Part 1:  A Heads-Up To Family, Friends And Myriad Others Who Have Me On Their Christmas Shopping List

As you can see from this headline in the September 22 San Diego Union-Tribune:

Christmas shopping this year is going to be challenging, and early shopping “is a must.”

So I’ve put together some helpful hints about what not to buy, and what to buy, and put under the Christmas tree for me.

Part 1:  Don’t Buy This

If I asked, “Who do you think is one of the greatest U.S. presidents?” you might say, “Abraham Lincoln.”

If I asked, “Who do you think is one of the greatest U.S. architects?” you might say, “Frank Lloyd Wright.”

And if I asked, “Who do you think is one of the greatest U.S. cheese carvers?” you might say…

And yet there is a woman who is – or at least, who is described as – “one of the greatest cheese carvers in the U.S.”

Meet Sarah Kaufmann, also known as “The Cheese Lady.”

It says so, right on her Facebook page – that’s Kaufmann in the cheese hat:

Kaufmann began her cheese-carving career 40 years ago, and she’s never met a block of cheddar she couldn’t whittle into something that looks like…something.  Or someone.

She can claim more than 2,500 sculptures and a Guinness World Record, and her works have appeared at NBA finals games and concerts of popular musical artists such as Pentatonix, Ariana Grande, John Mayer, and Carrie Underwood, who was immortalized with this masterpiece in 2019:

In her Instagram post Underwood said,

“This is me…carved into a 40 lb block of Wisconsin cheese in honor of our show here in Milwaukee!  I’m speechless!!!”

I understand that “speechless” feeling, Carrie.

I felt the same way when I saw recently saw this, also by Kaufmann:

When I regained my power of speech, I said,

“I love cheese. Do I want a cheddar cheese carving of myself for Christmas?”

Research required, leading here:

“Whisps, America’s best-selling cheese crisps company, is sharing the must-have gift for cheeseaholics:  a personalized cheese carving.  Yes, you can let award-winning cheese carver, Sarah Kaufmann, whip up a custom cheese sculpture for the ultimate cheesy gift.”

Kaufmann is charging $200 (plus shipping) for her creations, and…

“All you have to do is upload a hi-res image of your fave pet, place, item or person and allow two weeks for Sarah to do her magic.  When finished, it will measure approximately 6.75” x 3” x 2.5” and will last up to two weeks when refrigerated.”

My decision:

I don’t want it, I won’t display it, I won’t eat it, and it will sit in my fridge and end up looking like this:

Here’s some more stuff that’s definitely on my Don’t-Buy-This list:

Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you.

These $75 candles are in the shape of female legs:

The goal is to light the female legs on fire, and then…what?

Arrange them in a variety of provocative positions, and watch them burn?

Perhaps as an evening’s entertainment?

The name of this item is “Baby Won’t You Light My Legs? Candle.”

When I happened across this item, I thought, “What misogynistic, creepy guy came up with this idea?”

It turns out that it wasn’t a guy, but is rather a young female entrepreneur, according to this 2018 New York Times article:

Her name is Claire Olshan (pictured) and she’s a boutique owner in New York who also founded Dada Daily, “a line of vegan snacks made from her favorite superfoods.” 

Apparently not content with just vegan snacks, Olshan added candles to her Dada Daily offerings, including the female leg candles, along with this description:

And apparently also not content with burning just female legs, Olshan includes another female body part – the “Baby Won’t You Light My Fingers? Candle” ($65) in her product line as well:

With this description:

Isn’t that hilarious?  “A real ladylike F-you”!

And still not content, Olshan has yet a third female body part, this one not to burn, but to bite:

These six “Vegan Milk Chocolate Elderberry Boob Truffles” are a mere $40, and come with a description that includes,

“TAKE A BITE, CONSUME THE BOOB, & TREASURE THE TATAS!”

Female body parts:

Burn ‘em and bite ‘em.

But don’t get discouraged by my Don’t Buys!

In my next post, I’ll share exactly what I want under the tree this Christmas.

Coming Friday:  Part 2: Buy This!

Why Are These Frenchwomen Smiling?

Before anything else, I’ll state that I support a woman’s right to choose to get an abortion.

If you don’t agree, then don’t read this.

Now…

At about the same time Texas was doing this…

Mexico was doing this:

According to the Times article,

“The decision does not automatically make abortion legal across Mexico, experts said, but it does set a binding precedent for judges across the country.  Abortion rights advocates said they planned to use the ruling to challenge laws in the vast majority of Mexican states that mandate jail time or other criminal penalties for women who have the procedure.

“For now, analysts said, women arrested for having an abortion can sue state authorities to have the charges dropped.  Activists also plan to push state authorities to free women now serving prison terms for having had abortions.”

This is astonishingly progressive for Mexico, the country with the second-highest Catholic population in the world.

And speaking of Catholic, of course the Catholic church had to make their usual noise about this decision.  The article says,

“Leaders of the Catholic Church, whose regional influence has been waning but still carries considerable weight, swiftly condemned the ruling.

“‘Those of us who are convinced of the value of life do not have a need for a homicidal law like the one they are approving,’ read a tweet from the Episcopal Conference of Mexico, an organization of Catholic bishops.”

The juxtaposition of what’s going on in Mexico and what’s going on next door in Texas is remarkable.

The particulars of the Texas abortion law are horrifying.

And so is this:

Though I feel some hope – the Biden Administration and Department of Justice are challenging the Texas law:

So, while we’re awaiting the outcome, let’s turn our eyes to what I now think is the most enlightened country in the world, in terms of women’s reproductive health:

France.

Why do I think that?

Because as I was reading about the horror story in Texas, I happened across this information:

In France, not only is abortion legal – since 2013, it’s FREE:

And not only that, France has been offering free contraception to underage girls between the ages of 15 and 18 since 2013, and the country just expanded that coverage for women up to age 25:

Which is why I say…

So, in France, women’s rights are respected and protected.

No wonder these Frenchwomen are smiling!

And in Mexico, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Judge Zaldívar…

“…made clear that he saw Tuesday’s ruling as the first step toward a more fundamental transformation in Mexican society.

