Tuesday, February 28, 2012

News of the Last Few Days

Reason to Celebrate: Sorry for the delay in reporting on my jubilee bar mitzvah day last Saturday. You can exhale now—all went well, especially Ellie’s singing. As usual, she emotionally charged the congregation, even bringing one woman to tears, according to our cantor.

As mentioned a few days ago, my secular birth date is March 6, a day I usually have associated with the fall of the Alamo. But thanks to an article in today’s NY Times, I can now relate March 6 to a happier occasion, the anniversary of the first sale by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) of an Oreo sandwich cookie in 1912. To control my blood sugar and triglycerides levels I no longer indulge in Oreo binges, but I just might buy a package to put out for the poker game I’m hosting that evening. Hopefully my friends will be kind enough to let me win for a change.

Hearing My Age: Overall, I thought the Academy Awards Sunday night was a feh, or in today’s word, meh, show. No real excitement. If the academy brain trust was trying to convince a younger audience that going to the movies was more special than watching a DVD at home or on your computer, they could have picked actors more readily identifiable with their demographic. Heck, even Adam Sandler, for all his adolescent movie persona, is 45.

As for Billy Crystal, what I could hear of his opening act was okay, but let me be honest, I couldn’t hear half of his lyrics either because he didn’t sing loud enough or the band overwhelmed him. And speaking of the band, the breakaway shots showing the band playing before commercials were really bad.

Playing Hooky: The bar mitzvah weekend was capped by a Saturday afternoon visit from our niece Julie, husband Matt and their children Maggie and Harrison. The kids were interested in playing with Finley who found it fun to be entertained by bigger folk just eight and six years his senior. Maggie, however, soon retreated to the couch and wasn’t feeling up to staying with us during dinner. She felt a little warm so Julie asked if we had a thermometer.

Under the mouth it went. By the time Dan found Finley’s Exergen Temporal Thermometer, the one you scan across the forehead, Maggie’s temperature clicked in at 101.2. The Exergen quickly recorded a temp just 0.1 degrees higher. By the next day Maggie was diagnosed with pneumonia, but she’s doing better today, glad to report.

Meanwhile, the Exergen lived up to its advertised claims as being easy to use and virtually mistake free. A far cry from a temperature-taking incident when Ellie was a little older than Finley’s two and a quarter years. We were using a rectal thermometer back then. Gilda stuck it in and during the three minutes it was supposed to reside in Ellie’s butt, my dear wife fell asleep. So did Ellie. When they awoke about two hours later, Ellie whimpered, “Mommy, the thermometer is still in my tushy.”

Yes, the Exergen Temporal Thermometer would prevent any such mishaps from occurring. But had such technology existed back in the 1980s we might well have missed such classic movies as E.T. and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as Elliott and Ferris would not have been able to fake their illnesses to play hooky. Off they would have trooped to school.

Passing a Compliment: About 10 days ago Ellie complimented me for being “prolific.” At least I took it as a compliment. Anyway, it’s hard not to find something to write about when there’s so much going on and, with a discerning eye, so much worthy of comment or just simply noting.

Take, for example, a recent headline of an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times: “How to Halt the Butchery in Syria.” How could I not point out the irony of the author’s name: Anne-Marie Slaughter!?!

As long as we’re on the subject of Syria, the plaintive cries for help by those opposed to the Assad regime are heart-rending. But I wonder why it seems the cries are aimed at Western ears when it should be fellow Arabs that should be the first responders. It’s not as if Arab princes and potentates do not have the money or the means to provide relief.

Bottled Up: The economy is said to be improving, but the other day, for the first time in a long time, I noticed someone culling through the recycling bins on our cul de sac looking for redeemable bottles.

Back Page: Okay, after several comments from loyal readers wanting to know why I haven’t written about Jeremy Lin of the Knicks, let me remind people I am not a basketball fan. I did try a few times to see what all the hype was about, but every time I tuned into a game, Lin either was on the bench because the Knicks were way ahead or the Chinese-American sensation was in the middle of a not very productive stretch where he turned the ball over repeatedly and looked just plain overmatched. Still, there’s no denying the Knicks are playing better because of him.

P.S. I hope everyone noticed—no gratuitous Lin-puns.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Movie Years

As most of you will, I’ll be watching the Academy Awards tonight. I can’t say I have any favorites among the contenders for best picture, best actor/actress, or best director. In truth, I think 2011 was a rather mediocre film year, perhaps one reason moviegoing attendance hit a 16 year low.

Contrast last year’s menu with that of 1939, considered by many to be the penultimate movie year, a period that gave us such classics as Gone With the Wind, Gunga Din and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Here’s my list of 22 exceptional movies from 1939. I could have easily added another dozen. If you haven’t seen any of these flicks, do yourself a favor and order them from Netflix, or see them on Turner Classic Movies when they appear:

Destry Rides Again
Drums Along the Mohawk
Each Dawn I Die
The Four Feathers
Gone with the Wind
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Gunga Din
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Little Princess
Love Affair
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Of Mice and Men
Only Angels Have Wings
The Roaring Twenties
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle
The Wizard of Oz
The Women
Wuthering Heights
Young Mr. Lincoln

As good as 1939 was, a case can be made that 1962 provided equally engrossing film fare.

