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Toyland Tribulations

31 Oct

 

 

 

 

 

Like high fashion, the American toy industry is dominated by trends and exclusivity. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting your kid the hot new toy that your neighbor can’t seem to find.

In fact, there was even a rather mediocre Christmas movie — 1996’s “Jingle All the Way,” which implausibly pits Arnold Schwarzenegger against Sinbad in a rather violent pursuit for the year’s most popular action figure.

Over the past 30 years, I personally have traveled far and wide in hot pursuit of Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Gameboys, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Millennium Falcons and Zhu Zhu Hamsters.

Years ago, I remember submitting an application to Toys R’ Us for the privilege of buying a Cabbage Patch Doll. Like kidnappers, they called me a couple of days later and told me to be at the store at 10 a.m. sharp if I wanted to buy the doll. When I got there, they took a small group of us chosen ones to a darkened back room, where they had a pallet full of new Cabbage Patch dolls completely covered by a black sheet of canvas. When it was my turn, I grabbed a doll and was escorted to a cashier. I didn’t even know how much it was going to cost, but things had progressed way too far to ask questions. I felt like I was buying a couple kilos of heroin.

Trends in toys constantly repeat themselves. With our three boys and now a grandson, it seems like we have gone through at least three generations of Star Wars, as well as several of Transformers, and now Teen Age Mutant Ninja Turtle toys. And just when it seems like it’s over, the Lego version appears and it starts all over again.

We made the mistake of giving away our daughter’s extensive collection of Strawberry Shortcake dolls and paraphernalia to a family that had three girls. How did we know our daughter would end up having three girls of her own and never forgive us? We still have a couple generations of Star War toys stashed in plastic bins in our basement. I’m too lazy to dig through them for the grandkids. Besides, they belong to our sons and are my backup plan in case the government ever privatizes Social Security.

The United States Toy Industry Association reports that Americans purchase more than 3 billion toys annually. With the average cost of about $7 per toy, that quickly adds up to more than $21.2 billion in direct toy sales.

According to CNBC’s Christina Berk, however, there is trouble brewing in Toyland this holiday season. Toy sales have been declining over the past decade and the trend is accelerating, according to a Goldman Sachs report Monday. As a result, Goldman downgraded the toy industry’s rating from “neutral” to “cautious.”

According to financial analyst Michael Kelter, the “amount spent on traditional toys in the U.S. per capita is down 30 percent from $85 per person to $60 per person since 1998.”

Part of the reason may be the tremendous growth in digital games played on tablets and smartphones, which are edging out traditional board games and puzzles. When videogame consoles are included, the market share of digital games has increased from 1 percent to 20 percent in the past decade.

Declines are also expected this year in the sales of Hasbro’s flagship boy toys — Transformers and Nerf weapons. Mattel, which relies heavily on perennial girls’ favorites, such as Barbie, also has been hurt by flat sales in recent years, as well as a huge decline in the preschool toy market.

Perhaps it’s the overall economy that’s to blame, or maybe it is kid’s attraction to online games and activities. Advances in electronics have certainly made toys awfully flashy and sophisticated. Some people may think that modern toys have become too complicated and explicit to encourage creative play and they lean toward classic toys that require more imagination.

As a child, I owned a red plastic console that was advertised to track missiles and satellites in space. It had a tiny opaque screen that only showed vague shadows of small plastic cutouts of spacecraft as you turned a crank. I must have spent hours staring at that opaque screen in anticipation of my current job, at which I still spend hours staring at a screen. I would have given anything if that screen would have shown a little detail, color or miracles of miracles, actually said something.

Perhaps modern toys are not imaginative enough to stimulate much creative play. In this regard, I always think of Patricia Lee Gauch’s classic children’s book, “Christina Katerina and the Box,” in which, to her mother’s horror, a young girl comes up with a number of imaginative uses for a large appliance box on their front lawn. I was thinking about this recently as I watched our grandchildren play with sticks in our backyard, which consists primarily of sticks and tics.

Watching them jogged my memory and I remembered one of my early favorite toys — the stake. Although I had a homemade swingset that my father had constructed from pipes, my favorite outdoor toy was a three-foot long, sharpened, solid-steel stake. I think it may have once been part of a of horseshoe game or perhaps belonged to a surveyor.

