Sunday, January 30, 2011

Trade Shows and Chopsticks

I have just returned from Las Vegas and, yet, another trade show. Had I saved the badges from all such events I have attended over the years, I would have more than enough to wall paper my entire house plus the one I am shopping for in Florida.

What were once called conventions, and later trade shows, are more commonly referred to today as exhibitions. Since I entered the business world during the “Trade Show” era, I still use that designation. Now, at the end of my career, these events seem to be a colossal waste of time and money. And I’ve been some doozies. They are generally filled with a great deal of posturing, bluster, back slapping, insincerity, heavy drinking, and too much food; and for some, well, as they say, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

I must admit that they clearly have their place in the business world. About 15 years ago I was told by the General Director of an Italian company I represented, that his firm wrote more than 50% of their annual business over four days each autumn at the Cersaie Ceramic and Stone Exhibition in Bologna. So, despite how I feel about the subject, they will not be going away any time soon.

Therefore, may I suggest that since we cannot outlaw these events, we should consider making the proper use of chopsticks a part of our elementary school curriculum?

Let me explain. Like all things, trade shows have changed. Twenty years ago one would make appointments ahead of time and stick to a pre-determined schedule. Ten years ago, with the gaining popularity of cell phones, one might say, “I’ll call you at the show and we will get together.” Now with the social media in full bloom, one might make, change, and eventually cancel an appointment without ever speaking a word.

In similar fashion, the tradeshow dinner might well find one taking a pass on the still popular prodigious portions of red meat and the $100 bottle of Cabernet for the healthier and highly fashionable Asian cuisine. Sushi, Sashimi, Pan Asian, Fusion are terms bandied about these days when planning a tradeshow meal. And with that comes the dreaded need to be chopstick proficient.

The mere mention of dinner at The China Café or Okata still strikes panic in the minds of many. Visions of fumbling with those tiny drum stick gadgets and accidentally flipping a shrimp in to the abundantly exposed cleavage of the boss’ wife can bring quick beads of sweat to many a crack V.P. of Sales. These days one dare not book a flight to these events without first mastering the dexterity needed to maneuver the “sticks”.

I submit that today’s world demands that we teach our kids this critical skill. Sure, at first, they will want to stick them in their ears, in their nose or under their upper lip, fang style. But years from now when the job interview includes the question, “Are you dining bi-tactile?” (can you use chopsticks as well as knife and fork?) they will thank us.

Just one more thought; if we don’t reverse the thirty year dumbing-down of our great country, vis-à-vis fast food, news by sound bite, brainless couch potato sitcom viewing, Sarah Palin worshipping, gun toting, “we are a Christian country” mentality, it is highly likely that chopstick proficiency will take on a practicality well beyond the tradeshow dinner.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Democrats and the Deficet

Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of John Kennedy as well as the second anniversary of Barrack Obama taking the oath of office. So, it seems like an appropriate time to jump into the crazy world of politics.
As a member of the business community over the past 30+ years, I have taken great pains (biting your tongue hurts) at business meetings and client dinners to keep my liberal leanings well hidden.
But now that 2010 has wound to an end and my retirement approaches, I thought it time I respond to all of the angry vitriolic rhetoric that my conservative friends have collectively steeped on me over the past two years, since the election of that Muslim foreigner, Barack Obama.
First, let me say I come in peace. I simply wish to share some well researched liberal food for thought. Therefore, let me say at the outset that I do agree with some of the conservative dogma out there that argues for a decrease in the size of Government. That debate usually gravitates to the subject of spending and its influence on the deficit. And, of course, a constant thread in the Republicans dogma is that they are the voice of fiscal responsibility.
As I look at the numbers I am struck by a great irony. How can it be that the National Debt as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product has clearly been consistently better under Democrat Presidents since WWII (see, I know the rules – I’m not allowed to say “Democratic”). Now, if you are not sure how to score this, keep this in mind - a negative number is good and a positive number is bad.
That said; let’s take look at the actual statistics:
 The great peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter lowered the deficit by 3.1% = GOOD (However in the spirit of full disclosure we did have double digit inflation during his last two years in office).
 The Great Orator – The Gipper, Ronald Regan, in his first term raised the deficit by 11.3% = BAD
 In his second term President Regan was able to raise the deficit an additional 9.3% = BAD
 Then, a really nice guy, George Herbert Walker Bush took over and in one term raised the deficit by 15.0% (this is not a misprint) = BAD.
 Then we elected Wild Bill Clinton, or Slick Willy as some like to call him. Facing a 3 trillion debt left to him after 12 years of Raganomics (it really didn’t trickle down so well) the Slickster, in his first term, somehow was able to lower the deficit by a very tiny but significant 0.7% = GOOD
 Wild Willy got reelected. And low and behold, even with a Republican Congress (compromise is a powerful tool) and despite being pre-occupied by the girl-in-the-blue-dress, he lowered the deficit by a whopping 9.0% in his second term. But wait, there’s more – he BALANCED THE BUDGET!!! Sorry to report this all = GOOD.
 Then in a barn burner GWB beat Al “Mr. Environment” Gore and in his first term awarded the balanced budget he inherited by raising the deficit by 7.1% = BAD
 Term number two certainly benefitted us all. (?) President Bush II increased the deficit by an astounding 20.0% (also not a misprint) = Real BAD. War is an expensive enterprise. See ya later retirement account!!

So, my friends, there are the numbers. Not my numbers – the Government’s numbers. And, of course it is more complicated than this. But it is fascinating.

We could debate other things like health care, John Boehner’s tan and unpatriotic determination to see Obama fail at any cost, stem cell research (better to throw them out than use them) or whether the recent compromise by Obama on tax issues is weakness, failure or pragmatism.

But it is better to concede that all of my conservative friends are good patriotic Americans. I know they all want the best for our country, for our kids and especially for our grandkids. Please keep in mind that we liberals are also patriotic and really do want the best for the country. It’s simply a difference of opinion – not a battle between good and evil.

So I raise a cup of “tea” in thanks for your kind attention, and may 2011 be a banner year for my many, many conservative friends and their retirement accounts (a subtle dig at W). Mine has improved immensely in the last two years. Who knew?

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's Howdy Doody Time

So, now I join the world of blogging. Why today? Why not?

Like so many people my age, I continue to try to grasp this great cyberspace thing. As a person who well remembers when the communication of information came from the perfectly folded newspaper thrown at our front door every afternoon or the delicate turn of a radio dial, I do appreciate the vastness of today's information vehicles.

Why anyone would be interested in my view of the world, I cannot imagine. But, now in the autumn of my years, I have decided to throw my thoughts out there anyway. This blog will be called From-the-Peanut-Gallery. The term Peanut Gallery dates back to the heyday of Vaudeville and referred to the cheap seats in the theater. This, ostensibly, is where the most raucous of the audience sat. The least expensive, and thus, the favorite snack of those seated up in the rafters, was a bag of peanuts. As the master hecklers, this not so auspicious group would often throw their treats at the performers; food for thought – so to speak.

Clearly, the real fun resided in the Peanut Gallery. So, in much the same fashion, I hope to take a critical and perhaps cynical, look at those things that interest me – business, politics, art, literature, sports and life-its-own-self - and throw a few peanuts.

And, I have a personal connection with the Peanut Gallery with which many of us are most familiar. In 1949, thanks to my mother’s cousin who worked for NBC, I found myself one August afternoon, forcefully seated in the second row of the Peanut Gallery on the Howdy Doody Show surrounded by Dilly Dally, Mr. Bluster, Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring, Chief Thunder Thud, the honking irrepressible clown Clarabelle, the fatherly Buffalo Bob Smith, and, of course our freckled wooden friend, Howdy. For a less than confident 6 ½ year old it was a scary place. But I survived.

So now I have decided to take a swipe at another scary place – cyberspace. And it is with the same trepidation I had seated in the Peanut Gallery over 60 years ago - do I really belong here? We’ll see.

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