Here are 19 must-see films from 1962:

Advise and Consent
Birdman of Alcatraz
Cape Fear
David and Lisa
Days of Wine and Roses
Lawrence of Arabia
Lonely Are the Brave
The Longest Day
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The Manchurian Candidate
The Miracle Worker
The Music Man
Mutiny on the Bounty
Requiem for a Heavyweight
Ride the High Country
To Kill a Mockingbird
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

The pageantry of tonight’s Oscars telecast, red carpet walk and the coverage of the after-parties might be far superior to 1939 and 1962, but any objective view of filmmaking would find 2011 a mediocre year, not, to borrow the name of a film from 1982, my favorite year.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bar Mitzvah Jubilee

Tomorrow I will celebrate the 50th anniversary of my bar mitzvah, the coming of age ritual Jews the world over celebrate for 13-year-old boys and, in many communities, for girls, as well. As I did half a century ago, I will wear the tallit, the prayer shawl, my parents bought for me as I chant the haftorah and lead the congregation in the musaf service. I will be just as nervous as I was the first time.

I'm not overly observant, though I think I am spiritual and religious in my own way. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Here's what I remember from that first entry into adulthood: Frustrated trying to buy an off-the-rack suit for me because I was too thin for any to fit, my father took me to a custom tailor not far from his factory on Broadway near W. 4th Street. He picked out two fabrics for sports coats. I didn't like either pattern, but this being late 1961, my truly rebellious days had not kicked in. Besides, I didn't fit into anything ready-made. Every few weeks I would take the subway to Manhattan for another fitting until the jackets were ready shortly before my bar mitzvah day, February 10, 1962 (my sectarian birthday is March 6; according to the Jewish calendar, my birth coincided with the weekly torah reading of Terumah, the segment devoted to the building of the Mishkan, the tabernacle, in the desert. My haftorah portion deals with King Solomon’s construction of the First Temple in Jerusalem).

Though a good Hebrew student, I was not confident in my ability to read from the torah as most bar mitzvah boys did, so I didn’t. Truth is, I suffered from stage fright. Still do, though I’ve learned to overcome most of it, and even enjoy speaking before groups of any size. Singing, however, still gives me the willies. I’ve taken some precautions this time, asking Ellie to sing several prayers.

My father was proud of my performance; he subsequently had me audio tape it for friends in Israel. He borrowed a reel-to-reel tape recorder for me to chant into. The tape was converted into records. But when we played the discs before sending them overseas we heard a disturbing background noise. It was the voice of our neighbor Charlie talking on his ham radio set. Our homes were attached row houses; his transmissions apparently came through our contiguous electrical lines. We had previously experienced interference from Charlie on our television set, but this was beyond the pale. There was, however, nothing we could do about it.

My bar mitzvah party was held at the Aperion Manor on Kings Highway in Brooklyn, the same catering hall where my brother celebrated his bar mitzvah four years earlier. For my party I wore a rented tuxedo sports jacket, burgundy with black stripes. Very chic. I liked the way I looked. My ears didn't stick out too far that night. I think I had a good time. Hard to say from the commemorative album, though in all honesty, I and most of my peers were really awkward looking. I danced the first dance with Adina Berzon, a twist, if I’m interpreting the picture in the album correctly. Upon further review, my ears did stick out. Ah, well...

It snowed the night before my bar mitzvah. Three to six inches. Fifteen years ago when I last sang my haftorah in synagogue it snowed 20 inches. As I mark the jubilee year of my bar mitzvah, it’s not supposed to snow, just rain Friday night, followed by a windy Saturday. My father used to say rain was a good omen when embarking on an auspicious undertaking.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Marketing's Future

There’s been a lot of media coverage recently on the state of marketing, especially in the digital world. Given all the data we mostly volunteer to turn over to marketers and advertisers, plus the data we are unaware are being collected about us, it’s not hard to accept the idea that commercial messages are being aimed at us in finer, more pinpointed detail. Thus, parents of newborns are inundated with coupons and promotions for baby food, toys, diapers and all the assorted paraphernalia that turn a once orderly home into a zone seemingly ravaged by a tornado.

It’s easy to comprehend how we are being singled out for email messages and direct mail campaigns. The NY Times recently ran an article focusing on how Target Stores mines data to relay come-ons to customers (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html?_r=1&ref=targetcorporation).

But so far, at least to my knowledge, our ability to fend off person-specific advertisements on our television screens has not been challenged. I believe in the next five to ten years, however, our defenses will be breached. Here’s how it will work:

Televisions increasingly are becoming inter-active. There have been test markets where viewers can order clothing and other items they see on TV shows, and I’m not talking about HSN or QVC. I mean, if you see a dress you like worn by Julianna Margulies on The Good Wife, you can click a few buttons on your TV remote and order it from, say, Nordstrom.

