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I’ve Changed My Status to “Dead”

Charla Krupp 1953-2012

The other day I was scouring LinkedIn for new connections to add when it was suggested that I may know Charla Krupp, Contributing Editor at People Style Watch.  After all, we have three shared connections. Sounds great, except for the fact that Charla died of cancer in January 2012. I know because I read her obituary, having been familiar with her many appearances on NBC’s “Today” show. Heck, her own web page is still in the present tense with upcoming appearances, likely from a past year. Her Twitter account is still active, despite the last post being from December 2011. Worse, her publisher still has her author page written in present tense.

I felt a little creeped out and in casual conversations, friends have had similar experiences.

How do we handle dying online?

Someone with whom I attended graduate school has been living with cancer for years. But more recently, as her attention focused on her fight, her husband took over her Facebook page, updating those who care, delving into detail on a separate blog. I suspect (sadly, way too soon) that her page will become a memorial. But that’s because she planned ahead and gave her husband control. We don’t always get advanced notice.

Similar to my classmate’s situation, a guy named Dan Drotar “died” on Facebook. His long-term friend, Michael Angelo Caruso, documented the progression of Dan’s disease and the way he chose to live his last years in his blog. But Dan kept his Facebook page going until the very end. After his death, a friend took over to memorialize Dan’s life.

In both of these cases, what’s so powerful is the outpouring of emotion from people who barely knew the subjects, if at all. But, obituaries become yesterday’s news, and in time, most survivors move on. Yet the memorial or whatever remains online can live on and on.

For an online remembrance site such as, the memorial exists as long as someone wants to foot the bill. If you want read an obit from a newspaper with an online subscription, expect to pay for the opportunity.

My own father died in December 2011. Way before he died, he was annoyed with Facebook and unsuccessfully tried to cancel his account. But he still lives on in a blue-bannered box.

The Late Emory Berman’s Facebook Page as of Oct. 14, 2012

Not an early adopter, he was actually an early rejecter: he decided Facebook wasn’t for him before he even accepted my friend request, but seven friends remain. Who knows if he’s been suggested to be “friended” by others?

Facebook will let users turn a deceased person’s page into a memorial by filling out this form.

I asked Facebook about dying online. Via email, Alison Schumer said,

  • Our standard procedure when we receive a report that a user is deceased is to memorialize the account, which restricts profile and search privacy to friends only, but leaves the profile up so that friends and family can leave posts in remembrance.  To report an account that needs to be memorialized, people can use this reporting form.
  • Also, we do honor requests from close family members to deactivate the account, which removes the profile and associated information from the site. However, for privacy reasons, we do not allow others to access a deceased user’s account.

It’s a quirky situation, to say the least.

Cleaning Up A Digital Life/Cool Design,

Forget the heirlooms. Pass on your passwords.

When you are asked to create a new password for anything from banks to shopping sites, password strength often comes into play.  There are all kinds of philosophies for security, but one comes up again and again: at least 8 letters, at least one capitalized, ideally with numbers embedded among the letters.  The result is a personal dictionary in a strange language of passwords for various accounts. My shortest password is four characters; the longest is 14. But no one knows which matches which site but me. Should I die prematurely, I have told my husband where a file of them lives, but then he has to remember that location. He’d be the first one to tell you that’s a tall order.

Loved ones have a lot to deal with upon death of others.  Immediate attention often focuses on legally required notifications, including banks and government agencies. Then there are things you face every day — the tangible personal effects. Keep, sell, or donate? Then add on all of a person’s online presence with social media, personal websites, and a litany of other places. It’s almost understandable why the latter goes untouched. There’s just too much to do, and for some people, too much to deal with.

Privacy, obviously, is a major concern. Google, for one, has gone to great lengths to address privacy issues, keeping the trust of the user as the primary priority. If you want to get access to someone’s account without his or her directive, you’re going to have to work for it, and pay for it as well. An attorney will have to get the required court order, and even with that, there’s no guarantee that Google will release access.

Making Dying Online Easier/Scott Chan,

It’s Chicago 1960 all over again — Three possible solutions

Ideally, a loved one would notify Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites that a member has passed away. But why not force the hand of these companies a bit? Pages that belong to the deceased still have ads for which companies are expecting (live) eyeballs. If a company is reporting to an advertiser that so many views are expected, isn’t it a bit fraudulent if dead members are counted? It’s almost like the 1960 Presidential Election in Chicago.

I offer several solutions that could be implemented in pieces or as a complete strategy.

1. Require a backup email address that isn’t yours

When you sign up for a website that will process your credit card and other sensitive information or require private personal information, users should be asked for a secondary email belonging to someone else. That other email would only be used in the event of death. Much like security questions strive to protect online accounts, choosing your proxy could do the same.

I hear the likely argument: What if I choose my wife and then she becomes an ex-wife? She’s probably got access to a great deal of your sensitive information already. Just as you’ll be changing passwords and beneficiaries on bank accounts or creating new ones, you would change your alternate email under profile preferences.

2. Hire interns or recent graduates to scour obituaries,, and local papers for death notices

Every college student tries to add an internship or two to his or her Spartan resume. Typically, it helps enforce a passion for future employment, or enlighten a student that a field isn’t ideal. Unfortunately, internships don’t lead directly to jobs as they might have in the past.  But they are still considered necessary and even start as early as high school. And an internship could provide a foot in the door that, as any job hunter will tell you, could be priceless.

I propose for these companies with dead members weighing down their roles, hire interns or recent college graduates to verify deaths with obituaries,, local newspapers, and funeral homes.

Half of all college graduates under 24 are unemployed right now. These jobs beat mailrooms as starting grounds and reinforce research skills.

3. Charge ICANN with creating a standardized form and directory. The form would be used to verify death. A person could fill out one form and send one email, copied to as many websites and companies as necessary to inform them of a user’s death.

ICANN already keeps track of every domain. So that part is done. According to ICANN, “The world broadly accepts ICANN as the place to work out Internet governance policies.” If that’s the case, then the word of ICANN should be respected and upheld.

As the owner of several domains, I know ICANN keeps tabs, even on the little guy. So I’m sure a global behemoth like Facebook could work something out.  Google’s policy is a good standard for measure. While it’s not easy (requiring a U.S. Court Order in order to access a decedent’s email), having to do it just once would greatly help in the bureaucracy that is death.

