July 18, 2017

VW Mines Nostalgia Again With Planned Relaunch of its Bus as an Electric Vehicle

The Volkswagen "Bus" which was known officially known as the VW Type 2, while the original Beetle was known officially as the VW Type 1; and Volkswagen, to its credit, actually embraced the different nicknames for its designs in different markets, even using those nicknames in its advertising was officially launched in 1950.  It, along with models like the low-priced sports-car design known as the Karmann Ghia (which were sold from 1955–1974) were all immensely popular across the U.S. market.  The VW Bus, in particular, arguably peaked in popularity back in the late 1960's; the VW Bus was particularly popular during the counterculture movement of the 1960's and was iconic with many hippies, some of whom actually tried to live in their VW Bus, as well as had sex in, smoked marijuana and took LSD in these vehicles.  The VW Bus had become iconic with the hippie movement, although it continued selling in the U.S. until 1979.

The retro blog ClickAmericana has an entire page dedicated to some of the ads for the VW Bus/VW Type 2 sold in its later years (the 1970's) at http://clickamericana.com/eras/1970s/volkswagen-bus-ads-1977 which are worth looking at (I've featured one such ad here, and if you click on it, you will then be redirected to ClickAmericana's relevant webpage.

Notwithstanding the VW Bus association with now-elderly hippies, the VW Bus was also part of VW's early success in the North American market.  But following the ending of the Vietnam war, combined with the VW's discontinuation of the Type 1 model with the introduction of newer A1 model meant to replace the Beetle, which featured front-wheel drive and a water-cooled engine, branded as the VW Golf (initially sold under the VW Rabbit nameplate in the U.S.), although the Vanagon was the name given to its newer "bus" model in the U.S.) remained on the market for a few more years, but the era of the VW Bus, at least in the U.S., seemed to be over.

In the decades that followed, Volkswagen as a company had largely fallen off the radar of American car buyers.  The Golf, in spite of being one of the world's best-selling cars, was never a huge seller in the U.S., sales of the Jetta weren't great either, and sales of the Passat were also quite limited.  The Passat was simply too pricey for mass market American consumers, many of whom preferred Hondas/Acuras or Toyotas/Lexus cars.  Plus, many younger generations of Americans had absolutely no relationship with Volkswagen at all.  In fact, younger generations hardly even knew who Volkswagen was as a company.  Making matters even worse for Volkswagen were currency exchange rates (when the Deutsche Mark was still the currency of record for Germany).

Many writers have observed that the Germans at Volkswagen remain eternally frustrated with what they consider to be a peculiarity of the U.S. market, like the importance that U.S. buyers place on seemingly trivial items such as high-fidelity stereo systems and cup holders.  People in Germany believe that a car is for driving, not for concerts or picnics.  But Americans disagree wholeheartedly.  The conditions of American roads are abysmal, and there is no autobahn in the U.S., hence performance isn't always the most important factor considered in buying decisions.  Traffic in the U.S. is horrendous by German standards, and never improves -- and not just in Los Angeles or Houston.  These things make apparent niceties like sound systems important to making a daily commute from hell tolerable, something Germany has little experience with, with well-maintained roads and efficient public transportation.  Volkswagen, in spite of its success in Europe, has arguably struggled in North America, while smaller Swedish rival Volvo even managed to outsell VW in the U.S. at one point, which says a lot about Volkswagen's U.S. struggles.

The VW Beetle spent a few decades on hiatus (at least in the U.S.), before being resurrected in 1998 to positive reviews and sales.  The VW Concept 1, known as the "new Beetle" changed all that.  It was essentially a VW Golf under the hood, but the design was much truer to the original Beetle that many Americans had a fondness of.  Its design originated in California, but the quirky design evoked fond memories from Americans who drove the original VW Type 1 "Beetle", and became Volkswagen's most successful U.S. auto introduction in decades.  Many also hope that a new Karmann Ghia might emerge as well, though a few models do not guarantee ongoing success for an automaker, especially one that aims to remain one of the world's biggest.  The VW Bus, in different iterations, has attempted comebacks, but never seemed to gain the success it had in the 1960's.

Indeed, mass-market European automakers like Volkswagen have struggled in the U.S., although European luxury car makers including Germany's BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, Britain's Jaguar, Italy's Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati have all succeeded because of their premium prices.  However, other mass-market European brands, including Fiat, Renault, Rover and others have had lengthy periods of time where the companies completely exited the U.S. auto market.  Yet Sweden's two automakers Volvo (and to a somewhat lesser degree, Saab) succeeded while bigger rivals from France and Italy failed mainly because they successfully created and then targeted lucrative niche markets -- mainly for safety.  Indeed, Sweden's carmakers have remained in the U.S. since they were first introduced.  It should be noted that in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, most of Volvo cars on the streets are small cars, not the big cars sold by Volvo in North America today.  Indeed, Volvo became one of the most successful, albeit niche, automakers anywhere in the world, keeping many Swedes in auto-making jobs for much longer than conventional wisdom suggested was even possible, let alone likely.

It's worth noting that Sweden's Volvo was part of a larger Swedish company that made a variety of industrial products (including aircraft parts, etc.) and the types of big trucks found transporting goods.  Volvo's automobile unit known as Volvo Cars has been under the ownership of the Zhejiang Geely Holding [Geely Holding] of China since 2010, when it was purchased from Ford Motor Co., but for decades before, Volvo succeeded selling cars despite its small size largely because its most widely-sold (and most expensive) car models' extraordinary safety records, which proved to be a very lucrative, profitable and unique "niche" market that had been largely ignored by other automakers.

With U.S. startups like Tesla aiming to claim the luxury market for electric sports cars, in June 2017, Volvo announced that by 2019, it would only make fully electric or hybrid cars.  To date, Tesla is a luxury car maker, while mass market manufacturers have moved more slowly on electric vehicles.

The U.S. history of automakers outside of Detroit's "Big Three" (GM, Ford and Chrysler, the latter of which has been owned by both Germany's Daimler Benz, and more recently, Italy's Fiat) has seen a history of failure against the big Detroit automakers.  Japanese automakers have proven the exception, rather than the rule.

For example, from 1954-1988, the company formerly known as American Motors Corp. (also known as "AMC", which itself was a descendant of the Nash-Kelvinator Corp. following its merger with Hudson Motor Car Company.  That company's origins were in Wisconsin, not Michigan, although executive talent necessitated relocation to the Great Lakes state.  For a time in the late 1960's to the early 1980's, AMC competed aggressively with GM, Ford and Chrysler, mostly with its rather peculiar car designs, including the Rambler, the Gremlin, the Pacer, the Matador and finally the Eagle.  AMC's best known auto brand endures under Fiat Chrysler, which is Jeep.  When Chrysler acquired AMC in 1988, it marked the end of Detroit's four major automakers.  After that, there were a few startups which did not last, most notably the DeLorean Motor Company (whose auto model DMC-12 was featured memorably in the "Back to the Future" movie trilogy, as the model of car made into a time machine by eccentric scientist Doc Brown, although the company had ceased to exist even before the first movie was made).  Tesla's long-term success remains unproven, although its push into electric sports cars has helped push Volvo and eventually, Volkswagen to pursue wider marketing of electric automobiles in the U.S.

That said, as of 2017, infrastructure limits for electric vehicles in the U.S. remain, including electric car recharging stations that have yet to see widespread adoption across the U.S.  But Volvo is not Volkswagen, and apparently Volkswagen foresees an opportunity to join Volvo in the move towards electric cars.  After all, the Swedes' ongoing success in the U.S. while Germany's auto giant VW has struggled, suggests that the Chinese-owned Nordic automaker might be onto something.  Adding to that, Volvo's new Chinese parents want to advance the technology for electric autos, and realistically, that's probably more likely to come from the West than it is from the Chinese mainland, although relevant components are likely to come from China.

Around the same time as Volvo's announcement, at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show, Germany's Volkswagen unveiled an electric microbus concept called the ID Buzz which was clearly meant to be a more modern successor to the old VW Type 2 or Bus as it was more popularly known.  The company also unveiled the new microbus concept at last year's Consumer Electronics Show.  An image of the new microbus, along with another graphic can be seen below.

Irish Times reported: "VW is playing the nostalgia card for all its worth with this concept car. The styling is a very simple update of the original Type 2, right down to the deep "V" shape in the centre of the front, which is now being used to replicate the effect of a smiley face. It couldn’t be more hippy if it tried."