The next step in the marketers’ assault on “free” TV will demand we watch commercials. It will begin with the blockbuster shows, like Sunday’s upcoming Oscars telecast, and the Super Bowl, the Grammy Awards, the Tony Awards, the World Series. Each time there is a commercial break, you will have a choice of three ads to view. You choose your poison. Choose you must, or the show will not proceed, on your TV. It will be on permanent pause until you watch a commercial of your choice.

This competition for eyeballs will force marketers to upgrade the quality of their ads. Madison Avenue does not want you clicking on someone else’s creative. Moreover, it can be assumed that most of those who view an ad would be interested in the product or service featured, unlike today’s format that cannot guarantee anyone is. Commercials often are the time people retreat into the kitchen for a snack or go to the bathroom. They’ll still be able to do so, but when they return to couch-potato status they’ll have to engage a commercial to forward the action on the TV screen.

Networks will charge fees based on the number of impressions each commercial generates.

Please don’t say this idea is too technically advanced to occur. If you’ve been alive for any of the last 50 years you should not doubt the ability of computer wizards to map out this format and deliver it to your doorstep, er, I mean the cable-ready TV in your den. Once we get acclimated to this concept when watching the big shows, it’s a mere hop, skip and jump to everyday fare, except on premium stations like HBO and Showtime.

Oh, one more thing. Don’t think you’ll beat the system by taping shows for later viewing on your DVR. Those same computer wizards will figure out a way to prevent you from zipping through commercials.

Bottom line: Enjoy TV as we know it now for it will be forever changed by 2022.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Future of Downton Abbey

Spoiler Alert: Having predicted much of what transpired during the recent Super Bowl (http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2012/02/bragging-rights.html), I thought I’d take a shot at forecasting the plot lines to next season’s Downton Abbey, the last segment of the current run having been shown Sunday night on PBS. For those unfamiliar with the British soap opera of upper class and servant class mores and lives from before and after the first world war, you might want to skip this item. But for the rest of you who are smitten by the lusciousness and the lasciviousness of affairs upstairs and downstairs, here’s my ouija board outlook for season three:

The action will begin five years later, in 1925. Mary and Matthew will have had a child, a daughter.

Sybil and Branson’s child is a son, making him the sole male heir to the estate. Unless Mary and Matthew have a son, he will inherit the claim to Downton Abbey, a turn of events that visibly disturbs both the Earl of Grantham and Branson. The Earl cannot countenance the thought that a revolutionary, a working class chauffeur by trade, an interloper into his household, would sire the son who would succeed to his title. He is constantly urging Mary and Matthew to get on with it and have another child. They comply, but it’s a girl once more.

For his part, Branson is having difficulty adapting his thinking about class and place in society. He imagines all the good he could do splitting up Downton Abbey into parcels of land distributed to the country folk who live on the land. Sybil is torn between her love for Branson’s ideals and her family’s history.

The Countess of Grantham’s mother (a part already given to Shirley MacLaine) will be on hand to further the debate about regular people being part of the wealthy. She will have lively debates with the Dowager Countess of Grantham played by Maggie Smith.

Bates will be in prison for about five years. My best guess as to how he gets out is that the Countess’ maid, Sarah O’Brien, confesses she felt bad about telling Bates’ wife he had returned to Downton, that she secretly went off to London and killed her by lacing her tea with arsenic. Her confession releases Bates into the loving arms of Anna.

Season three ends as the stock market crashes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The GOP Cries Foul. Duh!

Republicans have cried foul, protesting President Obama’s newly submitted federal budget is nothing more than an election year campaign screed.

Duh! What did they expect? From the beginning of the republic politicians have used budgets and perks of office to advance their one true interest—getting themselves re-elected. If there is any shame in this process it is not the president’s blatant advocacy or the GOP’s “surprised” response, but rather the willingness of the media to extend time to the partisan debate without delving into details of what Obama and his detractors propose in their alternate visions of America going forward.

Actually, we have Newt Gingrich to thank for a preview of what any newly elected Republican president’s programs would be. Speaking after he lost the Florida primary to Mitt Romney, Gingrich previewed conservative action: repeal of Obamacare, repeal of Sarbannes Oxley financial reform and accountability, repeal of Dodd Frank banking reform and accountability, executive orders to end any overseas funding of abortions, a shift of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, immediate approval of the controversial oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.

In short, a Republican president would tear up any progressive legislation or rule enacted over the last 50 or so years to protect the health and rights of citizens and the environment.

Mitt Romney might have wanted to tack toward the center to enhance his appeal to independent voters in the general election, as was reported last week, but the rise of Rick Santorum as a “true conservative” alternative will prevent the former Massachusetts governor from doing anything but expressing his resolve that he is a “severe” conservative as he struggles to secure his party’s nomination.

Fallout from the Republican primary bloodbath is the rise in Obama’s favorability ratings, helped, no doubt, by more buoyant economic news. After a year in which the Republican-controlled House of Representatives failed to have any significant legislation to reduce unemployment enacted, after a primary season that has shifted its focus from the economy to social issues such as reproductive rights, Obama and his fellow Democrats are more confident of their prospects in November.

