn't be opened. Rather than go away empty handed, he backed his truck up and took the whole shebang back to the depot to be opened. They even made a movie about the company. Tom Hanks was the focal point of "Cast Away," a 2000 film where he played a FedEx employee marooned on a dessert island after a plane crash. While he uses items that wash ashore after being thrown from the plane when it hit the water, including drawing a face on a volleyball and treating it as a companion, he does find one package intact. He keeps that safe, and following his eventual rescue four years later, returns the it unopened to the intended recipient.  

So I have found it somewhat disconcerting in recent weeks to receive a string of emails from the company's Superhub in Memphis saying that, well, not so fast there, Wilson. Sometimes it just ain't absolutely positively possible to get your handmade oven mitt from here to there by tomorrow AM. In one, headlined "FedEx Service Alert: Volcanic Eruption In Iceland," they use a little thing like a part of the earth exploding as an excuse to not meeting their high standards.

Now, were that the end of it, I would cut them some slack. But several weeks later I got another. It talked about a line of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes that raced through the southeast, and might cause delays in air traffic. Oh well, I guess, you truly can't fool with Mother Nature. Probably another legit reason not to get your "One Hundred Great Quinoa Recipes" cookbook" from Amazon by 10A the next day.

But then this one: "FedEx experienced significant power outages last night at the FedEx Express Memphis Hub that affected our sort operations." That's it? Power outages? Hell, even WE have a generator. C'mon guys. Get some flashlights, some candles, order out from a pizza place that still has juice, and unload the damn truck!

I mean, if FedEx is not as dependable, as assured, as rock solid as I thought, and lets a little thing like a power outage affect its service, what's next? You are tampering with the very things I hold near and dear, the things that anchor my world.  I mean, you might as well tell me Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny aren't real. What's that you say? NOOOOOOOOOO!


Marc Wollin of Bedford stillbelieves in FedEx. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hanging Around

Here's my routine for hanging a picture. First, with the frame under my arm, a nail in my mouth and a hammer in my hand, proceed to the open wall. I hold the picture up, squinting to see if it seems about in the right place. Stick a finger on the spot. Gingerly remove the frame, trying not to move my finger. Curse as I reach for the hammer that I placed just out of reach. Scratch the wall with the nail to save the spot. Grab the hammer. Look up to see if that I can't really tell where I I made the mark. Pound the nail in firmly, wincing as it goes through the wallboard into the void beyond. Gently pull it back out a bit, hoping that the angle is enough to support the weight since I didn't hit wood. Hang the picture and step back to admire it. Hopefully straight. Hopefully where I wanted it. Hopefully still hanging.

Your version might differ a bit, but it's probably not that dissimilar to mine. Contrast that procedure with the routine I watched of a curator and her team of two craftsmen from the Smithsonian. They were hanging a restored John Thomas Biggers oil painting that had been shipped to an exhibition in Atlanta. Each wearing white gloves, they carefully unpacked and unwrapped it, and gently laid the painting down on a clean covered pad. They checked the wall where it would be hung, determining where the wooden studs were that would best support the weight. Then they opened a many compartmented box, selecting a mounting bracket that exactly matched the frame. Out came a tape measure, and they proceeded to measure, calculate, measure again and calculate again until they were sure of their plan. They screwed a pair of brackets to the wall, matching others to the frame, and then carefully lifted the painting into place. They stepped back to look. It was straight. It was where they wanted it. And yes, it was still hanging.

I'd like to think that I, and indeed anyone, could learn from what they did. After all, they were skilled professionals entrusted with a valuable property, and gave it the care and respect it deserved. And who's to say that my poster from Ikea, or the photo I took of the kids, or the needlepoint backgammon board my mom made me don't deserve the same care and feeding? It's just that, well, they're them, and I'm me. Were I a pro entrusted with valuable artwork, I'd like to think I would up my game and do it the right way.

But not so fast. In a minor art wrestling match, a Picasso stage curtain, the largest in the US, has been hanging at the Four Seasons restaurant on Park Avenue in New York City since 1959. The owner of the building wanted to do some renovation to stabilize a rotting wall, the very wall on which the Picasso hung. The New York Landmarks Conservancy, which owned the painting, said it couldn't be moved without damage. Back and forth they went, a Big Apple tussle with money, power and prestige on the line, not to mention "only in New York" kinds of quotes like "if you move it, it'll crack like a potato chip."

The battle went this way and that, charges and counter charges flew, but the final verdict was that it had to travel. The Conservancy would take the painting, get it cleaned, and re-install it at the NY Historical Society. And so over a recent September weekend, a team of workmen slowly eased it off the wall and rolled it up. And what did they find holding up this priceless piece of one-of-a-kind art?  
Velcro and staples.

