Mattel Not Doing So Well

And you know why, in a word, Barbie, at least that’s what some industry experts argue.  I don’t know if kids still play with dolls, but they apparently don’t play with Barbie and Ken anymore, despite the newest incarnations –  Haunted Beauty Mistress of the Manor and suave Gianfranco Ken.  Unfortunately, Shamrock Celebration Barbie, Barbie of the White Woods and Malibu Barbie didn’t fare so well and the price reduced Chilean Barbie never caught on.

So what is Mattel to do?  Firing the CEO is a start – someone else besides Ken and Barbie should take the fall.  I mean the two have had terrible agents these past few years and sadly, Ken and Barbie are no longer relevant.  And I don’t know if kids still play with Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, but they should if they don’t and not the video game version but I’m sure there’s an app for that. Mattel should bring back all the classic cars just as released in 1970 and create a new market for all the aging, nostalgic baby boomers out there like me.

But here’s the thing that could bring prosperity back to the company.  The Creepy Crawlers machine.  Remember that? You poured some flavored goop into a mold, closed up the heated contraption, which was sort of like a waffle iron or a George Foreman Grill, to produce a edible insect.  They tasted pretty awful, about how you would expect an insect to taste, but the concept was far out and just a little bit dangerous which made it all the more desirable.  Mattel should bring back the Creepy Crawlers machine with updated goop flavors to suit the modern palate, say, pomegranate crisp, chipotle infused root beer, rainforest spearmint, mango mist and almond crunch.  I’d buy one and I bet you would too.  You’re welcome Mattel and good luck!

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Deflategate Overblown

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Are the New England Patriots guilty of deflating footballs to make them easier for Tom Brady to grip and throw and for the receivers to catch and to prevent fumbles? And if so, should they be penalized, even disqualified from the Super Bowl? In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Patriots fan, but since I did not grow up in New England I think I can be partial.

Before I address some of the facts, I want to go on record as saying that it is absolutely absurd that each team is required to supply 12 game fooballs.  In my view, the game should be played with footballs supplied by the NFL and that both teams play with the same football.  I mean really, how many footballs are needed to play a game?  The referees would be the keeper of the balls and one of them would have the responsibility of checking the footballs for psi say at the commercial breaks or at the change of quarters.

Now to the known facts.  The Patriot footballs were determined to be underinflated at half time, based on a complaint by a Colts defender who made an interception and noticed the ball didn’t feel right.  The footballs were then inflated to the proper psi for the second half.  Just how much of an advantage did the Patriots have?  Put it this way, the Pats scored 28 points in the second half, and held the Colts scoreless.  So even if you erased the 17 points the Pats scored in the first half, they still would have won the game 28-7.  Second, there is no direct evidence that a Patriots employee authorized or instructed someone to deflate the footballs, nor are there any eye witness accounts or video evidence catching a deflater in the act.  In fact, professors at Boston College and MIT say that footballs will deflate naturally if inflated at room temperature and then exposed to an extreme temperature drop, which was the case in Foxboro.  If the footballs were originally inflated to the minimum psi, they might have dropped to below that by halftime. But why weren’t the Colts footballs underinflated?  Well, the logical explanation was that they were inflated to the maximum psi and naturally deflated the same amount but were at the low end of the acceptable range by halftime or whenever their footballs were inspected, if in fact they ever were.  Third, with all the former quarterbacks talking about their preferences for football pressure and such, I can only conclude that football pressure customization is and always has been much more common than any of us are aware. I’m not saying Brady knew, but I am saying that if such practices are common, then no team really has an advantage.  And teams that don’t seek an advantage, won’t win.  But even if the Patriots were found guilty, the maximum punishment they should receive is a three game ban from spiking the football after they score a touchdown.  That’d be hard on Gronk, but a just penalty I think.

Deflate gate is overblown and is tailor made for social media.  Even some of the Colts players seem embarrassed by it all. The reality is that  Tom Brady haters secretly wish he were their teams’ quarterback and if being honest would admit that Bill Belichick is the best coach of all time.  11.5 psi can’t bring a dynasty down.