The GOP will continue to claim the president is engaging in class warfare. And they’d be right. Obama has tapped into latent anger, or Americans’ innate sense of fairness and desire for equal treatment under the law, to challenge the idea that wealthy citizens can legally pay less in taxes than their secretaries. It might be a touch of demagoguery by Obama, but it is playing well in the hinterlands.

As long as the GOP can be colored as the party that protects the rich while cutting benefits to the middle class, the working class and the needy, Republicans will have a tougher time unseating Obama, retaining control of the House and securing control of the Senate. A sure sign the GOP brain trust (is that an oxymoron?) understands this is the decision by Congressional Republicans to agree to an extension of the payroll tax reduction through the end of the year without demanding budget cuts to pay for it, a position House Speaker John Boehner adamantly held just a week ago.

Nixon’s the One: Imagine this—Democrats choose Nixon for president.

No, not THAT Nixon. I mean Jay Nixon, or more formally, Jeremiah Wilson Nixon, 55th governor of the Show Me state of Missouri.

The 2012 election hasn’t even come and gone, yet punsters already are calculating the field of possible 2016 Democratic candidates. Here’s a paragraph from David Leonhardt’s recent article in the NY Times.

“Several other governors — Deval L. Patrick of Massachusetts; Tim Kaine, another former Virginia governor; Christine O. Gregoire of Washington; John Hickenlooper of Colorado; Jay Nixon of Missouri — may also be tempted. Even some current mayors, including Cory A. Booker of Newark, Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and R. T. Rybak of Minneapolis, may be potential future candidates.” (For the full text from the paper’s Washington bureau chief, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/05/sunday-review/the-2016-election-already-upon-us.html?_r=1&scp=9&sq=nixon%20democrats&st=cse)

I don’t know much about Jay Nixon or his politics, but I am fairly confident there are lots of Democrats out there, especially those 40 and older, who would have a hard time pulling the lever, punching the chad or doing whatever else is necessary to vote for a candidate with the Nixon surname.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Motivate Me

Catching up on some reading recently, I came across a story from the October 2 NY Times Magazine section entitled, “The Motivational Speaker Smackdown” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/magazine/you-are-here-the-motivational-speaker-smackdown.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=jock%20elliott&st=cse). It described the annual competition of paid public speakers, the genre of orators who kick off sales meetings, conferences and conventions, the type of inspirational force Herman Cain fashioned himself to be after he retired as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and dedicated his livelihood to the trade show and banquet circuit, before he inspired himself to believe he was qualified to be president of the United States.

During the course of my 30-plus year business publishing career, I must have listened to more than 150 motivational speakers. Terry Bradshaw gave one of his first public speeches at one of my publication’s conferences, a talk he mostly reprised when he was inducted into the football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. During the first keynote speech I heard back in 1977, I learned from Ken Blanchard how to be a One Minute Manager. I listened as Jim Hayhurst, a member of the 1988 Canadian Mt. Everest climbing expedition, explained success comes from teamwork, from trusting in the competence of others, that you can’t do everything yourself. He related those truths as he told of the moment during the climb when his twentysomething son lost his footing and got wedged on an outcropping over a sheer drop of several thousand feet. Hayhurst wanted to be the one to toss him a lifeline, but he realized someone else had a better chance of success, for one inadvertent move by his son reaching for the rope could mean he would lose his balance and fall to his death. His trust was rewarded. Ultimately, the expedition failed to reach the peak, but they all came back alive.

Most motivational keynote speeches leave you with a warm feeling. Often emotionally charged, with lots of humor thrown in, they try to instill life-lessons during their hour-long time slot. One common, central theme is the individual can control his or her environment, both at work and at home. Presentations often draw on the personal experiences of the presenter, whether it was overcoming some tragedy or illness or accomplishing a heroic or athletic feat. Rarely do they translate into identifiable business experiences for the retail industry audience hearing them.

With the notable exception of when Randy Lewis spoke. He delivered such a powerful message in his first appearance at one of our conferences that I brought him back to speak to a different group of corporate leaders eight months later. Currently senior vice president of supply chain management for Walgreens, Lewis was senior vice president of the drug chain’s distribution and logistics division when I engaged him to speak at a supply chain summit in Oakland.

A Peace Corps veteran who worked his way through graduate school as an Arthur Murray dance instructor, Lewis related the unexpected rewards of staffing Walgreens’ distribution centers with handicapped workers. Now, most people when told about handicapped workers think of men and women who perform menial, repetitive tasks, such as sweeping floors or pushing mail carts. Lewis turned that paradigm on its head. He hired workers with severe cognitive disabilities to do the same jobs as non-handicapped staffers. He paid them the same wages. He used technology to simplify processes within the distribution centers, a decision that helped all workers perform at a higher level. In fact, the performance of many handicapped workers at Walgreens facilities exceeds expected norms.

Lewis’ dedication to hiring equality was fostered by his own son’s handicap. Not content to just find a place to warehouse his son during the work day, Lewis created an environment he willingly shares with other companies. When he finished his presentation, he truly had earned his standing ovation.

