Friday, June 29, 2012

School Supplies Anyone?

Must be my week for posting about retailers.  I had an $8 coupon for Staples that was expiring tomorrow so I decided to go there yesterday.  As I walked into the store I was greeted by huge signs hung across all the ends of the rows, with displays underneath them.  What did those signs say?  SCHOOL SUPPLIES HERE.

I admit I was really puzzled by these signs.  As both a parent who once had children attending school and as an educator, I am fully aware that schools--public and private--ended about a week ago.  I'm also aware that schools won't be starting again until Labor Day--September.  I also remember that, even though I like to shop ahead, I didn't buy school supplies more than two months in advance. So what was the purpose of advertising and pushing those supplies right now?

This puzzled me as I was going down the aisles of the store and the only possible reason I could come up with at first was that this must be aimed at those going to summer school.  Further thought brought to mind that this couldn't be the answer.  There simply aren't enough students in summer school to warrant such a large campaign.  In addition, I have never, ever seen any store advertise school supplies for summer school, so why would they be starting this now?

I got busy with other things so I put my questions about this out of mind.  Last night though I started wondering about it again.  And then I think I may have found one possible answer--getting a jump on the competitors.

Lots of places besides stationary supply stores that sell school supplies.  Usually those sales start occuring at the beginning of August.  Many parents take advantage of the fact that these multiple retailers all offer sales on different items, and they go from store to store taking advantage of the sales.  Staples does not have the reputation of being a lowest-prices-in-town retailer, and it gets plenty of competition from other retailers.  Or at least it does when all retailers are pushing school supplies.  Right now Staples is the only one in our area who is actually advertising school supplies and has the full range of those supplies. 

So, the question is, will parents start buying supplies now?  Will Staples' jump on the competition work?  Maybe yes and maybe no.  For those who comparison shop, it might not work.  For those who have become accustomed to shopping way in advance (keep in mind that many retailers now start advertising the fall and winter holidays immediately after Labor Day) it might.

As for me (and I imagine for many other parents out there) I am not going to think about school until waaaay later in the summer, no matter what a retailer might be doing now.  Getting ready for school is not on my to-do list for right now.  For me this is akin to a Jewish bookstore's pushing supplies for Sukkot in June.  Thanks, but no thanks.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Another Reason for Wanting to Ban the Internet

Let me begin this by saying that yes, there is pornography available on the Internet.  I have no problem whatsoever with parents being educated about filters that would prevent their children (or adult males) from getting to this stuff.  However yesterday I became acquainted with another reason that many frum Jews would like to ban the Internet.

In a word--shopping.  I accidentally found myself on the periphery of a conversation which involved a few people who have shops selling merchandise geared for a frum population.  What came up more than once in the conversation was that the Internet is bad for these frum-focused businesses because it would draw customers away from the stores, making parnoseh much more difficult.  I got drawn into the conversation when one of the store owners pointed to me and the clothing I was wearing.  She said to me "I bet you didn't buy that in one of the frum stores here in Brooklyn.  I've never seen that particular style skirt in any of them.  Did you buy it from a regular store?"  Honesty required that I answer truthfully--"No, I bought it on the Internet."  She smiled triumphantly.  "Why would you do that when you know that frum clothing store owners rely on the frum olam to buy from them or they wouldn't have any customers."

Now things got really sticky.  How to put what I was going to say without causing a ruckus.  I tried a neutral approach first.  "As you say, you don't carry this style of skirt and that is what I was looking for and what looks good on me."  She didn't seem to be buying that so I tried something else.  "You also don't carry all the colors in clothing that I like to wear."  She asked me what colors I was talking about.  I basically answered "all the colors of the rainbow and there is no black in a rainbow."  I got "not all colors are tsniusdik" muttered under her breath.  She wouldn't leave it alone so blunt honesty got trotted out.  "Frankly, I don't like being rooked when I'm shopping.  I won't pay X amount of money when I know that I can get an item waaaaay cheaper by shopping elsewhere, such as on the Internet.  And I don't like cheap, flimsy material.  I don't want items that are going to shrink the first time they are washed, cold water or not.  And I particularly don't like being told that the frum olam HAS to support frum businesses so the owners can make parnoseh , particularly when those businesses are going to cost me money and are not offering the quality I'm looking for." 

