Saturday, July 18, 2015


A few pages from my personal journal: 

So it’s weird. I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood lately. Just two minutes ago, I was in the bathroom and the image of John Ritter popped into my mind. John Ritter and the sound of his voice and “Three’s Company.” The way that set looked. Watching that show on our 13-channel Zenith TV. Just me and my mom. Actually, we would never watch “Three’s Company” together.

You know, it’s funny. I remember watching all those shows from the '70s/early '80s and wondering about them. There always used to be something about them that was beyond my understanding. Those shows are ancient history now. But I suppose they were pretty much about the same things that today’s shows are: love, sex, dating, strife. But, Christ, "The Regal Beagle." I remember that the sound of that name, “The Regal Beagle,” had had a fantastic effect upon my ear. I had no idea what the name really meant or why it was funny; I simply liked the sound of it. Sort of like how I used to like the sound of the book title “The Borne Ultimatum” and the band name “Deaf Leopard” without really knowing what those things really were.  

But yeah . . . thinking about my childhood. Now that I’m in my 30s, my memory is not less clear. It’s still clear. But now things take on more of an understood significance. This was the era that I was living in. Cordless phones and shoulder pads, boom boxes and cars that looked very big and boxy. 

Tonight one of my friends and I watched “The Fly.” It’s from 1986. I remarked before the movie started how my mother didn't let me watch it when it came out. Funnily enough, while watching the movie,  I found myself nostalgic for the era in which it played and also in awe of the deep feelings the characters expressed toward each other. Here was passion. Here was lust. Here was unrequited love. All during a time when I was, what, 4 years old? People had these passions, these desires. People were actresses and were reaching a high point in their careers -- all when I was 4! 

Gina Davis was an absolute stunner in the movie: pouty lips, sexy, fit. And as I watched the film, I kept thinking, “What does Gina Davis look like today? Did she age? She must’ve aged. Maybe she didn’t age.” But of course she aged! The move was made 30 years ago! But I didn’t want her to have aged. I wanted things to be as they were. Why? 

Life is marching on, and I’m really starting to reflect, I guess. I’m starting to hear mortality click its nails on the desk. 

And so I think of my childhood. In flashes, it comes back to me: That time when my mom gave away my watch to the kid who ruined his because she thought I wouldn’t know the difference between a broken watch and a working one. Lying on the big red rug in the air-conditioned Queens apartment in the summer. The sound of the announcer on Channel 11 -- or was it Channel 9? -- when he would say, “And now back to [the Late Movie].” Watching my mom from my bedroom as she watched TV and as I tried to go to sleep. The sound of the thick rubber ball echoing off the hallway wall as I played catch with myself. 

Yes, there is a lot to remember. I don’t know, as I and the people around me get older, I find myself reaching for something. I can’t say exactly what it is.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Taylor Swift concert T-shirts made in Bangladesh -- a little hypocritical?

I’m not going to lie: I like Taylor Swift. I think her music is catchy and her lyrics are potent. I even like her as a person and think it was cool that she recently persuaded a huge corporation like Apple to pay artists their fair share of royalties.

So I was a little disappointed when I bought a Taylor Swift T-shirt at her concert in Amsterdam in late June and saw that the garment was made in Bangladesh.

It seemed a little hypocritical. We all know that Bangladesh’s garment workers are paid some of the lowest wages in the world. In 2013, a Bangladeshi garment factory that produced clothes for big Western labels collapsed, killing about 1,130 people.

Granted, just because catastrophes have occurred in Bangladesh’s garment industry does not mean the Bangladeshi factory used to produce Taylor Swift’s concert tees is a bad one. And since that 2013 factory collapse, a concerted effort has been made to improve safety in Bangladesh’s garment industry.

Still, looking at the label on Taylor Swift’s concert tee and seeing “Made in Bangladesh” just didn’t sit well with me, especially because she had just won so much praise for championing the rights of the underdog.

So I decided to send out a few emails with some questions in them to see if anyone could address my consternation.

The first email I sent was to Stoked PR, which handles public relations for Swift. The founder of the firm, Kate Head, actually wrote me back. She said, “The manufacturing company responsible for the [concert] shirts operates under a global code of conduct, which is one of the highest in the industry.”

OK, fair enough. But this is what I had expected. I didn’t think that Taylor Swift’s people were going to tell me that her clothes are produced in slums. Head also said in her email that someone from the company that produces the shirts would contact me in a business day with more information.

OK, that was nice, but I didn’t want to wait a business day. So I did the practical thing. I went over to my closet, got out the T-shirt and looked at the name of the company on the label. It said “Gildan.” I then went to my computer and emailed the Montreal-based company with some questions.

In a couple hours, I had a response from Geneviève Gosselin, Gildan’s director of PR, and I must admit, I found her email very informative.

Gildan, she wrote, is a global apparel producing company of 42,000 employees. The bulk of the company’s garment factories is in Central America -- places like Nicaragua and Honduras -- but Gildan also owns facilities in the United States, and in 2010 purchased a facility in Bangladesh to boost sales in Europe and Asia.

The Bangladeshi facility, she said, employs about 2,300 workers who earn “significantly more than the basic minimum wage” (though she wouldn’t say how much more). In addition, these employees receive healthcare from a medical team that the company employs. “In Bangladesh alone, our medical team provides more than 45,000 instances of medical attention to our employees per year.”

OK, I thought. Gildan does its part. Which of course is only right. The company, after all, has an $8.2 billion market capitalization.

More interesting to me was this: When Gildan purchased the Bangladeshi factory, Gosselin said, it hired a U.S. firm to inspect the structure’s integrity. As a result of that firm’s findings, “Considerable resources were allocated to reinforce the building structures with structural steel and reinforced concrete.” In addition, Gosselin said, the factory is continually inspected to make sure it is up to code.

Gosselin then went on to give a litany of other critical safety practices that are exercised at the facility, practices that the Fair Labor Association has approved.

OK, OK. But I still didn’t understand something. After that catastrophic factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, many well known brands, trade unions and nonprofits came together and created “The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh,” a legally binding agreement to maintain basic safety standards in the Bangladeshi textile industry.

Brands must pay a significant amount of money to join the Accord -- money that’s used to fund the Accord’s various safety initiatives. Though not a panacea, the Accord is one way that brands can show that they are willing to shell out the kind of cash needed to improve safety in the country’s garment industry.

Why, I wanted to know, hadn’t Gildan joined the Accord?

Gosselin had an answer. Most of the companies that signed the Accord, she said, only outsource labor to Bangladesh. But Gildan also owns the actual factory in which the clothes are made. Therefore, “We believe we have the ability to directly implement our own strict standards."

Even so, some of Gildan’s customers signed the Accord, so Accord inspectors recently inspected Gildan’s factory in Bangladesh. Gildan will publish the findings of that undertaking in its next corporate report.

OK, I thought. Pretty good. Of course, I’m not fully satisfied. Multinational companies are still reaping mega profits from the low cost of labor in Bangladesh; the minimum wage in the Bangladeshi garment industry, $68 a month, is still, according to a 2013 Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies report, 32 percent less than the amount needed to make basic ends meet; and some of Gildan’s factories in Central America have been cited for serious workers rights abuses (though Gildan has worked to try to rectify those problems).

But I will admit that the issue is complicated. So complicated, in fact, I almost forgot about Taylor Swift and how she plays into all of this.

So let’s review. Swift champions the rights of people in one sector but makes big profits by participating in a type of business scheme not beyond reproach.

It’s a criticism. And yet I wonder. Is it even fair to criticize Swift? Do we live in a world that has become so globalized and so reliant on cheap labor -- so used to seeing “Made in Bangladesh” or “Made in Cambodia” on every label -- that reproaching Swift would be unfair?

Again, a difficult question. So I thought I’d pose it to Julie Irwin, a University of Texas business school professor who specializes in consumer behavior.

Her answer was very interesting.

“Whenever someone makes an effort to be ethical in any domain,” she said, “then people look carefully for inconsistencies and do not like it when they find any.”

As a separate example, she cited that of Whole Foods. People have criticized Whole Foods for overpricing and carrying items that have been genetically modified. However, she aptly noted: “You rarely hear people making the same sorts of complaints against grocery stores that do not try to be ethical (i.e., most every other player in the market).”

She did say, however, “Holding celebrities accountable, gently, might get a little focus on pervasive human rights abuses, if they actually are taking place.” All the same, she said, “I just strongly balk at the idea of focusing on someone who is already trying to do something good for workers in one area ... because doing so could ensure no one ever speaks out about anything.”

Fair enough. I guess one main point is that after weighing all the information I received, I at least feel comfortable enough to wear the T-shirt I bought. It cost 30 euros and says “I Love Taylor Swift.”

Friday, July 03, 2015

capitals, commas and ellipses: some good examples

Sometimes it's hard to know exactly how to punctuate a sentence. For example, does a sentence in which the speaker loses his train of thought end with an ellipsis and a period or just an ellipsis?

The answer: just an ellipsis.

"I was certain I left my keys here . . ."

In any event, I came across a sheet yesterday that offers a lot of nice examples of appropriate punctuation. And sometimes it's just better to learn by example. Enjoy.

Oh, one thing. The sheet is in British English. So you are going to see some periods outside of quotations marks. But other than that, it's cool.

And one other thing. The AP Stylebook says that an ellipsis is composed of three dots surrounded by a space on each side: [ ... ] The Chicago Manuel of Style says an ellipsis should have a space around it and between the dots, too: [ . . . ]

The authors who made the sheet, however, decided to ignore both AP and Chicago style. Their ellipsis looks like this: [...] No spaces around the dots or between them.