50 Years Of ATMs

On September 2, 1969, a new machine was unveiled at the Chemical Bank branch in Rockville Centre, Long Island, soon to be followed by similar machines located outside bank branches across the country.  The machine was an ATM — an automated teller machines that allowed users to get cash from their accounts at the press of a few buttons.

atm_fAt first ATMs, like all new technological developments, were curiosities, and most people still got their money the old-fashioned way.  They went into a bank, filled out a paper withdrawal slip, and presented it to one of the human tellers at a window, or they went through the drive-thru bank lane, interacting with a teller remotely and getting their money via pneumatic tube delivery.  But as time passed people realized those ATM machines, once you got the hang of them, sure were convenient — and quick.  You could get money when you needed it and on your schedule, without being at the mercy of your bank branch’s hours.

As their usage increased, the number and location of ATMs multiplied, moving from their initial locations at bank branches to appear just about everywhere.  According to the article linked above, Chase Consumer Banking alone has 16,250 ATMs, and Bank of America has even more.  And as the number of ATMs skyrocketed the functionality of ATMs has increased, too, moving beyond dispensing cash to allow users to perform just about every banking-related service they might choose.  Chase says its ATMs now can do 70 percent of the things its human tellers can do for its customers.

People didn’t focus on it at the time, but ATMs were a precursor of the machine-oriented, self-service movement in American business.  There’s a debate about whether ATMs have ultimately eliminated human teller jobs or have spread them out among more bank branches that have been opened, but one thing is clear:  banking involves much less human-to-human interaction than used to be the case.  Who knows the name of their bank branch manager?  That’s become true in other businesses where self-service machines have been introduced, too.  And in that sense ATMs helped to pave the way for internet-based businesses, cellphone apps, and other consumer-directed options that don’t involve fact-to-face communications with human beings anymore.  We’re conditioned to doing things by tapping buttons on a machine, and there is no going back.

Happy 50th, ATMs!  You’ve helped to change the world, for better or for worse.

Tattooed Nation

Bloomberg reports that about one third of adults in America now have tattoos.  That’s right — fully 30 percent of the people walking among us every day are sporting ink, somewhere, and that number includes about half of the “millennial” generation.

dennis-rodman-tattoos-5This news will not come as a surprise to anyone who is observant about our modern world.  Go to any local eatery, and you’ll notice that the young person waiting on you will have an elaborately designed sleeve, or a neck stamp.  Watch an NBA game, and you’ll see multiple examples of the cover art on Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man come to life, sprinting up and down the court and throwing down thunderous dunks.  Sit in a subway train, and you’ll observe that when the 40ish businesswoman sitting on the other side of the aisle crosses her legs, she displays a Chinese or Japanese symbol on her ankle.  In America, the ink is clearly flowing, and it’s pretty much everywhere.  The Bloomberg article reports that the increasing popularity of such “body art” has made tattooistry into a thriving industry that generates an estimated $1 billion annually, primarily through cash sales at individual tattoo parlors.

The tattoo phenomenon is one of those cultural changes that has happened so gradually you don’t really notice it — until you reflect on it, and compare modern times to earlier years.  Once, tattoos were rare and basically reserved for aging sailors, ex-convicts, Ivy Leaguers like George Schultz, who famously had the Princeton tiger tattooed on his keister, and outrageous personalities like Dennis Rodman, who displayed a lot of ink when he wasn’t wearing a wedding dress.

Now tattoos are ubiquitous.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to get one, however.  The idea of paying somebody to puncture my skin and ink up the dermal layer underneath gives me the willies.

But I wonder:  What’s next — serious facial and body piercings?  Maybe Dennis Rodman is more of a cultural trendsetter than we ever suspected.  That’s kind of a scary thought.

Confirming That Standards Still Exist

I’ve always considered Kathy Griffin to be an unfunny, no-talent hack who always seems to be willing to do or say anything in a desperate bid to get some attention.  Calling her a “comedian” is an insult to people who have a legitimate sense of humor and make people laugh for a living.

