Monthly Archives: April 2015


In the early fifties, the concrete jungle of Manhattan as well as the other four boroughs of the Big Apple, were awash with salesmen selling the business equipment of National Cash Register Company (NCR), Remington, Victor and the king of the street, IBM.

This was a tinge before the introduction of computers.  They were hawking the efficiency and time savings of adding machines, bookkeeping machines, and early versions of calculators.

Thomas Watson was not the founder of IBM, but he was the driving force that catapulted the company from a nondescript manufacturer of office equipment to the modern giant that today drives computers worldwide.

He was born in 1874 and educated in a one-room schoolhouse.  As a young man he attended college only briefly, but found it boring.  He worked as an accountant for a small-town grocery store, then performed similar duties at a hardware shop, and later sold sewing machines and stocks.

For several years, he worked as a salesman for NCR, where he had a strong sales record and eventually rose to management.

Leaving NCR, Watson joined the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR) as General Manager in 1914, was promoted to president the following year, and added the title of Chief Executive Officer in 1924.  He was known for enforcing a strict office dress code—dark suit, white shirt—and for his rather straightforward motto—“Think”—which he had printed on business cards and wall posters.

CTR was a profitable but not a dominant concern, manufacturing time-clocks and other business and shop furnishings and equipment.  Its best-selling products were punch-cards and punch-card tabulating machines, which allowed the assembly of data and preparation of statistics in the era before computers.  After being promoted to CEO, Watson’s first act was to change the 33-year-old company’s name to International Business Machines (IBM).

He was CEO of IBM for decades, and several decisions marked his long tenure.  First, as the Great Depression struck in 1929, he decided not to lay off large numbers of workers, and instead kept the company’s factories going, stockpiling inventory.  In the first three years of the Depression, as competitors cut back on manufacturing, IBM actually increased its production substantially, based on Watson’s belief that as the economy improved orders would eventually return—and when that happened, IBM would be able to fill orders faster than its competitors, because its machines were already built and ready to ship.  It was a dicey gamble, but Watson was right and it paid off.

A second decision was that all of his outside sales people were directed to adopt his preferred uniform of a white shirt, tie, dark suit and a hat.  The rest of the business equipment sales army pretty much followed suit, except the suit was not always dark and the shirt was sometimes blue.

Another decision set a tone in the business equipment industry that, although successful, was not very popular.  Watson’s philosophy in sales management was to keep increasing a salesman’s expected sales quota each year by 10% to 15% and not waste too much time with a salesman who couldn’t meet the increased quotas.

The other half of his management philosophy was to cut the territory of successful salespeople; and invariably two salespeople, for example, would generate 150% of the sales revenue in a territory that previously only did 100%.  Very unpopular with salespeople, but very successful for management.  Many other business equipment manufacturers tried to follow suit.

Even though they might be calling on the same customer, his salesmen only sold the piece of equipment they specialized in; i.e., adding machines, typewriters, etc.  A customer might therefore see three or four different salesmen from IBM.

Customers couldn’t understand the system, but Watson was convinced it led to greater sales for the company.  In today’s customer-centered environment that may be changing, but the results will probably not benefit the company’s revenue.

Watson handed the company’s leadership to his son, Thomas J. Watson, in 1956, and suffered a fatal heart attack five weeks later.  He was an industry innovator and leader.

By the way, wearing a suit, a tie and a hat in the summer on a N.Y. subway was not a cooling or comfortable experience.


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If you believe the TV commercials and the plethora of solicitation letters from the charities who want to help our physically- and mentally-wounded veterans, the government is not doing very much to provide assistance.

The Federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a budget of $163.9 billion for fiscal year 2015.  Granted, the VA scandal demonstrated the inefficiency and ineptitude of the VA hospitals, but almost $164 billion must be doing some good.  It’s just awfully hard to assess how much.