“‘Now begins a new path of freedom, of clarity, of dignity and respect for all pregnant people, but above all, for women,’ he said.  ‘Today is one more step in the historic fight for their equality, for their dignity and for the full exercise of their rights.’”

Then…there’s Texas.

But at least future female victims of rape can take comfort.

Good ole Governor Greg Abbot reassured them – after signing the law that denies them an abortion after six weeks – that females no longer need fear being rape victims:

Which begs the question,

Greg, why wasn’t Texas already working “tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas”?

Welcome To California – Where You Can Ride The Train And Swim At The Same Time:

In California we sometimes exhibit something of a “Go Big or Go Home” approach.

For example, earlier this month we did the “Go Big” thing with a recall election.

This was no small-time school board member recall.

This recall was aimed at Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, and financed in large part by rich, disgruntled Trumpian Republicans who wanted to get rid of him.

The 46 candidates running against Newsom all got to Go Home.

Newsom supporters defeated the recall by a two-thirds majority – a serious Go Big – and the word “landslide” was used a lot:

This farce cost California taxpayers almost $300 million – definitely a Go Big.

Here’s another way we Go Big:

We’re big on promoting our beaches as THE place to sunbathe, surf and swim, an all-around great reason to visit California:

From Pelican State Beach near our northern border:

To Imperial Beach near our southern border:

And the hundreds of beaches in between.

But what no one’s thought of promoting – until I, myself, recently had the inspiration – is that California is the ONLY place where you can ride a train…

And swim at the same time:

Talk about Go Big!

No need to get sand in your shorts like you do when you actually get into the Pacific Ocean to swim – now you can sit back and relax on the train because the Ocean comes to you.

Your ride-and-swim destination is the San Clemente area, south of Los Angeles:

You’ll notice the proximity of the train to the beach:

Recently, that proximity was much closer:

However…there is a catch.

It seems that sometime during the second week of September, there was an unexpected “ground movement” beneath the railroad tracks in San Clemente, according to this and other articles:

“Unexpected” because we all know the ground never moves in California.

The result was a “shutdown of passenger service on San Diego’s only railway link to Los Angeles and the rest of the United States.”

There are 43 passenger trains a day that go through that area, leaving many people wondering where their next ride was coming from:

A spokesperson for one of the train companies said the mitigation work on the train tracks would “be ongoing for the next two weeks, or maybe a little bit less or a little bit more.”

Good to know they’ve got this down to an exact science.

So you may have to wait just a bit to Go Big, and ride the train and swim at the same time.

But don’t wait too long.

Because when a future California earthquake decides to Go Big – you may have an extra-long way to Go Home:

You’ve Probably Heard This Quote – But Do You Know Its Origins And Meaning?

This quote – and versions of it, sometimes rather mangled – has been around for nearly 40 years.

It’s appeared in at least a half-dozen book titles, including these:

On a t-shirt and matching pillow:

On a button and a sticker:

A record album:

And was embraced and used by some politicians, including these:

An interesting note is that even though the quote says “Ginger Rogers,” I find no record of her ever saying this, or anything like it.

First:  Who was Ginger Rogers?

Ginger Rogers (1911-1995) was an American actress, dancer, and singer during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

She appeared in comedies and dramas, and won an Academy Award in 1940, but she’s best known for the nine films she made with dancing/singing partner Fred Astaire in the 1930s, during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Astaire, called a “peerless dancer,” and Rogers,

“…revolutionized the Hollywood musical by introducing dance routines of unprecedented elegance and virtuosity with sweeping long shots set to songs specially composed for them by the greatest popular song composers of the day…The resulting song and dance partnership enjoyed a unique credibility in the eyes of audiences.”

I’ve never watched any of those nine musicals all the way through, but I’ve seen many of the dancing scenes on YouTube and elsewhere, like when I’m channel surfing and hit TCM, the Turner Classic Movies channel.

Ginger and Fred’s dancing is amazing to watch.  I can’t even begin to imagine the endless practice required, the discipline and coordination and strength needed, the sheer ability to move your body in so many different ways while smiling at your partner and making it all look easy.

If dancing was an Olympic event, Ginger and Fred would have brought home the Gold.

I thought about this recently when I landed on TCM and they were airing Ginger and Fred’s 1937 musical, Shall We Dance?

The answer to the title question was a resounding “Yes!” and Ginger and Fred danced, danced and danced some more.

And what you can’t help but notice is that Ginger matches Fred step for step, move for move, leap for leap, but she’s often dancing backwards…

And in high heels:

Same movie, another scene – again in a long dress…

And in another scene, on roller skates:

Hence, that iconic quote:

Ginger did indeed match Fred step for step, but she did it backwards and in high heels.

So, second – where did that quote come from?

From here:

This is from the comic strip Frank and Ernest by Robert Thaves (1924-2006).  The comic strip was nationally syndicated in 1972, and this image appeared in 1982.

I can find plenty of online references to Thaves and the quote, but nothing to explain what prompted Thaves to say it – through his cartoon characters – or what he was thinking when he created it.

Or if he experienced any backlash when he did.

As to what prompted Thaves and what he was thinking, I’ll hypothesize that he was a pretty enlightened guy back in 1982, and at least somewhat aware that women were capable of – as one writer put it in 2019 – “achieving everything men do on top of the ‘traditionally female’ work – raising children, cleaning cooking – that society has thrust upon them.”

So now we know the exact quote, the source, and what it means.

One last note – back in 1937, while Ginger was doing everything Fred did in Shall We Dance?

This is from a 2017 article on KQED.org, a Northern California public broadcasting station:

“It’s true that in 1937, Fred Astaire made $211,666 to Ginger Rogers’ $124,770…”

In 2021, women are still dancing backwards and in high heels, and still…

For less money:

How Many Companies Does It Take To Screw Up A Lightbulb?  Just One.  This One:

According to the California Energy Commission, there are six Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs) in California.  The Big Three are, from north to south:

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E):  5.2 million households in the northern two-thirds of California, from Bakersfield and northern Santa Barbara County, almost to the Oregon and Nevada state lines.

Southern California Edison (SCE):  5 million residential and business accounts…in a 50,000-square-mile service area within Central, Coastal and Southern California.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&):  3.6 million people in San Diego and southern Orange counties.

