April 26, 2005

Blueberry Pie

Blueberries are number one among fruits and veggies in antioxidants.

This blueberry pie is incredibly easy to make (at least, the way I make it with two serious short cuts).

This recipe is taken from Betty Crocker's 40th anniversary edition but has been modified by me.

pie crust -- i buy Mother Nature's Goodies Whole Wheat Pie Shells which have no trans fats, no preservatives, and have none of that pasty white flour. i've seen other healthy premade whole wheat pie crusts in stores, these are just the ones i'm able to find locally.

1/2 c. sucanut (Betty calls for 3/4 c. of sugar)
1/2 c. freshly ground red wheat berries (Betty calls for 1/2 c. of that white pasty flour that's been sitting on the store shelves for months before you bought it)
1/2 t. cinnamon (i think this makes a nice addition and is the reason why Betty's recipes is my favorite.)
3 cans Wyman's wild blueberries (Betty calls for 6 c. fresh blueberries. But by using the canned variety, I can eat these pies all year round. yum!)
a dash of lemon juice (Betty says 1 T.)
(and Betty sticks 1 T. butter on top of the pie. i generally skip this not because i'm trying to cut out fat but because i'm lazy and would rather skip that step.)

Mix everything together except the pie crust. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and if you want a top slap the second pie crust that came in the package on top of the first one. (Hey, like I said, I'm lazy. If you want to get fancy but still use store bought dough, you can take the pie dough from the second pan and roll it out all pretty like and then put it on top.)

Cook the pie at 425 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes. (Or cook it at 350 like I do (because everything is supposed to be cooked at 350, right?) for 50 minutes or until the pie crust looks done.)

April 24, 2005

In Sam We Trust : The Untold Story of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart, the World's Most Powerful Retailer

Genre: Nonfiction
Author:Bob Ortega

About a year ago a woman at church mentioned that she likes to shop at Wal-Mart not just because it’s cheap but because she feels like she’s supporting a Christian business seeing as Sam Walton (the founder of Wal-Mart) was a Christian. I knew enough about Wal-Mart at the time that warning bells were sounding loud and clear in my head, but I didn’t really know enough about Sam to respond very well. So I decided then and there that I needed to do some research.

The barista at my favorite cafe suggested that I start with source material. Rather than reading what others say about Wal-Mart, perhaps I should start with what Sam himself has said. So that’s what I did. (Sometimes barista’s give great advice.) I read Sam Walton’s autobiography, Made in America: My Story -- an ironic title given that there was a huge controversy over Wal-Mart’s "Made in America" program and that the focus of the book is in many ways more on Wal-Mart than on Sam.

I came to the following conclusions as I read the book:

1) Sam Walton may have called himself a Christian, but the reality was that he bowed at the alter of Commerce. Though he paid God lip service (He loved to start out his stock holder meetings by singing the national anthem then praying.) he very clearly worshiped retail. (For more on this, please read my review of his autobiography.)

2) Sam Walton was a real people person. He could make the lowliest clerk, who was being overworked and underpaid, feel like she was one of the most important cogs in the great machine called Wal-Mart. This personality trait was probably one of the most important characteristics in terms of building an identity for Wal-Mart as a corporation.

3) Sam Walton was a man driven to be the best at whatever he did and he was willing to do whatever it took to make sure he wound up on top.

Having an opinion on Sam was a start. But Sam was not Wal-Mart, much as the two of them are intimately linked in the minds of many Americans even today. So I pulled two more books off the shelves of our local library:

1) How Wal-Mart is Destroying America and The World and What You Can Do About It by Bill Quinn, and
2) In Sam We Trust : The Untold Story of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart, the World's Most Powerful Retailer by Bob Ortega.

After glancing through Bill Quinn’s book, I immediately tossed it. The book may be entirely true for all I know, but it was written in a clearly biased manner and didn’t appear to me to have very good documentation. My goal was not to slam Wal-Mart just because I wanted to slam Wal-Mart. I wanted to approach my inquiry fairly and I wanted to base my conclusions on facts and figures, not emotion.

