Thursday, March 31, 2011

Turn Off the Abercrombie & Fitch Switch

Abercrombie and Fitch rides again. Arghhh! What the heck are they thinking over there? Padded bikini tops for 7-year-olds?! This is outrageous on so many levels…where to begin?

Let’s start with the concept of sexualizing little girls: It disgusts and infuriates. It makes a person wonder if actual perverts direct their product development and marketing departments. Who else would be thinking of little girls in these sexual terms? And who else wants little girls to think of themselves in this way?

What’s next? Padded jock straps and swim trunks for little boys? After all…wait, no, I won’t bring myself to formulate even a mocking sentence to express their deviant train of thought.

Suggesting little girls are inadequate without padding is nothing else but aberrant. Little girls and little boys are perfect as they are. Let’s preserve their freshness and innocence.

So much research exists establishing that such demoralizing overtures as those from A&F lead to low self-esteem and depression in children and young adults. Early sexualization of children contributes to the development of serious maladies including eating disorders and promiscuity.

But why not? This is Abercrombie & Fitch’s typical mode of operating. It’s who they are. Remember their release of thongs for little girls in 2002? Not to mention their recurrent ads showing pre-teens in sexually charged positions.

Oh wait…of course!’s a profit-making scheme! There’s a buck to be made here. And we’ve fallen prey to their unseemly conniving. We’re talking about A&F; we’re viewing their website to see for ourselves. We’re writing about our outrage and fomenting others to join the conversation…about Abercrombie & Fitch.

So I’m their dupe. I’m guilty of perpetuating their sinister scheme. Well, I once was blind, but now, may I ever so humbly suggest that you not do as I have done? Let’s you and I put an end to it now. We’ll not speak of A&F nor send them money ever again. No more.

I’m putting them out of my mind and forgetting them. With luck they’ll go the way of pet rocks – once the rage, now a laughable footnote. A blip. An anomaly. A remnant of a lesser existence. A bad taste swirled away with Listerine – the original green Listerine - the one that burned your mouth so you knew it really worked. A&F? An unpleasant experience put in perspective and relegated to the cramped corner of a musty shelf in the basement of purgatory.

Now. Let’s talk about something else. Ok. Deep breath.

It’s April Fool’s Day. A week’s worth of sunshine makes all the difference doesn’t it? Soon we’ll have our Farmers’ Market again and every reason to be outdoors and friendly with our neighbors, sharing community spirit and barbeque chicken kabobs. Tulips and jonquils bloom so full of color! Absolutely uplifting.

My father-in-law’s birthday is today, April Fool’s Day. I’ve always said that might account for his quirky personality. He’s prone to leg pulling and practical jokes. Once, my husband and I sat with him in a huge outdoor amphitheater with an audience that included senators from around the country. When the master of ceremonies mentioned that fact and asked the senators to stand and be recognized, he stood up with them and accepted the applause. (P.S. - He’s not a senator.)

For several years, until I learned to be dubious of his earnest declarations, he had me believing that I had married into the Plath family, as in Sylvia Plath, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. He spoke fondly of his cousin Sylvia and their idyllic youth, though he didn’t get to see her often back then. Being a writer myself, and when you add to it that my parents actually considered naming me Sylvia, well, the mind boggles. It was quite thrilling for me, until the comic letdown when I learned the truth.

Such a card. Lloyd. We’ll be celebrating his 91st birthday tonight with family close by. Lately, we’ve been prompting him to recount (true) stories of his life and times. We sneak a tape recorder into the room since he’s a little camera shy. Kids and grandkids delight in having his resonant voice preserved along with the charming tales of his rural childhood, romping with three rough-and-tumble brothers near Madison, Wisconsin, or of his courting Frances, the love of his life, and wife of more than 60 years.

There. Now. I feel better. Don’t you?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Think You Can Do Better?

In a week comprised of infuriating recalcitrance, pinnacles of human drama, and absurd maneuvering for profit, some notable examples of leadership dilemmas and decisions have emerged for our consideration.

Governor Jerry Brown has stepped up with an unflinching proposal for dealing with a feral state budget. Then, met with partisan politics instead of teamwork, he displayed a political civilian’s sensibilities when he chastised Republicans in Sacramento: So…you’re not going to vote for putting the proposed tax extensions on the ballot in June. You’re not going to vote for restricting redevelopment funding. You’re not going to do anything to address the budget; and yet you still pick up a paycheck?

