That’s Just Bucky

Today, I read on the news that Maxfield and Oberton have discontinued the manufacture and sale of Buckyballs and Buckycubes. You might be able to find them on-line, but once they are gone, they are gone. Why? M&O states the reason as “baseless and relentless legal badgering” from the CPSC. Me? I think the reason is the increasing stupidity of the American people.

When I was growing up, we had all sorts of dangerous toys. Remember clackers? Kids would make their own out of resin. Sure, a few would shatter, but what’s an eye? Seriously, we had all sorts of dangerous toys out there, and you were taught not to do stupid things. You didn’t eat buttons off of dolls. You didn’t play with matches. You avoided sharp edges. You certainly didn’t swallow powerful niobium magnets.

Today, we seem to want to protect children from things not meant for them. We have warnings on condoms not to put them on your head. We have warning on coffee that it is hot. We mean to do well, but we’re taking all the fun and adventure out of life.

Here’s a hint folks. You don’t create piercings by putting magnets in your mouth. If it wasn’t designed to go in your mouth, don’t put it there.

Thanks to a bunch of children, the set of available desk toys just got a lot duller.


Our Toys are a Reflection of Us

Taking a few minutes while getting ready for our New Years Eve Boardgaming Party. While reading the news over lunch, a number of articles screamed out at me:

  • Dolls Exposing Racism. An interesting video has been circulating in Mexico of late. It shows schoolchildren in a taped social experiment on race.The kids are seated at a table before a white doll and a black doll, and are asked to pick the “good doll” or the doll that most resembled them. The children, mostly brown-skinned, almost uniformly say the white doll was better or most resembled them. People are wondering if this shows inherent racism in Mexican culture. [*] Does this reflect Mexican society? Do peopleDoes this group in Mexican society, for whatever reason, trust lighter-skinned people more? Or, to bring the question back to the subject of the post: Does our choice of skin color in the toys for our children influence how they view people as trustworthy?
    [ETA: The question was clarified to be less broad and to tie to the post better, based on a discussion on LJ]
  • Should Toys Be Genderless? That’s the question posited by an op-ed piece in the NY Times. It talks about a store in England that  recently dismantled its pink “girls” and blue “boys” sections in favor of a gender-neutral store with red-and-white signage. Rather than floors dedicated to Barbie dolls and action figures, merchandise is now organized by types (Soft Toys) and interests (Outdoor).  So the question is: is that store taking the right approach, or should toys be categorized by target gender? Does this reflect society: no matter how much we try to be gender-neutral and inclusive, we are regularly reminded that men and women are different, and often think different and approach problems differently.
  • Reading Too Much Into Things. A number of parents are complaining about a new toy from Toys R Us. They believe this doll, which babbles nonsense words, is really saying “OK, crazy bitch”. Toys R US is stating they won’t pull the doll; they wouldn’t market a doll that says profanity. I think this illustrates our society well: we’re often willing to see malice or bad intentions, especially when the party potentially responsible has deep pockets.
  • Is It Human? Now, I’m not a comic book person, but I do know that X-Men are supposedly mutant humans. But, according to their creators, Marvel, they aren’t humans… at least for tax purposes.  You see, X-Men toys are made overseas, and dolls (i.e., human representations) that are imported have a higher tariff than toys (non-human). So X-Men action figures aren’t dolls, they are toys.  Again, a reflection of society: we do what is convention, irrespective of whether it is wrong or makes sense, to make profit. Greed is good and all that.