Simon Howden,

Get in line

As I recently witnessed upon the death of my father-in-law, no one teaches you how to “do death.” My husband became a quick study in estate law and other government processes. Dealing with the tax ramifications is still several months off.  Several months later, my husband still finds himself spending hours on hold to get information confirmed to avoid subsequent phone calls and returned forms to fill out again.  His dad didn’t even have email, in life, once an inconvenience, but oddly in death, a godsend.

In so many ways, the Internet has made life more efficient. Why not let it make death more efficient as well?



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October 14, 2012   Comments Off

Life in Print

The art of telling life stories is as old as writing books. That is, if you believe that perhaps the Epic of Gilgamesh, often believed to be the oldest written story on Earth, is biographical. But as you live and breathe each day, it’s often quite daunting to think that your entire existence could be captured between two pieces of heavy card stock. Unless, of course, you’re like Justin Bieber. He had lived enough life by the age of 16 to publish First Step 2 Forever: My Story in 2010

 The good news is that Americans are still reading; they’re just reading differently. According to the Association of American Publishers, from 2010 to 2011, sales of eBooks were up a whopping 117%. By comparison, adult mass market printed books were down 36%.

A super top-secret diary

Did you keep a diary as a child or young adult? At first, it was fun to write down stories of school crushes in a hardcover book, secrets protected by a ridiculous lock of stamped metal that surely would keep nosy parents and siblings out. But then it became a chore to fill the pages day after day. Then maybe once per week. Then once per month as playing outside or homework took precedence.

The most famous diary of all, The Diary of a Young Girl, told the story of a life ended way too soon. Anne Frank started writing at age 13, in the form of letters to an imaginary friend named Kitty. She was wise beyond her years and unlike many teens who never want eyes to befall their writings, Anne actually hoped her words would see a greater audience. Because her father, Otto, was the only family member to survive the Nazi concentration camps, the responsibility fell to him and he delivered.

Adults often consider the practice of writing in a diary more soulful or at even pretentious. We call them journals. For a price, the books come leather-bound with gilt edges. However, I didn’t while away hours in coffee shops jotting down deep thoughts. The same patterns returned from childhood. I have many unfinished journals, not from 30 years ago, but just from 15 years back. I found I kept journals when faced with some strife, typically tied to relationships. After venting to girlfriends and deciding against their sage advice, pages were the perfect places to expel emotion. When the relationships were going well, I found less time to write.

Writing was always tied to professional responsibility, but that kind of writing never felt like a chore. The thrill of deadlines, the passion tied to getting the story right, and the satisfaction in knowing people learned something from my work all make it worthwhile.

My first book — the story of a grandmother

Then the ultimate story dropped in my lap—the chance to write a life story. It was a combination of all the things I love: research, history, biography—and the opportunity to put it all between two covers. And there were all the things that came from professional writing too. It seemed less daunting to consider I wasn’t going to be writing about me. Just another labor of love. So I thought.

In 2012, my grandmother turned 80 years old. In preparation for a family celebration and reunion of sorts, I endeavored to write her life story. Six months earlier, my uncle’s wife had given her a cassette recorder. This was technology she was willing to adopt. The plan was that she could tell a story whenever she wanted to. Grandma loves to tell stories. The order didn’t matter; we would deal with that later. My uncle’s wife, a legal secretary, transcribed the hours of tape to a document that was 50 single-spaced pages.

Grandma told stories of her parents coming to America that pre-dated her, all the way through 9/11. There was a lot of material. With a lot of holes.

When the 80th birthday celebration rolled around in June of 2010, all I was able to compile was a pamphlet with some excerpts. And Grandma made sure to let me know about the errors in the stories. It looked like I had some serious fact checking to do.

But life got in the way. While some professionals rise at 4 a.m. to write before their day jobs, I was training for triathlons at that hour. My job as a television producer was hardly 9-5. The little time I had after work was dedicated to socializing so I would not be an 80-year-old television producer with a houseful of cats for company.

Ten years later, plans were in the works for another party. That lit the fire under me to finish the book as a living tribute to my living grandmother.  In the mean time, Grandma had organized hundreds of photographs into albums, often depicting her stories.

Fact-checking the life of a 90-year-old is interesting. Often, few family members could corroborate accounts. Some people in photographs remain unidentifiable. Finding photos of places long gone at Ohio State, my grandmother’s alma mater, was rewarding. Even more fascinating was seeing how certain places have not changed in decades, including Columbia University where she earned a degree and the Brooklyn house in which she grew up. Tracking down other 90-year-olds from Grandma’s James Madison High School class was fun—one woman is currently an award-winning poet and professor who constantly updates her web page! This last bit was particularly poignant since one of my grandmother’s peccadilloes is that she refuses to adopt most modern technology. She doesn’t even have a dishwasher, and the first patent for a dishwasher was issued in 1850!

According to Grandma, New York City and Brooklyn in the 1940s was quite a time to experience. Movies cost a quarter. Milk and vegetables were delivered to the front door. Summers meant camp or Coney Island. It was a sweetly simple life.

She lived during incredible times with a childhood during The Great Depression and college during World War II. While her husband and brother were serving the country at different times, Grandma didn’t seem passionate about these history-making events. She lived in Levittown, America’s first suburbia, but to her at the time, it was just a new place to live. I think she was like most Americans—just trying to get through their days. Priorities were getting to work on time, getting kids to school, and dinner on the table. But to hear Grandma tell it, it was a great life that I wish I could have witnessed.

Over time, Grandma seemed to know many people who became “famous.” She went to school with Harvey Lembeck, an actor known for his role in Sergeant Bilko in the 1950s. Her cousin, Rabbi Balfour Brickner made a name in the fight for social justice and Zionism. Lucille Ball and Tom Selleck were her regular customers when she worked in retail in Los Angeles.

Her personal history-making event that determined “before” and “after” was the death of her husband when she was just 48. Her pharmacist, adventurist, fun-loving husband was the light of her life. After he died of cancer, life was pretty good, but not nearly like before. She made her way, but the photos of her love around her house serve as a constant reminder of what was, and perhaps reinforce why she doesn’t need “new.”