And according to this recent article, the Big Three charge us big time for electricity:

“PG&E customers pay about 80% more per kilowatt-hour than the national average, according to a study by the energy institute at UC Berkeley’s Haas Business School with the nonprofit think tank Next 10…Southern California Edison charged 45% more than the national average, while San Diego Gas & Electric charged double.”

Each of these three Investor-Owned Utilities also prompts headlines that range from tragic to outrageous: 

Since I live in San Diego County, my focus is on SDG&E.

And it has been for quite awhile.  I started lambasting SDG&E on this blog back in early 2018, and the company has given me plenty of fodder since then.

I’m sure this post won’t be my last.

But this time…this time…something is different.

Instead of SDG&E putting the screws to us customers, SDG&E is giving back some of our hard-earned money:

You’ll notice the mention of “bulb.”

They’re referring to lightbulbs.

Now, I know how to screw in a lightbulb, but how do you screw UP a lightbulb?

Here’s how SDG&E did it, starting back in 2017.

According to a recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune,

“…SDG&E initiated an Upstream Lighting Program to encourage residential customers to buy energy-saving lightbulbs.  Under the project, SDG&E could earn a performance-based incentive.

“…the program aimed to reach customers who would not typically buy energy-efficient bulbs because of their expense, and prioritized stocking bulbs in small, independent grocery stores, drug stores and in lower-income markets.”

For my own education – research time.

I learned that there are three main types of energy-efficient bulbs:  halogen, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).  

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes – here are some examples, along with an old incandescent lightbulb (far left), similar to what we’ve been using since Thomas Edison started selling them in 1880:

In general, halogens, CFLs and LEDs are cheaper to use and more energy-efficient than incandescent lightbulbs.

But they’re also more expensive.

So SDG&E came up with the idea of buying lots – millions – of energy-efficient lightbulbs at a discount, shipping them to smaller stores and to stores in low-income markets.  Many people would buy the lightbulbs, and voila!

Energy is saved, and SDG&E is a hero.

SEC – Southern California Edison – also started a similar program, also in 2017, so you’ll be hearing more about them, as well.

So perhaps my blog headline was incorrect:

It took two companies to screw up the lightbulbs.

This discovery came about thanks to two organizations. 

You know – those pesky consumer watchdog groups that look after the interests of the consumer:

The Public Advocates Office, an independent organization within the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC):

And TURN, The Utility Reform Network:

On September 9 CPUC approved an agreement that SDG&E reached nearly a year ago with these two consumer advocate organizations.

CPUC hasn’t yet issued a decision regarding Southern California Edison’s program.

Here are some highlights from the investigative report commissioned by CPUC:

  • SDG&E and SCE lost track of millions of light bulbs, shipping potentially hundreds of thousands to stores that did not sell light bulbs in the first place.
  • SDG&E and SCE shipped the discounted bulbs to more than 170 different stores, with a few stores receiving more than 150,000.
  • The total number of bulbs shipped exceeded the total number of bulbs sold in California by three times in 2017.
  • The bulbs shipped in SCE’s and SDG&E’s case were a mixture of CFLs and LEDs, with about a $1 discount per bulb for CFLs and a $3 to $4 discount for LEDs.  About 80 percent of SCE’s program bulbs and 95 percent of SDG&E’s program bulbs might not have been sold to customers and were likely overstocked or missing entirely.  These discrepancies made up about 60 percent of SCE’s and 80 percent of SDG&E’s total Upstream Lighting Program bulbs, according to the report.
  • Investigators called 83 retail stores that received lightbulbs from SDG&E and SCE, but 20 of the stores said they had not sold lightbulbs at all for the past three years.  Meanwhile, SCE and SDG&E programs claimed savings for bulbs shipped to these stores.

And, specific to SDG&E:

  • At least one manufacturer falsified invoices to SDG&E and the utility paid for bulbs that were never delivered or simply dumped at some locales.
  • Members of the SDG&E team did not follow correct procedures nor conduct inspections to make sure manufacturers and retailers were not overstocking bulbs.
  • The SDG&E Customer Programs team was aware of the violations by manufacturers but did nothing to correct them.
  • Some SDG&E employees raised concerns, but four people at the manager/director levels still filed reports with the CPUC without noting those concerns.

How many missing lightbulbs are we talking about?

Around 15 million.

Let’s pause and put that number in perspective.

Let’s say a lightbulb is six inches long.

Laid end-to-end, 15 million lightbulbs would stretch for 1,420 miles – the distance from San Diego to Stillwater, OK:

That’s a whole lot of missing lightbulbs.

And how about the cost to us SDG&E customers?

About $55 million.

That’s a whole lot of money.

There are a whole lot of people who could have put that money to much better use.

CPUC determined that the refund SDG&E owned to customers is $51.6 million.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune article:

“The package comprises $45.44 million for the money the utility spent on the lightbulb program from 2017 to 2019 and $6.12 million the company will return from incentives it earned from the program.”

This $51.6 million will be paid by shareholders to us customers, and not us customers footing the bill.

But wait – there’s more:  A very fine fine:

“The $5.5 million fine is assessed for filing a false statement to the CPUC.  The fine will be paid by shareholders of Sempra, the parent company of SDG&E.  The money from the fine will go to California’s general fund.”

Don’t for a minute think that SDG&E was willing to do this.  Though a company spokesperson said this after the settlement was announced:

“SDG&E took ownership of what went wrong and worked diligently with consumer advocates to develop the appropriate remedies and reach a fair settlement.”

Back in March 2020 SDG&E was saying something very different, according to this article:

“SDG&E disagreed with TURN’s recommendation to refund ratepayers for the missing bulbs and asked the CPUC for more time to evaluate the investigator’s report.”

The article noted that “SCE also disagreed with TURN’s recommendation that ratepayers be refunded.”

SDG&E discontinued the Upstream Lighting Program in January 2020.

But – how much longer would this have gone on, if not for the Public Advocates Office and TURN?

How many more lightbulbs lost?

How much more would we SDG&E customers have been forced to pay?

So I take a great deal of satisfaction in that this time – on this oh-so-rare occasion – we SDG&E customers aren’t getting screwed.

But I take no satisfaction in this:

“SDG&E will provide whistleblower training at shareholder expense for all employees and conduct classes on ‘timely reporting.’”