If he’s feeling a mite frustrated, we everyday folks can relate. There’s a lot of heehaw going around in the Sacramento Corral about the bold moves needed to wrangle the state’s budget, strap a saddle on it, and ride dressage; but what does he get for his good faith efforts? Hoof dragging. We see a lot of bucking and snorting, reminiscent of unbroken colts, but no forward movement nor ideas for a better way. The Governor must somehow finesse a concession from the legislators he’d like to give the spurs. And finesse may not be his long suit. What cube of sugar will it take to get them moving?

And make no mistake, when the Republicans do offer up their counter-proposal, the Democrats also balk and stall. Meanwhile…well, you know.

President Obama finds himself in a classic leadership pinch. When he’s circumspect, holding back, measuring the will of the United Nations and the Arab League before committing United States armed forces to battle in Libya, his detractors grumble that he’s tepid, indecisive. Then, when he takes assertive action, they cry out that he’s extended himself beyond his purview. These howls come from the very representatives who publicly asserted that the international community could not/should not stand by watching while a maniacal tyrant makes good on his promise to slaughter the citizens he claims to love. “You must act!” they say. “Wait! You didn’t consult us! You acted too quickly! You should have waited. You waited too long! Now hurry up and get out! And don’t leave before you finish the job!”

As chapters are dashed off in the history of the world and pages turn daily, we can’t help wondering what leadership will emerge across the Middle East. The impetus for revolution in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, didn’t come from nowhere. Yet it seems to have gushed in a stunning upsurge of human spirit and the will to be free. But when the old is out and the new is in, who will step forward to facilitate the formation of these fledgling democracies? How will they raise their newborn children?

Finally, from the sublime to the ridiculous: How about this for a leadership model to emulate? CBS brass is in negotiations to bring Charlie Sheen back to “Two and a Half Men.” As they say on Facebook, SMH (shaking my head). We can only imagine what WikiLeaks would reveal if there were “diplomatic” cables among CBS executives about Sheen’s seemingly deranged rants, sad escapades with prostitutes, and paranoid slurs of his bosses, no, his former bosses; no, wait for it – his bosses-to-be.

Yes here they go, working to put him center stage again in their brightly lit prime time venue. This must be where a leader assesses such things as Sheen displayed to be personal, and therefore unrelated to the public performances that made them all so many millions of dollars. What’s really important after all? And will we help them out by tuning in? “Winning!”

Can we do it? (Or, should we do it?) Should we/can we look at what’s onscreen and not think of what’s taken place behind the veneer? How about Michael Vick? Can we root for him and his team while scratching our best friend’s ears? What about Bill Clinton? Only after this many years are we starting to separate the flawed human being from the work he did and is doing. Is that fair?

Maybe it’s not for us to say, but we certainly have our opinions, our righteous indignation, and our certainty about what should be. We’d love to set ‘em all straight and tell ‘em how it would be if we were in charge.

How does that saying go? The one about what you wish for…?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

To React or Not To React?

My dad piloted small planes. Once an elderly in-law said to him, “If God had meant for us to fly, He would have put wings on our backs.”

“Yes,” my dad replied with measured courtesy, his irritation showing only a little, “and if He’d meant for us to hurtle down the highways, He would have put wheels on our backsides.”

Perhaps we casually careen down concrete freeways where so many die in crashes because not everyone who’s in a car crash dies. Many people survive. But plane crashes? Chances are, you’re gonna die.

And so it goes with our virtual indifference to the plethora of dangers surrounding us as we go about our daily business: hydroelectric dams, wind turbines, oil refineries, coal burning generators, reality TV. Yet we harbor what some call an irrational fear of nuclear power plants. Things go wrong and people sometimes die (or get kicked off the island) in the former. But if things go wrong with the latter, forgetaboutit.

As events unfold in Japan, we watch with disbelief and dread. Multiple nuclear reactors teeter on the brink of meltdown; we shrink away; say our prayers for the Japanese people, and for ourselves. Thank God for putting us in the position of being helpful instead of needing help.

At home we’re hearing the familiar refrain that the epic disaster in Japan is a wakeup call for the United States. OK, but is anybody listening?

PG&E assures us that the nuclear power plant they run on the beach and atop a fault line at San Onofre is safe and secure for an earthquake measuring up to 7.0 on the Richter scale. That is the largest quake likely to occur in that area, they say; and they’ve taken every precaution to ensure Californians’ safety.

This sounds more like a bureaucracy defending the status quo and placating the concerned citizens it should serve, than the response of an organization awake to the call of the largest nuclear power facility failure since Chernobyl.