Many late nights later, a 150-page history was finished, complete with photos, newspaper clippings, wedding invitations, and a photographic family tree. Even though I wrote it, I have re-read it several times. I’ve read many life stories, but it’s different when you know the players. Seeing your own family experiences in print, even if you wrote them, is a little weird. But every time I pick it up, I’m proud of its heft.

Now, barely a month after it rolled off the presses in Ohio, it just sits on my bookshelf, alongside other treasured tomes by other writers. Is that all we can hope for with books? Maybe, but I know and my family knows that it will always be there to grab, leaf through a few pages, and live on. No technology necessary.

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July 15, 2012   Comments Off

Boot Camp Versus Fat Camp

In 1999, Nancy McClure wanted to join the National Guard. She was 37, close to when many veterans hope to retire.  The recruiter said she was too old. Two years later, she returned to that recruiter’s office, with two daughters who planned to enlist.  McClure learned about an age waiver and promptly joined the Missouri National Guard. She was 40 years old, in basic training, and in great physical shape.  But in 2007, she was almost kicked out.  The reason: her weight.

“Before I was deployed to Kosovo, I knew that if I didn’t lose weight while I was there, I would not be able to reenlist,” McClure said.

Peaking at 230 pounds in Kosovo, McClure, a Staff Sergeant, lost 45 pounds during the deployment.  That loss wasn’t enough and back home, McClure found it difficult to maintain good habits. For a 2010 physical fitness test, she was too slow in the running portion by 45 seconds–that’s like an hour when it comes to running. It was time to bring in the big guns.

Nancy McClure before losing weight

Boot Camp vs. Fat Camp

America’s obesity level stands at almost 34%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Weight loss is a $61-billion dollar industry. The typical American dieter makes four attempts each year. According to Marketdata Enterprises, that includes everything from Slim-Fast shakes to Weight Watchers meetings to in-patient residence experiences that can run thousands of dollars per week.  One such program is North Carolina’s Structure House.

Lee Kern, Clinical Director at the Structure House, decided to take action when he read that the military was losing recruits due to weight. The Warrior Spirit Training Course was born; the Missouri National Guard was the first to sign up.

“My unit called me and told me that they were sending me to Warrior Spirit,” said McClure. “I was upset. I told them I didn’t need ‘Fat Camp,’ that I would be fine in October. They told me that I was an asset that needed improvement and that I was going.”

“They’re creating career crises for themselves,” said Kern. “They’re falling out of fitness.”

Kern teaches soldiers about nutrition and tactics like food diaries and relaxation skills. To put taxpayers’ minds at ease, it does not cost $3,200 per week, per soldier, like it would at his North Carolina campus.  Kern goes to the military base and provides his own version of boot camp.

Fat on the front lines

According to Kern, it doesn’t really matter if a person trying to lose weight is on the military’s front lines or not. He says that success in weight loss is determined by a desire to make change a priority.

“The targets of change are similar,” he says. “You’ve got to create a life and lifestyle so you can live with food.”

McClure learned to make herself number one.

“I love making other people feel good and happy. That’s the reason I love being a soldier is because I get to care for the heroes,” said McClure. “I spend most of my time on others, so to stop and care for myself was, in my mind, counterproductive.

It doesn’t help that during the week, McClure’s job is fairly sedentary. But even during duty, Kern says soldiers can still make choices.

“I’ve been so pleased to see inside of the military there’s a mini-revolution going on where they’re changing how they put together the diet for the troops,” said Kern.

“You can make healthy choice in the dining facilities on most bases,” says McClure, “and that’s the key, you make the choice to be healthy.  No one else can make it for you.”

Nancy McClure after losing weight

Battle strategy

If keeping current soldiers’ weights in line wasn’t hard enough, the military has been fighting to help prepare potential enlistees to qualify for the armed forces.  According to a 2008 report published by Mission: Readiness with data from the Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27% of 17- to 24-year-olds would not qualify to serve in the military based on weight alone. An update from June 2011 does not indicate any improvement in the fitness of young Americans.

The military isn’t your standard-issue work place, and being physically fit is a requirement for many job descriptions in the “company.” Discrimination because of weight is not really a factor. But in civilian society, it’s rarely illegal.  There are no federal laws in place, but some municipalities and the state of Michigan does ban discrimination based on weight.

Nancy McClure is 50 now and has no intention of leaving the National Guard because of her weight. She would still like to lose 15 more pounds. But she knows it’s up to her. She has an annual Army Physical Fitness Test and the goal to make exercise and eating right a priority in or out of uniform.

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November 2, 2011   Comments Off

The New Jewish American Museum: How Do You Define “Work?”

An early post on this blog concerned religion, and now there is reason for return to the subject.  November 26, 2010 will bring the opening of the new home of the National Museum of American Jewish History.  It’s right off Independence Mall in Philadelphia, less than a minute’s walk from the Liberty Bell.

You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to know that the Fourth Commandment in the Bible says, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”  That proclamation thousands of years old is cause for debate.  Strict observance of Jewish law prohibits work, commercial transactions, exchanging money, and carrying anything on the Sabbath.

So that means no tourists after sundown Friday nor all day Saturday visiting (and paying for) the $150 million project.

Steven Spielberg donated $1 million.  Spielberg is no newbie to donating to Jewish causes.  There’s the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library at the National Yiddish Book Center.  In 2006, his foundation donated $1 million for Israeli relief during strife with Hezbollah.  Other big donors include Sidney Kimmel founder of the Jones Apparel Group and Susan and Michael Dell of Dell computers.

What’s the point?

But who is this museum for?  And what’s the purpose?

The National Museum of American Jewish History/NMAJH.ORG

I would think the goal would be education and enlightenment–of Jews and non-Jews alike.  Since many non-Jews observe their Sabbath on Sunday, Saturday would be the most probable day to visit.  And spend money in the gift shop.  Let’s forget about all “days of rest” for a second.  Most people just like to do touristy things on Saturdays.  The Jews should take the highest of roads to make the museum as accessible as any other important museum.  Even the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC is open every day but Christmas and Yom Kippur.

