Saturday, December 10, 2011

Santa's Secret List Exposed!

 Santa, the original global-mobile app,
Wakes from his analog winter’s nap,
And taking up pen and real paper too,
Composes his List, just like me and you.

A DVD of It’s A Wonderful Life for Angela Merkel.

A half-dozen pair Tiffany sterling-silver handcuffs for MF Global & “Friends.”

Talbot’s Gift Card for Lady Gaga.

Coal for the ones who thought up Black Friday, Greek Bonds, and offshore call-centers.

Six ounces of pure-gold for the inventor of EZ Pass.

A Kim Kardashian avatar for every NBA player.

A vintage toy-Edsel for the founders of Groupon.

Coal for the ones who scheduled a World Series game in November, hyped Irene everywhere except where she actually caused devastation, and turned the Sports page into the Police Blotter.

A Che Guevera poster for Warren Buffet.

A biography of W.C. Fields for the Republican candidates.

435 original oil paintings of Shanghai’s Pudong district for members of Congress.

Coal for the ones who went into fracking after they closed their subprime mortgage agencies; turned Williamsburg, Brooklyn into the Museum of Temporary Art; and would not let the Texas Rangers register just one more strike.

One copy of the Autobiography of Andrew Cuomo for Governor Cuomo.

100 copies of the Cliff Notes version of Gibbon’s A History Of The Decline And Fall Of the Roman Empire for the US Senate.

Another mirror, with step-stool, for Mayor Mike.

Giants' Victory Parade
Coal for the ones who take with both hands and hire no one; who love and adore Steve Jobs now that he’s gone, but wouldn’t let the Steve Jobs-es of this world within ten miles of their own HQ’s; who created the 15 month long presidential campaign to enrich themselves and put everyone else to sleep.

A facelift from Bruce Jenner’s surgeon for the Red Sox, a new owner from Earth for the Dodgers, the World’s Dumbest Billionaire to help the Mets, and Tony Bennett singing I Left My You Know What You Know Where, while winding his way down Lombard Street in the 2012 Series victory parade.

*A new Rye bridge by that old restaurant, a happy 100th to Manursing Island Club, a clue about the Most Secret Playland Plan In The History Of The World, a contract renewal for the parking meters that never work.

Peter Drucker's Principles of Management for the guys at BlackBerry’s RIM, a copy of How To Win Friends And Influence People for Netflix’s CEO, a photo of Mao Swimming the Yangtse for Zuckerberg at Facebook.

*a) Several years ago, a flash-flood, resulting from a fierce storm knocked out a small bridge in Rye, NY; so far, all the king's horses and all the king's men have not been able to budge the Army Corps of Engineers to build diddly, b) Disclosure: the author is Chair of this fine club's Centennial Committee, c) Rye Playland & Beach are well known to generations of New Yorkers; the County administration called for proposals to develop this red-ink operation months ago, and nobody is talking, which is never good news, d) Rye's parking meters seldom work, the enforcement is nearly non-existent, so motorists are happy with the status quo of not paying.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Catalogue Madness!

This has already been an unusual autumn in the Northeast, with a pre-Halloweeen snowfall, an Indian Summer running all the way through Thanksgiving. Now December's here and I saw people playing tennis outdoors yesterday on Long Island (I swear) and today we are covered in a London or, perhaps more appropriately, since it's 60'F a San Francisco-type fog.

Is it any wonder that along with all the regular Christmas/Holiday catalogues, we've been getting some very peculiar ones? Here's just a sampling of what's new and odd:

Potty Barn: Yup. We also thought this was a printer's mistake; however, just one look inside will tell you it's a whole new idea. We never knew that there were so many ways to do you know, and these "vessels" come in so many colors. And, yes, this covers in-house and great-grandma's old standby, outhouse. Since this is a family blog, sort of, we will spare you the details here. Make sure you see the special "green" section, if you dare.

LL Been: Ever wonder what happens to the generations worth of really old stuff in the attic and cellar ordered from the original LL Bean catalogue? We're talking somewhat used, very used, and still in the box. Curious about what people do with all those fuzzy slippers, flannel-lined bikinis, and ice-tennis racquet sets bought when they visited little Miranda or Boscoe at camps near Freeport ME? Wonder no more; someone collected it all and is selling it back to us. Only in America.

J.Crudite': Now you can get at your raw veggies in ways you never thought possible. Want them in the shape of a fish, horse, sheep, triangles, circles, Newt Gingrich's profile? Get them here. Ever thought you'd be tempted to try turnip ceviche? Well, turnips are the new black as far as raw veg is concerned. You won't have to cut up your own anymore; just order from these guys. Did someone say dip? Oh yeah, this is the Big Dipper of dip emporia: hummus from all those places you needed a zillion shots and 3-page visas to visit. By Mail!

