Category Archives: Uncategorized

Captive Audience

From the Department of What’s The World Coming To…

Barcelona’s Liceu opera reopened on Monday. Its first concert was performed in front of an audience of plants, NPR reports. Much nicer for the performers, I surmise, as at least plants don’t cough, rattle candy wrappers, and forget to shut off their cell phones.

Then again, this plant appears to have nodded off.

white flower on green leaf plant

Photo by Nadezhda Moryak on Pexels.com

The Pandemic Ten

Remember the “freshman 15”, aka the pounds everyone seemed to gain their first year at college? It’s déjà vu all over again.

Back in the day, the culprits were pizza, beer (and/or weed), and nerve-wracking new experiences like late-night cramming and unprecedented freedom.

This is different, and not just because I’m older. Month after month of the same old, same old has led to inertia and tedium with a constant low hum of anxiety buzzing along underneath.

I don’t really care what the government is recommending… Dear Husband and I are staying put except for essential and unavoidable tasks. Since we can’t travel or eat out with friends, we’ve amused ourselves by cooking food from different cultures and pretending to be elsewhere. Unlike traveling, however, we are not burning calories by walking extra miles through cities, museums, and the like. Even my Fitbit is bored.  The result: packing on extra poundage like a wild animal in captivity.

Like many of you, I eat when I’m stressed even if I’m not physically hungry. And what I’ve realized, as my own little world keeps shrinking — while I’m not — is how many of my essential needs aren’t being met… which leads to stress… which leads to snacking.

  • Order and control. Toss this one right out the window. We have no idea when this will end and can’t do much about it except to continue social distancing and wearing a mask. Plus, staying informed is highly overrated when so much of the news is just plain sickening.
  • Anticipation. It’s hard to plan for a trip or special event when there’s nothing on the calendar.  And being worried about catching the virus en route does dim one’s enthusiasm.
  • Personal space.  If you’re someone who needs lots of alone time, a pandemic is not your friend.
  • Sleep. Stress and worry make sleep elusive, or fitful at best. Which in turn affects your body’s balance of the hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin decreases it. When the body is sleep-deprived, ghrelin levels spike, while the level of leptin falls, leading to an increase in hunger, especially for junk food. (I don’t know how it knows, but it does.)
  • Variety of experiences. When going to the grocery store is the weekly highlight, life’s a little blah no matter how nice your home or neighborhood is.

Anyway, it’s useful to know the triggers. Now I need to get serious about my action plan, as I refuse to buy a larger-size wardrobe. Who’s with me?

photo of a burn fat text on round blue plate

Photo by Natasha Spencer on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Good News Monday: A Step Towards Equality

Truly happy to report an important step towards recognizing that being able to live one’s life is a human right.

Today, the US Supreme Court ruled that a landmark civil rights law from 1964 protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination.

It’s about freakin’ time!

no labels written on a piece of paper

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Fashion Revolution in the Age of COVID

black mannequin

Photo by Jan Kroon on Pexels.com

Sharing a very interesting fashion article, courtesy of Kat’s excellent Feather Factor blog:

WWD Business: Fashion’s Great French Revolution
By Laura Lanteri on May 11, 2020

“When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.” — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

In 2012, when Miuccia Prada, sitting at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan, was trying to reconcile her own political and philosophical beliefs (she was a member of the Italian Communist party during her youth) and the idiosyncrasies of her job, she commented: “Fashion is the first step out of poverty.” Her reasoning was quite simple. Once an individual satisfies all their primary needs — food, shelter, health — one of their first desires is to look better, to change, to “elevate” themselves.

Aspiration versus accessibility, equality versus exclusivity, relatability versus uniqueness: Miuccia Prada knew that fashion did have a place in bettering this world, but she was also deeply aware of the almost irreparable craters that separated her from the masses.

Fast-forward eight years and here we are, exactly where Miuccia Prada predicted we would be: the fashion revolution is here, and it’s disturbingly ugly. The dynamics that have driven the exorbitant financial and commercial growth of the industry are the very same forces that — exasperated by a global pandemic of unthinkable proportions — are now possibly risking its extinction.

And, this time, the Revolution started at the bottom of the food chain, from the very customers that fashion, and especially the luxury sector, tried to lure into impossible aspirational dreams of never-ending consumption.

Customers are most certainly not buying into the aspiration anymore, and the reasons for their unhappiness go well beyond the scarcity and misery brought about by this pandemic.