Or better, consider who this museum is honoring–people including Sandy Koufax who would not play baseball on the holiest of days, Yom Kippur.  But the museum will also pay homage to entertainers whose movies and shows are enjoyed on the Sabbath.  Many perform Friday nights too.  Sydney Kimmel has his name on the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia.  There are TEN different performances on the Sabbath the weekend of November 12, 2010.  Certainly he’s ok with work and the exchange of money on these days.

Someone’s got to pay the bills

When the museum opens with a fancy gala Friday night, November 13.  Yes, on the Sabbath!  Jerry Seinfeld will emcee and Bette Midler will headline.

Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld/(Heidi Gutman/Bravo)

It’s hard enough to sustain a museum in this economy.  In 2009, NPR reported that the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts sold two paintings for $15 million because it needed the money.  The museum received criticism for going against its mission.  Someone’s got to pay the bills.

The Jewish Museum in New York City (along museum mile which includes the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art) stays open Saturdays but its gift shop is closed.  An odd compromise.

Oy vey, Judaism is so confusing

That’s the thing with Judaism.  You’ve got the laws of the Torah.  But then you’ve got the Talmud.  And the Halacha.  Rabbis who lead services are considered scholars and many observant Jews study the religion over a lifetime, constantly questioning, debating, and reading between the lines to determine what was truly meant in the scriptures.

Take the concept of an “Eruv”–which in Hebrew means “mixture” or “joining together.”  The Torah (or Bible) says you can’t work or carry anything on the Sabbath.  But there’s “Halacha,” which is the application of the Torah to everyday living with input from the Torah, rabbis, and customs.  Then there’s the “Talmud” which is a record of rabbinic writings about Jewish law, ethics, customs, and history.

So some communities erect an eruv of telephone poles connected with a single string or wire, which represent doorposts.  If you’re within the eruv, it’s like you’re within your house and you can carry things in your own house.

It’s confusing.

The Vatican Museums interpret the Catholic “sabbath” by staying open just the last Sunday of every month when there is free admission from 9-12:30.  There’s free admission on September 27, too, which is World Tourism Day.

It’s an odd compromise by the Philadelphia museum as well.

You say tomayto…I say L’Chaim

The museum will be open on Saturdays but will not sell tickets.  You have to get them in advance.  The gift shop will be open too, but you’d better have a credit card.  No cash exchanged and credit card purchases will be processed the next day.  The museum will also be closed on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), and the first two days of Passover. Staff will have the option of working on holidays or not.

All these “solutions” are good ideas.  The issue is that when those who observe the religion have to convince themselves that these compromises are “OK” under the auspices of their religion.  A compromise was made, in the name of religion, but I’m not sure it was for the right reasons.

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November 11, 2010   Comments Off

Hotel Hair Dryers–They Blew It

The Scribble Lounge was on a brief hiatus due to the editor giving birth to an adorable baby girl.  But we’re back! Thank you for reading.

Hotels today strive to make their amenities not just like home, but better than home.  The Alex Hotel in NYC and Ritz-Carlton hotels feature luxury Italian-made Frette linens. Aveda and Bliss brand toiletries are staples in many hotel bathrooms.  Loews hotels have a welcome bag for your dog, complete with gourmet treats and poop bags.  But when it comes to the hair dryers, even at top of the line hotels, they falter.  Badly.

At a Kimpton Hotel, Washington, DC

The issue is four-fold.  The design of the wall-mounted dryers allow long hair to be sucked into the air-intake fan, leading to that sizzle and awful smell of burning hair.  The cords are too short. In addition, many hotel hair dryers are a measly 1600 watts.  For a woman going to a business meeting, that means allowing at least an hour to dry her hair.  An hour with these dryers often leads to burn out and a half-wet head.  1875 watts is recommended for quick drying time and the power of many $25 drug store dryers.  For less than $50, hotels could really provide a great option to guests.

For years, this element of travel, for business and pleasure, has been my bailiwick.   I was most appalled with a stay at the ritzy Miami Mandarin Oriental in 2005.  The hair dryer was the standard issue wall model that practically ripped my hair out.  I wrote the manager afterward and received a personal response.  But for some reason, I doubt that all hairdryers in all Mandarins were updated.


The number of women travelers varies widely, depending on the source.  The Bureau of Travel Statistics claims 77% of business travelers and 54% of general travelers are men.  Other surveys suggest as many as half of business travelers are women.

Super Solano 1875: A REAL Hair Dryer

A 2003 study by New York University, “Coming of Age: The Continuing Evolution of Female Business Travelers,” found that only 51% of women business travelers felt like valued customers at hotels.  From that survey, the top three amenities women “must have” to be productive on the road are a mini-bar (71%), brand-name bath amenities (56%) and spa services (47%).  OK, so a hair dryer isn’t on that list.  Perhaps they have resigned themselves to packing their own, so they don’t even give it a second look.  But they should!

When it comes to travel in general, Travel + Leisure estimates that women make 80% of all travel decisions.  Eighty percent!

Theft deterrence and a marketing opportunity

Hotels are probably worried that decent hair dryers would walk along with the nice toiletries.  (Admit it–you made sure to get extra travel-size sets of Bliss or Aveda products.  And for fancier brands, you might even raid the housekeeping cart).  But just like your bill will be inflated if you poach the fluffy bathrobe, the same policy could apply.  Problem solved.

At the Westin in Chicago

In fact, when hotels offer fancy toiletries, there’s a two-fold benefit that could apply to hair dryers.  The hotels appear to cater to customer needs with high end products and the companies likely get increased sales after hotel guests sample those products.  The same could work for hairdryers.  Companies like Sephora or could reach new customers easily with a tag on the hair dryer cord: “Like this dryer? Buy one for home at”  Or, like “W” brands everything from its bed linens to its towels, hotels could brand high-end hair dryers.

The Cranky Consumer

Surely I can’t be the only one with this gripe.  However, a web search only turned up complaints about general lack of hair dryers in particular hotels.  I say traveling tress dressers unite!  With luggage restrictions, bringing a personal hair dryer adds unnecessary weight and takes up valuable space, space that would likely be better fit with an extra pair of shoes.  It’s not just a business travel issue.  Any travel experience where appearance must be tended to is a target:  weddings, vacations, reunions just to name a few.  Why can’t my hair look as good on the road as it does at home?