According to the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP), in 2013 they rated some 46 charities proclaiming to serve the needs of veterans.  Of this number only nine were rated an A while 24 earned an F; that’s 60%.  An F, in general, meant less than 40% of the revenue they generated was devoted to beneficial programs.

The largest veterans’ charity is the Wounded Warriors Project, who does a lot of TV advertising.  They earned a C from AIP based on using only 58% of the $150 million they raised in 2013 going to the benefit of veterans.

Back in 2007, David Borochoff, then head of AIP and an ABC new consultant, said, “Veterans deserve better from America’s charities.”  It has meant six-figure salaries and prosperous lifestyles for some of the people running the F-rated charities.

As the founder of a charity called Help Hospitalized Veterans, which distributes craft kits to veterans’ hospitals, Roger Chapin of San Diego pays himself and his wife more than half a million dollars a year in salary.  Charity is his business.

Over the last three decades, Chapin has created more than a dozen different charities for cancer, kids and veterans.  “He’s a charity entrepreneur,” Borochoff says.  “He’s very good at setting up charities that don’t do so much charity but bring in lots of money.”  Chapin’s veterans’ charity has produced slick promotional videos about the good they do, with a number of celebrity endorsements, including one from actor Dennis Franz, who starred in the ABC primetime drama “NYPD Blue.”  But according to their analysis, the AIP says of the $70 million Help Hospitalized Veterans took in last year, only 31% went to the actual charitable cause.  The rest was mainly overhead and fundraising costs, earning a grade of F.  A spokesman for Dennis Franz said he had no idea the charity gave so little to actual veterans.

Part of the answer may lie in the experience of Elisa Alcabes (my niece), a lawyer with Simpson Thatcher in NYC.  As a pro-bono project, she has represented a Vietnam veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and several other disabilities arising from his active combat service, who has tried to get his discharge status upgraded so he can get VA benefits.

After four years, Elisa’s team has finally got Smith’s application changed to “general discharge.”  Here is Elisa’s recap:

“Discharge upgrades are difficult to obtain, particularly for Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD, a diagnosis that did not exist during the Vietnam era.  Starting in 2011, our team filed several submissions to the BCNR, which were repeatedly rejected with cursory responses.  Unable to obtain a clear ruling, we filed suit in the U.S. District Court to compel the BCNR to follow its own regulations.  We obtained a remand order directing the BCNR to reconsider Mr. Smith’s application.  In September 2014, while our application was under reconsideration, then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued a memorandum instructing military boards for correction, including the BCNR, to pay closer attention to requests for discharge upgrades by Vietnam veterans with PTSD.  This was a favorable development, but even with the Hagel Memorandum in place, the BCNR again rejected Mr. Smith’s application.  Our team responded with a strong submission, arguing that our clients fell squarely within the parameters of the Hagel Memorandum, and that the client’s case was virtually the first to be addressed after the Memorandum was issued, and that the BCNR summarily ignored it.  In response to that submission, the BCNR agreed to further review the application and then grant it.”

Finally, bureaucracy was overcome.  Does every veteran need a lawyer?

It’s upsetting to read statistics stating there are roughly 131,000 homeless veterans in America.  Why are there homeless veterans?  If the motto “leave no man behind” holds true, why has the US government abandoned the very people who served their country the most?

There’s no mandatory draft now, so it’s important to realize every single military participant is voluntary.  Who is braver than those who enlist to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq?  Nobody!  We are reminded of their bravery today, but we should be aware every single day of their service to our country.

The US government spent roughly $45 billion bailing out Citibank in 2009.  Citibank then turned around and raised salaries for all their senior executives by 50% the same year.  Come on now!  If the government just spent $13.1 billion, they could allocate $100,000 to each homeless veteran for housing, food, medical attention, and education and get them back on their feet.  Someone please tell me why the government is unwilling to do this?  I really need to understand.

There is obviously a need.  Veterans of our recent wars need more help; and the government, as well as the charities, are not as effective as they need to be.