While a metal stake may seem like a dangerous and inappropriate plaything, the story gets worse. I remember two games we made up using the stake. The first was “Oilwell.” My friends and I hammered the stake into the ground and then attached a rope to it. We threw the rope over a tree branch and then pulled the stake out of the ground. Then we poured water into the hole left by the stake and lowered the stake again back into the hole drilling for oil until the oil (mud) finally came gushing out of the well. We added a bunch of toy trucks, cars and plastic soldiers to the scene to complete the tableau. So basically we played for hours in a large mud hole with a large sharp metal stake suspended over our heads.
Our second game wasn’t much better. Our house had once been a boarding house, so it was configured rather oddly. For example, we had two front doors. My bedroom had its own door to the outside and it lead to a porch with a railing. The steps had been removed so it was sort of like a little balcony.

I always imagined it was the deck of a ship and our backyard was the ocean. We used the porch as our pirate ship until one day Bobby suggested that we turn it into a whaler. Of course, to do this we needed a serviceable harpoon. We took the metal stake with a rope tied to it and fastened the other end of the rope to a column supporting the porch’s roof. We then took turns hurling the stake into the yard at old basketballs and pieces of newspaper (whales).

How we managed to avoid impaling some small child or skewering one of the neighborhood dogs or cats is still a mystery to me. We did managed to loosen the column supporting the porch roof and a few years later when it finally collapsed, my father removed the porch, filled in my door, and put in a window instead.

I will leave the precise interpretation of our “games” to the Freudians out there, but in retrospect perhaps children are better off with less “creative” toys after all. When I was 11, I misplaced the steel stake and started my career making toy soldiers out of molten lead, but that’s another story. And don’t get me started on my chemistry set, its alcohol lamp  and “The Great Bedroom Fire of 1961.”
Originally published in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune

 

    

Causal Comments

24 Sep

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When people offer  spontaneously, without thinking, their offhanded remarks   possess a special kind of power.  We frequently assume that extemporaneous comments are  truthful, or at least that they honestly reflect the way the speaker feels. Unintentionally overheard comments can be especially influential, since we assume they were frank expressions,  not tailored specifically for our ears, just ask Mitt Romney.

For example, our five-year old grandson prefers to wear button-up shirts  instead of the polo variety. We believe that’s because of a remark that some sweet nursery or Sunday School  teacher once made  that   resulted  in him referring to button-up shirts as “Mr. Handsome Shirts”.  After all, what male wouldn’t want to wear a “Mr. Handsome Shirt”.

Of course such statements are not always positive.  At a parent-teacher conference   my wife Diane once overheard her Kindergarten teacher tell her mother,  “Don’t bother ever giving Diane  dance lessons, because she has no rhythm at all.” This has stuck with her for all these years and made her feel inhibited and avoid dancing. Some people may say perhaps for the best.

In his book Uncommon Therapy famed hypnotherapist  Milton Erickson  describes how he once treated  a young woman who was convinced that her perfectly normal   feet were grossly oversized  and ugly. This belief kept her from ever going outside the house.  On pretense  Erickson made a  home visit ostensibly  to see the young woman’s “sick” mother.   He acted quite annoyed and grumpy and  “accidentally on purpose” stepped on the  young woman’s foot. As she recoiled in pain he said loudly, “If only you could grow those feet big enough for a man to see!”.  His crabby and spontaneous statement had more credibility with the young woman,  than all the reasoning in the world would have had,  and  ultimately  did the trick as,  she re-shuffled her thinking about her self-image.

Over the years Diane has prepared and given children’s sermons in various churches we’ve attended. She always says that the children’s sermon is an excellent way to communicate with the adults in the audience.  Since the message is not intended specifically for them, their defenses  are down.  Also their critical judgment is often suspended, as they are distracted and  charmed  by the youngsters’ response to the message.

Such casual messages function similar to what are called indirect or embedded suggestions in hypnosis. An indirect suggestion is a type of instruction phrased as an offhand comment, used during hypnosis to encourage patients to follow a desired course of action without specifically telling them to do so. The power of   indirect and embedded suggestions lies in their ability to by-pass normal conscious resistance and influence people on an unconscious level.

