“Black Friday”

As far as I can tell, this new buzzword “Black Friday” really exploded into popular media and advertising usage in 2010. But it crept up on me without warning. Where did it come from, and what do people mean by it?

Savvy shoppers would know it refers to the day after Thanksgiving. As you might suspect, it also refers to a really, really bad day. According to Wikipedia, the phrase originated with one Fisk-Gould Scandal, a financial crisis which occurred in 1869.

Also according to Wikipedia, there are well over a dozen distinct references to “Black Friday” with their own origins and meaning.

But the most popular meaning, the one currently saturating the newspapers, emails, radio and television, originates in Philadelphia as a “bad hair day” for both shoppers and police. Wikipedia’s citation:

JANUARY 1966 — “Black Friday” is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. “Black Friday” officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.

If you have any interest in the origin of popular phrases, the article cited above is exceptionally interesting and well documented. I would recommend checking it out.

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Fw: Three Presidents did it

A lot of emotional emails are circulating right now about illegal immigration and the deportation of Mexican nationals. I recently received one. It pointed out that presidents Hoover, Truman, and Eisenhower all deported hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals. “The program was called ‘Operation Wetback’. It was done so WWII and Korean Veterans would have a better chance at jobs.”

That reminded me that there’s an extra element to this picture the emails weren’t telling us. I should know, because I experienced it first-hand. I turned that email around with the following anecdote.

Here’s something else very interesting that very few people know. It’s also a true story. It’s also about giving Americans a better chance for jobs.

After the Bracero program ended in 1964, a citrus growers association made a concerted effort to recruit college students to help with the summer fruit harvests in Southern California. At San Jose State College in 1966, I was one of many students who visited the recruitment booth to ask what kinds of summer jobs were available.

We were told frankly that the work was picking citrus, and pickers were paid by the basket. It was hard work, yes, but certainly nothing that physically fit young college students like us couldn’t handle. Why, even some much older workers were earning upwards of $50 a day (a lot of money for a student, in those days). And we were promised dormitories, hot meals and hot showers, evenings to ourselves, and free time to make interesting social connections after hours.

With no other job prospects in sight, I signed up. So did my friends Rich and Mike. We reported to old barracks near a lemon orchard in Oxnard, California. The work was so hard we had hardly energy to eat, shower and go to sleep after work, let alone socialize. The regular farm workers were willing to talk with us because they were curious why we would come to this place. We never saw any college students during our stay. The pay was 50 cents per bushel basket.

Basket tallies in the following daily summaries are approximate.

  • Day 1: Alex picks about 5 baskets, Rich 3, Mike about 2
  • Day 2: Alex picks 7 baskets, Rich 4. Mike stops trying, but hangs around in the orchard, just picking the single biggest lemon out of each tree.

“Hey, Meester!
“How many baskets you pick today?”
“Hey, Meester!
“You know you gonna starve!”

  • Day 3: Rich stops trying. Everybody waits for Alex to cave in. He picks 10 baskets, but is too tired to eat dinner.
  • Day 4: Alex quits 1st thing in the AM. We all go to the powers that be to resign. Our paychecks don’t even cover the bus fare back home.

It turned out we three were apparently the only college students the Association ever signed up for their program. I read a newspaper blurb some time later that they abandoned the college recruitment program. It was a total failure. They were never able to find American citizens willing and able to do this kind of work.

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Signs of the Times

I went to our local upscale market, and found they were out of Swiss Cheese. As I told the checkout clerk (“Hi, did you find everything you needed?“), that’s like being out of milk. He said that was odd, customers had reported that last week too, and he thought the store might be having some difficulties with the bad economy and all.

Of course.

The first rule of retail display is to keep the shelves full, or, if you’re out of stock, to pull the remaining stock forward so the shelves still appear full. They had done that with the cheese section. Next on my list was “Wheat” style saltine crackers, a favorite of mine. They had pulled them all forward too,  and had rearranged a surplus of “Regular” to fill in the holes.

I dug out the very last box of “Wheat” from the rear of the display, and put it in my basket. I didn’t rub it in by telling the checkout clerk about that too.