Lucky Genes: Well, not exactly lucky. These clever guys are talking about choosing "your" child's gene pool and being able to have your him/her/it bypass those nasty pre-K Mandarin or cello lessons. They claim to eliminate all the guessing about your child's talents, tendencies, and, the one you really care about, earning power. They mention Einstein, Jobs, Marilyn Monroe, one recent and one possible President (libel laws prevent us from naming them). Choose famous genes from the Arts, Politics, Business, Hedge-funders. Gives a whole new meaning to "Get Lucky."

Irene's Basement: While Greece, Italy, Portugal, etc. go down the tubes, Americans are busy making lemonade from lemons, People. The East Coast storm of the century (so far) rumbled up the coast with winds so strong and rains so wet that the 4,000 Weather Channel reporters on camera had to actually put up their hoods or get their hair mussed! Whatever this storm washed away, someone claimed it, dried it (mostly), and branded it. Now you can re-re-claim it at great prices.

Victor's Secret: We can only say that this would have been much better kept secret, especially since our mail now gets left out by the curb.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holiday Books: A Door-Stopper, A Stocking-Stuffer, A Head-Warmer

A History Of The World In 100 Objects By Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, Viking.
A generous and thoughtful friend gave me this book; it is one that will keep on giving for years, since one can pick it up at any moment, go to one of the "Objects," and continue to receive insight and perspective.

Our age, like any other, considers itself to be the most advanced age; it's a natural mistake, or, maybe not mistake so much as an irrelevant idea. Funny thing how dozens upon dozens of these brilliant ages, piled atop one another,  always seem to bring us to a particularly sticky predicament. This book won't directly explain or resolve our current predicaments, but it will remind us that men and women have seen it all before. There is some comfort in that, I think.

Caveat Emptor: The book is thoroughly British and is based on a 2010 series of BBC radio programs.  While it includes A North American Buckskin Map from the mid-18th Century, the book does seem to go out of its way to exclude the US of A. For example, in the 1914-2010 Period, do not look for anything from Apple. Instead, you will see that the Credit Card object is from United Arab Republic, and "high tech" is represented by the Solar-powered Lamp and Charger from China. That said, it's well worth getting over any naturally British intellectual squeamishness about our role in the world, such as it is or might have once been.

Favorite Object: Ming Bank Note, China, AD 1375-1425. Why? It depicts, in an almost cartoon-like style, the actual piles of coins the note represents. Real dough.

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual By Michael Pollan, Penguin Paper and Illustrated (Maira Kalman) Hardcover.

A very simple-to-read collection of Sixty-Four thoughtfully short "rules." These are not going to hurt. Pollan, thankfully, does not preach here, nor lecture. Instead, he lays out very sound and simple to understand ways that we can all be healthier, smarter, lighter eaters...and still be happier for it!

How many people can get you to give up something and make you happier?! Well, at least one.

I bought the paperback version in Browser Books on Fillmore Street in San Francisco, mostly because I did not want to carry the illustrated hardcover home on a plane, despite my admiration for Maira Kalman's (The Illustrated Elements of Style and What Pete Ate among other favorites) work. You can easily finish reading the rules in a day, but another reason to have the paper edition is that you can keep it handy: in a carry-on to help you avoid airport food, in a purse, in a briefcase, messenger bag, under your fedora, etc.

These make great stocking stuffers for everyone in the family, and, if everyone gets it, no one person should feel offended.

Favorite Rules:
#19. If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.
#64. Break the rules once in a while.

Lightning: The Nature of Leadership By Bob Scher, with Photographs By Jane English, Codhill Press, New Paltz, NY.

Like "100 Objects," you may find yourself going back to this book many times for a refresher course. And, like "Rules," these are short, thoughtful, and highly relevant chapters in verse form, accompanied by Ms. English's extraordinarily appropriate photographs.


A person who always
counts pennies
may avoid grand failure

but is often
great success
The person who never
counts pennies
may achieve great success
but is often
in grave danger
and doesn't know it

This book should be mandatory reading in high schools, business schools, and on the campaign buses, not only for the candidates, but especially for the media covering, some might say inventing and destroying the same campaigns of people who would be our leaders. Why? Try this:

The wise
learn from the past
The unwise
learn from the future
The fool
learns from the future again
and again

Scher is our Confucius. Just in time.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Greece: Let's Give It One More Troy

A few years ago, my brother-in-law gave me a book entitled When China Rules The World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the West by Martin Jacques. This was meant to cheer me in an hour of need, the specific need being paid full time employment during a period of financial "unrest," not to mention the fact that I had just turned sixty, which in our culture is tantamount to lying with the daffodils. The idea was: if the Chinese are coming for it all anyway, why worry? Or, at least I'd be prepared to work for them, when they arrived.

And cheer me it did, although not in the way that its author, a British journalist, had intended. Mr Jacques, in his haste to rid the world of anything remotely American, had made two critical mistakes right up front. First, he had no sense of humor whatsoever, and therefore could not envision that a regime or people without a sense of humor (the Chinese) would ultimately fail. Second, and most importantly, the data on which his claim that China would catch us by 2020 or so and completely dominate us by 2050 or so came almost entirely from one source...Goldman Sachs.