So it was no surprise to me that Griffin did something stupidly provocative — in this case, posing for a photo with a mock-up of a bloody, severed head of Donald Trump — in a bid to try to remain “edgy” and in the news.   The fact that anyone, even a pathetic attention grubber like Griffin, would think that posing with the severed head of the President of the United States was funny, tells you something about how out of touch some people can be with prevailing human sensibilities.

mqdefaultWhat’s encouraging, though, is the reaction to Griffin’s photo.  She was universally criticized by everyone, left and right, liberal and conservative, irrespective of whether they support Trump or think he’s the worst President ever.  Griffin also was, not surprisingly, removed from gigs and jobs, including participating in the CNN New Year’s Eve show that I’ve never watched, because someone who thought, even for a second, that that kind of photo was funny is obviously so lacking in judgment that she’s capable of doing or saying other things that are grossly inappropriate.

The broad condemnation of Griffin’s ill-advised publicity stunt shows that we still have some standards of propriety in this country.  To be sure, drawing the line at posing for a photograph with the President’s head may be a low bar, but it’s nevertheless nice to know that the bar is still there.

When Griffin realized that she crossed the line and was being subjected to withering criticism by just about everyone, she issued an apology of sorts, asking for forgiveness, calling herself “a comic” and saying:  “I cross the line. I move the line, then I cross it. I went way too far. The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people. It wasn’t funny. I get it.”  You wonder, though, whether Griffin really does “get it” — and in fact she and her celebrity attorney are supposed to hold a press conference today where they will explain the “true motivation” behind Griffin’s bloody Trump head image, and “respond to the bullying from the Trump family she has endured.”   That’s right:  Griffin apparently is claiming that she has been “bullied” because the Trump family harshly criticized her callous and outrageous stunt.

Trying to reposition yourself as the victim is a classic, last-ditch tactic when you’ve done something so colossally wrong-headed, so it’s no surprise that Griffin is trying it.  It will be interesting to see whether anyone lets Griffin get away with it, when in reality she has only herself to blame for her witless, self-inflicted injury.

Goat Yoga

When I first heard there was a “goat yoga” fad, I thought it probably involved yoga fiends doing poses that were . . . goat-like.  Just like, for example, yoga features the classic “downward facing dog” pose, or the camel pose, or the cat pose.

Perhaps goat yoga involves poses that involve standing on all fours, or shaking your head and twitching your ears, or eating a tin can, or making the goatish maaaaa sound?

goat-yoga-2But all of that is wrong.  “Goat yoga” evidently just involves doing yoga poses while goats are in the vicinity and — this is apparently especially important — having your picture taken in a yoga pose with the goat teetering on your back, or otherwise visible somewhere, so you can post the picture on your favorite social media outlet.  This story about goat yoga classes in Dallas notes that, for $36 bucks a pop, participants can get in an hour of yoga while more than a dozen goats from a nearby farm wander around, looking photogenic and selfie-friendly so those crucial snapshots can be taken.  Having been around goats at the petting zoo long ago, I’m guessing goats aren’t part of the mix because they emit a zen-inducing fragrance that is especially conducive to ekagra.  In fact, you’d think that having animals roaming around and potentially nibbling at your clothes while you’re working on getting that pose right might interfere with achieving the state of mind that yoga is supposed to help participants attain.

Why do yoga fans like doing their poses with goats, as opposed to sheep or some other moderately sized farm animal?  For that matter, why an animal at all, as opposed to, say, “cabbage head” yoga, or “abandoned sofa” yoga?  Apparently it’s just because people think goats are cute and look good in the inevitable social media selfies.  And they’re willing to part with 36 bucks for the privilege.

This says something about modern society, but I’m not sure what.

 

Tweety Dick

Sometimes modern life in America is so weird it’s hard to really take it all in.  The increasingly bizarre twists and turns of our politics and political leaders, the corrosive effect of simplistic social media platforms, the constant craving for attention and celebrity status — all combine to create a world where the strange has become routine.

57cc54c17b55c9ceef53dff107138873Consider, for example, how the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum reacted to President Trump’s decision to discharge FBI Director James Comey.  Trump’s abrupt firing reminded people of the “Saturday Night Massacre” during the Nixon Administration, in which Nixon’s zeal to discharge Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal, resulted in the resignation of the Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General.