Music: Standard Time (Sam Harris): Blame It on My Youth



Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be

Today’s lunchtime news chum brings a few articles related to nostalgia:

  • From the “Shoop Shoop Hula Hoop” Department: The SF Chronicle has a nice article on Wham-O, the original manufacturer of the Frisbee, along with the Slip ‘N Slide, the Hula Hoop and the SuperBall. The Wham-O brand was bought by private investors in 2009, and the company has since acquired Sprig Toys Inc., a small Colorado company with an emphasis on eco-friendly preschool toys, for an undisclosed price. Production is being moved back to the US, as some Wham-O manufacturing will return to Marvel factories in Lompoc (Santa Barbara County) and Michigan. Recycled materials will be used in products. Quite an interesting article.
  • From the “I Just Watch It For The Trolleys” Department: The NY Times has a nice article on how Pittsburgh remembers Fred Rogers, the host of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Although the show is no longer broadcast (except on some stations on weekends), it still has fond memories for many people. Alas, for most *kids* these days, they would probably look at you strange if you told them about an odd middle-aged man who invited little children to make-believe land.
  • From the “Preserved for Posterity” Department: Two stories of odd ways of preserving a legacy for posterity. In the first, the OC Register reports on how the songwriting team of Richard and Robert Sherman now have windows on Disneyland’s Main Street. In the second, the New York Times reports on how Supreme Court Justice bobblehead dolls are preserved in the Yale Law Library collection.

And your bonus item:

  • From the “No, Not That Abe” Department: Abe is dead. No, not Abe Vigoda. He’s still alive. A.B.E., the underseas explorer, is dead at 16. He/She/It was lost while helping researchers look for hydrothermal vents at the Chile Triple Junction, the meeting point of three tectonic plates. ABE is survived by a new generation of autonomous underwater vehicles with improved range, speed and sensing capabilities.

Lunchtime News Chum: Truth in Advertising, Barbies, Neverland Rides, and Fried, not Baked, Goldfish

Lunchtime reading of various news sites over the last few days has unearthed a few nuggets of news chum, almost all of them related to various aspects of business and marketing:

  • From the “I Liked The Company So Much I Bought It” Department: The LA Times is reporting that Burger King is unearthing a deep secret in their newest ads: most celebrity endorsers do not use the products they endorse.
  • From the “She Looks Just Like Me” Department: Those of you that have daughters will remember shopping for Barbies, and noticing that the black Barbies looked just like the white ones, but with different color plastic. No more. The LA Daily News is reporting that Mattel is coming out with a new line of black dolls that has more authentic features, which Mattel defines as “fuller lips, a wider nose, more distinctive cheek bones and curlier hair”. The line, called “So In Style”, includes a hair-styling set that will allow girls to curl, straighten and style their dolls’ hair for $24.99.
  • From the “Buy It Now” Department: Remember how GM was going to this big experiment of selling their cars on eBay. It didn’t work. The NY Times is reporting how GM is abandoning eBay’s auto marketplace, as of today. Instead of eBay, GM is going to focus on its new, national marketing campaigns and its money-back guarantee program in which dissatisfied buyers can return their vehicles within 60 days.
  • From the “George Washington Slept Here” Department: Coming soon to a carnival near you: Michael Jackson. Well, not Jackson himself, but his rides from Neverland. The LA Times is reporting how carnivals are marketing the former Neverland-rides and their connection to Jackson… and it’s working. The saddest part of the article is at the end, where it notes:

    Though busloads of sick and underprivileged children would occasionally visit Neverland, Jackson sometimes hopped on rides alone, chugging through sleepless nights on his steam train, tooting a whistle heard on ranches for miles around. But mostly the rides were unused, a silent amusement park with no cotton candy, no flashing lights, no stomach-churning exhilaration. “These rides are built to move people every day,” said [the man who bought many of the rides]. “But at Neverland they just sat and sat.”

    Almost makes you feel sorry for the rides.

  • From the “If Joe Camel Said So” Department: The OC Register is reporting on how a coalition of restaurants and food companies are launching an ad campaign to say high-fructose corn syrup is good for you. Well, if not good for you, then at least no worse than other forms of sugar. Do you think they are protesting too hard?
  • From the “No, No, the Other Goldfish” Department: The SF Chronicle is reporting on how a Houston TX woman got so mad at her husband that she netted out her husband’s pet goldfish, fried them, and ate them. Officers who were dispatched to the woman’s home arrived to find four fried goldfish on a plate. The woman said she already ate the other three. Hmmm, I thought goldfish were supposed to be the baked, cheesy treat.

