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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sperry, Sperry Good For Your Feet

Sperry Venetian Navigator $80

If you happen to get stuck in the rain for three days in Emerald Isle, NC, you will try to find stuff to do. You might go see a movie, and, when you exit, look across the way and find H's Shoes (252-354-6011), where you can buy a pair of Sperry Navigators.

These are more comfortable cousins of the Geox shoe, whose soles are on the thin side. This is not your grandfather's Sperry moc, although, he would probably like them, since they feel like slippers and look good enough to wear just about anywhere you'd really want to be going. He would want you to have a pair, I'm sure.

If you do not plan on going to Emerald Isle, too bad, but you or a person who loves to buy things for you (as in my own case), can still get some here; they also come in black:

Ed Note: You can waterproof these with various kinds of shoe wax. Timberland has a good one. And, if you worry about mocs getting worn or scuffed, you can shine them up yourself with the one and only Meltonian Shoe Cream:  Also available at Occhicone's Fine Leather Goods, 42 N. Main St. Port Chester, NY and other places who know what's best for shoes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Tar-Heel Chronicles

Carolina Blue Sky
They say that traveling to another part of the world will give you a new perspective on the part where you live, and, having taken a trip to coastal North Carolina, I can say that it's true.

The fact that it rained for three straight days and I had to look at the beach from my hotel window 200 yards or so away probably helped in this process, if that is what it is. We have fallen in love with that word "process" and, if you wonder what it is, it is anything that takes a really, really long time and there is an excellent chance that in the end, when you get there, it won't work. An example might be the national "Budget Process," or a "Foreclosure Process," or, as you might already know the "hiring process."

In general, we have replaced the word "system" with the word process. As in political system, which works like a clock, unlike political process, which just keeps on ticking. A system, in case you wonder, is something that actually works pretty damn well and doesn't take its time, which explains why it is a seldom used word these days, especially around Wash DC.

Where were we? Oh yes, we were traveling in coastal North Carolina, where all of the people seem to be very courteous and helpful, and also on the big side from eating fried chicken, hush-puppies and an assortment of, well, processed food. Sorry, but it's true.

Wilber's BBQ
One thing you realize down there is that there is a very good reason for North Carolina to exist as a state. Carolina people especially love football and vehemently root for the college teams like Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest, East Carolina. They also root for their one pro team (if you don't count the Division I colleges as pro), the Carolina Panthers (this is a kind of bobcat).

In basketball season, the entire state roots for either Duke or North Carolina, or maybe little Davidson, and for another pro team, the Carolina Bobcats (this is a kind of panther).

Aside from that, Carolina is a very patriotic state. Near Emerald Isle, where I was staying is Camp Lejeune, which is to Marines what Yankee Stadium is to baseball, but way more serious and important. The Marines, by the way, are definitely a system.

Bucky Fuller
If it helps, a man named Buckminster Fuller invented something called synergistics and one of its laws, if I remember my Whole Earth Catalogue correctly, is that "energy running through a system acts to organize that system." Generally speaking, money runs through a process, a lot of it, and very little energy.

A whole lot of energy is running through the Marines and you can almost feel it, while driving around down there and attending the wedding of a terrific Marine Captain and his attractive wife, which is why I was there in the first place.

And, as we said up-top, in the second place, I was getting a new perspective on my old state, New York. I don't even have an old perspective on my new state, Connecticut, yet, and can barely spell it; but, it's a process, and I know you'll understand.

What I realized while traveling was that there really is no reason for the state of New York to exist anymore at all. It doesn't have any college football powers to speak of, with the possible exception of Syracuse U, whose glory days are long gone. Two of their pro football teams don't even play in the state; they play in New Jersey, and the Buffalo Bills have exactly zero fans below Albany, which is really, really low.

At one time, there may have been some good reason to have a New York State. Its western regions were considered to be the colonial America's western region. Later, the Erie Canal brought commercial goods besides furs, down to Albany, where it could then flow down to New York City, whose real name was New Amsterdam. That was a sensible and prosperous system of trade.

