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Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Clyde, my dad. He died at age 47 in 1965.
My dad told me a story once: A guy is walking down the street and he sees a sign in the window of a tailor shop:


So the guy looks at his wrinkled pants and thinks, "Wow, what a great deal." He goes in and tells the tailor,  "I want my pants pressed."

After he removes them in the dressing room, the tailor takes, presses and returns the pants just like new. "That will be $3," he says.

"WHAT!" the man responds. "Your sign in the window says press pants free."

"You didn't see the question mark?" the tailor asked. "The sign says, WHAT DO YOU THINK,  PANTS PRESSED FREE?"

If it's too good to be true, it probably isn't true. Or, if it is true, it won't be for long because this is today and everyone knows we have shown a tendency to ruin a good thing if we keep trying.

So, is that cynical enough for you?

Then what do you believe: Shipped for free. Guaranteed to last. Our products are guaranteed to
give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at anytime if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L.Bean that is not completely satisfactory.

Now THAT'S a guarantee you can count on from a company that has been succeeding in business for more than 100 years! Orvis, Patigonia and Marmot are holding on to similar policies despite customer abuse.

We often work really hard to ruin a good thing... and sadly, it doesn't take many to ruin it for all. A number of such gracious policies have been altered as not sustainable because they are regularly taken advantage of by a crass "I'm more special than you are," minority.

REI, which once had the endearing nickname, 'Return Everything Inc.' has had to change its open return policy because of such abuse. Many hundreds of returned items are stacked in storage bins or hanging on racks and many more are lining shelf after shelf, all with tags that detail customer complaints.

"Doesn't fit well," is the story of women's clogs, so worn that the original design has faded.
"Not sexy enough," says another long ago, well-worn purchase tag. REI's 'No questions asked' return policy even honored a current value return of a snow suit  bought in 1970 to climb Mt. Rainier.

One man returned a 2004 backpack that had seen extensive use because it "was getting old and dirty, and I didn't like it anymore." REI sent him a brand new one plus $17 in cash as the difference in price the man originally paid. Then, the man returned that one for a newer model. REI has received 'knock-off' products, items bought at garage sales or taken from garbage dumps and returned for refunds. Some have bragged in on-line message boards of using REI  return dollars like an ATM for rent and college tuition.

Patagonia recently received a backpack and shirt that was shredded after the wearer was stabbed while on vacation in Egypt. Another got a new backpack when rescue workers had to cut his old one off while saving his life in a rock climbing accident.

"The culture has changed over the years and now people will take advantage of any opportunity they can," say one loyal REI customer.

Recently even Disney theme parks have been forced to make important policy changes. No longer will families with disabled children be afforded line-cutting privileges because so many healthy families game the system. They say some of its members are ill or disabled so they don't have to wait in line. And some wealthy parents have even gone to hiring disabled 'tour guides' to be first. A number without special needs are renting unnecessary wheel chairs. "The honor system, evidently, is obsolete," one observed.

"And what of those children who really do need their wheelchairs of leg braces?" asks a Wall Street Journal article. "Those are the children whose fragile medical conditions make a day at a Disney park a rare and wonderful, but tenuous and wearying, occasion. Their parents can say to them, truthfully: The reason the rules have changed is that some other mothers and fathers told their children to pretend their lives are as hard as yours."

There should be a name for those who feel strongly that THEY are the only important ones. These are the 'gamers' of life, those who are so special that others can even pick up their garbage thrown on the highways of life. I disgustingly call them Litterers of Life.

Monday, February 17, 2014

(Part II) Brazil: Multi cultural, multi colorful Brazil... PLUS: Something valuable FREE!

Race, color and culture mark South America's largest, and only Portuguese speaking country as remarkable. Brazil is the 5th largest and 5th most populist country in the world. But even more interesting is its ethnic mix-- White at 48%, Pardo (multiracial) at 43%, Black, Asian and Amerindian--and here, it gets interesting.