Or this:

“‘…several employees had already left the company’ and others had been let go.  Those still at SDG&E ‘received significant and appropriate discipline’ based on their roles.”

And what will my refund be from SDG&E?

Whatever it is, I’ll take it and do a few rounds of the…

And then a few months down the road, SDG&E will ask CPUC for a rate increase, and CPUC will agree, and whatever money I got back will go right back to SDG&E.

That’s the way it works.

That’s how we in San Diego County and California pay – and pay – to keep the lights on.

Finally – you know and I know that the people in decision-making positions at SDG&E knew what was going on. 

They knew, and did nothing.

They were found out, but they probably were not the ones who “left the company” or “had been let go.”

We know that SDG&E begrudges every penny that’s coming back to us customers.

We also know that SDG&E isn’t the least bit sorry for what they did.

They’re just sorry as hell that…

A Video Game Showed Me How Prejudice Can Be Inadvertent – But Still Invidious

Angry Birds is a video game that’s been around since 2009, which I know makes it practically SO 20th century.

The premise of the game, as described by a disinterested third party (Wikipedia), does not sound promising:

“A game where a bird is flung at pigs using a slingshot.”

I’m not going to suggest that “Oh, no, Angry Birds is much more nuanced than that!”

The birds are angry because the “Bad Piggies” stole their eggs, and the game’s creators decided retaliation would take the format of different kinds of birds being flung – via a slingshot – at the Bad Piggies.  The goal is to blow up all the Bad Piggies and as much of their surroundings as possible for the highest number of points.

No nuances here.

But – I enjoy it, and I’ve been playing it for years.

The version I play has a theme that changes weekly.  The theme may be topical – like Halloween or Christmas – or something the game creators devise.  For instance, last week’s theme was The Good, Bad & The Piggies, a takeoff on the 1966 movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:

Of course, the birds are the “good,” and the piggies the “bad” and the “ugly.”

I jumped right in and opened Round 1, ready for my Angry Birds fix.

Then I noticed something that gave me pause.

This:

Here’s a closeup of what caught my eye:

See that big piggie at the top?  The one with the black hat?

Clearly, he’s the baddest and ugliest of the Bad Piggies. 

Let’s go back and look at all the Round 1 piggies again:

You’ll notice that none of the other piggies is wearing a black hat. Brown hats and white hats, but no black hats.

They’re also not sporting a black mustache, and a bandolier full of bullets.

The other piggies have round eyes, while the big pig has menacing, tip-tilted eyes:

It struck me that that one image with the menacing eyes, black hat, black mustache and bandolier was – perhaps – stereotyping.

And that the pig looks like a stereotypical Mexican bandit.

In other words, a stereotype:

“A stereotype is a mistaken idea or belief many people have about a thing or group that is based upon how they look on the outside, which may be untrue or only partly true.  Stereotyping people is a type of prejudice because what is on the outside is a small part of who a person is.”

Was I overreacting?  Seeing something that wasn’t there?

I went online and googled “Mexican bandits,” and here’s just some of what I found:

An ad for an “authentic Mexican sombrero,” complete with menacing eyes, black hat, black mustache and bandoliers:

A film actor, complete with menacing eyes, black hat, black mustache and bandoliers:

A Homer Simpson greeting card.  His eyes aren’t particularly menacing, but once again – black mustache and bandolier:

An image from a website called “Deviant Art” – menacing eyes, black mustache and bandolier:

And remember that rock band The Monkees?  Apparently they were in a movie playing Mexican bandits, with black mustaches and bandoliers all around:

It seems to me that our Bad Piggie with the black hat, etc. is at least something of a stereotype.

I suspect it was inadvertent, a word I used in this post’s title.  I don’t think the game creators intended to use, or perpetuate, a stereotype. 

But what this suggests to me is that this Mexican-bandit-bad-guy stereotype is so pervasive, it was in the minds of the game creators.

The game creators who work at Rovio, a company based in Finland.

Prejudice against Mexicans is rampant here in the U.S., but in Finland – I suspect not so much.

Hence my use of the word “invidious,” also in this post’s title:

Let’s go back to The Good, Bad & The Piggies, this time to Round 2:

There’s the black-hat Piggie, front and center, as he was for every round in every game and the whole week.

That’s 18 games, possibly perpetuating a stereotype.

Now, some might suggest that I am the one doing the stereotyping.

That I’m the one who’s prejudiced.

That I’m projecting my prejudice onto a video game.

And that Mustache Bad Piggie is just…another Bad Piggie.

To that I’ll say…

Times are Tough – And…

No matter how badly our economy is doing – and according to numerous stories like this one…

…it’s doing badly.

But here’s one thing you can count on:

You can count on Sharper Image to make available exactly the necessary item or items you need to see you through these dark days.

I’m not talking about want.

I’m talking need.

And you need

The Sharper Image NFL Hover Helmet:

Your weary eyes are not deceiving you – this item…

“…has an electromagnetic base that makes it levitate in midair 24/7, plus built-in LEDs for gentle illumination.”

The helmet is an “officially licensed, half-scale replica” that’s “designed to stay on 24/7.”

And talk about versatile, wow!  The NFL Hover Helmet…

“Floats motionless in midair, or tap it to give it a slow spin.”

And in case you have any doubts about how necessary this item is to have a meaningful life, Sharper Image assures us that the NFL Hover Helmet is “a must-have for your office desk.”

But wait!

Before you plunk down $119.99 for this item – or more, since “it makes a great gift for any pro football fan” – consider pairing it with this:

The Sharper Image NFL Hover Football.

Yes!

Like the NFL Hover Helmet, the NFL Hover Football is officially licensed, half-scale, designed to stay on 24/7, and – as you were hoping – it, too, “floats motionless in midair, or tap it to give it a slow spin.”

But…brace yourself…the Hover Football also

“…features built-in LEDs (now with an on/off switch), a USB port to charge devices and a Bluetooth speaker.  Simply pair your smartphone and jam out to tunes while repping your favorite team!”

And at just $149.99, it, too, “makes a great gift for any pro football fan!”

But wait!

Or rather, don’t wait, because the NFL season has already started, and you don’t want your desk to look like this…

When you can proudly display this:

See?

Necessary items.