Yup, that's right. Someone had used a desk stapler on the edges of the canvas to match strips of Velcro to the sides to keep it in place. And along the top, hundreds of staples from a staple gun into two strips of wood supported the 19 by 20 foot work of art. As described in a news report, when they found out the method used, "Peg Breen, president of the conservancy, placed a hand delicately on her chest and walked into a different room."

In that light, I guess my method ain't so bad after all.


Marc Wollin of Bedford usually gets a picture to hang straight. Usually. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Are We Up or Are We Down?

 Like most civilians, I have at least a passing acquaintance with basic stock market indicators and some broader measures of the overall economy. Let's be quite clear: acquaintance does not equal mastery. Still, I'm pretty sure it's good if the Dow Jones and the NASDAQ are up, not so good if they're down. Likewise, I know that the GDP is a measure of what we produce as a country, while the price indices, both the CPI and PPI, tell us how fast costs are rising. For the GDP, up is good; the others, well, not so much.  

But we are in an information overload age, regardless of the field. For instance, in football, stats used to be pretty basic, as in Jordy Nelson of the Green Bay Packers has caught 37 passes for 351 yards so far this year. But that is no longer a sufficient measure of his abilities. What is his catch rate? His Effective Yards? His DYAR or Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement? True, only the most die-hard pigskin cheesehead would know the answer (and know why it makes a difference). But as made famous in Michael Lewis' portrait of Oakland's A manager Billy Beane, measures like that are the keys to exploiting the margins, and winning big time.  

And what is the economy if not a giant sporting event? True, it's about dollars and cents rather than balls and strikes, and those that come out on top get money but no trophy. But there are plenty of less well known measures of up-ness and down-ness which the devoted econhead can dive into and exploit to get an advantage. And as in athletic contests, while there are definitely Hail Mary passes, more often than not the difference between winners and losers is knowing how to look at the data, interpret it and then make game time decisions based on that info. If that's not the very definition of "Moneyball" I don't know what is.  

So when I turn on CNBC, I see JOLTS, or "Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey," a stat that gives a more nuanced view of the employment situation. There's the PCE Price Deflator, where PCE stands for "Personal Consumption Expenditure," with the deflator actually being a measure of inflation. There's even Truck Tonnage, or a measure of how much is being hauled by 18-wheelers across the country, from raw materials to finished goods. More stuff being moved, more good.  

Those are all highly quantifiable data points, in theory no different from the number reporting the Money Supply, the Unemployment Rate or Crude Oil Production. After all, you can actually go out and count the number of trucks whizzing past Exit 11 on the NJ Turnpike bound for consumer and factories. But it turns out there are also many more anecdotal measures that, while seemingly silly, actually do offer some intelligence regarding the overall direction of the economy.  

For instance, there's the "Buttered Popcorn Index." The theory goes that to escape bad times, people go to see movies, even bad ones. As evidence of its validity, devotees point to the fact the overall movies sales were way up during the 2009 recession, then flattened out as markets bounced back. Likewise, the "Coupon Redemption Index" says that as things get bad, people turn to more cost savings measures. In 2009, redemption of promotions soared to 3.3 billion. Conversely, the "Plastic Surgery Index" says that when the economy wavers, discretionary tucks and nips go by the wayside. And indeed, plastic surgery declined 9% in 2008.  

It hardly stops there. There's the "How Fast Contractors Call You Back Index" (faster responses means times are slow, and they need the work), the "Lipstick Index" (women turn to lipstick instead of more expensive indulgences in hard times) or the "Men's Underwear Index" (men forgo purchasing underwear during hard times). Actually, that last could be leading, lagging or completely neutral: men's underwear buying has never made any sense.

The bottom line is that you can find an indicator that suits your sensibilities. You can count apps, chocolate sundaes or tube socks, doesn't really matter. History says they likely have as good of a chance of being right as the "official" ones that drive decision making at the highest levels. After all, as economist Paul Samuelson observed way back in 1966, "Wall Street indexes predicted nine out of the last five recessions."


Marc Wollin of Bedford is pretty sure the Laffer Curve isn't related to baseball. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Us and Them

Much is written about our current Democratic/Republican or Blue/Red duality. And while that's a convenient shorthand, you can split our national identity other ways as well. Coffee vs. tea drinkers, exercise buffs vs. couch potatoes, network viewers vs. Netflix binge watchers. However, all of these are a conscious choice: you look at the available options, and gravitate towards the one that best reflects your world view. That, plus some additional weighting if you missed an early season of "Breaking Bad."

Other ways of splitting the populace are based less on choice, more on the accident of birth. For sure, race tops the list: to be born black vs. white ensures very different life experiences. (Whether it should or not is not the question: the fact is that it does.) Likewise, gay vs. straight has moved like lightning over the past several years to the front of the national conversation. And geography plays a part as well: there's no doubting the differences between the coastal/urban zones as opposed to the great heartland of the country. Just watch a tourist from Oklahoma or Nebraska try and navigate a Starbucks in Boston or Miami. Less than 2000 miles separates the locations, but they are actually several light-years apart.