P.S.  The following charities for veterans have an “A” rating from AIP:

  • Armed Services YMCA
  • Fisher House Foundation
  • Homes For Our Troops
  • Intrepid Fallen Heroes
  • Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans
  • National Military Family Assoc.
  • Operation Homefront
  • Semper Fi Fund
  • TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors)


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Regardless of your own spirituality, these great cathedrals are historic and architectural achievements you’ll find fascinating to see and explore.

St. Paul’s Cathedral – London, England

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren to replace a church destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, St. Paul’s is one of the world’s most famous cathedrals.  Built in a mere 35 years, the baroque-style church reveals inspiration and craftsmanship on a grand scale.  Among its many treasures are mosaics from the Victorian Age, the Whispering Gallery, and numerous carvings and statutes.

Notre-Dame de Paris – Paris, France

Notre-Dame de Paris, a spectacular example of Gothic architecture, is another of the world’s finest cathedrals.  Begun in 1163, the cathedral took more than 200 years to complete.  No expense was spared to create an edifice that reflected the Church’s rising power—from the spectacular rose windows to the soaring flying buttresses to the intricately carved gargoyles.

Hagia Sophia – Istanbul, Turkey

Originally a Byzantine church built in the sixth century, the Hagia Sophia served as a mosque for more than four centuries after the Ottoman conquest in 1453.  Many people consider Hagia Sophia the supreme masterpiece of Byzantine architecture.  Much of the gilding has faded, but the original church’s grandeur still remains in its vast proportions, wall paintings, and mosaics.

Rouen Cathedral – Rouen, France

Begun in the 12th century and finished several centuries later, Rouen’s Cathedral displays with great majesty the evolution of Gothic architecture.  Nineteenth-century Impressionist Claude Monet immortalized the West Façade, a confection of stone detailing and 70 statues, in several of his works.

Chartres Cathedral – Chartres, France

Chartres Cathedral (1194-1260) is quite possibly the most beautiful expression of Gothic architecture in all of Europe.  This masterpiece contains superb stained-glass windows—many of which are original to the 12th and 13th centuries—and wonderfully preserved statuary.  Built on the site of a Romanesque church, the cathedral incorporates elements of the earlier church in the west portal.  The mismatched towers on the west façade resulted after the north tower burned down.  The banks of the Eure River provide magnificent views of the copper-roofed cathedral.

Reims Cathedral – Reims, France

Harmonious, monumental, and richly adorned, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame (1211-1311) in Reims is magnificent.  Taking its cue from a contemporary at Chartres, Notre-Dame exhibits the same quadripartite rib vaulting, three-story elevation, and pier structure found in that cathedral.  The cathedral witnessed and ordained the coronation of several kings.  The last, that of Charles X, was in 1825.

Santa Maria del Fiore – Florence, Italy

Although more commonly known as the Duomo, the cathedral in Florence formally bears the name Santa Maria del Fiore—Saint Mary of the Flower, which refers to the lily, the symbol of Florence.  The cathedral, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1294 to rival the magnificence of the new cathedrals in Pisa and Siena, is unquestionably beautiful.  Brunelleschi, a master of Renaissance architecture, designed and oversaw the construction of the famed dome.

Canterbury Cathedral – Canterbury, England

St. Augustine founded the first Canterbury Cathedral in 597; however, the oldest part of the present cathedral—the crypt—dates back only to the 11th century.  Over time the cathedral acquired a 12th-century Gothic quire, a 15th-century nave, and additions constructed in the uniquely English perpendicular Gothic style.  In medieval times, the cathedral was an important pilgrimage site.  Notable tombs within the cathedral include King Henry IV and Edward the Black Prince.  Trinity Chapel memorializes Thomas Becker, the archbishop who was killed here in 1170.  The cathedral sits amid the remains of cloisters, a monastery, a chapter house, and a Norman water tower.