So then I turned to Bob Ortega’s book. I was pleasantly surprised not only by it’s impeccable documentation, but by his fairness and thoroughness as well. In many cases he talked directly with the people involved in Wal-Mart, from executives to workers. Though he may have had an agenda in writing the book (just as I had an agenda in doing my own research) I still feel that he tried his very best to fairly address the whole of Wal-Mart’s activities -- pointing out the smart business decisions as well as the ethically suspect ones.

The Content of Ortega’s Book

Over half of In Sam We Trust is the history of Wal-Mart, its predecessors or its competition. Ortega is seriously thorough in approaching this subject. As a person
who is not very interested in business dealings in general, I have to admit that I plodded through parts of this book. At the same time, I appreciated Ortega’s thoroughness because I knew that there was no way I would have investigated the topic so thoroughly on my own, and I’d rather read someone else’s synopsis than have to personally plod through the source material.

Ortega begins his book with a brief review of Sam Walton’s life, his personal history, and his activities that lead to the creation of Wal-Mart. Much of this was simply a synopsis of Sam’s autobiography, which I had just finished reading. But I was encouraged by the fact that Ortega came to many of the same conclusions that I did in reading Made in America. His impression of Sam’s spiritual life was identical to mine as was his reactions to Sam’s strengths as a people person and his drive to being the absolute best at whatever he put his hand to.

Ortega then backed up all the way to the mid-1800’s and briefly surveyed the history of retailing in America. He traced trends and innovations within, and the men and companies that drove, the retail industry. He pulled out threads that would later bear heavily upon the success of Wal-Mart. And he showed very clearly that many of Sam Walton’s winning ideas had come from other retailers who either failed to implement them well, or who had the ideas but were thwarted by their superiors within their respective corporations.

In Wal-Mart’s early days it had very little competition. The first store was opened in 1962, the same year that both Target and K-mart got their start. But Wal-Mart was located in rural areas of middle-America and grew very slowly at first, staying safely away from the competition which was based primarily in large urban areas to the east. But as retailers expanded their reach, they slowly began to encroach on each other’s territory. As Ortega gets to this part of his story, he stops to look extensively (considering this is a book on Wal-Mart) at the chief competition, K-mart.

K-mart, unlike Wal-Mart, had been slow to integrate computer technology which slowed not only its operations within stores, but which hampered its ability to track goods and restock efficiently. Sam Walton, on the other hand, liked to keep his finger on operations at all of his stores, something he could initially do by visiting each store regularly thanks to a beat up old airplane he purchased and flew himself. However, as his operations grew, he recognized that personal visits would no longer be feasible, so he invested heavily in computers and computer tracking. From Wal-Mart headquarters, Sam was able to track sales not only by store, but by product or even by sale type (cash/credit) in real time. (In fact, it is this detailed use of technology that enabled Wal-Mart, in 2004, to change direction on a dime as sales were slow the day after Thanksgiving. Within a day a new sales strategy was devised and within two days it had been fully implemented in all of Wal-Mart’s American stores.)

K-mart also had a policy of recruiting from within it’s own ranks. Executive positions were always filled from within. So problems within the company were often reinforced, rather than eradicated. Sam Walton, on the other hand, had a policy of hiring only the best in a given area. If it meant hiring someone straight from the competition, that’s what he would do. In fact, Sam regularly searched for employees (from managers to executives) among the competition. He not only ended up with a topnotch employee, but the competition ended up with one less. And he got the extra benefit of bringing in fresh ideas straight from these other retailers. Sam had no qualms about stealing ideas from others and was often found in the stores of other retailers with a mini-recorder in hand, even when the store had a posted policy against that very thing. (And he would get away with it as he explains in his autobiography.)

About two thirds of the way into the book, however, Ortega starts to look directly at some specific company practices such as union-busting, employee policies that were unfairly enforced, and contracts that Wal-Mart had with sweatshops -- most specifically with their Kathie Lee Gifford line of clothing -- and their subsequent policies regarding such sweatshop merchandise. He details how, after Sam Walton’s death, the upper management became even more obsessed with the bottom line and how, when Sam’s brother, Bud, spoke out in favor of the Wal-Mart employees during a stockholders meeting, the executives unambiguously ignored him. Sam Walton had been obsessive in making Wal-Mart a great retailing chain. The executives he left behind took up his mantle with strict orthodoxy.

