Eat my (cargo) shorts

There’s a meme out there telling folks to stop wearing cargo shorts. My Response: Hey fashion world, you know why I wear cargo shorts? Because it’s warm out. And I have cargo. Why do I have cargo? Because of you.

Apparently I'm supposed to dress like one of these swells

Apparently I’m supposed to dress like one of these swells. Not happening.

Yes, you. Blame yourself, sartorial contempos. It’s not like I’m listening to anything you have to say, but you’re the ones telling my wife and daughter to wear yoga pants or miniskirts or other unpocketed garments leaving them entirely unequipped for modern living.

In case you are too busy purposefully striding six-abreast around Milan with a bunch of wax-chested rentboys, let it be known that here in the actual 21st century one can’t take a simple stroll through the city center without giant smartphones, water bottles forged from aerospace quality tensile steel, packets of Lactaid, a wad of plastic cards the size of a car battery, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, energy bars in case someone gets “hangry” and a massive inhaler resonant of something my hippie college roommate would roll out for “Bootleg Friday” on our college radio station. (When the doctor gave this woodwind-sized thing to my daughter I asked, “Don’t you have one shaped like a skull? She did not laugh.)

By comparison my grandparents landed in this country with less crap than we have to carry on a three hour visit to the Peabody Essex Museum and absolutely no one else is wearing clothing capable of bearing even a fraction of this burden. Thus my thighs have become the family minivan of clothing, except that my wife and daughter get to zip around in cute little convertibles while I follow up in the “support-vehicle.”

Here's your uniform, Ma'am. Sorry we couldn't get any useful pockets on it anywhere.

“Here’s your uniform, Ma’am. Sorry we couldn’t get any useful pockets on it anywhere.”

To be clear, this is not a male/female comparison. This is a “fashionista v. utilitarian” one. I know chicks who wear cargo pants. I have met female drone engineers with such cool stuff in their shorts that if I were to say, “I want to get into your pants” I would literally only mean just that. In their bulging side pockets lurk the latest fight controllers, tiny infrared cameras, and crazy-lightweight high-performance motors. Also my personal fetish item, the Leatherman multitool. You know, one of those pliers/knives/drivers/nailfile/peppermill combo deals. Laugh away Clamuniards, but I carry one all the time I’m not in TSA controlled space.

This was all he ever needed

All he ever needed

Why? For the same reason I wear cargo shorts, because I hate being unequipped. I was at a poetry reading at the Cantab when as screw fell out of the microphone stand during an adjustment. The MC looked up at the audience in horror, asking rhetorically, “No one has a screwdriver…right?” The crowd reeled as if someone at a Morrisey show had requested a slab of panda jerky. I, however, dug my trusty multiplier out of one of my many conveniently placed pockets, strode past my tweed and sundress bedecked fellow audience members to set the mic back to rights. I’m sure now there is sonnet titled “Trousers of Majesty” in a well-worn Moleskine notebook somewhere.   

"Nuclear launch codes? I got 'em right here."

“Nuclear launch codes? Got ’em right here.”

Unlike jorts, cut off sweats, plaid Vineyard Vines golf numbers with little whales on them or jumbo athletic shorts absurdly dangling down to mid-calf, cargo shorts ask to be defined on practical terms rather than style. Furthermore, I don’t really want to hear any bullshit along the lines of, “you shouldn’t wear them if you don’t need them for work.” Really? Fantastic. Tell me where I can pick up your SUV, North Face jacket, those running shoes you’re walking around in, and the backpack with the little sewn loops as if you were going to be hauling your Macbook Pro up Gollum Right on El Capitan. We use overpowered and utility-designed stuff in regular life all the time. Cargo shorts are suddenly where we draw the line?

Everywhere I go schlebs are wearing Pat’s jackets to funerals, visors backwards and track suits with gold chains (what we used to call a “Southie Tuxedo”). It seems like cargo shorts might be down the priority list of fashion faux pas to be called out. For instance: The leading contender for the GOP nomination wears white shoes, a brown belt, and a golf hat on the campaign trail making him look more like a mid-level bookie than one of the ten richest people in the country.

Can we deport this asshole's wardrobe adviser?

Can we deport this asshole’s wardrobe adviser?

Until someone figures out how to build a wall keeping out the real fashion offenders, let me reach down to my left thigh and produce a generous pocketfull of “bite me” to the cargo-shorts haters.