The Campaign

I can’t do this alone.  Next time you are at a hotel and it takes too long to dry your hair or worse, it gets fried, drop the manager a note.  Comment on the survey that will land in your email in-box after your trip.  Stand up for your hair–it’s the one accessory you wear each and every day.

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August 26, 2010   Comments Off

Concert Etiquette: For God Sakes, Shut Up!

Concert etiquette used to mean not setting your neighbor’s hair on fire with your lighter during the hair band’s power ballad.  Now, it’s all we can do to get concert goers to turn off cell phones.

It’s high time for a review of concert etiquette.  Music aficionados may think a musical event that actually requires etiquette must only apply to classical music, an experience where people still dress up on stage and off.  Not true.  All genres have their rules; many of which even overlap.  In a time where new, youthful music directors at both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra make national news, all music is striving to be more mainstream. Jazz, rock, or Broadway-inspired cabaret are not to be overlooked.

Idina Menzel’s Crazy Fans

Idina Menzel with the New York Pops April 2009/ Photo: Rob Rich/

Last week, the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia hosted the Philadelphia Orchestra featuring Idina Menzel.  The singer, best known for her Broadway roles in “Rent” and “Wicked,” is experiencing a career resurgence on the hit TV show, “Glee.”  Based on the performance of some audience members, you might have thought it was a Phillies‘ game, where fans are known to storm the field and vomit on other fans.  This despite an interesting audience makeup featuring several definite trends: teen and tween girls and their moms (who love Wicked and Glee), gay men (who love Rent and Glee), and senior citizens (who love the Philadelphia Orchestra and cheaper outdoor seats).  In full disclosure, my husband and I fit the first trend, albeit a bit older than the girls and many of their moms.

Performers appreciate the sense of acceptance by their audience, but most don’t need help in programming the evening (that’s for you, song request screamers).  And performers who thrive on audience love, hearing “I LOVE YOU” yelled at every pause and song break just disrupts the flow.  Of course, Menzel closed the program with her “Wicked” hit, “Defying Gravity,” but not before a screamer goaded her into telling the story of how she broke her ribs during a performance of the show.  Menzel, patience wearing thin, offered “here’s my thank you,” before a powerful, inspiring explosion of the song.  The breaking point after a show full of mostly uninvited participation was during Menzel’s encore when she tried to gracefully mount a teetering stool wearing a flowing gown on a very hot, humid summer night.  She laughed off the attempt, inviting the audience to share and access the moment.  But when an audience member near me bellowed, “Don’t hurt yourself,”  the moment leading into a soulful rendition of “Tomorrow” from Annie, was ruined.

Menzel is not a diva.  With a few errant fans out of thousands present, she handled them like a pro: grin and bear it.  She spoke of lactating and the questionable lyrics in a Lady Gaga song (and proceeded to sing it).  She made fun of her mom in a Joan Rivers kind of way.  She’s a Long Island girl who worked her butt off, but saw enough time not working to graciously appreciate her fan base. Menzel profusely thanked the audience for paying good money to see her.  (Of course, an audience member loudly “reminded” her to thank the orchestra for backing her up.  Duh.  With a flourish, she re-thanked the orchestra, the conductor, her pianist, and a musician in the back playing the summer concert while seven months pregnant.)

Rudeness Doesn’t Discriminate

Jackson Browne in Concert, Reading, PA 2008/Carol Berman

I’ve seen similar behavior at smaller venues featuring singer-songwriter Jackson Browne.  We’re not talking snooty orchestra goers here.  Audience members are mostly baby boomers no longer influenced by the drugs and alcohol that fueled their concert experiences 30 years prior.

My point:  all these music lovers should know better.  And dropping $30 or $50 or $100 or $200 for tickets is not a license to be rude.  It’s not a personal concert in your living room.  If you want that, call Elton John.  He’ll do it for a $1 million donation to his AIDS charity.

I’m not saying to sit and do the “polite half-handed clap” after each song. I have enjoyed music experiences ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Depeche Mode to the late Ray Charles–where audience participation truly varies.  But it all got me thinking about the acceptable behavior at all types of concerts.  Just like performers work diligently to know and play to their audiences, concert goers need to know and understand their chosen experiences.  Bruce Springsteen expects song requests for his “stump the band” segment.  He expects homemade signs too, which might inspire the performance and cement an attendee’s memory as “the best ever. “   Hall and Oates take requests too.  And frankly, when these artists have repertoires that span 30 years, it’s impressive to see a dusty B-side make an appearance after an audience inquiry.

The Rules

As I looked around and online, what’s striking is that the etiquette expected at concerts across genres is basically the same:

  • Don’t talk to your neighbor.  You’ll have to scream, and she won’t hear you anyway.  You’ll relive the concert on the way home anyway.
  • Don’t take more than one bathroom break if you’ve got to step over people.  A concert is likely two hours.  You can’t make it?  Then get an aisle seat.
  • If you’re going to sneak a photo, turn off the flash.
  • Arrive on time.  If there’s an opening act, they deserve the same respect as the headliner.  Remember, the headliner was once an opener, and you can say, “I saw them when…”
  • Related to time, if there’s intermission, don’t wait until the lights go back down to find your seat again.
  • Respect your neighbors.  Clap, sing along, and bop in your seat. But if you’re occluding someone’s view because you’re the only one standing, sit down.  Remember everyone around you paid to see the act perform, not you.  At the Fraze Pavilion in Dayton, OH, if an usher gets 5 complaints about you standing up, you’ll be asked to sit–and that’s embarrassing.  This happened at a recent Allman Brothers show.  If everyone’s up and dancing, go for it!
  • If you’re at a venue where eating and drinking is allowed, keep your garbage under your seat until you can toss it.  Otherwise, you’ll get annoyed when a person taking their bathroom break kicks over your beer or steps in your melted ice cream and makes a mess.
  • If you’re trying to expose your kids to music–great.  But if they’re restless, take them into the hall.
  • Don’t whistle.  It’s really annoying.
  • Many etiquette “experts” say you shouldn’t wear t-shirts of the concert or band you’re watching.  I agree it’s a bit nerdy, but definitely the lowest on the offense list.  Your clothes likely won’t bug me.  Your cat-call type whistle will.