The Street subsequently announced that VW actually plans to re-introduce by the hippy favorite as an all-electric vehicle with a driving range on its battery power of 270 miles which another media outlet reported a planned introduction by 2020.  Previously, the ID Buzz was merely a concept car.  However, the company saw similar success in the U.S. market with the introduction a new Beetle following a similar manner of introduction.  Quirky design style is also key to the company's success.

But while young hippies in the late 1960's fell in love with their VW Buses, it's far less certain that today's American youth will adopt the new VW buses as their transportation method of choice.  As of 2017, the Baby Boomer population has been declining (and will continue to as normal lifespans end), although Gen Xers remember seeing them on the road when they were growing up, but selling to and capturing the Baby Boomer nostalgia market segment no longer ensures success for companies.  And Millennials seem largely indifferent to automobiles, and as a generation, has one of the lowest incidences of driver's licenses of any group observed in decades.  Necessity, of course, may yet push some to get cars eventually.

But a report (an update to an earlier survey from 2014), from researchers at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group, shows that Millennials are far less car-focused than older Americans and previous generations of young people, and their transportation behaviors continue to change in ways that reduce driving.

While urban dwelling is a major factor behind the decline in car interest among youth, it's also a fact that many Millennials are being priced out of the very cities that they once flocked to en-masse (or aimed to move to, see HERE for more information on that).  Increasingly, more and more hipsters are migrating to nearby suburbs with mass-transit access, typically near suburban commuter rail lines and express buses.  The question is whether that suburban migration will bring more auto-buying, or whether car-sharing services like Zipcar and competitors will effectively address that need?  It's also possible that technology-driven solutions may prove even more compelling than electric cars by themselves (but car sharing of electric vehicles may hold appeal).  Many companies, including Alphabet's Google and countless others are pursuing self-driving cars, and we can realistically expect to see the established automakers pursue this as well, even though much of the early development is coming from Silicon Valley.

Nevertheless, as The Street reported, Volkswagen will indeed pursue its first electric vehicle, which just so happens to be its resurrection of the VW Bus that was so popular among young hippies.

Maybe we'll yet see a new version of the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia in the future?  Let's hope so!

May 31, 2017

Faith as a Basis for Broadway Success

In the 1970's, several different Broadway shows, specifically "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" placed the central story of Christianity's Gospel as center-stage in the commercial musical theater.  As might be expected, at the time, some conservative Christian groups objected to these plays.  In their view, to enact the word of God in a commercial theater rather than a sacred house of worship was to profane it.  Nevertheless, both shows were successful (if not overwhelmingly, certainly enough to be commercial successes for their time).  Ironically, many churches later embraced these shows as a way of spreading the gospel, especially among younger Christians.

Both of those shows were also some of the first professional works of then-twentysomething songwriters whose work would subsequently loom quite large in the theater world, including Stephen Schwartz ("Pippin," "Wicked") who wrote most of "Godspell's" music and some of its lyrics; and the British team of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber (who went on create "Evita," and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" among others) who created the "Jesus Christ Superstar" score.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" also gave rise to a celebrity singer from Hawaii which until that time was better known for Don Ho in the music world.  Her name was Yvonne Elliman, and her vocal interpretation of the song "I Don't Know How to Love Him" sung by the Biblical character of Mary Magdalene made her a global superstar.  She subsequently had a platinum single from the hit soundtrack of the 1977 film "Saturday Night Fever", specifically "If I Can't Have You", which was written by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (better known as the Bee Gees), which helped usher in the disco era to American music.  She would follow that with Billboard-chart hits including a cover of "Hello Stranger" to name a few of her hits during the 1970's.  A clip from her broadway song "I Don't Know How to Love Him" can be listened to below.

Just why these religiously-inspired shows hit so big at a time when young Baby Boomers were rejecting religion (organized or otherwise) en-masse was most likely due to the catchy music, and familiar stories that were set in more modern times.  Of course, the shows followed a longtime theater pattern of depicting cathartic stories of loss and redemption that are really core to virtually every successful Broadway show, and have been at the heart of comedy/tragedy upon which theater has continued since ancient Greek times.

As noted, these were Baby Boomer re-interpretations of old religious teachings that were force-fed to them by their parents.  As already noted, another, subsequent West End/Broadway show also produced by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber with a rather similar religious inspiration known as "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" would follow the same basic format, although "Joseph" had very little dialogue, and virtually the entire script was set to music.  Also, the duo followed a different path to get "Joseph" produced by persuading some friends to record the songs, and then the album took off, which subsequently triggered the stage production (which was where they first began with it).

"Godspell", "Jesus Christ Superstar, and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" also helped pave the way for more modern variations of religiously-inspired shows, including the smash hit "The Book of Mormon", which parodies some of unique tenets of Mormonism.  The basis for that show, the lyrics, and music were written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone (best known for their collaboration on the television cartoon hit "South Park") and Robert Lopez.  "The Book of Mormon" follows two young Mormon missionaries as they attempt to share their scriptures with the inhabitants of a remote Ugandan village. The earnest young men are challenged by a lack of interest of the locals, who are preoccupied with more pressing troubles such as AIDS, famine, and oppression from the local warlord.

To be sure, although earlier stage productions stayed marginally truer to the original Biblical teachings set to catchy, modern music, given the popularity of "The Book of Mormon", it would seem difficult for any musical based upon a religious theme to succeed today without a sense of satire embodied by "The Book of Mormon".  Of course, times change and so do public sensibilities.

At the 2011 Tony Awards, Book of Mormon had a performance, which can be seen below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/PHEqCXY2B-w:

Still, while "The Book of Mormon" focuses on the Mormon faith, there is plenty of fodder for Evangelical, born-again Christianity, which perhaps moreso than any other faith tradition in the U.S., practices hypocrisy of "do as we say, not as we do" by many followers, whose support of slavery, the death penalty, gay marriage bans, denial of Constitutional rights to non-Evangelical Christians, and divorce are all at odds with actual Biblical teachings.  What the next faith-based Broadway hit will be remains to be seen, but there are certainly plenty of role models to base them on.

May 23, 2017

Roger Moore, Who Played James Bond 007 Times, Dies

Let me start by acknowledging that I borrowed the headline for today's post from the New York Times obituary, because it was so appropriate.  One of the actors to have played the iconic role of James Bond (secret agent 007) in the iconic British spy series popularized by author Ian Fleming back in the 1950's has passed away from cancer, specifically Roger Moore, according to his family (see below, or by visiting HERE);
At the time of his passing, Roger Moore was age 89 and living in Switzerland, evidently as a way to escape taxes in his native country (as a tax exile).  Mr. Moore had homes in Switzerland and Monaco.  NPR had a clip about his passing which can be listened to below, or by visiting https://n.pr/2jcLWVf:

Roger Moore is the first actor who played James Bond to have passed away.  That's likely because Roger Moore was also the oldest actor to have played James Bond – he was already age 45 in "Live and Let Die" (1973) which co-starred a young Jane Seymour as the Bond girl and Hervé Villechaize as one of the enemies, and he was age 58 when he announced his retirement in 1985 following his being featured in "A View to a Kill".  The trailer to Roger Moore's first Bond film ("Live and Let Die") can be seen below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/KTzsm9-XWQo:

Mr. Moore was the third actor to play that role (he followed Sean Connery who originated the role, and Australian actor George Lazenby who starred in one Bond film, specifically "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in 1969), and Roger Moore played in a total of seven Bond films during the 1970's and 1980's.  Mr. Moore played the role of 007 in more Bond movies than any other actor (so far).  As noted, Roger Moore was also the oldest actor to have played James Bond – he was age 45 in "Live and Let Die" (1973) which saw Bond fight with voodoo priests and heroin smugglers, and co-starred a young Jane Seymour as the Bond girl and Hervé Villechaize as one of the enemies.  Moore was age 58 when he announced his retirement in 1985 following his being featured in "A View to a Kill".  During his Bond tenure, he also appeared in the 1981 movie "The Cannonball Run", the car-race comedy with Burt Reynolds.

Roger Moore as James Bond, agent 007
After surrendering the role of James Bond to actor Timothy Dalton (who would star in "The Living Daylights" in 1987 and "Licence to Kill" in 1989), Roger Moore appeared in a half-dozen largely unexceptional movies (in the words of the New York Times), made a few television appearances and did voice work in animated films.  Mostly, however, he turned his attention elsewhere, becoming a UNICEF good-will ambassador in 1991. He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1999 and he was knighted in 2003.

Roger Moore's portrayal of James Bond was very popular, although it was not without its critics, mostly from people who felt any actor to assume the role originated by Sean Connery were doomed to fail.  While many moviegoers enjoyed Roger Moore's portrayal of Bond as more of a light-hearted playboy who was always in control, the selection of Timothy Dalton to succeed him (at least for two Bond films) brought a different portrayal of the the character.