A recent piece of news has further divided our great land into us vs them based on the governmental boundaries that define us. If I asked you to pick a state that differs from the rest, a knee jerk reaction might be Texas with its frontier sensibilities. Some might have thought of Florida, our national home of wacky true-crime stories. And California has proven itself a quirky individual time and again, most recently being the first state in the nation to pass a law protecting people's rights to post negative reviews on Yelp. But odds are that of the 50 possibilities, Minnesota would have been far down on your list. And yet a recent legal settlement singles them out from us all.

If you have an ethingy of some type that lets you read ebooks, turns out you were ensnared in a price fixing scheme perpetrated by five of the leading publishers in the business and Apple. While you weren't looking, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Penguin colluded with the tech darling to keep the costs of books artificially high in the face of a major competitive challenge from Amazon. Somebody figured it out, and brought a lawsuit, actually a bunch of them. As happens with these things, it turned in a class action affair, with Attorneys General across the country banding together to fight the evil Cupertino. All across the nation, that is, except for the AG from Minnesota.

Maybe there a particularly good Golden Gopher football game going on, or perhaps hockey season had just started when it was time to sign up. But whatever the reason, Minnesota opted not to be part of the big lawsuit. As such, they went it alone, and filed their own. Now, normally one might think that as the self-chosen orphan stepchild, when they started handing out the settlement monies that they would get the leavings. But in a somewhat surprising turn of events, turns out that those from the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" actually got 10,001.

In Amazon's email to all its customers impacted by the settlement, they set out the way they are divvying up the $400 million that Apple is providing to soothe the aggrieved souls ensnared in their scheme. If you live in Topeka or Texarkana, Shilo or Summerville, and bought an ebook of a New York Times bestseller, they will give you a credit of $3.17. But if you bought that same book and live in Badger or Gilman, Lake Benton or Zumbro Falls, all towns which all fall within the North Star State, you get $3.93. And the same goes for non-bestsellers. If you live in Schenectady, you get a 73 cent credit; hail from St. Clair, and you get 94 cents.

And so once again we see how our country breaks down along the boundary lines of haves and have-nots. However, the latest accidental millionaire turns out not be some twenty-something in Palo Alto who invented an app that lets you order custom candy bars with your name on it, but a forty something housewife in Duluth who ordered the "How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook."  Hmmmm. I read a lot; I wonder if I can become a Gopher retroactively.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is dependent on his eReader. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

If a Tree Falls

My home office is oriented so that when I sit at my desk I face a sliding glass door that looks out into the woods behind our house. At this time of year it is still dense with greenery, with dappled sunlight playing off the leaves and trees. It's not uncommon to have chipmunks and squirrels scampering about, and birds flying through. Occasionally I'll see a deer poke its head out; later in the season they will get bolder in their quest for food, but for now they pretty much stay further back in the thicket. The occasional cat wanders by, and I have even spotted a fox or two, though they're usually gone almost as soon as I recognize what it is.  

On this one particular morning I glanced up as I was trying to digest the implications of a budget which had just been sent to me. I wasn't really looking much beyond my nose, but as I considered dollars and cents I shifted my focus further away. My gaze alighted on one particular tree. It wasn't close, maybe 50 yards, half a football field away. It attracted my attention because the sun was shining on it just so, almost as if it was being hit with a spotlight from the balcony. And as I watched, I noted it began to sway a bit more than its neighbors.  

We're not talking a little twig here. This was a pretty good size oak, a solid two feet across, and maybe a hundred or more feet tall. It was far from dead, with a thick green, spreading canopy that I could clearly see. It was the kind of tree that you could hang a swing from, or build a treehouse in, or gather the family around for picture. In short, it was the kind of old growth that was here long before I appeared, and one I would have expected to be here long after I'm gone.  

But as I watched it I saw ever-so-slow movement near the base. I quickly shifted my eyes upwards, and saw its leaves begin to accelerate against their neighbors, moving far more swiftly than the gentle breeze could claim credit. As I watched, I saw the entire length begin to pivot, and heard the unmistakable sound of tearing wood and rushing air. It accelerated through the neighboring branches and leaves, ripping and thrashing its way to the ground as only a ton and a half of hardwood can do when it has  gravity on its side. With a resounding thud it buried itself in the brush and dirt which was its immediate neighborhood, kicking up a small cloud of dust and detritus.  

Almost as fast as it began, it was over. A casual glance towards that same spot revealed nothing amiss. Sure, perhaps it wasn't as dense in that one exact spot as it had been moments before. But peering along the axis on which I was sitting showed no discernable difference. It's just that that one particular tree was gone from my sight, causing me to wonder if it was ever there in the first place.  