My Link to the Super Bowl Champs: Though an avid NY Giants fan, I don’t go overboard (at least in my estimation, not shared by Gilda). But in the wake of their Super Bowl triumph, I found myself reading articles about their road to victory I would not ordinarily spend time perusing. One blog I read late Saturday night traced their resurrection, from a 7-7 team to league champs, to their exposure to Afterburner Inc., a “management consulting firm founded by a former US Air Force Pilot (that) visited the NY Giants and gave them a seminar on process improvement” (http://www.ultimatenyg.com/2012-articles/february/from-7-7-to-super-bowl-champs-behind-the-ny-giants-turnaround.html).

It might sound a little suspect, one of those touchy-feely, feel-good seminars, but I can tell you from first-hand experience Afterburner is a dynamic program that stresses open and complete communication underpinned by zero tolerance for mistakes. Following the Afterburner seminar, the Giants’ defense, which had often looked helpless and disoriented during a four game mid-season losing streak, solidified. The return of injured players surely helped, but the principles of flawless execution espoused by Afterburner contributed as well. On its Web site Afterburner is promoting its link to the Giants’ success story (http://www.afterburnerseminars.com/home).

I approved Afterburner in 2005 to be the featured presenter at a conference produced by my magazine for some 80 retail industry senior executives. It was one of the most well-received conferences we ran. It’s rewarding to see the Giants came away with equally impressive results.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

New York in 10 Objects

If you had to pick 10 objects that told the story of New York City, actual items that could fit into a museum, not pictures of them, what would they be?

This exercise is not original to me. It’s an admitted rip-off of a feature from the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, the public radio station that is part of the National Public Radio network. In turn, the Lopate show was inspired by a BBC and British Museum series it is in the middle of broadcasting depicting the History of the World in 100 Objects.

Submissions to the Lopate Show had to be in by 5 pm Friday, February 10, so I’ve missed the deadline. Thus I’ve no need to keep my selections secret. Nor do I have to restrict my nominees to 10. To get the public started, Lopate offered three suggestions—an elevator from the Empire State Building, a bagel and a subway token.

Here are my choices for objects peculiarly New York in character with historical and/or social significance (I’ve restricted myself to items available from 1900 going forward, though some may have originated earlier). See if you agree and can cull them down to the 10 most significant. Or you can add your own iconic items. My Top 10 picks are at the bottom:

1. Slice of New York-style pizza
2. Nathan’s hot dog
3. Car from Coney Island’s Cyclone ride
4. Playbill from a Broadway show
5. Bloomingdale’s big b brown shopping bag
6. Interlocking N-Y Yankees logo on a baseball cap
7. Front page of the New York Times
8. Central Park bench
9. Checker taxi cab
10. Steel girder from the World Trade Center
11. Statue of the Wall Street bull
12. Ticker tape
13. The marquee of Harlem’s Apollo Theater
14. Art deco frieze from Radio City Music Hall
15. Sewing machine work station from the garment district
16. Manolo Blahnik shoe from Sex and the City
17. Ralph and Alice Cramden’s main room from The Honeymooners TV show
18. Ellis Island immigration stamp
19. A New Year’s Eve ball dropped at Times Square
20. TKTS theater booth
21. The detectives room from Law & Order TV show
22. Lions in front of the 42nd Street Public Library
23. Inside of a tenement apartment from the Lower East Side
24. A montage of magazine covers including Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, New York, The New Yorker, Time, Life, People, Look
25. Street sign of Madison Avenue
26. Menu from The Four Seasons or some other iconic restaurant
27. The steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
28. Part or whole Staten Island ferry
29. A bodega
30. Jackie Robinson’s cleats
31. Willie Mays’ baseball cap
32. Babe Ruth’s bat
33. Neon lights of Broadway
34. Fashion show runway
35. Pushcart
36. Looped showing of Woody Allen’s film “Manhattan”

My Top 10:
4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 19, 23, 24, 30,

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

All the News That's Fit to Print. Really?

If you read the front page article in the Arts section of the NY Times Wednesday you would have been informed of a plan by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to update the plaza in front of the world-renowned edifice. In the newspaper’s words, the project would “transform this four-block-long stretch along Fifth Avenue, from 80th to 84th Street, into a more efficient, pleasing and environmentally friendly space, with new fountains, tree-shaded allĂ©es, seating areas, museum-run kiosks and softer, energy-efficient nighttime lighting.”

Furthermore, you would have discovered the long overdue remake would be underwritten by a member of the museum’s board of trustees, David H. Koch (pronounced Coke), to the tune of $60 million. The article pointed out Koch is a philanthropist who previously pledged $100 million to renovate the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/arts/design/olin-designs-metropolitan-museum-a-new-fifth-avenue-plaza.html?_r=1).

But what the newspaper, whose page one motto is “All the News That’s Fit to Print”, didn’t say about Koch is he is among the most controversial personages of American politics. David H. Koch and his brother Charles G. are among the largest contributors to right wing causes, including political action committees dedicated to the defeat of President Barack Obama and the overturning of many if not all of the social benefit laws passed during his term of office and any of his Democratic predecessors. Heck, they’re probably against any progressive legislation Republican presidents endorsed, as well.