St. Sophia Cathedral – Novgorod, Russia

Dedicated in 1037, St. Sophia Cathedral was commissioned by Prince Yaroslav the Wise.  Byzantine in layout and design, St. Sophia sits inside Novgorod’s Kremlin walls; it was the spiritual heart of the early Russian state and is still regarded as a treasure and a symbol of Novgorod.  The cathedral’s gold dome denotes its importance.  None of the other cathedrals in Novgorod have gold domes.  The exquisite 12th-century bronze gate of the west entrance, used only on select occasions, was brought back from Sigtuna, then the capital of Sweden.

St. John the Divine – New York, New York

Rising above Morningside Heights north of Central Park, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is a stunning masterpiece of medieval-style architecture against the backdrop of one of the world’s most modern cities.  Begun in 1892, the interior is Romanesque with Byzantine overtones; the exterior has Gothic touches.  The spectacular nave is 284 feet long and 128 feet high.  The Cathedral was rededicated and its entire interior reopened to the public in November 2008.

THE GREAT SYNAGOGUE – Budapest, Hungary

Also known as the Dohány Street Synagogue, it is the largest synagogue in Europe and one of the largest in the world.  It seats 3,000 people and is a centre of Neolog Judaism.  The synagogue was built between 1854 and 1859 in the Moorish Revival style, with the decoration based chiefly on Islamic models from North Africa and medieval Spain (the Alhambra).  The Synagogue complex consists of the Great Synagogue, the Heroes’ Temple, the graveyard, and the fabulous Jewish Museum.


Not sure whether it is beautiful or grotesque, it is definitely different.  The first foundation stone was laid 144 years ago and came under the direction of Architect Antoni Gaudi shortly thereafter.  A notable example of Gaudi’s innovation is the “leaning columns” (that is, columns which are not at right angles to the floor and ceiling).  The ongoing construction of Sagrada Familia is paid for by tourism.  When Sagrada Familia is complete in 2026, the church will have a total of 18 towers, each dedicated to a different religious figure, and each one hollow, allowing the placement of various types of bells which will sound with the choir.  The architectural style of Sagrada Familia has been called “warped Gothic,” and it’s easy to see why.


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The following is excerpted from a speech delivered by Heather McDonald, an attorney with the Manhattan Institute, at a Hillsdale College Leadership Seminar.

“The lesson from the last 20 years of immigration policy is that lawlessness breeds more lawlessness.  Once a people or a government decides to normalize one form of lawbreaking, other forms of lawlessness will follow until finally the rule of law itself is in profound jeopardy.  President Obama has decided that because Congress has not granted amnesty to millions of illegal aliens living in the U.S., he will do so himself.

“Article 2, Section 3, of the Constitution mandates that the president `shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.’  This provision assumes that there is a law for the president to execute.  But in this case, the `problem’ that Obama is purporting to fix is the absence of a law granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens.  Rather than executing a law, Obama is making one up—arrogating to himself a function that the Constitution explicitly allocates to Congress.  Should this unconstitutional power grab stand, we will have moved very far in the direction of rule by dictator.

“There has been no amnesty statute to date because the political will for such an amnesty is lacking.

“In February, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen halted President Obama’s illegal amnesty with a temporary injunction.  The proposed amnesty program, Judge Hanen found, went far beyond mere prosecutorial discretion not to enforce the law against individuals.  Instead, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed to confer on illegal aliens a new legal status known as `legal presence.’  But Congress has not granted DHS the power to create and bestow legal status.  The amnesty program represented a `complete abdication’ of DHS’s responsibility to enforce the law, Judge Hanen declared.  Indeed, DHS was actively thwarting the express will of Congress.

“The administration will likely fight the ruling through the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, all the way to the Supreme Court.  Democrats should hope that the administration loses.  They are assiduously pretending that Obama’s executive amnesty is merely an innocuous exercise of prosecutorial discretion.  But if Obama’s power grab is upheld, they will rule the day that they acceded to this travesty when a Republican president decides, say, to privatize Social Security because Congress has failed to do so.