From reports that millions of garment workers in India and Bangladesh may be reduced into starvation by the current interruption in the supply chain of major retailers, to the increasingly popular images depicting a cleaner, less polluted world due to a halt in consumption, travel and productivity, to the devastating realities of hundreds of thousands of retail workers being furloughed across the United States, fashion has never looked so broken.

And fashion customers, just like the French Revolution insurgents circling around the impossible marvel that was Versailles, are taking notice. Not just notice — action.

It’s not that surprising then that — at the time when we are all forced to cling to our own very essential version of life — most of this “stuff,” the fashion stuff, is getting cut out. McKinsey & Co. is projecting a contraction of the luxury sector of up to 40 percent in 2020. I think that may be an optimistic figure. Earnest Research reports a 70 percent drop in spending for “Apparel and Accessories” for the week ending on April 1, 2020.

Even assuming that fashion and luxury will survive in some tangible form, the reality we will go back to will not resemble our pre-pandemic world in any way.

Fashion and luxury will have to change because the audience they used to have are not there anymore. Fashion is no longer simply a monologue, and customers are emerging as much more powerful voices in this dialogue. They are shouting. They are shouting at Madonna taking a milky bath with rose petals in her mansion while philosophizing about COVID-19 being “the great equalizer.” They are shouting at Ellen DeGeneres, who is comparing her quarantine in a multimillion-dollar compound to “jail.” They are shouting at Jennifer Lopez, who is joke-complaining about quarantine with her family in a massive mansion, oblivious to her privilege and to the horrendous struggle outside of her door.

It is worth noting that many of these celebrities were, as of a few weeks ago, considered the pioneers of change for fashion. J.Lo was seen as the ambassador of “older women,” showing us that we didn’t have to dress “our age.” DeGeneres has been, and maybe still will be, a pioneer in the advancement of LGBTQ rights, both in entertainment and in fashion.

Madonna has changed the way we think about how women dress well before she wore the much-clamored Gaultier cones. But not anymore — these women are not the voices or the aspirations of the zeitgeist. They were brand ambassadors for a system that was already on the verge of collapse. Their obliviousness to this current catastrophe only accelerated a process of self-destruction.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Fashion used to be — in many ways — an invisible force behind change. Not an equalizing force, but a transformative one. Taking pleasure in beauty and design is a quintessentially human prerogative. Beyond the obvious aesthetic qualities that fashion encapsulates, fashion used to mean something to its audience.

The most famous fashion designers in history have made significant contributions to how we relate to each other in society and how we perceive who we are. Not simply about how we look.

From Coco Chanel’s rebellion against uncomfortable clothing for women, to YSL’s embrace of the androgynous to Vivienne Westwood’s anti-establishment ethos, to Pierpaolo Piccioli’s vision of inclusivity, fashion becomes successful when it relates to its audience on a deep, visceral level. Not just on a grand scale, but — most powerfully now — on a human scale.

Fashion customers, the industry audience, seem to have suddenly noticed the difference. From the founder of Something Navy, who has been subjected to vicious attacks on social media after escaping Manhattan for the Hamptons during the pandemic, to Elle Macpherson, whose brand WelleCo has been heavily criticized after it sent out promotional e-mails marketing a “Super Elixir” allegedly promoting immune support (cost: $80), fashion customers appear pretty unforgiving and quick to discard previously beloved brands. Perhaps even more tellingly, Chiara Ferragni — the Italian model and “digital entrepreneur” ranked as the number-one fashion influencer in the world by Forbes — is now advertising pasta and mascarpone cheese on her Instagram posts. No more Giambattista Valli there.

Make no mistake: These are hard times for any company that is not selling essential goods. And buying a new dress is in itself an utterly insignificant gesture. But if this dress morphs into a determination of a person’s true presence, then fashion regains its power.

Fashion perhaps can be small again, it can shrink back to human scale, its beauty as vivid as the fairness of its (new) processes. Fashion’s ambition has probably always been — indeed as Miuccia Prada said — about a desire to better ourselves. Recently, we just lost track of who we are.

So let the screams coming from social media all around the world be a powerful wake-up call for all of fashion. Because the Fashion Revolutionaries are in. And they will not eat cake.

Laura Lanteri is an adjunct professor at The New School’s Parsons School of Design.

 

Mini Rant

I recently posted about some drama in our tiny neighborhood, and am sorry to report that it’s only gotten worse.

Today, a surveyor came to check a height pole that had previously been approved by the county.  Whether or not the height is correct is beside the point — in all probability, it is lower than the allowed limit. That will be decided by mathematics.

What disturbs me is hearing that a group of neighbors decided to hang out in the street and on lawn chairs to eavesdrop and comment throughout this process to… do what? Intimidate the people who are building the home? Make the surveyor nervous? Register their disapproval of something without having all the facts?

