Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Greatest Non-Story Ever Told

What the hell is wrong with the Washington Post these days? I swear that paper is turning into a bunch of hacks! First we had Ruth Marcus' patronizing and naive take on the new TSA regulations "Don't touch my junk? Grow up, America."1 And now we have Ian Shapira's piece (of crap), "Telling a mother's story through her Facebook status updates."2

While Marcus' op-ed is offensive, because she is utterly dismissive of the public outcry over our government's violation of our Fourth Amendment rights, the Shapira piece sinks even lower, because it literally takes aim at the craft of journalism. It is, quite simply, one of the most ridiculous excuses for "writing" that I've read lately. It's certainly not news, and it falls so short of analysis that I can only assume he's having sex with his editor (and he must be really, really good). Otherwise, how else could this guy get his "work" (I'm taking liberties with the term) published in a national forum like the Post?

Now don't get me wrong, the circumstances unveiled via Shana Greatman Swers Facebook postings are tragic, and I certainly do not question the depth of her family's loss. Reading her thread reduced me to tears, and I challenge anyone to get through it without having a similar reaction. But to be brutally honest, there was nothing particularly special about this woman, or her family. Why were they singled out for national attention, when plenty of human tragedies unfold each day in cancer wards, domestic violence shelters, refugee camps, foster homes and other places where people go when there's nowhere else to turn for help?

Unfortunately the answer is simply that Ms. Swers' Facebook page was linked to Mr. Shapira's. He literally stumbled across her untimely death via his wife's Facebook news feed, decided to copy and past her status updates with a few annotations, and call it an article. The result being that Ms. Swers' story was catapulted to the national stage in one of the most crass examples of how "who you know" can make you famous.

Probably the saddest thing about this piece is that Shapira missed a terrific opportunity to use Ms. Swers' story as a platform to talk about a variety of larger issues, not the least of which being the disease which struck her down at such a young age. For those who can't stomach the read, Swers passed away roughly one month after the birth of her son from peripartum cardiomyopathy. As someone who just had a baby six months ago, I can relate to how frightening this is, and was surprised that I knew virtually nothing about the disease. I may have seen it mentioned somewhere in my various pregnancy books, but when I learned that it occurs in one out of every 1,300 - 4,000 deliveries, and is most common after age 30, I thought: "Holy cow! Why didn't anybody tell me about this one?!!"

Pregnant women are bombarded with information about what to eat, which activities to avoid, and the various risk factors for everything from drinking coffee and eating Brie to sitting in hot water for too long. Yet, this not-so-rare disease was relegated to the back burner. And why is that? Well, don't hold your breath for Mr. Shapira to tell you. He goes no deeper that to provide a link to the NIH website, as I have also done.

And if women's health is just not Shapira's cup of tea? Well, supposedly he specializes in covering the impact of technology on social communications. So I ask: how the hell did he miss this golden opportunity to explore the role of social media in the grieving process? I've often wondered what happens to a person's Facebook, Twitter, eBay, email, blog, and other online accounts after they die. Do the survivors simply delete the accounts, or leave them up as a memorial to the deceased? What if the next-of-kin doesn't have the password? Can a grieving relative have the accounts removed from the public Internet, but preserve the data, so as to sift through the digital effects of the departed's online life once the initial shock and pain of loss have lessened? Surely there is a larger story here about how Facebook impacts the grieving process - a story that might actually benefit the bereaved by giving them some anecdotes and concrete advice about how to go about handling or dismantling their loved ones' online persona.

Unfortunately for us, Mr. Shapira decided not to dig any deeper. That he then felt justified in participating in a self-congratulatory Q&A session about how he "wrote" (again taking liberties with word choice) the piece is beyond appalling to me. He seems to think what he's done is so cutting edge, but really it's just a copy and paste job. As someone who once aspired to enter the field of journalism, I can only say that Ian Shapira is proof-positive that talent plays a minimal role in the hiring process.



Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Dish Tale

The sounds of a running tap, stacking plates and jangling flatware come from the kitchen. My husband is at it again. He's "cleaning up." And while this should fill me with pride, gratitude and a sense of calm, it tends to have the opposite effect.

I think a lot of people know what I mean when I say this. There are certainly many spouses, room mates and domestic partners who do an excellent job tidying up in the kitchen, but mine still needs some micro-management, er um, supervision.

As I sit in the living room, trapped by the nursing infant in my lap, my mind races through the possibilities. Is he hand-washing the good knives? Will he remember to wash the handles, or does he still think they "don't really get dirty?" Or maybe he's placing the non-stick surface of the frying pan against something sharp and abrasive? And what about those crystal champagne flutes? I picture them crushed under the iron weight of a dutch oven.

Suddenly I hear a sound that truly makes me shudder - the dishwasher being opened. No doubt I will find any number of atrocities the next time I peer inside. Delicate plastic containers, remnants of last night's clean-up efforts where a half cup of berries found themselves swimming in a six-cup Tupperware bowl and a drumstick was crammed into a far too narrow square box, will be carelessly placed on the lower rack, directly above the heating element. Forks and knives, un-rinsed and caked with thick, fatty sauces, all crammed into the same compartment of the silverware tray alongside nested spoons, stacked three deep. And my personal favorite: cereal-encrusted bowls, laid face down, so as to take up the maximum amount of precious top shelf real estate. I'll have to reorganize the entire load before I run it.

But seriously, what gives? How is it possible that a highly intelligent homo sapien with higher math skills far superior to my own can be so utterly lacking in spacial awareness? If I ask him what he was thinking when he used the entire top shelf for the three-piece food processor, his reply will be some sort of indignant grunt about efficiency and "not wanting to hand-wash." Never mind the fact that this little stroke of laziness, er um genius, will require an entire week's worth of coffee cups to sit idle in the sink.