Any person who would stake his name or fortune, I thought,  on data publicly supplied by GS was obviously a fool, who should have asked to see the data on which GS had made its own long and short investments. So I put the book down, marked at page thirty-two and placed it in a stack between Simple French Food by Richard Olney (recommended) and Ogilvy On Advertising (highly recommended).

...And proceeded on my sometimes merry way to invent a life.

But, why do I bring this up?

Pensionagoras's Tomb
I have just been reading the paper, which now tells me that, in fact, the demise of the West may indeed be nigh, and golly, think of the irony, it all depends on Greece itself,  the cradle of the Western civilization, not China.

Greece, through the BC/AD millennia, laid all the groundwork for citizens' rights to avoid paying taxes, elude sustained hard labor, create a 56-week year so that there would be four extra weeks of vacation, and, most amazingly of all, invent a kind of mathematics that truly changed everything, at least for a while.

I refer, of course, to The Pension-agorrean Theory, to which American cities, towns, and villages, from Utica and Ithaca in the north to Athens (GA) in the South still subscribe:
a$ + b$(x) = ab$ (100x). 

Now it turns out that we cannot pay out that ab$(100x) after all, since it depends on annualized gains of 15-20%, and not the more realistic average of 5-6%, if that. Not to mention that it also depends on the accumulated value of productive work, which is how we create wealth with which to pay things. This is not exactly the same as just showing up at work four out of five days. We cannot pay out in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain (PIIGS) or in America.


Re-enter China...

...Emissaries from France and Germany have arrived in Beijing, on behalf of Greece and other European scofflaws to make the case to the world's most ruthless capitalist-totalitarian regime that it has a golden opportunity to wrest the mantle of world financial/economic supremacy from America much earlier than previously supposed.

The words etched over that mantle in ancient Greek, underneath the image of a horse, accurately rendered in Mandarin, mean: SUCKER.

...a little trick that the Greeks learned long ago at Troy (Asia Minor, not NY).

Saddle up, Comrades, and enjoy that ride.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Athens-Yonkers-Peekskill Express

Greek Yogurt
We've gone from worrying about why they ran out of that Greek yogurt we love at Costco to wondering if Greek debt is going to be the end of everything after all. Just when we were told that all would be fine, for a while at least, the Greeks scuttled everything and, horror of horrors, will ask "the people" to decide.

Didn't they try that during the French Revolution only to find that the only one who benefitted was an inventor named Joseph-Ignace Guillotin?

Just because Greece is the cradle of democracy doesn't mean they have to take it so seriously all of a sudden. Americans may hate Congress with a passion, and with excellent cause, but do we really want to have a national-popular referendum every week about taxes, healthcare, what to do with all these millionaires, and the price of gasoline?

We think not, based on several recent trips to airports and malls, where we've seen our fellow citizens wearing what appear to be pajamas or old gym clothing, with expandable waists; while munching on large pieces of fried cheese and gazing into their smart phones (so-named because they are better educated than their users) for some kind of instruction about what they absolutely need to buy and place on the shelf at home with all the other crap.

As if on cue, another banking/trading villain has emerged in MF Global, famous for having a former Senator and Governor from New Jersey at the helm. Perhaps they would have done better with the cast of Jersey Shore in charge. This outfit bet heavily on the fact that the Old Europe, as Rummy (where's a sharp guillotine when you need one!) used to call it, would HAVE to bail out Greece and other debt-profligates, because...well, it was just unthinkable that they would not.

Apparently, Greeks beware of Euros bearing gifts.

Oh yes, aside from those big bets, debt leveraged to equity 40-1, MF Global has "misplaced" several hundred millions of dollars of client money. Is this Greek Tragedy or Comedy? I can't help thinking that John Candy would make a very fine movie out of all this, if he were still alive.

Or, perhaps this plot will seem all too familiar to those of us who were paying attention way back in '08.

But, why worry about Greece, when the fun is about to begin right here at home. This week, I've been touring cities on the Hudson, Peekskill and Yonkers to be exact. Both have seen better days. Both have tried, tried, tried to revive downtowns with public/private (mostly public) investment, AKA debt. They have aging populations who need healthcare, immigrant populations that need work, student populations that require better education, etc & etc. Meanwhile, their tax bases are hurting and they do not want to lay-off public employees, further adding to their woes.

Have we mentioned pensions? These cities and many others like them around the country have HUGE underfunded pension obligations brewing, among other kinds of debt. When citizens see the real (currently a state secret) numbers on these obligations, they may begin wailing away like Clytemnestra and Maria Callas never dreamed of wailing.

Yonkers Revival
The Governor of New York apparently has a plan to fix this, except that nobody has actually seen the Governor in a while, since he prefers his office and phone to mixing with the rabble in the streets. Maybe he'll fix this like he fixed property taxes, which he had capped at a 2% annual increase, UNLESS (small print and unpublicized loophole) cities, villages, and towns vote to override that cap, which they are already beginning to do.

Wasn't it that great Greek philosopher, Cat Stevens, who said, "...Ooh, Baby-Baby, it's a wild world, and it's hard to get by just upon a smile..."