“Obama’s executive amnesty is the most public and egregious example of immigration lawlessness to date.  But beneath the radar screen has been an equally telling saga of cascading lawlessness that is arguably as consequential; the ongoing proliferation of the Secure Communities program and on deportation more generally.

“The erosion of the rule of law is bad enough.  But the social consequences of mass illegal immigration are equally troubling.  We are importing poverty and educational failure.  If you want to see America’s future, look no further than my home state of California, which is a generation ahead of the rest of the country in experiencing the effects of unchecked low-skilled immigration,

“Nearly 50 percent of all California births are now Hispanic.  The consequences of this demographic shift have been profound.  In the 1950s and ‘60s, California led in educational achievement.  Today, with a majority Hispanic K-12 population and the largest concentration of English language learners in the country, California is at the bottom of the educational heap.  Over a third of California eighth graders lack even the most rudimentary math skills; 28 percent are equally deficient in reading.  The mathematics performance gap between Hispanic and white eighth-graders has not budged since 1990; the reading gap has narrowed only slightly since 1998.

“California is at the epicenter of the disturbing phenomenon of ‘long-term English learners.’  You would think that an English learner would be someone who grew up in a foreign country speaking a foreign language, and who came to the U.S. only later in life.  In fact, the vast majority of English learners are born here, but their cognitive and language skills are so low that they are deemed non-native English speakers.  Nationally, 30 percent of all English learner students are third-generation Americans.

“In 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown pushed through a controversial law to try to close the achievement gap between California’s growing Hispanic population and its Anglo and Asian populations.  That law redistributes tax dollars from successful schools to those with high proportions of English learners and low-income students.  It remains to be seen whether this latest effort to raise the education outcomes of the children of low-skilled immigrants will prove more effective than its predecessors.  Working against that possibility is Hispanics’ high dropout rate—the highest in the state and the nation—and their equally unmatched teen pregnancy rate.

“To be sure, many illegal Hispanic aliens possess an admirable work ethic and have stabilized some moribund inner-city areas like South Central Los Angeles.  But thanks to their lack of social capital, many of their children and grandchildren are getting sucked into underclass culture.  The Hispanic out-of-wedlock birth rate in California and the U.S. is 53 percent.  The incarceration rate of Mexican-Americans in California shoots up eight-fold between the first and second generations, to equal the black incarceration rate.  Gang involvement is endemic in barrio schools, giving rise to a vast taxpayer-supported army of anti-gang counselors serving the children of single mothers.

“This social service bureaucracy in barrio schools is just the tip of the iceberg.  Welfare use among immigrants and their progeny is stubbornly high, because their poverty rates are stubbornly high.  Hispanics are the biggest users of government health care and the biggest supporters of Obamacare.  They favor big government and the higher taxes necessary to pay for it.  The claim that low-skilled immigration is an economic boon to the country as a whole is false.  It fails to take into account the government services consumed by low-skilled immigrants and their children, such as schools, hospitals, and prisons, to normalize illegal immigration with our huge array of sanctuary policies.  Liberals appear indifferent to the erosion of law, and even too many conservatives who are willing to excuse immigration law-breaking in order to placate what they imagine to be a conservative voting bloc in waiting.  But let us hope the rule of law is not lost.

“I would not at present offer amnesty to those who have voluntarily chosen to violate the law, since every amnesty, both in the U.S. and Europe, has had one effect and one effect only: more illegal immigration.  People who come into the country illegally or overstay their visas do so knowingly.  They assume the risk of illegal status; it is not our moral responsibility to wipe it away.  Their children, if they are born here, are already American citizens, thanks to the misguided policy of birthright citizenship.  The illegal status of their parents is a problem that will eventually fade away as that first generation dies out.  The Obama amnesty, however, actually incentivizes the use of birthright citizenship, since it rewards with legal status illegal aliens who have American citizen children.