So what did the Nixon Library do in response to this newfound attention?  Did it supply the press with the actual background facts of the incident that the Washington Post called, at the time, “the most traumatic government upheaval of the Watergate crisis,” so that people could make their own comparisons and draw their own conclusions?

Nah.  It sent out a tweet that said:  “FUN FACT: President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI #FBIDirector #notNixonian.”  Ha ha!  Boy, that Nixon Library is a laugh riot, isn’t it?  And a class act, besides!  And it sure helps to be reminded that, before Nixon resigned in disgrace after being impeached, there were some bad and ill-advised things that Nixon didn’t do, doesn’t it?

To its credit, the National Archives and Records Administration, which administers the presidential libraries, issued a statement about the Nixon Library tweet.  It noted that “[a]s a federal government agency, the National Archives does not condone or engage in partisan or political conversations,” added that the tweet “was not representative of the policies of the Library or the National Archives,” and noted that the Archives would be “examining the training provided to employees who post to official social media channels as well as reviewing work flows and approval processes to ensure that our social media efforts engage the public in constructive conversations in line with agency policies.”  Fortunately, there apparently is at least one adult in the room.

It’s hard to imagine that anybody in the Nixon Library gave much thought to the snotty tweet; they probably were reveling in the attention they were receiving in connection with the Comey firing and just couldn’t resist getting in a little dig that would boost the trending line of Tricky Dick and his library.  And that’s really the basic problem these days, isn’t it?  People just don’t think twice, or even try to resist their baser impulses.

When Celebrities Act Like Normal People

I don’t know much about him, other than his work in Schindler’s List and his hard-ass role in the Taken movies, and his getting to utter the memorable line “Release the Kraken!” in the remake of Clash of the Titans, but I’m guessing that, deep down, Liam Neeson is a pretty nice guy.

uke8zhvWhy?  My admittedly off-the-cuff conclusion is based solely on one recent incident.  Neeson is up in Vancouver, filming a movie called Hard Powder.  Because Neeson’s arrival in town got some local press, the proprietors of the Big Star Sandwich Company put up an outdoor sign that said “Liam Neeson eats here for free” on one side and “Come in and get Taken away by our sandwiches” on the other, and they apparently served up a few sandwiches to the movie’s production crew.  And then, to their surprise, Neeson actually showed up at their little shop, walked up to the counter, and asked the staffer there, in his best gruff, hard-ass voice, “Where’s my free sandwich?”  It was a pretty cool move on his part.

Neeson didn’t actually take a free sandwich due to his schedule, but he did pose for a photo with the happy guys who put up the sign, and as a token of their respect they’ve now named a special sandwich after him — which I have to say looks pretty darned good.  And with the photo with Neeson in their pocket, suddenly their choosing the name Big Star Sandwich Company looks like it was a prescient move.

Normally, the celebrity culture in our modern world makes me sick, with its worshipful treatment of cloistered celebrities who get special treatment everywhere they go and seem to have almost no idea of what the lives of normal people are like.  It’s refreshing when a big film star like Neeson is willing to do something that will make the day of some everyday guys who are trying to make a go of their business.  It says something nice about Neeson that he would do that — and it also reminds you of how many other puffed-up celebs who’ve read too many of their own press clippings just wouldn’t take the time.

A New Approach To Waiting

Recently I was at the dentist’s office.  It was one of those dreaded midday appointments, where the odds are that some emergency or other complication cropped up earlier in the day, meaning that the schedule is out of whack and you’ll likely be cooling your heels while the dentist and the hygienists work to catch up.

smartphoneusers-300x200Like every waiting room — literally, a room specifically designed to accommodate people who are waiting — the dentist’s office had a full spread of magazines and a TV tuned to one of those home redesign shows.  But as I looked around the room, none of the people waiting was restlessly flipping through a magazine, or watching the TV, or fidgeting and constantly glancing at their watches.  Instead, they were all on their smartphones, checking their email, playing a video game, or letting the expectant Facebook world know that they were at the dentist’s office.