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Foster City Poisoning Squirrels

Dana Yeats of The San Mateo Daily Journal reports in the Wednesday 3/19 edition that Foster City hired a private contractor to begin poisoning ground squirrels along the levees. Foster City  is home to about 30,000 citizens. It was constructed as a moated, upscale California island bedroom comunity on massive landfill, in San Francisco Bay wetlands, in the 1960’s – about the year Rachel Carson published Silent Spring.

Animal lovers protested the city council’s decision to poison the squirrels. Reasons given were to protect the levees from burrowing, and the association of squirrels with the spread of bubonic plague in California. The city claims squirrels burrow faster than workers can fill the holes.  If poisoned squirrels should die before making it back to their burrows, the contractors will have to pick up the dead carcasses. There is no provision for private ceremonies.

Since 1925, the CDC reports there have been only “sporadic” cases of bubonic plague acquired from wild rodents, including ground squirrels, prairie dogs (Sierra marmots), and chipmunks. Fleas are the actual vector to humans and their pets, as we know. I was unable to find actual “incident” figures for California, but the CDC says the plague vaccine is no longer commercially available in the United States.

Dana Yeats of the Daily Journal also reports only a few known cases of plague in the county, ever, and none in Foster City.

We used to plant a lot of bulbs when we lived in San Mateo. Like most gardeners, we learned to protect them against Mr. Squirrel. We used chicken wire. We also had racoons. We didn’t try to bait or trap them, either. Little did we know – we actually enjoyed living in an urban environment that could be such a harmonious home to so many different birds and critters.

One source I Googled, “ihatesquirrels.com“, doesn’t seem to hate squirrels as much as Foster City does. The author advises:

NEVER use poison. You will end up poisoning your dog, cat, wildlife and yourself. If you poison, you will have to poison forever because the animals will adjust their breeding to fill the void of animals. It is physically impossible to poison all animals. Some will always survive. It’s illegal to poison tree squirrels. If you poison a ground squirrel, it will get thirsty and weak, venture out of its hole and your cat or dog will eat it and die. A hawk will also eat it and die. It is illegal to expose the poison to wildlife, pets, anywhere children might be or bodies of water. You must use bait boxes in these situations which is practically all the time. The rotting corpses attract flies which will lay maggots and attract other insects. Rotting corpses in the burrows and in your yard is a ripe breeding ground for deadly diseases. That’s how Anthrax is made naturally, mold spores growing on rotting bodies left in the dirt. If you walk outside you can also get the poison in your system through dermal contact with the dirt or inhalation. The poison has a long half life and you could be sick for a long time. It can kill you.


We couldn’t have said it better. Now parents have yet another reason to tell kids not to play on the levees.

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Musical Clowns

Near our community’s Eden Hospital, we’ve acquired a number of ambulance drivers who’ve learned to toggle their electronic sirens to produce quasi-musical noises. Instead of the full ear-splitting 102 decibel ambulence siren shriek, these clowns can produce half-note bursts of varying frequencies. The resulting “woo-woo-wip” noise is fully as annoying as the unadulterated original, if not quite as loud, so it all balances out on the community disturbance scale.

None of these toggle-switch artists have any musical talent, so it’s very reminiscent of the college frat-house stunt where they would record the sounds of flatulence, splicing them together at varying pitches. The resulting strains of “Yankee Doodle” or “Chopsticks” were said to be highly amusing, and we can only suppose that the best of these kids went on in life to become ambulance chasers, and the ones who didn’t make it could still become ambulance drivers, thereby continuing to vent their college antics upon the unsuspecting public.

On the theory that a little competition brings out the best – or worst – in the musically disinclined, I’m proposing 2008 playoffs between the ambulance drivers and the Castro Valley fire department, who do not fiddle with their sirens, but who do produce excellent midrange and bass notes. In theory, it’s possible they’d collectively be able to produce a plausible “Good Vibrations”, “Alley Oop” or even (who knows) “Tocatta and Fugue in D.”

Add the jackhammers and dump trucks of PG&E and CalTrans, and we could get  Gene Krupa  on steroids.

If if were possible to assemble the whole entourage on the deck of the decommissioned battleship  USS Massachusetts,  with a few salvos of the big 16″ guns, we could get an excellent finale to the 1812 Overture. This piece de resistance, of course, could always be performed at 2AM, the aspiring musician’s finest hour in these parts.