The Sharper Image Fall Preview 2021 catalog is packed with similar necessary items, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the next ones.

Especially since the holidays will be here before we know it, and we know holiday shopping can be stressful.  Sometimes, in desperation, we resort to generic items, like gift cards and Maseratis and coffee mugs.

So here’s a Sharper Image item that they call the “Ultimate Personalized Gift,” and I call the…

The Sharper Image Custom Bobble Head:

And Double Custom Bobble Head!

Was I right about that “ultimate wow,” or what?

Doesn’t the Superman Bobble Head look exactly like the guy in the photo?

Isn’t that Double Bobble Head couple just double adorable?

All you do is place your order and…

“…you’ll receive a voucher in the mail that you can use yourself or give as a gift.  Then, upload digital photos and choose a body style from over 1000 options, including sports, occupations, children, comedy and more!  Our expert sculptors will recreate your image true to likeness.  Only approve your Bobble Head when you are 100% satisfied.”

Easy peasy, and satisfaction guaranteed.

The catalog suggests that the Custom Bobble Head and Double Custom Bobble Head are perfect for Bobble Head collectors, and we all know plenty of those.

But to help us even more with our holiday shopping list, Sharper Image takes it a step further and suggests “For Children, For Her, For Him, Graduation, Holiday, Occupations, Sports, Wedding Cake Toppers and more.”

“Wedding Cake Toppers”?  What an extra-ultimate idea!

You give the bride, your BFF, this perfect wedding gift:

Onto the wedding cake it goes, and at the reception, every guest who pauses to admire the cake will give those Bobble Heads a bobble.

Perhaps more than just one bobble, thanks to the open bar.

What fun!

And if the wedding cake ends up looking like this…

Instagram opportunity!

At just $99.99 for a single Bobble Head and $189.99 for a double Bobble Head, you can give everyone on your holiday shopping list exactly what they need in these troubling times:

Their own personal true-to-likeness Bobble Head.

But – and this is critical – don’t overlook yourself.

In fact, why not order several Custom Bobble Heads for yourself, including one for your desk at work?

Kind of a desk-on-desk à deux…

OK, I know I should stop.

Perhaps stop quite some time ago.

But that Sharper Image catalog is like AM/PM minimarts.  You know…

Here’s my last – and perhaps most necessary – Sharper Image item for these challenging times.

Challenging – like when you can’t get the exact tee time you want for your $600 round of golf at Shadow Creek Golf Course:

Meet the Sharper Image Driver Drink Dispenser:

The item, says Sharper Image, “looks like a golf club and fits in any golf bag.”

For sure, it looks exactly like a golf club:

The description continues,

“It’s totally discreet and easy to use, and eliminates the need to carry cans or bottles onto the course.  Great for ice water, iced tea, coffee or hot chocolate.”

For sure, because we all know golfers get thirsty, especially for “hot chocolate.”

The Driver Drink Dispenser:

  • Holds 48 ounces.
  • Is insulated for hot or cold beverages.
  • Has a wide mouth for ice cubes and easy cleaning.
  • Comes with its own long-handle bottle brush.

And at just $69.99, isn’t this the must-have for your long, hard day of golf?

Now there’s no need to slog all the way back to the 19th Hole – you can carry it with you!

And be “totally discreet” about it.

Unless, of course, after consuming those 48 ounces of “hot chocolate,” you end up like this …

What Do These Two Images Have In Common?

What the two images above have in common is that they each represent a human behavior.

One human behavior is stupid.

And the other human behavior is smart.

First, stupid.

The above image on the left is a milk crate – an ordinary item, nothing remarkable about it.

Until some humans got the idea of piling them into a pyramid:

And challenging themselves and other people to climb on them.

It’s called the “Milk Crate Challenge,” and like so many stupid things, it’s recently gone viral, shared by millions across social media.

Many are calling it the “funniest challenge since the Ice Bucket Challenge.”

Many are calling it a “public health hazard largely fueled by social media.”

And many doctors are asking people to stop climbing on stacks of milk crates, reminding us that:

Welcome to a pandemic Emergency Room – we have a bed for you right here, next to a COVID patient.
  1. You who participate in this are showing up in emergency rooms with injuries including shoulder dislocations, rotator-cuff tears, ACL and meniscus (knee) tears, broken wrists and spinal cord injuries.
  2. You who show up in emergency rooms are putting more stress on hospitals already dealing with the overwhelming surge in coronavirus infections.
  3. You are behaving stupidly.

OK – #3 was me, speaking on behalf of the doctors.

I’m going to spare you the torture of going to YouTube or some other platform and watching the awful Milk Crate Challenge videos.

I did it for you.

I learned it’s a simple, two-step process.

After you’ve stacked your milk crates – and the higher and less stable, the better –

(Costumes are optional.)

Step 1:  Climb the milk crates:

Step 2:  Fall, sustain injuries:

Lest you think this activity is experienced only by badly dressed white guys, I saw all manner of people climbing – and falling off – milk crates:  male, female, black, white, including this female:

Two last thoughts.  First:

Earlier I mentioned those who described the Milk Crate Challenge as the “funniest challenge since the Ice Bucket Challenge.”

There is no comparison here.  The Ice Bucket Challenge, which we heard a lot about starting in 2014, at least had a purpose.  It: 

“…raised awareness and over $200 million for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease…It put ALS on the map and attracted more investigators and investment to the research.”

I’m finding nothing online to indicate that the Milk Crate Challenge has any goal with regards to raising money for a worthy cause.

Or any goal at all.

Second:

I went online to see if anyone was posing – and answering – the question, Why are people doing this? and found a thoughtful response in this article:

The article said, in part:

“According to Julie Ancis, a cyberpsychology expert and professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the answer is complicated.

“The concept of a ‘dare’ or a challenge isn’t new, nor is trying something outrageous for an adrenaline rush or for attention, Ancis said, but the internet has changed our relationship to these kinds of stunts.  Instead of feeling pressure to perform for our friends or family, many crave impressing peers, or really anyone, who’s part of their online community.  It’s all about likes, shares, views.

“All humans have a need for recognition, Ancis told ABC News.  ‘This is an opportunity for millions of people to see you engaging in something that seems so extreme…The attention or competition for attention is very fierce, and it makes these dares more and more extreme to capture attention.’”