I stepped out into the yard and walked into the woods. It was just as still as it had been before. On the ground lay this massive piece of nature, horizontal rather than vertical, but impressive none the less. Like others I could see scattered about, nothing suggested the transformation I had just seen; it could have been created that way. Only its splintered base gave evidence to the violent act that had happened perhaps a week, a year or a decade before. Except I knew that it was barely a single minute.  

It's an age old question, and I can't say that I have the definitive scientific answer. Indeed, some strange rearranging in the natural world might have occurred at the exact spatial coordinates where I was sitting. Just the very fact that I happened to look up and watch it might have caused the celestial volume knob to be twisted to the open position. But at least for purposes of this discussion, put those caveats aside. For whatever it's worth, in this particular little corner of the world that we inhabit, I, your faithful correspondent can indeed report with absolute certainty this fact: when a tree falls in the forest, it does indeed make a sound.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to look out his window in all seasons. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www., as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dewey Be Dammed

I like to have things that go together be together. Some stuff is easy: the fridge has a vegetable drawer, my dresser has one for socks and the middle one in the bathroom is mine. Red wine goes on the rack, while white goes in the fridge. And while I'm not obsessive about it, short sleeve shirts hang together, pens go in one cup on my desk and pencils in another, and in my workshop every tool has a specific hanger. (That being said, I love the approach of guy I worked with, who, when I asked if I could borrow a pliers, directed me to his toolbag. It had three big sections: Squeezy Things, Cutty Things and Pointy Things.)

With printed matter, whether paper or electronic, it's even more important. After all, if a pair of underwear accidentally mixes in with the socks, it's pretty easy to separate. No so with a bunch of books or magazines all about the same size and shape, or computer files with names like taxstuff.xls and taxthings.xls. Of course one peek inside will tell you if you have National Geographic or Playboy (actually, maybe that's a bad example), but it's still time you won't get back.

Then there's the library, the very paragon of organization. Not only does it have everything in a very specific place, but it catalogs it all as well. And not just fiction or non-fiction, but on beyond the alphabet: architecture has a different home from art, as do history and hieroglyphics. Find the book in the card catalog or its digital equivalent, and thanks to Mr. Dewey's efforts you know that "Children in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock" can be found on the shelf marked 791.4302/33092, while the "Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas" is elsewhere at 598/.09788.

But because of a variety of factors, almost all revolving around the electronification of data and the internet itself, libraries are wrestling with the most basic of concepts. After all, why organize it all if you don't need organization? Pick a topic, any topic: let's say staircases. Type the term into your favorite search engine, and up comes how to make one, where to buy one, and songs, movies and books with that in the name. If I add a few more search terms I can find other examples more specific to my needs, like plans to build one for the deck. I don't need to know where it lives or how it's classified. Click and I have it.

My librarian friends will likely take me to task for this heretical outburst. Someone has to organize it all, they will likely say, I'm just enjoying the fruit of that labor several steps removed. And they have a point. The links that enable me to find anything are just a different technical system of accessing information, one whose mechanics are transparent to me but no less real. I could as easily take my point of reference the Library of Congress catalog, the Metis system of holistic knowledge or even Tom Lehrer songs. ("There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium.")  

Indeed, we're even seeing different ways of organizing and teaching knowledge in general. There's the much debated Common Core, and Bill Gates' promotion and roll out of the Big History Project, which links lessons on the Big Bang to Einstein and the hydrogen bomb. For some the most dominant platform for a survey of all things turned out to the recent 12 day "Simpsons" marathon of all 552 episodes. There you could learn about the cosmos ("Deep Space Homer"), immigration ("Much Apu About Nothing") and even the criminal justice system ("Marge in Chains" and the iconic line, "Come out with your hands up, two cups of coffee, an auto freshener that says ‘Capricorn,' and something with coconut on it.").

But back to the library. As an avid eBook borrower, the system most useful to me has rearranged knowledge in yet another form. When I log in, I'm greeted with an interface that offers me a chance to slice and dice the available choices multiple ways. But in this ever growing collection, the most useful drop-down turns out to be "Added to Site." And so on one page I get Henry Kissinger's "World Order," Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," the travel Guide "Best Chef's Tables in Portland" and Stacy McKitrick's "Bite Me, I'm Yours." Now, that's a new world order indeed.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to read. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Name Changer

Consider the predicament of Matt Broomfield and Peter Endicott of London, the editors of the student magazine at Oxford University. Or Jim Fleshman from the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco TX, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the International Species Information System. Likewise Dr. Herbert Bernstein from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, the President & Chief Scientist of the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies. Each of them probably envies Mayor Lorraine Pyefinch in Queensland, Australia. You see, back in 2008, Mayor Pyefinch and her constituents dodged a bullet when they redrew the local governance lines. That's when their name changed to its current incarnation of the Bundaberg Region. Before that, had you journeyed down under, you would have had to call it by its former name, one that is shared not only by the aforementioned groups, but with one entity more in the news these days. For that area of Queensland was formerly known as the Shire of Isis.