For example, Steven Jay Rubin wrote in The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopaedia (1995):

"Unlike Moore, who always seems to be in command, Dalton's Bond sometimes looks like a candidate for the psychiatrist's couch – a burned-out killer who may have just enough energy left for one final mission. That was Fleming's Bond – a man who drank to diminish the poison in his system, the poison of a violent world with impossible demands.... [H]is is the suffering Bond."

For the record, actor Timothy Dalton was succeeded for the role of James Bond by Irish actor Pierce Brosnan in four films: "GoldenEye", "Tomorrow Never Dies", "The World Is Not Enough", and "Die Another Day", followed by actor Daniel Craig in all [thus far] the subsequent Bond movies.

That said, in addition to having starred in more James Bond films than any other actor, after surrendering the role of James Bond to Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore appeared in a half-dozen largely unexceptional movies (in the words of the New York Times).  His post-Bond films included such efforts as "The Quest" with Jean-Claude Van Damme and "Spice World" with the Spice Girls.  He also made a few TV appearances and did voice work in animated films.  Mostly, however, he turned his attention elsewhere, becoming a UNICEF good-will ambassador in 1991.  One of his neighbors in Swtizerland, the actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn, got him involved with UNICEF, the United Nations agency focused on children’s health and safety.  He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1999 and he was knighted in 2003.

He was forthcoming about his run as 007.  In a 2014, in an interview with NPR (see https://n.pr/1yF8U5n for detail), he said he thought his version of the spy who never met a foe he couldn't conquer or a woman he couldn't seduce, was the most humorous.

"I look like a comedic lover, and Sean [Connery] in particular, and Daniel Craig now, they are killers," Moore said. "They look like killers. I wouldn't like to meet Daniel Craig on a dark night if I'd said anything bad about him."

Although Roger Moore was knighted in his home country of the United Kingdom, his decision to relocate to Switzerland in order to avoid taxes was not unlike many celebrities, among them American soul and pop singer Tina Turner who also calls Switzerland home these days.

Roger Moore's net worth is estimated to be around £84 million.  The actor previously spoke about his love of luxury and said that he enjoyed spending money more than looking after it.  Speaking to the Telegraph in 2012 (see HERE for details), he said:

"I love cash. When I came out of the Army I went into reparatory theatre in Palmers Green and I think I got £9 or £10 a week and they were all in crispy £1 notes. The sheer luxury of them."

Roger Moore was divorced three times, from skater Doorn Van Steyn in 1953, English singer Dorothy Squires in 1969 and Italian actress Luisa Mattioli, the mother of his children, Deborah, Geoffrey and Christian, in 2000.  He married a fourth time, in 2002, to Swedish socialite Kristina Tholstrup, who survives him.  The family is planning a private funeral in Monaco for Roger Moore in accordance with his wishes.

May 19, 2017

Why The Landline Telephone Isn't Dead Yet

Short History of the Modern Telephone

The first practical telephone, which enabled voices to be transmitted thousands of miles by wire transmission, was invented by Alexander Graham Bell, culminating with Mr. Bell being awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone in 1876.  His work built heavily upon the telegraph wires which already existed.  It's safe to say that the telephone was also a major component of the internet which followed, albeit with many improvements, just as the telephone itself improved upon the telegraph.  This isn't a history lesson, but a post about how telecommunications have evolved more recently, and why mobile phones are NOT the pinnacle of modern technology.

The first mobile telephone was invented in the early 1970's, although the first commercially-available mobile telephone did not hit the U.S. market in 1983, but it wasn't purchased by anyone until 1984.  I was already 15 years old when that happened, although it's critical to be aware of the fact that the practicality of early mobile phone was quite limited both by its huge cost (the devices themselves cost nearly $4,000 in 1983 dollars) and you could only use it for a half hour before the battery gave out, plus the service was equally expensive, the first commercial cellular service in the U.S. reportedly cost $50 a month plus $0.40  a minute from 9 am to 5 pm, and $0.24 a minute in other hours, which were considered off-peak hours.  Oh, and the earliest mobile phones could only be used to make audio telephone calls, the internet as we now know it did not even exist in those days except for the U.S. military, and mobile internet was not even invented yet.

Mobile data connections (including audio phone calls) aren't nearly as good as your average residential broadband internet connection is because mobile relies on radio waves to send and receive data. As a result, your mobile internet connection's bandwidth (the amount of data you can transmit per second) and latency (the time a packet of data takes to travel from your handset across the internet to the intended recipient) fluctuate wildly.  Such problems are fairly simple to deal with when you're streaming music or video (it's referred to as buffering), but is not as easy to fix for a voice conversation between two people.  After all, you don't really notice if your smartphone needs a few extra seconds in the beginning to buffer a song or TV show, but you’ll definitely notice if your audio phone conversation suffers from even a few seconds of lag.  Plus, issues including lack of transmission towers everywhere means that mobile phones don't always work without interruption, especially in areas with hilly, uneven topography, or rural, undeveloped areas, and all these things make mobile phones unreliable for many.  Another flaw is limited battery lives for the handsets themselves.  That means mobile phones are still unlikely to eradicate traditional the telephone everywhere.

Because Gen X is the only generation to straddle both the analog and digital worlds, we have a unique perspective on the evolution.  Remember, when I say analog, I'm not kidding.

We literally dialed the telephone numbers on an analog dial, as push-button, touch-tone did not become commonplace until the late 1970's.  Although the "touchtone" or push button telephone dialing had first been invented back in the 1940's, it really wasn't until the 1970's that this type of phone largely replaced the rotary dial phone everywhere in the United States.  A variety of factors were behind the delay, among them, a significant infrastructure investment had to be made to enable touchtone dialing to work everywhere, and the investment was incomplete until the 1970's.

Landlines Aren't Dead
Along with push button dialing, there were several new convenience features added, including speed dialing, three-party calling, call waiting (enabling the user to know if another call was trying to get through), and call forwarding, all of which emerged in the 1970's.  The Bell System's primary phone manufacturer, Western Electric, also introduced several new, edgier telephone designs.

In those days, telephone service was still a government-sanctioned monopoly, with price controls.  We grew up in an era where long-distance telephone calls still charged rates by the minute (today, most phone plans enable you to call anywhere in North America for a flat rate).

1984: U.S. Government Breaks-Up AT&T's Landline Monopoly

In fact, government antitrust regulators did not even break up the original AT&T until 1984 (for  years, the old AT&T was euphemistically referred to as "Ma Bell", see HERE for news about the antitrust breakup).  By the way, the original AT&T has almost no relation to the company today known by the same name, other than the original AT&T's assets would later be acquired by one of its "Baby Bells" (Southwestern Bell, which went on a debt-fueled acquisition binge swallowing up most of the other Baby Bells except for Verizon, then known as Bell Atlantic and NYNEX) that resulted from the 1984 breakup.

Modernizing Telephone Designs, New Technologies Emerge

Previously, there were just two phone designs which hadn't changed all that much since their introduction, a desk telephone, and later, a wall-mounted telephone.  But Western Electric introduced several, groovy new phone designs during the 1960's which became more mainstream in the decade that followed.  One of the best in my opinion was the "Trimline" phone, which was a sleeker version of the classic telephone, with a curvy handset that included the dialing or touchtone mechanism on it instead of on the base.  This design was widely copied by other companies.  The "Princess" phone was another design aimed more at women (hence the name).  There was also  the so-called Sculptura or donut phone.  All were eventually available in a number of colors aside from black or white which were very popular in the 1960's and 1970's (much driven by major kitchen appliance manufacturers), including Harvest Gold, Avocado Green, Cherry Red, Baby Blue and Orange/Rust colors.  One of the more famous designs was the licensed Mickey Mouse phone in which Mickey's hand held a standard Western Electric phone handpiece.

For the record, a newer variation of the Sculptura phone was being sold by a Hong Kong company, only it was not a Western Electric phone, it was called a Polyconcept handbag phone.  If you shop around online, you can likely still find some retailers who sell this corded donut phone model.  Its not an exact replica of the Sculptura phone, but its pretty darn close and as of 2017, you can still find it for sale at a few places for a 50 year old phone that's no longer made.

With the 1984 Bell System breakup, a host of new handset manufacturers emerged, many low-quality Asian products (Taiwan was the place of origin for most, as mainland China would not emerge as a low-cost manufacturing hub until decades after the historic Richard Nixon visit to China in 1972).  What really differentiated Western Electric's phones was quality construction and the ability to continue working even after extremely tough abuse.  But it came with a very high price, which in 1984 was forced to be itemized as a phone receiver rental fee.