An embedded suggestion is another special kind of a hypnotic suggestion that is usually buried in some sort of mind-numbing context,  like a boring conversation.  The suggestion is typically repeated, but since it doesn’t stand out dramatically,   it is usually not consciously perceived.

I once attempted to use a variant of these techniques with a young woman I was seeing for counseling. Outside my immediate family,  she was probably the most argumentative person I had ever met. Even when I was repeating back exactly what she just told me, she would disagree.  Most of all she was highly self-critical and  I was trying to help her  realize that she did possess some positive features.  One day I was talking to her and the secretary called me  out of my office,   to handle an  emergency.  When I returned the  chart containing my progress notes was in a slightly different position. It was hardly noticeable,  but I realized that she had must been reading my notes. For the next session, I carefully prepared a fake progress note to put in a dummy chart that looked just like the real thing.  This note contained all the positive messages that I wanted her to realize. If I had said these things to her, she would have just argued with me and rejected them.  When she came in for her session, my secretary made a prearrange call to my office,   and I excused myself, claiming that it was another emergency. After about 15 minutes I returned. The client seemed both pleased and frustrated. She obviously liked what she had read, but seemed bursting,  wanting to argue the points. She was not able to, however, because she was loathe to admit she had been surreptitiously reading my notes.

Back in  June,   Ann Von  Brock, a blogger  with United Way in Asheville, North Carolina wrote a   piece entitled,   “Can One Passing Comment To a Child Really Make a Difference?”  It was about the power of adult influences on a young people’s lives.  She describes how her 7th grade biology teacher once wrote “has potential”  as  remark  on her report card.  Although  Von Brock  admits  she was a an underachiever for much of her school career  she  says,  “… somehow I hung onto the comment of that one teacher and always believed that I was a smart kid.”   She concluded that  seemingly casual comments can be   “powerful”, “ motivating  and inspiring”,  but  just as easily   “crushing”     depending upon the people, the setting, the tone,  and the context.

I suppose there are two important lessons you  can draw from  the power of passing comments.  First, if some casual comment is hurtful or discouraging, then reengage your  critical thinking  and challenge it. If parts still seem true, then use it as a motivator for positive change.  Second use your own casual remarks constructively. You can never really know how much influence a word of encouragement or a positive comment can have in the long run. We  are constantly confronted with  opportunities that can change people’s lives with very little effort or cost to ourselves.

I respond to  casual remarks as much as anyone.  When I was   in high school,  the first day of varsity football practice,  the coach looked at me  and realized  my brother had played for him a few years earlier.  He said   to the people standing around, “Stawar’s brother was an All Conference Guard, but Terry here  isn’t good enough to carry his cleats”. I suppose that was meant to be inspirational but it ended up being more prophetic.  Was it important to me or did it affect me?  I would like to say no, but then I do remember it,  48 years later.

On the other hand many years ago I   attended a two-day training workshop. It was in a resort area and everyone dressed very casually. On the first day I wore a tan jacket. On the second day  I overheard   people at  nearby table talking about what people were wearing. One of them said, “You should have seen this tan jacket some guy was wearing yesterday. It was really cool.” I don’t think I had never heard a spontaneous positive comment about my apparel before. I believe I wore my “Mr. Handsome” tan jacket for at least the next decade.

Claus: The Feline Archcriminal

15 Mar

I would bet that at least 99% of Americans are opposed to animal crimes. I for one have always taken a firm stand against such patently unacceptable behavior. For these reasons I feel compelled to turn over to the authorities our recalcitrant cat, Claus. Sure, he looks like an adorable stuffed animal. He’ll snuggle up to you, purr, and even lick your hand. But this is all a façade, behind that cuddly fur and saucer-sized eyes, lurks a fiend— an archvillain, a feline Moriarty, a master criminal. Occasionally he slips up and reveals his true nature. He may start out nuzzling you, but before long the claws and fangs come out, and to him you’re nothing more than an oversized hunk of mouse meat.

I offer to the grand jury the following five felony counts and urge that Claus be indicted as soon as possible. Please be wary of his numerous tricks and lies. As we have learned the hard way, he is capable of almost anything.