So I wonder, if efficiency is the goal, what's next? Will I find the cactus wedged in between the dinner plates, so it can get "watered" during the rinse cycle? Picturing this makes me chuckle out loud, which gets my husband's attention.

"What's so funny?" he asks.

"Oh, I was just thinking about your bizarre dishwasher loading skills, and it made me realize that I wouldn't put it past you to stuff a houseplant in there with the dirty dishes."

"Why would I do that?" he asks with mock affront.

"Well, you know, so you can check 'watering the plants' off your list when you run a load of dishes."

"Hey! That's actually a really good idea! I wonder if it would work?"


Note to self: Move all plants out of the kitchen. If they aren't in his line of sight, they should be safe. Better yet, buy one of those baby slings so I can get back to dish duty, stat!

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Well, I am afraid I was too harsh on the local baby furniture purveyor that I blasted in my last posting. Their third-party delivery firm was prompt and courteous, and the order was filled without mistakes or complaints.

I was also too quick to judge about their payment policy. I wrongfully assumed that they were already protected by my having paid a deposit on the furniture. When I dug a little deeper, I learned that this particular store follows proper credit card consumer protection protocols by not keeping any record of cardholder data from previous transactions.

Having written about this very topic for one of my clients in the high-tech security sector, I should have known, or at least suspected, that this was the case. No merchant worth their salt would keep that kind of data laying around, because of the liability. Furthermore, the payment card providers (VISA, MasterCard, AmEx, etc) demand that merchants strictly adhere to this policy.

That said, I want to highly recommend Lullaby Baby ( in Columbia, MD. They have terrific merchandise, knowledgeable (and patient) staff, and are the antidote to tired superstores like Babies-R-Us. I'm also really enjoying my experience shopping online at The Natural Baby ( The owner is extremely helpful (and also patient, especially with aging parents), and knows the answer to just about everything you could think to ask about her product lines.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Retail Needs Therapy

I make an effort to support small businesses, rather than large, national corporations, and I'm willing to pay a little more for their products because, generally, independent companies offer higher quality and greater selection. In most cases they also offer better customer service, which is why I will continue to shop at Indoor Furniture in Columbia, MD. They get it. They also handle their own deliveries, so product does not get lost or damaged, and customers only deal with one merchant.

Unfortunately, what inspired me to bang out this rant was an experience with a local, independent baby furnishings store, which shall remain unnamed because I want to give them a chance to fix the situation. Back in December, we ordered a crib and dresser set, along with a painting and a nightlight for the baby's room. To-date we've only received the painting. I know that it takes time for things to come into stock, especially with the snow, so I have not been in a big hurry. However, when I got the message that the furniture had arrived, I promptly called back, expecting to schedule a date/time for delivery.

Instead, I was told that the store itself does not handle the actual delivery. This is done through a third party, and I would now need to wait for their call before I could actually schedule a time to receive my order. Then the clerk asked me when I would be available. I wasn't annoyed yet, so I gave her a range of days and times. The clerk proceeded to inform me that she could not guarantee that her delivery firm would honor any of my preferred delivery times, however, she was prepared to accept my final payment for the entire order. Eh?

When I stated that I expected to actually receive the goods before paying (they already had a deposit and my card number, so it's not like I wasn't committed), the clerk explained that, unfortunately, the furniture could not be delivered until the store received my payment in full. Oh, and by the way, she was very sorry, but the nightlight was still en route, because her supplier forgot to ship it.

I find this frustrating on several levels. First of all, in a two-part transaction I do not want to pay for something until I receive it. What if it's damaged, incorrect, or incomplete? If I've already paid-in-full, what is my recourse? Secondly, when you call me to schedule a delivery time, be prepared to actually schedule the delivery, especially if you want to get paid. Do not tell me that I have to coordinate the actual transaction with a third-party, and (yes, it gets worse) include a warning that your delivery firm might drop the ball and not call, so if I don't hear from them in the next two days I should call you back. Seriously? WTF?!

I realize that the world has bigger problems than these, but given the state of our economy, one would hope that customer service might take a higher priority. Sadly, that has not been the case for me when purchasing large items from area vendors.

The following is a list of purchases gone wrong in the past three years:
  1. Bought a new bed from Mattress Discounters. Mattress arrived without the box spring. Good thing I took the entire day off work, because after arguing with the delivery personnel, and making multiple calls to the retailer, I had to wait six more hours for them to show up with both parts of the bed. Why this was so difficult, I cannot say. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, especially given that I had a receipt for a complete mattress set!
  2. Pool table from the now-defunct Champion Billiards arrived with the wrong felt and wood finish. After much grumbling on behalf of the delivery folks, and more time off work for me, we received the correct table.
  3. Booked the Clipper City Tall Ship for our wedding. They required a 50% deposit. We paid with a check. They went out of business, and we lost the entire deposit (over $3K).
  4. Purchased a wedding dress from Columbia Bridal and Tuxedo. Dress shop called to schedule the final fitting three weeks before the wedding. I took a half day off work, only to be told that it was a "mix up" and my dress wasn't even in the store. Did I get a discount, or a break on the alternation charges? Heck no!
  5. Furniture retailer, Scan, went out of business before filling our order. Fortunately, the manufacturer received partial payment prior to the bankruptcy, so they agreed to fill our order. Item arrived twelve weeks later, on top of the eight weeks we'd already waited.
  6. Furniture manufacturer went out of business before filling our order. Fortunately, the retailer (Indoor Furniture) was happy to refund our money, and it worked out to be a no-harm, no-foul situation. I include this example, simply to illustrate how frequently, even under the best of circumstances, various elements of the supply chain fail to make good on their promises.