McConnell and Boehner Firmly Against Working Families

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In an interview with Scott Pelley of 60 minutes, Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell responded to some key proposals in President Obama’s recent State of the Union address in predictable Republican fashion  – opposition to new taxes and increased government spending. Boehner said that “we’re all for helping working families” but that raising the federal minimum wage was a bad idea. “Low income jobs help people get skills and…climb the economic ladder.” He boasted that he had “every kind of rotten job…growing up” and that he “would not have had a chance at half those jobs if the federal government had kept imposing higher minimum wage.” There must not be any working families earning minimum wage in Boehner’s district. It is very likely that he represents a congressional district in which folks of privilege went to college and started higher up on the economic ladder thanks to connections.  That’s not to say that some didn’t work minimum wage jobs for spending money, but nobody can work their way through school at $7.25 an hour, with tuition and fees as high as they are, which is why I find it puzzling that McConnell would be against free community college because as he said in the interview, “the lat thing we need to do to these young people is add more debt and giving away free tuition strikes me as something we can’t afford.” What? How can something free add debt…oh, I guess he’s talking about the budget and not young people.  So much for helping working families.

These two jokers “believe” that low wage non-union jobs at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart are the path into the middle class, not higher education. In 10 years, a person in one of those “rotten” jobs without a college degree that s/he “can’t afford” might make it to assistant manager, but would likely need a college credential to ever make it to manager.  But the point really is that they don’t give a flipping burger about the working class. Boehner and McConnell care more about their wealthy constituents and donors who represent the corporate class that run the country.  Serving the 1% is how the two have managed to keep their jobs for so long.  Our limited democracy has been sold to the highest bidder thanks to Citizens United.  In a real democracy, a Congress with a 15% approval rating would not get a second chance at governing.

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Privatizing Social Security

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Now that the Republicans are in charge, I fear that they may try to privatize Social Security.  And there are plenty of folks, not me, who think this is a good idea.  They’ll say it’s the only way to save Social Security, a system that may not be viable by the time our kids retire.  Social Security is one of many safety nets under attack by the move to privatize everything from education to health care.  The theory is that people should just be responsible for their own thing – to save, to educate, to medicate – all that stuff.  Gone is the idea of a social contract where the government serves the duel role to provide and protect as articulated in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Some on the right will argue that Congress should raise the retirement age to 90.  Now it’s true that when Social Security was enacted in 1935, the  average life expectancy of an American was 62 – 59.9 for men, 63.9 for women.  With retirement age set to 65, a typical American would never see a social security check.  And with some many employment category exclusions, – domestic workers, teachers, public employees, non-profit and agricultural workers, many women and non-white Americans were not even covered.  While patently unfair, the system was designed to be solvent.  Over the years, more workers were included.  With people living longer – in 2014, life expectancy for U.S. males is 76; females, 81, there is no question some change need to be made to stabilize Social Security, which could include raising payroll taxes, granting undocumented workers Social Security cards and disqualifying the uber wealthy from receiving benefits they do not need. The retirement age to receive full benefits was already raised to 67, and one can receive partial benefits as early as age 62.  But even so, with all the baby boomers like me set to retire sometime in the next 15 years, and with more people having access to health care and living longer, Social Security is expected to become insolvent by 2037.

Privatizing Social Security means that you, American reader, would be in charge of managing and growing the payroll taxes you pay into the system.  You will no longer have a guaranteed “pension” for life.  If you screw up, or entrust it to a broker who makes off with your money or saddles you with so many fees and loads that your nest egg stagnates or dwindles –  tough luck, there’s no bailout.

Honestly, could you invest in mutual funds, stocks and bonds on your own with confidence that you would have enough to retire on?  Good luck.  Even the experts who manage mutual funds have spotty performance records and very often take enormous risks based on their best guesses of what the market might do.  Any crash or correction, which can happen anytime, could wipe you out. And you end up paying management fees to fund companies for the privilege of watching it all happen.