So the answer is complicated.

But the people are not.

They’re behaving stupidly.

Especially since this outcome is almost inevitable:

Now let’s go back to the sheep image at the top of this post.

The sheep represents a smart human behavior.

This:

This is an image of sheep in a pasture, in a heart formation.

When I saw this, I thought,

“That’s impossible – isn’t it?”
“Who did this?”
“How did they do it?”

Sheep have the reputation of being not very bright, but according to this and many other articles:

Sheep are actually pretty darn smart.

But – even if they’re four-legged Einsteins, there no way a herd is going to run into a pasture and form itself into a heart shape.

There’s a “who” involved in this, and a smart one, at that.

The “who” is a sheep farmer named Ben Jackson of New South Wales, Australia (pictured). 

In late August, Jackson had recently lost an aunt to cancer.  He planned to attend her funeral in Queensland, about 250 miles away, but the border between the neighboring states was closed to restrict travel because of a coronavirus outbreak.

Jackson couldn’t attend the funeral, but he still wanted to express his love.

Here’s how he did it.

He used grain dropped from the back of a truck onto a large pasture to form a heart. 

When the heart shape was completed, Jackson opened the gate to the pasture to allow in scores of hungry sheep.

The sheep did what comes naturally – they ate, following the trail of grain.

And Jackson followed the sheep with a drone overhead to videotape it:

Jackson added his aunt’s favorite song – Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water – for a soundtrack, and the video was played at his aunt’s funeral.

He also posted the video on social media, where it’s had more than a million views just in his homeland.  “This heart that I’ve done for my auntie, it certainly seems like it’s had a bit of an effect across Australia,” Jackson said modestly.

“I just hope that when I did it, she was having a peep through the clouds and was able to see it.”

Wow.

Smart and sweet.

So, where does all this leave us?

I guess all we can do is hope for less stupid human behavior stories like this:

And this:

And more smart human behavior stories like this:

And this:

I’m Not Saying It Ain’t So, But I Am Just A Bit…

In late August the Associated Press ran this short story which was picked up by media outlets all over the country:

Though the headline talks about a “large chunk of Mars rock,” the story says,

“A Maine museum will play host to a chunk of rock it said is the largest intact Mars rock on Earth.”

So now we’ve gone from “large chunk” to “largest” on Earth.

Here’s the rock they’re referring to:

The story goes on to say,

“The museum said the rock was the result of an asteroid impact on the surface of Mars that ejected material into an Earth-crossing orbit in space.”

I was curious, not because I care about Mars rocks – I don’t. 

I was curious about the provenance of the Mars rock:

You hear a lot about provenance from art dealers, museum curators, on Antiques Roadshow – appraisers and potential buyers want to know who owned the item before you did, and what person before that, and the person before that person…all the way back to whomever acquired the item from its creator.  Or discovered the item. 

It could be a painting, furniture, jewelry, a rock – anything. 

But when it comes to authenticity, provenance is everything.

So when the Associated Press reported what the museum said about the Mars rock’s appearance on Earth – that is what made me curious.

Curious enough to go to the museum’s website – the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum (MMGM) in Bethel, ME.  That’s where I found this August 24 news release:

Which said the rock weighs 32 pounds and measures 9” x 10” x 6.5” inches, and…

“This specimen was acquired for the Museum by meteorite dealer Darryl Pitt in April 2021 from a Mauritanian meteorite and desert truffle hunter.”

So – who’s Darryl Pitt?  Are we readers of this news release supposed to say, “Oh, Darryl, sure!  Great guy!”

According to Meteorite-Times Magazine – and who knew there was such a thing – Pitt is…

“…the curator of the celebrated Macovich Collection, the largest collection of aesthetic iron meteorites in the world.”

But “aesthetic iron meteorites” notwithstanding, it doesn’t explain how Pitt came to acquire the rock from the “Mauritanian meteorite and desert truffle hunter,” whom they say found the Mars rock.

And who is not named, so I’ll refer to her/him as “Unnamed.”

The news release goes on to say that the Mars rock was “recovered from near Taoudenni, Mali – a desert salt-mining center 400 miles north of Timbuktu.”

Here are Mauritania and Mali, in west Africa:

I marked Taoudenni in the northern part of Mali.

Taoudenni (pictured below) is described on Wikipedia as,

“…a remote site in the hottest region on the planet, located over a hundred and sixty kilometers [99 miles] from the nearest inhabited location of any size.” 

So Unnamed from Mauritania is across the border in Taoudenni, an area also described in a Los Angeles Times article as a…

“…sand-scoured outpost of misery…It spans an area so vast it could swallow entire European nations and still have emptiness to spare.”

And Unnamed is desert truffle hunting and/or meteorite hunting in this wasteland? 

And just happened across not just any Mars rock, but the largest Mars rock on Earth?

If Unnamed was hunting for truffles, did they lift this 32-pound thing up to look for truffles underneath it?  And while Unnamed had the rock in hand, they thought, “Well, I’m not scoring any truffles, but this rock looks interesting.  Maybe I’ll contact Darryl about it”?

How did Unnamed connect with Darryl Pitt?  Sure, I googled Pitt (pictured) and found him online, but that’s because I googled his name.  When I googled “meteorite experts” and “Mars rocks experts” I found no Pitt.  That isn’t to say he isn’t an expert – only that he didn’t appear in my searches.

Did Unnamed connect directly with Pitt?  Or did the rock pass through numerous other hands before it reached Pitt?

And it seems rather coincidental that this unnamed desert truffle hunter also just happened to be a meteorite hunter who just happened upon a meteorite from Mars.

I’m thinking about what the appraisers on Antiques Roadshow would make of this provenance:

Again, from the museum’s news release:

“For confirmation of his belief this could be Martian, Pitt sent a small sample to Dr. Carl Agee – the director of the Institute of Meteoritics and one of the world’s most renowned classification experts of Martian meteorites.”

And we Earthlings encounter so many Martian rocks that someone – thank Heavens – has become a “renowned classification expert”?

There was a peer review of Dr. Agee’s analysis and confirmation, and everybody (I guess all the less renowned?) agreed the rock was from Mars, and now it’s on view at the MMGM.