The Dark Side of Wal-Mart

“You won't hear anything negative from most people. If Wal-Mart takes something the wrong way, it's like Saddam Hussein. You just don't want to piss them off.” -- Paul Kelly, founder of Silvermine Consulting Group, a company that helps businesses work more effectively with retailers

Wal-Mart clearly has a dark side and Bob Ortega was meticulous is going straight to the source as much as possible when documenting it. He contacted suppliers in Central America and Asia that do business with Wal-Mart. He poured through court documents and he met with former Wal-Mart employees to get their stories directly. He also met with organizers who were trying to stop Wal-Mart from moving into their communities and he documented the results for those municipalities that failed.

You really should read the book if you want to know more about Wal-Mart’s dark side, but I’ll summarize some of Ortega’s findings here.

Employee Relations:

Employee conditions were rough during Sam Walton’s time. In his autobiography he admits to paying his employees less than all other retailers. His autobiography also attests to the long hours managers were expected to put in (without overtime pay). But after Sam died, things only got worse. (Which is why Bud tried to stand up for the employees in that stockholder meeting I mentioned earlier in which he was stoutly ignored.)

Employees were fired or punished for issues that managers were allowed to get away with. Wal-Mart was found guilty on more than one occasion of racial discrimination. And, as Ortega said, “What’s more interesting about these cases is the behavior of higher-ups at Wal-Mart once they became aware of the situations--how they often ignored the complaints, how they often acted not to correct the problems, not to oust these troublesome managers and restore the aggrieved employees, but rather to cover up and defend fundamentally indefensible actions, to claim the workers were fired or had left for other reasons, claims that courts and commissions found time and again simply were not credible.”

Employees also tried to organize on several occasions and each time they were met with threats and direct punishments. When Wal-Mart’s butchers tried to organize, Wal-Mart responded by removing their positions from Wal-Mart entirely. Wal-Mart now has a central meat packing plant and they ship their meat across the US. When truckers tried to organize, they were met with threats from Sam Walton himself. (And recently (Fall 2004/Winter 2005) a Canadian Wal-Mart that did manage to organize, was shut down within a matter of months.)

Sweatshop Labor:

Ortega focused on a specific line of clothing that Wal-Mart developed to combat a popular line put out by K-mart. The Kathie Lee Gifford clothing line boasted that a percentage from each sale would “go toward helping AIDS and crack addicted children in New York.” (quote from Kathie Lee Gifford in testimony before The U.S. House Subcommittee On International Organizations And Human Rights) Unfortunately, a reporter trying to uncover labor abuses in clothing lines for another company, instead found children who were making clothes for the Kathie Lee Gifford line.

Ortega uses this example not simply to document that Wal-Mart was selling clothing made by children, but to highlight Wal-Mart’s response to the discovery. It is one thing to unknowingly purchase clothes made by children. It is another thing entirely to continue the practice once the situation has come to light. And worse yet, Wal-Mart failed to take a proactive or positive stance in dealing with the issue (something which other companies who were caught in the same position did manage to do.)

Ortega went so far as to contact U.S. Customs officials in Hong Kong who “confirmed in interviews for this book that, for more than two years, they repeatedly warned Wal-Mart buyers and visiting company executives about the quota-busting problems--even giving them documentary evidence--and were ignored. One customs inspector said that the third time he personally told Wal-Mart’s head buyer in Hong Kong about the problem, “he said to me, ‘I’ve told the people in Bentonville about this, and told them I share your concern. All they told me was not to worry about it, that we’re not the importer of record.’” In other words, Wal-Mart didn’t care if illegal practices were taking place in their supply chain as long as no one could pin anything on them.

Harry Wu, a human rights activist, approached Wal-Mart concerning their purchases of jeans made in China by prison labor. He asked, and was allowed, to speak at a stock holders meeting. After he spoke, there was no discussion and the issue was never addressed throughout the rest of the gathering. Ortega writes, “Leaving the meeting, a somber Wu (former Chinese political prisoner) told Harbrant and Fiedler that he hadn’t seen a meeting like that since the last Communist rally he’d been forced to attend in China.”