Today, we wonder why Albany exists at all beyond its capacity to be the Process Center of The Universe, There are more processes in Albany than just about any other place except Wash DC and Brussels, Belgium. Why is this so? How did it come about? Why should we care? Why don't we just get rid of it?

Albany Process Center
Well, one reason we don't get rid of it is that there is a new Democratic Prin...sorry, Governor, Andrew Cuomo. The Democratic powers that be and their media cohorts have built Gov. Cuomo up to be a very viable candidate for President in 2016 and they are very mindful of protecting his legacy. To date, this legacy consists of 1) a bill capping annual increases of real estate taxes at 2%, meaning that your taxes can only rise 27% in ten years, and 2) A Gay Marriage Bill. Many are suggesting that the Governor stop right there, and, apparently he is listening.

The New York Times recently ran a fawning report on Gov. Cuomo's visit to a sports-car rally, where he took his Corvette. Now, if, say, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey wasted his time at a Corvette rally instead of solving budget, education, or pension problems, the Times would have painted him a fat, lazy, wealthy, elite, inconsiderate, sloth of a governor. Instead, they portrayed Governor Cuomo as just a regular kind of guy, even though nobody ever called him Andy, only Andrew.

Anyway, it seemed pretty clear upon our return to LaGuardia that New York lacks the same cohesive quality we saw in North Carolina and that we would be better off placing Rochester and Buffalo in Ohio, creating a new state for New York City, closing Albany entirely and making Pennsylvania a whole lot bigger by adding everything else known as "upstate" New York to that fine state.

Anytime you can replace a process with a system, it's a good thing.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Leaves Of Gas: In Praise Of...The Rake


The implement shown on the left is called a rake.

When I was a young man, nobody needed to explain to anyone else what this implement was or its uses.

Today, despite the fact that the invention of the rake was one of the seminal moments in human history, ranking right up there with the wheel and the Wiffle-Ball, we need to tell nearly everyone what it is and why it is so important to them and us, especially the young ones, who may never have seen one.

In the olden days, before 1980 or so, people used this tool in order to gather leaves in autumn or, as it is more popularly and descriptively known, fall. The rake made a pleasant  scraping sound when used on paved walkways and roads, and a more muffled, yet no less wonderful sound on lawns, like combing your hair ( people carried combs in their purses and pockets in those days like we carry phones today).

Amazingly, autumn leaves were once treated as fairly harmless inconveniences. We gathered them or even burned them, but we did not fear them as we fear leaves today, as the dangerous environmental and aesthetic hazard they apparently pose.

Contrary to current understanding, there was a time in recent history, when there simply was no urgent need to gather leaves at any other time of year, except autumn.

In winter, spring and summer, if a few haphazard leaves happened to "fall," say from a hurricane, people actually just left them there on the ground, and this was not a crime subject to a heavy fine or lengthy period of banishment from a community.

Today, of course, we treat fallen leaves and other plant material as real threats, which must be quickly and loudly blown, gathered, bagged, trucked and eradicated.  Someone has decided that a leaf or two or more can be detrimental to our way of life, or at least our old way of life, which was much, much better than our current way of life, but we don't remember exactly why.

And, so, we have developed a special system of 24/7/365 professional leaf removal services. This industry provides thousands of jobs and is the one area in which we can definitely say that we dominate in a way that China can only dream about doing, aside form the fact that most "blowers" are made there.

These days, we attack and pulverize leaves: the earlier in the day the better, but we do it all day, if needed, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. We have also discovered that leaves are attracted to loud noises, and this requires more powerful implements requiring electricity or, as is more often the case with professionals, gasoline.

You can see one of these gas-powered machines at rest to the left. Note that the little pile of leaves next to it is only for display purposes. In reality, this baby blows leaves so fast, hard, and far, along with all kinds of dirt, rocks and debris that there are no little piles of leaves.