This is one of the little changes in modern life that happens without being noticed until somebody calls it to your attention.  But now, thanks to smartphones, waiting time doesn’t necessarily suck.  Sure, you’d rather not be sitting in some generic space in the company of a bunch of strangers — especially if they’re coughing or sniffling — but at least you’ve got a handy gadget in your pocket or purse that lets you be productive or see what your friends are up to or have some fun while you’re sitting on an uncomfortable chair.  I’m told that some people actually look forward to waiting time for this very reason.  What could be a bigger change than that?

I have no way of knowing whether this is true, but I’d bet that state license bureaus and federal administrative agencies and doctor’s offices get a lot fewer complaints about excessive waiting time than used to be the case.  Every office administrator who works in a place with a waiting room should be grateful to the inventor of the smartphone.

Blazing Saddles In A PC America

Tonight the CAPA summer movie series screens the Mel Brooks epic Blazing Saddles.  I’ll be joining a group of guys from the firm who will be going to watch the film that features the greatest fart scene in the history of American cinema.

blazesaddle129It’s pretty amazing that CAPA is showing the movie in this day and age, because Blazing Saddles has to be one of the most politically incorrect films ever made.  Released in 1974, and written by Brooks and Richard Pryor, among others, it tells the tale of an ex-slave in the post-Civil War American West who is appointed sheriff and, with his drunken gunslinger sidekick the Waco Kid, works to save the aghast and unappreciative townsfolk of Rock Ridge from the depredations of a carefully recruited gang of thugs — all as part of a deep scheme to drive the people out of town and allow a corrupt politician to cheaply buy land needed for a railroad.  Along the way, Blazing Saddles manages to skewer every racial and sexual stereotype, insult just about every ethnic group and sexual orientation imaginable, and hilariously spoof all of the hackneyed elements of the western movie genre.

I think Blazing Saddles is one of the funniest movies ever — which undoubtedly says something about my sophomoric sense of humor — but it’s hard to imagine it being made today.  Our modern time seems like a more brittle, more easily offended America, where colleges have speech codes, comedians are being censored on campus, and people often seem to be actively looking for ways to scale new heights of political correctness.  Perhaps the America of 1974, in the twilight of the ugly Vietnam War/Watergate era, was just more willing to enjoy a hearty laugh at the expense of racist townspeople and gassy cowboys.

So tonight, as Lili von Shtupp cavorts onstage with dancing Germans, Mongo punches a horse and later expresses feelings for Sheriff Bart, the ungrateful people of Rock Ridge list their preferences for different ethnic groups, and a brawl in cowboy movie spills onto the sound stage of a musical featuring prancing, tuxedo-clad dancers, I’ll be mindful of the audience, too.  How many of the people in attendance will laugh at one of the stereotype-bursting lines — and then look around with a guilty conscience for having breached the invisible wall of modern political correctness?

In The Passive-Aggressive Cell-Free Zone

I was in the court clerk’s office the other day and got a chuckle out of this sign on the counter.  Sure, it’s got an obvious passive-aggressive element to it, but if the alternative is dealing with inconsiderate jerks who are having loud cell phone conversations while you are trying to assist them, why not take affirmative action?  It’s interesting, too, that it isn’t a handmade job — which suggests that there are so many people talking on cell phones at counters that there is a market for signs asking them to refrain from doing so.

IMG_0935I laughed at this sign, but I’m fed up with the cellification of our culture and people yakking on their handheld devices everywhere — even public restrooms.  Aside from the library, there really are no quiet zones anywhere anymore.  We now put up with people having noisy conversations in restaurants, on sidewalks, in parks, on public transportation, in airport waiting areas, and on those little buses that take you from the parking zones to the terminal.  Even worse, the cellophiles and blue-toothers make no effort to step away from the rest of the world and find their own little nook where they can continue their gabfest.  No, they think the rest of us just have to put up with their boorish intrusion into our world.

What is it that would make someone take a cell call, or make a cell call, while they are waiting to file or retrieve something at a court clerk’s office — or for that matter in all of the other places that have been invaded by cell phone conversations?  Is it self-importance?  It is trying to give tangible evidence that they are so important or so popular that they have to be on the phone at all times?  Is it that their boredom tipping point is so low that a few quiet moments while walking down the street or riding the bus are unendurable?