There are a few specific actions related to genre:

Rock/Metal Concerts

  • If there’s a mosh pit and you don’t want to be jostled by fellow sweaty fans, drop $10 more and get yourself a seat 10 feet back.  You’ll still have a great view.


  • If a musician has played a solo, which is often improvised on the spot, applause at the end of the solo (while the music is still playing) is perfectly acceptable.

Classical/pops/anything with a full orchestra

  • If the conductor hasn’t put his arms down, the music isn’t over.  Some classical pieces go on for 30 minutes or more.  Don’t applaud until his or her arms are down.

It’s a bit ironic that Idina Menzel’s signature song, “Defying Gravity” is all about breaking rules:

I’m through accepting limits
”cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I’ll never know!

But please, for the sake of thousands of music lovers everywhere, accept these rules of concert etiquette!  We’ll all have a better, more memorable time!

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June 28, 2010   1 Comment

That’s Ms. Coach to You–Women in Men’s Sports

When women cross any threshold in men’s sports for the first time, it makes news.  Still.

Call it the Mars/Venus Effect where the sexes are just different, point blank.  When a person tried to invade “sacred” space, be it a locker room, a playing field, either you’ve got the required equipment, or you don’t.

Now, thirty-five years after a female reporter entered the first professional locker room post-game, women are coaching at all levels.

Robin Herman

Robin Herman, Former Intrepid Sports Reporter, now at Harvard

In 1975, New York Times reporter Robin Herman, then a 23-year-old reporter, secured entry to the N.H.L. All-Star Game after a year of persuasion.  She, not the game, became the story of the day.  Today, Herman is an assistant dean for research communications at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Then three decades later, Katie Hnida became the first woman to score in Division I-A football, as a kicker for the University of New Mexico.   She had transferred from the University of Colorado after dressing for games but not playing.  She also played in high school.

Now, Nancy Lieberman, a legend in basketball in her own right, has crossed over to the men’s space as the first female coach in the NBA for the Texas Legends, part of the NBA D-League.  The team hasn’t played a game yet, but two of its back office executives have already been called up to the NBA, potentially a good sign for players with dreams.

Perhaps It Just Takes a “Trailblazing” Attitude…

Nancy Lieberman

Nancy Lieberman/Former Player, Current Coach

Nancy Lieberman didn’t just pop on the scene.  At the age of 18, she was the youngest person, male or female, to win an Olympic medal in basketball.  She picked Muhammed Ali as her role model at the age of 9 and then met him 12 years later.   A 30 year career with ESPN was interrupted by a stint in the WNBA–at the age of 50.  It’s not that Lieberman doesn’t let the word “no” stop her–she never even considered it!

“This is normal for me,” she says.  “I’m used to being the only woman or the first woman.  It’s very normal.  It might be strange to other people, but it’s what I do every day and I love being in that capacity to inspire women.  It’s the coolest thing that can really happen to you.  We all want to be respected for our effort.”

She also remembers every step of the way, which keeps her grounded and provides a basis for her philosophies.  Many are very “coach-like,” but inspiring at the same time:

- It’s not being afraid of success. It’s being prepared for success.

- Nobody is harder on me than me.

Many people have memorable stories of how they met legends and role models.  Lieberman is no different, with her Muhammed Ali experience extending decades, even to today.  Perhaps that’s something to think about–what makes people successful is not compartmentalizing opportunities but seeing how a kernel of a moment can have long term impact.

She remembers meeting Ali at the New York Stock Exchange after she had won an Olympic medal:

“He says, ‘Come Here Kid,’ and he looks at me and he says that your mom says that you’re good.  I couldn’t even look him in the eye.  I said I’m not good or nothing, I’m the greatest.  And he says give me a hug, there’s two greatest in the room.  We spent time with him, exchanged phone numbers and stayed in touch my senior year.  Eight years ago, we reconnected and it’s been incredible.  Ali is writing and endorsement for [my upcoming] book.  They have said they’ll be at opening night.”

Opening night is in November when she takes to the court with her team.  Her goal–to lead and to teach, with successful results.

“I’m not in control of my reputation but I’m always in control of my character and that’s what I want to teach my guys,” she says.

Difference between contact and non-contact sports?

Does padding matter?  It seems that women are more welcome with the men when there’s less padding.  Case in point?  Tennis!  Mixed doubles have been played since 1888 at the US Open.  That was five years before Colorado was the first state to pass an amendment granting women the right to vote!

The Women in Sports Foundation notes that while there will always be women who can compete side by side men in contact sports, specifically boxing, the majority of women have less muscle mass per unit of body tissue and therefore,

As long as competing athletes are matched by ability, muscle mass and other standardized physical variables critical to success in the sport, competition between males and females should be permitted.

Regarding other contact sports, the Foundation considers physical development in their recommendations that pre-puberty, girls should only participate in contact sports, such as football, with other girls, and after that, continuing women-only teams are fine too.

Women in their own leagues?

The WNBA has been around for 14 years.  Women’s football leagues have popped up over time.  While Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 covered gender discrimination in a broader sense, the increased opportunities for women in sports have been an unexpected and lasting result.  According to a 2006 study Linda Jean Carpenter and R. Vivian Acosta of Brooklyn College there are nine times more women participating in high school sports and the number of women in collegiate sports has increased by 450%!

The five most frequently offered college sports for women are, in order: (1) Basketball, 98.8% of schools have a team, (2) Volleyball, 95.7%, (3) Soccer, 92.0%, (4) Cross Country, 90.8%, and (5) Softball, 89.2%, according to a 2008 Brooklyn College study.

Perhaps league and level of play should be determined by the athlete.  If a woman can hold her own with the men, who cares?  In May 2010, Eri Yoshida debuted with the  Chico Outlaws, of the independent Golden League of baseball.  It’s not Major League Baseball, but it’s still considered professional.  It’s actually often the last stop for players before they retire for good.  She throws a 70 mph fastball and retired 7 of the first 10 batters she faced.

A woman hadn’t played professional baseball since 2000.  But with Yoshida’s arrival, ticket sales jumped more than 50% from the day before!  Her goal–to reach the majors.