Did we mention that it is also very, very loud? It sounds like like a small jet plane taking off from your lawn or a million billion biblical-style locusts on their way to Mt. Sinai or the Fertile Crescent. But, remember, leaves do not hear well, so it is entirely necessary to blast that volume.

Just last Saturday, we were playing a much too quiet game of doubles, when, much to our amazement, a man with a gas-powered-leaf-blower (women tend to use electric models, tethered to a socket by a long power line like space-walkers), a veritable Harley Davidson blower, started in on some renegade September leaves.

Gone was the sound of a sail line flapping against a mast, gone were the gulls squawking atop the boathouse, and gone, gone, gone were the sounds of racquet strings striking fuzzy balls.

Gone was the gentle and harmonious sound of a rake scraping its musical way.

Gone, but not forgotten by the few, the loyal, the dreamers.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Send In The... Designers!

1) Theo Jansen is a Dutch artist/engineer. He wanted to make something beautiful and lasting, which is not an unusual thing for an artist to want to do.

He also wanted it to be practical, to help solve a particular Dutch problem, the erosion of the beaches or strands. That is not an unusual thing for an engineer to want to do.

So, naturally, he created the Strandbeests.

These lifelike creatures are made almost entirely of pvc-pipe, and were built to walk the beaches, using wind-power, a very Dutch-like trick, and, eventually, to shovel sand from one place to another.

We will not waste words describing this whole process to you, since Ian Frazier does an infinitely better job than we could do in the September 5 issue of The New Yorker. And, even more importantly, Theo Jansen and BBC do a very fine job in just 3 minutes at:
We think that Jansen's Strandbeests are further evidence that we must get our artists, engineers and designers more intimately involved creating elegant and practical new ways of doing things: things like schools, healthcare, tax codes, finance, diplomacy, and all kinds of waste. We keep trying to solve these design-problems with political solutions. Hint: that approach isn't working.

By the way, Jansen was partially supported by grants from the Dutch government, while creating his work. Some would say, based on philosophy or dogma, that it was a waste of taxpayer dough, just like Ferdinand & Isabella wasting their dough on Columbus's silly voyage on which he got totally lost.
Serendipity is a bargain in any age.

2) We take the simplest things for granted, because they become so ingrained in our daily lives. But,  when we face big problems, we forget simplicity and tend to look for big solutions. This is almost always the wrong approach.

I was reminded of this, while dropping-off my daughter at JFK over the weekend, and seeing the departing and arriving travelers strolling through the terminals with S, M, L, XL, and even XXL luggage...

...all on wheels.

Humans have done their best to make air-travel difficult at best and miserable at worst. JFK itself is a great example. We used to drive through "Idlewild," as it was called, on our way to Long Island's beaches just when airlines were introducing the first intercontinental jets. At the same time, renowned architects and designers were crafting what seemed like a space-age depot.

Today, JFK is a mish-mash of poorly designed roads, parking garages, signage, and terminals. Arriving and departing passengers have to walk miles to and from gates and counters. NYC still has no decent public transport to its airports. Isn't it more than a bit strange that we have designed luggage in such a practical way without its losing any aesthetic value, while, at the same time, being completely unable to design any comfort or much intelligence into the rest of the air-travel process?

A family-owned company, Skyway Luggage Company of Seattle, introduced the first commercially successful rolling luggage in 1972, but widespread use of these smart products did not really occur until the 1990's.
Skyway Luggage

Today, no seasoned traveler would even think about traveling without wheels.

But, that's the point; it's such a good design idea, we don't even think about it anymore. More proof that we need designers working on solutions to big problems, not just fashion or entertainment. They tend to see simple, elegant, and affordable solutions. Could an airline or airport authority have figured out the wheel thing? Please.

Why are we wasting so much tech and design talent on ways to entertain ourselves? Let's get talented people working on the really important stuff! Imagine the real JFK exhorting our scientists and engineers to improve color TV or drive-in cinemas and burger joints, instead of getting to the moon within a decade?!