Felony Count 1 Litter Box Malfeasance: Claus fancies himself an indoor cat. Even though we scoot him outside, whenever the weather is good, he apparently believes that he is “too delicate” to do his business out-of-doors. With his highly inflated sense of self esteem, he apparently holds it all in, until we let him back into the house.

When Claus was younger we kept one of his litter boxes downstairs in the bathroom tub. After we removed the box he seemed to think the drain was good enough. Now we have to keep that bathroom door closed at all times. Now we keep his litter box upstairs on an old vinyl tablecloth to catch any litter that might fall out. Always devious, he has taken to throwing a few pawfuls of litter onto the tablecloth to rationalize using the table cloth, rather than squeezing into his box. Along with his overt transgression, there seems to be a lot of contempt thrown in for good measure. He is the devil incarnate.

Felony Count 2 Food Dish Misconduct: Around 4:00PM or whenever he is let into the house, Claus starts his daily complaints and demands to be fed his wet food. He has always had plenty of dry food available, but by some nefarious means he managed to intimidate his cat-sitter into giving him wet food every day. The cat sitter then intimidated us, insisting that Claus just had to have wet food. I suspect some kind of mind control.

Claus is relentless in hanging around his food dish, griping, moaning, and threatening to bite the microwave electrical cord until he is fed. When he is fed, the first thing he does is tip over his dish, so that a big chunk of food falls on the floor. He often doesn’t even eat this, but just leaves it there. Someone needs to teach that cat a lesson.

Felony Count 3 Sofa Mistreatment: A few years before we knew what we were dealing with, we bought Claus a “Mouse-go-Round” scratching post. It had little mice made of carpet hanging by ribbons from the top of the post so that he could bat them around. All this, however, was evidently not good enough for Claus. Apparently this was not sufficient to satisfy his primal instincts. Recently we discovered that he has also been using a hidden corner of our living room couch as a scratching post. I take this offense rather personally. When he is asked to leave the room or we aren’t quick enough delivering his wet food, we can hear him in there sharpening his claws.

Felony Count 4 Attempted Manslaughter: Like any narcissistic personality, Claus always insists on going first. He runs ahead of us to the door when we come from work to make sure he can get a jump on complaining that he hasn’t been fed. He tries to jump ahead of us when we open the basement door. I don’t know why he is so keen on getting down there. He can get into our basement any time he pleases from the outside, using his secret evil Ninja powers. In addition he is always underfoot in the kitchen, just hoping to trip someone carrying a hot pot or pan. But worse of all, he has taken to jumping ahead of me when I go down the stairs. He frequently entwines himself between my legs as I try to step down. He is fiendishly clever and doesn’t do it every time. So now I worry, even when he isn’t even there. Like in chess the anticipation is worse than the move. I have lost all confidence in navigating the steps. It is a deadly psychological game of cat and what he sees as a very large mouse.

Felony Count 5 Rodent Bribery/Extortion: I know that Claus realizes I am on to him, so he has been playing it cagey pretending to be sweet, but he’s not fooling anyone. The other day I was gingerly coming down the stairs when I almost stepped on a dead mouse, carefully placed on the bottom step. I have concluded that the presence of the dead rodent could mean one of three things. 1. It was an attempt to scare me to death, which almost succeeded. 2. It was an overt threat, sort of like that bloody horse’s head, the gangsters put in the guy’s bed in the Godfather movie. or 3. It was Claus’ cynical attempt to bribe me into silence.

Finally, if my body is found lying at the bottom of our stairs before Claus is prosecuted, make sure the police look for gray cat fur on my pants, just about shin high.

This blog orignally appeared in the Southern Indiana News Tribune.