So, expert+ peer review = indubitable?

Read on to see why I’m not convinced…

Want to see the Mars rock?

$15, please. 

Seniors, $12, students $10, children 12 and under, free.

The news release has some meteor-ese language, like “extraordinary chemical and isotopic markers” and “pyroxene, olivine and maskekynite,” and while it was all very impressive, it didn’t convince me that this rock absolutely came from Mars.

There is too much unexplored in space, and too many planets and moons and asteroids moving around and sometimes crossing paths…

How do we know the rock didn’t come from Kepler-452b, discovered in 2015, an Earth-like planet that resides 1,400 light years from Earth, according to space.com?

I think we don’t know.

I think these folks saying it’s so – doesn’t make it so.

That’s why I thought of this when I read the Mars rock story:

Relics.

Objects of religious significance from the past.

People of many religions revere relics and have for centuries.  I respect their right to their beliefs, and I hope they can respect mine.

Because this is another area about which I’m…

This relic, for example, is identified as St. Francis Xavier’s humerus, in St. Joseph’s Church, Macau:

Francis Xavier lived from 1506 to 1552.

The humerus is the arm bone between your shoulder and your elbow. 

What’s the provenance here?

Who did this church acquire it from, and who had it before that?

How could anyone possibly know that what we’re looking at today, did in fact come from the body of Francis Xavier?  The Catholic church doesn’t send items like this humerus to labs for DNA testing and radiocarbon dating.

The Catholic church simply says, “We have the humerus bone of St. Francis Xavier.”

And,

“It is so because we say it’s so.”

And,

“To view this relic, pay at the admissions window.”

The Catholic church has been doing this for centuries.  It’s what could be called a “revenue stream.”

And how about relics of the “True Cross”?

They’ve been in churches and monstaries for centuries. And today, they’re still everywhere:

So many relics of the “True Cross,” said John Calvin (1509-1564), that…

“…if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load.  Yet the Gospel testifies that a single man was able to carry it.”

We’re just supposed to believe, I guess.

For me – I guess not.

The Maine Mineral & Gem Museum was already claiming to be home to the “largest piece of the moon on Earth”:

Though after the Mars rock’s debut, as of September 1 it was off with the old and on with the new.  The “largest piece of moon” reference has vanished, and the Mars rock was now front and center:

So I guess now the public can plunk down their $15 and get a twofer – a two-for-one:

The largest piece of Mars on Earth and the largest piece of the moon on Earth.

The Mars rock unveiling took place on September 1:

Literally…

The crowd went wild:

And this scientist:

Could barely contain her emotions:

“I’m trying not to get giddy.  I think I’m supposed to look professional but I’m just about two seconds away from doing a happy dance and dancing around the rock.”

Maybe we could get ole Bill Haley and His Comets to resurrect their 1950s hit, but with an updated title:

But – heads-up:

If you have a craving to go to Maine and see this:

You’ll have to hurry – according to the museum’s Facebook page, as of September 1:

“This specimen will be on display in the Space Rocks gallery for one week before heading out for its national debut at the Hard Rock Summit in Denver!  It will return on September 24th.”

So, perhaps we should just say…

To hell with provenance.

We humans believe what we choose to believe.  Or what we’re told to believe.

Perhaps the Mars rock in the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum is the real deal.

Or perhaps not.

This rock from outer space was the real deal.

Until it wasn’t:

Never Sneer At A Woman And Say, “So, What Are You Going To Do About It?”

Remember the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral?

We could call this story One Deceased, Two Wives and Two Funerals.

We could call it Show Me the Ashes!

But I want the focus on the “woman” in the post’s title:

Demetra Street.

And when a guy sneered at her and said, “So, what are you do about it?”

She did something about it.

She’s suing him for $8.5 million.

Here’s the story, according to the lawsuit quoted in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, Great Britain’s Daily Mail and other sources:

Back in January in Baltimore, Ivan Street, 67 (pictured), died suddenly from congestive heart failure.  He and his wife of four years, Demetra, 52, were separated and living apart at the time, but they were still married.

According to the Washington Post,

“Demetra went to the funeral home, identified Ivan’s body and provided her marriage certificate to prove she was next of kin.  She entered into a $2,500 contract for Ivan’s cremation and a memorial service with the funeral home.”

Ivan’s framed picture would be placed next to the urn containing his ashes, and Demetra would sing at the service.

But before the cremation and service could take place, someone at Wylie Funeral Home contacted Demetra and advised that another woman had appeared, claiming to be Ivan’s wife.  

The woman had provided the funeral home with a marriage license from October 1997 – though it was lacking an official seal – and the woman insisted that Ivan be buried, not cremated.

Again, according to the Washington Post, Demetra “told them to ignore the woman, who she said had no authority to make changes to the funeral plans.”

The Post declined to name the woman, “since her identity was not independently verified.”

The Daily Mail had no such hesitation about naming the woman:

Renee Cook.

Who appears to be the person who later posted this message on the Ivan Street page on the Wylie Funeral Home website, but under the name “Renee Wright”:

Demetra’s service for Ivan went ahead as planned, then a strange thing happened, says the lawsuit.  A funeral employee allegedly took the urn and hid it away.  When Demetra asked the funeral home to turn over Ivan’s ashes, she says the staff refused.

Two days later, Demetra said she received a puzzling email from a funeral home worker, revealing that Ivan had been laid to rest at Mount Zion Cemetery.

Three days prior to the service Demetra attended.

Then, says the Post,

“When Street protested to one of the owners by phone – identified in the lawsuit as ‘Mr. Wylie’ – he allegedly told her, ‘So, what are you going to do about it?’”

Bad idea.

When Demetra received her husband’s death certificate from the Maryland Department of Health Division of Vital Statistics, it confirmed that Ivan had been buried at Mount Zion Cemetery in Baltimore on January 20, three days before the alleged sham memorial service Demetra paid for. 

Demetra lawyered up.  Her lawyer’s name, somewhat ironically, is Alexander Coffin.

According to the Daily Mail, Coffin and Demetra’s federal lawsuit was filed in mid-August…

“…in the US District Court for the District of Maryland, alleging breach of contract, negligence, malicious fraud, misrepresentation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims.”