But don’t be fooled. Under the privatizing scheme, you won’t have complete control of  your money. You won’t get a lump sum to do with what you please.  You can’t go to Vegas with it or to the race tracks.  You won’t be able to sink it all into the next promising startup.  You won’t be able to put it under your mattress either which might be the safest place for it.  Privatize means you hand your nest egg over to corporate America, who, after taking their cut, will strike out for you.

Enjoy cheap gas while it lasts

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because it won’t be around for long.  Yes, gasoline prices are nearing historical lows.  Interestingly, going back to 1972, 1998 was the year that gas prices hit rock bottom.  You’d have paid approximately $1.06 for regular unleaded, in today’s dollars, that would be about $1.50 per gallon.  I know you may be thinking of a time in the 70’s when you paid less than a dollar at the pump, but if you adjust for inflation, it’d be more like $2.60 per gallon today.  And I would guess your paycheck wasn’t as much in the 70’s as it is now, unless you’ve retired or live off the grid, or both.

When I got my first job in 1979 (not counting my paper route) I made $3.10 an hour.  I’d have been driving the family Chevrolet Impala then with a 21 gallon fuel tank. Gas at the pump at the local DX in Arkansas where I grew up would have been about .675 a gallon, and have cost me a little over $14.00 to fill up the gas loving Impala. $14.00 was about a half day’s work in 1978.  In 2015, the minimum wage or minimal wage if you like, in Arkansas is $7.50, and $9.00 in Massachusetts where I now live, so it would have taken me less than two hours to earn a tank full today.  Of course as a cash starved teenager, I no doubt skimped on the petrol and probably only put in a quarter of a tank.  Adjusted for inflation, that .675 would have cost about $2.44 at the pump today, quite a bit more than the $2.11 per gallon I paid yesterday to fill up my Honda Fit which has a considerably smaller fuel tank than the Impala, and is considerably more fuel efficient.

According to statistics from the website InflationData.com, historical gas prices adjusted for inflation from 1913-2013, have averaged $2.60/gallon.  They argue that when prices are above $2.60, gas is expensive, when below $2.60, cheap. Gas was cheap back in 1979 and is cheap today (as long as you make substantially more than the minimum wage) after about 6 consecutive years of brutally expensive gasoline prices. Thankfully, the forecast is for continued cheap gasoline through 2015, but beyond, don’t bank on it.  This is good news for airlines, bus companies and consumers and perhaps not so great news for big oil, aircraft manufactures (who have been promoting more expensive fuel efficient aircraft) and companies that have invested in clean energy technologies.

The current cheapness factor notwithstanding, now is not the time to buy a gas guzzling SUV or the largest, longest or most powerful car or pickup on the lot. Remember the cars of the 60’s and 70’s that took up like 2 city blocks to park? The 1967 Chrysler New Yorker got 9 mpg and weighed 4,442 pounds. The 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood, a monster of a car and one of the longest passenger cars ever built was 250 inches long, easily took up 3 regular parking spaces and weighed in excess of 5,000. By contrast, my Honda Fit is 161 inches long, gets 36 mpg and weighs a mere 2,496 pounds.

One way to keep oil prices low is to use less, so that demand remains lower than supply.  If you must drive a car, buy a fuel efficient one. Do you really need a Nissan Armada SUV that gets 12 mpg? The thing really is like an armed ship with wheels. Another way to reduce your dependence on fossil fuels is to build a tiny house in the woods, with a windmill and a still (optional) and get yourself off the grid completely because sooner or later, fuel’ll be expensive again. At least in the woods, you can hunt and gather your own food, raise some chickens, and barter with other people, if you happen to run across any.  Be sure to carry a quart of moonshine, some ginseng and a handful of pecans, useful and valuable alternatives to fuels and cash.