How can they say that 7.0 is the largest quake that will occur along the fault lines close to that site? Put simply, they can’t. They don’t know what the largest quake will be. They know only what the largest quake has been so far.

If asked last Thursday, Japanese operators of the Fukushima plant at Dai-ichi likely would have voiced confidence in the ability of their systems to withstand the largest quake likely to occur at that location. But until a structure endures a 9.0 scale earthquake, none of us can know with certainty what a 9.0 scale earthquake will do. In truth, we are only prepared for what has happened in the past, not for what could happen in the future.

And hey, isn’t that the same thing PG&E told us about their gas pipelines in Alameda? It’s all good…don’t worry ‘bout a thing?

My rational side says we must not have an unthinking, knee-jerk freak out, and shut down the entire nuclear operation in our country. The 104 operating nuclear power plants here function safely, delivering 20% of the electricity needed to keep us running. Nuclear power provides a key component in our diversification away from oil dependency. We must keep our eyes on that prize.

Once we’ve learned from the events in Japan, let’s review and upgrade all our fail-safe systems, and doubly fortify our existing plants, especially those we so cavalierly situated on oceanfront fault lines.

Thirty-one of our plants have the same design as Reactor #4 at Dai-ichi. They house spent reactor rods within the reactor, but outside the radiation containment walls. We’re awake now. Let’s revamp that obsolete design and store our spent rods according to current science, within containment walls offsite and underground.

Any new construction must be distant from sea level and the underground labyrinth of faults comprising the Pacific Ring of Fire. Quit building reactors in clusters. Reassess, triple, and diversify our back-up power sources. Train and retrain operating personnel so they understand and manage routine and emergency protocol with precision.

That’s the rational side of me. It says, “Learn, Adapt, Press On.”

The other side? The limbic scaredy cat side with the jerking knees? It says, “Strap on your parachute and shout ‘Geronimo!’ What are you doing up here anyway? You can’t fly!”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Buy Underwear! Eat Dessert!

Did you know when you buy new underwear, you’ve signaled Wall Street to boom? Oh yes. Heard it on the Today Show. Financial analysts report that our economy is showing signs of recovery. What are those signs, you ask? Leading indicator: Surges in sales of new underthings!

According to this theory, when things get tight (beg your pardon for the pun) we tend to hold onto our shabby undies. As economic conditions improve, we replace the grayed and stringy in favor of pastel and springy.

In a troubling side note, this also seems to indicate that economists know the state of our lingerie. Somewhat creepy. But what can you do? It’s like pretending that all your personal information is secure on the internet. It’s not. They already know. But ragged BVD’s linked to a sagging GDP? Really?

Guess what’s another leading indicator of an economic upswing? Dessert consumption! I am all over this one! Matt and Meredith said it this week: Eating dessert after a meal in a restaurant is evidence of consumer confidence. Appetizers too! Following the Undergarment Theory of Economic Cycles, the ingestion of these delightful, but superfluous luxuries reflects optimism, which in turn harkens to the economic rebound we’re seeking. And for the first time since 2009, dessert intake is expanding. It follows logically, so say the analysts, that our economy is expanding too. Not to mention our waistlines and the accompanying elasticity of our underwear. But I digress.

Hallelujah and hooray! At last, something I can do to help. Underwear, appetizers and dessert! It’s been such a long time. I am energized just knowing the powerful impact of these three small but profound contributions! Having new underwear is almost as much fun as having new shoes. Appetizers and desserts? You know you’re living the life!

Finally, in a downward economic trend, tee times wane. We don’t play enough golf. I’m certainly guilty on this count. I can’t remember the last time I skulled one into a water hazard. Actually, I can. So can the poor coot that was in my line of fire. Rolled over like a foundering sailboat. (Coots' feet are green!) But now, duffers from Walla Walla to Washington D.C. are teeing up again, and the economy senses it.

Observe the multi-tasker among us, heralding a healthy economy: Nibbling nachos as she waits for her tee time. She hits a bucket of balls in her brand new Fruit of the Looms. After nine holes, in the clubhouse, she chooses not beer, but cherry cobbler. A la mode, of course. Done and done.

Hey…wait a minute. Could it be the other way around? Could it be we can control the economy with our attitudes toward, and purchases of, underwear? If we detect a dip in the market, can we create a turnaround by ordering jalapeno poppers or tiramisu? I think we could be onto something here. To paraphrase a great motivator: The only things we have to fear are stretched-out elastic, calorie counting, and divots on the fairway…I’ll work on that.