“The complaint claims that in the wake of the incident, Demetra has been seeing a psychiatrist and taking prescription Zoloft for her depression, panic attacks, post-traumatic street disorder and social anxiety disorder.”

Did two women – Demetra Street and Renee Cook – pay for two funeral services, one a fake?

The funeral home’s president, Brandon Wylie, told the Baltimore Sun that he denies Demetra’s claims:

“Due to restrictions imposed by our confidentiality requirements and the existence of pending litigation, we are not at liberty to disclose all of the information relevant to this matter.  However, we vehemently deny the claims advanced by Ms. Street and assert that the underlying matter was handled with the utmost sensitivity toward the loved ones of the deceased.”

There are a lot of “alleged” this and “allegedly” thats in the media coverage, but here’s what seems fairly clear-cut to me:

Wylie Funeral Home held two services for one dead man.

Two women paid for two services for one dead man.

Somebody’s…

But until this is sorted out, the Wylie team can stand tall, knowing that they kept the promise on their home page.

Demetra Street definitely has “impactful final memories” of her late husband:

When It Comes To Commercials, It Seems Like…

If you’re a fan of old movie musicals, you may have seen one pictured above.

The music and lyrics were written by the brilliant Cole Porter, including the title song which contains these lyrics:

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.

Those “anything goes” lyrics popped into my head after I recently saw a 15-second commercial for a Gillette grooming product:

I also thought back to a blog post I did about a month ago, where I suggested that perhaps there are some human activities that should not be shared.

That was after I’d seen a 60-second commercial for a probiotic, in which the word “poop” or some variation of it was used about every three seconds.

Now, after the Gillette commercial, I’m thinking that perhaps there are some human features that should not be shared.

The Gillette commercial didn’t talk about poop, but instead about…

Pubic hair:

Specifically, “New Venus Pubic Hair and Skin.”

“To prep, protect and maintain.”

“The new way to care…for down there.”

You know.

Down there.

Those “tricky areas”:

Did a revolution happen when I wasn’t paying attention?

A revolution that proclaimed, “Everything’s on the table!  Every body part, every body function and misfunction, it’s all fair game when it comes to advertising!”

It’s not so much that I’m shocked, it’s more of a…

Isn’t anything private anymore?

I guess not.  I guess…

But – perhaps that 15-second commercial was a one-off?  A Gillette experiment?  A “we-tried-this-and-it-wasn’t-effective-so-we’re-done” thing?

Alas, no.  Gillette didn’t stop with that brief commercial.

I found this Gillette two-minute-and-six-second tutorial online:

Featuring this perky spokesperson:

Who begins by advising us that…

“There is finally a line of products designed to work with and not against your pubic hair and skin.”

I was not aware that there were products designed to work against pubic hair and skin.

But now there is a Gillette pro-pubic line of products, and what a line it is.  Just watching this video exhausted me.  Who do they think is going to use all this stuff?

Or pay for all this stuff?

According to Ms. Perky, we start with Product 1, Skin Smoothing Exfoliant:

We’re advised that this product “Can be used on or in between hair removal days to smooth your skin and help protect against nicks and cuts.”

Note to self:  Mark “hair removal days” on calendar.

Then, says Ms. Perky, comes Product 2:  2-in-1 Cleanser + Shave Gel:

The “clear gel formula,” we’re assured, “lets you see what you’re doing while shaving delicate areas.”

Note to self:  You’re supposed to watch while you’re doing this.

Product 3 is tool time:  the Venus for Pubic Hair & Skin Razor:

This is not your everyday razor – it’s “designed for tricky areas…to help reach tricky areas.”

Note to self:  Got it.  “Tricky areas.”

And finally, Product 4:  Daily Soothing Serum

Use this “after you shave” and “between shaves.”

Note to self:  Not to be confused with Product #1, Skin Smoothing Exfoliant, which “can be used on or in between hair removal days.”

But I am confused about Products #1 and #4!

No worries – Gillette has thoughtfully provided French translations on the labels to assist us:

Product #1:  Lisse le peau Exfoliant
Product #2:  Nettoyant + gel à raser 2 en 1
Product #3:  Pour le peau et les polis pubiens
Product #4:  Sérum apalsant quotidien

Ah, merciJe suis vraiment reconnaissant.

Now there’s no way I’ll mix up Lisse le peau Exfoliant with Sérum apalsant quotidien.

And there’s another reason for that classy French labeling – it now makes sense that these four products are going to set you back…

Our Gillette tutorial includes up-close-and-personal demonstrations:

With this heads-up at the bottom of the screen in small print:

“Recommended to use product in shower on wet skin.  This demonstration modified for filming purposes.”

Note to self:  Not to be used while operating heavy machinery.

The tutorial ends with Ms. Perky marveling,

“Wow…Fancy skin care…for my pubic hair?”

So the tutorial ends – but Gillette wasn’t finished.  They had a commercial and a tutorial – why not a catchy song, as well?

According to this article:

“Gillette wrote a jingle.  Featuring a singing hair.  In the animated video The Pube Song, the hair bemoans its lowly, unspoken status ‘just hoping to be recognized and treated like every other hair on your body, with care and confidence!’”

Here’s the premise:

Here’s the video name:

Here’s the singing hair:

Here’s the singing hair with singing hair friends:

I’m sure Gillette created The Pube Song and video for purely altruistic reasons, and not to sell product.  Why am I sure?  Because when they announced the new product line, Gillette said:

“Women want to reclaim the narrative around the language and description of their bodies.”

“Our new collection not only offers women more options for pubic grooming than we ever have before – but starts a new conversation about using language that accurately and respectfully represents the female body.”

Thank you, Gillette, for recognizing that women have been on fire for a “new conversation” that includes…

Singing pubic hair.

What’s it all mean?

In the past 30 days I – and you – have been bombarded with commercials that liberally use the words “poop” and “pubic hair,” and variations thereof.

Women sitting on toilets, women shaving those “tricky areas.”

My takeaway?  I guess…

But – I am wondering if men are feeling left out of all this…fun? 

Are men maybe wanting to have that “new conversation”?

If so, I can suggest a male body feature that Gillette and other advertisers might want to address.

How about…

And in the meantime…

Which body feature or function will we be subjected to next?