Several were people who believe themselves to be devout Christians.  I have to wonder: Is indulging in malicious gossip, spreading misinformation, and jealousy masquerading as “concern”, what Jesus would do?

 

 

 

 

Good News Monday: Natural Stress Relief

I admit it’s hard to find any good news today.  But I did find a wonderful way to relax, courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Jelly Cam.  The livestream, available from 10 am to 9 pm PDT on their website, features hypnotic images of floating jellyfish, accompanied by spa sounds.

You can also ooh and ahh over live footage of their sea otters and penguins.

I’ll take whatever distractions I can get.

What is Luxury Today?

I’ve just finished reading an excellent blog post about the recent hikes in luxury prices, which has gotten me thinking about fashion in general and what’s even relevant anymore.

There’s nothing like a few months of quarantine to make fashion seem entirely superfluous. Where are we going, and who are we going to see anyway?  Layer on the implicit showing off that accompanies an expensive purchase, and it’s even more ridiculous when our thoughts are on slightly bigger issues, such as survival.

Good health: that’s the true luxury. But I digress.

At the same time, though, fashion has long had a role in creating optimism and cheering us up: Note the exuberance of Dior’s New Look after World War II when women couldn’t wait to get back into pretty clothes again. Even if it’s an illusion, it’s comforting to put on an outfit that makes you feel life is returning to normal.

The disconnect for me lies with hugely expensive items.  If nothing else, the pandemic has forced people to think about what matters to us: the health and safety of people we love. Recent features on how celebrities are “coping” with isolation in their multi-million-dollar, multi-thousand-square-foot bunkers have met with ridicule and pushback. Showing off anyone’s net worth seems particularly tasteless these days.

So, I’m wondering: Are you shopping at all? Planning to shop? Clearing out your wardrobe to keep only the stuff you love? Saving up for a special item? Or none of the above?

pink and orange textile

Photo by julie aagaard on Pexels.com

 

Good News Monday: COVID-19 is Killing the Drug Trade

The coronavirus pandemic has crippled cities and crushed businesses from coast to coast.  It’s also costing drug traffickers millions, multiple law enforcement officials told NBC News, because their methods of moving money have been compromised.

Since the start of the crisis, federal drug agents in major U.S. hubs have seized substantially more illicit cash than usual amid statewide lockdowns that have disrupted the way cartels do business, the officials said.

“Their activities are a lot more apparent than they were three months ago,” said Bill Bodner, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Los Angeles field office.

Bodner said California’s stay-at-home order has made it more difficult for traffickers to launder money and move around the city unseen.

“When there’s less hay in the haystack, it’s easier to find the needle,” he added. “It’s caused the drug cartels and money launderers to take more risks, and that’s where we can capitalize.”

Part of a $1 million seizure in the Los Angeles area.
Part of a $1 million seizure in the Los Angeles area.DEA

From March 1 to May 8, seizures of cash in the greater Los Angeles area have more than doubled from $4.5 million last year to $10 million during the same period this year. Bodner said that includes four separate seizures of more than $1 million in Long Beach, Cerritos, Anaheim, and Wildomar.

DEA agents operating on the East Coast have seen similar success.

The New York City field division’s cash seizures are up 180 percent since last year, said special agent in charge Ray Donovan, with the bulk of them coming in the last couple of months.

“It’s really around April, where we started saying, ‘Hey, we’re having a lot more success in this area,’” Donovan said.

When moving product along the West Coast, Mexican cartels use manufacturing businesses as de facto banks that help to launder the drug proceeds and funnel the money back across the southern border

But in New York, the cartels typically rely on “international Asian criminal organizations” to clean their cash, Donovan said. These cartel associates will buy American goods with drug money and ship them back to China. In return, the criminal gangs that receive the products will then send money back to the cartels in Mexico — often through bank wires, which are more difficult to track from China.

But the city’s lockdown has deprived the traffickers of using the first link in their sophisticated operation.

“With all the stores and shops closed down here, they don’t have that as one of the means to quickly launder money,” Donovan said.

As a result, the cartel’s cash has been piling up, Donovan said, resulting in larger seizures.

Pre-pandemic busts would often net cash hauls in the neighborhood of $100,000. Now, with the cartel’s laundering methods disrupted, New York DEA agents have been recovering piles of cash exceeding $1 million, Donovan said.

“More money is being stockpiled here,” he added. “So when we come across them, instead of seizing $100,000, we seize $1 million or several million dollars.”