Getting Chummy

Some lunchtime news chums, garned from the usual skimming:

  • From the “More Things Going Away” Department: Yesterday, I wrote about some things that are going away, like Bakers Squares and the old Pepsi logo. Today’s news brought another thing that is disappearing: Viewmaster Scenic Reels. Hell, I’m surprised that Viewmasters are still around.

    ETA: In other restaurant news: Jack In The Box unveils a new logo, to be announced by a reenergized and recovered Jack Box, fresh from his recent accident.

  • From the “Making Lemonaide from Lemons” Department: Even wonder what happened to the folks who made bad loans at Countrywide? Surprise, surprise (as Jim Nabors would say): they are back in the loan business. Specifically, they have started a new company, PennyMac that is purchasing the bad loans and attempting to turn them good. I say: “More power to them”. If they can figure out a way to turn these bad loans into perfomring loans, take them off the balance sheets of the worried banks, that’s inginuity at work.
  • From the “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” Department: Guess who wants an iPhone, but can’t get it? Hint: It’s not the price that’s stopping the purchase, it’s the manufacturer. Yup, Melinda Gates. Seems the household has a no-Apple policy. Raise your hand if you think Apple should send her one, gratis.
  • From the “Get to Work” Department: Want a job? It appears that some folks are still in demand. No, I’m not talking about folks who repossess things. I’m talking about folks with security clearances. According to the Orange County Register, the Los Angeles area (including OC) was one of the top 10 areas for folks with clearances.
  • From the “I’m Cooking with Gas” Department: I’ve had a few food related articles collecting space in the to-post list, so I thought I would share them. The first explores how much water does pasta really need? What’s interesting is the answer: not as much as the package says. The second explores a humble cooking tool that one can acquire at Home Depot: kitchen twine. Sometimes, it is the littlest items that are the secret to a great bacon wrapped roast :-)… but just make sure you don’t use that plastic coated stuff. The last is an article on a retro-favorite: cube steak. I’m actually a fan of this stuff, especially Southern-style Chicken Fried Steak. Yum. Oh, that reminds me, I need to finish my lunch….

‘Tis The Season To Be Chummy

Today’s lunchtime news chum seems to all be connected to marketing and advertising. I have no idea why.

  • From the “Creative Financing” Department: Tired of the mundane school fundraiser? Have enough greeting cards? Don’t need another magazine subscription? An instructor in Rancho Bernardo (near San Diego) has a novel idea: Sell advertising space on the exams. The teacher, Nick Farber, started letting parents and local businesses sponsor tests this fall after learning budget cuts would limit his in-school printing allowance — tracked by the school’s copy machines — to $316 for the year. The cost of printing quizzes and tests for his 167 students will easily be more than $500, he said. So Farber, who says he’d never asked for money from parents in his 18 years of high school teaching, pitched the ad idea to parents at a September back-to-school night. For checks made to the math department — $10 a quiz, $20 a test or $30 for a final exam — they could insert an inspirational quote — their own or someone else’s — or a business advertisement at the bottom of the first page. He’s already collected more than $300, and is on track to top $1,000.
  • From the “Valley of the Dolls” Department: There has been an interesting legal verdict in the battle of Barbie vs. Bratz. The judge banned MGA from making or selling the Bratz doll. Note that this is almost 30% of the business of MGA (HQed in the San Fernando Valley). The LA Times gives more details: the judge ruled that Mattel (HQed in El Segundo) is the legal owner of the edgy toy line and has the right to recall all unsold Bratz. The order says that MGA may no longer manufacture, sell, advertise or license its core lineup of Bratz dolls or any other product with the Bratz name. However, the order does not take effect until February, and an appeal is expected. My expectation: Mattel will keep manufacturing the dolls under their imprimatur, and there will be more job losses in the valley.
  • From the “Notice how Saturn wasn’t in the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter?” Department: As we all know, the “Big 3” are all in DC pleading for their lives (oops) asking for a handout (oops) groveling. One piece of information coming out of this is that the one division truly GM created, Saturn, may be on the chopping block (most of the brands came in with the mergers that created GM). According to the LA Times, Saturn may be on the chopping block, be sold, or be merged. It has evidently not been profitable, they’ve abandoned most of their original core ideas, and their cars are either rebadgings or imported Opels that the exchange rate is killing. Instead of being a model of how to compete with the Japanese and other imports (the original goal of Saturn), it has become a drag, and didn’t provide ideas to improve the other divisions. This is highlighted in the NY Times article on the subject. Could perhaps GM be too hidebound, and this be the reason for its failure? Nah. GM knows it isn’t their fault.

