Archive for June, 2009

Things I’d Like 2 See – a Baseball Rant

Posted in personal on June 20, 2009 by barryshapiro

For starters, I want Joba Chamberlain back in the Yankee bullpen and Phil Hughes as a starter. I’d like to see Joe Torre back in the World Series, hopefully facing the Yankees but if not then facing the Mets so the Steinbrenners can see the error of their ways.
I’d like the Red Sox to go on a 21 game losing streak starting today. And while we’re at it, let”s get rid of the DH and get back to real baseball. If not then let’s have the DH in the National League and at least they can all be playing the same game.
I’d like to move the Rays our of their lousy domed ballpark into a new, better domed ballpark. Also, I think Joe Maddon needs a stylist to pick out some new eyewear. The fat frames are getting old.
We need a new rule: all performance enhancing drug users are automatically suspended for one year without pay – no appeals – when caught the first time. Second time 2 years. Third strike, you’re out!
Wouldn’t it be great to see the Royals and the Pirates winning again? Those great franchises should be doing better, no matter how small the market.
Let’s get rid of all those sports media columnists like Phil Mushnick and Richard Sandomir. There’s enough noise in the world – do we really need sports announcing criticism? Or maybe we should have critics to rate the critics. Nah… Instead, maybe we could have some better sports writing. Where’s Ring Lardner when you need him?
Mike Scioscia is the best manager in baseball. Someone has to say it. Joe Girardi is somewhere around the bottom four or five.
The Mets will not make it to the World Series, again, despite what the NY sportswriters thought. They just aren’t that good. I’d like to see Philly go at it again because Jimmy Rollins is the coolest player in the league.
And I want Don Mattingly back in a NY Yankee uniform. He just doesn’t fit in Dodger Blue.

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Ola Amigos!

Posted in personal, political on June 13, 2009 by barryshapiro

I spent the day in Miami and walked around a beautiful shopping mall in Coral Gables listening to young, fashionably dressed shoppers speak in Spanish, snacked on beef empanadas while looking for a book at Boarders, had lunch in a terrific Argentinian cafe, had a delightful conversation with a young woman from Buenos Aires and bought a pair of shoes at Neiman Marcus with the help of a charming saleswoman named Gloria who hailed from Colombia. You might say it was Latin Day for me and I thouroughly enjoyed myself. I have no facility for language and only know a wee bit of Spanish (un poco!) but had no problem communicating with anyone, even some of the helpful and friendly cafe staff who spoke little English.
On the drive back to Sebastian I got stuck in some heavy traffic and had to avoid a couple of dangerous drivers who were weaving in and out of heavy traffic as if they were New York City cabbies trying to get a fare to La Guardia at rush hour. Don’t know where one guy was from but he was driving a blue Malibu, had a skinhead look and a serious tatoo on the arm hanging out of the open window. Now he may have been a really sweet guy but he had a menacing look about him and he was driving like a freakin’ maniac and could have (and for all we know may later have) caused some real damage on the road as he was cutting people off left and right.
What I am driving at here is that you cannot judge a book by it’s cover, nor can you judge a person by their country of origin or the language they speak. Hell, by now I hope we all realize that you can’t judge anyone by the color of their skin.
Which brings me to Sonia Sotomayor. I’ve been listening to some of the rhetoric on the right about this woman and it is pissing me off. It’s sexist, racist, vulgar and incredibly devisive. What the hell is the point? The woman is obviously qualified so why devolve to these kinds of attacks? I am not saying she shouldn’t be held up to scrutiny and challenged at the confirmation hearings – that’s part of the process. But the stuff that’s going around by not only the radical fringe of the Republican Party but some of the members of Congress is frankly disgusting.
The woman has more experience on the bench than anyone currently on it or, as I understand it, than most of the previous nominees, including Chief Justice Roberts. Let’s get to the issues and keep the BS to an absolute minimum.
The Hispanic segment of the population is the fastest growing of all ethnic groups in America. Like it or not, in a few years they will be the majority. That fact makes Sotomayor not only a sound legal choice but a sound social choice as well. And don’t tell me that the nominations are made solely on legal standings. If that were the case than Clarence Thomas would still be a law clerk somewhere. In fact, Thomas had served less than a year on the bench when he was nominated by elder Bush and had spent most of his career in the beaurocracy. He was nominated to the court to appease Conservatives upset with David Souter and the bludgening of Robert Bork. Other than that he had very few qualifications for the bench and he has been a lackluster addition to the Court ever since.
Tomorrow we are going to the Kennedy Space Center. It is my birthday gift to Patricia. We will spend the day on the tour, doing the lunch with an astronaut thing and end the day watching “Star Trek” on the giant IMAX screen. It should be a great day, one that should remind us of what a great country America is. This country of immigrants put a man on the moon. This country of immigrants leads the way in science, medicine, the arts and don’t forget NASCAR.
My grandfather, Sam Shapiro, came to this country as a 12 year old. He was alone and spent some time on Ellis Island because he was sick. He had been sent from Russia by his parents at the outset of the revolution because they were afraid and wanted to make sure that at least one child, their oldest son, would have a chance to survive. After being released from Ellis Island, speaking little if any English, he made his way to the Russian-Jewish neighborhhod on Hester Street, was taken in by people from his hometown and started working in a grocery store for 25 cents a week. He eventually got his own vegetable cart, saved his money, studied engineering at Cooper Union, got married and owned his own business, a popular restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. He retired in the 60’s and spent the next 20 or so years of his life volunteering to help others and running a children’s summer camp.
He was proud of America just as he was proud of where he came from. One of his happiest moments came after he retired, when he went back to Europe for the first time since he was 12. In West Berlin (remember the wall?) he was standing with a group of flag waving American tourists watching a convoy of American troops roll by when one of the soldiers stood up and shouted to him by name. “Hey Sam”, the skinny kid screamed with a nasal Brooklyn twang, “I miss your hotdawgs!” the entire crowd looked at him like he was a celebrity and after that they all wanted to know him. My grandfather wept as he told me that story. To him that moment was everything.
And by the way, he was a Socialist at heart. He believed in working for the collective good of all people. He spoke with a thick Russian accent and his English was sometimes sketchy but he was extremely intelligent and savvy. But make no mistake, he was 100% All-American.
Sonia Sotomayor is a proud, dignified woman who is carrying on the great American tradition of getting ahead on merit. She deserves respect if nothing else. I wonder if she knows how to make empanadas?