The AT&T archive has a short clip of some vintage, 1970's advertisements for some of these "Design Line" telephones.  The basic content of the phones were largely the same (same dials/keypads, same ringers, same handsets, same wiring), but these were designer versions of landline phones meant to fit into a more modern household of the era.  The ad appears below, or at https://youtu.be/CyVe3dD-1mE:

Gen Xers also embraced the advent of digitization and helped make that commonplace.  For example, before voicemail was ubiquitous, answering services were used by doctors' offices, and then analog answering machines with audio tapes were also, later introduced.   But manufacturers were quick to introduce digital versions with newer features which enabled voice messages to be retrieved remotely from locations other than where the answering machine was physically located.  Around the mid-to-late 1980's to the early 1990's, rising popularity of answering machines, voicemail and caller ID began to undermine the pervasiveness of audio telephone calls.  It became possible to choose whether to speak to someone before answering their phone call.  Gen X embraced caller ID when that was introduced, as that truly enabled us to identify who was calling in advance, and make a decision whether they were worthy of our time.  Of course, something is lost when actual audio conversations completely disappear (Salon.com's Timothy Noah wrote about it HERE).

With all this in mind, today's post is about how reports on the imminent death of the landline telephone are exaggerated.  First, let's look at the actual data.

Data Shows a Less Flattering Picture of Mobile Phone-Only Consumers

In spite of boastful claims made by mobile phone providers and device manufacturers, they have only recently (and just barely) become a majority of the phones used by consumers in the U.S., but the data reveals more about those who have landlines compared to those who do not.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (the CDC's) National Center for Health Statistics gathers data on all kinds of trends about the state of Americans' health.  The in-person survey of 19,956 households is part of the CDC's National Health Interview Survey, still tracks landline use in order to assure it has truly representative samples in its ongoing health studies. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.

According to its most recent survey (see https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/wireless201705.pdf for the results to that survey), 50.8% of homes and apartments had ONLY mobile phone service (which admittedly is up from 41% just 3 years ago) in the latter half of 2016, the first time such households had attained a slight majority in the survey.  The share of homes with both landlines and mobile phones was 39.4% (down from 47.7% 3 years ago), while 6.5% of families have a landline without mobile phone service, and 3.2% have no phone service at home at all.  Of note is that the CDC survey is the only one in the federal government's statistical system that is even tracking this estimate, and it plans to keep doing so.  Naturally, the pro-mobile phone folks were all over these results showing their supposed victory over landlines.  But the reality tells a different story.

Renters and younger adults are more likely to have just a mobile phone, so a predictable skew of young vs. old and non-affluent vs. affluent shows up in the results, but that over-simplifies the findings.  For example, rates of mobile phone-only homes were highest in the South, while homes in the Northeast were the most likely to still maintain landlines.  But this finding goes beyond incomes which are inversely correlated to cutting landlines, as well as the regional skews in income, which is higher in the Northeast compared to the South.  Instead, it speaks to a much more practical reality: it's much more feasible to rely only on mobile services in a region like the South where signals are less likely to be interrupted by great hills and skyscrapers (at least in major population centers) that can block mobile phone signals, as is the case in the Northeast.

Mobile phone-only homes have some other commonalities. "Wireless-only adults are more likely to drink heavily, more likely to smoke and be uninsured," even after factoring for age and income, says Stephen J. Blumberg, the study's co-author (and a landline user himself). "There certainly is something about giving up a landline that appeals to the same people who may engage in risky behavior".  Why that's so will require further research.

The picture of mobile-only users isn't terribly flattering overall.  They drink more heavily, are more likely to be smokers and less likely to have healthcare insurance, and are more heavily concentrated in the South.  People with mobile phones exclusively are more to be living with unrelated roommates, and be renters rather than homeowners, and skew more heavily Hispanic and black rather than white.  Not exactly the image that mobile phone device makers and mobile carriers like to present with ads of attractive, young, smartly-dressed, affluent Millennials featured in their advertising, is it?

As The Atlantic reported (see HERE), the overall picture is that the more stable your living situation, the more likely you are to have a landline.  And, just as richer Americans have the means to adopt new technology like mobile phones early, they also have the means to hang on to the old technology they are already attached to, like landlines, longer: Why choose one when you can have both?

Reasons the Landline Isn't Dead Yet, and Likely to be Around for a While Longer

The landline harkens to an era in which a telephone number was still tied to a household, rather than to an individual.  I'm old enough to remember the era where landlines were still king.  In fact, your telephone number could also enable someone to identify a relatively small radius where you actually lived.  Area codes identified which state or which part of a state you lived in, and the 3-digit prefix was typically assigned to a particular community or neighborhood.

Then again, people still had telephone conversations back then.  The fact is that as of late 2016, the primary purpose of most people's primary telephones was no longer to engage in audible speech.  In fact, text messages occur five times more frequently on mobile phones than do audio telephone calls.  Today, when you see people using their mobile phones on the streets of New York City, for example, 75% (or more) aren't even talking on the phone, they're listening to music, or using internet-enabled apps, including social media.  Another example:  as recently as a decade ago, I can remember the phones in my office were constantly ringing (you get used to it after a while), but all of that kind of stopped being an issue around the time that a lot of Millennials started working, whom I've found as a group are much more likely to use email as their primary means of communication.  It doesn't even occur to them to pick up the phone and call someone, which is kind of strange for a group of people who have been described as people who have grown up using mobile 'phones'.  Instead, they can better be described as people grew up using mobile 'devices' which are essentially low-powered, pocket-sized computers -- likely anything but the phone component, except on limited occasions such as when someone calls them.

Back to the household ownership of a phone number.  While there is an age factor behind the householding of numbers, a lot comes from growing up where (and living with for several decades) landlines were the ONLY kind of phone.  For me, it means that when my phone rings, I've never instinctively reached for a mobile phone to make or receive a call (even with a retro-ringtone), mainly because I came of age when I literally paid for every minute of the call, so I was forced to limit my use of the mobile device, which instilled a sense of my mobile phone being secondary.  Also, I never hear the mobile phone ringing when its charging in the other room.  Plus, as noted, the darn mobile phone's batteries are seemingly always running out of power, which is a hassle.

Television & Movie History of Gen X and Telephones

I grew up when we quite literally still dialed telephone numbers on a rotary dial, and the advent of push-button, touch-tone calling was seen as a big advancement to be celebrated.  Think of episodes of the Brady Bunch and you see early seasons featured rotary-dial phones, then later push-button phones, and that is very much the era I grew up in (in fact, an entire episode on telephones entitled "Sorry, Right Number" [S1/E9] in which the father got a pay telephone installed at the Brady's house was dedicated to the subject).  The development of cordless phones was something that eliminated a long tangle of really long cords.  I have first-hand memories of the first cell phones being quite literally the size and weight of bricks -- think of Christian Bale's character in the movie "American Psycho" as an example.

Christian Bale on a mobile phone in "American Psycho"
Mobile phone services also cost a fortune, making a cost of several hundred dollars for a new phone seem tiny by comparison.  More importantly, I was already nearly 20 years old when it first mobile phone hit the market, so my phone-using habits were already very well-established.  Although mobile phone technology has advanced considerably since then, I still judge any telephone based on reliability of the calls (dropped calls, for example, are kind of a deal-breaker for me, and while having a great network alleviates some of that, remember that all calls consist of 2 parties [sometimes more], so you can be on the best network around, but if the other party isn't, it hasn't solved anything).  Along with all of those issues, I've just always seen call mobility as a solution in search of a problem that does not exist.  Its handy when travelling, but it doesn't offer much I can't get elsewhere with much better results.

Landline Downsides

Landlines certainly have their own issues, one of the most notable being extremely high costs that never went down, plus a whole barrage of useless fees and taxes, which was a major reason I tried switching to using my cell phone only.  But that was never something I truly wanted.  As devices, mobile phones are convenient, but as telephones, they aren't the greatest for making phone calls.  Their touch screens are a nuisance, especially if you are calling a company with an automated voice response unit (VRU).  Perhaps their biggest weakness is the limited life of the battery.  Also, even though I live in the biggest city in the country, where my apartment building is located means I don't get a good mobile phone signal at home, although I am able to use Wi-Fi calling when I'm at home.  But spotty and inconsistent reception for mobile phones remains a serious limitation.  In parts of the country where the landscape is pretty flat, that's not a major issue, but in other parts of the country where the landscape is dotted with big hills and/or skyscrapers, it's a huge problem.