Which begs the question, if New Yorkers were aware of the Koch antipathy toward many of the ideals and values they cherish, would they be comfortable accepting his largess to spruce up their city and support their cultural centers?

It’s a tough and sensitive question to answer. Surely history is laden with many examples of controversial, even nefarious, figures extending their wealth to provide enrichment to the masses. Andrew Carnegie was no saint in business, but he endowed countless libraries and a university. The Rockefellers were not without warts, but much of New York City has their imprimatur stamped on it. Consumers go ga-ga over anything Apple, despite the sweatshop conditions under which Steve Jobs allowed its products to be constructed in China.

So, should we hold David Koch to a higher standard, simply because we might disagree with his politics? I’m not quite ready to say. My point in writing this, however, is not to blame the message, but to shoot the messenger, so to speak. I expected more from The Times than just a recitation of David Koch’s philanthropy. David Koch has baggage he chose to add to his personage and the public is entitled to know, and should be informed, of it, even when he is doing something laudable and altruistic.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

That Other Manning

From Manning to Manning: The focus over the last few days has been on Eli Manning, with a little bit of spotlight on big brother Peyton and father Archie. When football and the Super Bowl are national, even international extravaganzas, it’s hard to escape the klieg lights and camera lenses, especially after you’ve engineered your second upset victory over the New England Patriots in the waning seconds of a nail-biting game, as Eli did on Sunday for the once again champion New York Giants.

But our collective attention as a nation and as a member of the family of nations might be better focused on that other Manning, Bradley Manning. He’s not a football player, not an NFL quarterback like the other Mannings. He’s not, as far as I know, related to Eli and his family.

For those who might have forgotten, Bradley Manning is the U.S. Army soldier suspected of providing hundreds of thousands of documents to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Pfc. Manning is to face a court martial shortly for his alleged transgression.

Some label Bradley a hero, even going so far as to suggest he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Others call him a traitor for revealing classified government documents. Whatever your take on his alleged actions, there is no doubt publication by WikiLeaks of government secrets has enlightened the dialogue about our foreign affairs in a fashion not seen since publication of the Pentagon Papers revealed the behind the scenes drama that led to U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the loss of more than 58,000 America servicemen.

With all the facts not yet available, Bradley Manning is a figure to be neither prematurely reviled nor celebrated. But it is certain that the disposition of his court martial, and any subsequent action by or against WikiLeaks, will have a more lasting effect on our country and the world than Eli Manning’s triumphant march up the gridiron, no matter how exhilarated he made Giants fans feel and how sad he left Patriots fans.

The Blame Game: As the Giants and their fans celebrated through the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan and later at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey today, it is worth remembering the Super Bowl easily could have been won by the Patriots. Equally worth consideration is the fame or shame that can rest on one’s shoulders, drawn there in an instant or taken away in a nanosecond.

Mario Manningham is being hailed for making “the catch” that helped transport the Giants to victory. Yet, had Big Blue not won, he easily could have been blamed for two muffed catches that prevented New York from getting within scoring distance. Five minutes before his claim-to-fame 38-yard catch, Super Mario failed to stay in bounds on a 28-yard heave from Eli Manning that would have given the Giants a first down inside the Pats’ five yard line. He was criticized by TV commentator Chris Collingsworth for repeatedly running too close to the sidelines throughout his career.

Earlier in the game, late in the second quarter, Manningham ran a deep post pattern. He did not catch a ball Manning put within his reach, right above his head. He whiffed on the ball with his left hand and couldn’t bring it in with his right. The Giants had to punt and New England quarterback Tom Brady then led his team to a go-ahead touchdown with eight seconds left in the first half.

With his spectacular catch on the Giants’ last drive, Manningham went from bum to hero. Such are the vagaries of sports.

But that doesn’t make me comprehend how any fan or member of the press could hang the loss by New England on Brady, as has been reported. Giselle Bundchen, Brady’s supermodel wife, might have been indelicate in how she said it after the game, but it's true his receivers let the team down. Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez should have caught four passes that were in their hands, two missed catches on each of the last two possessions. They weren't all picture perfect passes but they were good enough to be caught 98% of the time. These quality receivers, however, dropped 100% of them. And as I wrote Monday, had Rob Gronkowski's ankle been better he could have pushed off of it and dove for the tipped last-play-of-the-game-Hail-Mary-pass. I believe he would have caught it.

If you're going to blame Brady for anything it would be the blocked third down pass by Jason Pierre-Paul that forced the Pats to take a field goal in the second quarter, especially since the announcers said they had practiced the need for Brady to get the ball over the pass rushers. The four-point difference between a field goal and a touchdown with point after was the difference in the game. You could also fault him for the early first quarter safety, but New England had plenty time to recover from that two-point faux pas.

It’s important to remember football is a team sport. Individuals make key contributions, both negative and positive, but unlike sports such as singles tennis, boxing, golf, skiing, and most track & field events, one side wins because of the collective effort of a team. As Giselle said, "My husband cannot f--king throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time. I can't believe they dropped the ball so many times."