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The case for higher gasoline prices

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For those of us who live in the United States, the prices at the gasoline pump haven’t been so low since 2009, about $2.50 per U.S. gallon as of January 5 in the New England area.  It sure comes as a relief, but of course, our good fortune won’t last very long and maybe it shouldn’t.  Here’s the thing: we, yes, you too, WE are way too dependent on fossil fuels.  As a nation, we drill and frack the earth with such ferocious greed and disrespect for our natural and finite resources that it’s a wonder there’s anything left. The irony here is that all this voracious plundering of the earth has produced a market in the U.S. where there is more supply than demand which has helped to drive OPEC prices down.  But rather than cutting back supplies, OPEC is all in with hopes that declining oil prices will stop the U.S. from continuing to explore alternatives.  The end game for OPEC is to restore its monopoly, so that it can hike the price of oil back up and make more profits.  The end game for the U.S. is to make the big oil companies even more profitable than they already are.  And we consumers are the pawns in the game.

As a person concerned about the environment and how we leave it to future generations, I advocate for a sound and responsible energy policy that does not include fracking and that ridiculous X-L pipeline. And unless the U.S. and other like minded nations ramp up investments into sustainable clean energy sources, we will forever be dependent on fossil fuels, our own or OPEC’s.  In some ways, a world with higher fuel prices is preferable because it encourages people to consume responsibly, to walk and bike more, take public transportation and carpool.  It encourages hybrid technology and the use of clean electric, solar and wind power.

As is, with prices at the pump on the decline, automakers are producing and selling more SUV’s and pickup trucks and other gas guzzling models.  Come on people.  Show some respect for mother nature. Consume less and appreciate nature more.  Do your part.

Why Boston should not host the Summer Olympics

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Dear Reader,

Boston was selected to compete to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, which I think is a really horrible idea for the following 5 reasons:

  1. Friendliness. Not that Boston couldn’t be a good host city.  It could and most likely would be, if people were on their best behavior.  However, Bostonians are not generally known for their friendliness, but neither are they, or I should say, we, as I live here, neither are we hostile.  At best we are indifferent to tourists, and sometimes, maybe quite frequently, mildly annoyed at them but otherwise reasonably tolerant.  International tourists will not find the sort of southern hospitality they might have encountered elsewhere, say in Atlanta during the 96 Olympics – you know, “how ya’ll doin?”, ya’ll doin aight?”, nor will you find the curiosity factor, “where ya’ll from?”. To Bostonians, unless you live in the neighborhood where you were born, you are an outsider and will be given the cold treatment, which is a survival mechanism, so don’t take offense. The best you can hope for is to get honked at to get the hell out of the way, or to receive a “you all set?” from your waiter.
  2. Food.  Boston has some good food, but does not compare to other major cities in the U.S. like NYC or Chicago and doesn’t really have a very attractive local culinary staple, unless you count Clam Chowder, and in my book soup doesn’t count.  And lobster, well, that’s Maine’s claim, not Boston’s.  Try finding a good barbecue, a brisket, a cheesesteak, or even a decent pizza – and sandwiches in the city, forget about it.  Make your own.
  3. Parking.  There is none. Period. And traffic is bad enough as it is, the Big Dig notwithstanding. Bostonians are notoriously bad and rude drivers and the roads here are little more than cow paths.  There’s no grid pattern for navigation purposes which renders even GPS useless.
  4. Accommodations.  I think most tourists would have to stay outside of Boston – way outside, like Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut because there just aren’t enough beds.
  5. Venues.  They’d have to be built, because there’s not much here besides the Reggie Lewis Track Center at Roxbury Community College, the basketball gym at the Garden, the Football stadium in Foxboro, out in the sticks – over an hour from Boston and the soccer field at Pagil Playground. Boston would have to build something like 4 stadiums costing upwards of a billion dollars, not to mention the added expense of all the security needed. Ultimately this will mean higher taxes for Bostonians. Look, Boston is so congested with buildings and narrow alleys that they’d have to tear old stuff down to build the new.  If Boston were selected, they should just build out on the Boston Harbor Islands,which, by the way, has good views of the shipping lanes, Logan Airport and the occasional whale.