I walked away from the conversation seeing that WW VII was going to break out.  And yes, I'll stick by my guns on this one.  If you are going to be a retailer then you need to understand that competition will be out there, whatever form it takes.  Yes, all other things being equal, I would support a frum store owner.  But it's those "other things being equal" that is the deal maker or breaker. 

Comparison shopping is a blessing for consumers, especially when it has become physically lots easier to do so, thanks to the wonders of the Internet.  This week alone, on items we needed to buy for the house and comparison shopped for, I saved $479.35  I'll bet you could all find some good uses for a sum like that.

Ban the Internet?  Not in my house.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What value that Degree?

An interesting article in the JWR today about undergraduate college degrees.  I'll state up front that I don't agree with all the points being made by the author (some logical fallacies present, among other things), but I do agree with other of his points.  Fodder for another posting, but please do read the article.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Murphy is Chortling

The last week of classes, which was last week, is always hectic for me, as is final exam week, which is this week.  If I only had school to concentrate on I would still be ultra-busy.  But "real" life is also going on during this time.  Last week it was real life with a vengeance. I was seriously going to be a walking, talking experiment in whether life can be sustained if you don't sleep for a week.  And to add to the bedlam, a tooth decided to act nasty and there was a wonderful--not--visit to the dentist.

On Friday I had decided to just pretend the week hadn't happened and enjoy the peace of Shabbos.  Sigh.  A bit after 5:00 central Staten Island was hit with a power outage that took out the power for 80,000 people.  Con Ed swore the power would go back on that night so we tried our best to leave switches on for lights we would need and air conditioners etc.. I lit a burner with a match and put up a blech so we could at least have some warm food.  Let me tell you, eating dinner by candlelight is only romantic in Regency novels.  Still, it was kind of nice to sit around and talk to each other, even if we were in the dark. And glory be, Con Ed came through and the electricity came back on that night.  I'll admit it was a bit odd to go from room to room and see all the clocks flashing.

Sunday brought its own weirdness, but I was hoping that would be the end of it.  Yeah, right.  I woke up early this morning and went down to my office.  A few minutes after I sat down at my desk my eye caught movement right outside.  There was a quail waving around a worm.  As I watched it snapped the worm in half sending one half to thunk up against the door.  Needless to say, I took my coffee back upstairs--nothing like a thrashing mutilated worm to start off the day.  

I ran a few errands that had to be done and afterwards came to my office to check my email.  In looking out the door, I noticed that there were now two worm carcasses right by the door.  A few minutes later what I believe was the same quail came over bearing yet another worm, and the scenario repeated itself.  I called up the SI zoo and asked to speak to someone with knowledge about birds.  The person who got on the phone said that quails that are courting frequently bring gifts of food to the object of their courting.  Say what?!  A quail was courting me?!  Then I remembered that I hadn't been there when the second worm was deposited.  When I told this to the person, he asked me if the door was solid or glass.  When I replied "glass"  he had his aha moment.  He told me that the quail was probably seeing his reflection in the glass and didn't know that.  The quail thought he was seeing another quail, hence the courting ritual.

I put some paper on the door to block the reflection--I don't think I could have dealt with another worm present.  I should have stuck with the quail.  At one and the same time somewhere along the sewer line someone was doing some digging/flushing, and all the incoming water lines were bringing in brown water.  According to the City, it could be up to 48 hours until the problem was cleared up.  I was so ready to just pack it in, head for bed and hide under the covers.  Luckily I just checked the toilets and sinks and the water is almost perfectly clear.  Thank you God for your input so I didn't completely lose my sanity.

I wish Murphy would take his law and go peddle it somewhere else. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

No, You Can't

At least in theory we can all recognize when two items are mutually exclusive.  Either you are sleeping or you are awake, but you can't be both at the same time.  However, the asifa that took place re the Internet brought up a situation where this basic rule need not apply.