Gimme Some R-e-s-p-e-c-t, Part II: On January 25, 2011, I commented on a NY Times story of a few days earlier about ideas to rejuvenate suburbia. One suggestion was to transform “dead” malls into downtown areas that could be enjoyed by an increasingly aging society.

Not much has changed in a year, which puzzled me as to why on February 6, 2012, The Times chose to focus once more on the plight of shopping centers during these economically stressed times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/business/making-over-the-mall-in-rough-economic-times.html?_r=1). Aside from a snappy front page headline, “How About Gardening or Golfing at the Mall?”, there really was nothing new in this story.

Which means I once again can tell you that 16 years ago I editorialized in my magazine that excess shopping center space should be converted to alternate uses including turning the square footage into senior citizens apartments, low or moderate income housing, community centers, and my personal favorite, low-risk detention centers.

Stay tuned for next year’s edition...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bragging Rights

So, did you like the Super Bowl commercials?

I found most of them insipid, inane, tasteless, misogynist, lacking creativity. For way too many I wondered what product or service the advertiser was trying to pitch. My favorite was the Doritos ad of the dog that buried the family cat and bribes the owner to keep silent with a bag of chips.

Okay, I can’t contain myself any longer. It’s time to review my Super Bowl prognostications against the reality of the football game. I said last Tuesday:

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will employ a no-huddle offense from the beginning of the game in an effort to tire the most dominant part of the New York Giants defense, its pass rush. Only if the Pats take a lead will Brady revert to a traditional huddle offense. NAILED IT!

As this year New England has mostly thrown short passes, early on the Pats will attempt some deep pass patterns in an effort to loosen up the planned tight Giants pass coverage. BRADY’S FIRST PASS, UNDER PRESSURE FROM THE END ZONE, WAS A BOMB, FOR BOTH THE PATRIOTS AND THE GIANTS. FOR THE PATS, IT WAS AN INCOMPLETION. FOR THE GIANTS IT RESULTED IN A TWO-POINT SAFETY AS THE PASS WAS RULED INTENTIONAL GROUNDING.


Also look for the Patriots to throw more than a usual amount of passes to running backs as top tight end Rob Gronkowski will play at less than optimum level because he will not have sufficiently recovered from a high left ankle sprain sustained during the AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens. GRONKOWSKI OBVIOUSLY COULD NOT COMPETE EFFECTIVELY. HAD HE BEEN ABLE TO PUSH OFF HIS ANKLE HE MIGHT WELL HAVE CAUGHT THE DEFLECTED HAIL MARY PASS. SURPRISINGLY, THE PATRIOTS DID NOT EMPLOY SCREEN PASSES BUT THEY DID THROW TO THEIR RUNNING BACKS SIX TIMES FOR 57 YARDS AND A TOUCHDOWN.

Half-time score: Giants 10, Patriots 7. CLOSE. IT WAS PATRIOTS 10, GIANTS 9.

Contrary to popular thinking that the Giants will be pass-happy against a less than highly regarded Patriot pass defense, the Giants will work early to establish a bruising running game. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs will anchor a running attack that will rack up at least 130 yards. THE GIANTS RAN 28 TIMES (VS. 40 PASSES) FOR 114 YARDS. THEY HAD A 10 YARD RUN BY BRANDON JACOBS NULLIFIED BY A HOLDING PENALTY. OTHERWISE, THEY SURELY WOULD HAVE MET MY EXPECTATIONS.

Tight ends will play a big part in the New York offense, at least 6 catches. BINGO. BEAR PASCO CAUGHT 4 PASSES FOR 33 YARDS; JAY BALLARD TWO PASSES FOR 10 YARDS.

Eli Manning will throw one touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks. RIGHT ON THE NUMBER, WRONG ON THE PLAYER. IT WENT TO VICTOR CRUZ.


The Giants will have to settle for three field goals from inside the red zone as the much-maligned Patriot defense stiffens inside the 20 yard line. THE PATRIOT DEFENSE DID INDEED STIFFEN INSIDE THE RED ZONE, FORCING THE GIANTS TO TAKE TWO FIELD GOALS.


He’ll also be stuffed on a fourth down quarterback sneak late in the first half or the game. BRADY NEVER TRIED A FOURTH DOWN SNEAK.



Now that you know the outcome of the game, you can relax and concentrate on the commercials. SEE ABOVE.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Public Relations and Omens

Three of a Kind: What do Planned Parenthood, Barack Obama and Israel have in common?

Ineffective public relations.

A mere 3% of its services are abortion-related, yet Planned Parenthood has allowed its foes to tar the organization as a baby-killer rather than a provider of health care and family services that has saved millions of lives.

In the recent Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation brouhaha over funding for Planned Parenthood, it struck me as ironic that an organization (Komen) dedicated to saving lives affected by breast cancer would suggest one of the main conduits of breast cancer testing for the needy would be denied funding. It’s sad that Planned Parenthood’s overall mission could be darkened by its abortion services which comprise such a small percentage of its practice. I have no problem with Komen disagreeing with Planned Parenthood’s abortion services. But it would have been misguided to cut off support for a group that benefits so many who would otherwise not be able to obtain affordable breast cancer screening.