Oh, does that make you cry? No problem. I have tissues.



An open letter of support to Markus Persson AKA “Notch”, creator of Minecraft

Markus Persson who sold the videogame Minecraft to Microsoft for 2.5 billion dollars tweeted how unhappy he is now. 



Saw the tweets from last week and felt it was important to reach out from the geek-o-sphere-at-large. In the past I’ve always read “Billionaire not happy” stories with a combination of bitterness and schadenfreude, but reading Twitter last week made me nothing but bummed. I’ve met enough successful people in the tech space to know how challenging it is to go from nothing to everything at a fairly young age. But to know this is happening to you, someone who’s brought so much awesome to the world, is a massive crap sandwich.

This sucks. I’m sorry.

I hope I’m not the first one to let you know it looks like you’re dealing with not just Sudden Wealth Syndrome (which is real) but also some tangible form of depression. I know this has been an issue in your family. I’m hopeful with the knowledge you have the intelligence to identify it and the resources to treat it. Have you seen the Big Black Dog parable? It’s helped a lot of people in similar circumstances.

The depression is a real thing real thing and would be there money or no. Wealth is just a complicating factor, not the root cause. I was at the funeral of a friend who succumbed to his illness years ago, his fiance came up to me and said, “Depression is the worst disease because it convinces you you don’t have it.” She was right. At least fucking cancer has the decency to make you sick.

Reach out, get help, get on a program and stick to it. Because we need you.

We really do. And not just hanging around enjoying life, taking up some kind of extreme oddball rich-dude sport like turbozeppelin polo or whatever. We both know nothing is more obnoxious than the 1% pursuing some extreme bullshit for no good reason. And you’re right in saying the long-bomb ‘Musk’, (solving some real-world huge problem) will just expose you to those assholes again. I get it.

Although this looks pretty epic

Although this looks pretty epic

So let’s go back to basics: A few years ago you started something that opened a door for millions of people, a door that hadn’t been there before. It allowed them to create, play and most importantly communicate on a level playing field, many for the first time. Adults, kids, girls, boys, trans, cis, aspergers, geeks, introverts, and a good swath of levels of income (so long as they had regular computer access) flocked to this place. Since it’s been used by artists, scientists, educators, doctors, social workers and my son. Mostly by my son, it seems.

A quick few things my ten-year-old learned on Minecraft:

  • He knows the basic concepts of quantum physics because of the qcraft mod. Soon, when we need technologists who can think in qbits rather than traditional bits, MC will have gotten him there a decade ahead of everyone else.
  • He’s read books on creating circuits and machines so he can build similar things in MC.
  • He learned to write Java making his own mod through a weeklong program at MIT this summer. He would NEVER have had the patience and attention span to do that without MC. He loved it. “I’ve never been able to pay attention to anything for so long,” he said after a long day coding.
  • A couple of years ago on a private server he once griefed someone’s castle and was rightly banned by the moderator. He was very guilty and upset so I had him write a contrite letter to the admin. He was allowed back on under the condition he return any items taken, that the castle was rebuilt and he was to apologize in-person to the owner. He did so and was greatly relived. This was a life lesson in the digital space and I can’t imagine it happening on another platform.
He made you this, "Because Notch is awesome."

He made you this, “Because Notch is awesome.”

Minecraft tore a big hole in the wall between digital and “real” life. But it’s only going to get ripped apart further. Minecraft was just the first big salvo. So you now have a responsibility to the real humans who’ll be caught up in this transition.

What the fuck am I talking about? Let me explain:


  1. To what extent were the Wright Brothers as responsible for the Enola Gay as for Apollo 11?
  2. GPS gets the fire department to my house as well as bombs onto someone else’s. Is it a bad thing?
  3. TNT was invented by Alfred Nobel, a guy who spent the bulk of his life trying to make sure he advocated for good in the world as well as making it easier to blow up parts of it.

Do inventors bear responsibility for their creations? How much? And what do you, a game designer, have to do with all this? The answer is “some” and “everything.” No one can predict how a new platform will be used, Wilbur and Orville Wright assumed once militaries had the ability to detect each other’s movements from the air, war would become obsolete. Orville lived to see the use of the airplane in the Second World War and was horrified.

As for your innovation: what will become of humanity as the barrier between digital and organic life becomes increasingly thin? Is it a utopia or a nightmare? Will it be a way to empower workers or exploit them? Will we find new ways to communicate and understand each other or new ways to attack?