While you can pin a lot of things on Australia, being the home of today's most notorious terrorist group is not one of them. The current ISIS, or "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria," has grown from an offshoot of al-Qaeda to a self-declared Caliphate straddling the border between those two troubled countries. The group has become known for their extreme ideology and brutality, and taken the name of the Egyptian goddess of fertility to places it was never intended. That's not to say it hadn't gotten a workout before this. After all, it is also the name of a pharmaceutical developer, a line of lingerie from the British company Ann Summers and a post-metal rock band whose 2009 album "Wavering Radiant" on the Ipecac label opened with the well-received "Hall of the Dead."

Then there's Verizon. Back in 2010 the communications giant and its partners were looking for a moniker to differentiate their new mobile payment venture from PayPal and Google. I'm sure when they tallied up all the focus group responses and marketing research, ISIS Mobile seemed like a clear winner. But odds are better than even that their branding gurus are having second, third and even fourth thoughts right about now.  

After all, aside from the difficulty of creating a marketing message ("Triumph with ISIS" or something similar), there are some practical issues as well. Any web search for ISIS results not in connections to the platform, its mobile apps and all the great advantages it has over its competitors, but to images of marauding thugs in black hoods. Sure you can find links to ISIS Wallet, but they are three pages in. And oh, about that web page. The one the company registered is Since exchanging money with terrorist organizations is a federal offense, people might not rush to buy their potholders from Etsy using the platform. As Michael Abbott, CEO of Isis Mobile said in a statement, "As a company, we have made the decision to rebrand." Good call, that.

But it might not be necessary. Officials and the media have tried several nom de guerres to see what resonates with the public. And in fact, in recognition of the group's larger ambitions, both the U.N. and the U.S. State Department have recently been referring to ISIS as ISIL. That stands for "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," where Levant is a broader term for the region, encompassing not just Syria, but Turkey as well as other countries. In that light, Verizon and the others might wind up in the clear after all is said and done. But in a case of one man's ceiling being another man's floor, one can only imagine the anguished conversations among the attendees last week at the annual convention of the right-leaning Libertarian group the "International Society for Individual Liberty." After all, their initials are – well - you can figure it out.

If there's good news, I guess it's that either abbreviation is as lightly used and known as it is. Imagine the gnashing of teeth, sleepless nights and endless meetings that would ensue if they had taken the name "Waji Hali Monafa' Lana IllHeta Iradicali'." A rough translation of that Arabic is the "Front for the Organization of the Radical Divine." In that light, "Built FORD Tough" takes on a whole new meaning, doesn't it?


Marc Wollin of Bedford uses MW when required, and is hardly ever confused with a terrorist organization. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Punctuation Wars

The Middle East is devolving further into chaos. A virus is rampaging through Africa defying control. A little known St. Louis suburb shows we're not quite as post-racial as we'd like to think. There's trouble in the Ukraine, mudslides burying neighborhoods in Japan and even a cheating scandal at Notre Dame. The world is going to H - E double hockey sticks in a hand-basket, and what am I dealing with?

Punctuation issues.

Let me say at the outset that I was not an English major, nor do I play one on television. But by virtue of that fact that for nearly 20 years I have been occupying this particular space, wherein I put my thoughts, opinions, interpretations, ruminations and outright fabrications on very public display, I have had to deal with the blowback. Actually, blowback might be a wee bit too strong a description. In addition to the occasional attaboy, I get a few polite corrections thrown my way. But still, when you sit alone in front of a keyboard late at night, it can feel like an onslaught.

Some of those comments are about substance, comments I am happy to take under advisement and respond to in kind. But I have also been drawn into several technical disputes about the words on the page. Or more correctly, not the words themselves, but rather the way those words are delineated. Yes, with all the aforementioned turmoil in the world, I have had to focus not on Ebola but on ellipsis, not on separatists but on spacing.

I was first drawn into a discussion where I was taken to task for not using the so-called Oxford comma. For those of you (like me) who didn't know what it was, the Oxford (or Harvard or serial) comma is the optional one before the word "and' at the end of a list. To wit: apples, peaches, and pumpkins. But it's optional, so apples, peaches and pumpkins is also acceptable. Yes, it can be used to clarify, as in the oft cited example "This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God." Another comma would have eliminated the demon spawn that the prior construction references. And yes, in that case, I would have used it as well. But optional means just that, and so I stand my ground, even in light of such posts as "You'll pry my Oxford comma from my cold, dead, and lifeless hands." (Note the comma.)

Likewise for two spaces at the end of a sentence. I do it as a reflexive process that stems from learning to type. (There, I just did it again!) But you don't see it, because my editor insists I eliminate it. And so before I submit a column I do a global search and replace, and remove the offending white space. A recent online post entitled "Nothing Says Over 40 Like Two Spaces after a Period!" blames it on the mechanics of the typewriter and the monospacing that device did for every letter. The post goes on to say that considering the current state of technology that double spacing at the end point is anachronistic at best and ignorant at worst.