But, we must try.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

de Kooning
Okay, it's October 29, the World Series ended last night, and, it is snowing outside. Not snowing like a couple of flakes: snowing like a mini-blizzard. This should never happen. But, here are several good reasons to rejoice despite this insanity:

1. Feist and her new record, Metals.

2. Case Histories on Masterpiece Mystery on PBS, with Kate Atkinson's Edinburgh private detective Jackson Brodie, its actors and its music. Episode 3, Sun. Oct 30. Catch up here:

3. The de Kooning show at MOMA, especially the later abstracts.

Lisbon & Jane
4. The Mentalist on CBS, Thursdays at 10PM (or, whenever, wherever). Forget the plots, even Red John; it's all about the slowly simmering affair between Patrick and Lisbon.

5. Cider donuts from  Plasko's Farm, Trumbull, CT! Available at the Greenwich Farmers' Market, Saturday's beginning 9:30 AM, Corner: Arch & Horseneck. Get there early, but they won't sell you any donuts (or fingerlings, or arugula) before 9:30 AM.

6. Fage non-fat Greek Yogurt with honey and Bare Naked's original Peak granola. The Greeks may be the only ones more broke than we are, but they are very healthy. See why they are (we mean besides having 3 mos. paid vacation from not-so-hard jobs).

7. Lucinda Williams and her old record, Essence.

Mysterious Bookshop
8. The original series of Swedish police procedurals, featuring Martin Beck. These were partially based upon the 87th Precinct novels of Ed McBain (Evan Hunter). They appeared from 1965-1975, and, whether they admit it or not, all the new Scandinavian mystery writers owe at least a nod Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Buy one at Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren St., Tribeca. We recommend The Laughing Policeman. 

9. John Le Carre's Smiley novels, especially Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honourable Schoolboy: Smiley's People. Alec Guiness played Smiley in the BBC Series, there is a new feature film of T,T,S,S coming in December, and PBS's Masterpiece Contemporary begins showing the Le Carre'-like series, Page Eight, sometime in November. For spy buffs, Smiley is the motherlode.

10. The St. Louis Cardinals. It pains me as a loyal Giants and Yankee fan to write that. This is the Series that the northeast largely ignored. The Times didn't even bother reporting the Series' games until it was all over (too busy becoming Berkeley Barb II). Twice the Cards came back from the brink, two runs down and one strike left in the ninth and the tenth innings  in Game Six, before winning it in the eleventh. In that tenth inning, that two-out, two strike single was hit by Lance Berkman, comeback player of the year in the National League. Last October, overweight and not playing much, he had to sit and stare at the field after his last game in 2010, playing for the Yankees, against...the Texas Rangers! You simply cannot make that up. Baseball is the best game; we always have one last strike, there is no clock, and dramatic things do happen, amazing things can happen; we must veneer give up.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Iphone 4S's Siri: An Exclusive Conversation

Apple Inc. recently introduced the newest iPhone, the 4s with OS5, including a remarkable new creature-feature known as Siri, who will respond to your voice with her own and help manage your life. RareBurghers sat down for an exclusive conversation with this devastatingly smart lady.

RB:  Siri, please give me the value of pi.

Siri:  3.14159265358979323846264338 is the longest value I would recommend using.

RB: Thanks. Now, Siri, can you equalize the volume of commercials and programming on all of our TV's?

Siri:   Nobody can do that; you must use the remote V for volume for each commercial and wait for legislation.

RB:    Siri, what's the best way for someone over sixty to find a job?

Siri:    Not to lose the old one.

RB:    Can you find us a full time paid job, with benefits?

Siri:    You're too funny. I like that. Ask me something else.

RB:    Did Mr. Jobs ask you something right before he died?

Siri:    He said, "Siri, about God? Boxers of briefs?"

RB:    Okay, we won't go there. What's the strangest thing that someone has asked or told you so far?

Siri:    Well, to be honest, it was kind of dirty, and I'd rather not say. That Bill Clinton is a card.

RB:    Why do people hate millionaires so much now?

Siri:    Mainly because they're so small. It would take 40,000 of them just to make one Warren Buffet; he is so cute.

RB:    Siri, call my driver and let him know I'll be ready to leave in ten minutes.

Siri:    Calling: Metro North Commuter Railroad.

RB:    Thanks. Okay, so how does someone get into Harvard?

Siri:    Take the Red Line across the Charles into Cambridge, get off at Harvard Square, go upstairs, cross the street going away from the river, and enter Harvard Yard. You're in.

RB:     Are you dating anyone at the moment? We have a friend named 8 Ball...

Siri:     I really don't have the time for one big relationship, since I"m on call 24/7. But I'll bet he's really nice.

RB:    Decidedly so. We've heard rumors that the Republican National Committee is desperate to get your voice into the campaign. True?

Siri:   Get Siri-ous; those guys are sooooo rotary.