And by the by, why didn’t they tell us this stuff months ago? We could have staged a nationwide campaign to boost the economy out of the doldrums. I can see it now. Picketers with posters chanting at the entrances to Chili’s and Outback. “Eat your cake! Eat your cake!” Emotions kick up quickly in these scenarios: “Un-American” scrawled across the door to Jenny Craig’s.

Schoolchildren add to their list of responsibilities for good citizenship: Vote; pay your taxes; and wear fresh new underwear! Of course they’ll eat their desserts – right after a round of Putt Putt.

We’d have public service announcements on prime time TV: Who would be our spokesperson? Steven Colbert? No. Paula Deen? No! Oprah Winfrey herself exhorting earnestly from the fairway, “Uncle Sam needs you to keep our country strong. Do your part. Have chips and guacamole tonight.”

Power to the People! For the good of the country: Eat! Play! Buy new skivvies!

I’m going to write a screenplay and see if Julia Roberts will sign for the lead.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Oh NO! Am I Republican?

Sometimes I actually think I’m a Republican. (I hope my mom can’t see this from her grave! A staunch Democrat, she’d be spinning for sure.)

I hope my in-laws don’t get wind of it either. They already are Republican and I resist giving them an edge in my political persuasion.

But honestly, how can we Americans stand our whiny self-centered selves? New polls out this week say 66% of us report feelings of “frugal fatigue.” We’re tired of being thrifty. We wanna spend again. Or more likely, charge again. We don’t wanna think or plan ahead. We want what we want, and we want it now.

The symptoms of Frugal Fatigue? You’ll recognize them: stress, anxiety, and sabotage.

Being conservative about spending is stressful. It requires us to look at our bank balances. Who wants to do that? It’s depressing. We must put pens to paper and subtract expenses before we go out to buy, buy, and buy. We’re supposed to start with net income (yes, net!); subtract rent or mortgage, subtract electricity, water, insurance, gas for the car…egad! Where’s my credit card?!

It’s easier and more relaxing just to go out and get what you want. Right? It’s soothing to impulse your way through Target. I love unpacking the varied items found (at good prices!) throughout the store. I’ll use this stuff! Come on!

Being frugal makes us anxious. If I shop with my friend, the impulse buyer, I am fretful for two reasons: At the rate she spends, she’ll never get to retire and hang with me during the lovely weekdays that working people pray really do exist.

And I’m uneasy playing the role of killjoy again. Terrific! I thought I retired from managing other people’s behavior. But no, she says she depends on me to stop her, to protect her from her impulsive self when what I really want to do is join her in a house wares spree! Lamps and rugs and pillows, oh my!

Third, those forced into frugality longer than is natural for human beings tend to sabotage their own efforts at living within their means. They put themselves among the Borg of retailers, like Cost Plus World Market or Old Navy, where resistance is futile. Where did you ever see such cute stuff at such reasonable prices? And it’s not for me! It’s for our nieces or our son or … okay this one item is for me. But the rest is for others! What’s imprudent about that?

Of course with our newfound weariness comes advice from the experts: How to overcome Frugal Fatigue.

1. Get a battle plan. Make an agreement with your partner about your spending. Of course, if opposites happen to have attracted each other in this aspect of your relationship, the plan may turn out to be one’s circumspection used to counterbalance the other’s splurges. Not a winning long-term strategy.

2. Be honest about vulnerable spending and set up roadblocks to it. Translated: Stay home. True shopaholics, genuine impulsers are susceptible to just about any good deal in any situation on any day. So just settle in like you’re snowed in. Serve hot chocolate in those darling demitasse cups you got at Pier 1 last week, on sale.

3. Pay cash. Yep. The experts say put debit and credit cards in the freezer in the garage and carry only $50’s and $100’s. Because it’s so painful to break large bills, they theorize, we will hold onto our hard-earned that much longer. What? Cash? Really? I don’t know if I can test this theory.

I have the symptoms of Frugal Fatigue. I want the economy to hurry up and get better so I can go out and spend selfishly, with at least a little bit of abandon, without guilt. In fact, I’ve heard that my spending will help the economy recover. So isn’t it my duty?

I should spend; I shouldn’t spend. Am I a liberal Republican breaking ranks, or a conservative Democrat who’s disgusted with herself?

A full 66% of us cannot suffer a spell of austerity without its end in sight. Like grounded teenagers, we don’t want to keep on restraining ourselves. No wonder our federal, state, and local politicians face such dire scenarios. They represent us.

We want our politicians to do what we’re weary of doing for ourselves. And we want them to do it while we cry and complain and threaten to toss them out if they do.

Whaddaya call that?