Several years ago, I contemplated dumping my landline telephone and using my mobile phone exclusively.  The expense was redundant, so I did dump it -- briefly.  But that experiment only lasted about a month, and I hated every second of it.  I went back to having a landline at home (well, sort of a landline), more on that in a second.

Pros and Cons to Landlines and Mobile Phones

While is nice to have internet access from a mobile phone when I'm out, my middle-aged eyes have trouble seeing on a 5-inch screen (and I have a relatively large mobile phone screen, adjusted with bigger font settings), so the cell phone is more of an extra, but not my primary telephone number.  As noted, the battery life on most mobile devices stinks, necessitating carrying around an extra battery, charger and/or cables.  For some twenty-to-thirty-somethings, it's a guarantee that they'll be here someday, too.  I know that makes me a dinosaur from another era, but it's worth mentioning that my parents aren't paying any of my bills for me (see http://nyti.ms/2lrw8eV for more), so I've found pre-paid plans which more often target immigrants or other lower-income groups actually works well for me, as my mobile phone isn't central to my existence, so there's no reason to pay a fortune for it.  When Mom & Dad stop helping out, perhaps we'll see more young hipsters rethink their own priorities, though I expect the kids who once waited in line for hours and hours for the newest iPhone won't go exactly the same route I have.

The RAND Corporation conducted research (see HERE for details) validates that the landline isn't dead ... at least not yet.  About one in five people consider landline telephones as the most important service (with mobile voice service second), suggesting that their primary purpose for having any type of telephone is to make and receive audio telephone calls, not using internet-connected applications.

That said, the presumption that landlines are already dead is not based on fact, but wishful thinking.  The decline of analog telephone service has taken hundreds of years, and even that is not necessarily driven by functional obsolescence, but by the emergence of newer (and in many cases, cheaper technologies).  And, importantly, its not mobile technology exclusively, but also by growth of broadband internet services that can replace landlines without eliminating functionality and simultaneously reducing costs.

In November 2011, Wired magazine, for example, declared a new design for the landline to be dead before it even hit the market (see the article at https://www.wired.com/2011/11/beautiful-swooping-landline-phone-is-sadly-foredoomed/ for more).  Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your perspective), the prediction wasn't too far off, although the reasoning certainly was.  In fact, dozens of manufacturers in China (the designer was based in Hong Kong anyway) and elsewhere would make it, but the economics of landlines has changed making sales more of a challenge.  But high-tech designs can still win buyers.  I'm not at all bothered by still having a landline.  Well, sort of.

VoIP Phones Go Mainstream

Rather than going with a mobile phone only (which I don't care for), I compromised with a hybrid-solution that works great for me: a voice-over-internet-protocol (a VoIP-based) solution which uses my broadband internet to make and receive telephone calls (I pay for broadband anyway rather than sharing it with 20 people who live around me) only it's not linked to my internet provider, so I can readily switch from Verizon Fios to Time Warner/Spectrum cable, to RCN or another competitor).

I also find the internet much better at a computer with a real keyboard and monitor rather than a tiny, touch-screen on a mobile phone, which as an experience leaves much to be desired.  Cable companies  and other internet providers now routinely offer "triple play" packages, although I initially went with Vonage [https://www.vonage.com/], but I then switched to Ooma [http://www.ooma.com/], slashing my costs progressively with each change to the point that my "landline" now costs me less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  Others, including BasicTalk [http://www.basictalk.com/] also exist.  But you can also create a fee-free VoIP landline for your home and/or office using Google Voice, and it does not require significant hardware acquisitions.  Its done by purchasing an OBi Talk device (a small box that plugs into your Internet router).  After a simple PC-based setup, the OBi then connects to your Google Voice account and acts as a portal to your Google Voice account much like Vonage or Ooma do without requiring a landline or cell phone that the service is forwarded to (see HERE for more details; note that Google has not committed to provide continued official support to VoIP  service forever, but it works as I write this)  Also note that Google Voice/OBi does NOT provide 911 service, so you must use third-party providers to get that, or simply add the local phone numbers for fire, police and paramedics to your speed-dial list).  I should also note that a great many businesses have migrated to VoIP-phone systems too, with companies like Shoretel, 8x8 and others providing services previously handled by analog landlines.

Note that the CDC's definition of a landline actually DOES include for Internet-connected phones — also known as VoIP phones — because the question that's asked in the survey is: "Do you have a telephone in your home that is currently working and is not a cellphone?"

To be sure, the major mobile phone carriers don't really like people like me, but neither do the legacy landline carriers or internet service providers.  The irony is that I do not deprive myself of technology at all.  But my mobile phone has never really been central to my existence, and I still use my 'landline' phone at home for actually making telephone calls.

Newspaper reporter Sherri Gardner Howell (a Baby Boomer herself) eloquently put it (see http://knoxne.ws/2eZczMb for the article) like this:  "You can still get a Gen Xer to talk to you on the cellphone, for example, but you might as well forget it and just text the Millennial."

See also http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/12/03/458225197/the-daredevils-without-landlines-and-why-health-experts-are-tracking-them

May 3, 2017

Fondue: A Food Fad of the 1970's Created by the Swiss Dairy Industry to Sell Cheese

The 1970's may be remembered for many things, but one particular fad I recall is how a food known for its origins in Switzerland suddenly became a chic party theme among young Baby Boomers (no, not chocolate, although it could be): fondue.

A groovy Fondue party!

But less anyone thinks this just happened by accident, NPR reported in April 2015 that the popularity of fondue was no accident. It was planned by a shadowy association of Swiss cheese makers which aimed to convince the world to consume pots full of melted fat (cheese).  It began selling the now-familiar dreamy image of fondue with "big ad campaigns of good-looking Swiss people in ski sweaters partying it up over pots of cheese." With the rise of globalization, it didn't take very long for that message to hit the U.S.  That story can be listened to below, or by visiting https://n.pr/1GkUvjZ:

David Sax, author of the book "The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue" [http://tastemakersbook.com/] discusses how food trends emerge, where they come from, how they grow, and where they end up.  One thing he notes is how the cycle of such trends has been dramatically shortened in recent decades.  Just as Fondue was a legitimate food fad from the 1970's, there have been dozens of more recent food fads, perhaps most recently the "gluten-free" trend, which has nothing to do with the incidence of celiac disease (which has remained flat, incidentally).  He spoke to Marketplace radio about that, and the 4:30 interview can be listened to below, or by visiting http://bit.ly/2pZF9Cr:

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch observed (see HERE), back "when fondue parties first were a fad, you may have been wearing bell bottoms and playing Bob Dylan and Joan Baez (on vinyl) on the stereo. Or maybe you were wearing rompers and playing on the swing set ... fondue made a comeback in the early 2000's and has been growing in popularity ever since."

Perhaps one reason for its seemingly sudden popularity back in the seventies was that fondue is about as sociable as a meal can get.  Fondue is typically eaten with long-handled forks dipped and twirled in a communal pot, usually heated with Sterno fuel or special fondue burners that are heated with a special gel fuel which is ignited, or even candles (such as tealights), although electric fondue pots also emerged at that time as a safer alternative (for alcohol-consuming customers who might tip the flames over).  Fondue usually consists of bread cubes (from French bread) dipped into warmed cheese, although some also use the fondue pot to cook small pieces of meat in hot oil, and/or for desserts made from melted chocolate that is heated in the fondue pot.

Fondue pots in classic (and questionable) 1970's colors
In the seventies, fondue pots were also widely available at S&H Green Stamp redemption centers (catch my post on that at https://goo.gl/BvDmG8 for more) before those disappeared.  They were popular when S&H went out of business because they did not require too many books of stamps for redemption, but were something people might not otherwise purchase on their own.  Popular fondue pots sold in the U.S. at the time were also made in the same questionable colors of kitchen appliances of the day, including avacado or lime green, harvest gold, and coppertone brown.

Back to fondue, which David Sax claims was a food fad.

Fondue is actually a tad more complicated to prepare then it appears (for example, just ask anyone who's tossed a bunch of cheese into a pot and expected anything other than a gloopy mess). To make classic Swiss fondue, a fondue pot (called a caquelon in Swiss-French) is first rubbed with a cut garlic clove, then dry white wine is added and heated, sometimes with a little cornstarch (though cornstarch is decidedly not Swiss, many find it makes the texture more sustainable as the heat goes away, but the Swiss use some flour, pepper, and nutmeg instead). A blend of shredded [Swiss] cheeses is then added (most typically Gruyere, as well as Emmentaler and/or Appenzeller are the most traditional cheeses used in fondue), and the mixture is stirred constantly until the cheese is melted. Cubes of French bread are then used for dipping, but other baigneuses (a.k.a. "bathers") can also include apples, fingerling potatoes, most fresh vegetables including green beans, and/or chunks of lightly seared beef, chicken or pork (some types of fish could also work, although the smell tends to ruin the communal dining experience, hence its not very popular).