--> My anthropologist son-in-law Michael Baran, spent the better part of two years in Brazil examining how race is perceived. Both he and his wife/my daughter Jill are anthropologists--so ask about the Galapagos fishermen and she's got that covered... giving us a grand reason for two most fascinating travel itineraries. 

“Lots of social scientists like to compare race in Brazil to the United States. They think that unlike the United States, in Brazil, ethnic definitions are referred to in hundreds of racial categories that are really based on looks," says Baran. "And they can be based on things like different shades of brown... or creative things like 'coffee with milk.' Some say that the soccer great, Pele, even has a racial term named just for him. Other anthropologists, however, say that’s just Brazilians being creative. While there is certainly racial discrimination, race in Brazil is ethnically and colorfully acknowledged... and complicated.”

And to drive that point home and show how people really see themselves, Baran has created two very popular interactive apps for iPhone and iPad. One is increasingly seen on corporate websites by companies large and small to emphasize the business world's commitment to racial diversity. It is called (Don't) Guess My Race . Read the reviews below then you can try it yourself by clicking the website. You'll see why it is deemed so vital to our understanding. 

There is also a young person's race awareness game, Who Am I? available free. Here is Baran's

How good are these apps and why should you/your  kids have this experience? Read the reviews, try the game and decide for yourself:

"After years trying to get Americans to wrestle with a subject that makes most of us cringe, Baran hit on a strategy trusted by parents everywhere to get kids to eat vegetables and brush their teeth: He turned race into a game…By combining gaming, art, the subjects’ own poignant words and bite-size nuggets of anthropological insight into how race developed – or rather, how we developed it — Baran is turning a conversation stopper into a conversation starter.” The Boston Globe

"I had my doubts about this. More than doubts. Who’d believe that “there’s an app for that” could be anything more than a joke in the context of talking to kids about race? When we put the iPhone down, I expected a shrug from my kid-the kind of reaction I get when I tell him something he already knows or wants to pretend he does or just isn’t really interested in. Instead, I got “I loved that!” The look on his face, the tone of his voice-he reacted as though I’d opened up something that explained the mysteries of the world, and maybe I did.”  Slate

"I was surprised by how delighted my children were with the apps, and with the freedom to ask questions that they conferred. We’ve had plenty of direct conversations since, and unfortunately, current events constantly provide us with the opportunity to have more.” New York Times

Yes, Brazil is most colorful and should produce a quite a feast for the eyes of the rest of the world as Rio de Janeiro hosts the 2014 World Cup AND the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What's in a name? If you are from Brazil, lots! (Part I)

Names can be quite quirky. Where you come from is big.

Take 12-year-old soccer prodigy
Petroswickonicovic Wandeckerkof da Silva Santos, for example. His friends simply (simply?) know him as Petroswickonicovic. But, if he continues to excel in his sport, his fans may know him differently in future years... like Edson Arante do Nascimento... Pele to the world.

What's in a name then? Ask that question in Brazil and stand back.

As the New York Times recently noted, there is Mike Tyson Schwarzenegger Pradella Errolflynn Paixao Charlingtonglaevionbeecheknavare dos Anjos Mendonca, a Brazilian plumber who, thankfully, goes by Chacha (pronounced Sha-sha in Portuguese)  and Wonarlievyston Garlan Marlion Branddon Buno Paullynelly Mell Oliveira Pereira too. (If you spot any missppeellingz, please let me know.)

Brazil is a most colorful country and the names of many "reflect centuries of immigration, conquest and slavery... to produce a fusion of identities," says the NYTimes." In a country with an array of musical traditions, from the melodious bossa nova to sertanejo country music, naming experts also mention the symphonious way some unusual names resonate when they are coined by expecting parents. Brazil... ranks among nations where naming has evolved into something resembling a competitive sport."

