Monday, March 18, 2019

God Bless America.

About two weeks ago, my friend and famous blogger over at RoundSeventeen, Rich Siegel wrote a wonderful post called “The West is the Best,” about California and the innovative, open and accepting way of life in, at least portions of that state.

Rich writes, “Here you will find the best and the brightest. And they're not all white. Last week I finished a job working with my partner from Bangladesh. We were working for a creative director from Germany. And one from England. The woman who called us in was from Australia. Every morning was like a mini meeting of the United Nations. We'd swap stories. Gain new perspectives. And be better people for the experience.”

I whole-heartedly agree with Rich about how wonderful and inclusive America can, at times, be. And how inclusion and diversity enrich us all.

Small-minded people will never understand this. They are too busy being angry.

Maybe they should read the op-ed I just read in “The New York Times,” by Nicolas Kristof. If it doesn’t bring a tear to your eyes or a smile to your lips, you're more callous even than I am.

It's the story of eight-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi, Tani for short, whose family fled northern Nigeria in 2017, fearing Boko Haram terrorists. (Tani’s family are Christians and Christians are often the targets of Boko Haram.)

Like my grandparents 100 years ago, they arrived on these teeming shores with nothing. They were steered by a pastor to a homeless shelter. In short order, Tani was enrolled in P.S. 116 where he met a part-time chess teacher.

Tani wanted to join the chess club and told his mom, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, about it. She emailed the chess club, explaining that she couldn’t afford the fees since her family was living in a homeless shelter.

“Russell Makofsky, who oversees the P.S. 116 chess program, waived the fees, and a year ago the boy took part in his first tournament with the lowest rating of any participant, 105.”

Tani’s rating is now 1587 and rising fast. Extraordinary, considering he started learning chess just a year ago. He has trophy after trophy by his bed in the homeless shelter. 

“I want to be the youngest Grandmaster,” he told Kristoff.

Kristoff ends his op-ed this way, giving me, and I hope you, something to feel good about during our sad, dark and dystopian times.

“Tani is a reminder that refugees enrich this nation — and that talent is universal, even if opportunity is not. Back in Nigeria, his parents say, his brilliance at chess would never have had an outlet.

“‘The U.S. is a dream country,’” his dad told me. “‘Thank God I live in the greatest city in the world, which is New York, New York.’”


Friday, March 15, 2019

Some thoughts on hugging good-bye.

To bastardize Shakespeare (though truth-be-told, the word ‘bastardize’ is probably no longer politically-correct, in that it’s a judgment on the provenance of one’s birth) but to bastardize Shakespeare, I rewrote a bit last night as I was taking a cab home from yet another going-away party.

In “Twelfth Night” Shakespeare wrote, “Some men are born great, some men achieve greatness, some men have greatness thrust upon them.” Joseph Heller played with that line in “Catch 22,” I think to describe his paragon of ineffectualness, Major Major, when he wrote “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”

Last night a young planner I was fond of, a very bright young man, had his going-away party. Stephen King in “Stand by Me,” wrote “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant, did you ever notice that?”

That’s the way it is sometimes in agency life. Especially when you’re, like me, the agency’s ballast. Sometimes I feel like the granite lions in front of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. The world comes and goes, and through all the slings and arrows (back to Shakespeare) of outrageous fortune, I remain.
In any event, as I was leaving I went over to my friend to shake his hand goodbye and wish him luck. Like I said, I liked him. He’s smart and driven and I understand that he needs more room to be…him.
We shook hands, and then…he hugged me.
When I go to things like this I should wear a little button maybe. It might look like this.

It’s not that I don’t like people or don’t understand the motivation for and the intention of a hug. It’s just I didn’t grow up hugging.
I don’t think I hugged my old man once.
My brother and I, and my cousin Howard and I, try on occasion. But to me I always feel like an eighteen-wheeler going into a parking-space meant for a golf cart.
Even when I played ball so many summers ago down below the Rio Grande in the Mexican Baseball League, I never hugged. Even after I cleared the bases with a shot over the left-field wall to win a tight game, we’d slap hands, pat backs, shake, but seldom hug.
Hector and I hugged before he died four winters ago. And that was nice, I’ll admit. Holding close the man who lifted me from childhood into adulthood.
But, as I said, like so much of my life today, much of what it’s expected that I do or watch, or say or think, much of how people expect me to behave, is from a culture that’s entirely different from the world I grew up in.
It’s not going too far to say that the only place I feel truly comfortable is when I’m home reading back-issues of “The New Yorker,” or in my therapist’s office (I’ve seen him every Thursday at eight for 26 years) which is decorated in the style of Freud’s in early 20th Century Vienna.
That’s all for now.