I’d just be happy to host another World Series and leave the Summer Olympics to the Romans.

Respectfully,

Ribbie,

Boston, MA

50 or Something

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You know you are 50 when:

You get the membership invitation to the AARP.  Funny acronym, the AARP, it’s like something a dog would say – “aarp, aarp” or a seal maybe, and it also looks and sounds  like the word harp, which is mentioned numerous times in the bible and certainly connects to aging and death.

Psalms 108:2

Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. (NIV) Awake psaltery and harpe: I my selfe will awake early. (KJV (1611))

I rather prefer the King James version which may have been the first recorded instance of the world selfie.  That aside, and even though the context here is giving praise to God, the fact is that King David, the author of this particular passage, references the act of getting up early, which is something I can’t help but do each morning.  5:15 a.m. on weekdays and 6:00 a.m. on weekends, without fail, my internal alarm strums softly not unlike the harp, or the smaller psaltery, two stringed instruments I do not own.  When I was younger, I could sleep the whole day away in a state of hibernation, but in my advanced age, I’m lucky if I get 6 hours.

And speaking of harps, there is this nugget:

Revelation 14:2

And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps.

This is what it’s like when I have to get up earlier than 5:00 a.m. and my alarm goes off. Although when I can’t find the alarm, it’s as if the harpers are thunderously harping on their harpes.

Better TV Show Titles

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My eyesight has become somewhat suspect of late.  I have reading glasses, but really need reading glasses for longer distances.  I can’t see all the letters as I surf through the televised TV guide channel of our local cable provider.  I don’t watch much TV anyway and am unfamiliar with many of the newer shows now on TV, and as my eyesight has gotten worse, I find myself making mistakes about the actual titles of the shows, many I have since learned have been cancelled for the upcoming 2015 session.  I actually think my mistaken titles have much greater appeal and really should have been field tested prior to the airing of the shows.

Here’s a partial list of the tricks my eyes have played on me and a synopsis of what the shows might have been about:

  • Boardwalk Empire (HBO) – Boardwalk Vampire.  I’d almost watch that show.
  • Bad Judge (NBC) – Rad Judge.  We have enough bad judges as it is.  We need more rad judges.  I don’t know whether President Obama will get another pick or have his pick confirmed if he does, but why not a rad pick, or a pick from the people in a national contest?  Anyone could enter – a college debater, a high school civics teacher, a grandmother, a comedian like Stephen Colbert or a celebrity like Matt Damon or Natalie Portman.  I’d maybe vote for a classical conductor like Michael Tilson Thomas or say the cellist Yo Yo Ma. Maybe Gordon Ramsey could host it.  I don’t think the Senate would dare not confirm America’s choice.
  • Cougar Town (TBS) Well, I read it as Cougar Down.  I’m intrigued by the cougar.  It was my junior high school mascot and there had been many sightings of them in the woods behind the McCain Mall when I was growing up. I’m not for killing cats though so the show could be based on tranquilizing them and moving them to some preserve out of harms way.
  • Gracepoint (Fox) What about a show called Grapefruit? At least everyone knows what a grapefruit is. Who has ever heard of a gracepoint?
  • Hemlock Grove (Netflix) After House of Cards, this is a disappointing dud. So I renamed it Heimlich Groove, a sort of rescue dance. Interesting, right?  I’d watch it.
  • Hot in Cleveland (TV Land).  Not in Cleveland would be better.
  • The Bridge (FX). Boring.  The Fridge is what I saw and would prefer to watch.  It’d be based on what goes on behind closed refrigerator doors, when the food comes to life.  You’d be surprised by all the rivalries. Coconut and almond milk are mortal foes.  Eggs and endive have never warmed to the other. And one simply has to separate Finlandia swiss and Stilton blue cheese.  Just the other day the Finlandia called out the Stilton for not wearing deodorant and the Stilton responded by lobbing several cherry tomatoes that bloodied the Swiss calling it a “hollier than thou fraud.”

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