I never thought I would say that I enjoy commercial air travel, but at least plane flights involve that quiet period between the cabin doors closing for takeoff and the plane pulling up to the jetway after landing.  Oh, guess what — the FCC is considering new regulations that would allow the airlines to permit cell calls once a plane passes 10,000 feet.  Another quiet zone might be falling by the wayside.  Will the library be next?

Small Talk, Big Talk

The New York Times recently published an interesting article pleading for an end to “small talk.”  Written by a man who is dealing with the end of an important relationship and a plunge back into the dating world, it tells of an experience in Costa Rica that convinced him that we should focus more on “big talk,” and his successful experiments in doing so on first dates and, most recently, in the workplace.

The thrust of the article is that small talk — talking about your commute, or the weather, or the local sports team — is a meaningless time-waster, and everyone knows it.  Why not move directly to the big stuff, and really learn something important about the person you are talking to?  So the writer has taken to asking first date questions like “What’s the most in love you’ve ever felt?” and “What place most inspired you and why?” and, during a business trip, asking a new colleague “Why did you fall in love with your wife?”

Businessteam at a meetingIf this is a new trend in social interaction in America, I’m glad I’m happily married.  I’m also glad I don’t work with this guy.

I happen to think that small talk serves an extremely useful social purpose.  Some people are eager to share intimate details about their lives with the world at large, and no doubt would welcome intrusive personal questions from somebody they just met, but most of us don’t.  If I were on a business trip with a brand new colleague and they asked me a question about how I fell in love with my wife, I would find such a question incredibly presumptuous and off-putting, and I wouldn’t answer it.  Sorry, but it’s going to take a while for me to decide whether a workplace colleague will end up a close personal friend.  And it’s hard for me to believe that at least some women who were asked “What’s the most in love you’ve ever felt?” on a first date wouldn’t groan inwardly, question whether they’ve been hooked up with a creepy potential stalker, and head for the exits as quickly and gracefully as possible.

Small talk allows you to get to know a person before you decide whether to broach weightier topics.  Sure, the substance of the small talk might be meaningless, but the nature of the small talk can tell you a lot about the person across the table.  Does the person have a sense of humor?  Does the person seem thoughtful or thoughtless, smart or dumb, well-mannered or crude?  Is the person so self-absorbed and egotistical that they end up talking entirely about himself?

And that last point is an important one.  People who immediately ask questions about “big talk” topics clearly want to share their own deeply personal experiences; they no doubt ask the pointed questions with the expectation that they will get the same question in return and then launch into their own stories.  There’s a fair amount of conceit in that; the lives of complete strangers just aren’t that compelling.  Small talk prevents me from being awkwardly inundated by the intimate affairs and feelings of people I don’t know.

I come down strongly in favor of small talk.

Is Bill Clinton’s Sex History Fair Game?

Bill Clinton’s sex life has moved to the forefront of the news again.

Thanks to Donald Trump — who wrote a tweet stating “If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!” — there’s a lot of chatter about Bill Clinton’s affairs and alleged predatory behavior and unwanted advances against women.  The Washington Post has even done a “fact check” that separates “Bill Clinton’s womanizing” into five “consensual affairs” (one of which was a “consensual affair” with a 22-year-old intern, Monica Lewinsky, when Clinton was the President) and other “allegations of an unwanted sexual encounter.”  And some are asking:  is it fair to delve into Bill Clinton’s sexual history?

article-2624332-1d9ec7da00000578-278_638x517Fair?  Seriously?  Since when does “fairness” enter the equation in presidential politics, particularly when Donald Trump is involved?  The lack of “fairness,” and the harsh spotlight that tends to shine on the families and friends of candidates for the Oval Office, is one big reason why some people decide never to throw their hat in the ring in the first place.  Every candidate — and every member of their families — has to know that.  It would be absurd to think that Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, who have spent a lifetime in politics, don’t understand that reality.