Deceit as standard corporate policy:

There were three examples of Wal-Mart behavior that particularly struck me as being deceitful. The first has to do with Wal-Mart’s response to municipalities that try to block a Wal-Mart from moving in. The second was in Wal-Mart’s response to a campaign against it that pointed out it’s “Buy American” program was largely a sham. And the third had to do with unscrupulous advertising techniques.

When a group formed that tried to block Wal-Mart from moving into their community, one of Wal-Mart’s responses was to pour money into an organization known as “National Grassroots” which would then purport to advocate for citizens who did want the Wal-Mart. However, “National Grassroots specialized in fighting grassroots efforts through what have come to be known as ‘AstroTurf’ operations: creating the appearance of grassroots support for a project, irrespective of whether any exists or not, and then cultivating local community leaders to come on board.”

In 1992, Dateline aired an investigation into Wal-Mart’s “Made in America” campaign. In addition to showing footage of children working in Bangladesh to make clothes for Wal-Mart, the show also included hidden camera footage of “Made in America” signs hung up over imported goods. Wal-Mart’s response was to “strongly encourage” their suppliers to run ads in support of Wal-Mart. Bob Ortega describes the corporation’s response this way, “To fight back in public, executives decided to draft others to defend Wal-Mart, in what would be made to look like a spontaneous outburst of support. Wal-Mart’s public relations people designed newspaper ads for the company’s vendors to sponsor, defending the Buy American program. Suppliers were given sample ads with phrases such as “Thanks, Wal-Mart” and “We Support Wal-Mart’s BUY AMERICA program” in huge print. Wal-Mart buyers were to ask vendors to use their own words, to make the ads seem their own. Wal-Mart “recommended” that vendors, depending on their size, either buy full-page ads in national newspapers such as USA Today (for $65,810) and the Wall Street Journal (for $110,629) or buy ads in local newspapers. Wal-Mart helpfully included a list of newspapers, phone numbers, and names of whom to contact, and what the rates for a full-page ad would be ($2,790 at the Biloxi Sun-Herald, for example). Vendors were supposed to say the ads were their idea and were warned not to run them before Wednesday morning, the day after the broadcast.”

Another investigative report found that Wal-Mart was mislabeling competitors prices on shelves, or comparing Wal-Mart prices to other store’s prices -- but for a larger sized version of the product (without indicating that the comparison was not for the same sized product). Many Wal-Mart stores also had a marketing ploy in which they would fill two shopping carts with items; one shopping cart held only items from Wal-Mart with a label indicating how much those items would cost in total and the other held similar items from a leading competitor with the competitor’s total cost shown. But the shopping carts were so heavily wrapped in cellophane that it was hard to see that the Wal-Mart products were often of smaller sized versions of the product than the competitors cart held or were products of a cheaper quality (a $5 wind up watch from Wal-Mart compared to a $15 battery operated watch from Target).

So What’s to Be Done?

As Ortega concludes his book, he points out that there’s really only one way to affect change in a company in which the bottom line is the be all and end all. The wallet of the American consumer can speak volumes to the Wal-Mart executives. It’s up to us to tell Wal-Mart that we don’t approve of their employment practices, their continuing push to squeeze every penny out of manufacturers (thereby pushing jobs overseas), and their deceitful business practices.

Ortega is by no means calling for an end to Wal-Mart. But he does want Wal-Mart to take responsibility for its actions (without having to first be dragged to court and forced to take responsibility as has been the historical path for this company). He wants Wal-Mart to use its size and clout to achieve some good (as McDonalds has done for the chicken industry and against genetically modified potatoes, and as the Gap has done for workers in third world countries).

I highly recommend that you read this book. It would be an excellent book for book groups -- a great springboard for discussion. And I suspect that even people well versed in the workings of Wal-Mart will find some eye-openers between these pages. Certainly not everything that Ortega says is negative. As I pointed out before, the author is very good at giving credit where credit is due and Sam Walton’s genius is clearly laid out as Ortega delineates the history of Wal-Mart. I really feel that this is the kind of book where people on both sides of the Wal-Mart debate can come together and start to sort through the issues, seek the truth, and find the higher ground.