Dick Cavett, former talk show host who appeared on U.S. broadcast television in a program called "The Dick Cavett Show" which aired intermittently on different networks from from 1968–1986, best known for his interviews with celebrities including Groucho Marx, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, and countless others even got in on the 70's fondue fad, too.  Note that he also appeared in different TV sitcoms and movies, often in cameo appearances of himself.  Not to be outdone on the food fad of the seventies, he had a recipe for Fondue Bread, in which the bread serves as the actual fondue pot or bowl itself.  It can be found online at http://thememorablekitchen.com/dick-cavetts-fondue-bread/ and https://www.recipegoldmine.com/celeb/dick-cavetts-bread-pot-fondue.html and http://classiccelebrityrecipes.blogspot.com/2016/04/recipes-by-dick-cavett-bread-pot-fondue.html to name a few places that it appears today, although it likely was found in newspapers and magazines from the 1970's.

Predictably, Unilever's Lipton soup had a fondue recipe of it's own in the seventies.

Emmi Roth USA, a subsidiary of Switzerland based Emmi Group, is the largest Swiss milk processor and a leading producer of specialty cheeses that Switzerland sells for export actively promoted and encouraged fondue parties.  They have a few recipes HERE and a convenient PDF recipe card (for the moment) HERE.  Indeed, entire websites dedicated to fondue can be found online, including one that calls itself "Best Fondue" (see http://www.bestfondue.com/ for the site) have been created.

Of course, traditional Swiss fondue has been taken in creative new directions by creative cooks around the world.  For example, an American created Chipotle and Tequila fondue, which adds a zesty Mexican spin on things (rather than using an exclusive traditional base of wine) is one creative variation.  Others have tried a lower-fat, lower-calorie version that uses mashed cannellini beans to slim down the recipe yet keep a thick and tasty texture (see HERE for a recipe) that might be worth sampling.  For dessert, a chocolate-coffee recipe (see HERE for details) is another modern spin on the classic chocolate fondue.

Fondue equipment (pots, forks, etc.) can still be bought today (and it might make for an entertaining, communal meal) at retailers ranging from Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, to Amazon.com, but these days, it seems to be more typical to enjoy fondue at a restaurant.  One of the best-known and popular fondue chains is The Melting Pot [https://www.meltingpot.com/]. They claim have many locations in America, so there might just be one near you.

Their YouTube channel has a video at https://youtu.be/a9W5dNQ6oDY (or see below) that seems to get at the heart of the fondue experience found in their restaurants.

April 28, 2017

Erin Moran, Who Played Joanie on 'Happy Days,' Dies at 56

On April 22, 2017, former child actress Erin Moran (her legal name was Erin Marie Moran-Fleischmann) passed away from complications of stage 4 cancer at age 56.  Erin Moran was perhaps best known her role as Joanie Cunningham on TV's "Happy Days" which ran on ABC from 1974 to 1983.  Before playing Joanie Cunningham on "Happy Days", Ms. Moran played an orphan on "Daktari," a late-1960's drama about a veterinarian protecting wildlife in East Africa, and a daughter on the sitcom "The Don Rickles Show." She also appeared in "Family Affair," "Gunsmoke," "My Three Sons" and "The FBI" among other shows.

Hollywood Reporter featured a video clip to note the star's passing which can be watched below, or by visiting http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/erin-moran-dead-happy-days-star-dies-at-56-996584:

After "Happy Days", she subsequently went on to star on her own spinoff show centered around her character's relationship with Chachi Arcola (Scott Baio) in "Joanie Loves Chachi" which ran on ABC for just 17 episodes from 1982-1983.  After some guest appearances on "The Love Boat" and "Murder She Wrote," she had no screen credits from 1986 until 1998, and only three between 1986 and 2008 (including "Desperation Boulevard," and "Celebrity Fit Club"), according to IMDB.

According to a joint statement from the Harrison County [Indiana] Sheriff Rod Seelye and Coroner Gary Gilley, "Harrison County dispatch received a 911 call referencing an unresponsive female" on Saturday [April 22, 2017] at approximately 4:07 PM local time. "Upon the arrival of first responders, it was determined that Erin Marie Moran-Fleischmann was deceased. An autopsy is pending."

Official autopsy results were still pending when the news of her death was announced.  A statement from the Coroner said standard toxicology tests were performed and the results were still pending, but added that no illegal narcotics were found at the residence.  The subsequent autopsy results revealed that Mrs. Fleischmann [sic] Moran had likely succumbed to complications of stage 4 cancer.

Steven Fleischmann and Erin Moran attend 'A Mother's Day Salute to TV Moms' at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences May 6, 2008 in North Hollywood, California.
Her husband, Steven Fleischmann said that the Coroner told him that the cancer had spread to her spleen, she had fluid in her lungs and part of her brain was infected.

When it was announced, the official statement did not specify what kind of cancer Moran had — but several friends later said that she had been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for throat cancer.

Born in 1960, its appropriate to acknowledge that based on her date of birth, Erin Moran was not technically a Gen Xer, but a late Baby Boomer.  Some call late Baby Boomers "Generation Jones" (see http://www.generationjones.com/), which certainly applies to Erin Moran.  As I've documented in previous posts (see https://goo.gl/DPruQP and https://goo.gl/QY1okg for more), generational boundaries are fuzzy (and most observers note that Gen X has the most overlap with both the Baby Boom and Millennial generations, estimated to be 5 years, and even that is questionable since Gen X was defined as only around 15 years instead of the 20 years for the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations).  But given her age and experiences growing up, Erin Moran could easily have been a Gen Xer, and most likely was.  Her passing marks a sad ending for a woman whose life was marked by unsubstantiated reports of alcohol abuse and other strange behavior in the years following her time on television.  She was living with her husband and his family in southern Indiana, although the tabloids even reported that she was homeless after being evicted from a trailer park.

In 2012, the national celebrity tabloid/gossip rag/scandal sheet the National Enquirer, long known for fake news/outright lies, said that Moran and her second husband, Steve Fleischmann, had been evicted from their trailer in New Salisbury, Indiana by his mother, and the Enquirer said the mother claimed she was tired of Erin's "hard partying ways."

The Enquirer added, citing an "unnamed" source (which immediately raises questions about the legitimacy of the statement in the first place), that "Erin was going out to bars and coming home at all hours of the night, sometimes with her rowdy bar friends, and Steve's mom just couldn't take it anymore."

However, at the time of her passing, close friend and actor Steven Wishnoff (age 56), best known for playing Tony Masters on 27 episodes on the prison drama "Oz" told reporters that, in fact, Erin Moran and her husband Steve Fleischmann had actually moved into her mother-in-law's home to care for her husband's elderly mother.  In reality, Moran was living comfortably and far from spiraling.

"She was in a good place," Mr. Wishnoff said. "I know it's not a tragic, sexy story just to say that Erin Moran was looking after her mother-in-law, with a husband who adored her, in a small town in Indiana."

While her former "Happy Days" and "Joanie Loves Chachi" co-star Scott Baio, who is considered by many observers to be a right-wing lunatic who has similarly not worked in Hollywood much more than Moran, initially made a very callous statement based upon the fake news that was reported in the National Enquirer, stating that he wasn't really surprised that Erin Moran died given her addiction to drinking and drugs.  He wrote: "I feel bad because her whole life, she was troubled, could never find what made her happy and content. For me, you do drugs and drink, you're gonna die, and I'm sorry if that's cold," Baio said on the Bernie and Sid radio Show.

Tony Moran, Erin's brother, quickly snapped back at Scott Baio in a Facebook post with a jab about Mr. Baio's supposedly tiny "manhood".  Mr. Moran wrote on Facebook about Baio:  "A special shout out to Scott Baio. I already went on Twitter about you. I hope it finds you. You and my lil sis had a very very brief fling. She dumped you. 2 reasons. 1. She told me that you were more like a lil girl and not a man. 2. She told me that you were tiny. Ya know. Barely a man in the man region. True story! Scott, I'd advise you to get on your knees and pray you never run into me."

Mr. Baio later retracted his statement, and attempted to apologize for what were perceived as cruel and insensitive comments about her death, telling Inside Edition:

"I jumped the gun. I should have known better, but I went with the information that I had. I feel horrible for her. I feel horrible for her family."

He added that he assumed reports of a heroin overdose based on fake news reports from unreliable tabloids were true because "of all the stories about Erin, and that's what I went with."