I guess the better question is, is Bill Clinton’s “sordid sexual history” — as an opinion piece by Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post described itrelevant to deciding whether Hillary Clinton should be president?  Marcus says it is, reasoning that if Hillary Clinton is going to send her husband out as a campaign surrogate and play the sexism card against Trump and others, it’s fair to point out that, in Marcus’ words, Bill Clinton’s “predatory behavior toward women or his inexcusable relationship with a 22-year-old intern,” in “the larger scheme of things,” is “far worse than any of the offensive things that Trump has said.”

The Wall Street Journal goes farther, contending that there was a “Clinton war on women” during Bill Clinton’s presidency and arguing that “Mr. Clinton was a genuine sexual harasser in the classic definition of exploiting his power as a workplace superior, and the Clinton entourage worked hard to smear and discredit his many women accusers.”  The WSJ opinion piece adds:  “This September Mrs. Clinton declared that “every survivor of sexual assault” has “the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed.” But when her own access to political power was at stake, she dismissed the women and defended her husband.”

There are many of us, I think, who would prefer not to revisit these topics. We don’t want to hear about Bill Clinton’s lechery or think about what kind of marriage could survive so many affairs and allegations of sexual misconduct.  But if Bill Clinton is going to be out on the campaign trail, and if Hillary Clinton is going to play gender politics in her bid for the White House, Bill Clinton’s personal record inevitably is going to come up.

And the Clintons had better be ready for it, because it can’t really be fully dismissed as old news.  One thing is true:  American culture has changed a lot since the ’90s, and the notion of what constitutes appropriate behavior in the sexual arena has perhaps changed most of all.  In an era where California has enacted a “yes means yes” statute to define what constitutes sexual consent, where workplace sexual harassment allegations are much more prevalent, and people’s careers can be effectively quashed simply by using language that is deemed not politically correct, how are people going to react to detailed information about a President having an “affair” with a 22-year-old White House intern, his initial lies about it, and the humiliation the intern endured at the hands of minions seeking to excuse or explain the President’s egregious behavior?  I may be wrong about this, but I doubt that a modern politician who admitted to Bill Clinton’s behavior with Monica Lewinsky — to say nothing of the other allegations about what Bill Clinton has done — would be able to survive it.

If a new generation of voters, steeped in our current culture, are hearing about that conduct in detail for the first time, how will they look at Hillary Clinton?  And how will revisiting Bill Clinton’s “sordid sexual history” in the light of current social mores affect his historical reputation and his status as a kind of avuncular figure on the American political scene?

Lilliputian Lodging

We all know that New York City housing prices are absurd and out of control — so much so that city officials subsidize the housing needs of people who are making six-figure incomes.  Now there’s a new potential solution to the Big Apple’s housing problems.  It’s called micro-living.

The idea is simple: make apartment units that are smaller than standard New York City apartments.  Much, much smaller, in fact.   The apartment units at Carmel Place range from 265 square feet to 360 square feet, which required a waiver of the NYC minimum-size requirement of 400 square feet.  The units feature kitchenettes and space-saving devices, like a desk that folds into a table and a bed that retracts from the wall, as well as a small balcony.

cramped-spaceTo get a sense of how small these apartments are, consider that the standard size of a two-car garage is 24 x 24, which equals 576 square feet, or more than twice the size of the smallest micro-apartment.  The largest micro-apartment is less than two-thirds that size.  But the market price tags for the micro-units aren’t small — at least not by Midwestern standards.  The market-rents for the micro-units range from $2,650 a month to $3,150 a month.  (New York City being what it is, 40 percent of the units have rates set by affordable housing programs that top out at $1,500 per month, which still seems like a lot for the privilege of living in the rough equivalent of a one-car garage.)

I’m all for living in smaller spaces and making more efficient use of space; it’s one of the reasons we moved from the ‘burbs to our current home.  265 square feet, however, seems way too tiny for comfort — even if only one person lives there.  Maybe New Yorkers are conditioned to being crowded and cramped and jammed cheek to jowl into subway cars, but I think I’d end up climbing the walls of my little shoebox after sitting at my little desk and staring at the wall a few feet in front of my face and venturing out onto a dinky balcony.  For the mental health of the micro-inhabitants, I hope there’s a nice park or spacious coffee house nearby.