Don’t Cook Your own Financial Goose this Christmas

17 Dec

 

Like many of us I  have a love-hate relationship with my credit cards. On one hand they are convenient and easy to use, especially for online shopping. Of course, that is part of the problem. They are way too easy touse. According to money guru David Ramsey if you use credit cards instead of cash, you end up spending 12 to 18 percent more. Swiping a card is just not as traumatic as forking over the actual cash. During the next few weeks the first of the holiday credit card bills will come rolling in for millions of Americans. Some people call this the real “Nightmare After Christmas”. Holiday credit card purchases havegrown 50 percent over the past several years and continues togrow every  holiday season. The mortgage crunch, increased minimum payments and recent  bankruptcy laws may make things even more treacherous than ever. Bill Staler, a vice president at Consumer Credit Counseling Services has said  that their workload increases by 15 percent in the quarter following the winter holidays. Staler says that many people in recent years have found  it  more  difficult to use mortgage refinancing to pay off credit cards due to more stringent loan requirements and the decreases in home equity.  A 2004 survey showed that 73 percent of Americans believe that money is the top  all time stressor and Dr. Harvey Brenner from Johns Hopkins University has written that  economic instability is “the single most pervasive and continuous source of stress in our society.”

Psychologist Dr. Lynn Hornyak, who specializes in money issues finds that overspending and avoiding money issues are the two most common problems. Are there times when just can’t stand to open a bill or look at a bank statement? To me balancing a checkbook ranks just behind having a tooth pulled on my list of favorite activities. Money also has great symbolic significance. It may represent a way of keeping score in life or serve as a substitute for love and affection. The psychological significance of money can be seen by the reluctance of people to even discuss it. Many people would sooner discuss their children, relationships, or even sex lives, rather than their bankbooks. There are also some important gender differences. Women often see money as a means to maintain security. For men it may represent power and substitute for physical appeal in attracting partners. For many people money represents freedom of action and a lack of money may prevent us from making much-needed changes. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for people to stay in unsatisfying and even abusive relationships for the sake of financial security.

In their fantastic book “The Financial Wisdom of the Ebenezer Scrooge,” psychologists Ted and Brad Klontz and financial planner Rick Kahler identify the underlying culprit in most money conflicts as the “money scripts”

we internalized as we grow up. Using Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” as a metaphor for how to transform your relationship with money, they show how Scrooge displays a variety of maladaptive money scripts. Money scripts are especially powerful because they are largely unconscious. They also tend to run in families. Family therapy authority Cloe Madanes has said that different family styles in gift giving and unresolved sibling rivalries are often the key factors in pathological overspending. Some of Ebenezer Scrooge’s self-defeating money scripts included: Don’t trust anyone with your money, don’t spend money on yourself, giving to the poor encourages laziness, money will give your life meaning, and if you had more money, things would be better.

Interestingly enough, Bob Cratchit doesn’t come off much better. Bob also has his own destructive money scripts such as: There will never be enough money, money is to be spent not saved, you’ll be paid what you’re worth, and you don’t deserve money. The authors question why Bob doesn’t quit defending Scrooge and just get a better job. Also they contend that Bob should have gotten Tiny Tim the medical care he needed instead impulsively blowing his meager resources on a Christmas goose. This extravagance is often left out of film and stage versions of the work. It is estimated that today the Cratchit’s Christmas dinner would have cost well over $500.

Stawar family money scripts often made reference to the “poor house” My father, who grew up in the Great Depression, viewed money as security. He was constantly saying that we were driving him to the poor houseby leaving on the lights, turning up the thermometer, or taking showers that lasted too long. This script was well entrenched in me. When I left home for college I sold an old car and received a crisp new$100 bill for it. Feeling insecure about being away for the first time, I kept the hundred literally in my shoe for over two years. Sometimes when I act anxious about money, my wife Diane says, “Would you feel better if you had a hundred dollar bill tucked in your shoe?” Unfortunately the answer is often “yes.” And even now whenever I hear the furnace running, I still feel a pang of anxiety.According to the Klontzs and Kahler being able to adaptively “rescript” is the key to developing a more functional financial life script.

There are other things you can do to help both now and in the future. Florida psychologist Cheryl Fellows has said  that due to financial stress, people often feel insecure and out of control after the holidays. She recommends that you try helping others and connect with family and friends to shore up your self worth  and security. Additionally many people need to take some practical steps. The following suggestions come from a variety of expert sources.