History says at first we will struggle, but on balance good will win out. But it takes brave individuals to make that happen. People with credibility.

You have that credibility. And, having read your history, I know you are brave.

What you support, whom you befriend, how you proceed from here is meaningful to literally millions of people. How many wind up in digital ghettos or acropolises, how many kids are encouraged to create and engage opposed to being taught how to just fill out tests more efficiently, who gets to play and who pays the bills, all that will  be decided in the next decade. Mistakes are going to get made. How big those mistakes are, how long we allow them to continue depends on what we do from here.

People will listen to you.

We need your voice. We’re with you.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Oliver Sacks, the noted neurologist who died last week at 82:

To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see overall patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.

We may seek, too, a relaxing of inhibitions that makes it easier to bond with each other, or transports that make our consciousness of time and mortality easier to bear. We seek a holiday from our inner and outer restrictions, a more intense sense of the here and now, the beauty and value of the world we live in


Paywatch: Why the Gloucester lifeguards are getting screwed and so are you

We have a beach of a problem here in Gloucester, it seems. Last week the Gloucester Daily Times [paywall, kinda] informed us we’re paying $45 bucks an hour for firefighters to help on the beaches because we don’t have enough city lifeguarding staff after some students left to go back to school. 

Seems wasteful, right? I mean, it’s not the “Outrage! School spends ten percent more on non-toxic chalk!” kind of thing we’re used to from the shouty set, but it’s garnering a bit of attention. (Also, we’re totally kidding about the chalk. Of course teachers have to buy their own classroom supplies, not have them paid for by the town like this is communist Russia.)

Following this revelation, the mayor posted a press release to Good Morning Gloucester letting us know that it was NOT about the insanely low pay our lifeguards get, somewhere around 11 bucks an hour on average. The logic was a little hard to follow:

Gloucester,  as well as other communities, faced a shortage of certified lifeguards for summer 2015 and wages was not the issue. This was recognized very early in the preparation for beach season. We advertised aggressively, but  simply could not attract a large enough pool of guards.

How was it that low pay was ruled out as a factor for the low rate of applicants? Did prospects email with: “I’m on my university swim team and certified in water rescue, but I just don’t want to be a lifeguard because the idea of hostessing at a restaurant calls to me like the daughters of Achelous…”?

Over at the GDT they talked to a bunch of officials last week who assured readers everything is fine, move right along:

But DPW officials say the $45-an-hour cost for an off-duty firefighter on a detail — compared with the lifeguards’ average $11 hourly wages — isn’t sinking that department’s recreation budget. And fire Chief Eric Smith said the added outside work isn’t affecting fire coverage or other services within his department, which is still short-handed due to a run of firefighter injuries.

Great. So no problem there. Supplementing an eleven dollar an hour position with a worker that bills four times that, from an already short-staffed critical public safety office. Seems like a perfectly sensible use of resources.

Case closed.

I’m sure someone talked to the actual lifeguards to get their perspective. I mean, if someone were to do an actual journalism it would obviously merit an interview with the lifeguards to get the full story, or at least that’s what we remember from the one journalism class we took in college but it was at, like, 8am so we were kind of drowsy most of  the time (We still got an A because “journalism class.”)

Wait… hang on a second. Why are lifeguards emailing your beloved The Clam as if we were giving away free zinc oxide cream and aviator-style sunglasses? They seem sort of aggravated. As if they’ve been trying to call attention to this and other problems all along, and had a plan to solve the issue that has been and continues to be roundly ignored. It’s almost like the GDT didn’t even talk to the lifeguards to find out why the city couldn’t get those positions filled. Weird.

But by golly if this ain’t the truth! As it turns out a bunch of lifeguards, who are fairly in-tune with lifeguard-related issues, have been trying to solve this problem all along and have been pretty responsible (that’s kind of their gig, I guess) about it.

Basically Gloucester pays its guards a couple of dollars less per hour than all of the surrounding communities and the beaches on Cape Cod (except Beverly, which is weird). Pay is, as it turns out, an issue.

Starting per-hour wage for lifeguards(in most cases there is a .25-.50 increase per hour with every year’s experience).

  • Gloucester      $10
  • Manchester     $12.35
  • Beverly             $9.50 [WTF Beverly?]
  • Rockport          $12.34
  • Barnstable       $12
  • Mashpee          $13

In the hour or so we spent Googling this we found other communities having similar, but not as acute, issues with staffing, especially on Cape Cod, and the issue is wages. Everyone gets short staffed in the last few weeks, but they are all also having trouble getting applicants for the entire summer. In places where there are beaches there are restaurants and shops and other tourist economy opportunities. College is expensive.