Sad Selfie Spot

  
Here’s another modern cultural development that falls squarely into  the “ugh” category:  the Savannah airport has a designated “selfie spot” where you can take a “selfie” in front of an autumnal display of hay bales, mums, and pumpkins.

It’s bad enough that we have to put up with people taking “selfies” at every opportunity.  Now we’re encouraging them to do so on airport concourses?

Her Majesty’s Bloomers

It seems that people collect almost everything these days, and are willing to pay amazing amounts of money to do so.  Still, some of the “collectables” are decidedly . . . odd.

Consider a recent auction in England, where an anonymous collector paid $16,500 for a pair of Queen Victoria’s underpants.  The white cotton u-trou, which are, well, expansive, bear a monogram with a crown and a “VR,” and experts believe they were worn by England’s longest-serving monarch back in the 1890s.

This story is weird on two levels.  First, why would anyone want to acquire such items?  Were the Queen’s old bloomers bought to be part of a collection of royal family memorabilia, or as part of the apparently growing interest in underwear collection — with people paying big money for the unmentionables of Elvis and Michael Jackson and even the dingy undergear sported by Walter White on Breaking Bad?  Are these underwear collections ever actually displayed to anyone?  Can you imagine being invited to someone’s country estate and, while there, being taken by the proud owner on a tour of their collection of celebrity boxers and briefs, nicely displayed in glass cases?  Small wonder that the bidders at these auctions are acting anonymously.

Second, it’s sad that people are selling this stuff, and it’s got to be embarrassing for the descendants of the long-deceased Queen.  Who wants to see an ancestor’s underwear being publicly displayed, especially when it is very much plus-sized?  Apparently Queen Victoria’s clothing was parceled out to staff members after her death, and some of the staffers’ families kept the garments for generations before finally being unable to resist the temptation to make a few bucks.  If I were Queen Elizabeth, or any member of the current royal family, or any kind of celebrity, I’d make sure to include a provision in my will that required all of my underwear be cast into the bonfire as soon as I breathed my last.

Ironic, isn’t it?  Queen Victoria so characterized primness and propriety that people now use the phrase “Victorian attitudes” to refer to antiquated, repressive views on gender and sex — and yet Queen Victoria’s underwear is being publicly displayed, sold to strangers, and made the subject of jokes because of its size.  I think the Queen would be shocked and sternly disapproving of this regrettable development.

Breaking Badathon

Kish and I admittedly have been derelict in our hot TV show watching.  We have never watched Mad Men, or Dexter, or the vast majority of the other shows that have dominated the national conversation and shifted the zeitgeist over the past decade or so.

That includes Breaking Bad.  And our out-of-itness meant that, for years, when one of our friends would ask what we thought of the latest episode, we could only shrug and say we don’t watch the show — a response that was typically greeted with a puzzled look and then a heartfelt “You’ve got to watch it!”  But somehow, with everything else on our plates, we just never got around to it . . . until now.

We’ve decided to do a crash course in cultural catch-up.  With AT&T U-Verse as the platform, we’ve subscribed to Netflix, installed Roku, and started our studies.  Breaking Bad is the first class on the schedule, and each night after I return home from work we’ve become immersed in the weird world of Walter White and his pal Jesse and his crooked lawyer and watched mini-marathons of episodes.  We’re now nearing the end of season 3, and things just seem to be getting worse, big picture, for the ever-rationalizing OCD cancer-battling chemistry teacher turned bad-ass meth cook.

Some people argue that Breaking Bad is the best show that has ever been broadcast on TV.  Based on what we’ve seen so far, I would say it is a superior show, although I’m not sure that it is quite at the level of The Sopranos or The Wire.  Still, it’s got all of the elements of a great show — fascinating characters that you care about, great acting, evil, unexpected violence, stone-cold criminals, difficult moral choices, and little touches that just make the show a bit more interesting, like a character who always wears purple.

But here’s my problem:  I simply can’t watch too much non-sports TV programming without dozing off.  I don’t care how good a show is, and whether Hank is in mortal peril — there’s something about sitting on a couch and watching hours of TV that makes me nod off.  Three episodes is about my limit, and that’s OK by me.  I prefer to parcel out and savor the episodes of a great show, rather than watching them all in one big gush.