April 23, 2005

Wal-Mart exec may have used as much as $500,000 to pay for anti-union activities.

"Thomas Coughlin, who was vice chairman of Wal-Mart's board and formerly held the title of president of Wal-Mart Stores, resigned from the world's largest retailer in March after Wal-Mart found what it said was a pattern of expense-account abuses and the use of false invoices to obtain reimbursements.

"Following his resignation, accusations emerged that Coughlin may have
used undocumented expense payments of as much as $500,000 to pay for anti-union activities."

-- see CNN's entire article here or see more on Wal-Mart's union practices in another CNN article here.

April 20, 2005

Full page ad against Wal-Mart in todays NYT

A group called Wal-Mart Watch put a full page ad in today's New York Times. (If you haven't seen the ad, you can see a pdf version here.)

Highlights from the ad:
"Year after year, Wal-Mart's low pay and meager employee benefits force tens of thousands of employees to resort to Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance. Call it the "Wal-Mart Tax." And it costs you $1.5 billion in federal tax dollars every year."

"The $1.5 billion Wal-Mart tax doesn't even include state tax dollars spent on Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance. And it doesn't include the millions of dollars that communities pay every year to provide new roads, electricity, sewer, and water lines for Wal-Mart stores. The company has a $10 billion annual profit, but won't even build the driveways to its stores."

And here's some of the info. they post on their website about Wal-Mart:
* California spends an estimated $89 million annually providing public assistance to Wal-Mart’s employees.
* In Georgia, over 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees are on state-funded healthcare.
* Wal-Mart spends $1,300 less per employees on healthcare than average retailers and $2,100 less than average U.S. companies (according to a recent Harvard Business School study)
They have a great research library that lists journal articles, book titles and television and radio programs that address the problem of Wal-Mart. They also list primary sources for the facts that they have posted on their ad (and on the site).
I wonder if they're going to start addressing the union issues, use of illegal immigrant issues, and use of child and slave labor overseas issues next.

April 14, 2005

Faking It

Do you "fake it" on your cell phone?

Yes, frequently.

No, never.

I've done it a few times but I don't make a habit of it.

I don't have a cell phone.

It's 7:50 and Rob just called me from the airport in San Francisco. He
usually calls at 8 every night so that he can say goodnight to the kids
as I'm putting them to sleep. But his call was ten minutes early so I
knew something was up. (Yes, we tend to be that precise.) I was
beginning to worry that his plane was delayed but all he said was, "I'm
just letting you know that I'll call at 8."

so Rob can be a bit odd at times, but this was just stupid-odd. Then he
explained, "I'm walking past the information guy and I hate talking to

There you have it. Rob was faking it. Though technically,
to be a true faker, there shouldn't have been a live person on the
other line. (Rob confessed later that he used to speak (his very bad
version of) French when he'd walk by these guys. But then he started
feeling bad about that. So he tried the cell phone approach instead. I
don't know why he can't just do what I do -- ignore those guys.

The New York Times had an article today about faking it. (I'll post the article below.)

curious. How many of you fake it? How often? Do you call a weather
service or some other non-human so that it seems like there's really
someone on the other end of the line? (I'd ask this as a poll but that
ability either seems to have been taken away, or I it's not an option
while I'm using this old clunker computer of mine, seeing as the newer
one is in the shop.)

Reach Out and Touch No One

Published: April 14, 2005

cashier had already rung up Keri Wooster's items when Ms. Wooster
realized she didn't have her wallet. She dashed to her car and returned
empty-handed to face the line of fidgeting customers she had kept
waiting, a cellphone pressed to her ear. "Jordan, did you take my
wallet out of my purse?" she asked in parental exasperation, as she
made her way back to the checkout counter. "I'm holding up this line!
You need to put things back where you find them."

Ms. Wooster,
who has no children, was not actually talking to a Jordan, or indeed to
anyone at all. But her monologue served its purpose, eliciting
sympathetic looks from the frustrated crowd at her local Wal-Mart.

"My instincts just took over," Ms Wooster, 28, who lives in Houston, said later. "Everyone was like, 'Oh, kids.' "

Wooster is by no means alone in the practice of cellphone subterfuge.
As cellular phone conversations have permeated public space, so, it
seems, have fake cellular phone conversations.