  1. Total all your bills so you know how much you actually owe.
  2. Pay on cards with the highest interest rates first.
  3. Sign up for online statements (e-mail balance notices for bank accounts or bills are great for chronic avoiders).
  4. Request in writing a lower interest rate or switch balances to a lower interest rate credit card.
  5. Establish a reminder system for making payment on time.
  6. Increase the amount you pay on every credit card.
  7. Change payment due dates to better match your cash flow.
  8. Cut expenses until holiday bills are paid (especial discretionary things like entertainment).
  9. Finally develop a detailed written plan for your holiday spending- maybe a Christmas club would help. The most important thing is to stick to your plan. Do not get caught up in the holiday fever and end upbuying the kids the newest and expensive fad that will take six years to pay off or splurging on your own $500 Christmas goose.

Based on  a column that appeared  in the Southern Indiana News Tribune

Coporate Clothing

2 Dec

 

While eating lunch in a local restaurant the other day, I was struck by the   number of dinners who were wearing clothing, with corporate logos. At least four tables were filled with people wearing shirts identifying their company brands.

Perhaps I was sensitive to this because I had just ordered some new company logo items  for myself. At the on-line store, there was an unbelievable sale on sweaters,  so I bought four of them. They were practically giving them away. My wife Diane thinks the price must have been a mistake, due to some computer glitch on their website. But I also ended up buying four shirts, so whatever they lost on the sweaters,  they easily made up on the shirts.  

The only problem is that all the sweaters had to be exactly the same,  including the same color. I have already warned people at work that, even though I will look the same every day, I will actually be changing clothes occasionally. I was happy with my new purchase and exaggerated to Diane  that I  now had a entire week of new work clothes,  ready for this winter. Being both precise and a wise guy, Diane  said, “Sure, if  go naked one day a week.”   

            Some people think this corporate apparel trend is related to the “Casual Friday” movement which was encouraged by the success of the Dot.com companies in the 1990s.   However, as far back as 1947,  city workers in Honolulu were allowed to wear   tropical shirts  during work hours. In 1962, in order to further  promote the state clothing industry,   the   Hawaiian Fashion Guild  convinced the state senate to pass a  resolution   suggesting  aloha attire be worn in businesses during  the summer months.  In 1965 the Guild  pushed businesses to allow   Hawaiian shirts to be worn on the last business day of the week,  kicking off  the “Aloha Friday” movement, which quickly spread to California and eventually evolved into our Casual Friday. 

At first casual meant not wearing a tie, but this quickly became  wearing khakis and polo shirts, and eventually jeans and  T-shirts. I attended a professional training not long ago and was surprised to see people wearing shorts and flip flops.  A friend of our oldest son worked at a technology company that promoted “Pirate Friday”, in which pirate attire, speech, and mannerisms were all encouraged,  supposedly to boost  morale and creativity . Arrghh.

According to Penny Koch, vice president of sales for Hartwell Apparel,   “For the most part, Fortune 500 companies all agree that casual Friday went too casual over the past few years and needs to migrate back toward a little more polished and professional look.” The explosion in logo corporate apparel  seems to be just the ticket.  Big name brand casual clothing companies like Land’s End and L.L. Bean have jumped into this market with both moccasins.

Allowing only corporate apparel on casual or dress-down days  creates an automatic dress code, while reinforcing the  company’s identity. It is a great way to get free advertising and encourage loyalty and team spirit. A more casual work environment is also said to improve morale and enhance communication at all levels. 

I like it because it simplifies getting dressed every morning. Choosing what to wear is simply one more decision that I don’t want to have to make. In fact I would prefer it if  we all dressed exactly the same, as was predicted in those 1950’s movies about the future. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld said—  perhaps something in silver lamé  with a v-neck will do.      

            The quasi uniform nature of the new corporate apparel provides an image of quality and workers are perceived as professionals and experts. At business meetings I see more and more CEO’s and senior executives wearing simple polo shirts with corporate logos on them,  sort of  the way Mao Zedong wore his Mao suit as a symbol of  proletarian unity.  

            Of course, there are possible drawbacks,  such as an employee behaving poorly in public or in the worst case scenario, committing  some horrendous crime wearing  your company logo  apparel. In extreme cases,  a company might even have to rebrand itself,  like  the much aligned  American International Group (AIG),   Enron,  and WorldCom.