But aside from petty bickering and insensitive insults from a washed-up TV star who now buys into fake conspiracy theories and other known falsehoods of the sort that are routinely reported in the National Enquirer, Erin Moran's cancer diagnosis occurred rather suddenly, even though she was being treated.

In an open letter shared on Facebook, her grieving husband (Mr. Fleischmann) described how the 56-year-old actress had no idea she was gravely ill until around Thanksgiving in 2016.  By then, it would appear, it was already too late for treatments to have much impact on the cancer.

Mr. Fleishchmann wrote: "Erin woke up and had about a dime size blood stain on her pillowcase. She said I think I bit my tongue ... We get like 4 days into December, there's more blood. I get a flashlight and say let me look. It was not her tongue it was her tonsil and on the left side. I thought it was tonsillitis."

After a visit to an ear, nose and throat doctor, Moran was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. She promptly began radiation and chemotherapy to fight the disease. Unfortunately, it quickly worsened.

"It got so bad so fast," added Mr. Fleischmann. "By the middle of February, Erin could no longer speak or eat or drink. She had a feeding tube implant and I feed her 6 to 8 times a day. She was still happy, she was active, she texted people on her phone all day."

In his lengthy Facebook post, her husband wrote: "She [Erin] woke up on the 22nd, she was not 100%. She needed Kleenex, so I went to the store and came back. She was there watching TV in bed. I laid down next to her held her right hand in my left. I fell (sic) asleep woke up about a hour later still holding her hand and she was gone, she was just gone."

In the end, the real-life Joanie did not love the real-life Chachi.  But her final days were spent in the company of her loved ones.  But aside from Mr. Baio, most of her other former castmates from "Happy Days" expressed their genuine condolences on social media.

Ron Howard, who played her brother Richie Cunningham on "Happy Days" (himself a TV star since he was a child, having starred as Opie in "The Andy Griffith Show" and later becoming a prolific and successful movie producer) wrote:
Henry Winkler, who played The Fonz (Arthur Fonzarelli) on "Happy Days", Tweeted this statement:
Don Most, who starred alongside Moran as the jokester Ralph Malph on "Happy Days",  said in a statement, "I am so incredibly sad to hear about Erin. She was a wonderful, sweet, caring, talented woman. As I write this I can't really comprehend this right now. A very painful loss. It gives me some comfort to know that she's with Tom, Al, Pat and Garry. Rest In Peace, sweet Erin."

For the record, the people mentioned at the end of his statement were: Tom Bosley who played father Howard Cunningham, along with Al Molinaro (who played the owner of the diner where the "Happy Days" characters hung out Al Delvecchio), and Garry Marshall, who produced "Happy Days", all of whom predeceased Erin Moran.

Anson Williams, who played Richie and Ralph's close friend Potsie on the iconic sitcom, also remembered the actress. "Erin was a person who made everyone around her feel better," the actor wrote in a statement. "She truly cared about others first, a true angel. I will miss her so much, but know that she is in God's hands. RIP sweet angel."

See the USA Today report at http://usat.ly/2pt0DYf and the New York Times at http://nyti.ms/2p4oLgQ for more information about Erin Moran's untimely passing.

April 4, 2017

Captain & Tennille: "Love Will (Not) Keep Us Together", or Has It?

In 2014, Toni Tennille (her real name is Cathryn Antoinette) announced to the world that she was divorcing her longtime husband Daryl Dragon.  Mr. Dragon was the (largely) silent piano player accompanist and sea captain hat-wearing part of the duo, which was largely a showcase for Toni Tennille.  The couple's separation was somewhat surprising given that they were married for 39 years.  But she was always the better-known as a half of the 1970's duo "Captain & Tennille", and the duo released a string of chart-topping pop-hits during that era, with perhaps the best-known of those songs being "Love Will Keep Us Together" (apparently, that was not meant to be) which was actually a cover of Neil Sedaka's and Howard Greenfield's song, which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart nine weeks after its 1975 debut, and went on to win the 1975 Grammy Award for Record of the Year.  Indeed, the couple was reportedly discovered by Neil Sedaka himself at The SmokeHouse restaurant in Burbank, near NBC, which apparently remains in operation as of 2017.

Other Captain and Tennille hits included "Do That To Me One More Time", a cover of "Shop Around" and the über-annoying single "Muskrat Love" just to name a few.  The duo also had a TV variety series called "Captain & Tennille Variety Show" on ABC back in 1976, which was later followed by a syndicated show called "The Toni Tennille Show" which ran from 1980 to 1981.  My personal suspicion all along was that Toni Tennille had been bitten by the celebrity bug, and she made numerous guest appearances (often by herself) on the daytime television circuit, TV game shows and she even landed a few roles on television shows including on Aaron Spelling's "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island".  But she was never going to win any Emmy's for her acting.

All that said, as we learned several years ago in Toni Tennille's memoir/book "Toni Tennille: A Memoir" she suggested that the duo's marriage had been 'arranged' for them by their record label, which was A&M Records.  She also gave interviews with the NBC Today Show and other television programs claiming that she was seeking something he just could not give her, namely a deeper personal connection.  Although she was already a divorcee by the time she met Dragon, the fact that she remained married to him for 39 years in spite of that raised B.S. alerts for many.

Tennille wrote that her mother, being a conservative Southern Baptist (Tennille herself was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama before moving to California at age 19 with her family in 1959), wasn't pleased with the couple living together out of wedlock.  Tennille surmised that "the record company was uncomfortable with it, too" (although the record company wasn't uncomfortable with other couples being unmarried, married to someone of another race, etc., as long as they sold records).  The latter point was speculative on her part.  Remember, this was in the mid-1970's, and numerous other Baby Boomer couples were routinely cohabitating at the time.  One need look no further than the ABC sitcom "Three's Company" which first aired in 1977 as a vivid example (catch my post on that show at https://goo.gl/Jtobxe for more), whose entire premise was based on two single women and one single man who all lived together to share housing expenses.  Although their relationships were strictly platonic (indeed, the characters all regularly dated other people), there was plenty of double entendre in the show.

She claimed that a company publicist at A&M Records announced that Tennille and Dragon had married on Valentine's Day, which she said was surprising to the couple, who were apparently content to be living together as they had been for a few years.  At the time, Toni Tennille had already been in one failed marriage to Kenneth Shearer which ended in divorce in 1972, and Ms. Tennille never really discussed how her devout, Southern Baptist mother felt about her divorce from Shearer, which was really no better or worse than unmarried cohabitation for Evangelical Christians).  For that reason, I suspect that the couple was likely content doing gigs at local bars in Southern California before they later toured with the Beach Boys, for whom Dragon played the keyboard (it was Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love who reportedly gave him the nickname "Captain").  Tennille added nudging from their accountant, who said the couple would do "a lot better with taxes" if they were actually married helped prompt them to go Virginia City, Nevada and quietly marry in late 1974.

News of the January 16, 2014 divorce filing by Toni Tennille, 73, from Daryl Dragon, 71, in Prescott, Arizona, also coincided with the release of Tennille's then-new memoir.  That was subsequently followed by widespread speculation that the divorce may have been prompted (at least partially) by Mr. Dragon's 2009 diagnosis with Parkinson's Disease (she announced that on her own website) may have also had something to do with it.

According to TMZ, the divorce papers filed by Ms. Tennille in Arizona described the marriage as "irretrievably broken."  Arizona, like California, is a community property state; as well as a no-fault divorce state, thereby only requiring irreconcilable differences for a courts to grant a divorce.  But TMZ also reported that the divorce filing also made "special mention about health-insurance coverage."  But apparently a disclosure of that is required in Arizona divorce filings.  Still, it's certainly not unheard of for couples facing health crises to divorce for solely financial reasons, so that the sicker spouse could legally deplete his or her assets and then qualify for health-coverage assistance from Medicaid.  Although Tennille and Dragon were both Medicare-eligible at the time, its worth noting that Medicare doesn't cover long-term rehabilitative therapy, nor does it cover most kinds of at-home nursing care or assisted living.

As I write this, there is still speculation that the couple may have divorced because they still love each other and were doing what they needed to do in order to preserve some portion of the wealth they'd built together while they still remain life partners.  There is no law mandating that a couple must hate one another to be granted a divorce.  Tennille, famous for her love of the spotlight, has remained fairly tight-lipped in the time that has followed, but she's also known to love her wealth and fame, which supported the notion of divorcing for largely financial reasons.  In the time immediately following the divorce, the couple was reportedly still living together in the same house.

Her announcement on NBC's Today Show can be seen by visiting http://on.today.com/1RRcVjE.