Beware Uncle Slappy. (A repost.)

Shakespeare wrote,” said Uncle Slappy as I picked up the horn at 6:17 this morning, “Shakespeare wrote,” he continued “the words of the soothsayer: ‘Beware the Ides of March.’”

“Set him before me,” I said, “let me see his face.”

“Today is the Ides of March,” Uncle Slappy continued.

“Actually, Uncle Slappy,” I dissertationed, “the Romans divided their months into five or six day periods. One of those—roughly between the 13th and 18th was the Ides.”

“Thank you, perfesser. Your edifications always warmed my heart. But today, I want to talk about what happened yesterday.”

“Yesterday was also the Ides,” I clarified.

“First it was down by the pool, Ida Blumenthal, her husband was in insurance out in Jersey, six chaises by the pool she takes. People on the concrete were laying on towels and she has six chaises all festooned with stolen hotel towels and cheap novels.”

“Ida Blumenthal,” I said stupidly.

“Then Sylvie says, ‘Let’s to the market go and to the pool we’ll come back later.’”

I reordered the sentence in my head.

“So,” Uncle Slappy continued, “We get in the car and drive over to the Stop and Plotz to pick up a few groceries. If you should happen to visit anytime soon, a sponge cake we have in the ice box.”

“I’d love to make it down, Uncle Slappy. But work is unrelenting.”

“We’re in the checkout, the 15-items or fewer and ahead of us is Ida Plotnick with, count ‘em, 22 items.”

“22 items, that’s terrible."

“Well she counts four cans of chicken noodle as one item. That’s how she beats the system.”

“There ought to be a law,” I said.

“So an imbroglio happens between Sylvie and Plotnick. It looked like there would be a cage match between two alter cockers in the Schtup and Plotz.”

“What happened,” I asked.

“The manager, a nice Puerto Rican opens a lane for us. That’s fine but something to Ida Plotnick he should say. Four cans, four items. That’s in the Talmud.”

“You had quite a day.”

“It’s what led me to re-write Shakespeare,” Uncle Slappy said, setting me up. “He said, ‘Beware the Ides of March.’ My version is better. At least for Boca: ‘Beware the Idas of March.’”

And with that, he hung up the blower.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A.I. writes agency taglines for the 21st Century.

For about the last three years, give or take a few months, I have been taking intensive night classes at the New York Institute of Artificial Intelligence (NYIAI). 

While I am no “digital native,” I’ve been working hard to master the fundamentals of computer science: machine learning, information retrieval and computer vision, especially as it pertains to AI.

Recently, a NYIAI professor recommended I take an online course in machine learning taught by the eminent Dr. Adam Stettler of Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Stettler’s course was, for me, like taking batting lessons from Ted Williams. 

While I believe I have no special scientific aptitude, with Stettler’s help, I have made massive improvements on the AI I am in the process developing--my High-Energy Non-Neural Interface, aka HENNI.

Recently, I turned to HENNI for some work I’m doing evaluating the current state of the ad industry. As background, I "fed" HENNI over 23 years of Agency Spy, Adweek and Ad Age. Based on that corpus of information, I then asked HENNI to create an assortment of agency taglines for the ad industry today.

As imperfect as HENNI is in these early stages, here is HENNI’s curated output:

1.    Your timesheets are late. Again.

2.    The printers are still down.

3.    Creating a culture that creates a culture of cultures.

4.    The data indicates it’s all about data.

5.    I have a hard stop.

6.    Processing agility in a six sigma way.

7.    Transforming transformation at the speed of    transformation.

8.    Raise-free since 2003.

9.    Our printers are still still down.

10.  Home of the 163-page deck.

11.  Transparently opaque and opaquely transparent.

12.  The ‘advertising is dead’ advertising agency.

13.  The ‘no one watches TV’ advertising agency.

14.  That Gary V. can really hustle.

15.  Don’t just love the hustle, crush it.

16.  We don’t trust anyone over 50.

17.  We don’t trust anyone over 40.

18.  We don’t trust anyone over 30.

19.  We don’t trust anyone.

20.  Our printers are still still still down.