Let me backtrack a moment.  There is always much discussion about SAHMs--stay at home moms.  For many, perhaps most, in klal this is the "only" correct place for the mother of children.  I'm not arguing about the correctness of this but would point out that it is the "ideal," and is not possible for many, many mothers due to other requirements that klal has.  You want parents to have large families?  You want all the children in yeshivot?  You want them in summer camp? You want families living in certain communities and places as opposed to others?  Okay, but just how is all this going to be paid for when you also want young men sitting and learning as opposed to working?  Even when--begrudgingly--you say that a man can go out to work, just how much money on average is this quite possibly under-educated and under-experienced young man going to be making?

Ah yes, silly me, I forgot about that other requirement--the one where a woman's parents are supposed to be kicking in megabucks in support.  Hmmm, let me see, those parents have a SAHM in the house and they have 5 kids who between them have 31 children, all in yeshiva.  And the father's name doesn't happen to be Warren Buffet.  Support for their children may be a tiny drop in the bucket for what is actually needed to live the lifestyle some groups in klal insist on.

Now to get back on topic.  The Internet represents a way that the mothers in situations as described above can, indeed, be in two places at once.  They can be at home and they can be at work.  I'm not saying it's easy to do this, but it is possible, and yes, I know women who are doing this.  But that also brings up a different issue that would need to be addressed.   Many of our young women are being channeled into the therapy fields or into teaching.  Here's the thing--you can't do physical therapy over the Internet and you can't teach a school class that way either. (Obviously there are online classes available, but those are given by teachers employed by schools, not by SAHMs.)

So, some in klal would need to change their views about the Internet if they want SAHMs to be the rule, not the exception.  Those same people would also need to change their minds about what is "suitable" employment for the SAHMs.  And if they want their future SAHMs prepared to be able to work from home, they are going to have to give good instruction in computer use while these future SAHMs are in high school, or even college.  And they are going to need to do some thorough and objective research about what types of jobs can be conducted over the Internet.

Those in klal who are so opposed to the Internet--and no, it's not only because of possible access to pornography--need to heed the old saying "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."  The circumstances under which they would be "joining them" could be theirs to decide, but only if they first take off their blinders and look at just what century we are living in and under what circumstances.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lessons from a Fly

Sometimes we are so focused on the big picture that we forget that the big picture is made up of thousands of tiny brush strokes, each one contributing to the whole.  This morning I got a reminder of that, albeit in a strange way.

Yesterday a fly somehow got into the house, a fly of considerable size.  He was buzzing around my office and bothering me as I was working.  I opened the sliding door hoping that he would fly out.  No such luck.  This morning there he was again, perched on the sliding door facing the outside.  Once again I opened the door and hoped he would leave.  This time he flew through the opening and right out into the pouring rain.  Two seconds later he was perched back on the sliding door, this time facing in.  Maybe it was the early morning hour but I imagined him to be rather mournful that his wish had been granted--he wanted a do-over.

All kinds of platitudes came to mind in watching him, but the one that stuck was "Be careful of what you wish for--you just might get it."  Sometimes we are so focused on attaining a particular goal that we forget to ask ourselves the important questions, such as is this goal really going to be the best for me in the long run and what are the costs, if any, if I attain that goal.   My fly was clearly not happy with what he had wished for.  Tough luck fella.  Risk assessment has to come before action, not after it. 

Note for a rainy Monday morning: even a fly can teach us things, remind us of things we need to know and remember.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Wisdom has long held that patience is a virtue.  As the saying goes, "All good things come to those who wait."  Yes, patience and waiting go together.  Unfortunately, the word "patience" may soon be listed in our dictionaries as archaic, no longer in use.

We live now in a world that gives highest priority to things that are "instant."  Waiting for anything is seen as annoying and out of sync with the way things should be.  When we hit the "on" switch for any of the electronic items we own, we expect immediate results.  Even a few seconds wait is intolerable.  This carries over to other aspects of our lives as well.