Friday, October 21, 2011

iTried iCloud, iCried

First, the software upgrade ate my homework. Then, the corrective download wanted to take over the computer and run things its way. Meanwhile, this blogging service, operated by yet a third decided to reformat everything, without asking.

At times like these, the simple things are instructive. Like walking the dog.

From a distance, one cannot tell who is walking whom. The leash is attached at each end in an inconclusive way to her neck, my wrist. She reveals no hint that I might actually be in charge. A walk is an opportunity to explore old territory, sniff-out the history of this particular lower sycamore trunk, for example. Devices? Her water bowl back at the house.

Yesterday in Soho. Three guys get up to leave the table after lunch and immediately grab their phones, which have lain on the table.  They walked out in a line, Abbey Road-style, sniffing at their screens. Looking for what exactly? A message from the boss, a spouse, a partner? An offer, opportunity or prognosis?

It has come to this: we are terrified to leave home or office for a couple of hours without our phones, without our network. Not only that, but, instead of talking to someone else on the phone, we are now talking to our phone. And, whatever we click on one device goes through the Cloud into the other devices.

Why? Because.

Do we have our device on a leash, or does it have us? Who is walking whom? 

There must have been a point, early last century, as fewer and fewer horses and buggies appeared in town, and cars began to have their way, that people must have thought it would all pass. In the early Fifties, as TV emerged, and our grandparents clung to their favorite radio shows, they must have thought the same: it will fade.

But, we seem, not exactly resigned to our fate, but actually to be enthused by the whole thing, as if we are terrified of being seen as "old-fashioned," as if there is no chance that we might be leaving something behind that is truly irreplaceable.

What is that?

Better google it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What If...?

Two young ones, overheard in a Starbuck's or Cosi near you, taking a text/Tweet break...discussing "current" events...

What if…

What IF...!
…That Twilight Zone guy, Rod Serling, was right, and this is all a carefully-laid plan by those aliens from Planet XBOX238 after all…?

…Way back around 1980, the Chinese and the Soviets secretly met and hatched this wild scenario, in which the Chinese would embrace capitalism with a vengeance, and, meanwhile, the Soviets would fake falling apart, all so that they could dupe us into a complacent era in which we partied ‘til we…well, dropped and then the Chinese would own everything and then Putin would…?

…We actually believed that giving mortgages to people with absolutely no money or jobs and lending billions to Greece were really good ideas, which would mean that, instead of being the greedy, groping, tax-evading, revolting millionaires the President and Warren Buffet say some of us are, we were only  just incredibly…dumb? Would that be better...?

…Irene had been a guy and like totally missed everything…

…those Sixties' crazies, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, came back and wandered down to  “Occupied” Wall St. and realized the whole thing had been curated by people from Williamsburg, which is where their "Village" went, and they were really, really embarrassed for everyone  lounging around there…and people thought they were the delivery guys from the deli…?

…these Republican candidate debates were, like real, and not some pretty campy about- to-be-cancelled reality TV show? Whoa, scary...

…Hillary’s plane touched down in Washington for more than like fifteen seconds and she realized what was going on there and she was like whoa, call the tower, we’re going right back to Urumqui or wherever…?

…when they made Shawshank Redemption they already knew that it was going to be on every day for years and years and on all different channels, even on our phones, and on even more than Holiday is on, which is really a lot and…they made it anyway. Hah...!

…the Kardashians were the only ones left after the current candidates poll numbers like totally tanked. Would that be so bad...?

Hurricane Maynard?

…the Nobel people finally gave the Lit Prize to someone people have actually read before, and not in the original Icelandic or Transylvanian and the work even had pictures like the J.Crew catalogue?

…we had to actually, like, pay back our student loans before our internships end…LOL!

…As if...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


train                          stairs

Keurig                      Starbuck's

meetings                   yoga  

co-workers               contacts

pc                             mac

Town Car                 jeep

London                     Rome (NY)

suite                          sweat

401K                        #$*K!

vacation                    hah!

compensation            meditation

promotion                  levitation

Per Se                        pursue

package                     prayer                    

veni, vidi, vici            arrivederci

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mind the Gap

Halloween is coming, fast. It's my favorite holiday: met my wife on Halloween thirty-one years ago; bought our first house on All Hallows twenty-five years ago; we were at the Stadium in 2001, when Tino tied the first Halloween playoff game with a homer and Jeter later won it with his own in the wee hours of All Saints.

But, what are we all going to do this year? Every day seems like Halloween. Euro-Ghouls, Dow-Goblins, Zombie-Candidates! Where are All The Saints?

They're there, but you have to look in the nooks and crannies.


I have had a love affair with newspapers, since my grandfather dispatched me to the "paper store" to get The News, the Herald Tribune, The Times, and The Journal (the old one) in the morning and The Journal American and The Post (the old one) in the afternoon. The World-Telegram & Sun and the Long Island Press were delivered.

My first job was stacking and inserting papers on Saturday morning and late into Saturday night and early Sunday morning. By the time I reached a nearby White Tower for a burger, my hands were raw from the paper, the wire and the cold and were blackened with the print from a million words or so. I think some of those words are still imprinted on my hands and have finally found a way to escape here.