The reality of Barack Obama’s presidency is a far cry from public perception. He has failed to paint his own narrative, allowing Republicans to depict health care reform as a disaster, the bailout of the auto industry as a travesty of capitalism, the wind-down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a foreign relations tragedy, the killing of Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda terrorists as inconsequential, his support of Israel as non-existent, his championing of higher taxes on the wealthiest as class warfare, and on and on. Three years of constant bombardment by the GOP will be hard to overcome, no matter how many hundreds of millions the Obama campaign spends on advertising in the coming months.

Perhaps that’s a lesson Andrew Cuomo learned and is the reason the first-term New York governor already has broadcast commercials touting his successes almost three years before his re-election comes up.

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, but it has permitted itself to be labeled an oppressor state.

Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) cults have degraded Israel’s dedication to equality and religious tolerance. Their mean-spirited interpretation of religious law and customs threatens to cleave the country in two. Religious extremists (non Haredi) in the West Bank also threaten to undermine any hope of a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli two-state option.

For sure, I am not absolving the extremists within the Palestinian community. But I hold the Israeli government and its more Westernized citizenry to a higher standard, a standard that respects the rule of law and also imbues its own tragic history into treatment of Palestinians under its control.

The narrative and legitimacy of Israel’s existence have been attacked on college campuses throughout America and Europe.

Israel has a powerful story to tell in many fields—the arts, science, health care, education, technology, agriculture, philanthropy, commerce. Sadly, too many, Jews among them, define Israel by its treatment of Palestinians, and by its internecine religious warfare. From time to time Israel embarks on an advertising campaign to stimulate more visits to the country. It’s time it paid more attention to traditional public relations positioning and less time promoting tourism.

Which omen to believe? A day before tonight’s Super Bowl, a bus containing members of the New York Giants broke down on its way to the squad’s final pre-game practice. Does it portend a Giants loss to the New England Patriots, or just signify the team will get off to a slow start in the game?

Or, does an inadvertent and embarrassing posting Saturday of a National Football League screen shot on the Giants’ Web site proclaiming “The Giants are Super Bowl CHAMPIONS” suggest the final outcome?

Ninety more minutes before we begin to know the answer.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Odds & Ends

It was more than a little eerie to see Bonnie Brooks named head of Lord & Taylor on January 23 and three days later see retired L&T CEO Joseph Brooks had died at age 84. To the best of my knowledge, the two Brookses are related by last name only, but that didn’t still the willies that shuttered through my body.

Joe Brooks was one of the first retail executives my magazine profiled shortly after I took editorial command in early 1979. Four years earlier he had taken charge of Lord & Taylor, returning the specialty department store to a luster not known since the legendary Dorothy Shaver was its president in the 1930s. He restored the long-stemmed rose as the company’s corporate logo, made American designers a focal point of merchandising, and ordered the playing of the national anthem each morning in the flagship Fifth Avenue store.

Joe Brooks was very mindful of image. Accordingly, he refused to carry “see-through lingerie” and “hooker shoes,” footwear with very high heels and platforms. Lord & Taylor no longer abides by those restrictions.

For the Record: I hate making mistakes, but my last two posts contained numerical errors, both since corrected on the blog site. My Monday entry on the Florida primary incorrectly stated the number of delegates awarded the winner of the Sunshine State Republican presidential primary. It is 50, not 55.

Tuesday’s Super Bowl forecast put the final score as New York Giants 24, New England Patriots 17. It should have been Giants 25, Patriots 17. The Giants will score two touchdowns (12 points), two points after touchdown (2), three field goals (9) and one safety (2) for a total of 25.

Weather Indicator: Temperatures topped 60 degrees today, sufficiently abnormal to fool even hibernating bees into awakening from their dormancy. With the car window rolled down I caught one taking a rest on my left thumb as I waited at a red light.

Birds have provided another natural indication of our topsy-turvy winter weather. They aren’t eating as much seed or suet as in years’ past as they have been able to find organic delights in the absence of snow cover. Mind you, I’m not complaining. Nor are the squirrels who have become quite aggressive lately. One in particular has figured out how to get into two feeders.

Denied entry from above because of a squirrel baffle, he’s shown Olympian dexterity in doing a standing high jump of about four feet to the bottom of the metal hanging cage housing the seed bowl. He grasps it and hoists himself up and over the side into seed heaven for the few moments before I shoo him out. To thwart this athletic assault I’ve changed bowls, suspending a plastic bowl that doesn’t need to sit in a wire cage. I hope it works.

The squirrel has a second way to get to the goodies. He shimmies down the chain suspending the bowl from a tree limb, but instead of trying to get around the baffle to get inside the bowl, he leaps to a nearby birdseed house, pushes up the roof which slides up to permit more seed to be stored, and jumps in for a meal unseen by any of his compatriots. I was flabbergasted when I saw this and quickly had to shift the location of the birdseed house to a spot I hope is too far for his acrobatic legerdemain. Again, I hope this works.