But that's hardly the last word. While the typewriter rationale is enshrined for many as the reason two spaces should go the way of the dodo, further research shows that typographic "rules" and rationales are elastic, and have been through time. Way back in the 1700's, when there were important issues such as Independence to be discussed, they were debating typography as well. And so about a hundred years before the typewriter was invented you can find parchment with the equivalent of "Yea, thou shalt use but a single m quadrat after a full stop, or thou is an ignorant sow!" The weight of history, indeed.

So to all who take me to task for violating the so-called universal laws of punctuation, just look around you. In a world of tweets and txts and emoticons and emails, the way language gets used and laid out is fluid at best. Maybe I don't always conform to what The Chicago Manual of Style says is "correct," or hew completely to the gospel that is Strunk and White. I only say to you read some Cormac McCarthy or E.E. Cummings, and get over it. And spend a little more time worrying about the Crimea.


Marc Wollin of Bedford writes like he speaks, for better or worse. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Same Name, Different Stuff

When I go to the grocery store for my own shopping, I tend to act like a tourist in Paris. I wander up and down the aisles, looking at all the pretty colors and unusual variations. I pick up a package of something that attracts my attention, and stand there wondering if I could if find a recipe that would include it, especially if it's on sale ("hmmm - chicken thighs - figs - I wonder"). Now and then I find a few new items of interest I can't wait to try ("nobody told me they have chocolate chip coconut butterscotch cookies!"). Then I gather it all up, only to get all the way through the checkout to find a piece of paper in my pocket reminding me to get milk and bread, the two things I forgot.

Contrast that same trip with one where I am dispatched by my wife with a shopping list. In that case, I insist on very specific instructions. Not only do I want to know that I have to buy cereal and toilet paper and crackers, but I want to know, a) what brand I need to buy, b) what size it should be, and c) what exact variation of that brand. Don't just tell me "we need detergent." When last I checked, there were at least 239 different brands on the store shelves. There are national brands, store brands, organic offerings and specialized products, all promising to make my clothes some variation of "cleaner than clean! " That's good, right?

So that why I had a more than a passing interest in the latest news from consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble. According to CEO A.G. Lafley, the company plans to "significantly streamline and simplify the company's business and brand portfolio" by getting rid of 90 to 100 current brands. While he wasn't naming names, the keepers would have to fit into the company's core business strategies of beauty, health and home. Said Lafley, "If it's not a core brand – I don't care whether it's a $2 billion brand, it will be divested."

P&G will keep 70 to 80 brands, those that together currently generate 90 to 95 percent of the company's profits. These likely include such names as Head & Shoulders shampoo, Pampers diapers and Crest toothpaste, each the 800-pound gorillas of their respective categories. While there are also some major brands which would likely be divested, such as Ivory soap and Scope mouthwash, if you were a betting man you might also put some money down on some less-than-household names like Zirh men's grooming products, Glide dental floss and Zooth toothbrushes.

Still, if history is any guide, less brands doesn't necessarily mean less products. The concept of "brand extension" means leveraging a well-known and trusted name into areas with which it wasn't formerly associated. Take Swiss Army knives. Legendary makers of, well, knives, Victorinox has licensed the name far and wide. So now you can have a Swiss Army backpack, a Swiss Army watch, a Swiss Army pair of swimming trunks and even Swiss Army Eau de Toilette for my lady, with top notes of blossom and the oh-so-subtle whiff of corkscrew.

P&G has already started in that direction. Take the aforementioned category of detergent. Its elephant-in-the-room is the jolly orange giant Tide, which has more than twice the sales of Gain, the number two brand. Within the category they have stretched and morphed plain old liquid soap into multiple variations in formulation (With Bleach, Without Bleach, Cold Water, Hot Water, Sport, Ultra, etc.) and form factor (liquid, powder, pods, pacs).The Tide product page lists 27 variations of the brand, not to mention the assortment of sizes and packaging in which the products are available. If fact, if you put one of each type and size of Tide products end to end, you would likely reach from where I am standing to P&G Corporate headquarters in Cincinnati. Trust me, I've measured it.

And so the next logical step is to leverage the name beyond detergent. In that light, it's not too hard to envision a Tide toothpaste, Tide diapers or Tide deodorant. And beyond that? Tide cologne, Tide toilet paper and Tide batteries are all possibles. And while there is no talk of edible Tide, give it time. I just don't know if it will go with figs.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to go the grocery store to wander, not to shop. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Forget Security

It's astounding the amount of useless, non-sequitor things I have trapped in my head. Sure, there are the times tables and proper way to address an envelope. But just ask, and with almost no hesitation I can also quote you the chorus of obscure Steely Dan songs ("Bad sneaker and a pina colada, my friend/stomping down the avenue by Radio City"). Or key lines from certain MASH episodes (Frank Burns to Margaret Houlihan: "It's nice to be nice to the nice."). Or the correct DOS command to list computer files in a widescreen mode page-by-page (DIR/W/P). It's sad to say, but no, I didn't Google a one of them.  