No news is good news

It’s truly up for debate whether women in sports doing things “first” or even “second” is good in the news.  If it’s in the news, then public consciousness raises.  But if it’s not news, if it’s “ho-hum,” then it’s mainstream, hardly worthy of a blink.  Maybe that’s not so bad.

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June 17, 2010   Comments Off

Women & Careers: “Leaving Before Leave?” A Critical View of One Mom’s Take

A friend recently pointed out a 2009 Fortune online piece in which Sheryl Sandberg, current COO of Facebook, refers to the behavior of some women as “leaving before leave.”  It’s a specific reference to women who are of child-bearing age and are likely to slow their careers even before they become pregnant, some before they are even in an anticipated relationship.  She says it’s a mistake.  I disagree.

Sheryl Sandberg: Mom, Executive Photo Credit: Google

She writes:

“I…believe that once you have a child, it becomes necessary to make real changes, including potentially deemphasizing your career. But slowing down too early is a mistake that too many women make today, often without even realizing it. Because they sincerely want to stay in the workforce, they try to make room for everything and they slow down–or unconsciously pull back–well before their circumstances actually change. By the time they fully return, they are in jobs that no longer challenge or reward them enough to hold their attention.

In the greater context of the piece, I do think there are essential points Sandberg glossed over.

Sandberg is hardly representative of all managers, male or female.  I can think of two examples: one where a woman got laid off right after she told her manager she was pregnant; one where a woman got laid off soon after returning to work after her second child.  Would a manager admit the connection?  Of course not.  But both had evidence that their “choices” played roles.  And these women DIDN’T “leave before leave.”  Imagine if they had!


Difficult Choices to Make

Making Hard Choices

Sandberg writes:

No one can know in advance the choices they will make after going through a life change as profound as becoming a parent. But if you want to preserve the option of staying in the workforce and building a career, my advice is simple. Stay fully engaged, take on new and interesting challenges, and do so until you have a child. Keep your foot on the gas pedal until your life actually changes. Then you can make the decision to keep driving quickly, slow down, or step out of the car.

Choosing to take time off to raise a child or care for a sick parent CAN be considered part of a career.  A career spans decades and includes many life changes, such as advancement, talent development opportunities, extended time off, and the plan to return.  In a society where moms work on a Thursday and give birth on a Friday, “leave before leave” can help preserve sanity.

There are many industries such as law, journalism, and medicine where hours are long and erratic.  If a person doesn’t decide to pull back before he or she is in a relationship which might lead to a desired family, that relationship may never materialize.  From my experience in journalism, you don’t even realize you’re on the road to becoming a “news nun” until you’ve almost gotten your habit and blessing.  You’re having too much fun, you’re embracing your responsibility to inform the public, and you better have a pet sitter on speed dial for those last minute trips to breaking news sites.

The Biggest Oversights

Most importantly, I think Sandberg misses the point that everyone, male or female, engages in “leave before leave” to some degree fairly often.  It potentially has little to do with success or job performance.  It’s about finding work/life balance in varying degrees.  Most of corporate America experiences a tiny bit of “leave before leave” every Friday after 3pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day.   Or how about pending weddings, vacations, and even just a hot date that night?  People naturally pull back in the face of other priorities.  It may not hinder performance, but bad timing could impact advancement.

She also does not define “career,” even in her own view.  How does she define balance between title, paycheck, direct reports, benefits, ability to balance life, chances save the planet, feel fulfilled, etc?  We all split this pie differently, and one recipe is not necessarily better.

Sandberg suggests forging ahead no matter what life obstacle gets in the way.  She writes that she hired someone who became pregnant soon after joining Facebook.  Sandberg herself took the Facebook job upon her return to work after the birth of her second child.  Her main theme is this: there’s never a good time.

She’s right, there is often never a perfect time.

Stop Your Career At Your Own Risk

Stop Your Career At Your Own Risk

Sandberg is outspoken about her hard work to provide leadership opportunities for women and deserves all the attention she gets for it.  But at the end of the day, she has to report to someone and make her numbers.  I strongly doubt she’d hire me, 8 months pregnant, even if I was the best “whatever” on earth.  The key is knowing when something is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and when it isn’t.

I Practiced “Leaving Before Leave”

I think by “leaving before leave,” I have shown that I respect potential employers. Making a huge investment in me, an unknown, only to need a replacement in a few months during maternity leave is asking a lot.  In a “need it now” society where employers have work to be done or risk losing headcount without immediate hires, most look at current availability.  Yet, I have already had positive response from hiring managers and clients as a result.  I’m not sitting idly by; I have continued to work at a level that fits my current situation.

Consider the numbers:  According to the CDC, 4 million women give birth each year.  The US Census reports that 56% of moms with infants in 2004 are working, down from a record high of 59% in 1998.  And 51% of women returned to work within 4 months of having their first children.  True, we cannot assess the “quality” of those jobs.

You have to consider your job as well as your career.  Sandberg talks about conversations she’s had with women who didn’t even have boyfriends and yet were pulling back, planning to have children.  (She didn’t mention the rising trend of single motherhood by choice, by the way) If women approached their relationships with the same energy and drive that they put towards work, that boyfriend-husband-baby path may not be as long as Sandberg implies.  That entire process can take less than two years.  Sandberg would argue that two years of pulling back will greatly and adversely affect my prospects going forward.  As I still get calls for jobs and assignments, I disagree.

It has to do with the person and how that person tackles ANY challenge, personal or professional.

In addition to Sandberg being among a tiny proportion of potentially understanding managers, she is likely among a small proportion of high wage earners.  She doesn’t discuss her childcare options, which are likely choices not experienced by the majority of working moms.  Former TV personality and current entrepreneur Joan Lunden is mom to 4 children under 7 and 3 others.  On a Thursday May 20th appearance on ABC’s The View, she freely agreed that being married to an owner of summer camps and having the resources to comfortably provide for her kids makes all the difference in balancing work and family with the help of her husband.

Sandberg gives job applicants the option of expressing their plans to have children.  She asks them directly, which is a questionable practice according to the EEOC.  It’s illegal to discriminate in the course of hiring, firing and other conditions of employment based on pregnancy.  With that in mind, she might argue that I should not have considered my pregnancy in a job search.