The Price of Gas

Posted in political on June 11, 2009 by barryshapiro

About a year ago I posted that a price of a gallon of gas at the pump would be around $5 by this time this year. My prediction was based on very a very reliable source inside the Washington Beltway. However, it seems that due to the last election and the slump in the economy I am a little off. Last week in central Florida I saw pump prices for a gallon of regular average around $2.54 and in some places as high as $2.80. I know that in some areas around the country it runs much higher.
I suspect that by August the price of gas will be back on track and the march to $5 will be rolling on. I anticipate $3 a gallon in August but it could be higher.
Eventually it will hit the target price of $5 and it will stay there barring some unforseen financial or environmental disaster or another presidential election. This is because the cost of a gallon of gas has absolutely nothing to do with the price of oil futures, or problems in Caraccas, OPEC or the war in the middle east or whatever the politicians or news services tell us. It is an agreed upon price.
The envirnomental lobby is behind this rise to 5 because they feel, perhaps rightly so, that it is the only way to get people to start taking real action about the fossil fuel crisis and global warming that faces our world’s future. The auto industry is down with it and the oil companies are happy as clams – and more profitable than ever. Can anyone say Exxon Mobil stock?
It sucks but it may be the right move. We have to lead the way to a better future for the spawn we leave behind.
We need to develop nuclear and solar energy plans that make sense and we have to get off the fossil fuel jag. I love my car as much as the next man but this administration be sinking more money into infrastructure. To me infrastructure means mass transit, not just more Interstates and 6 lane highways to suburbia.
We just leased a 2009 Prius. It’s not much to look at really but it’s averaging around 45mpg and it feels good to be ‘green’ if nothing else. I feel proud to drive it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Explorer but it doesn’t make me feel proud to drive it – it just gets me where I need to go with a lot of junk.
So watch the price at the pump go up steadily. It may dip down now and again but the trend will be up. $3 or maybe $3.50 by August and who knows after that. If there is nothing to deter it, the price will be $5 before we know it.

The Knowledge Economy

Posted in marketing, personal with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2009 by barryshapiro

Recently, I was honored to attend the graduation ceremony of Alex Behr (B.S. Biology)  at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, one of America’s great citadels of higher learning. I have known the Behr family since way back in the mid-seventies and have attended the graduations of all 3 Behr children so to see young Alex stride to the podium to receive his diploma was a particularly poignant event for me. It was a joyous celebratory weekend in general but before I make my point I have to say one thing: if you are ever in Troy, New York make sure to stop at The Cookie Factory (www.cookiefactoryllc.com) on Congress Street. That’s where you’ll get an education in the fine art of eating fantastic baked goods from the Alberino family and a helpful, friendly staff. It was so good I totally over indulged! OK, that’s it for the plug.