That's me. For you, it might be sports scores or players. Or Simpson episodes. Or sneaker designs. The point is that each of us is capable of maintaining multiple data points in our brains that are rarely germane to our everyday pursuits. And while they may not as important as memorizing the different nerves in the arm if you're a doctor, or the correct way to cite a prior ruling if you're a lawyer, it can be helpful. After all, if you can recall the combination to your gym locker or the exact address of your accountant without having to retrieve the cheat sheet from your wallet, it can save you a few minutes when you need to access the information. And so it used to be for passwords.

Passwords used to be about access, not security. We put them in place so that casual wanderers who got to the front door didn't just wander in. It was kind of like locking the door and taking the keys of a convertible, but leaving the top down. It wouldn't stop someone who wanted to pretend it was theirs or even hot wire it. But it deterred some smart-aleck from doing something stupid, like hopping in or taking a joyride, the very definition of a crime of opportunity.

Now, in the wake of the discovery of a billion plus passwords stolen by some Russian crime ring (yours and mine likely among them), experts are once again telling us all to step up our vigilance. More to the point, they are telling us to stop trying to remember our passwords by using simple, easy to recall combinations. No more Yankees1 for you. No, the smart thing to do is forget all that, and cede the task to an app or program. That way we can have a unique code for every different site, and each code can approach un-guessability in its design. So your Amazon key becomes 7sa^Js9#, while the one for the New York Times is n&n19!8H.

Sort of makes sense. But there's a dirty secret. Count the numbers, letters and symbols. In spite of the seeming complexity of the latter two, all three variants are still just 8 characters in length. And so, to a hacker, they're not that big a deal. There are various sites purporting to offer to test your password for crackability based on the program being used, the speed of the processor and so on. But even with their different results, the scale is instructive. So at one site, while Yankees1 will take just 2 seconds to break, the others will take just 2 minutes. That's right, about as long as it takes to read this column. So why bother?

It turns out that in password security, size does matter. Every extra character you add makes it more secure, even if it's just letters. So just typing 4 words in a row works. So while u&sk$SgG takes a few seconds to crack, glancingaskancemarcwollin would take 35 trillion years. Capitalize the first letter of each word, tack on 2014, and it goes to 37 nonillion years. That's a one with 30 zeros after it. Break that, Vladimir.

True, since the experts also say that you shouldn't reuse your passwords, you could have 10 or 20 or 30 multiple word combinations. So, yes, there's no chance I will remember them either, and yes, I still need a program to help. But it's far more secure than using the other resident eight digit combinations in my head.  So no more using the serial number of the Starship Enterprise. (By the way, it's NCC-1701, and no, I didn't need to look up that one either.)


Marc Wollin of Bedford is slowly changing all his passwords to make them longer. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Shelf Space

Say what you will about my wife and I and our approach to the world, but we are both generally the organized types (please, no snickering from those of you who know us well). It goes for most things we do individually and as a couple, from cooking to packing to household chores. And it includes the way we've arranged our various spaces. In my office there are lots of shelves to hold files, tapes and source materials for projects. Likewise, in hers we installed large filing cabinets to hold the papers that were the lifeblood of her occupation. And in the joint personal environs that is our home, we did the same: we insured there was plenty of space for the collections we would add to, namely books and CDs and videos.  

But were we starting from dead level today, we could put Zen gardens in every one of those locations for all the traffic they get.

It's one thing to say we live in a "digital" world, it's another to come face to face with the historical underpinnings. In all of the above referenced locations, there is space after space filled with an accumulation of physical items that we selectively and proudly added to, then organized by color or size or date or alphabet, the better to be able to retrieve exactly what we wanted in the shortest period of time. Yet as of this moment, almost none has been touched in periods best described in years.

It's not like there's anything wrong with the stuff itself. We're not talking about the uselessness of the items in question because they are not the latest or the most stylish or because they don't work. Quite the contrary. In fact, partly due to the care we took in cataloging them, most are in pristine condition, save a light layer of dust that has accumulated over time.  

No, in our household as in yours, the things that we likely spent thousands of dollars on can't find an audience for love nor money. Today We read our books electronically on Kindles and iPad and smartphones. CD's would have a hard time finding a player to play them. And physical papers and folders are either out of date or faded into illegibility. Put another way, even if we cleaned that layer of dust off, you literally couldn't give any of it away.