"Never think he or she was making a joke about his or her name," advises Mexican novelist Juan Pablo Villalobos. "No matter what name they told you, it's the actual name.

A Sao Paulo TV station recently found a family with seven children: Elvis, Elvisnei, Elvismara, Elvislei, Elvicentina, Elvisfaine and Elvislene. And if you are All Shook Up after hearing those names, That's All Right," said dad in this made-up quote "Don't Be Cruel because these kids are Always on My Mind."

Having had the best excuse in the world to visit and travel in Brazil a handful of years back--our kids lived there and their first child/our grandchild Rio (talk about a coincidence) was conceived there--the country remains alive in my mind for so many reasons.

Race, color and culture mark South America's largest, and only Portuguese speaking country as remarkable. This should produce a quite a feast for the eyes of the rest of the world as Rio de Janeiro hosts the 2014 World Cup AND the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Part II, Brazil: Multi cultural, multi colorful Brazil. See it here, Friday in my next post. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How many is 6 million?

If you wrote one 4-letter word in type so small that it takes a good magnifying glass to read it... and you printed that word, again and again, in a book large enough to fill a coffee-table, with each word butted against the other, border to border, six-million times, the book would be 1,250 pages thick and almost illegible.

That book is titled And Every Single One was Someone. Its only word is "Jew."

Each word represents one Jew killed during the Holocaust... one human being who breathed, worked, loved and lived. It's new, available at Amazon and elsewhere.

There is a much larger book at the Holocaust memorial and museum in Washington D.C. simply titled Book of Names. It is 6 1/2 feet tall, 46 feet in circumference. In it are the documented identities of 4.3 million of the those victims.

      What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people 
     wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?”
     ― John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 

In Peoria, Illinois, there is an outdoor Holocaust memorial of 18 Star of David shaped glass columns filled with 11-million buttons that represent six-million Jews and five-million  “enemies of the state” who were murdered--political and religious leaders, Roman gypsies, Serbians, Catholics, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the trade unionists, alcoholics and the handicapped. Each targeted group wore a different colored triangle to identify their “enemy” status. The columns, filled with buttons from different parts of the world, are wrapped in yellow ribbon labeled "No Hate Zone."
     Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous 
     are… the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.
     ― Primo Levi

Saturday, February 1, 2014

If I had an extra $4 million, I know what I would do...

... I would buy a 30-second television ad spot during the upcoming Super Bowl XLVIII (which, for those not familiar with Latin or don't have enough fingers, is 3-1/2 baker's dozen plus II, give or take half a donut).

My commercial would feature a clever little video starring all my grandchildren--with the oldest, now 17 (I can't believe it) and a really good driver, at the wheel--in a dramatic car chase through the streets of San Francisco... you know, like flying over the steep hills and careening down the crookedest street in the world... stuff like that. (Been done before? Not like this, it hasn't.)

The video would feature every cute grandchild in the car, all dressed alike in a nice plaid or paisley with silly little hats--for drama and color harmony, of course--screaming, laughing, saying clever things and daring fate in a way that makes Indiana Jones look like a girl scout (not that there is anything wrong with that)... and cats, of course to capture those who hate kids but love cats... with fast, dramatic, heart-pounding music. (Note to parents and concerned citizens: These scenes all done by stunt doubles, of course. Do you realize how difficult it is to find a stunt double for a three-month-old?)

The car would finally race toward the outgoing ferry to Sausalito as it was pulling away, jumping the Bay and the widening gap between pier and deck, finally doing a screeching 180 halt on the deck (so the front of the car is facing the camera). Then, the cutest of the grandkids (you know who you are, right? The ones who have my nose.) would hop--or crawl--out of the car, look into the camera and say, for all 100 million billion riveted fans (those not going to the bathroom), "Read papa's blog, ... so it can go viral!"

Closing shot features the blog's web address as the music sweetens... image fades to black, then cuts to the announcer who says, "And now, on to the game."

Now THAT'S what I'm talking about.