Monday News Chum

It’s Monday, the election is over (but for the electoral college)… this must mean it is time for a mostly non-political news chum:

  • From the “Gift that Keeps On Giving” Department: A reminder for those giving gift cards this year: Be careful about the retailers you use, because if the retailer goes belly-up, the gift card may be worthless. This happened to folks with The Sharper Image earlier this year, and given today’s news, I’d spend that Circuit City card sooner than later.
  • From the “Room 222” Department: The economy is not only affecting gift cards. Schools are also feeling the pinch–private schools in particular. Parent’s can’t afford the tuition, and the income from and value of the endowments are way down. Will the parents move to public schools? Unknown, but if they do, the budgets there will be tighter as well. Further, fundraising won’t be as easy… as bake sales are now subject to school nutritional rules. That’s right: no more selling those homemade or purchased cookies or brownies or cupcakes. Food served at school must be healthy and nutritious. So keep your eye out for more carwashes.
  • From the “Pata Pata” Department: Today’s news also brings the report that Miriam Makeba has died. I learned of Ms. Makeba when Pata Pata became the new dance at CHK/GHC in the early 1970s. What I never understood was why an African song became popular at a Jewish summer camp… and it is still popular these days!
  • From the “Sorry, Tiffany” Department: There’s a hot new name for babies: Barack. Evidently, this is something that happens most election years: there were lots of Dwights and Lyndons (although I’ve never met a Lyndon) back in the 1950s and 1960s. We haven’t had odd names for president’s in a while; after all, John, James, Richard, William, Ronald, and George are always popular. Folks also use last names as first names, so there is also a rash of “Obamas”. This explains why Clinton was also a popular first name. Still, some names just never caught on, such as Nixon or Bush.
  • From the “Another Sign of the Economy” Department: Lastly, want to get your child a classic toy, something just inducted into the toy hall of fame. Go outside and get him a stick. Yup, the humble stick, as well as the skateboard and the baby doll, have been inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame. Previous inductees range from the bicycle and Mr. Potato Head to Crayola crayons and the cardboard box. The stick is a special addition. Curators praised its all-purpose, all-natural, no-cost qualities and its ability to serve either as raw material or an appendage transformed by imaginations into something else.

And speaking of toys, a popular toy is the toy train… and a popular toy train is Thomas the Tank Engine. You could have seen a full-size Thomas last weekend at OERM’s Day Out with Thomas. But don’t fret. You can still see Thomas tomorrow, Veteran’s Day, as well as next weekend November 15-16. As an added bonus — no extra charge — if you come tomorrow you can see me and nsshere as we work as Thomas Car Attendants (alas, you won’t be able to see gf_guruilla, as it looks like she has to stay home with pneumonia). So if you’re in SoCal, and not working (or able to take a vacation day), come on out to OERM in Perris, CA and say “Hi”. Go for an early or late ride and save $4 off the tickets.