How many? It is
hard to say. But James E. Katz, a professor of communication at Rutgers
University, says his classroom research suggests that plenty of the
people talking on the phone around you are really faking it. In one
survey Dr. Katz conducted, more than a quarter of his students said
they made fake calls. He found the number hard to believe. Then in
another class 27 of 29 students said they did it.

"People are
turning the technology on its head," Dr. Katz said. "They are taking a
device that was designed to talk to people who are far away and using
it to communicate with people who are directly around them."

Call them cellphonies.

stage calls to avoid contact, whether with neighbors or panhandlers,
co-workers or supervisors, Greenpeace canvassers or Girl Scouts. Some
do it to impress those within earshot, others so they don't look
lonely. Men talk to their handsets while they're checking out women.
Women converse with the air to avert unwanted approaches by men.

phone shutterbugs fake being on the phone so they can get a good angle
without looking suspicious. And certain cellular vigilantes fake for
the benefit of real callers who are oblivious to the rules of common

"I fake phone talk to get a point across," said Ty
Hammond, of Pullman, Wash., who once forced an apology from a woman
spewing excessively personal details into her cellphone in an elevator
by shouting (made-up) escapades of his own into his (powered-off)
phone. "People need to know phone etiquette and fake phone calling is a
great tool for showing them."

The fake phone call has an
etiquette, or at least a technique, all its own. Inexperienced
cellphonies risk exposure with their limited repertoire of "uh-huhs."
Sophisticated simulators achieve authenticity by re-enacting their side
of an actual dialogue. Or they call voice-activated phone trees, so it
sounds like someone is talking on the other end.

"I'll take a
previous experience and pretend like I'm talking to somebody about it
so I'm not just making up something off the top of my head," said John
Wilcox, a phone salesman in Albany who often appears to be on his
cellphone when a problem customer walks in. "Maybe it's a snowboarding
move: 'Remember that back flip with the twist and the somersault?' "

Wilcox used the technique as he waited for the right moment to approach
a woman he saw in a store at the mall recently. "I couldn't just stand
there looking like an idiot," he said.

For Micheal K. Meyer, the key is the look on your face when you "answer."

grimace a little bit, act really interested in what you're not really
hearing on the other end," said Mr. Meyer, an aircraft mechanic in Lake
City, Fla., who has feigned hundreds of calls. "You've got to sell it."

lawyer in San Francisco said she frequently pretends to be finishing up
a conference call that she took on the road so her colleagues don't
give her a hard time about walking in late.

"Pretending is very
flexible," noted the lawyer, 37, who insisted on anonymity to protect
her ability to continue using the ruse. "You can end the conversation
whenever you want."

On many handsets, pressing the speakerphone
button makes a ringing sound that fakers can pretend is a call coming
in. But pros counsel to turn the phone off to prevent your cover from
being blown. Or at least set it to vibrate.

That is a lesson
Scott Spector, 15, learned the hard way, when his phone started
blasting his "American Idol Theme" ringtone as he was pretending to
talk into it in the hall at school last month.

"I felt like such a dork," said Scott, of Buffalo Grove, Ill.

Katz of Rutgers said the practice first drew his attention when
students in focus groups he had organized to study a wide range of
cellphone use began mentioning it, unprompted.

The habit, Dr.
Katz said, is the latest technological twist in a culture that has long
embraced various forms of dissembling in the name of image, from
designer knockoff handbags to plastic surgery. Some fakers admit to
programming their phones to call them at a certain time to show off
their ring tones; others wrap up make-believe Hollywood deals in front
of people they want to impress.

And phantom callers are often
simply trying to cope with social anxiety by showing that they have
someone to call, even if they don't. One of Dr. Katz's students said
she pretended to use her cellphone when she was out with a group of
other college-age women who were all on theirs. Another did it to
escape from a fancy boutique where the prices were beyond her means
without speaking to a salesperson.

In that sense fake callers
are may not be so different from a lot of real callers, who are always
partly performing for others even as they as they appear to withdraw
into their own private space in public.