Where is the leadership setting these high goals, exhorting and inspiring young talent to dream much, much bigger than the next cool app, big IPO, few $billion? Why not challenge every high school and college student in the country to offer technical and design solutions to some of our biggest problems?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Back To School...Way Back

- After a recent move, the author discovered an accordion file, filled with old his school school records going back over fifty years, meticulously kept by his mother, who, he believes, instinctively knew this moment of discovery would come, or, more likely, was just having a good laugh, at long last. The author would like to dedicate this to his mother, Mrs. Rosemary Welstead McDermott and acknowledge, once again, that there are indeed no coincidences in this life.
1st & 2nd Grade A's
Some moms manage to keep that cherished baseball card collection or maybe your first mitt, or that Polo Grounds ticket signed by Willie Mays. Others secret-away an autograph book, a pristine Beatle’s White Album, or the racquet Pancho Gonzales tossed (or was it threw?) at you, when you were nine.
Evidently, my own mom, had other things in mind, because she seems to have kept every academic record related to my not always impressive school days. Maybe it was because she was a teacher herself. Or, maybe it was just payback; she always had a great sense of humor.
When someone mentions “Back to School” to me, I do not get all warm and fuzzy inside. My most lasting memories of school are not particularly pleasant ones.
For example, I have a recurring dream; and, in the dream, I am once again on that hilltop, above the grungy college town at my first college, in a dorm with students who are now one-third my age. I am back there trying once more to get it right, except that once more I have not read the prescribed books, have not attended classes, have been “on the road,” so to speak, in Boston and New York. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I am going to fail that exam, Shakespeare most likely...for the fortieth time in a row!
Fortunately, I am always saved by remembering, either in my dream or upon waking-up (always with fingers numb from that hilltop cold ), that I did eventually succeed in getting my BA from another college and there will be no test.

And, what about high school? Glad you asked: I attended, voluntarily I might add, a Jesuit-military school. I think that several dictionaries still use this as an example of the word: redundant. Xavier, founded in 1847, is still thriving as a civilian institution on West 16th Street in Manhattan. We spent a great deal of time in complete fear of an earthbound supreme being called The Prefect Of Discipline, one Father Ed Heavey. Fierce does not quite measure up to describing his religious fervor in the pursuit of truants, malingerers, and underage drinkers at nearby McSorley's Saloon ( I met him much later in “real” life and he was a delightful guy; the twinkle in his eye had replaced the darts).
In those days, most of my classmates wanted to make money later by being doctors, lawyers, or engineers (several students each year got into MIT and Cal Tech). If someone had said they wanted to work in a bank, we would have...well, they would have regretted admitting to such a silly thought. Who knew?

Now, here’s a strange discovery from the file: my Kuder Preference Test results, probably from 7th or 8th grade. For those to young to remember, this test helped to identify your talents and interests. My results, shown to the left, are off the charts high (92 percentile) in only one area: Literary. Since no adult ever mentioned this to me as being meaningful, I have to believe that they thought that I had cheated in order to score so high or that it was just weird. Many editors over the years have felt the same way.

After fifty years of wondering about why school became so difficult for me after 8th grade, I found a clue at last while reviewing all of these documents. 
Grades K-8 for me were all taught by women teachers, mostly by nuns, who were, contrary to media characterization and popular belief, very dedicated, nurturing, caring people in my experience. All of my K-8 classes were co-ed. I excelled in that environment (okay, I did cry the first day of K: not recorded in the file), and was at or near the top of my class each year with averages in the low-mid 90’s. I was voted class President in 8th grade.
Then, the decline. 
Brit Politics
Looking back through the documentary evidence there is proof that for the next six years I was, at best, an average student, and at worst, well...worse. During those six years, I attended all-male schools, and had, as I recall, a single woman teacher, for one Library Science course.
As soon as I got back into a co-ed environment, in my second college, where my best prof happened to be a woman, Dr. Hayum, I began to excel again (even while working full time).
Moral of our story: Some (?) guys just learn better when they’re  around women.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Neither Brains, Nor Sleet, Nor Sleep, Nor...