Attendance would be high, with the whole county auditioning – involuntarily. I cannot think of a finer way to bring fame to our sleepy little community.

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Life Without Newspapers

As I told the Chronicle yesterday when they called to win me back with a half-price offer, “you know, I’m actually starting to enjoy life without a newspaper.”

She actually laughed. “Well, what about the fact that we delivered the news right to your front door; don’t you want that?”

No, even when deliveries were reliable, less and less of the paper was getting read, but all of it had to go out to the dumpster each week.

“Well, what about the coupons? Don’t you use the shoppers?”

Good God no! Two-thirds of the Sunday edition is ads and shoppers. It’s out of control! That’s what makes the frequent trips to the dumpster so loathsome!

I thanked her for her time and assured her that if I ever changed my mind I could always call them.

When I wrote my first article on this topic on January 22, I mentioned web bookmarks for news and comics. I am using this system – I’d actually developed the bookmarks a long time ago – and it’s working far better than I’d hoped.

What I always liked about the huge newsprint page was that the headlines jumped out at you. If you wanted to read more, the article was right there under the headline. Oh sure, you still always have to turn to page C-9 right in the middle of a critical sentence, but 40 years of conditioning minimize the irritation factor.

The web news page contains more links and much less actual text – you follow the link. What I didn’t sufficiently appreciate was exactly how little it puts you out to click a link and (if you like what you see) read the article found there. I open in a new window or tab so I can just dismiss it when done.

For my web news I still use BBC the most, but also MSNBC, Arizona Central, and only rarely, SFGate. With the index-style hyperlinks on a typical news page, I now believe I can read more news in less time than the old way of flipping and folding newsprint pages back and forth.

I have to admit I really hated carrying out weekly shopping bags of newsprint and circulars that weighed twice as much as my household garbage. It ticked me off to return from a week’s vacation to find half a dozen yellowed newspapers advertising no one had been home, when we’d taken out a vacation stop. Managing the newspaper account wasn’t just a household item, it was also a security concern and constant headache. And, it seemed that, as advertising encroached on larger and larger areas of the paper, actual news was reduced in coverage and quality.

Every Sunday I was reminded that the only part of the paper that had high-quality full-color printing, highly legible text and wrinkle-free glossy paper was the advertising circular. And I’ll bet you a nickel it wasn’t even printed at a Chronicle facility.

I like being without a newspaper.

Towards the end, it seemed that the free “shopper” handouts, the kind stacked in apartment vestibules and office building lobbies, are catching up with the traditional newspaper. The shoppers have plenty of ads, of course, but the articles are more local, more interesting, and, in my opinion, better written. They use a better quality newsprint and recharge their ink supply on time. The text is attractive, high-contrast, and easy to read.

I think there will be a place for better quality newspapers with high editorial standards for decades to come. Those that don’t make it will blame the internet, TV, unions, the high cost of labor, and editorial resistance to guaranteeing the stockholder a competitive return on investment.

High cost of labor? The dozen or so carriers we’ve had over the last few years mostly drove jalopies whose doors wouldn’t even close – how overpaid could they have been?

Those newspapers that don’t make it will more likely fail for the same reason as most other businesses do that aren’t in a hi-tech squeeze: lousy service, and a poor quality product.

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Baby Talk

Baby Blues 10-14-2006

Baby Blues is one of my favorite strips. The Saturday October 14 strip is reprinted here without permission, but you know you can get your own favorite strips every day at DailyInk.com. The caption, pruned to fit on this page, is “Patient Parenting Tips #697 – Give the Grammar Cop the night off once in a while.”

I’m on vacation in Phoenix. Since I could be out in the front yard repairing the drip irrigation system, I’m in here instead, but that’s what vacations are for.

The “new talk” is all, like, about “I’m like” and “she goes” and stuff, and everything. I believe the spiritual ancestry of this “new talk” is “Valley Girl” talk, from the California Central Valley of the 1980’s, best self-epitomized by its famous line “gag me with a spoon.”

It’s kind of cute for 5-year-olds. For everybody else, it’s baby talk. I notice a lot of 40-year-olders have adopted this linquistic speech impediment fad to try to recapture the radiantly ignorant bliss they once had. They can relax. They never lost it.

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