“I would also radically reorient our legal immigration system towards high skilled immigrants like the parents of Google’s founder, Sergey Brin.  Canada, Australia, and other countries are already benefitting from placing a priority on skilled immigrants.

“Immigration policy should be forged with one consideration in mind: America’s economic self-interest.  Immigration is not a service we provide to the rest of the world.  Yes, we are a nation of immigrants and will continue to be one.  No other country welcomes as many newcomers.  But rewarding illegal immigration does an injustice to the many legal immigrants who played by the rules to get here.  We owe it to them and to ourselves to adhere to the law.”


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I’ve been a witness to two struggles in life that made me wonder how I would have responded and acted.

Civil Rights

The first of these struggles was the blossoming of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.  I became very concerned about civil rights while still in high school.  At summer camps, I worked and played with other black and white workers.  It gave me a close up look at the similarities between races, far more than the differences.

We worked, we played, we drank, and we watched Joe Louis fight Billy Conn.  We went down to Harlem to celebrate Joe Louis’ victory.

As I read of the plight of the Southern Negro, I became more and more concerned.  In 1952, I jumped at the chance to transfer to the University of Connecticut to join Beta Sigma Gamma, an intercultural fraternity I’ve described in blogs (3/6/13 and 6/12/13).

That was an exhilarating experience and I thought just maybe I was making a contribution to the very beginning of the civil rights of all Americans.  History has shown otherwise, but at that time we felt we were striking a move for equality.

Then came the 60’s.  There were several events.  The first that created national attention was the Freedom Riders in 1961.

They were people of all colors, predominantly white, who went to some of the states in the Deep South to assist in registering black people to vote and to assist in other matters—some got beaten and some died.

They were effective in calling attention to the problems, but many paid a price.

Then in 1965 came the events in Selma, Alabama, so well depicted in the recent film “Selma.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. led a series of marches, which created national T.V. exposure of harsh police tactics and eventually led President Johnson to get the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed.

It was a seminal moment in the struggle for equality.

Through all these events in the 60’s, I was the married father of three small children, struggling to carve out a living in Phoenix, Arizona.

Had all this happened when I was in or just out of college, would I have become a Freedom Rider or joined the marches in Selma?  I don’t know for sure, but I wonder, I wonder.

The Second Struggle—Advancing Age Requirements

My brother-in-law, Al, had to stop teaching at Columbia University because of his diminished voice capacity due to cancer.  He forged a life built around writing as well as travel and social activities with my sister.

In 1991, my sister lost her battle with colon cancer.  Al became a reluctant widower.  He stayed in their comfortable Valley Stream home for a number of years and then moved near his daughter in Larchmont (Westchester, N.Y.).

He maintained an active life, playing golf, poker and bridge, and was a regular at the track to play the ponies.

This went on until he was 85, when he developed bladder cancer.  The treatments went on for quite awhile.  During this time, he was forced to give up golf and gradually decrease his other activities as well.  This was noticeably depressing.  It reached a point in 2009 where he was not really able to live alone.

With some urging from his children, he moved to a beautiful Hyatt Senior Residence overlooking the Hudson River.  It had everything, but he hated it and became more depressed.  He refused to participate in any of their activities, and the depression deepened.

So, now the question:  How would I fare in those circumstances?  I have a decided advantage at the moment.  I have a partner who is supportive and very conscious of our advancing frailties.    It doesn’t stop me from pondering a question I don’t want to have to face.

I’ve had a good life—interesting and, in some ways, adventurous.  I have few regrets (another blog sometime) and am anxious and eager to try to live out my remaining years as active as possible.

The question remains though.  If I was alone and had to move into a senior living arrangement, would I maintain my normal positive attitude or I would become as depressed and be a hermit like my brother-in-law?  I don’t know, but I wonder!



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