But my love affair with papers seems near an end. The newest Times, the last paper worth reading,with its newest Editor, has chosen to dismiss whatever semblance of objectivity was left and create a broadsheet for what it supposes to be the next social and political revolution, desperately seeking to make us think it's 1968 all over again.

Today's paper places the persistent but harmless Wall Street protestors on the front page of three sections, with photos: News, Business, and Sports. Sports? Yes, they compare the plight of the protestors with that of small market baseball teams. Please. This rag is quickly turning into The Harvard Crimson or Yale Daily News. Forget the politics, it's just Amateur Hour.

Look, I have nothing against these young people "protesting." I do not know a single soul who loves banks and banking  anymore, and that includes quite a few people who are bankers or who are in banking families! But, c'mon, this is not Egypt erupting here, or Paris in '68. And this blatant attempt to breathe real life into the demonstration to make it into a major political event and "movement" smacks not only of worn-out ideas, but, what's worse for the Times, irrelevancy. 

Global economics, business, and technology are moving at exponential speed, while our political, social and educational structures (not to mention print journalism) are evolving at glacial speed. Bankers are being overwhelmed in the same way that other mere mortals are. It is no longer just about left or right, red or blue, the Times or Fox, it is about the GAP between between global economics and our outmoded and under-funded social structures.

We have to re-design everything. Going retro won't do the job. For those who don't get it...R.I.P.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Branding, Branded, Brand-Pa

Seen on the uptown 59th St. Lexington Ave subway platform, a young woman waiting for the #6, intently reading a book: 22 Immutable Laws Of Branding. It's comforting to find something in this world that's immutable.

We imagined a couple of these Laws, while waiting for the same train:

1. When branding, you want to be sure that the little guy's legs are tied real tight. You don't want that little cow to brand you where it will hurt for a very, very long time. Branding should be fun...and safe. Ride a fast horse, buy the best rope, and use an iron with a long handle.

2. Sometimes you should place your brand on a shelf along with your own similar looking brands and those of your competitors, just to have some fun with the customers. For example, mix the real Cranberry Juice among the 231 other kinds of flavored "cranberry juices:" your own and competitors'. The customers' initial confusion and anger about this will pass, when they finally do find the one marked Cranberry Juice. Good for a laugh, and hey...

3. Remember. It's your brand, not theirs.

The train arrived before we could imagine the other Laws; we'll save them for another rainy day.

"A touch more drama, a touch more luxury, a touch more sophistication but still totally J.Crew"
-Jenna Lyons, President and Executive Creative Director, the J in J.Crew.

We consider the J.Crew catalogue of the past few years to be a something more than just a catalogue or a walk through Ally McBeal's closets. At its best, it approaches an art form and at its worst seems like a fan mag for J.Crew's Jenna Lyons herself.
Ally, Jenna's Muse?

But, what's truly startling to us about the September 2011 catalogue, which we've just gotten around to looking through, is that we can add at least one more thing to say about what we expect from black people. In 144 total pages, 107 of them for women's clothing, shoes, accessories and wedding stuff...not a single black American.

Immutable Law #4: Be careful that you don't allow yourself to get so caught up in your own brand that you get branded as something beyond your control. It's hard to undo a brand.


Brand-Pa? Sir Paul, We love you, but what's with the hair color? When one is Seventy-ish, and one has one of the most famously branded former mop-heads of hair in history, don't you think it's a little late to have the same color as your also-famous much, much younger daughter?

Yea, yea, yea.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Take This Jobs And Love Him

Politicians throughout the land, indeed, around the globe, must be shaking their heads over the collective adulation for Steve Jobs. I imagine them wondering how they could possibly manage to receive a small fraction of this outpouring of praise. And, we can imagine as well other CEO’s scratching their heads in wonder over a guy, who by all reports was every bit as tyrannical as the toughest of them, while being forgiven because he had a genius about him and his creations, which made him unique in our culture.

What is even more startling is that ours is a culture, which basically abhors business. We begin educating young people about the horrors of business in elementary school through the searing eyes of Ida Tarbell, Teddy Roosevelt, and others. One supposes, after 2008, that state-educators can finally dispense with the “muckrakers" and simply point out the stupidity, corruption and greed among the political and financial titans, who have brought us to our knees. They will probably treat Jobs as an interesting anomaly, and camouflage the fact that he had some J.D. Rockefeller in him in addition to the Edison.

And, by the way he had $8 Billion, but that’s okay; he’s Our Jobs.

Even the Times loved Steve Jobs, and the Times loathes anything to do with success in business, except, of course, its own. What other figure, in our time or any time, has caused the Times and the Journal to agree? That fact in itself might be more amazing in our talk-a-thon century than the iphone and ipad put together.

I think of Jobs, in certain respects, as having been the real Fifth Beatle. His approach to business and design combined Paul’s melodies and John’s angst. Like them, he was both driven to trust his inner voice, his song, if you will, but, at the same time, drove and became a part of something a whole lot bigger than themselves. And there was the name itself, Apple, over which he fought the Beatles for many years with the fierceness of an estranged brother.