In addition, she spoke with the television program Inside Edition which can be seen below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/ogPjvEKOEag.

She claims that there was no "deep connection" in her marriage to 'The Captain' Darryl Dragon.  Something about it just sounded very, very suspicious.  In the few years that have passed, the story has calmed down, and because the musical duo are older and no longer releasing music as regularly they previously did, nor are they everyday fixtures on television, it has largely fallen off the radar.  Still, in a strange way, I think that nearly everyone can understand why a seemingly happy couple would suddenly divorce to help them deal with the Captain's declining health, as that's something many older people have to deal with.  Several years prior to his death, my own grandfather "sold" his home to his two children (my father and uncle) so that if he later needed nursing care, his legal assets would already be depleted, plus it saved my dad and uncle from having to deal with annoying probate court when he actually passed away.  It was a way around the system, as many CEO's do all the time with special compensation packages, generous health benefits, stock options, etc.  In other words, its really the American way.

In the end, while I empathize with Mr. Dragon's health concerns, this couple should be more than capable of getting proper care for him without this kind of legal trapeze given that in the 1970's, they had a string of musical hits and television appearances, and were no doubt paid very well for that (likely better than more ordinary Americans).

March 16, 2017

Gen X Author Claims Too Many Baby Boomers Are 'Sociopathic'

If you were born between 1945 and 1965, you are by definition a Baby Boomer whether you admit it or not (the exact start and finish of a generation is not universally defined, but the consensus is that each generation lasts about twenty years, though people at the beginning or end could likely fit into the generation that precedes or succeeds it).

Yet contrary to the Boomer-centric publishing industry (or television, radio, movies or any other media outlet within their control) of years past, today Baby Boomers are no longer most of the authors, readers or publishers anymore, which means that's no longer a Boomer pep rally as it previously was (indeed, the publishing industry is struggling somewhat these days, which means that today, publishers more likely make decisions on what to publish based on what will actually sell).  It began when a venture capitalist questioned why technology hadn't improved as fast as it did previously (leading to slow economic productivity growth, listen/see http://bit.ly/2imEfHQ for more detail), or the recession lasted longer and saw a weaker recovery, and all of his research suggested that Boomer behavior and the economic/political policies implemented under their watch was largely responsible.

In that environment, Bruce Cannon Gibney, who is a 40-something Gen Xer (he was born in 1976), has published a new book entitled "A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America".  He says the Boomer attitude of "Me first and damn the consequences" has been a disaster for the country.  In short, He posits that too many Boomers are selfish, lacking in empathy and financially irresponsible and its been a disaster for the U.S. economy.  Known as the "Me Generation," the Baby Boomers have long been described as self-interested, but never quite in such damning terms.

"My assertion isn't that all Boomers are sociopaths, but that a sufficiently large percentage of them behave in ways that appear to be sociopathic and because they're such a large generation ... any personality defects could easily translate into political dysfunction. I think that is what happened."

Suffice to say, Mr. Gibney's new book is making headlines not only because of the provocative title, but because he uses a lot of verifiable facts to validate his central thesis that as a whole, the Baby Boomer generation have some sociopathic tendencies, and they have undermined the prosperous, progressive America they were raised in.  He uses credible statistics to show how Baby Boomers have turned American dynamism into stagnation, inequality, and bipartisan fiasco.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Bruce Cannon Gibney has also been getting a lot of angry mail since his new book, "A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America," came out in early March 2017.  Of course, a lot of that correspondence is still snail-mail paper letters, since Boomers tend not to e-mail as instinctively as subsequent generations do.  Still, he has wisely not published his own e-mail address, just in case.

There was an interesting video accompanying the typical news promoting a new book, which can be viewed below, or at http://ow.ly/CZKe309WwHa:

This Salon Talks Video was produced by Alexandra Clinton

Men's Journal had an interview with Mr. Gibney at http://mjm.ag/2nSdMWI which is worth reading. Also, the Boston Globe interviewed him which can be seen at http://bit.ly/2l9KXCA.

Similarly, WBUR, which is Boston's NPR news station had an equally interesting radio interview with him.  The central thesis is not Baby Boomer narcissism or sociopathy per se (he doesn’t claim to be a psychiatrist who can diagnose anyone), but the tendencies of the generation as a whole have failed to save for their own retirements as they should have, and are therefore are over-reliant upon their own children.  As proof, he notes that we see this in the national data based on cohort savings levels and national savings levels, for which there have been in significant declines in savings rates since the 1970's when the Baby Boomer generation first entered the workforce.

Beyond that, he also cites data that supports the claim that Boomers have largely failed to support public policies that maintained critical infrastructure on things like roads, airports, schools and the like, putting future generations at a disadvantage relative to the environment Boomers grew up in, which he claims is sociopathic behavior.

"I don't posit that all Boomers are sociopaths, just that a large fraction of them are," Mr. Gibney said.  "The study done by the National Institutes of Health speculated in the '80s that the consequences [of Boomer behavior] would get worse over time, and I think it has," said Gibney.

Raised in an era of seemingly unending economic prosperity with relatively permissive parents, and the first generation to grow up with a television, Baby Boomers developed an appetite for consumption and a lack of empathy for future generations that has resulted in unfortunate policy decisions, argues Mr. Gibney.

"These things conditioned the Boomers into some pretty unhelpful behaviors and the behaviors as a whole seem sociopathic," he said.

Not surprisingly, he also cites the Boomers' unprecedented divorce rates.  Mr. Gibney told WBUR:

"Prior generations did not divorce frequently, in substantial part because no-fault divorce wasn't around until '69. But the odd thing is that the Boomers actually have higher rates of divorce than even their children at comparable points in the marriage. So their rates of divorce are lower. And that's relevant not because divorce is a moral good or bad, per se, in any given situation, but because one of the key sociopathic indicators is an inability to form a lasting relationship, and I think divorce certainly falls into that category."

To listen to WBUR’s interview with Mr. Gibney, listen below, or visit http://wbur.fm/2mJId1d:

Canada's MacLean's magazine covered it from a non-American perspective, which some have equated to being the equivalent the U.S. magazine Time or Britain's Economist, and that can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2m1nHvK.

"A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America" is an important work because it systematically dismantles many of the claims that Baby Boomers have made for the past several decades.  He also argues that several hallmarks that Boomers have attributed to themselves are simply them taking credit for the work of others.  He notes that it's time that we dispense with this meretricious Baby Boomer rebranding that's gone on.  For example, items Baby Boomers like to give themselves credit for, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not occur because Baby Boomers decided to protest, rather that legislation was passed into law by their parents.  He also notes that Brown v. Board of Education was not decided by 14-year-olds, and that would have been the oldest Baby Boomer at the time.  It was decided by nine old, white men on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Clean Air Act that was passed in 1963. Again, that's not a Boomer victory either.

Although his core thesis is negative, it's probably not completely unexpected.  Gen X has been told by Baby Boomers for its entire existence that there would never, ever be a generation as 'great' as the Baby Boom was (although now we have the Millennial generation which not only outnumbers Baby Boomers, but will eventually surpass them in votes, too).  Gen X was also force-fed Boomer music, movies and television for decades.  But keep in mind that Gen X fought Baby Boomers over our name, as many Boomers wanted to call Generation X (unoriginally) "Baby Busters", but we know how that turned out.  Similarly, Millennials followed the same path and rejected the labels "Gen Y" and "Boomer Babies" for a label that's better suited to them.  As a result, there is deep-seated resentment of the Baby Boomer generation, especially among the generations that follow.  As a result, they don't always write glowing endorsements that Baby Boomers have grown accustomed to.

Forbes does suggest that Gen X seems destined to assume political power in the not-too-distant future due to no other reason than demographic reality (see http://bit.ly/2n1HQ4d for the article), and Politico suggests (see http://politi.co/1K9zu1t for the article) that the country as a whole will likely be better off once Gen X assumes political power in Washington, DC.  But Boomers have been slow to relinquish power, perhaps to ensure that they keep policy benefiting them as long as possible.

Bruce Cannon Gibney does say "I do have hope [for the future]. Young people do seem to embrace an empathetic agenda, up to and including supporting senior entitlements, I think in part because they've been misled about it. They're certainly much more progressive about climate change and civil rights than the Boomers are. So I am hopeful, but it will be some time before they're in control. The Boomers still hold 69% of the House. They're obviously in the White House for some time. Whether that's four more weeks or eight more years remains to be seen. And they control substantial chunks of the judiciary and the administrative state. So we are going to be living in a Boomer America for some time, in part because the policies themselves will carry forward for some time."