I asked the manager at one of our local supermarkets which is the bigger seller: traditional, long-cooking (relatively speaking that is) oatmeal or what is sold as instant oatmeal.  He answered that more instant oatmeal is sold.  What is the actual time difference between the two items?  Give or take, 5-7 minutes.  I asked the manager why he thought the instant oatmeal sold more.  Yup, his answer included the word "patience."  Why stand over a stove and wait for the old fashioned oats to cook when you can nuke the instant variety in a minute?  He added that "instant" varieties of just about every food type were big sellers--frozen waffles, pancakes and french toast, 'instant' mashed potato flakes, pre-cooked just about anything, frozen ready-cooked dinners etc..

Why are there more and more ready-prepared, take-home food outlets?  A whole lot of people with no patience for the slowness of having to cook food from start to finish at home.  Why are there more and more restaurants?  Same reason.

Even our language exhibits signs of the impatience that people feel today.  Texting and twittering capitalize on this impatience by "requiring" a foreshortened form of English.  And because that foreshortened English is so convenient, users look at standard English as somehow backwards and too oldfashioned to spend time in learning well.

It used to be that patience was a sign of maturity, of being a "grown up."  Little children were always asking "Are we there yet?!"  Adults were supposed to know better, to have developed patience.  Unfortunately, today it is both adults and children who whine "Are we there yet?!"

Watch some drivers at a red light and you see this impatience.  They are tapping the steering wheel, texting or speaking on their cellphones, eating a snack, talking to someone in the car, fiddling with the knobs on the dashboard and turning their head from side to side to see what is going on outside of the car, and sometimes all at the same time.

Look at some of the "rules" in place for shidduch dating and you see impatience perfectly illustrated.  By the fifth or sixth date a couple is either engaged or they are over.  Some of those involved in making shidduchim have even foreshortened this time requirement.  For them, if you don't know for sure that a prospective shidduch is going somewhere by the the third or fourth date, it's over.  And some of this shidduch impatience also applies to how long any individual date may last for.  Most of the "laws" I've seen say a maximum of two hours for a date.  When I read that requirement I really laughed.  Here in NY, getting from a point in one part of the city to a point in another part can easily take you one hour in each direction.  So basically dating couples don't need to go anywhere but just spend the time inside of a car?  Impatience personified.

Yes, I know that today's world also presents us with a lot more to do in those few hours of the day there are to do them.  Yes, I know that lots of people are multi-tasking inundated.  Yes, there may be certain situations where patience is just not possible.  But those same situations are made worse when we don't have the patience to deal with them.

When I mentioned the idea for this posting to someone, they countered with a different old saying: "The race goes to the swift." Patience is an impediment in getting to where you have to go.  A different old saying by Aesop came to the rescue: "Slow and steady wins the race."  But hey, don't take my word for it--read what some others have said about the value of patience.

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish. ~John Quincy Adams

How poor are they that have not patience!

What wound did ever heal but by degrees?
~William Shakespeare, Othello, 1604

A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains. 
~Dutch Proverb

Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience.
~George-Louis de Buffon

One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life. ~Chinese Proverb

He that can have PATIENCE can have what he will.
~Benjamin Franklin

It is not necessary for all men to be great in action. The greatest and sublimest power is often simple patience.
~Horace Bushnell

A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.
~Cato the Elder

To end off, let me repeat what many a parent has spoken to their children:  Rome wasn't built in a day.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Consistency? Not!

The mayor of NYC is determined to get obesity under control  To that end, he has put into effect a rule that will become official next year that no public venue can sell a sugared drink above 16 ounces in size--no more giant cups will be allowed.  The law will cover restaurants, sports arenas, and street vendors initially.  Talk is that he also would like to ban groceries from selling sugared drinks above that size--good luck to him if he thinks he can take on the drinks industry.  "Diet" drinks would not be covered under the ban.

Why do I find this so ironic?  Today is National Doughnut Day in the US.  Early morning news reports showed people lined up twelve deep at places that sell doughnuts, all eager to participate in this national "commemoration."  Lots of buyers getting lots of doughnuts so they can extend this holiday over the weekend.  Want to bet that plenty of the City offices will have doughnut celebrants chomping on a doughnut or two?  Wouldn't surprise me if Hiz Honor was also a doughnut aficionado today.

Perhaps it's time to get obesity control out of the hands of the politicians and into the hands of those with more knowledge and better ideas about how to prevent and reduce and control obesity.