Indeed, it has changed the way we look at space itself. We had always tried to lay out our environs to accommodate both things and people. It was a state of constant change, as the stuff seemed to continually expand in volume and quantity from its starting point, the people not so much (as long as we're not factoring in the "cookie dividend"). But with flat screens and mobile devices and cloud storage, the stuff has reached stasis or even contracted its local footprint. As such, it is occupying square footage that is now fallow and can be redeveloped.  

It's kind of like one of those future dystopia movies, where Washington Square turns into a weed-choked lot. Once these shelves were active, vibrant spaces constantly updated with the latest music, videos or books. And now? Now, depending on your point view, they are filled with nostalgic, retro or simply lame examples of past states of the art, stuff you would be embarrassed to admit owning. Can you say "Let's Get Physical?"  (For further proof, see WNYC's "Soundcheck" video of three schoolchildren reviewing 1994's "The Sign" by Ace of Base: "The song made me feel sad – sad for this person's life.")

Sure, we add to our closets, but strip away the bell bottoms and wide ties. We buy new types of cookies, but the old ones are consumed. We stockpile ever more sports equipment, holding out hope that those cross country skis will still fit when it once again decides to snow. And shoes multiply like rabbits, because you never know when you'll be invited to a country and western concert, and need that pair of cowboy boots.

But as for the analog analogues of our current digital standards? They lay neglected, unloved and unused. And when I can fit literally the equivalent of everything on those shelves onto my phone, the die is easily cast. Put another way, to some sound purists, analog may rule, but digital takes up far less space.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has too much stuff. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Not Responsible

It was a stupid television commercial, no different from a hundred others. Actually, on second thought, it was stupider than most. A guy having lunch at an outdoor café with his friends. As he takes a bite, a splotch of tomato sauce falls from above onto his shirt. He looks up to see a giant meatball parachuting onto his table, there to do battle with him. As they begin to tussle, an announcer intones "When your favorite food starts a fight, fight back with TUMS." The spot cuts to a pit of fire, into which a TUMS tablet drops, extinguishing the flames. And on screen, a graphic with one word: "Dramatization."

Really? You're kidding me, right? It doesn't happen like this in real life?

And yet it's hard to find something, anything, that doesn't sport some kind of disclaimer. It used to be just ladders, the poster child for "things that have warnings telling you all the things you already know not to do or we won't be responsible." The one in our garage has a half dozen stickers, including ones telling me that the top is "not a step," that the feet should be "firmly on the ground and level," one even providing a geometric model of how to lean it correctly. There's also a note that I should "keep ladder clean of foreign materials" which precludes getting paint on it, which is the reason I bought the thing in the first place.

That being said, it's not like there haven't been warnings on things before. But if there' a "patient zero" to the current epidemic, it's Stella Liebeck. Liebeck was the 81 year-old woman who spilled hot McDonald's coffee on herself back in 1992. When she sought $20,000 to cover her injuries and expenses, the company offered just $800. She brought in a personal injury lawyer who tried to settle, but the company also rebuffed him, opting for a trial. But that didn't work out so well: even though it was subsequently reduced, the initial jury award was $200,000 for compensatory damages and $2.7 million for punitive damages. (On the bright side, it did produce a memorable "Seinfeld" episode, which sported the line, "You get me one coffee drinker on that jury, you gonna walk outta there a rich man.")

Since then, everything carries a disclaimer. There's obvious stuff like machinery: "Stay away from moving parts." And diet plans: "Your results may vary." And cleaning supplies: "Keep away from eyes." But it goes further. Emails: "This email was intended for the recipient only." Good point ,that. Or movies: "The events portrayed are fictitious." That's why I go to the movies! Or almonds: "May contain nuts." Uh, OK.

It's tempting to blame all you lawyers out there for this mess, and to be honest, there's little downside to that approach. But the evidence doesn't really bear that out. According to recent data, just 10% of injured Americans ever file a claim for compensation, and only 2% file lawsuits. All told, tort cases represent just 4.4% of all civil caseloads, a number that has been steadily declining for years. Still, the perception of Americans has having their doctor in the second speed dial position while their personal injury attorney is in the first is the one that stays with us. Hence the continuing expansion of disclaimers.  

But it's not like they actually work. After all, they don't stop people from doing something they shouldn't, and courts and juries tend to look at individuals harmed in spite of the notices as clueless rubes. While James Sinclair was writing about the email variant in "McSweeney's Internet Tendency," his comments are applicable to all of the genre: "This disclaimer is not unlike the ceaseless blaring of a distant car alarm—a once-sincere warning that has evolved into an unpleasant nuisance, rendered meaningless by its own ubiquity."

Still, you can't be too careful. And so before we move on to other things, let me say this explicitly: "Any action you take upon the information you find herein is strictly at your own risk, and we will not be liable for any losses and/or damages in connection with said information." Now, where were we? Oh yes. If you stand on the top step of your ladder, you can usually reach the highest shelf in your closet. But be careful. And don't say I didn't warn you.


Marc Wollin of Bedford sometimes wonders how stupid we really are. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.