As to the graduation itself, it was a beautiful day and the event was long and drawn out, as these things tend to be. RPI produces some of America’s brilliant scientists, engineers and mathematicians and many successful and innovative business people have come through the ranks, not the least of which were two of the the four who received honorary degrees that day: Kenneth Chenault (CEO of American Express), Dr. Robert Richardson (Nobel Prize in Physics), Samuel Josefowitz (class of ’42) entrepreneur, noted art collector and philandthropist) and the keynote speaker, Peter Schwartz (class of ’68) . Schwartz was notably long winded and redundant. The audience groaned audibly when, believing him to be at the end of his speech, he began to recite 20 predictions about the future. He could have limited it to two or three and we all would have appreciated the brevity as much as the insight.

However, that didn’t mean that Schwartz’s talk was without value. Schwartz is internationally known as a ‘futurist,’ strategist and author of books with titles such as “When Good Companies Do Bad Things” and “The Art of the Long View” which is about scenario planning. My impression is that Mr. Schwartz is one of those guys who is very impressed with his small contribution to the mess being made of the world. But when he speaks about future trends it probably pays to listen. If you don’t you might get run over by the bus he’s driving. As Schwartz went on and on and on I perked up at one point when he started to talk less about himself and more about the present and future of our global economy. I scribbled one remark down in my commencement booklet: “We live in a knowledge economy.” That phrase has stuck in my head ever since.

It seems to me that we have passed through the age of technology and the age of information right into the age of economic data. People are more obsessed with the hourly ups and downs of the stock market than they are with their jobs, their family or their driving skills. Many of these people don’t even have money in the market. They just want to know what the market is doing right now. And because most people don’t understand the first thing about economics, including apparently, most of the economists in the government, they just want to have a little info about something they can grasp-so they check the market reports. Ever notice how the evening news gives you the Dow Jones updates every evening? Up down – up down! The market reports are so minimal that it really matters not at all to anyone who is actually IN the market. People need to have small, simple packets of information – like quanta of information (see how scientific I have gotten?) – so they won’t feel stupid or left out of conversations at parties or around the office cooler. That little itty bit of info, however, can be a powerful tool or even a commodity if used correctly. Hence I observe we are in the Age of the Knowledge Economy where a little knowledge can pay big dividends.

This may not have been at all what Schwartz was talking about but I can’t recall because I was falling asleep or going to the bathroom through most of his speech. In fact I think I went to the bathroom twice while he spoke and each time was amazed to find upon my return that he was still speaking! But I digress…

Since communication today has been reduced to sound bites and cryptograms it seems that no one really has to know much of anything – they just need to be able to report on it or write about it. If you can Tweet on Twitter successfully than you can not only make a good living but you can be anointed an expert in just about anything. According to the NY Times, companies like Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue are hiring people just to Tweet and have created strategies to influence consumer choices and impressions based on new technology like Twitter and Facebook. This is scary stuff if you are a trained professional writer. Some kid from Laguna beach is taking your job away because she can type 140 words with her thumbs.

I believe that the concept of the ad agency is dead. It will take a while for them to totally die off but eventually that building on Madison Avenue that houses Y&R will be condos.  Those dinosaurs just cannot dance fast enough for life in the Age of the Knowledge Economy. And those wacky Internet marketers, the ones that send you all that crap that winds up in your spam box, they will eventually die off as well as we get better and better at filtering out the garbage. Since everyone will be sending out their own garbage there won’t be time for reading anyone elses.

But there is hope and it comes in the presence of young people like Alex Behr. Here’s a good, honest, smart and decent future scientist. When I asked him what he was going to do now that he had his “Get Out of Jail” card he caught me totally off guard when he told me he was taking a year off and walking the Appalacian Trail. Just him and some other kid with backpacks and sensible shoes. I am really proud of him. Someday he’s going to be working in a lab somewhere finding a cure for cancer or the common cold but for now he’s putting his youth to good work and getting an experience that will be with him the rest of his life – and I believe for the better. Let’s all wish him and his traveling buddy a safe and purposeful journey. Come back, share your knowledge with us and take on the world. The world in the Age of the Knowledge Economy!