The lifeguards will officially be making minimum wage when Jan 1 rolls around, and that’s for someone who can OPERATE AN AED and DELIVER A BABY. Minimum wage, for training exercises like linking arms together and doing a sweeping walk down the beach in the surf to recover a missing person who is under the water.



The lifeguards we spoke to have some more things to say about the matter. Since they didn’t get a voice anywhere else, we let them have their say here, at The Clam’s Home For Wayward Journalism. Here, listen to them, before they tear their hair out:

– At the beginning of June (before the fiscal year of the city’s budget on July 1st thus giving plenty of time for changes to be made), a head lifeguard put together a new budget that the DPW could use to give the lifeguards pay raises that would be more in line with other cities and the DCR, who hires lifeguards at more than $13 an hour. This, by all accounts, would have made the applicant pool a little deeper than Plum Cove at low tide.  Mark Cole, the assistant director of the DPW, encouraged that head lifeguard over the course of several weeks to continue their research, giving off the impression that a change would indeed be made. The plan would cost the city an additional $26,000. The plan was apparently barely recognized by city employees and was immediately shot down. However, the hiring of the EMTs/Paramedics costs the city $35,000.

-The majority of these EMTs are not waterfront certified to any capacity. So despite the fact that they are being used as a bandaid to supplement the lifeguard staff, they are completely free of responsibility for any incidents that occur in the water. Additionally, it is now the tentative plan of the city to add MORE EMTs/Paramedics to the beaches in the upcoming weeks because even more lifeguards are going back to school, fall jobs, etc. so the original $35,000 cost for them is going to increase.

-In the upcoming week, there will be no more than 4 lifeguards per beach. On Thursday September 3rd, there will be 4 lifeguards on Wingaersheek and 3 lifeguards on Good Harbor. On Friday September 4th, there will be 2 lifeguards on Wingaersheek beach (on a day that is dominated by low tide) and 3 lifeguards on Good Harbor beach, when school is not in session here in Gloucester. During the normal season, we have no less than 6 lifeguards per beach, and even those numbers are still tight when there are over four thousand patrons on the beach.

Our head lifeguard who wants to remain anonymous continues:

“We have been ordered to work under these conditions with no choice despite the fact that it GREATLY increases the liability placed on each guard. On Friday at Wingaersheek, for instance, one guard will be personally responsible for approximately 2,500 people. We will receive no extra compensation of any kind for these days. We have children go missing [ed note: on land] every single day that it is busy on the beach, and it can take upwards of 20 minutes to find these kids with a full staff.  I don’t want to imagine what it will be like with 2-3 guards instead. I want to stress the fact that this numbers of guards is COMPLETELY unsafe under ANY conditions on the beaches, and this week has been forecasted as 85 degrees and sunny. The people are going to be rolling in. Additionally, strong riptides and other extreme currents have been, and will continue to be present due to the offshore tropical storms.  I have lifeguarded for the city for nearly a decade. This has been, without a doubt, the busiest beach season I have ever seen. We would like it to be known that this issue is the sole responsibility of upper management at the DPW; those in charge of the budget.  The direct managers of the lifeguard staff, Debbie Kapetanopolous and Joe Lucido, have done everything they can to help the lifeguard staff throughout the summer.”

Because of the staffing problems, many lifeguards worked 6 and 7 days a week out of fear that if they left the beaches understaffed, something tragic would happen. Because there were so few applicants, nearly everyone who applied was given the job regardless of skill level or dedication. They are in charge of thousands of people’s lives and need to make split-second decisions. They are responsible for our kids’ safety. Let’s think about that for a second.

These lifeguards rightly believe they’re being taken advantage of by city administrators, and they’re pissed – and they should be. The Clam humbly suggests we actually listen to them, and not just because those whistles are terrifying, but because these people are smart and dedicated to their jobs, which require them to put their own life at risk for what will soon, by state law, be minimum wage.

The insistence wages aren’t an, if not “the” issue not only denies the fundamental laws of economics, but sidesteps any responsibility for the problems we’re having right now. How many more talented long-time staffers do we need to lose before we get their point?

Or will someone have to die on our beaches to finally hammer it in?