Hard Work Pays Off

Sandberg has an admirable life at which she worked very hard to earn.  She’s Harvard educated (undergrad and grad).  Her resume includes being the highest ranking woman at Google and Chief of Staff at the US Department of the Treasury.  She’s now half of what could be called a Silicon Valley “power couple,”  married to SurveyMonkey CEO, David Goldberg.  In other words, she’s no slouch.

Her dad is a well-known eye doctor in Florida.  Her mom is a teacher.  Together, they founded the South Florida Conference on Soviet Jewry.  In 1975, they were detained, questioned, and expelled from the USSR.  This is a passionate family.  Sheryl’s efforts clearly have deep roots in a family with strong values and drive.

Sandberg worked as an economist at the World Bank on international issues. She now works for a company that touches 500 million people worldwide.  She has a clear view of the world as a whole.  I would just suggest that when needed, she shrink her world view to realize a wider range of women and what we offer.  It will be several months before I know if my decision was a mistake.  But I am  confident that it was not. That confidence will count for something.

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May 24, 2010   Comments Off

The Holocaust and Other History: How Much Do You Know? How Much Should You Know?

I crammed to finish the short story in time, eyes glued to the pages ignoring everything around me.  It was only 119 pages.  I could do it.  This was not a college finals week study session.  I was 37 years old on my way to hear Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.  I had never read his ground breaking historical account of his concentration camp experiences called, “Night.”  And I was sort of ashamed.

The train pulled into New York’s Penn Station and I had 10 pages to go in the riveting memoir.  But kind of like with “Titanic,” you know how it ends.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Author, Professor, Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel April 28, 2010/Carol Berman

The 90 minute program sponsored by the New York Press Club (of which I am a member) provided even more insight into Mr. Wiesel’s life since his time in Auschwitz and Birkenau.  But I did not take away a greater desire to connect with Israel and current politics there.  What I did think about is the responsibility to learn.

As a journalist, it’s been my job to learn about any number of things, usually under deadline.  Even off the clock, the quest and desire to learn is usually present. But in a semi-schizophrenic way, sometimes I just want to turn it off and it’s completely unpredictable.  On my honeymoon, I tried to turn it off and literally did not power up my iPhone.  But like calories not counting when eaten off someone else’s plate, I was drawn to news alerts on my husband’s Blackberry.

A journalist is also charged with being a witness to history.  But Mr. Wiesel took this notion even further:

“My deep conviction is he or she who listens to a witness becomes a witness.”

Does Your Day Have 28 Hours?

There’s only so much time in the day.  During the little free time we get, are we responsible for “work” of a different kind?  Work in self-educating?  Are we responsible for filling in the gaps left by tightly scheduled school curricula, when there’s never enough time to learn everything.

Back in 1989, AP American history, I remember whizzing through the post-World War II years because time was short and exam prep had to begin.  In college, professors often skew curricula to their own areas of interest and expertise.  There are so many classics to read,  so many events to embrace.  In 2006, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 37% of high school seniors didn’t know that a 1962 conflict between the US and the Soviet Union was over missiles in Cuba.  That was considered an easy question.  Only 29% could name one reason why the US got involved in Korea.

During Mr. Wiesel’s talk, he addressed an audience question recounting a 10 year old who did not know about the Holocaust.  “I will not force a child,” he said. “A child must be ready for it.”

The Great Gatsby/F.Scott Fitzgerald

"Pleasure" Reading or School Assignment?

I know my knowledge of European history is lacking.  Same can be said for wars in Korea and Vietnam.  I read works including “The Great Gatsby” and “The Grapes of Wrath” on my own because I felt a hole in my literary knowledge.

Nothing Wrong With a Little Brain Candy

But are we allowed to turn it off?  While I’ve been to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, read The Diary of Anne Frank, and experienced several first-hand accounts of survivors in years of Hebrew school, I never saw Schindler’s List. It just isn’t what I look for when I go to the movies.  I don’t consider it entertainment; it’s education.  And if I’ve got 4 hours for dinner and a movie on a Saturday night, maybe I just don’t want to mentally “work.”  But I’m beginning to think responsibility might have to win out more often.

That sense has become stronger as I’ve sought to be educated and seen the link with responsibility.  Watching “Food, Inc.” and reading David Kessler’s “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” has changed the way I shop for food.  Over time, this education will positively impact the health of my family.  But I found both entertaining.

The Holocaust and other historical accounts are not meant to be entertaining.  Ken Burns has made a valiant effort in making historical events such as the Civil War watchable (though many critics don’t like his treatment of still photographs).

How Much Time do YOU Have?

The challenge is in finding time to balance responsibility with unadulterated recreation.  A 2007 study from the Pew Research Center found that despite the boom in readily available information, between 1989 and 2007, knowledge of public affairs didn’t improve much.  In fact, 5% fewer people knew the name of the Vice President.  If you want to make the argument that people don’t see far beyond their noses, it doesn’t hold.  Eight percent fewer people could name their own state’s governor.  Despite the fact that people are more educated, knowledge has not increased accordingly.

I think it’s a combination of time in the day and sheer desire.  Both should not be excuses.

The American Historical Association lists three benefits of studying history–that when you think about it, can be translated to so many elements in life:

1. The Ability to Assess Evidence
2. The Ability to Assess Conflicting Interpretations
3. Experience in Assessing Past Examples of Change

The American Revolution Center found 83% of adults failed a basic test on the American Revolution in 2009.  (I scored a 90% on the same test–a little comfort in knowing I have not fried every brain cell since the 10th grade)

I now think we’re compelled to be more conscious in our post-school learning, no matter what the circumstance.  Some work 3 jobs to get by and put food on the table.  I think 5 minutes with a newspaper on the commute or waking up to 10 minutes of news radio is as much a privilege as a responsibility.  We can become educated and question the information sources.  Not everyone can.

I finished the last 10 pages of “Night” on the train ride home.

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April 30, 2010   Comments Off

Look for New Scribbles Coming Soon!

Topics including:
- Ridiculous waits at the doctor’s office. Missing meetings and appointments in the “regular working world” will cost you your job!
- A grudge match between Paula Deen & Elie Krieger. How can Paula still be so popular with butter dripping like her southern accent?

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June 3, 2011   Comments Off