The recent busts haven’t been confined to stacks of cash. Along the northern border, federal officers have confiscated large quantities of drugs over the past few months.

From March 21 to May 16, border patrol officers working out of the Detroit field office have seized 2,856 pounds of marijuana, 87 pounds of cocaine, 12 pounds of fentanyl and 12 guns.

“We are definitely seeing an uptick,” said Kris Grogan, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Detroit.

Image: Drugs seized at Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Mich., on April 17, 2020.
Drugs seized at Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Mich., on April 17, 2020.U.S. Customs and Border Protection

DEA agents in Michigan and Ohio have hauled in $6 million in drug money since March 16, officials said. That amount is not unusually high, but there’s been a marked increase in the amount of cash seized at airports.

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Keith Martin, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Detroit field office. “Which is not normal.”

Unlike New York and Los Angeles, the drug money made in Michigan and Ohio is moved the old-fashioned way — by driving it across the southern border.

Martin said it’s too early to draw a firm conclusion on what’s fueling the spike in cash seizures at airports, but a drop in car traffic because of statewide lockdowns is likely a contributing factor.

“They don’t want to be that one vehicle out in the road that gets pulled over,” Martin said. “When there’s not a lot of border traffic, you’re singled out easier than if there were a thousand cars.”

Part of a $1 million seizure in the Los Angeles area.
Part of a $1 million seizure in the Los Angeles area.DEA

While COVID-19 is already reshaping parts of the global economy, the impact on the drug cartels’ overall business remains yet to be determined, the officials said.

The coronavirus is also affecting drug prices. The price of methamphetamine has skyrocketed in California, according to Bodner, rising from about $1,000 a pound in November to upward of $2,000 a pound. He said that’s due in part to the economic disruptions and difficulties in importing chemicals from China and India, as well as the closure of the southern border to nonessential travel.

In New York, the price of marijuana is up 55 percent, according to Donovan, in part because of the increased risk of getting it into the country. Cocaine is up 12 percent, and heroin 7 percent, he said.

The virus has also changed the way law enforcement operates. One example: fewer DEA agents in the office, and more out in the streets.

“We’re practicing social distancing,” said Martin, the Detroit agent. “But the pandemic has not kept us from doing our job.”

Federal agents are also out in the streets en masse in Los Angeles and New York.

“I asked all my agents to stay in the street and just work in the street,” Donovan said. “We are there for our community, and ultimately, we’re doing a pretty damn good job.”

By Andrew Blankstein, Tom Winter, and Rich Schapiro, NBC News 5.24.2020

Small Town, Big Drama

bubble-2022390_640What is it with people who continually need to stir the pot? As one friend says about our coastal location with its dramatic cliffs and sweeping ocean views: “We live in paradise … what do we have to complain about?”

And yet.

I get it. We’re all stressed, stir crazy, and a little crazy-crazy. But oh, am I tired of people lashing out. We have a worldwide health crisis, rising unemployment, an unpredictable economy, and a significant lack of leadership. Do we really need to make things unpleasant in our own communities?

Let’s see.  We have one neighbor threatening to sue another because they had the audacity to build a home on the empty lot RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. She couldn’t have predicted that this might happen eventually? Or that no design in the world would make her happy?

Meanwhile, “Joan” — who is in charge of a lot of things although not actually everything — has been lobbying to get “Margaret” on a committee that already has enough members, claiming that she’s wanted to join for months. Mind you, Margaret has never directly asked anyone ON the committee about participating. But Joan decides to tell her she’s “not welcome.” What could possibly have been accomplished by hurting her feelings?!

Last week, we had a neighborhood brouhaha about a request from one neighbor to have some branches trimmed from a tree that blocks their TV satellite reception. From one guy’s reaction (“I’m shocked, appalled, aghast!”), you’d have thought someone was suggesting butchering his firstborn child.

I like trees too. But I’d likely run screaming into the abyss if I didn’t have the distraction of a few good TV shows.  I wouldn’t wish “no TV” on my worst enemy.

The latest is “PooGate”. “Tim” complained to the president of our board of directors that there’s a pile of dog poop where “Phil’s” lot borders theirs — the implication being that it’s Phil’s dog’s fault. Sure, that’s unpleasant. But couldn’t Tim simply point it out privately to Phil? And maybe it’s not even dog poop, since who’s knowingly going to leave it sitting ON THEIR OWN PROPERTY?!?! After the entire neighborhood has been alerted to Phil’s “transgression”, it turns out that they were merely dirt clods from construction across the street, and the totally unrelated odor was wafting over from a nearby sewer plant.

Can’t anyone just calm down?

Sigh.