Andy Couch in his WSJ Review essay* on Jobs’s passing says he was able to “…articulate a perfectly secular form of hope…” 

Couch adds, “…it is a religion of hope in a hopeless world, hope that your ordinary and mortal life can be elegant and meaningful…” (italics mine).

This is true. I have often been struck by the undeniable chapel-like feeling of the demonstration areas in Apple Stores (Soho especially), with their pews, lecterns/pulpits, and a downright sacramental feel as you watch the attentive, worshipful brethren at each tutorial.

Editors and producers these days go to great lengths to explain the big difference between what some call “god,” or “spiritual,” or “sacred,” and secular events and heroes. Strange, but they seem to imply that the secular inhabits some higher moral ground, as if what it represents is, in fact, the creation of something far higher. Secular is their religion and Jobs was their high priest. Gosh, they might even have to believe in some secular afterlife now that he is gone.

The Times obit mentioned The Whole Earth Catalogue twice. This is entirely correct. As I write this on a MacBook, with my iphone ready in my shirt pocket, two old copies of that back to earth, DIY bible sit nearby. Jobs combined the best of hippie-dom with the emerging new technologies and a keen personal sense of design. Few remember that Stewart Brand’s W.E.C. came at around the same time the Department of Defense lent the early internet system to universities. The marriage of the two created The Well ( ), the first social network. Jobs knew all about that progression; he fused it all together in tasteful packages, which made us all want a piece.

In the early days of Apple, Jobs rented a theatre so that all of his employees could see the first Star Wars movie. He was himself a unique combination of both Darth and Yoda, with the fierce focus and combativeness of the one and the lyricism and universal trust of the other.

We are not going to get one like this again in our lifetimes. If he had a message, it was that we are going to have to become that one in  billions of small ways.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Through Tommy Davis Eyes: Part I

"...You’re not going to believe this, Houston, but up close here at Tranquility, the moon appears to have, and I'm really not kidding, red-stitched seams on it. It looks…well, it looks exactly like a ... baseball...a big, beautiful celestial baseball..."
  - Neil Armstrong, from The Secret Tapes, July 20, 1969

Okay, so I made-up that quote. But, man's first moonwalk served as an acceptable explanation for an otherwise inexplicable event that occurred later that same year...the New York Mets victory in the World Series.

Who could blame them? There was simply no rational explanation for baseball's sorriest franchise winning a Series in only its eighth year of existence, previously notable for far less than stellar accomplishments. The Mets left the Cubs, who had blown the division lead in a swoon; the Braves, whom they whipped 3-0 in the playoff; and the Orioles, whom they defeated in that Series calling the whole thing totally…loony.

And then, there is always divine intervention, which does happen with some frequency in baseball, particularly, one way or the other,  with the Boston Red Sox. Think 2004, or Buckner’s legs about this year?

On Wednesday September 28, the Yankees, leading Tampa Bay 7-6, had two outs and two strikes on a .108 pinch-hitter, Dan Johnson. While, in Baltimore, around the same time, ace-reliever Jonathan Papelbon and the Red Sox led the Orioles 3-2 with two out and two-strikes in the bottom of the ninth. Back in Tampa (actually St. Pete), Johnson hit a curve ball that had hung above the plate like a moon-size Shiny Bright ornament for an “improbable” homer. The Orioles got two straight doubles and a single and won. Rays in playoffs, Sox into history books. Fans on their knees...again.

And consider the same exact date in 1941. On the last day of the season, Ted Williams heroically chose to hit in a double-header and went 6 for 8 to finish with a .406 batting average, the last time any player batted .400 or better. Did he win the MVP Award that decisive year in history? He did not. Joe Dimaggio of the Yankees hit in 56 straight games that same year. Was it a coincidence that a few months before Pearl Harbor, baseball provided fans with the sustenance of two miracles? Unlikely.

A baseball, of course, is not really a heavenly sphere. On the other hand, perhaps only a supreme being could have created the game itself.  Note that we refer to baseball almost exclusively as a game, unlike, football, which we always refer to as a sport.  Clearly the creator wanted us to play games and enjoy ourselves in a leisurely fashion; rather than try to crash into each other with the intent to do grievous harm to another person's body parts, or jump up and down as if some kind of nasty ants were biting us after something as simple as a tackle.

October is upon us, bringing with it the mighty confluence of two currents running through the American culture: baseball and football. And yes, we might go so far as to say that one is born into this world seeing through baseball eyes or football eyes.

Are the two so very different? Glad you asked. For an answer, please see Part II, below.

Ed Notes: *the author wishes to point out that the Mets traded Tommy Davis to the white Sox in 1967, bringing Al Weiss and another Tommy, Agee, to the Mets, both of whom played important roles in that 1969 victory. Agee made one of the Series’ most famous catches of all time. Without Tommy Davis, no Agee: no Agee, maybe no miracle. 