            I suppose I’m attracted to corporate apparel because of its  uniform-like appeal. This begins for boys in early childhood. As a kid I couldn’t wait to put on a uniform– any sort  would do— baseball, cub scout,  band,  or even just  the white cloth Sam  Browne belt and badge of the  safety patrol. I still hold a grudge over not getting picked to be a “patrol boy” and think the unfair selection process was grounds for a class action suit. Presidents Carter and Clinton, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, and 21 American astronauts were all patrol boys.  I could barely stand seeing all those other smug boys, wearing that gleaming badge with the triple A’s. 

            I suppose boy’s attraction to uniforms stems from the fact that uniforms are so closely associated with  heroism. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of  9-11, the company, where I work, expanded its Memorial Day window display of military uniforms, to include the uniforms of first responders, like  police officers and firefighters. 

     Discussing the psychological aspects of  police uniforms,  Illinois law enforcement officer and criminal justice professor Richard Johnson says that such clothing provides “a  mental shortcut(1) In Windows, a shortcut is an icon that points to a program or data file. Shortcuts can be placed on the desktop or stored in other folders, and double clicking a shortcut is the same as double clicking the original file.
….. Click the link for more information. to identify a person’s status, group membership, legitimacy, authority, and occupation.”

     The Cub Scouts say that their uniforms promote equality, since boys from different cultures and economic statuses all wear the same thing. The uniforms also serve to identify boys as members, the badges recognize achievement, and wearing the uniform is a reminder of each member’s commitment to the ideals of scouting.

     Uniforms have such a powerful impact that they are sometimes misused. I remember a scam in Florida, in which young men and women were dressed up in Marine and Nurses’ uniforms,  to sell door-to-door magazine subscriptions at outrageous prices. Well known forger and con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., frequently wore an airline pilot’s uniform to facilitate his cashing of bogus checks. Also in colonial Africa, youths capitalizing on the excellent reputation of the Boys Scouts, misappropriated scout uniforms to gain favorable treatment from authorities.        

I’m  not sure that the new corporate apparel lends itself to such misuse,  although at times I’m afraid, that I might do something stupid in public and embarrass the company.  Maybe it would be best if I wore sweaters that had our competitor’s logo on them.        

Based on a column in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune

Evaluating Your Children’s Presents this Christmas

16 Dec

This article will tell you if you bought enough and the right kinds of presents this year to make this Christmas one of wonder and awe for your children. Christmas eve is almost here. You must soon decide if Santa’s presents are sufficient to surprise and delight your children. Consider using the following five tests.
Things Required:
• Spreadsheet of all presents bought broken down by child
• Lastest credit card statement
• Your last ounce of strength
Step 1
Are there enough presents to unwrap Christmas morning? Unfortunately a dozen presents is about the minimum for a successful Christmas today. Don’t wrap each crayon separately but save batteries for the stocking. One Christmas Eve we came up short, necessitating a crisis visit to Wal-Mart. With our last ten dollars I rescued a refugee from the clearance bin— Milky the cow. This oversized Holstein with latex udders could actually be milked. Although creepy, it did put us over the top. We also scored priceless photos of our bewildered daughter examining Milky’ s underside Christmas morning.
Step 2
Did you pay enough? If you have not reached your limit on at least one major credit card, then back to the mall. Snooty toy shops can quickly increase net expenditures with bizarre educational toys from unpronounceable countries. On-line purchases also provide a great opportunity since shipping always adds 15%.
Step 3
This is critical. How flashy are the presents? Will the kid next door eat his heart out? Cheap toys with lots of lights, smoke, and noise can shore up this department. Don’t worry if they break before New Year’s, the future is now.
Step 4
Do they take up enough space? If you don’t have a bike, you might be in trouble. One year we failed to have a huge present under the tree. Christmas morning the kids said those seven words guaranteed to break your heart, “It doesn’t look like Santa Claus came.” We learned our lesson and always bulked up the haul. Inflatable toys can accomplish this in a cost effective way. Life-sized crocodiles can help set that perfect holiday mood of avarice.
Step 5
If you have more than once kid, there must be perfect balance. We have often switched gift tags at the last minute or doubled down and assigned the new X-box to two kids. This not only achieves balance, but guarantees months of holiday squabbling.

Milky the Marvelous Milking Cow (1978)

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