"The cellphone allows
people to show strangers that they belong, that they are part of a
community somewhere," said Christine Rosen, who studies the social
impact of technology at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in
Washington. "Whether or not it's a fictional call, on some level that's
why we're doing it."

But the surfeit of counterfeit calls
underscores the lengths to which people feel compelled to go to project
an image for others. Sometimes the impulse is almost subconscious.

Konchar, a network administrator in Canton, Ohio, had just hung up
after sitting in his parked car behind a strip mall talking to a friend
one afternoon, when he saw people emerging from the employee's entrance
to one of the stores. Quickly, he put the phone back up to his ear and
pretended to talk.

"I guess I thought people might wonder why
you're sitting out there in your car; it might look strange," said Mr.
Konchar, 33. "It's one of those things where after the situation
happens you're wondering, 'Why did I do that?' "

Many women rely
on fake cell phone calls when they fear for their physical safety.
Yessenia Morales, 21, said she recently called a non-existent friend
while being followed by a group of men on a train platform.

"I'll see you in a few minutes," she promised the ether.

fake calls are often made by people trying to preserve a more
psychological remove. Mike Lupiani uses his impersonation of someone on
the phone to ignore his chatty next-door neighbors. "They ask how your
day is going and stuff," said Mr. Lupiani, of Rochester. "I don't
really have time for it."

Christina Rohall, 29, said she
pretends to use the phone to avoid getting hit on. "I feel awkward just
rejecting people," said Ms. Rohall, of San Francisco.

How well
the fake call works is one of its most appealing qualities , and a
testament to how much respect people automatically grant to a cellphone
force field. Bartosz Sitarski, 24, said he once pretended to be on a
cellphone call for a full 15 minutes when someone he didn't want to
speak to was waiting to talk to him at a Milwaukee coffee shop. The
other person finally left rather than interrupt the "call."

security guards seem to respect the cellphone buffer, said Michael
McEachern, 16, of San Diego, who has found the fake call a useful way
to get to the club level at a Padres game when he doesn't have a pass.
Some frequent fakers worry that the wireless charade will be harder to
pull off once more people begin to suspect it.

But that will not
deter Adam Hecht, a radiologist in Berkeley Heights, N.J., whose wife
said she is often mortified by his cellphone humor. Mr. Hecht, 40,
reserves his fake phoning for places with no reception, like the
Tiffany's at the Short Hills, N.J., mall, where cellphones have
apparently been rendered unusable to preserve the ambiance: "I usually
go through a long medical scenario," he said, "that doesn't exist."
Attachment: favicon.ico

April 2, 2005

They pulled the plug.

During the same minute that Terri Schiavo died, complete with full
media coverage, 11 children under the age of 5 also died of starvation,
though with much less public notice.

700 children under the age of 5 died of starvation during the same hour
that Terri died, and over 15,000 children under the age of 5 died of
starvation on the same day that Terri died.

Unlike Terri Schiavo, none of these children were stuck in a bed,
unable to feed themselves.  There was no disagreement over whether
their brains functioned or not.  There was no disagreement about
whether they smiled at their mom because they were glad to see her or
whether it was only some sort of reflexive action.

Though we can't help all of the tens of millions of kids that will die
this year alone due to poverty, we can help one.  We can do
something for at least one child that will make a difference to them
and their family.

You can build a relationship with that kid, or just send the dough and never look back.

We support a few kids through Compassion
.  We've built relationships with them and
with a few of the kids who have graduated from the program, we still
keep in touch.  This organization is audited every year by an
outside organization (which doesn't just check the books, but sends
auditors out to the programs to make sure that when Compassion says
"Jane Doe" in Kenya is receiving $x.xx from Compassion, they can
actually verify that Jane Doe really does exist and that she is indeed
receiving that amount of money (in the form of food, education, etc.)).
But Compassion is a Christian program and for those of you who want to
help the starving without proselytizing, there are many other
organizations to choose from.

appears to be a secular organization (either
that or they're embarrassed about the fact that they're associated with
a religious group.  Nothing was posted about it on their "about
us" page that I could see.).

Other organizations that help kids (some with sponsorships programs and
some without - some that are Christian and some that are not):


World Vision

Save the Children

Heifer International