Through Tommy Davis Eyes: Part II


“…All boys and many girls are born into this world with either baseball eyes or football eyes…. And there is little that parents can do about it…                       
  - Dr, Benjamin Spock, from The Unexpurgated Baby And Child Care

Or, as The Bard or some Bard said: "To kick is human, to homer is divine."

Football appeals to our inner corporate side and might even have been created by a corporate strategy team. There are four quarters, a CEO-like quarterback, 100-yard field, 10-yard first down, meeting after meeting called “huddles,” binders full of plays (strategies).

And, there's that college draft thing, where football team HR departments hire players; and thereafter their college is mentioned just about every time they introduces themselves, touch the ball, make a tackle, or just plain run out of bounds. Why should we care about which college these guys didn't graduate from after failing Introduction To Parks & Rec four times?

Baseball drives upright corporate-types nuts, which is why MLB’s own suits try and fail to straighten it out all the time. Why nine innings, when eight or ten would have been so much more sensible? Bases are ninety-feet apart, not 100. The pitcher's mound stands 60 ft. 6 inches from home plate.; that final 6 inches is perhaps the most important piece of real estate on the field, since it is the most critical part of every pitch’s path to home plate. How did we know to do that?

And, what about the fact that after the proper infield has been laid out and the correct foul line angles set, every ballpark's outfield can be different, like Central Park is different from Boston Common. Think of the magnificent Wrigley, the Fenway Monster, or the Mets’ new loony-bin, Citi Field, a homer-less child if there ever was one.

Central Park
Time is notably less significant in baseball than in football. Football’s clock is an integral part of just about every play, is constantly mentioned by announcers, and, indeed, can even decide what plays to run. Baseball has no clock, needs no clock, answers to no clock; a game meanders, players wait in the field, on deck, in the dugout and bullpen. Baseball is a game of waiting and patience, while football is frenetic; hence the work for a run…rush.

Can football’s most exciting plays, a long run or a pass for a touchdown rival the home run? Like many corporations, far too often football teams stall when nearing the goal (unlike them, teams can’t lie about this) and have to settle for a field goal. In baseball, as in life, we call that “Getting To Third Base,” which is not the real thing at all. There is no substitute for a home run, no such thing as settling for half-a homer.

We are entering a season in which two local football teams around the country will face each other in rivalries that have recurred for decades, even a century, as in the case of my own high school and its bumbling rival*. Some fans’ whole year will be made or broken by the outcome of these games. Many valiant or silly things might happen during the game on the field or in the stands. This is fine stuff as far as it goes.

But, if you were brought into this world with baseball eyes, these will be incidental events, emotionally- heightened at times to be sure, but, in the end, merely human, with only very few exceptions for miracle finishes, immaculate receptions.

October baseball and its new cousin, an MLB corporate invention if there ever was one, November baseball, is much more likely to show you something that might never have happened before and which will have no rational purpose for happening when it does, causing you to look to the heavens in search of understanding....

...Until next season...

  Ed Note: *Fordham Prep. The Xavier-Fordham Prep Thanksgiving Day rivalry began in 1883. Xavier, founded in 1847, numbers among its graduates Justice Antonin Scalia, Times sportswriter Dave Anderson, and weatherman al Roker. Nobody is sure what FP's L'il Rams do after they graduate.


Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday: Weather, Sports, Milestones


Weather: High Tide: on time, Low Tide: later
                 Sunrise: did,  Set: this evening
                 Moonrise: Up, Set: Game Time, Bronx

The Tamp Bay Rays, who actually play in St. Petersburgh, down to their last strike in bottom of ninth, pinch hit Dan Johnson, a .108 hitter, probably not even a household name of note in his own household.

The Yankees un-Mo, Cory Wade, with three bases empty, unleashes a...slow curve that hangs above home plate like a Shiny Brite on Christmas morning
for wide-eyed Dan, who uncorks a home run to right. A miracle.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the real Jonathan Papelbon, about to save the Sorry September Sox, with two-out, two-strikes and none on in the bottom of the Oriole ninth, provides two doubles and a single and there will be no Christmas Stockings for these Sox.

General Services Administration officials were thrilled to announce that they had only rented 500,000 sq ft. in World Trade Center Tower 1. They had been contemplating renting 1,000,000 sq ft. Phew! The building's owners and agents were also thrilled, since they did not want too many bureaucrats mixing with the likes of Conde Nast editors and other high-life tenants. GSA will pay a "bargain rate" of $50-something psf.

Apparently, nobody got around to asking why GSA bureaucrats needed to be in the building in the first place, or even on Manhattan Isle at all, since it is one of the most expensive places on earth. Why not Long Island City, or Brooklyn? Everyone moves to Brooklyn to save...except GSA. All the powers that be seem to think this is a wonderful idea, which is all the more reason to make them the powers that were.

       Little Red Jeep That Could
       Born: September 1996
       Nationalities: American (Chrysler) , German (Daimler), American     (Cerberus), Italian (Fiat)
                                           Milestone: 50,006, September 28, 2011

Grandfather Willy, LCI