1) On Monday/Tuesday this week, the lamiacs at the US Open, in the appropriately named Flushing Meadow, made their best corporate customers and guests wait two hours to even ENTER Arthur Ashe Stadium at 8PM to see any tennis. They were treated to a great comeback-from-the-brink win by the No.1 Seed, Caroline Wozniacki.          

But, let's face facts: these fans were there to see Fed, even if some of them had never seen a tennis match in their lives. Many TV fans felt the same way. So, what did those true incompetents of the USTA and US Open do for them? They began F's match at around 11:30PM.

F, interviewed before the match, said all the right things, sort of. Like Maria Sharapova earlier in the tourney, he mentioned this kind of thing as being "part of the NY Open." Well, that's nice, for the players. But, what about the real fans, the ones who know and care about tennis, play tennis, and want their children and grand-children to play tennis? And, what about the corporate clients paying top dollar to insult their guests by making them stand in long lines, pay for their own food, and then get home at 2:30AM?

Not to mention the advertisers in what ESPN calls "Tennis in Prime Time." Please. The clients were texting and emailing their demands for commercial replacements or refunds, while on their way home in their limos and falling asleep on their comfy pillows.

And, the USTA wonders what has happened to tennis in the US? Answer: them!

2) ...and speaking of tennis's loss of popularity in the US (only 11% of players in the 2011 Open are Americans), maybe it's time that ESPN and the USTA examine the fact that one of the key players in the future development of US tennis is John McEnroe.

How can he continue to serve two masters without at least the appearance of a conflict of interest? Would he have passively accepted an 11:30PM start when he was a player? Where was his sense of outrage on behalf of the live fans,  TV fans and advertisers? Could it be that he did not want to criticize those with whom he has an important relationship...the USTA itself?

Can he be serious!

It's fine to believe that true New Yorkers think nothing of late-night/early morning events. But, most of these people are not important to the future development of players, since they care for the event and telling their friends and colleagues that they were there more than they care for the game so many others  love.

3) While The Swiss Fed was beginning his late night repast and quick consumption of somebodiova or other, I was nodding-off thinking, "They'd never do this to Derek Jeter." Wrongeddy-Wrong!

The Yankees began  their game against the hapless Orioles at 11:08PM Tuesday and finished after 2AM Wednesday. The Yankees. Powerless. Did they offer discounted food/beverages to the fans at the game? Please, MLB has the same screw-the-fans attitude as the Open flushers do.

Is there a connection between the fact that sports fans accept complete exploitation and manipulation and the general American malaise and political/economic decline? (See item #4 below for answer)

4) Fans of the US Postal Service woke this week to find that their favorite team, which hasn't won a pennant or much of anything else in decades will be about $10Billion in the hole this year. Also, they need a quick $5.5Billion to avoid a default. 

Loyal USPS fans, who so lovingly open ten pieces of junk mail from near-bankrupt banks every day, were more than mildly surprised by this. Strange, but they thought that someone would have done something a long time ago to avoid such a, well, Greek-like thing to happen. One Senator's solution was to ask more citizens to write letters to each other. We didn't make that up. Maybe he should run the USTA?

Oh yes, we forgot to say that the Postmaster General has recently wanted to close some post offices, eliminate Saturday deliveries, and lay-off 120,000 workers. If that last number surprises you, sports fans, imagine our surprise when we found out that this is only 10% of workers and that there is a law saying that all postal lay-offs (potential Ex-Feds? Sorry) are illegal. Talk about a federal jobs program!

5) A certain Alfred E. Newman used to wonder, "What, me worry?" I think that even
 he would be seriously thinking more along the lines of "Me worry? Me Gone!"

They say Portugal is lovely at this time of year.

Ed Note: We are not big fans of our competitor Thomas Friedman of the Times, but we think his referral to the following article is noteworthy for anyone who cares about the truth regarding what is really happening in the world today: